May15

If you are wondering where my promised Monday, Wednesday and Friday posts have gone, don’t worry! I am still writing but at 30 minutes a day, I have decided to put more effort into publishing thoughtfully edited posts. Here is a teaser quote regarding the next piece that I will be publishing. Likely on Friday of this week!

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Space: the final frontier of Health Care


Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Growing up in the USA and watching the transition to a more formal European Union (EU), I often thought of the EU, like I did the Starship Enterprise. Peaceably bringing together nations that had been squabbling amongst themselves (to put it mildly) for hundreds of years, if not millennia, is an amazing feat. Creating a common monetary union, even more amazing.

Living in France, I will admit that I still have a very romantic view of the EU. The EU represents progress and peace. Open borders, freedom of movement. This is the world we would all like to live in. At the same time, there are sacrifices to be made. Outside of a common monetary system, the nations of the EU do not share political systems, economic systems, systems of health care or do they even have standardized accounting systems. Each nation is unique and relatively independent. Certain countries have stronger economies. Others have better health care. Some have higher wages. Not even road signs are universal between countries.

Today, over 10% of the French population is foreign born, overall unemployment is near 10% and unemployment for young adults is near 25%. France also has a higher average income than all but a handful of EU countries. Open borders in the EU, mean that anyone from an EU country can come to France and access both the health care system and legally work. Once you have met certain basic requires for legal work in France, and you become unemployed, you are eligible for unemployment. Unlike the US, there is not a cap on how long one can pull unemployment and it is not uncommon for individuals to work a 6-month contract and then take unemployment for 6 months, before taking a new contract. Affordable health care, housing assistance, and other social programs make meeting life’s’ basic necessities much more easily attained in France than in the United States.

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Uncomfortable
May03

Uncomfortable

IMG_1925This weekend my husband and I took a little trip without the kids to a big city. Toulouse is similarly sized to Denver, in my home state of Colorado. Sometimes Toulouse reminds me of Boston, with its red brick buildings and tree-lined streets. At the same time, Toulouse is a very contemporary French city. The population is diverse and the people on the streets are of all persuasions. In general, one feels safe and the mood is pleasant.

Normally, when we visit Toulouse we stay with family, but this time we rented a hotel room off of TripAdvisor (and Hotels.com). Saturday afternoon, after eating with my brother-in-law, we decided to stop and pick up some bottled water. Just because one can safely drink water out of the bathroom tap, doesn’t mean that one WANTS to drink water out of the bathroom.

As we are driving down the street, we saw a little market. Similar to your average French mini-grocer, with boxes of produce outside. I hopped out of the car and walked in. Unlike your normal French grocer, where the cashier immediately says “Bonjour!” I was greeted by silence. After a minute or so of trying to decide between flat water (l’eau plate aka Evian) or seltzer water (l’eau gazeuses aka Perrier), I realized why I had not been greeted. I was a tall woman, in tight jeans, standing amongst conservatively dressed Muslim men wearing robes and caps.

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Uncomfortable: Religion and Politesse in Public Spaces

This weekend my husband and I took a little trip without the kids to a big city. Toulouse is similarly sized to Denver, in my home state of Colorado. Sometimes Toulouse reminds me of Boston, with its red brick buildings and tree-lined streets. At the same time, Toulouse is a very contemporary French city. The population is diverse and the people on the streets are of all persuasions. In general, one feels safe and the mood is pleasant.

Normally, when we visit Toulouse we stay with family, but this time we rented a hotel room off of TripAdvisor (and Hotels.com). Saturday afternoon, after eating with my brother-in-law, we decided to stop and pick up some bottled water. Just because one can safely drink water out of the bathroom tap, doesn’t mean that one WANTS to drink water out of the bathroom.

As we are driving down the street, we saw a little market. Similar to your average French mini-grocer, with boxes of produce outside. I hopped out of the car and walked in. Unlike your normal French grocer, where the cashier immediately says “Bonjour!” I was greeted by silence. After a minute or so of trying to decide between flat water (l’eau plate aka Evian) or seltzer water (l’eau gazeuses aka Perrier), I realized why I had not been greeted. I was a tall woman, in tight jeans, standing amongst conservatively dressed Muslim men wearing robes and caps.

