Because English is Hard

The other day at breakfast, I was handing my five-year-old some toast…

Me: Here, eat some jam and bread like your ancestors.

Brontë: What are my “ancestors?”

Me: Well… okay, you know how I’m your mom and my mom is your grandma?

Brontë: Yeah.

Me: Her mom is your great-grandma, right? And her mom was your great-great-grandma. If you keep going, you get to your ancestors… like your great-great-great-great-great-grandma. A lot of them came out of England and Scotland where they have lots of shows about orphans and eat jam and bread.

She ponders this.

Brontë: We have boys in our family, right?

Me: Of course!

Brontë: And they are our “an-brothers?”

Me: Oh… no. They’re also our ancestors. It’s an-CEST-ors, not an-SIST-ers…

Brontë (stomping off): THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

 

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A Fresh Perspective

As we were passing a man with dwarfism the other day, my five-year-old daughter Brontë leaned in to tell me:

“Mom, that man kind of looks like a kid.”

I went pink, silently praying he didn’t overhear her, yet not wanting to apologize (in case he didn’t).

And while considering how to explain why saying such things are rude, it hit me that Brontë is a kid, herself.

So:

  1. She couldn’t have meant it as an insult, and…
  2. Telling her that being kid-like is insulting would hurt her feelings.

Because do you explain that someone would obviously not want to be anything like you?

 

Judgey Cakes and Baby Angst

Upon finding out that Halloween is soon and she could eat all the chocolate she wants, my Viking baby Bridget made this face:

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Because she loves spooky stuff (Jack Skellington is her personal hero) and really, really likes chocolate.

This was welcome news, because Bridget has been on a real tear lately. Having lots of baby angst about baby issues, I guess.

Just the other day, she was stomping around the house, grumbling under her breath like a crotchety old man: “Pshh… NO Chuck E. Cheese. NO chocolate cake. Brontë wants SPACE! Cat won’t TALK to me…”

And it’s been tough for me not to laugh at these disgruntled toddler ravings. I just don’t feel right about openly mocking her pain. Especially because cats-not-talking has been a real sore point.

Withholding Cats

Like on Wednesday afternoon, when she was lying next to me, sucking her thumb, watching My Little Pony. Her enormous cat Raj jumps on the couch and plops down on her chest, his nose three inches from her face…

She pets him with her free hand for a second before knotting up her eyebrows in an angry, cartoon “V.”

I figured it was because she couldn’t breathe with a thirty-pound stripey cat cutting off her air supply, but she hadn’t flinched. She just kept staring him down, harder and harder, until she finally pops her thumb out of her mouth and yells, “Raj, why you NOT TALK!?”

(That’s got to be frustrating. All the cartoon cats talk on TV, like pretty much every other animal, and she’s known Raj for three whole years…  yet he refuses to say a single word.)

Judgey Desserts

Plus, her desserts have been judging her. We were eating some leftover chocolate cake for breakfast yesterday (because that’s the kind of responsible mother I am) when Bridget points out two chocolate chips on her slice.

Bridget: Look, mama… eyes!

Me (not quite seeing it): Oh yeah? Cake eyes?

She starts to take another bite before violently throwing the cake back on her plate.

Bridget: NO LOOK AT ME, CAKE!

Fighting the Establishment

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I know waaaaay too much about this pony.

And lately, Bridget has been sassing her big sister too.

I was driving Brontë home from Kindergarten when Bridget kept going on and on, from the backseat, about “Tie-Back-Oh.”

What? I finally asked: “What is Tie-Back-O?”

Brontë explained: “She means ‘Twilight Sparkle,’ mommy.”

(OH. One of the My Little Ponies. The purple one who likes to read and hangs around with that dinosaur, Spike. Any current parent of toddler girls will know exactly who I mean.)

Then, Brontë set about fixing her baby sister’s pony-naming issue. It makes sense, because she wouldn’t want her sister to go embarrassing herself in serious toddler discussions about current issues.

So, she applied some of her Kindergarten teacher’s language techniques:

Clapping her hands on each syllable, Brontë said, “It’s TWI (clap)-  LIGHT (clap)-  SPAR (clap)- KLE (clap)!”

Silence.

“Okay let’s try again, Bridget. Twi—Light–SPAR–KLE! Now, YOU!”

