Category Archives: Parenting

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

I recently read a thought provoking post , but really the comments grabbed my attention more than the post.

I love Disney. Really I do. Rather, I really do. I’ve dressed my girls up as princesses and fairies many times. They’ve worn the dresses day after day, they’ve asked for the shoes, and the coats. Sometimes they get them, sometimes they don’t. One time in particular Ryan and I weren’t so keen on a certain toy because it looked, well, cheap. I didn’t want Ella to spend her hard saved money on something that would break straight away. But she wanted it. It was her choice. The toy broke. Now she asks questions about products before purchasing.

I don’t like being surrounded by labeled products, but refusing to allow my girls to experience any of those same products will only increase their desire – increase the appeal. I let them experience what they can, all the while talking about how a princess product might compare to a non-princess product. We talk about what they expect of the product, vs what the product actually is. As for seed packets specifically (see the linked post above), my girls would likely expect the flowers to resemble the princesses and would be very disappointed if they didn’t. We’d talk about those expectations before purchasing. We’d also talk about if they’d be happy with the package going in the garbage and no lasting princess likenesses, or if they’d be upset. They would be included in the conversation. And would likely choose different seeds. But if I just said, “no”, they’d likely throw a fit – and they wouldn’t have actually thought for themselves about the value of a product, media literacy, consumerism.

We talk about the difference between Disney princesses and real princesses (and real girls). We watched the Royal wedding together, enthralling my girls. They love looking at pictures of PRINCESS Kate playing hockey, being in girl guides. We talk about all the things a real princess actually does – and what makes a person a princess vs a regular girl. We also talk about history – were women always portrayed as needing rescuing etc. And ultimately I think it’s okay for them to have a princess fantasy. In their games Cinderella isn’t waiting for her prince to come, but she magics the wicked step-mother away and teaches the ugly step-sisters kindness and love. In their games they give Cinderella power Disney never dreamed possible. Why would I take that power away from them?

I think it sells our girls short when we tell them this character they love is worthless, that their idea of wonderful is worthless. Instead we talk to our girls: Do they really think all Cinderella did all day was wait for someone to rescue her? Or did she do other stuff? How do we know she was really so kind and good, she wasn’t very nice to lucifer (the cat). Then we discover there’s a whole lot more to the story than we see in the Disney movie. An old woman needed help, but didn’t have a lot of money. No one else would help her, but despite all the work she had to do, Cinderella offered to help. Why was Cinderella helping the mice? Well it turns out…The story goes on. Day after day they dream. They dream of what they might one day become. THey dream that today they are heroes. They dream that Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, are more than we knew.

I don’t want my girls to think there’s only one flat story to a person – any person. I want them to always look deeper. One day they might meet a perfectly coiffed young lady who’s very sad because her parents always expect X, Y, Z. I want my girls to approach her with compassion rather than contempt. Or they might meet a girl much as I was once upon a time, sad, lonely, with clothing that didn’t fit, hair straight down my back. Either way, I want them to approach all people with compassion. If all parents taught their children compassion, bullies would lose their power in the school yard. But the sad truth is as we tell our sons and daughters that princesses aren’t worthy, we really tell them certain types of people aren’t worthy.

 

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Go to Sleep You Little Babe

When  expecting Ella, our Doula loaned us a book. We read it and thought ‘ha! This’ll be easy.” – then we had a baby.

It was pretty easy. But we didn’t follow the book’s advice for more than a week. The book relied on crying to let the parents know what the baby needed. But we usually knew Ella needed something long before she cried. In fact most babies give cues to their needs long before they cry. Why ignore our baby for fifteen minutes to an hour waiting for her to cry, when we could just run throughout the most likely culprits: hunger, needing a fresh bum, too hot/cold, sleepy, wanting to snuggle, wanting to be put down? It might take fifteen minutes to run through all of those possibilities in the beginning, but a baby’s a smart creature (and most parents are too) and soon baby and parents develop other tells that communicate those needs quickly.

With each of our babies, from birth until about twenty months, the two most important needs have been sleeping and eating. Ultimately I believe those are the two most important needs of all babies.