I picked out my water (no prices to be seen) and went to pay. I had to stand there for several minutes as no one would look at me. The men seemed to be arguing amongst themselves and talking around me. Finally, one gentleman came to address me. He rang up my water, which came to a total of 5,40 Euros. When I got out my credit card to pay (the only form of payment I had on me) he pointed out that they had a 10 Euro minimum for cards. I pointed out I only had a card. Generally, even in France if you can only pay with a card, a store will overlook his or her minimum to make the sale. Not this time.

This time, the gentleman offered to raise my prices (for 4 bottles of water) by 50 cents each. I gave a nervous laugh and said no, that is a little steep. He said we are done then. I said ok. And then he told me to put my bottles back. By this time, from the tone of his voice to his body language, the entire exchange had me feeling queasy. In fact, writing about it four days later is actually making my body shake. The tension in the room at the time was immense. I might have actually followed his instructions to put the bottles back, except for that I literally had to bolt out of the store. I was physically repulsed by the exchange. As part of the privileged class of white folk in the Western world, I am not used to this type of exchange. I am often surprised by French customer service, but then the French tend to see me more as an interesting curiosity. I may periodically be served with indifference, but that is not the same as hate.

Respect. Tolerance. Religious Freedom. The United States. France. And many other countries of the world practice religious freedom and religious tolerance. One is not supposed to be discriminated upon due to religious belief or practice of customs. I realize that what I experienced Saturday, may be what some Muslim women or men experience in reverse. Perhaps this is why these gentlemen opened a store. Of course, this then begs the question, if you open a store to protect your cultural population from discrimination, why would you reciprocate with hate? Or perhaps the store was opened, so that Muslim men, would not have to come in contact with Western women? And, by walking in the store, I had unknowingly upset the balance?

Whatever the case, tit for tat doesn’t make it O.K. and running a store on a large French boulevard, shop-keepers ought to be prepared to welcome all sorts of customers. When I first noticed the men in the store were dressed in Muslim garb, I was not put off in any way. Many years ago, when I was growing up in Boulder, CO there was a “Middle Eastern Grocery” store in the north of the town. It was a fun place to visit. They had interesting spices, the owner made his own Baklava, they sold dates in bulk. It was a romantic and friendly place to visit. The store made me want to travel and see the world. Perhaps at home, the man’s wife wore traditional clothing, but in his store, I was welcome. This is the way our world should be.

In our minds, in our homes, we can practice what we wish; however, when we mix with the world in which we live, there needs to be space for us to respect and appreciate our differences. I think one reason I felt this experience at such a visceral level is that I am scared of policies that seem to favor this growing divide. And whether it is reality or a sensationalist trick of the news media, it seems problems that we currently have in the U.S. and in France that stem from this divide seems to be growing larger and more common.

One thing I think that is interesting to note is that in France there is a much more authentic practice of laïcité or secularism than I have experienced in the USA. Conservatives in France are not proponents of one religion over another, they say that no religion should receive special treatment, this goes for Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and even Protestants. In spite of France having culturally Catholic roots (and most national holidays remain Catholic holidays), I am continually surprised that my experience living in France as a more secular experience than the US. And so, while Trump is proposing to make it okay to discriminate based upon religion (specifically Christian beliefs), France is balancing between two candidates who both propose that zero essentially zero preference for religious belief should be given.

The centrist candidate (Macron) says all religions should be respected, which for him means that people whose religious beliefs have a public component should be able to express those beliefs in public (aka wear religious clothing in public). At the same time, the conservative candidate (Le Pen) goes further and says that in public spaces, citizens should not be able to assert their religious beliefs, including clothing.

Now, I am not prepared to debate this issue any further here today, because as a delicate issue, it requires more time and space than I have at the moment. At the same time, I encourage you to discuss this issue in the public sphere, but without anger or accusation. In the ideal world, we would respect our brothers and sisters in public and not judge one another. We would not hate a stranger for her beliefs or her cultural background. Life is a two-way street. And no one should experience hate and or fear, simply for just being themselves.

