Category Archives: Baby Olympics

Apples and Oranges

On Monday I had my biweekly phone check in with my counsellor. I haven’t seen her in person since before P. was born, but I’m hoping to get there once E. is back in school. It’s just been too much to wrangle both kids. We talked through what was going on generally (short answer: family still in crisis on a truly unbelievable level) and how the course was going (almost done but I am marking exams at 4:30 a.m. after P. feeds because that’s the only time I have) and how I was feeling (exhausted and numb) and then she asked if I had specific anxieties about P.

And I had to admit- I have not been able to let go of the worry I feel about P.’s weight gain.

No one else thinks there is a problem. The midwives said her weight was fine. The paediatrician reported her “perfect” when I brought her in for her first round of vaccinations. P. has been consistently gaining about 0.75 oz per day, so 45 grams. The minimum is 0.5 oz, or 30 grams, so you can say “she’s only gaining a quarter of an ounce above the minimum”, which doesn’t sound all that great, or you can say “she’s gaining fifty percent more than the minimum”, which sounds like a lot. I try to make the voice in my head say the second one rather than the first.

“So you’re worrying about a problem when there is no problem,” my counsellor said.

Yes. Yes I am.

We talked about whether I was punishing myself because P. has been a somewhat easier baby than E. was (although I really would not classify her as ‘easy’), or whether I was just fixating on one thing to worry about (with E. it was sleep).

Ultimately I realized two things. The first is that part of this fretting over her weight gain is displacement anxiety. It’s the spill over from all the stress and grief and worry I have about the rest of my family. I’ve crammed it into a box and I’ve tried so hard to keep that box shut so I can keep functioning, but it’s creeping out and this is how it’s manifesting.

“What would you do if her weight gain wasn’t ok?” my counsellor asked.

“I’d work to increase my supply,” I said. “I’d probably try to pump after every feed. Maybe I’d take the herbal supplements again. And I’d cut out dairy just to see if that was causing any issues.”

“So you’d have a concrete plan for something you could do to fix the problem.”

I can’t fix the other problems in my life. I can’t heal my father’s spine or fix my stepmother’s hip or cure my stepfather’s terminal cancer or ease the burden my mother and sisters and stepsister have shouldered as they sit with my stepfather while he dies.

But I could probably fix a low weight gain if I just needed to make more breastmilk.

“Maybe you’re making this into a problem because you know it’s a problem you can control and you can’t control the other worries,” said my counsellor.

She is so right, of course.

We talked about the problems I have with projecting. My big worry with P. is that if she does the same dramatic drop down the percentiles that E. did at six months (he had been in the 75th to the 90th percentile for weight and then ultimately slid down into the 20th and stayed there), she won’t have as far to go because she hasn’t had the strong early weight gain (she is a full two pounds lighter than E. was although exactly the same length).

My counsellor asked how I still remembered all these details with E.

“I kept a really detailed journal.” (I didn’t mention the blog.)

“Maybe you should put the journal away for now. Maybe acknowledge it as a historical document and a memory of E.’s infancy, but don’t look at it to compare.”

And then it hit me.

E’s journal is my parenting manual this time around.

When E. was a baby, I read (what felt like) every single parenting book out there. Books on sleep (SO many books on sleep). Books on food. Books on child development.

I’m an academic and I was trying to approach parenting like I would any other thorny issue- read my way into the subject.

I wanted the manual.

I wanted the explanation.

I wanted the key to E.’s behaviour.

And no matter how many times Q. said to me: “Babies do crazy things!” or “E. hasn’t read the books!”, I still struggled with adapting and adjusting to E. because he didn’t do what the books said he ‘should’ be doing.

I thought I had learned better. This time around, I’ve felt so smug about how I haven’t read any parenting books at all. I gave all the ones I owned away before getting pregnant with P. and I haven’t replaced them. I haven’t taken any out from the library. I’ve been resolved to just follow my baby and roll with the punches.

I thought I was doing this.

But I’m actually parenting exactly the same way I did with E., except this time my model isn’t some generic baby in a book but one very specific baby- my son.

This means when P. does something that’s similar to what E. did (like napping only in carriers) I don’t worry about it. I thought it was because I’d accepted that babies do crazy things but I think now it’s because E. did that exact same crazy thing and then stopped doing it, so I know P. will stop doing it eventually too.

