Category Archives: extended nursing

By contract II

I suppose I should mention this: I’m no longer a nursing mother.

If you’re new around here you might not be surprised by that – after all, for most mothers whose youngest is five years old, breastfeeding is something that happened way back in the mists of babyhood; toddlerhood at least. But here’s the thing: my babies were reluctant to stop. And I mean that most understatedly. They reacted to the idea of giving up the boob with screaming and terror and horror and gnashing and wailing of teeth, and frankly it was much easier for me to go along with that than to face their wrath.

I didn’t go into breastfeeding with the intent of carrying on until my babies could write their own thank-you notes. I certainly have no opinions about how long anyone else should keep it up, any more than I have opinions about what you should have for dinner or how often, if ever, you should shave your legs. Eat food you like; shave when you feel like it. Nurse your baby for as long as it suits you and your child.*

I had been telling Mabel that we would stop when she was five ever since she turned four and a half and we didn’t quite stop. We cut down from morning and evening to just morning at that point, and when I went on my Big Trip Away to BlogHer in July (for three days) she was just fine without. But our trip to Ireland was nicely timed to happen just before her birthday, and as I had hoped, the distraction of the different, of sharing a room with her brother and being in a new place was enough to break the habit quite easily. She only thought to nurse three mornings out of fourteen while we were there, and on the morning of her birthday was quite easily put off with a simple “No, you’re five now. You don’t need it any more.”

So we’re done. I’m not sad or sorry. I have no regrets about nursing for as long as I did, and I have no regrets about that part of my life being over. My babies and I had a mutually beneficial relationship for a long time, and though often the “mutually” felt more like “completely one-sided” in their favour, it was never enough for me to call a halt sooner than they were ready for. I’m not a martyr – far from it. I was always simply too lazy to make a stand against their will, because when it came down to it, the convenience outweighed the inconvenience.

So I can finally lay to rest the “Weaning” tag that I’ve used so often over the years here, as I considered, and attempted, and gave up on, and tried again with, and gradually approached the nirvana-like state of no longer breastfeeding. I’ve been wearing proper bras for a couple of years, actually, so I can’t even go out and indulge in some fabulous lingerie; and I doubt my alcohol consumption will see much change.

It’s a big milestone, but it’s been so long coming that I really don’t even notice the difference. Perhaps that’s as it should be. We’re looking ahead, not back.

* I’m talking here mostly about extended nursing. I do think you should start out by trying to breastfeed, if you’re medically able to. I think that’s a no-brainer. But if you don’t continue for very long, for whatever reason, I’ll assume that you did what you could and ended up making the best decision for you and your family. It’s not my business to have an opinion on that.

Listen (again)

This post was first published in September 2011, when Dash was five and Mabel was two years and ten months. I’m wheeling it out again as my contribution to the Irish Parenting Bloggers’ blog march for National Breastfeeding Week in Ireland – head on over to Mama.ie for a full list of everyone who’s taking part,and a great giveaway too.

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This morning Monkey announced that he wasn’t going to cry today. He went off to school with his Dad and wished me goodbye with aplomb. Reports from school were good: he still wanted to be walked to his classroom, which we’re not supposed to be doing at this stage, but he sat down and permitted a hug with nary a wail. I’m so pleased. There may, of course, be a relapse on Tuesday after the long weekend, and others to come, but I think it’s a good sign.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Instead, let’s talk about extended breastfeeding. Here, let me drag out my soapbox. Comfy down there? Need a seat? Don’t strain your neck, okay? I promise it won’t take long.

I didn’t really even register that Mabel counted as “extended” for quite a while. When you’re still nursing the big one too, you have to assume that the little one is legit, and the big one is just along for the ride. And technically, I’m not even sure when extended starts – after one year? After two? Okay, well, we’re coming up on three in a few months (and the big one has stopped, you’ll be glad to know, if you weren’t sure about that), so we’re definitely there now. She hardly ever nurses in public, so though we don’t have set times, I think it’s all ramping down gradually and I’m fine with that. There are days when she drags me to the sofa every five minutes, and I kvetch about how she needs to eat real food and stop bugging me, but then it turns out that she was starting a cold, or had been awake half the night, and she just really needs it.

