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As of early June, Minnesota’s measles outbreak has led to more confirmed cases than in all of the United States in 2016.


Minneapolis’s Somali population, in which vaccination rates have sharply decreased throughout the last decade, has seen the majority of the measles cases. In 2014, their vaccination rate was just 42 percent, significantly less than the 95 percent needed to ensure herd immunity.

Part of the reason for that decrease, experts suggest, is the lectures Andrew Wakefield gave to Minneapolis’s Somali community in 2010 and 2011 about the dangers of vaccination.

You may not be familiar with Wakefield’s name, but you’re likely familiar with his most impactful work: linking vaccines and autism. For vaccine skeptics, that work makes him a hero. For vaccine proponents, that makes him a villain.

This article is not another contribution to the larger debate nor is it a judgment of people on either side. Yelling at each other on the Internet is not going to solve the “problem” of vaccines, whether you view the problem as an increasingly unvaccinated population or an increasingly vaccinated one.

Instead, this article focuses on how a single scientific study had such an outsized impact on how the world understands vaccines and autism, and draws out five research lessons all parents can learn from that study.

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The link between vaccines and autism

In February 1998 the British medical journal, The Lancet, published Wakefield’s article, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.” You wouldn’t expect a paper with that title to generate decades of impassioned fighting over vaccine policy. You probably wouldn’t even expect that of its main finding: that children’s bowel disorders, which might be causing autism, were “generally associated in time with environmental triggers.”

However, if you’d listened to the press conference about that paper, you would have heard Wakefield asserting his belief that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was causing autism.

Retraction and disbarment

Even without the fraudulent behavior that led to the paper’s eventual retraction, Wakefield’s work would not have been considered very strong science. First, the study enrolled 12 children. That is an impossibly small size from which to draw any conclusions. The study mostly relied on parents’ narration of events, which is not generally considered strong evidence.

In an editorial that also ran in that February 1998 issue of The Lancet, Robert Chen and Frank DeStefano critiqued Wakefield’s reasoning. They pointed to the millions of vaccinated children around the world who had not experienced gastrointestinal problems. They raised concerns with Wakefield’s data collection, which relied heavily on parents’ memories of events. They warned that correlation of an autism diagnosis with the timing of the MMR vaccine did not mean that one caused the other.

The last paragraph of Chen and DeStefano’s critique is eerily prescient. They feared that without a careful system of rigorous measurement, the vaccine-safety fears stoked by papers like Wakefield’s “may snowball into societal tragedies when the media and the public confuse association with causality and shun immunisation.”

Chen and DeStefano’s concerns were echoed by other researchers and physicians at the time Wakefield’s article was published. Even greater concerns emerged once The Lancet’s editorial staff began investigating ethical claims about Wakefield’s research. By 2010, when Wakefield was giving those lectures targeted at the Somali population of Minneapolis, his article was being retracted and he was being banned from practicing medicine in the U.K.

The Lancet’s editorial staff retracted the article for two main reasons. First, Wakefield and co-authors claimed that the children who participated in the study were “consecutively referred,” meaning that they were chosen as they came and that no eligible participants were selected. That turned out not to be true. Second, Wakefield and co-authors claimed that they had received permission from local ethics boards to conduct the study when they had not.

After the retraction, other investigators found even more serious issues, such as Wakefield’s undisclosed role in a lawsuit against MMR vaccine manufacturers and his falsification of data in each of the 12 cases included in his study.

The aftermath

Wakefield’s disbarment doesn’t appear to have slowed him down. In 2016, he released “Vaxxed: From Coverup to Catastrophe.” The promotional website describes him as “an academic gastroenterologist” before listing his degrees, accolades, and publications.

Despite that description, Andrew Wakefield is not an academic gastroenterologist. He is a disbarred gastroenterologist, disallowed from practicing medicine in both his home country and unlicensed to practice medicine in the United States. He is not employed by an academic medical center. Those details don’t appear until six paragraphs later, so only the most thorough readers are likely to see that information.