Likewise, if P. does something that’s different from E., but not in any worrying way (such as always wanting to be held looking outwards or rolling over almost a full month earlier), I’m fine (if a bit apprehensive about what this will mean for us when P. is a toddler).

But when I feel P. isn’t measuring up to E., that’s when I worry. And I’m worrying because, once again, my baby is not fitting the model I’m using.

I changed the model but not my mode of thinking.

I know it is so common for parents to compare their children and it is so hard not to do it. And this blog is full of detailed reminders of exactly what E. did when.

My daughter, however, deserves to be seen as her own person, not in terms of “her big brother did that” or “her big brother never did that”.

It’s not her fault she was born second.

So I’m going to try to put down the journal and to stay away from the archives on this blog.

I’m going to try to see her just as her own perfect self.

She deserves nothing less.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Baby Olympics, Nursing, P.- the first year

Last Womb Standing

I keep a list in the back of my head.

It’s composed of the names of women, friends and acquaintances and colleagues, who have one child within a year or two of E. and no others.

One of them e-mailed me the other day.

The subject was “News”.

I didn’t even need to open it to know what it said.

She’s pregnant.

Due in April.

Finally able to get excited about it because she can tell people now.

She wanted to tell me in person, but did it over e-mail instead because the next time I’m going to see her is at our Christmas party and she didn’t want to surprise me.

It was a very kind and thoughtful gesture on her part, and I appreciated that I wasn’t going to get blindsided at my own party.

She was the second one that week.

Two years ago, I wasn’t even keeping that list.

A year ago it was still plenty long.

Now it’s almost empty.

I don’t begrudge these women their second children.

Far from it.

I am happy for them.

Many of them have struggled, even if they didn’t the first time around, like my friend who discovered her pregnancy was ectopic the same week I lost our baby, or my friend who lost a baby very late in the second trimester to a fatal genetic disorder, or my friend who had four chemical pregnancies before one stuck.

Of the two last week, one had been ready to add to her family for a long time, and the second was on her very last IUI before walking away from treatments forever with an only child.

E. is getting old enough now that if my friends were going to have had a second child easily, it would have either already happened or it would be on the way.

So an announcement these days is often a little victory.

It still hurts.

Every name I take off my list is a reminder of what we tried and failed to do.

I have never been more grateful for this community. Here, on my blog, I do not feel alone.

In my ‘real’ life, I’m so terribly lonely.

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Filed under Baby Olympics, Friends, Grief, Loss, Three's Company

Wheels

E. is obsessed with cars and trucks and things that go these days.

When he wakes up in the morning and comes downstairs before breakfast, the first thing he does is get out his Bruder garbage truck from where it was parked the night before (in his cubby under the stairs). Then he gets out some of his smaller cars and trucks from their basket- his San Francisco trolley car, his Plan Toys dump truck and school bus, maybe his tractor. On a good day when we don’t need to rush out the door after breakfast he’ll get his trains out too.

At nursery school, E. plays with their trucks pretty much non-stop. In the first hour, when his group and the middle group can move freely between the two main rooms, he stays in the front room driving their collection of Green Toys (he likes the garbage truck and the school bus the best). All the other children gradually navigate to the back room, where the water table is, where the playdoh and the paints and the crafts are, where the toy kitchen is, where the sand table is. It’s a much more interesting room.

E. stays in the front, driving his trucks.

In the afternoons, when he has to be in the back room because another group is using the front room, he finds the one part of the room where there are school buses and dump trucks, and he plays with those. Very occasionally he heads over to the sand table, which has a bulldozer and a cement mixer and a few other vehicles in it, and he plays with those.

When we go to our local park E. makes a beeline for the sand around the swings where people leave communal toys. You can always count on finding a few buckets and shovels, and there is usually a truck or two. While we were away a few more trucks appeared- the heavy duty metal Tonka ones.

At the park E. will have a turn on the swing, and will try out the slide, and will eat his snack, but he always, always returns to the trucks. He pushes the large dump truck around. He empties sand into it using the front loader or the excavator. He dumps the sand out.

He can do this for hours.