Thing is, if I wasn’t nursing her, I don’t know when I would take that time to just sit down and have a cuddle with my two-year-old. She’s a big girl – I keep telling her that every time I try to entice the underpants back on. She’s starting nursery school next week. She’ll talk to you till the cows come home and she knows that cheetahs are the fastest animal and that Iron Man has repulsor blasts. (Oh yes he does.) She can climb anything, run anywhere, reach every damn thing she shouldn’t. But she’s still two, and even when she’s three, there will be times when she needs to decompress by being close to her mama for a while.

If I wasn’t still nursing Mabel, if she didn’t hold on to me every now and then in the most vital (and painful) way possible, I’d get up and walk away far too much. I’d say “Just a minute” and “Hold on a sec” and “I’ll be there in a moment” and “I have to get this done” even more than I already do, and I’d expect her to be fully self-sufficient all the time. She’s canny, this one, and she knows how to get her own way. Cuteness works, asking nicely works, whining works sometimes even though it shouldn’t; but when push comes to shove and she needs what she needs, she knows how to get me and keep me.

Because she’s right. The babies know. They always know. Listen to your baby.

Because one day they’ll walk off to big school with aplomb, and they won’t let you kiss them any more.

Toddler on balance bike
She was just about this big, and/or this small, back then.

The accidental extender

It’s World Breastfeeding Week (yay boobs!) and the Irish Parenting Bloggers, of which I am a proud member, are doing a blog march in its honour. This is my contribution, and I’ll add links to everyone else’s as the week progresses.

August 1st: Wholesome Ireland and The Happy Womb
August 2nd: Office Mum and Awfully Chipper
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon and It Begins With a Verse
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes and Ouch My Fanny Hurts
August 5th: Debalicious and Mind the Baby
August 6th: My Internal World, Musings and Chatterings, and Mama Courage
August 7th: The Nest, Mama.ie, At the Clothesline, My Life as a Mum, and Learner Mama

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may be familiar with my breastfeeding story; indeed, you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “There goes Maud with her boobs again.” If so – well, sorry about that.

When I had my first baby, my husband and I were living in southmost Texas, which is not a place that most of you have even considered might exist. I certainly hadn’t, until we spent two years there. We didn’t have any friends with young children, we didn’t associate with any babies or children, our families were an ocean away, and my babysitting years were far in the past. But we’d been married a year and I was 32 and I reckoned it was time to have a baby.

I did put some thought into it. I researched getting pregnant, and read pregnancy blogs, and checked babycare books out of the library. Pregnancy was achieved pretty much according to plan, which was wonderful, and I tried not to buy All The Stuff, because we had a small apartment and would be moving back up north when the baby was four months old.

My breastfeeding plans went like this: I wanted to, if I could. I hoped to get to three months, six if possible. Having a baby older than six months was not something I could conceive of at that point anyway, so there was no point looking any further ahead.

Perhaps I owe some of my success with breastfeeding to my midwife, who was a very down-to-earth person. As soon as I’d delivered the young master, she unceremoniously leaned over me and squeezed a nipple, hard. Somewhat to my surprise, creamy yellowy stuff came out. “You’re fine,” she announced, and observed us as I brought him gingerly to my breast and saw him latch on like a pro. I was only in the hospital for 24 hours, and I don’t remember the nurses being either helpful or a hindrance, except for the way they had to wake me up every couple of hours to tell me to try to nurse my baby. We would both have preferred to stay asleep, thank you very much.

Nursing in the first few days was difficult because the baby was still very sleepy (duh, newborn) and a bit jaundiced, and my milk had not come in. The pediatrician told us to supplement with formula and wake him to feed every two hours. I was adamant that I would not have my breastfeeding plans derailed by a doctor I didn’t particularly trust anyway, so we alternated breast and bottle, and I let my husband do the bottle feeds so the baby only ever got boob from me.

On the morning of the fifth day we were at the pediatrician’s office for a check-up. As we waited to be seen, the baby latched on – and didn’t come off for 45 minutes. Apparently my milk had come in. I was pretty relieved.