Ella slept in a crib on occasion. Not often, mind, but it did happen. She also slept in the stroller, sling, wrap, carseat, and on daddy’s chest once or twice. Once her nap routine was established (about 2 mos old) we were careful to protect that time. We were respectful of her sleep and didn’t make extra noise. Just as we’d expect others to be respectful of us while we slept. For Ella if we were out and about, moving, she’d sleep. No matter what. If she were cuddled against our chest, she’d sleep through almost anything. However, if she were in her crib, or on our bed she’d awaken and need lots of support to fall back to sleep.

We were told many times over that it was important to teach a baby to sleep through noises. We were told we should go out of our way to make noise while she slept. Certain people were rude enough to go out of their way to make noise when they came over. All in an effort to teach her to slept through noise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work that way. Making noise doesn’t teach a baby to sleep through anything, it just wakes the baby. Oh certainly some babies may sleep through it, some may ‘learn’, but mostly all that happens is a baby becomes more and more tired. And the parents become more and more tired and upset.

When Ella was about 6 weeks old, she became sick. We didn’t realize just how sick until she was around two, but because she was sick, she nursed. A lot. We co-slept. This meant buying a firmer mattress, increasing the overnight heat in the house so we only had one lightweight top-sheet on the bed. We removed the extra blankets and pillows, and bought a bed closer to the ground (though we’ve only ever had someone fall off the bed while asleep once – and that wasn’t a baby : ) . All the ‘rules’ for putting a baby to sleep in the crib applied, but she was in our bed. Next to me only, not daddy. At first I didn’t sleep that much, I was very concerned about rolling on her. But every time she moved or I moved, I woke up.

Then Agatha came along. Things were a bit more difficult. 3.5mm was maximum distance she could be away from me. However after the rough go we’d had with Ella nursing non-stop in the bed (she was very malnourished due to undiagnosed celiac’s disease), we were determined not to co-sleep. So the first 2 nights after Agatha was born I rocked her to sleep, and faithfully tried to get her into the crib. For two nights and days I slept in the chair with a baby cuddled against my chest. On the third day I realized how ridiculous I was being and Agatha came to bed with us as well. She’s 3.5 and still in my bed, and I’m happy with her there. She sleeps great, and so do I. Though occasionally I’d appreciate it if she didn’t feel the need to sleep on my head :p

We were careful to protect the girls’ sleep. When they napped or went to bed for the night we tried to keep the noises to a minimum. Partly for our sanity, the longer they slept, the happier they were and the more time Ryan and I had to ourselves. But also knowing that babies who develop good sleep habits by sleeping in a dark, quiet environment are more likely to be children with good sleep habits*, and then adults with good sleep habits who awake feeling refreshed. There was no reason for us to make noise. They were sleeping and as everyone knows it’s best to let sleeping babies lie.

*Note that you can’t force a baby/child to sleep, but rather create an environment conducive to sleep and see if the baby will actually accept your offer. Especially if you have a baby that has difficulty falling asleep it’s important to protect that sleep. If that means whispering from the hours of 10AM until noon everyday for two years, then do it. A rested child is a lot more fun to be around : )

Cordelia’s been a different baby from the other two. She fights sleep more than the others, but is more likely to sleep on her own. We still co-sleep, but we suspect the transition to night weaning will be easier, shorter than with the other two. Of course we have a few months or so before that’s likely to happen (assuming same course as the two big girls). Cordelia’s put herself to sleep more than the others, she doesn’t nurse to sleep very often, things are different. But we still protect her sleep. While she naps the girls are moved to a different level of the house if they want to be noisy. The dog is politely told to be quiet, or go in his kennel (on a different level of the house).

It has never been an inconvenience for us to respect our children’s needs. At 3.5 and 5 our big girls are great sleepers. They go to bed on their own, and sleep through twelve hours. They don’t fight bedtime, they have a very positive relationship with sleep. Even if they awoke many times in the night it’d be okay. The important thing for us is the positive feeling they associate with sleep. It isn’t a stressful event where they plead to stay awake and we say ‘no’. Instead if they wanted to stay awake, we’d say ‘sure’. Of course most nights they ask to go to bed between 6 and 8 depending on how busy our week’s been.