The Oatmeal just published a little piece that addresses this experience of different beliefs and so before you get mad one way or another at what I wrote above, just let your feeling of uncomfortableness sit, and read this instead.

Your Not Going to Believe This

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La famille

Aujourd’hui, je vais essayer de m’exprimer en français. Depuis 2013 je suis une résidente de France d’où j’habite avec mon mari. Il n’est pas facile de changer son pays et ses coutumes, mais on apprend beaucoup sur ce qui est important dans la vie. C’est sur que je ne suis pas la même femme aujourd’hui, comme j’étais le jour de mon arrivée.

La Famille

Ma mère a grandi dans une famille nombreuse et mon enfance était passé entouré des cousins et cousines. Malgré que j’ai grandi moi-même comme un enfant unique (j’ai un demi-frère de 17 ans plus âgé que moi et on n’a jamais habité ensemble), j’ai eu toujours un appreciation pour une grande famille.

Ici en France, mon mari a deux frères et trois soeurs. Entre-eux, ils ont des époux et des enfants en plus. Ses parents a au moins 15 petits-enfants. Depuis que la première fois que je me suis rencontré de ses parents, j’ai senti que j’étais un vrai partie de la famille. Maintenant qu’on a ajouté deux petits-enfants en plus de la famille, je le senti en plus.

La vie avec deux enfants de moins deux ans et toujours presser. On a toujour quelque choses à ranger! Et il peut être difficile de se concentrer sur son couple. Ce weekend, mon mari et moi ont parti pour célébrer 5 ans de mariage. On a eu le désire de prendre une pause ensemble sans enfants.

Grâce à la famille de mon chéri, c’était possible de laisser nôtres bébés et aussi mon grand chez eux pour le weekend. Samedi j’étais un peux malheureuse jusqu’à le moment j’ai vu sur Facebook ma petite fille avec ses cousins. Ils étaient entrain de fêter un anniversaire. Entre les câlins de ses taties et les cousins et les cousines, j’ai vu que mes petits soient très chanceux. Ou comme mon mari l’a dit, ils avaient eu la possibilité ce weekend d’apprendre l’importance et la grâce de la famille.

L’appréciation et Le remerciement

Les êtres humains ont toujours un grand désir d’appartenir à quelqu’un ou quelque choses et d’être aimés. C’était une chose merveilleux de voir comment ma petite fille de deux ans comprends la connection et l’amour de ses grands parents et ses taties et tontons. On est chanceux.

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Earning that Feeling of Satisfaction: What is Next
Apr30

Earning that Feeling of Satisfaction: What is Next

DAY 30: 30 DAYS OF BLOGGING

When I started this venture 30 days ago, I was not really sure what would happen. On multiple levels, I have been surprised. I didn’t really expect anyone to actually read what I wrote, well anyone besides my mom. I have been tickled pink to connect with both friends and family that have enjoyed my writing, as well as, to be of service to a few complete strangers. It is an honor to have each of you here in my little section of the world. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest and participation.

One of the surprises is that I didn’t expect that it would actually be both challenging and easy at the same time. Having my readers here and knowing that you are expecting my next piece has helped keep me honest, but so has the satisfaction of sitting down and sharing my thoughts. The challenging part, unsurprisingly, is that writing for 30 minutes every day does require that one’s day is structured. It also requires that one has time set-aside to be undisturbed. Or at the least, prepared to take advantage of moments in the day when it is plausible to write. Today I happen to be writing from a Cinema while we wait for the movie to start (yay! for reserved seating). I am in the lobby with a Starbucks to go…as we wait for Fast & Furious 8 to start. This is a date with my step-daughter who also lives in Toulouse. We couldn’t very well spend a weekend here with spending some time with her.

Yesterday, I made the choice not to write. I felt a mild twang of disappointment that it would mean I’d miss out on 2 or 3 days in total during the month, but that disappointment was worth the extra time spent with my husband and of course taking a nap. I did get in my 300 squats for the day. I don’t recall if I mentioned that in my original post, but my April goals included both writing for 30 minutes per day and 300 squats per day.