Latching on was fairly excruciating for the first weeks. I found a lactation consultant, who took a look and said the baby had a perfect latch. She sold me a nipple shield and a manual pump, both of which were more trouble than they were worth. I just decided that the people who said “If it hurts you’re doing it wrong” didn’t have my baby, or my boobs, and kept on keeping on, wincing and swearing freely at the start of each feed. Gradually the duration of the pain diminished and after about six weeks it only hurt a lot on the left side. After another week I was relatively pain-free, and from there our nursing relationship took off.

I had no support, really, from the people around me; though I had invaluable help and advice and a cheering section on the Internet. But the corollary of that is that I had no detractors either. There was nobody telling me they thought I probably couldn’t do it, that I should just use the free formula I’d been sent home from the hospital with, that my nipples were too small, or too flat, or too pink. I was already a stranger in a strange land, so I felt no urge to conform to peer pressure and do what others were doing. The rates of breastfeeding in south Texas are not good, so I assumed from the start that I was an outlier – a rebel, if you like. It was sort of liberating. In fact, I never had anything but supportive comments from those who did go out of their way to talk to me about breastfeeding.

We got to three months, moved north to Maryland, and went on gaily to six months. I became brave and then brazen about nursing in public – the mall, the park, the bus; McDonalds, poker night, the supermarket; whenever, wherever. At six months there was no question of weaning: why would I make my life more complicated, with all those bottles and warming and measuring and mixing? Starting solids was a little daunting, and Dash was never a big eater, so it was reassuring to know he was still getting plenty of good nourishment straight from the source.

Coming up to a year, I began to wonder when my baby would begin to wean himself, and how he would magically start eating all the food he’d need to replace that milk and keep growing. Gradually it dawned on me that he wasn’t in any way ready to wean yet, and that there was no need to. So we didn’t.

I never intended to be an extended breastfeeder. I certainly never intended to tandem nurse. I didn’t think I could possibly nurse through a second pregnancy. If you’d told me in those early days that my baby wouldn’t wean till he was 4 and a half years old – well, to be honest, I might not even have started. But things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. It was always easier to keep going than it would have been to stop, so we just did. I also had the support of two of my best friends, one nearby in real life and one in the computer, who also found themselves nursing preschoolers without necessarily having planned to. Feeling that I wasn’t the only crazy person in the world doing this made a huge difference.

My first baby is seven now. His little sister will turn five in November, and she still partakes of the boob first thing in the morning. It buys me a few more minutes in bed, and apart from her habit of volubly declaring her love for the boobies in front of company, the fact that I’m still, technically, a nursing mother doesn’t impinge on my life at all. Mostly, I forget that it’s even a fact, until I have to check a box on a form at the doctor’s or something. We’ll probably stop soon.

Probably.

Nursing mother and toddler
Nursing Mabel at 22 months

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If you’re interested in reading more of my breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, and tandem nursing story as it happened, click the links in the tag cloud.

The momentous and the mundane

Oh, dinner, how you tease me with your needing to be made, every single damn night, unless I was organized and made lots the night before, which works well with winter dinners like chilli and lasagne but somehow rarely manages to cut it in the summer, when I have all these leaves and tomatoes and things.

I don’t know what we’re eating, don’t bug me. There’s hours yet to dinner time. Well, one hour, maybe. Dash has a baseball game to which his father will take him, and Mabel and I are on track for an early bedtime, seeing as how yesterday was one of those thankfully-not-common nights when I held her for several hours because she has a phlegmy cough (sorry, were you eating?) and was borderline feverish and I felt she needed to be propped up in bed but couldn’t engineer that unless she was actually on me. Which is not so conducive to me sleeping either. It was like old times with a snurfly newborn. Except she didn’t nurse. Which really is quite lovely and amazing, because it would have been a lot more tedious this time last year (or even a few months ago) when she’d have been latched on all night as well.

And you know, the funny thing is that she seems (seems, I say, not counting any chickens) to be dropping the morning nurse as well, the only one we have left, the one she was so adamant to keep. A few non-standard mornings have distracted her from remembering at the point when she normally would, and it’s possible – just possible – that we will have weaned at four-and-a-half after all. Which is nicely matching her brother’s age of weaning, and let me emphasize this may mean that I will soon be no longer lactating for the first time in seven years. Seven straight years. That’s a long time. For all I know, my boobs might schlurrpp themselves into tiny fried eggs when they figure out what’s going on. Or, more probably into the sort of things I could helpfully roll up before stuffing into a bra. Sigh.