E. has liked vehicles for months now. But this single-minded purpose is relatively new. Even while we were in the U.K. he had more varied interests.

He still likes reading books but he keeps choosing books that have trucks in them. He keeps requesting a particularly insipid one at bedtime (Counting with Miffy) solely because on one page where Miffy is cleaning her room there is a blue car (along with eight blocks, which is what we’re supposed to be counting).

He has this gorgeous wooden farm that he basically ignores except to get the cat out so it can go for a ride in the dump truck or on the train.

He has Schleich animals that stay in their basket except on the rare occasions where he thinks it’s a good idea for the train to go to the zoo, at which point we’ll set them up around the tracks.

He has puzzles, and blocks, and musical instruments, and colouring supplies, and play-doh, and a doll.

Once he enjoyed all of these things.

Right now it seems all he wants to do, all day long, every day, is play with his trucks.

It is infuriating and humbling all at the same time.

I really like thinking about what toys are developmentally appropriate for E. I put a lot of time and energy into reading reviews of things. I’m really careful with what we buy, with what comes into the house. I rotate his toys so there are never too many out at once, so that he can’t get overwhelmed by the amount of ‘stuff’ that is available to him.

I worked SO hard not to fall into gender stereotypes, in the way I interacted with him, in the toys I made available, in what I pointed out on our walks when he was too little to say anything himself.

Nature is kicking my ass.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, Baby Olympics, E.- the third year

On judgment

A week or so ago I took E. in to town on Saturday morning so he could ride on the double-decker bus and we could go to the library to choose some new books for bedtime stories, and so Q. could have some peace and quiet and time to himself where he didn’t have a toddler shouting at him (as the transition to our life here has caused some bumps in our son’s normally sunny disposition).

E. had a blast.  He loved riding on the double-decker bus, especially when he opted to sit on the top level on the way home again.  He loved the library and the wooden train whose cars serve as storage for picture books.  He climbed all over the engine while I tried to choose some titles I thought he would like.  Selected Nursery Rhymes and Posy? HUGE hits.  Mr. Gumpy’s Outing and The Foggy Foggy Forest?  Not so much.

Once we were home I told Q. all about our day.  I finished with having a rant about the English and how nuts they are about their sweets.  They really are crazy for their cakes, and their biscuits, and their chocolate covered digestives, and their lollies and their chocolate bars.  The queue for self-checkouts in any shop inevitably runs the full gauntlet of sweeties.

“You’ll never guess what I saw.” I told Q.  “When we were walking through the arcade on the way to the library, there was a father with a little girl, younger than E., in a stroller, and he was buying her a cookie from that cookie shop.  It wasn’t even 10 in the morning!”

“Well,” said Q. thoughtfully, “we do that sometimes with E. when we go to the market.”

And that stopped me dead.  Because he was absolutely right.  Back home we took E. to the farmer’s market nearly every Saturday.  He’d have his morning snack while Q. did the shopping and I watched the toddler.  E. could choose what he wanted and for weeks he always requested the same thing: a ginger cookie from a particular stall.

So E. was often eating a cookie, albeit a low sugar organic one, at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.  And I often felt the judgment from other parents at the market, whose children were eating non-fat, no sugar (and no taste- I’ve tried them) sweet potato muffins or fresh fruit, or children who weren’t getting a snack at all.  Sometimes I even got passive-aggressive comments along the lines of, “Well aren’t you a lucky little boy having a cookie so early in the morning!”, at which I’d have to bite my tongue to keep from replying with some sort of rationalization for my actions, like “Oh yes, it’s a special treat!”  Because, really, who the fuck do these people think they are?  They have no idea about our lives, no way of knowing that E. normally eats a very healthy diet with lots of fruit (if almost no veggies these days).  I love getting a treat at the market: a freshly baked scone, or a brownie to have with tea that afternoon.  And ever since we started the baby-led weaning adventure, we’ve operated under the principle that what we eat, E. gets to eat.  So if I can have a treat at the market, he should too.