Sleep is such a touchy topic. A baby is ben and a week later everyone wants to know if she’s sleeping through the night. Hate to break it to you folks, but 5 hours is sleeping through the night and it isn’t normal or safe for ANY baby to sleep through the night until 6 mos of age – and not until 2-3 years before it’s expected they’ll sleep longer than that without getting up. So if your 3 yr old gets up once a night, count yourself lucky – many 3 year olds get up 3 or more times a night. And if your one year old gets up twice, she’s doing pretty good. I’m very lucky. I don’t know how many times my 1 yr old gets up, as a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mama my baby latches on and off without waking me.*

*Unless it’s after 5AM, then it’s too close to wake up time anyhow – and then I’m grumpy.  

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Ain’t Got Rhythm

Recently several Mamas I know were talking about daily rhythms – whether they have one or not, how to find one, and how to keep it. Someone mentioned I’d be a good person to talk to about not having a routine (we’re not really routine people around here). But this really got me thinking. We don’t do routines, we don’t really have a schedule at all and try to avoid timelines as much as possible. We prefer to go with the flow. Deadlines leave me frustrated and usually results in me yelling at least once. I don’t like yelling (contrary to popular belief) it just leaves me feeling very anxious and stressed out – and then more yelling. A vicious cycle I want to avoid.

On the surface it might feel like we don’t got rhythm, but underneath there’s some funky syncopation. Each morning we wake up and there’s a certain feel in the air. We don’t always do the same thing everyday, but the feeling is the same (‘Oh Gawd, is it morning already?”) Opps. I mean we wake up peacefully and cuddle in bed, or roll out of bed and let the big girls watch the baby while I take our dog out to pee, or I leave the dog in his crate and get everyone else breakfast and then take him out, it’s different each day, but our mornings are always busy. At some point I also use the morning to do the only bit of cleaning I’m likely to do in a day. Then some time between eleven and two I have a coffee (Oh how I love my espresso machine). This usually involves me making everyone a coffee (the girls either only have a 1/4 shot each or decaf) lol the rhythm of our day would be very different if I caffeinated the girls.

Our days flow. We don’t have set times for anything. There’s no set order. Some days we leave the house for the first time at five in the evening. Other days we’re out the door for eight. But there is a rhythm to it. A certain feel. The difficulty isn’t in finding rhythm, but in choosing what the rhythm will be. Will it involve yelling and stress, or will the rhythm involve flowing and taking each moment as it comes? Rejoicing in the water seeping out of the bathroom into the hallway carpet? Okay, that particular moment broke my rhythm – but the girls loved it and just laughed as I seethed on the outside of the locked bathroom door.

“We’re cleaning it up mommy. Our bathroom floor is so clean now. You’re gonna be so happy.” Those words woke me up to the sweet deal I got going on right here. The rhythm isn’t in our daily actions, but rather in our daily feel. I regulate how I respond to each situation. The rhythm is found in those moments when I stop and decide the beat I want before I begin talking.

P.S. I LOVE Phineas & Ferb

 

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On Becoming a Mommy

Some people are born into families that love and respect them. They grow up knowing their self-worth. They know the worth of those around them. Some people are respectful of others because it doesn’t occur to them, even in moments of anger, not to be. Some people make great parents. I am not one of them.

I am the best me I can be. I am the best mother to my children I am capable of being. I would like to think that is good enough. And maybe for today it is. However, I want tomorrow to be better. I want to be better.

As we enter Lent and reflect on our lives and grow closer to God I look at the way I parent and know the most direct path to God is through my Children. Each moment I choose to be calm instead of yelling, respectful instead of spiteful, I move closer to God. And closer to my children.

Over the years, the actions of others impacted me greatly. Maybe not enough to instantly change the path my parents started me on, but enough that I knew an alternative path existed. When I was seventeen, I babysat for a wonderful family. Everyone was happy. It was plain to me that the children loved and respected, not feared, their parents. I didn’t have an opportunity to witness their parenting in action very often (I was the babysitter after all), but there were clues. An article on the fridge said children might feel shame or embarrassment if a parent corrected or disciplined in front of others. They used a secret word to let the children know they needed to talk in private. No spankings, no standing in the corner, no yelling, shaming, insulting.