This is not what I was going to say, but is it ever? Stream of consciousness, baby.

Oh, I know.

There are only thirteen and a half days left of school before summer. Hold me.

Four-year-old girl in stripey leggings
Gratuitous photo of Mabel, hiding around the corner the more safely to watch a scary part of The Princess Bride.

Four point five cake

Saturday was Mabel’s four-and-a-halfth birthday. I like to make a bit of a thing about half birthdays, because a year is a long time to wait, and also Cake, any excuse for; and because sometimes I can make it into enough of a milestone in their minds that they’ll do something, or start doing something, or stop doing something, just because now they’re whatever-and-a-half.

So Mabel is no longer having boo(b) in the evening. At all. This is great.
Also, she is going to start trying to wipe herself after a poo. All I’m asking is that she tries, that she’s willing to give it a go, which will be a lot better than the point-blank refusal I’ve had up to now. And she has been trying, since Saturday. So that’s great too.

On the other hand, she had a fit of the screaming collywobbles at drop-off this morning, and I very much hope that’s not indicative of how four point five is going to go. I know it’s a tough age and I’m prepared for some backsliding in behaviour and/or willingness to try new things, but I would really like to be able to bring her to school without the clawing and the screaming and the tearing at my heart, because it’s nice when that doesn’t happen.

Oh well. Onwards to five, which everyone agrees is The Golden Age, rivalled only by eight.

More importantly, cake.

Burnt butter brown sugar cupcakes with chocolate ganache icing

I made half a batch of Burnt Butter Brown Sugar cupcakes (Nigella, How to be a Domestic Goddess) topped with Dark Chocolate Icing (Darina Allen, Easy Entertaining), and they were, if I say it myself, rather gorgeous. I haven’t done the brown butter thing before even though Smitten Kitchen and others have been raving about it for a while. It was really easy and I’m pretty sure that’s what I have to thank for the fact that these buns are still moist and soft two days later.

(I know, why on earth do we still have any two days later? That will be remedied, don’t worry.)

Milestones, tangentially

I am solo-parenting right now because B is at a conference in Denver. The night before he left, bedtime was horrible and went on for hours, and I was a bit worried about the state of my sanity if trying to go it alone for five nights in a row, but the next morning I stocked up on dollar-store bribes and so far we’re doing well. When he comes home then we’ll have the problem of trying to continue the peaceful bedtimes without bribes, but I’m prepared to cross that bridge when I come to it. This is known as willful ignorance, or ostrich parenting. (I shall write a book and rake in the profits.)

In my bid to exhaust the children, leading to easier bedtimes, I had to take them swimming today. Whereupon Dash swam underwater (with goggles), which I’m pretty sure I don’t remember him doing before, and Mabel took her first ever strokes without wearing a floatie or keeping a toe on the bottom. At not quite four and a half, she beats her brother by a little over six months, her mother by more than three years, and her father by some enormous amount. I need to find my milestones list* and add this.

The reason bedtimes are harder again at the moment – I realise I haven’t told you this – is because I don’t nurse Mabel to sleep any more. Not ever. (I know, she’s only almost 4.5. Don’t think I hadn’t noticed.) Not even in dire circumstances like having nobody to spell me when telling her stories for hours on end. I don’t nurse her back to sleep in the middle of the night either, and she’s sleeping much better (sometimes) (andIdidn’tsaythatpleasedon’tsmiteme) and slept for ten hours straight last night. Alone, in her own bed. Other nights she wakes up twice and then again at 5.15, but she doesn’t get any booboo until 6am, when it’s waking-up boob rather than going back to sleep boob. (Okay, if she happens to nod off again and we all get some extra shut-eye until 7.45 I’m not going to quibble. But mostly, it’s waking up.)

Then we rode our bikes to the playground at Dash’s school – which is very close but was a novelty for two out of the three of us – and Mabel swung all the way along the monkey bars for the first time too. I think her arms will be aching tomorrow.