Parents in our neighbourhood at home are exceptionally conscious about food.  I constantly hear mothers (because it’s always mothers) offering excuses or being self-deprecating at the drop-ins if their child is eating something packaged, or, gasp, possibly not entirely good for them.  “The other mothers must think I’m a terrible parent, giving you this fruit leather,” said one mum on one occasion.  “Look at all those other kids eating lovely homemade snacks.”  I couldn’t really tell whether she was just calling us out because she felt silently judged, or if she was trying to head off the judgment by acknowledging that she’d made poor choices, or if she was trying to point out the ridiculousness of judging the competence of other parents by their children’s snacks.  She had three kids, so I’m hoping it was the latter.  I have seriously lost count of the number of times someone at a drop-in or playgroup has apologized for their child eating something that came out of a package.  These kids aren’t sharing these snacks- the mother is apologizing as if the sight of her child eating a processed food is offensive to the other mothers whose children are eating chopped up fruit or home-made muffins.  It takes a self-deprecating form, and it often has some type of justification in it, “Oh goodness, it’s too bad you’re eating these animal crackers but we were in such a rush to get out the door to get your brother from preschool”, but the end result is the same: mothers criticizing themselves for their child’s snack because they KNOW that the other mothers are judging them, and acknowledging it and making it clear that this snack is somehow an aberration and most snacks are lovely and healthy and home-made is some sort of weird self-defense to ward off the judgment.

It is totally bizarre, and I have more than once over the winter gone home and told Q. all about it.  I’ve even been on the other end, when I’ve commented to another parent at the market that the cookie their child is eating looks delicious, and they immediately respond with, “Yes, well I suppose it’s full of sugar, and she shouldn’t be eating it, but oh well.”  They hear: “You are a bad parent letting your child eat that cookie.  Don’t you know cookies are bad for her?” when what I meant was: “Hot damn that cookie looks amazing.  Where can I buy one?”

There is another mother in our neighbourhood who drives me absolutely MENTAL in the way that she interacts with her daughter.  At the open house for E’s preschool she was there, and she confirmed all of my prejudices about her when during the session explaining parental duties she put her hand up and said, “What sort of snacks do people bring in?  We’ve never given our daughter sugar.”, which translates as: “Is this preschool going to be filled with ignorant parents who will stuff my daughter full of wicked sweet things?”  Her daughter is younger than E., but only by a couple of months.

I have a big problem with the way that sugar has been demonized in our neighbourhood.  I don’t know what these kids think when they hear their mothers speak negatively about themselves for allowing their children to eat something processed.  Instinctively I can’t see how it sets anyone up for a good relationship with food later on.  As for the banning of sugar, that strikes me as ridiculously extreme (see, I’m judging again).  We don’t eat a lot of dessert, but when we do, E. always has some.  And sometimes he wolfs it down and requests more, and sometimes we give him more, and other times we have a talk about how we don’t have seconds of dessert, that we have only a small amount.  And sometimes he gets halfway through and declares he’s all done, even occasionally with ice cream, which is his all-time favourite treat.  This just blows my mind.  I am simply not capable of leaving food on my plate, especially dessert.  I can be stuffed to the gills, but if there is chocolate cake to be had, I will keep on eating.

I want more than anything to protect this ability of E’s to moderate his own appetite, to eat when he is hungry, to stop when he is full.  I never, ever, want dessert to become the forbidden fruit, something that he covets.  We will never tell E. that he can’t have dessert unless he eats his vegetables, or has five more bites of dinner, or whatever.  We don’t want to establish that dessert is a bribe, and vegetables are things that require a bribe in order to be worth eating.  Some nights we have dessert.  Most nights we don’t.  I have so many food issues (another post on that coming soon, I hope), and I want so much to be able to keep E. clear of them.

The thing is, the families in my neighbourhood back home are predominantly white, upper-middle class.  If both parents work, there’s usually a nanny.  Alternatively many families can afford to have one parent working part-time (it’s rare to get a stay at home parent), or both parents work flexible enough hours that they can juggle a lot of child-care between them, like Q. and I have been doing.  Houses are expensive (we’d be priced out of the market if we were just now looking to buy).  Some, but not all, children will go to private schools.  Many, but not all, cars in the driveways are more expensive European models: VWs, some Audis.

And our white, upper-middle class neighbourhood is the perfect, perfect reflection of privileged society’s current obsession with food.  We can afford to shop at a farmer’s market.  We can afford to buy organic fruits and vegetables.  We think we should be able to cook everything from scratch.  And we judge those who fail to live up to our standards.