And Bridget said, “Okay: PEE… PEE… POO… POO!”

“NO!” Brontë screamed…  as Bridget convulsed in giggles.

(I have to wonder if firstborn children more readily understand the parental perspective because they get all that baby sibling sass when trying to be helpful.)

So… with her breakfast silently judging her, her cat giving her the silent treatment, and her big sister talking down to her with her fancy-schmancy college techniques, Bridget is truly looking forward to the annual chocolate-binging fest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Weird Theory About The Men On Game of Thrones (Spoilers)

Today, I’d like to take a break from our regularly scheduled program to talk about a wildly inappropriate TV show.

(Because 8 PM is when the kids go to bed and all the zombies come out.)

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Woo hoo, the kids are asleep!

See, one of my blogging buddies writes great posts about Game of Thrones at I Can’t Possibly be Wrong All the Time,

He analyzes the show in such great detail, in fact, that I often walk away realizing I didn’t pay nearly enough attention when I was watching it (though in all fairness, Patrick did read the books too).

And he’s inspired me to not only watch the show again, but to share the bizarre insight I had while seeing it a second time:

Male characters in GoT get a lot nicer after having something chopped off. 

Weird, right?

I’m not judging here, just reporting what I’m seeing.

Because it’s happened several times…

Jaime Lannister

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I half-expect the Dread Pirate Roberts to come out swinging…

Jaime Lannister started out such a despicable character that he initially made me give up watching the show.

I already wasn’t thrilled with the kidsicle opener and then the pilot episode… the PILOT… closes with Jamie tossing a child out of a tower because he’d seen Jaime knowing his sister. In the biblical sense.

So, he casually tosses a little kid out a tower window while making an offhand joke about it.

And I was just DONE after seeing that nonsense. It took me several months and many glowing reviews from people whose opinions I trust to come back to the show…

When I did, Jaime was busy paying off assassins to kill that kid he crippled in his sickbed and then framing his own brother for the murder (which, luckily, doesn’t work out).

Jaime keeps up this douchey behavior for some time: trying to kill Ned Stark in an ambush, brutally murdering a squire who worshipped him just to create a diversion, and harassing Lady Brienne like any cocky, rich jock in an 80’s flick would…

Until he gets his hand chopped off.

Sure, he’d been hinting at human decency right before that (by talking his captors out of violating Lady Brienne), but it was only after the hand-chopping incident that Jaime truly emerges as one of the “good” guys of GoT’s extremely morally-relative world.

Then, Jaime risks his own life by jumping into a bear pit to help Brienne. He helps the brother he previously tried to frame for murder escape from prison after being unjustly accused. He tries to talk his sister into retiring someplace nice instead of continuing her mass murder spree. All of which is truly noble by, you know… Lannister standards.

Theon Greyjoy

theon-greyjoy
This punk here

I’d almost forgotten what an incredible jerk Theon used to be.

I mean, he actually starts the show of in full sociopath mode by jumping at the chance to slaughter puppies (the dire wolves who eventually became the Stark’s pets). He ironically makes fun of Jon for being a bastard and generally spends his time being a violent, arrogant, pervert.

Theon grew up with the Starks, who are essentially his immediate family. But while Robb Stark (to whom Theon pledged his loyalty) is busy waging his military campaign, Theon takes advantage of the opportunity to betray them. He takes over their house and starts executing anyone who disagrees with him, including loyal servants whom he’s known since childhood.

This includes his adoptive brothers, who are kids. When he’s unable to find them (because they escape while he’s… distracted), he murders two innocent farm boys in their stead and adorns Winterfell with their burned corpses, just to make a point.

Pretty horrible person, right? Well, he then gets captured by Ramsey Bolten and Ramsey is enough of a monster to actually make us start feeling sorry for Theon because Ramsey redefines all our goalposts for crapiness.

That’s when Theon gets… well, we all know what he gets chopped off.

But it apparently did him some good, because it’s only after his time with Ramsey that Theon is ever motivated beyond his own immediate self-interest: he risks himself to help Sansa escape (after finally showing some empathy for his adoptive family), he supports his sister Yara’s bid for leadership of the Ironborn instead of pushing his own (more traditional) claim, and lets himself get beaten to a pulp while rallying the Ironborn to help him rescue his sister.