Years later I was blessed to meet some wonderful people who have shown me that it doesn’t matter how a person parents so much as why they parent. These friends have parented in ways I said I never would. However it’s plain to me that their children are no worse for wear from the style of parenting. What’s the difference?

Respect.

As parents we don’t automatically deserve respect. We must earn it. One way of earning it is being respectful to our children. One parent may spank, another may talk, still another may use time-out. It doesn’t really matter (IMO). What matters is the feel of the exchange to both parties. Do both the parents and the children leave the exchange feeling loved and respected? If so, then everything will work out okay. But if the parents feel like they’ve given-in, then they leave resenting their child. If the child leaves feeling like his/her parents didn’t listen, didn’t understand, or did’t didn’t care, then they’ll be less inclined to talk to the parent in the future. That child will be less inclined to heed the parents advice, and will more likely go against the parent’s wishes in the future. Unless both parties feel respected there will be no real resolution and no real connection.

It’s a tricky road to walk. How does one learn to be respectful? It’s usaully pretty easy to see when I haven’t been respectful. Broken hearts glisten in tears rolling down sweet little faces. But choosing the gentler path can be difficult.

For me it starts by seeing the patterns. I know certain things will happen everyday. I’m in the middle of doing something and one of the girls needs me. I know she needs me before I provide my undivided attention. I know that every day, one of my girls will inadvertently hurt someone else. I know these things happen and I can choose how to respond before it happens. Having a plan in effect takes the stress from the situation and allows me to show my children how much they mean to me by not yelling. That plan gives me the opportunity to bypass my knee-jerk response. Now I need to work on moving that plan into other areas of my life. Into other relationships.

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A Bully to be Respected

Every minute of every day we spend with our children is a teaching moment. Some days provide ‘better’ lessons than others. Some days I wish I could erase the lessons learned and teach better ones. Other days I’m not sure what I taught or how I could have taught better.

Ella takes gymnastics one morning a week. Agatha HATES dropping Ella off. In fact (she says) she hates the entire building. But this past week, we dropped Ella off, Agatha wanted to stay and watch. So we did, but then I realized I forgot Cordelia’s coat (and we needed it when it was time to walk to the library) so we ran out to grab it. When we returned there was a woman sitting on one of the chairs we’d been sitting in before running outside. She had her back turned to a baby in a baby in a bumbo seat (roughly 4.5 ft off the ground). In front of the chairs was a narrow counter and a large viewing window. There were two other people sitting at the window with three seats available. On the far side of the woman and baby, behind a door, stood one chair with just enough space for one small person. The baby in the bumbo was in front of this chair, and a coat hung over the back. The other two were right in the middle, purses adorned the counter in front of them. Someone even sat in the least desirable spot in the entire room. The bench beside the purple Christmas tree. Even if the bench had been free, and she’d stood on it, Agatha wouldn’t have been able to see Ella. Oh and at this point Cordelia was crying because she was hungry and tired.

So we entered the room, and Agatha climbed up on one chair (bar stool), and I sat on the one beside her and started to feed Cordelia. The woman with the baby in the bumbo looked down at Agatha – did not look at me – and told Agatha “I think someone’s sitting there. There’s a purse on the counter. She probably just went to the bathroom. You can find somewhere else to sit.”

Agatha said, “I was here before, I just got Cordy’s coat. I want to see Ella in class.”

Woman: “I’m sure the woman wants to watch too, you can go sit somewhere else.”

Still the woman didn’t look at me, or say anything to me. But at that moment the women whose seats we ‘stole’ returned from the bathroom (or wherever they were). The three women all conferred, then the one woman leaned over me, bumping me, to get at her purse. I will point out that there was plenty of space between the chairs so she could have stepped up without touching anyone, and her purse was not on the other side of me. In other words, as far as I can see, this woman purposefully ‘bumped’ me. She did this three more times over the span of the three minutes we were actually sitting in the chairs.

Each time she bumped me, the other one bumped Agatha. Then one of the three loudly said, “Can you believe that? They won’t move.” And glare at us.

First, the women at any given time should have actually said something to ME, not the three-year old. Second, they’re full-grown 30+ year-old women they could have been mature enough to stand for the three minutes it took Agatha to locate her sister and be happy, and for me to latch Cordelia on. Third, they should never have touched either one of us.