In the documentary (and basically to whatever journalist will interview him), Wakefield defends his research and his integrity, noting that he never said that he’d proven a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. But, as Susan Dominus puts it in the New York Times, “his concerns, not his caveats, ricocheted around the world.”

So now here we are in June 201 with a measles outbreak in Minnesota. In an interview for The Washington Post, Wakefield claimed that the Somali community of Minneapolis “had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned” about vaccines. “I was responding to that,” he states. In its coverage of the outbreak, Vox’s Julia Belluz explains what Wakefield imagines himself to be doing: “he’s just giving concerned parents information they want.”

Maybe concerned parents shouldn’t always get what they want.

Five research traps to avoid

You don’t have to look hard for “evidence” that vaccines cause autism, because Wakefield will pop up right at the top of your search results. If you want to build a case that vaccines are dangerous, you can get what you want.

Your child isn’t likely to suffer from this choice, at least not directly. The reason that Minneapolis’s measles cases now outnumber the entire U.S.’s measles cases from 2016 is that, overall, the rate of measles is incredibly low. Even if you choose not to vaccinate, your child isn’t likely to contract any of the diseases that those vaccinations have been designed to ward off, because many other parents will be picking up the slack in establishing herd immunity.

What suffers is science and reason. In a world where the accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are feverishly lobbed at those who disagree with us, it’s more important than ever for parents to model good scientific literacy and critical thinking. It is our obligation as parents to educate ourselves, not about a specific issue like vaccines, but about how to do high-quality research. That education will help us make sense of the seemingly contradictory results in our Google searches.

Trap #1: Googling a yes or no question

Wakefield’s Lancet paper appears to have been built on a yes or no question he already “knew” the answer to. He looked for evidence that a vaccine caused a bowel issue that caused autism, and guess what? He “found” it.

The same basic principle applies to your own research. If you’re asking a yes or no question, you probably already have an answer in mind. If you Google that yes or no question, you will find whichever answer you’re looking for, because it’s incredibly difficult to consider contradictory evidence if you’ve already answered your question.

Of course, it’s impossible to be completely open-minded about the question you’re researching, especially if you’re researching about your own child’s illness. But you can open up your research question by phrasing it in terms of “how” or “why.”

Trap #2: Mistaking correlation for causation

Wakefield’s subjects may very well have had diagnosable autism and diagnosable bowel disorders. They may also have had MMR vaccines near the timing of those other symptoms.

Even if this was the case, the correlation of those conditions is not proof of causation.

Humans are really powerful storytellers. It’s well-documented that we see patterns even when none exist. When we read about medical tragedies online, it’s really easy to connect the dots and decide what caused it, but there are countless other details missing that could help complete the picture.

When conducting your own research, don’t settle for the first cause you find. Or better yet, focus less on what may have caused a medical problem (you don’t have the lab equipment to make that determination, anyway) and instead focus on what to do about symptoms.

Trap #3: Focusing on newsworthy numbers

Humans may be good storytellers, but we are lousy unaided statisticians. When we see an one-in-a-million chance, we tend to see ourselves in the “one” rather than in the “one million.” Or we see a scary sounding conclusion and forget to look at the sample size.

Even if Wakefield’s sample wasn’t compromised, even if his research methods were pure, he only studied 12 children. That’s an incredibly small number to base any conclusion on, especially given the millions of children who have received vaccinations without developing either bowel problems or autism.

When you see stats reported in the news, pause and consider them in context.

Trap #4: Not identifying “they”

In her profile of Wakefield, Susan Dominus mentions his use of a powerful rhetorical tool: “He said he believes that ‘they’ – public-health officials, pharmaceutical companies – pay bloggers to plant vicious comments about him on the Web.”