(Sure, there was that whole unfortunate incident where Theon jumps off the ship instead of rescuing Yara from Euron himself, but being Ramsey Bolton’s prisoner is bound to cause a little PTSD. It’s still an improvement over murdering innocent farm boys.)

Varys

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Not your typical hero, but…

Varys was an especially interesting character to watch for a second time because at first, it was impossible to guess his moral alignment.

Like his counterpart Littlefinger, Varys has to carefully navigate GoT’s treacherous world to keep on breathing. He must, like Littlefinger, show skillful diplomacy while working behind the scenes… effectively playing different sides against each other. So, you never knew whether Varys’ brilliant manipulations were ultimately self-serving or not.

But eventually, we figure out that Varys is a good guy. There was evidence for this fact all along, which became more obvious when watching the show the second time around. Though he can’t openly fight the Lannisters, for example, you can see him subtly disapprove whenever Joffrey cruelly harasses someone (like Sansa or Tyrion).

Though he won’t pointlessly sacrifice himself for a lost cause (by helping Ned Stark escape), he will risk himself for a good one (by helping Tyrion escape). Unlike many of the Starks, he has a good sense of when keeping his mouth shut will allow him to fight another day… a long game that ultimately makes him a much more effective player.

When challenged by Daenerys, we get a better sense of Varys’ inner moral code. He describes his loyalty for the common people against brutal despots. He also won’t harm the innocent (revealed when he says he would never hurt children, since they are “blameless”), which puts him squarely on the good team according to murky GoT metrics.

And how did he come by this altruistic perspective? From being castrated by a sorcerer after growing up a slave… again, another relatively-good male character who’s had an important body part hacked off.

Sir Davos Seaworthy

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Nicest OG on the show

Sir Davos is undoubtedly one of the kindest characters, which is rare within the older set because you have to be pretty Machiavellian to survive long in Westeros.

More humble than most of the players who have drastically risen in rank, Davos still speaks plainly, yet convincingly… moving the Iron Bank or Daenerys or Stannis even after his more aristocratic counterparts could not.

Sir Davos puts himself at great risk to do what is right: standing up to the Red Woman, questioning Stannis the “king,” helping Gendry escape… Davos was sent away before Shireen was horrifically killed because, well, Stannis and Melisandre knew he wouldn’t put up with it.

And, again… Sir Davos had been mutilated. Stannis had cut four fingertips off Davos’ right hand as punishment for his smuggling past. Because Davos was a criminal before getting his fingers chopped off.

Definitely a pattern, right?

I’m not sure of its significance, except maybe GoT characters start identifying more with the underdog after getting mutilated in some way, or maybe it just keeps their hubris in check.

And I can’t think of any female characters who were mutilated to make comparisons.

Any thoughts?

 

 

Sharks, Santa, and Farting Bear Ghosts…

So lately, my three-year-old daughter Bridget keeps getting attacked…

Just the other day, she was drinking a glass of water when out of nowhere she shrieked and threw the cup down:

“SHARKS in my cup!”

Bridget doesn’t always speak clearly, so I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her right.

“There are sharks in your cup?” I asked.

0ac7ebbb7abf94175f26382e9f96dcae--shark-pics-the-muscleBridget peered nervously, and very carefully, inside:

“Umm… YES.”

She showed me. There was a lot of ice in the cup. I tried to decide whether ice could look like shark fins if you squinted your eyes and had a wild imagination. Or if it was a mini-world of icebergs with sharks lurking underneath.

“Well, that’s scary,” I told her.

Bridget rolled her eyes.

“Just baby sharks,” she told me, like I was being a total wimp.

Nightmares

IMG_5407Of course, she was already on edge from all the ghost nightmares she’d been having.  She’d been screaming “GHOSTS!” at 3 AM, night after night, and I’d run to her room to find both of her arms held up in cartoon shock.

“It’s okay! Did you have a nightmare?”

She’d nod her head and tell me about the ghosts who were trying to “take her.” They were MEAN ghosts. One had a bear head and wouldn’t stop farting in her room.

Which must’ve really added insult to injury. This routine kept up until she finally had a dream about nice ghosts who smelled good.

What a relief after that nasty, farting bear.

And then Santa started menacing our house…

Bridget cut her foot two days in a row while taking a bath with her big sister Brontë.

And I mean, really CUT it… like she left bloody footprints all over the floor after getting out.