The squats, outside of my birthday, I did every day. Those results have also been surprising. By the end of the first week of squats, I could feel the difference in my running strength and speed. I am more stable when I run and I feel more powerful. I also realized that one reason almost every personal training program that you come across includes squats, is because they not only work a slew of leg and but muscles, but they also work your core (abs and back).

Ultimately, my month of writing 30 minutes per day and 300 squats per day has been exceptionally satisfying. On the writing front, I have been able to be both a bit vulnerable and connect with you, my readers, while also sharing some of my personal musings about the world and how things work. For the most part, my writing has also been improving as I am learning to focus more on the structure of my writing as a write. On the physical front, I feel both stronger and motivated to keep setting goals.

This, of course, leads me to consider my next set of goals. As I wrote in my birthday posts, I would like to become a faster and more efficient runner this year. Squats is the first step towards that goal, but more importantly, developing a consistent running schedule is also important. For this month I am going to set 7 goals in the realm of writing and fitness.

Physical Fitness Goals:

  1. This month I would like to get in runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday morning.
  2. I will do 300 squats per day 3 times per week.
  3. 3 days per week I will do 200 squats plus my Core Envy work-out from Allison Westfahl, a trainer I have worked with over the years in Denver.
  4. I will continue to do yoga in my yard 3 days per week.
  5. My running goal is to be able to run 3k faster than 6 kph by the end of the month and to maintain a minimum of 6 kph for 5k.

Writing Goals:

  1. I am going to read about writing for 30 minutes per day. I have ordered a few grammar books. I am going to start with Eats, Shoots & Leaves and then move on to Strunk & White and a book of English grammar exercises that I bought, but which has yet to arrive.
  2. I am going to start 3 of my work days with 30 minutes of writing and so on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday you can expect to hear from my yet again. And on Wednesdays, I am going to spend 60 minutes going back and reading and revising my April blog posts.

And to end, once again I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to everyone who has found their way to my blog for this first month of my 40th year. I love you.

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Day 30: Satisfaction and What is Next

When I started this venture 30 days ago, I was not really sure what would happen. On multiple levels, I have been surprised. I didn’t really expect anyone to actually read what I wrote, well anyone besides my mom. I have been tickled pink to connect with both friends and family that have enjoyed my writing, as well as, to be of service to a few complete strangers. It is an honor to have each of you here in my little section of the world. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest and participation.

One of the surprises is that I didn’t expect … READ MORE!

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Day 28: Rose City

Today has gone by in a flash. Life with several little ones often does. Somehow we all got in a little work, some laundry in, some bags packed, loaded the dishwasher, charged the car full of luggage (as we say in French: charger la voiture) and headed off towards Mamie et Papi, les Taties et les cousins. After a mostly tranquil drive we arrived.The littles and their big, were greeted by family and chocolate. The parents (us) managed to sneak out unnoticed after giving everyone kisses.

The weather today was a perfect spring day, the kind of day that I think of, when I think about France. Sometimes, I am surprised to discover that I live in France and not the U.S.

As we drove into Toulouse, the Rose City, we were greeted with blue sky and green leaves gracing the boulevards as we drove to the center of town. Our hotel is quaint, clean and comfortable. Perfect for our plans. First on the list, is taking a nap. Then dinner and an evening out.

Apparently the nap needs to happen sooner than later, as somehow I have already filled 36 minutes in writing two paragraphs. Ha!

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Day 27: Thursdays

Thursday is one of my favorite days of the week. The babies are at their nursery all day long and I have the day to myself to work, get in a run, and maybe enjoy some sunshine. This week Winston is on vacation (spring break) and we have plans to see a movie in the afternoon. The challenge with one whole day to myself is that it is too easy to fill it up with stuff and not get it all done! I have been working on that feeling of “success” by making a plan the night before.

Today I had a plan. I got up, I wrangled the kids into clothes, and food into their bellies and then got us out the door. My husband had made a 9 AM appointment with the local mechanic for his car, so I also moved the car seats from my car to his, so I didn’t have to make two runs across town. I dressed in my running shoes and I headed out the door. I made it to the mechanic only about 20 minutes late.