Even as the medical community was rejecting him, Wakefield’s work continued to gain popularity. Perhaps that’s because of the very scary “they.” Invoking a mysterious other, with potentially impure motives, is a sure way to pull people over to your side. “They” don’t want people to see the research. “They” have money to gain from the existence of vaccines. “They” gain from making vaccine federal policy.

Now imagine that you are a parent to a child with an autism diagnosis. You’re probably also really angry with some amorphous “they.” “They” told you vaccines were safe. “They” didn’t tell you about Wakefield’s work. “They” didn’t catch the warning signs early enough. It’s easy to put your “they” and Wakefield’s “they” together.

In your own research, if you’re seeing frequent references to whatever “they” don’t want you to know, be skeptical. Define “they.” Ask yourself what “they” really have to gain from this supposed deception.

Trap #5: Failing to ask why you’re researching in the first place

Wakefield has defended the conflict-of-interest allegation against him, arguing that none of the money he received from law firms arguing against MMR vaccine manufacturers went to funding the 1998 Lancet paper. Even if that was true, he cannot be an impartial observer of the evidence because his erstwhile employers had something to gain if he concluded in their favor.

Parents who conduct research without asking themselves why they’re doing it may face similar conflicts of interest. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, but asking hard questions about your own research motives can help you avoid most common research traps. Has your child just received a scary diagnosis and you’re looking for comfort? Are you looking for someone to blame? Are you looking to find evidence to win a fight with your spouse or mother-in-law? Those circumstances don’t mean you will do bad research, but they can interfere with your interpretation. Making your own biases clear can help you steer clear of sources that cater to those biases.

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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Over the years, switching to nontoxic products has become a popular trend. But, as moms ourselves, we understand how overwhelming it can be to consider a lifestyle change. We founded Branch Basics with the idea that simple swaps in your cleaning closet could be the jumpstart to living chemical-free.

For many people, the swap has been influenced by various headlines. One study compared cleaning your home with conventional products to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes every day. Additionally, the EPA has reported that indoor air quality is actually worse than outdoor air quality.

With every reason to make the swap, here is a beginner's guide to non-toxic home cleaning. We call this process our Clean Sweep with just three simple steps.

1. Review

Pull out all of the cleaners (and pesticides) you currently have in your home. Yes, even the dusty ones deep in the back of the cabinet! Once you have these out, review them for red flag words, like "caution, warning or danger."

Cleaning companies are not required by law to list their ingredients, so any cleaners that are not transparent about their ingredients should be taken out of your home. Remove anything with parfum or fragrance, as the word fragrance represents a fragrance recipe that may have never been tested for safety. (Pro tip: You can use essential oils to make scents you like.)

Other common ingredients to avoid are:

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  • Perchloroethylene or "PERC"
  • Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or "QUATS"
  • 2-Butoxyethanol
  • EPA registered pesticides like Chlorine
  • Methylisothiazolinone "MIT"
  • Benzisothiazolinone "BIT"
  • Any of the Isothiazolinone family
  • Ethoxylated Alcohols

Finally, toss your dryer sheets and fabric softeners if they're loaded with carcinogens such as dichlorobenzene and benzyl acetate, respiratory irritants such as chloroform and benzyl alcohol, neurotoxins like linalool and ethanol, and endocrine disruptors such as phenoxyethanol and phthalates.

For any ingredient you are unsure of or don't recognize, the internet has great resources like the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, where you can look up health ratings from 1-10 (1 being the safest to 10 being the most toxic).

Another excellent tool is the Think Dirty® app, an easy way to evaluate ingredients in your beauty, personal care and household products. Just scan the product barcode and it will give you easy-to-understand info on the product and its ingredients. We recommend that household products have ingredients rated A on EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning or a zero on Think Dirty.

2. Remove

If you find products that have toxic chemicals in them, remove them from your home. If you aren't ready to part with some of your products, put them in an airtight Sterilite container in your garage or backyard. This simple act of removal will improve your air quality immediately.