Which freaked me out. The cuts were smallish, but bled a lot, and I couldn’t understand how it happened.

I looked the bathtub over, inside and out, never finding anything sharp and finally figuring she must’ve somehow kicked the shower door tracks (since she was being very kicky at the time).

Still, I wasn’t sure:

“How did you cut your foot, Bridget?”

“Santa did it.”

Santa?

“YES… Santa.”

“Santa, like Christmas Santa with reindeer and toys for the kids?”

“YES!” she screamed in persecuted agony. “Santa CUT my FOOT.”

meansanta

She changed her story when her father came home, though.

When John asked why she had Bandaids on her feet, she explained that Poppa had:

  • Crawled into her shoe,
  • Crawled into her sock, and
  • Bitten her foot until it was bleeding

Which was strange, because she worships her grandpa and begs to go to his house so much I almost find it irritating…

So, I have NO idea why she would blame both the guy who brings her presents every year as well as her grandpa for her bleeding feet, but she absolutely wouldn’t let up. 

Maybe it was revenge…

You see, Bridget really likes men with mustaches. Her Poppa has a mustache and he seems to be the measuring stick against which she compares all men. Whenever she sees a guy with a mustache, for example, Bidgie insists he looks just like Poppa. Even when they’re completely different-looking people apart from both having a mustache.

Except my dad inexplicably just shaved his mustache, which did not go down well with my kids, who now say he doesn’t look “right.”

I don’t know if that’s why Bridget started accusing him of crawling into her shoes to bite her feet, but… it did happen at roughly the same time.

The following day, Bridget cut her foot in the bathtub again. This time on her heel, instead of her toe.

I was baffled.

I asked her how she cut her foot and she again insisted that Poppa did it.

“But Poppa is nice, ” I said.

“Yes, Poppa nice. He BITE MY FOOT!”

She seemed outraged. She demanded yet another Mickey Mouse bandaid then appeared to forget about the incident until later that night, when my parents came over to pick up the kids for a visit.

In front of them, I asked Bridget whether Poppa had been crawling into her shoes to bite her feet.

“Psshhh… no,” she said, turning bright pink and smirking. “Psssh…”

 

 

Octopus Love: A Fun Kid Activity from Education.com

Hey everyone! I hope you’re enjoying Fall so far.

It’s my favorite season: crisp, but not freezing. The leaves turn pretty colors and the world smells of cinnamon.

Plus, the kids go back to school… yay!

Brontë is a Kindergartener now, and her little sister Bridget really wishes she were too.

I know, because she yells “Too! TOO!” whenever we drop her sister off. One day, Bridget brought her own backpack along, hung it with the other backpacks outside the classroom and quietly got in line with the other kids. She figured that backpack was TOTALLY her ticket in and was SO sad when they turned her away.

And on that note, I was recently contacted by Education.com and asked to review a fun learning activity for kids. It’s called “Octopus Love” and goes like this:

Octopi aren’t the most cute or cuddly creatures, but they deserve love too! Let your child share her love on the legs of a paper octopus.

What You Need:

  • Construction paper (red, pink, and whatever other colors you desire!)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Markers

What You Do:

  1. Draw a octopus head for your child and help her cut it out
  2. Draw a face on the octopus using the markers. It can be realistic or more like a cartoon, whatever she wants.
  3. Have her use the pencil to draw 8 octopus legs.
  4. Help her cut out the 8 legs.
  5. Glue the legs to the back of the octopus’s head.
  6. Have your child draw 8 hearts on red paper.
  7. Assist her in cutting out the hearts.

    IMG_5422
    (My kids got a little creative with the hearts)
  8. Ask your child to thing of a few different people and things that she love. Lightly write out her responses, one in each heart. Let your child trace over your writing with a marker.
  9. Help her glue one heart to each leg.

You can post this octopus of love on the refrigerator or display it prominently in your child’s room as a reminder of everything she loves about life!

And here’s what happened…

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Bidgie ponders her octopus

Well, this was a very cute activity and the kids had a lot of fun doing it.

I did have to slightly modify it because my kid’s skillset isn’t quite up to drawing even limbs or cutting out shapes as intricate as hearts. Maybe if you made a really BIG octopus, it would go better… or maybe if your kid is particularly good with scissors or a year or two older, you could follow it to the letter.