I try not to fall into this trap, given I’m so aware of it.  I know that mothers judge each other on their children’s food choices because it gives them a way to bolster up their own insecurities.  We seem, as mothers, to be incapable of NOT judging each other.  There are always, always, memes going around on Face.book or the like exhorting mothers to get along, to not judge, to refrain from making comments about someone else’s parenting decisions, because you don’t live in that family.  And, for the most part, I try to do my best.  I have my own personal opinions about breastfeeding, and co-sleeping, and attachment parenting, and sleep training, and potty learning, and infant feeding, and developmental stages, and appropriate toys, etc. etc., and I know what works for our family, and what works for E.  And as I’ve become more confident as a mother I’ve been able to more successfully beat down that little voice inside of me that is desperate to make me feel better by thinking worse of someone else: because their child is eating fast food, or watches television, or still wakes up in the night.

I’m definitely not perfect, and I still have some big bug bears where it is very very hard for me to reserve judgment.  Feeding soda pop to a baby less than a year old is one.  Toddlers with their own iPads is another.  And I will absolutely judge, and get very very angry about, the vaccine issue, because that doesn’t just affect one family and one child, and I cannot, will not, sit by and be silent when people peddle inaccurate, discounted information (outright lies in some cases) to frightened new mothers who want the best for their children.  (I’m not super popular on my city-centric Mummies Face.book group as a result since the cry “Can’t we just all respect each other’s opinions and agree to disagree” is like a red flag to a bull for me on this issue.)

But I’m getting better at recognizing that I can afford to be so snobby and so superior and so judgey about my family’s food choices when compared to someone else’s, BECAUSE I operate from a position of privilege, where I have access to the knowledge I need to understand nutrition, the good, organic, real food I need to cook with, the skills to know how to cook it, and, most importantly, the money to be able to buy it.  And I also recognize that I use my instinctive judginess about food and toys (especially electronic ones), which are my two biggest issues, to make me feel better about areas in my parenting where maybe I don’t feel as secure.

I’m trying to realize that it’s much more about me than it is about them.

But, as Q. made me realize that Saturday, I’ve still got some work to do.

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Filed under Baby Olympics, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Food

Wouldn’t you know…

Most of my mum friends took baby sign language classes. I, resolutely, did not. I thought they were a waste of money. I got the book out of the library (this does not surprise you at all, does it?), and then scanned all the pages with the signs on them into a PDF file for future reference.

“E. doesn’t need to have a billion signs,” I said to anyone who was listening. “We’ll try and teach him some really useful ones, but that’ll be it. I’m not going to be one of these overachieving, secretly terribly anxious, competitive middle-class mums who brags that her kid has fifty signs including the one for ‘crocodile’. When is he going to need a sign for crocodile? It’s not like we live near the zoo.”

And so we did. We taught E. only a few signs, the ones we thought would be most useful.

But here’s the thing- E. has been inventing his own signs, like the one he uses for ‘tired/nap/sleep’.

At fifteen months, E. signs ‘more’, ‘all done’, ‘milk’, ‘water’, ‘diaper change’, ‘tired/nap/sleep’ and… ‘crocodile’.

We did NOT teach him a sign for crocodile. But he claps his hands together in a snapping motion whenever he sees one. And it turns out quite a few of his books have crocodiles in them.

Who knew?

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Filed under Baby Olympics, E.- the second year

The Baby Olympics

I am having a really hard time right now with the crazy developmental leaps that take place around the year mark. Not with E.- he’s his usual sunny self even though that molar he’s cut is still bugging him (only one point is through the gum).

No, my problem is with all the OTHER babies I read about online, on blogs or on my birth club.

I can’t stop comparing E. with them.

It’s not about the walking. I could care less when E walks. He’s started experimenting with freestanding, so he’s still moving along his own little developmental arc, and he’ll get there when he’s ready.

It’s the words that are killing me. The use of language.