3. Replace

Now it's time to streamline. Do some research and find items that are plant-based or otherwise naturally-based. Branch Basics offers a variety of nontoxic alternatives to popular household products, like laundry detergent and bathroom cleaner. The Honest Company created safe baby and beauty products. And Beautycounter provides safer skin care and cosmetics. You can even scour the internet for resources for homemade alternatives, too. If it feels overwhelming, start with your most-used products and work your way down the list.

Switching to nontoxic cleaning supplies is one of the easiest ways to start creating a healthier home and there's so much information out there that can walk you through what should and shouldn't be in your products. Simple swaps can make a big difference for your family.

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You know that you want to raise your children differently than how you were raised—with compassion and connection, instead of punishment and reward. Except the only thing is, friends and extended family just don't seem to get your parenting choices.

You can feel their spoken and unspoken judgments, and it's really putting you on edge, but you don't want to have uncomfortable conversations or tension. So what do you do, mama?

Here are 10 positive phrases you can say to family and friends who just don't seem to get your parenting.

1. "I appreciate how much you care about our kids, but I'm really happy with how we're doing it."

This response finds the common ground. Both of you care deeply about your children, and that's the main thing to acknowledge. It sets a limit and lets the other person know you are not looking for help and advice, but appreciate their intention.

2. "I've thought and read a lot about parenting and I'm really happy with what I've learned."

Parenting nowadays can look pretty different from how it was in previous generations, and there are so many resources giving contradictory advice. A friend or relative may make the mistaken assumption that you are doing it all wrong simply because it's not how they did it, or are doing it. This response lets them know you have made a thoughtful choice.

Gently pointing out that you have read and thought about their parenting style may surprise them. Perhaps your confident response may even make them curious about what you have read, and why you decided it's the right way for you to parent.

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3. "We've tried different methods, and this is what works best for us."

Let your friend or relative know that you aren't looking for advice, you've tried different styles of parenting and are content with what you're doing.

4. "We find that they're more responsive when we set limits gently."

If you are taking the more peaceful route, then you'll find that it's pretty common for parents to mistake gentle parenting with permissive parenting. Pointing out that you are setting limits, even if they look a little different, can be reassuring to a relative who thinks you are not in control.

5. "I've noticed that if we listen to the crying rather than distracting or ignoring them, then they let out their feelings and are less likely to be upset later."

A lot of people have a huge misunderstanding about crying. They think of it as a negative that needs to be stopped instead of as a healthy and healing way to express emotions. This is a simple way to tell them that there is a purpose in allowing feelings, and it's actually better in the long run for your family.

6. "Every family is different, but this is what works best for us."

Parenting differences can often bring up strong feelings between friends because one person may assume you are judging them and think that what they're doing is wrong. Acknowledging that every family is different is a peacemaker. It shows that choosing a different path doesn't mean you are judging or critical of others, and you get that everyone makes different choices.

7. "Kids are so different. This is how my child responds best."

Everyone is the best expert on their family and what their children need. Nobody on the outside looking in can tell you how to parent. This phrase lets the other person know that what you are doing is based on what your understanding of what your child needs and ensures they won't need an explanation.

8. "Don't worry, I can handle this!"

If a friend or family member wants to step in and parent for you, this is a polite way of saying "no thanks."' A lot of people aren't comfortable around big emotions so perhaps they see your child crying and want to give them a lollipop to cheer them up.

This phrase gently lets them know they don't need to fix or solve the situation. It can be reassuring to them that despite the wild emotions of your child (or their challenging behavior), that you are feeling calm and under control.

9. "Thanks for your advice. I'll give it some thought."

This is a conversation closer. It lets the person know they've been heard and you aren't just dismissing what they say. But it also ends the debate, so it's perfect to use with someone you know will never understand what you're doing.

10. "I guess this must look a little different to how you were parented?"