Because, kids do develop at different rates. There’s this little girl from Cambodia in Brontë’s class, for example, who completely blew me away with her reading and writing skills when I was helping her in the classroom last week. And English isn’t even her first language…

IMG_5428Still, the kids still had tons of fun and are proud of their octopi, even without having cut out their feet.

It was also very interesting to get a peek into the things your kid loves right now. Bridget named the various lead characters of My Little Pony, plus baby cows and horses, because she’s all about ponies.

IMG_5431Brontë named me and her sister (aww!) and also cookies, apple juice, playing outside, tag, coloring… and Rainbow Dash. Because unicorn glitter ponies are really big over here.

But so is spending time with mommy doing something creative and talking about the things we love. They’re so proud of the friendly octopi!

 

My Kid Is SO Over Tom & Jerry

So my kids were watching Tom and Jerry this morning when my daughter Brontë finally stood up to announce:

“Well, the mouse won AGAIN. Like ALWAYS.”

And stomped off in disgust.

“But if the cat won, that would be the end of the show,” I tell her.

“Yeah, so the mouse is gonna SAVE THE DAY because he’s always the BIG WINNER,” she said with impressive sarcasm for a five-year-old.

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Jerry demonstrates his Napoleonic complex

I’m not sure whether she’s more upset by already knowing how a show will turn out, watching what’s clearly an anti-cat propaganda cartoon when she’s a fan of kitties, or her Nietzschean disgust for mindlessly favoring the underdog.

But I’m favoring the latter, because she IS my kid…

roadrunner

And I can remember also being disgusted by how the Roadrunner always won. I mean, here you have Wile E. Coyote, who is undeniably brilliant, inventing elaborate schemes to catch the roadrunner that involve sending away for specialized technical equipment and setting it up.

He’s an outside-the-box thinker who problem-solves from multiple angles. You have to admit that he’s VERY advanced, for a coyote.

Then… there’s the Roadrunner.

Wile-E-Coyotes-Gravity-Lessons-1440x900-Wallpaper-ToonsWallpapers.com-
(After observing how the rules of our natural universe don’t apply to the bird)

Who runs straight into landscapes that are obviously painted-on signs. He eats “birdseed” that’s blatantly rigged up to dynamite.

 

And he gets away with it. Every. Time.

Not because he outwits the Coyote or had worked up an ounce of forethought or defensive strategy.

No, he just confidently blunders forth, smugly aware that the very rules of Space and Time will bend to accommodate his idiocy.

It always seemed so colossally unfair.

Just once, I wanted to see the Wile E. get that roadrunner. Poor guy must’ve been starving to death.

 

 

My Daughter Starts Bullsh*tting Her Friends

Okay, so I’ve mentioned how watching little kids is hilarious because all the starter adult elements are already there, along with a belief in magic and an underdeveloped sense of  self-consciousness…

(This whole self-consciousness deal was a huge conundrum for me, as a parent, because I find myself eternally balancing the need to NOT teach my kids crippling shame with the practical need to impart rules of social acceptability, which was a real humdinger  when Brontë was about two and wanting to be naked all the time, because it felt good. I mean… how do you simultaneously explain that there’s nothing inherently wrong with her body, but it’s not okay to constantly strip off her clothes in public and run around screaming?  Especially when getting into why strangers seeing her naked is a bad idea is more than I want to share at this vulnerable age… For some reason, telling her “You can only be naked when most everyone else is naked too” finally did the trick.)

Squirrel 6Well, as a parent, you’re always vaguely terrified about doing a good job while being reassured every time your kid passes through a stage of development.

First, it’s amazing to see your kid stay alive, then you’re excited about hearing them say their first word or crawl for the first time.

Each step moves the crying, blurry starter-human closer and closer to what you recognize about normal people… for example, I’ve seen my kid move from wanting to be naked and screaming all the time to showing her first signs of social embarrassment:

For this next part, I’m gonna pretend Brontë lives near another little girl in her Kindergarten class who goes by the name of “Alice.” I’m pretending that because I’m about to share a hilarious potty conversation she had and I don’t know if Alice’s mom is okay with me publicly talking about it, so out of respect, I’m going to give her the name we gave the backyard squirrel before our lunatic dog ran it off in a misguided attempt to protect our property

Because parents like to project the safest, cutest moments of their kids, their kids, which is probably a good idea, except it paints an insincere portrait of parenting as though it were a giant series of Norman Rockwell scenes punctured by occasional Hallmark greeting cards, when really, it’s more like humanity stripped of any sense of grasping how other people are going to interpret you, which can be both hilarious and awkward… like today, when Bridget laid on her back, spread-eagle, and danced her legs in the air, toes pointed, singling “Faaa-aaaa-aaaa-aaa–aaaaart” in a way that evoked Gregorian chanting before ripping an enormous, comedy fart.