At the mechanic, they said, “Oops! We meant to make the appointment for Friday.” I said “On the paper right here you wrote “jeudi.” The guy responded, “yeah, that was me, I wrote it, but I wasn’t thinking. I made the appoint for Friday. The parts come in today.” Out the door went my plan. And then I thought, well, the husband is gone, if they can have the car done my noon tomorrow, we are still good. I explained the situation to the mechanic. He agreed. They will try and get it done today (dependent on part arrival), but will DEFINITELY have it done my tomorrow noon. Ok. I left the car. And I ran home.

I literally ran home. It actually only took me 18 minutes. I felt great and I discovered that it is exactly 3 km from the mechanic to my front door. I’d expected it to be longer. It is a boring drive. Sometimes it seems soooooooooo far just to go to the grocery store, which is located in the same shopping center as the mechanic.

It started me thinking about our dependence on cars. Before I moved to France, I thought that Americans were more dependent on their cars than the French. This is not true. American big city dwellers (New York, Chicago) that have good public transportation don’t use cars any more than French big city dwellers (Paris, Toulouse). Smaller town and rural French communities are completely dependent on their cars. I think I have in fact spent more time in my car here in France, than I did when I lived in the US.

I only live 3 km from the grocery store. This is a totally bikeable distance and even a walkable distance. If only. If only there were actually sidewalks. About ⅔ of my route home I ran on a dirt trail next to the traffic, which was passing me at a rate of 50 kph to 70 kph (30 mph to 45 mph). I also don’t live that far from the Creche (the babies’ nursery). The creche is half-way through one of my 30 minute running routes. Theoretically, I could easily walk the kids to the creche in the stroller and run home it would probably take me 45 minutes round-trip. Maybe I should start doing this a few times a week.

It also got me thinking that I could take a longer run all the way into Bayonne and along the river. A 10k from my door to the Ardour. Not a bad idea at all! When I got home, the sun was shining and I decided to do a little yoga for runners and my core work-out. My run had after all only taken me 18 minutes, which is not a complete workout. 30 minutes later I was inside taking a shower and getting ready to work. The best part of coming home was walking into the house. W had cleaned all the parts of the house that count. The kitchen counter, the dishes in the sink and the floor in our hall entry and the living room. These places seem to have a special sort of gravity for stuff. I am always cleaning them and they are always dirty. (Before you get too excited, he cleaned the house in exchange for mom taking him to the movies this afternoon.)

Besides, Folgers in your cup, the best way to start my work day is both a run and a clean house. Of course, shortly after I sit down to start working I get a call from the Creche. C is ill and they want me to come get him. For better or worse, his car seat is at the mechanic and so I explained that I cannot come get him until I get the car seat at 16h00. C is in good hands, and today I need to do something with my big kid. The kid who takes care of his baby brother and sister, makes them laugh, changes their diapers, and even sleeps in the same room with them. He could sleep upstairs in peaceful calmness, but big bubba prefers to sleep near his little bubbas. It is adorable.

And so now, with a few hours of work under my belt, my 30 minutes of writing in and lunch in my belly, I am off to see Boss Baby with my 9-year-old baby. I can’t wait. We might even get popcorn.

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Day 26: Loving Discipline

This piece could probably be a book, but fortunately, I have limited myself to 30 minutes. I don’t recommend being a parent to any and everyone; however, when it comes to self-knowledge and exploration, parenting is likely one of the best teachers. Of course, this is only if we have an interest in learning and willingness to take the time to reflect.

As a parent, watching a tiny being from creation (or arrival on your doorstep) as it grows and develops is awe-inspiring. Intimate knowledge of tiny beings is simply amazing. The spark of intellectual curiosity, human curiosity, the innate desire and ability to learn is fantastic.

On the flipside, parenting most definitely has awesome moments that fall more in the category of AWFUL than AWESOME. The number of levels at which parenting can go wrong is impressive and ever expanding. When you have one kid, you start to think that maybe you have it figured out. And then you have a second kid and you start to doubt yourself. By the third or fourth kid, the only thing that remains constant is that you love your kids more than anything. And that candy is more efficient than money when it comes to bribes.

Parenting is not for perfectionists. Or control freaks. In my experience, somewhere around two years of age, a parent learns that you can’t actually make/force/convince another human to do anything. On one hand, parents actually learn this sometime in the few hours to weeks after a baby is brought home, but it really sinks in, when the small human begins to recognize that he or she is independent of mom and dad. And in fact to some extent in control of her own destiny.