Or, if I am being honest with myself, the claims that these mums are making about the uses of language. I’ve seen enough videos on my birth club to know that some mums are counting things as ‘words’ that I, personally, wouldn’t. It’s not a criticism, just an awareness that we have different ideas about when something becomes a word. For me, it’s not a word until E. uses the sound correctly in context, and not just when he’s mimicking me, or when there’s a pause in the conversation and he thinks that a response is warranted.

So E. doesn’t have any words. Not even ‘mama’ or ‘dada’- he is nowhere near attaching those predictably to us. He will ‘meow’ if asked what the cat says, and he has started to mimic ‘lalala’ when readingMoo, Baa, LaLaLa, but that’s pretty much it. He still doesn’t babble all that much. I don’t feel he’s started ‘jargoning’ like they say he will, where he speaks less in baby babble and more like a foreign language.

At the same time, there is nothing to point to that suggests there is a problem brewing. His comprehension is increasing every day. He uses the signs we’ve worked on with him to ask for what he needs, especially ‘more’. I’m modelling ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘help’, ‘hurt’, ‘water’, ‘milk’ and ‘book’ more thoroughly now to see if he’ll pick up any of those, as sometimes he does get frustrated when I can’t figure out what he wants ‘more’ of. He follows simple instructions without any accompanying gestures- he’ll give me something if I ask for it, and I don’t have to have my hand out.

I’ve had to take a very hard look at myself to see where this concern is coming from. I’ve asked myself- am I just disappointed that E. isn’t a standout in his birth club? Am I sad that he’s not one of these babies with 25 words at the year mark? Am I losing sight of the son I have because of the son I want?

I was always in gifted programs as a child. At age six I had the vocabulary of someone in high school. Language is so important to me.

And yet. Although I had ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ by the year mark, I really didn’t have much else until I turned two, and then, at two years and one week, I came out with, “Please pass the butter, Mother” at the dinner table. I am living, breathing proof that you are not washed up by thirteen months if you aren’t yet speaking. My Mum said, when I talked about this with her when we were visiting last week, that I was a really quiet baby too. I whistled at nine months, but didn’t say much. I was just taking it all in.

The end result of my soul searching is I don’t think the issue is that I’m disappointed E isn’t one of these babies I can brag about. Which is a good thing, as the comparisons could be endless if I wanted to go down that route. Ooh, who’s reading first? Who aced the test at school? Who’s in the gifted program? Comparisons are invidious, but ubiquitous. They are so so so easy to make. And I think, thus far, I’ve done a pretty good job of not comparing E. to the babies around him, whether to feel boastful because of what he’s doing that they’re not, or to feel disappointed that they’ve mastered a skill he hasn’t yet.

The problem, I think, relates to my own insecurities as a parent, and it explains why I am stressing so much about this one concrete issue, and not about so many other things, like walking, or using utensils when eating, etc. etc.

I worry that E’s language is delayed because I didn’t talk enough to him when he was little because I was so tired and so unhappy and he was basically a vegetable (to quote Plutarch). I worry that he would have had words by now but he doesn’t because Q. says even less to him than I do, and now Q. looks after him for half of each day. I worry that even though I try to label anything he looks at, it’s not enough, and when I find myself making dinner and realize I haven’t said anything to him for a couple of minutes, I feel miserable.

Ah yes. There’s that mother guilt again.

It’s stupid, really. E. started babbling exactly around the time he was supposed to. And that lightbulb moment of comprehension, where he figured out he really could communicate with us and express his wants and needs, happened right around his birthday like it should have. He is on track, on his own track, to do everything in his own time.

And yet whenever we visit relatives, I can see an immediate change in E’s babble. There is more of it, and it is more complex, when he is surrounded by people and language all day long. When we get back home, or the visitors leave, this change lasts for a day or so and then he reverts back to his usual pattern.

But I don’t know what more I can do. I make a point of talking to him all the time if we’re playing, and I try to keep up a running patter when I’m otherwise engaged. Q. doesn’t do this, but he is just more laconic than I am, and I don’t think that will change. But E. gets both of us at all three meals most days, and we chat to each other as we eat. And now that he requests books we both spend tons of time reading to him.

There is, I am sure, absolutely nothing wrong with E. It’s my problem that he isn’t speaking yet- not his.

I just need E. to get a word or two, so I can lay my own insecurities to rest.

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Filed under Baby Olympics, My addled brain