And frankly, I’m the type of mom who gets more worried about discouraging Gregorian chanting than outrageous farting displays. I mean, her announcement had a decidedly medieval flair, which seemed a most impressive build-up for a three-year-old at the time, but I have a feeling that my analysis of the situation won’t be the best one for getting her invited to future dinner parties, if you know what I mean…

At any rate, today I was charged with picking up both Brontë and “Alice” from Kindergarten, while my neighbor watched over farting baby Bridget. Sometimes I’m surprised that a neighbor as popular and level-headed as mine will entrust me with the supervision of her kids, and that she seems to find my quirks endearing, but she’s madly in love with Bridget’s ridiculous antics and we strangely seem to get along just fine.

Well, I ended up bringing Brontë and Alice to the park right next to the school, because I’d rather let the kids play until the insane traffic out of the one-way road from the school dies down and the kids seem to settle down better after playing for a few minutes after all those rules, so its a win-win.

But on the way to the park, Brontë said she REALLY needed to use the bathroom, so we ran to the girls’ bathroom where there ended up being a line, and she ended up peeing her pants before reaching the toilet.

Brontë is 99 percent potty-trained at this point, but little kids don’t have a good sense of how long they have until they need a toilet. Brontë yelled that she’d peed her pants in the bathroom, and Alice sweetly offered to give her some underwear, but I threw away Brontë’s underwear while reminding her that she couldn’t go on the swings or slide in the park because she didn’t have underwear and please try to mention needing to use the bathroom before it got critical… in the meantime, Brontë’s loud announcements about discretion over peeing her pants had the ironic effect of informing all the older girls in the bathroom to her situation, and to their credit, all of them uncomfortably pretended they didn’t hear anything as she exited the stall and I threw her underpants away in the trash. Because we already have a lot of underpants and I didn’t want to deal with it.

Brontë walked up to Alice, looked her in the eye, and said…

“Please don’t ever laugh at me for peeing my pants.”

Alice looked back into Brontë’s eyes and said, very sincerely, “I will NOT,” thus cementing a probable lifetime bond. Especially after they’d recounted how another kid in their class had peed his pants earlier that day, and how the kids had all laughed and pointed at him… Brontë stared into the distance, appearing to reconsider her earlier take.

craawdadWe then went to the park so the kids could play by the creek, where boys were pulling up red stripey crawdads. Bidgie had been amazed at the sight of crawdads, calling them “red things with two snaps, that snap your finger,” and the girls were simultaneously fascinated by them and worried that the boys would bring them too close.

(As an aside, I first learned that I was of a unique American social class when I was in the Army, discussing the eating of crawdads. Turns out, only people from Louisiana and their ilk would consider such a thing… my cousins and I would wade, unsupervised, into city creeks and catch the things to put into random aquariums by the playhouse. I had NO idea that this was truly bizarre.)

When the girls wanted to walk across the pond, one boy pointed out a thin branch that someone had laid across the water. The girls decided they wanted to try this way across, so I started mentally calculating the hazards risked by trying it:

“Hmm… shallow pond, rickety stick. They could fall. It wouldn’t be far, but they could get muddy and at worst, get pinched by a crawdad… I think Alice’s mom would okay with muddy clothes?”

My sense of consequences warred with my heartfelt belief that trying to cross a shallow creek on a rickety stick was a critical element in understanding one’s boundaries in childhood…

“Okay, let’s take off your shoes and give me your backpacks, then you can try,” I told them.

“Why do we give you our backpacks?” Alice said.

“So if you fall, your homework and backpacks won’t get wet. Don’t go at the same time: one goes first and the next waits, or you’ll pull each other in the water.”

They chucked their backpacks at my feet and stripped off their shoes. Alice took a few steps and started to waver…

Ahhh! She jumped back. “You go first!” she told Brontë.