I recall distinctly the first time I really learned this lesson. Winston was about two years old and had recently been participating in what I called “nap strikes.” One afternoon as I tried to convince him to sleep, I slowly grew more and more agitated. He remained blissfully uninterested in sleeping. Finally, I lashed out (literally) and slapped his little round bottom. He was shocked. I was shocked. He still didn’t sleep. I closed his door and left him alone for some quiet time. I never again tried to force him to sleep.

Corporal punishment and punishment in general, exist because as humans, we have a desire to force our will on other humans. There is a difference though between punishment and discipline. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is a strategy that gives people, small and large, a structure and an understanding in which to operate. Writing for 30 days straight takes discipline, as does learning to tie one’s shoes or pass a spelling test. A huge part of parenting revolves around imparting discipline to our children.

Kids thrive on consistency, expectations, and discipline. Successful children get a balance of self-autonomy and loving discipline. One of the hardest parts of parenting (for me) is maintaining discipline and expectations in my own life. And there are still the days in which I wish I could just ask my mom or my dad to fill in. Of course, this is even harder with most of a continent and the Atlantic ocean between me and my parents.

I have found that the times I get the most frustrated with my kids (well the 2-year-old and the 9-year-old) is when I myself have actually failed the discipline game. Sure, my kids may not be responding the way I would like them to at THIS.MOMENT.IN.TIME. But what led up to this moment? What could I have done differently? Generally, it was my own lack of preparation or planning or follow-through. This is a realization as a parent that sucks.

Theoretically, at age 2, my daughter should be able to soothe herself, but she doesn’t. Putting her to bed is like crossing an adorable little kitten with a jack-in-the-box and banshee. Short of locking her in a kennel, which would not be appropriate, I have been faced with two choices. The first, which we tried a bit last week, was just letting her stay up, in hopes that she would get tired and fall asleep. In the end, we had a sobbing mess on our hands, who still wouldn’t sleep.

Our little 2-year-old does have sleep problems, but she also has eczema and a food allergy (or two). My consistency and discipline come into play here, because I have been putting off making follow-up appointments with our dermatologist and the food allergist. I just want her eczema to go away. And I don’t want her to be allergic to anything besides peanuts (this is her only known allergy). Allergies are inconvenient. Of course, kids who don’t sleep and wake up crying at 2 AM are also inconvenient. But the reality is when she takes an antihistamine, her itching and her eczema are significantly reduced.

The Gift of Imperfection, as Brene Brown, titled one of her books speaks to this… Certainly, the world works better when we are efficient, but we can’t control the world any more than we can control a 2-year-old. And sometimes, we just have to throw in the towel and go for the imperfect solution. On Monday, I bit the bullet and took her to the doctor. We have a new prescription for an antihistamine and orders to see the allergist. The pediatrician is certain she has another undiagnosed food allergy. Allergies are imperfect, but what can I do?

What I can do, is give her medication to soothe her little body and I can lay with her at bedtime to soothe her little mind. And so, for the last few nights, I have found myself laying down with our future Madame President for nearly an hour before she falls asleep. This solution is imperfect. It is not ideal for getting dishes done, taking care of my older son or taking care of myself. And yet, last night for the first time in a while, I had a child who slept the entire night through. And for the last four nights, she has eventually gone to sleep quietly without melting down or crying so hard her voice cracks.

Laying down beside her and rocking her like an infant is time-consuming. Last night it took more than an hour. Tonight it took 57 minutes (yes, I was timing.) Her little brother fell asleep during the first 11 minutes. And her big brother ALSO fell asleep on the couch waiting for me. It is an imperfect solution, but in the end, it is a solution.

My hope is that with consistency, in a few days or a week, she will relearn that she goes to bed when her baby brother goes to bed. And that sleeping in her bed is actually a nice, comfy thing to look forward to…wish me (and us) luck. In the meantime, I well cherish her hugs and snuggles and the smell of her small head under my chin, because someday she’ll be big. And then my problem will be waking her up…not getting her to sleep!

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