The weather this weekend was exactly perfect and the way it should be and I want to marry it and have its babies. If it could just stay this way until, maybe, at least July, that would be ideal, thanks.

Blossom, blossom, everywhere

*My milestones list. Don’t you have one? It’s like a baby book, except it’s just a page from a notebook that I started writing on a long time ago and somehow have managed not to lose. I had a baby book once, but it was too nice to write in, so I gave it away.

"You’re still WHAT?"

You* are not the only person in the world nursing a three-year-old. I am not the only person in the world nursing a four-year-old. If you think you are, or I am, that’s because we’re just not talking about it so much.

When Jamie Lynne Grumet and her latched-on standing-up son appeared on the cover of Time magazine last year, the idea that breastfeeding still happens with children who can walk and talk and maybe even write their names in wobbly backwards capital letters was a huge surprise to many, anathema to some, and just another normal day to a subsection of mothers who happen not to have weaned yet.

Time had no interest in breaking down barriers between mothers or normalizing extended breastfeeding: Time just wanted to sell copies of Time, so it made its cover as sensationalist and purposely divisive as it could. It worked – people were suddenly talking about Time magazine, and they weren’t even trapped in a dentist’s waiting room at the time.

But for most people nursing a preschooler, it’s just not something that comes up in conversation. It’s probably something that only happens at night, or first thing in the morning; it means you don’t have to get up and pour that bowl of cereal quite as early as you might otherwise. It means your son or daughter drops off to sleep in five minutes instead of twenty-five. It’s quite easy not to talk about it, and then you realise that you’d feel funny admitting it: if they mention to their teacher that they love you because you have the booboos with the milk in them, you might even be just a tiny bit embarassed. (No, this never happened to me. Not at all. Not three weeks ago, for instance.) If they try to kiss your booboos goodbye at nursery-school dropoff, you might even brush them off with a quick “Not here, stoppit.” You might hope people don’t know what your booboos are. You might be totally deluded.

This is the thing: Nursing an older toddler or a preschooler is not a conscious decision for most mothers. It’s rarely something we set out to do: it’s just something that hasn’t finished yet. While some babies wean themselves before they turn twelve months old, and perhaps most dwindle and leave off nursing during the second year, others just don’t want to stop, and their mothers may be in a position where they don’t mind that. It’s not a big deal until someone comes along with a magazine article to turn it into one. (If you have an older nursling and are feeling weird about it, read this wonderful piece about nursing in Mongolia, and feel better.)

So while I want to wean Mabel, and I’m looking forward to the day it happens, I’m willing to wait until she’s ready too. We have set a tentative date of her fifth birthday to be done, but we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to be nursing a six-year-old in two years’ time; I have no intention of nursing a six-year-old; but then again, I had no intention of nursing a three- or four-year-old either. When I started out on this crazy journey I said, “At least three months. Six would be good.”

Life makes you change your plans. That’s how it works. Work with it.

*Maybe not you. But maybe you.

Code

I had Mabel’s parent-teacher conference yesterday. I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be much of import to say, but thought I’d better go along anyway just to make sure they didn’t need to tell me she was a sociopath in training or anything. (They didn’t.)

Her teachers opened procedings by assuring me that on the mornings when I pry her off me and leave her wailing in the classroom, the yells have stopped before I’m down the corridor and I’m not to worry at all. Which was nice.

I countered by explaining that those are the mornings when she hasn’t had much sleep. I explained how bad a sleeper she is (though of course I’ve noted this on those days too when handing her over) and how she’s often wide awake for an hour or so in the night, and how I have to go to her and try to help her get back to sleep.

Which left the field open wide for them to tell me what I should do about that. Silly me for mentioning it. They advised not going. I chuckled. (Maybe it was more of a snort.) Or at least a Supernanny-style putting-back-to-bed with no cuddles, over and over, until it sticks, they said.

I nodded and smiled and didn’t say “Well, I’d prefer to go to my child when she wakes and calls for me, because she might actually need me. She might be sick, or have had a nightmare, and I don’t want her to think that she’s all alone and banned from my company just because it’s dark outside.” I only thought of that afterwards.