I felt horrible. Not because we sat in someone else’s seat, but because of how they behaved toward us. It felt like middle school all over again. If we don’t overtly do anything really mean, we won’t get in trouble, but we’re gonna do everything we can to make her miserable.

After Cordelia settled enough for  me to stand up, I did. I leaned down to Agatha and told her, “It seems it’s very important to these ladies that they sit down on these chairs. We’ve finished what we needed to do, how about we go play with the toys?” She agreed, we moved. All total, from sitting down to getting up, we might have been in the chairs for five minutes, probably less.

I didn’t want to allow those women to bully us out of the seats, but at the same time I no longer needed a seat, and Agatha had yet to realize anything was amiss. I didn’t want her to. Also by letting her know someone else wanted the seats, she had the opportunity to choose to share. She happily did so. Our children watch us at all times. They see how we treat others. They hear when and how we talk to others.

What do you want to teach your children?

At what point is it bullying, at what point is it just a misunderstanding or a difference of opinion, a meeting of opposite views? When I realized the other women wanted those chairs, viewed them as theirs, I could have asked their permission to use them briefly. I could have told Agatha not to sit there. I could have balanced Cordelia, and nursed her standing up. Those actions would have been ‘respectful’ to the other women. It would have been polite. We want our children to be respectful and polite. Don’t we?

Respect: Noun: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or    achievements.

Verb: To admire deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Polite:  1.Having or showing respectful behaviour.                                                                                                                                              2.Of or relating to people who regard themselves as more refined than others.

Should I have been respectful and polite? Did any of the women have a greater ‘right’ to the chairs than we did? Possibly. Their purses were close to the chairs. What would Agatha had learned if I hadn’t sat down? Possibly that others are more deserving than we are. We should stand, be uncomfortable, while others have the opportunity to sit. And empty chairs are not ours to use, no matter how brief. She might have learned that even though the chairs were empty, we didn’t take them because someone else was planning to use them. She would have learned a polite way to behave in society.

What would those other women teach watching children? If you don’t get your way, push others around. If someone has something you want, take it away. If you don’t like someone’s behaviour, don’t bother talking to them, instead whisper hurtful words behind their backs.

I’m not saying I was ‘right’ to sit down when I knew the other women believed the chairs were theirs, however I’m not really sure how else to have approached the situation. There were two paths. Either sit down, or stay standing. Was there a better path? Which one? Why?

There were seven seats at the window and three benches along the wall. Two benches had bins on them, one bench was taken.  Was it wrong for Agatha and I to use the seats, considering there were purses on the counter near them, and there were no other seats? When there’s limited seating, should you save a seat if you’re not actually there?

What would you have done, if this was you? Would you have moved, or remained seated?

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Growth Spurt

An experienced parent knows that a baby eating more than usual, sleeping more than usual, fussing more than usual usually means a growth spurt. Most babies follow a similar pattern: 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months mark large periods of growth. During this time a baby nurses for hours on end, many mothers incorrectly assume they don’t have a large enough milk supply for their baby. Many mothers unwittingly supplement. A baby nursing even after the breast is empty will be okay. They’ll feed more frequently, they’ll feed longer, they’ll increase the milk supply just by nursing more. It might take a day or two, but Mama’s body will catch up and baby will thrive and grow – without ever needing supplementation.

It sounds easy enough. Baby wants to nurse, let baby nurse. Baby wants to sleep, let baby sleep, baby needs extra cuddles, then cuddle your sweet baby.

But what about older children? What signs mark periods of growth after baby is walking and talking? Unfortunately, even though they have so much experience with it, children don’t automatically realize they’re growing. In fact they seldom know until one day they grab something that was a foot out of reach the day before.

Parents don’t usually realize their children are growing either, until they buy new clothes. The clothes come home from the store, slightly big. Daddy removes the tags, by nightfall the clothes don’t fit.

There are other clues that our children are growing. Some sweeter than others. At all ages and stages of growth children tend to eat and sleep more while they’re growing. But they also tend to upset more easily.

Recently we’ve been faced with a houseful of growing girls. One day the girls sang in harmony. The next day they insisted no one sing at all.

