When we were breastfeeding it was easy to tell when my daughter needed to connect, and knowing how to do it was a no-brainer – we’d nurse. Any time day or night, no matter what the reason, as long as our breastfeeding relationship continued I knew just how to meet her needs and, in particular, how to reinforce that I was there for her. While the breastfeeding itself may have been hard at times, knowing when my daughter needed it was a piece of cake.

Fast forward 11 months since we’ve weaned and nothing about having a three year old is a piece of cake. Tuning in to when she needs connection now – and knowing how to respond in a way that meets her and my needs – has been the journey I’ve been on for some time now. Yet throughout all the troubleshooting, and even without nursing, there’s one connection cue that has remained constant with all of her caregivers since my daughter was a baby: she plays with our ears.

Sometimes it’s a gentle flick of the earlobe; other times she turns your ear over with her little hand like crumpling a piece of paper and it’s as if she wants to remove it from your head. She’ll snuggle right up into you when she does it, though she’s been known to just reach out for your ear, too, if she’s in need of a connection. She’ll do it when she’s calm, not usually saying a word then. She’ll reach for our ear when she’s upset and needs soothing, between sobs and screams. The gesture is often even an apology.

Apparently this is one of those things my daughter inherited from my mother (they also share a love of coconut); when my mom saw my daughter do this for the first time, she was immediately brought back to her own childhood, when she used to play with a caregiver, Marie’s, ear when they spent time together. This woman meant so much to my mom that her name is now my middle name. I love when things come full circle, even in the oddest and smallest of ways.

I find the impact of human connection so powerful, it’s why I keep exploring it in my parenting. Looks like my daughter has known what she needed all along; to simply reach out and connect.