“No cuddles,” repeated her teacher. Of course, I hadn’t mentioned the booboos component of the putting back to sleep. No need to confuse matters. Oh, fine, okay, so I’m a little embarrassed and don’t want to tell her teachers we’re still nursing at night. If they think I’m a soft touch to be cuddling with her every night, can you imagine what they’d say when I mentioned that she still partakes of the nectar too? Besides, it’s none of their business. But I was conscious of being a bad extended-lactivist.

I nodded and smiled some more, and we talked about Mabel’s “academic” progress (she can cut with scissors!) and social progress (needs encouragement to clean up; needs to work on peaceful conflict resolution, yada yada, four-year-old-cakes), and I took my leave.

It was only later on last night that I realised that Ms S’s references to “cuddles” were code for booboo. Because of course, she’s talked to Mabel about this, and Mabel has no self-censoring device, and Ms S. is no idiot, and hadn’t she just told me that you can have a good, sensible conversation with Mabel? (Not like me, then.)

She should have winked and cocked her head a lot more obviously if she wanted me to understand that she meant “No more booboo.” I’m sleep deprived, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake.

Nothing compares

It’s been thirteen hours and seventeen days
Since they took the hour away from me
I go out every night from my bed to yours when you call me at 5am or before
And now you’ve messed up my Sinead O’Connor tribute poem too

Okay, fine, never mind. But my point is that it’s been more than two weeks since the hour went back and Mabel still doesn’t seem to have adjusted in the mornings. She broke a run of horrible nights last night by sleeping soundly from bedtime till morning, but morning came at the unreasonable hour of 4.50am, which is not what I would call morning. I nursed her for an hour and then I was drained dry and she was her father’s problem and I got about an hour’s sleep before I had to get up and find out what all the shouting was about.

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That moment when you’ve said “Fine, just get in the car naked then,” and your four-year-old leaves the house resplendent in underpants and trailing a big red blanket, and you throw her clothes in the car for when you get there, and then the neighbour across the road comes out and sees you and laughs. And it’s late November, of course. That moment. It’s funny, but only because she’s my second child.

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Mabel likes to put her feet in Dash’s shoes and stomp around declaring, in a deep voice as if he’s, you know, at least ten years older than her instead of two and a half, “I’m Dash.” Then she says “I’m really strong,” and “Daddy shouts at me,” to add verisimilitude.

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Since the hour’s been gone I can do whatever you want
I get up whenever you choose
I can never eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing
I said nothing can take away these blues
`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you

Squishy

She sits up in bed at some ungodly hour and musters all her self-control to stop crying.

“Mummy,” she hiccups, “let me explain why I have to have booboo to get back to sleep.”

“Okay.” I’m a bit delirious with tiredness because my body is no longer inured to waking every two hours. I know I should stick to my guns and refuse to nurse her, but I also know that I owe her at least a listen to her point of view, and that I’ll probably give in.

“Because…” she casts about a bit for something that will convince me of the strength of her feelings; “…because it’s milky and … squishy… and I neeeeed it.”

Really, how could I refuse such an eloquent plea? Also, see above, re tired.

Night-weaning is a long process, it seems. We go back and forth. Blanket rules just don’t work here. I can make an edict, but for the sake of all our sanity, sometimes I give in. Mostly, I get into bed with her when she wakes, and she asks for booboo, and I say “First, I’m going to tell you Cinderella,” and she’s asleep before I’ve got to Act II (The Prince Decides to Throw a Ball).

But sometimes she’s wide awake, open-eyed and waiting for me to hurry up and get to the end so she can have what she’s patiently waiting for. Meanwhile I’m wandering off at every sentence and trying not to just fall asleep mid-word. She’ll say “Mummy, have you finished yet?” and I’ll say “All right, here, then; just go to sleep,” and hike up my pyjama top.

We’ve said – I’ve said, and she has sort of acquiesced, so far – that once she’s four there’ll be no more booboo at bedtime, only first thing in the morning. I don’t know how that’s going to go on Sunday. There might be more back-and-forthing, it might not be as clear-cut as that. But we’ll start trying, and eventually, we will see progress.