This might not always be appropriate, but if the timing seems right it can open up a discussion about the roots of why the other person might feel the way they do about parenting. Sharing stories about how you were parented can help both come to an understanding that everyone chooses their own parenting path based on their own complex histories, and personal choices.

It also gives the other person a chance to express how they feel about their own childhood, which can help them feel heard, and more relaxed and flexible in their attitude to how you are parenting.

Plus one more that isn't a phrase: Just listen.

Sometimes, no response is needed. Often when people give advice or have strong feelings towards other people's parenting, it's because they feel a sense of responsibility. Perhaps your children's big emotions triggered memories from their childhood, and how they would have been treated if they acted out or expressed themselves.

In those moments, their unheard feelings get ignited and they respond from their own sense of hurt. It can be helpful just to listen to them, to accept that their reaction has nothing to do with you and your parenting, but is about their own history.

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Motherhood is a journey with highs so high so you'll remember them forever, and lows so low you'll curse the day away. I'm still navigating these uncharted waters and just when I feel like the sea has steadied, the water turns choppy again.

My days are filled with uncertainty as we discover more about what's beneath this sweet boy of mine. I know he is smart, strong, passionately curious, compassionate and spirited. What I'm still learning, though, are the differences that make him unique. It's difficult to describe what it's like to be a parent of a spirited child. The answer depends on the day, the task, the weather—the answer is always changing.

Our days ebb and flow, like waves of the ocean. They swell with enjoyment and eagerness and then naturally fade through periodic episodes of misunderstanding and confusion. Attachment and connection, followed by detachment and disconnection. Up and down, back and forth, give and take, push and pull.

My strong-willed child keeps me on my toes, but when I'm able to lift the hood, I can really see what's going on in with his engine. His spirited nature has brought brightness to my life. He is a child of high standards, but is an absolute delight. He is sweet and generous, creative and bright.

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Here are the joys I've learned from parenting a spirited child:

1. His curiosity is a good thing and it reminds me to slow down.

He's always interested in how things work and asks a lot of questions—oftentimes, he tries to figure it out on his own. His senses are keen, and his observations are imaginative and rich. Our five-minute walk to school quickly stretches to 15.

On our way, he'll notice the grasshopper sitting alone on a single branch and the intricate spiderweb laced in the bush nearby. He notices the beautiful colors of the flowers and the leaves changing in the fall.

He'll look up at the sky and see a heart-shaped cloud and hear the distant sound of a siren. He'll notice when one of my shirt buttons is unbuttoned and the single strand of hair on my sleeve. His mind never stops because he is always seeking out knowledge and gathering the data in his mind.

2. His compassion for others and empathy for his friends is admirable.

When he feels, he feels hard. When he expresses love for his baby brother, I'll catch him gently patting his back and giving him a soft embrace, followed up with a kiss and a whisper saying, "I love you."

He once saw his friend fall off her tricycle on the playground and quickly jumped off his and rushed over to make sure she was okay. Every ounce of his body and soul is poured out in those moments. The intense, passionate emotions add depth to my life and make me want to be a better person.

3. He never gives up.

He is determined, tenacious, and will not take "no" for an answer. And if we do say "no," he'll find another way to get a "yes." He's not intimidated by adults or peers and is confident in who he is and what he can do.

At soccer practice, he is the first in line to practice short drills and will run himself ragged until he scores a goal. During our morning school routine, he is the master of negotiation and can somehow convince me he's too full to eat the banana on his plate but not too full to finish off the glass of orange juice.

He is strong-willed and headstrong, qualities I know will serve him well in the future. He wants to learn on his own and test his own limits.

Parenting a spirited child is hard, but it's also rewarding. While it may be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor, I take comfort in knowing that he will grow up to be a leader.

He will be resilient and passionate, focused and unafraid to speak his mind. I don't want him to blend, I want him to shine. I want him to march through life, and not just add to the noise. I want him to love his spirit always, in all ways.

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