We see little girls that push each other, bite, kick, or hit more often. They have a more difficult time talking things through with each other. A little stumble creates giant tears, that last for hours. If one girl wants something, the other wants the opposite. No food is the right food, something we don’t have is always the preferred choice.

For us other signs of growing include:

loss of coordination, more likely to stumble

rocking

hand wringing or shaking

stuttering

toe walking

refusing to sleep

gulping/sucking air

burping (think of the sound Gollum makes)

Chewing (on fingers, clothes, anything in reach)

 

Mostly we ignore the tics while they pass, but we also try to help the girls cope with them. We provide chew toys when needed, straws for drinking, bikes to ride rather than walking, a trampoline to bounce on, soft cushions to crash on. And most importantly we try to offer patience and love. These will pass, and they’ll pass faster if we offer support, rather than consequences.

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Sibling Bonding

Everywhere I turn I hear parents lamenting sibling rivalry. I hear them asking how to get one child to leave the other alone. I hear them saying they don’t want the four year old to touch the baby, but then in two years they get upset when the six year old doesn’t want the two year old around.

When Agatha was born, we had our fair share of ‘problems’ as we navigated from one child to two. Our poor little Agatha was bumped and bruised, cut and scraped so many times. But she was so in love with her big sister (when she wasn’t afraid). We eventually figured things out and the relationship improved.

Now that Cordelia’s here things could be very difficult, but instead we find things even better than before. Our two big girls are so excited to help and share, and Cordelia is so in love with her sisters. She can’t get enough of them. There is no fear, there are no cuts or bruises, just love.

How did this happen?

First, the girls were involved with the pregnancy. They came to appointments, they helped us choose names, they touched my belly, they talked to the baby, they hugged and kissed her while she was still inside. They were present at her birth, and were invited to hold her as soon as I was willing to let my baby out of my arms for the first time.

When Cordelia came home with us, we encouraged the girls to hold her as much as they wanted. We’d sit them at the couch and hover. After all a newborn baby is rather floppy. As Cordelia became stronger, we hovered less. Now Agatha holds Cordelia on her own all the time, Ella carries Cordelia around the house. Whenever they want to do something with each other, or the baby, we try to find a way to help them play together, to accomplish their goals.

Some ways we do that include: playing tag with the girls, and tackle games. I carry Cordelia and chase the girls around the house. I’m sure to give all of them plenty of chance to see each others faces. In the beginning, I’d point out the huge smile, the look of intense pleasure, on Cordelia’s face, now we just play. They all have so much fun together. They all get a chance to be on an even playing field. As Cordelia gets bigger I’ll add in soccer. I carry her (when she’s bigger I’ll hold her hands) while she runs and kicks the ball, and the big girls try to get the ball away, or Cordelia tries to get the ball from them. They aren’t competition games because there is no win or lose. The whole entire point is to have fun. It doesn’t matter who has the ball because everyone’s playing together. As they get older these games could translate into competition, but for now it’s bonding.

During the day I spend a lot of time interpreting for the big girls. They rush over and pick Cordelia up and she whimpers. I point out the sounds, and let them know she doesn’t like that. I then offer a suggestion for what they could do that’d she’d likely enjoy. As she gets bigger, I’ll also help her figure out words to use so she can let them know on her own that she’s unhappy with a particular turn of events.

Right now it seems as though the most important part of having a positive experience with their sisters is me helping them figure out what the other means. They don’t have the knowledge base to figure out on their own that certain faces or sounds mean someone else isn’t having fun. They also don’t have the ability to put someone else’s needs or desires above their own. It’s my job to advocate for each of my children.

It doesn’t matter, for the most part, what happened, who started it, why someone’s crying, or anything else that divides the children. What matters is figuring out how to find a solution that preserves respect. It matters that they learn new methods of communicating, and playing together.

One day they won’t need me to step in as often as I do, one day they won’t need me to point out when someone else cries. One day they’ll take these skills and use them on their own, in the ‘real’ world. But for now they’re little girls playing together, loving each other, and loving life.

Is there something your family did – or does – that helps promote bonding between children, particularly children of vastly different ages and abilities?

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