Brontë took a few hesitant steps before wavering and jumping to the shore. They asked the boy how he got across, so he demonstrated while holding his arms out to the side.

“I’m going to do what he did,” Brontë said, holding her arms out to the side and taking a few steps. She began to lose her balance and jumped back to the bank.

“The easier way,” the boy said, “is to just walk across right here.” He walked across a shallow part to the other side.

“I’m gonna try that,” Brontë said.

“Okay,” I told her. “But here’s the trick: look before you step and only walk where you can see the ground. Don’t walk in the weeds or there could be a crawdad.”

Brontë nodded before taking a couple steps into the pond. She stepped again, then a big red crawdad popped his head up…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” She screamed and ran to a pile of other kids. “I was walking across the pond,” she told them, breathlessly, “When a giant crawdad jumps out and ran at me, trying to attack me!”

Meanwhile, I took a stick and tried to get the crawdad to pinch it so I could pull him out. But he kept backing off when I tapped him. He was rather docile.

I walked up to the kids as a boy tried to offer Alice a frog to pet. She screamed until I told her that frogs can’t bite or pinch you. She carefully reached out and tapped the frog before shrinking back in horror:

“He’s WET,” she said.

“Yes, he was swimming.”

She considered this before I told the girls to play for just a few more minutes before I took them home. They played until I realized we’d been gone an hour, and Alice’s mom was texting to make sure nothing had gone wrong.

And on the way home, I was awed by overhearing my child’s first successful attempt to completely bullsh*t her friends. Their conversation from the backseat went like this…

Alice: I pooped today.

Brontë: Where?

Alice: In the bathroom.

Brontë: That’s good. What color was it?

Alice: Umm… brown.

Brontë: Brown? Not rainbow colors?

Alice: No….

turdBrontë: I poop rainbow colors… don’t you?

Alice looks out the window, stunned, looking a little intimidated.

Brontë: Rainbow poops are cool, but at least you pooped in the bathroom. That’s good.

Alice nodded, then I walked her back to her house.

As we returned home, Brontë squeezed my hand, saying “Alice did NOT laugh at me when I peed my pants.”

“She did NOT. That’s a good friend.”

Brontë nodded, considering the significance.

And I couldn’t help wondering if feelings of insecurity about peeing her pants had prompted these boasts about pooping in technicolor. I mean… these boasts had obviously  been effective among the five-year-old set, where people don’t grasp the limits of biology. Alice was clearly wondering whether or not her poop was performing adequately in a world of multicolored options.

Take the levels up a few notches, though,  and you have an adult interaction. One is feeling insecure when the other boasts about mastery of the topic at hand. Then the other recalls a previous time when they had delivery superpowers.

But despite all the boasting about rainbow turd, Brontë noticed that Alice didn’t laugh at her when she had the chance, and she appreciated that.

There’s got to be some adult lesson in all this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee Stings and Toddler Vengeance

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m pretty fond of my kids and of being a mom, overall. Maybe it’s the whole dedicated-parenting-blog-thing that gave it away, or how I kind of flipped out on the anti-child childfree folks a while back…

But I have to admit that I’m a bigger fan of kids than I am of babies. Don’t get me wrong… I loved my babies to pieces and they’re incredibly fun (whenever they aren’t waking you up every 47 minutes for nights on end or irrationally screaming whenever you venture into public space) except they don’t really do much.

No… for me, the really fun part happens at the latter stages of three, working up through five or more, after kids start really grasping the English language and expressing all the raw, unbridled notions in their heads. You can see how humans think when they still believe magic is possible and before they’ve been properly socialized or learned how to fake being “normal.”

Take, for example, what happened a couple days ago when Bridget (3) was stung by a bee in a bush in our front yard right before our family took our evening walk and then her sister Brontë (5), being a kid herself, figured out the best way to comfort her…

Bidgie: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Me: OW! It’s okay…

Bidgie (bright red and screaming): BWAAAAAAA! WAAAAAAAAAH!

Me (grabbing her arm in concern): Show me!

(I see a welt around a red spot and try to compare the two arms for swelling. I secretly worry about whether my kid has a bee sting allergy and quietly check her face and throat for signs that she’s right about to dangerously swell up while trying to cover up my secret panic… as Bridget nonstop screams)

Bidgie: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

(Neighbors start looking over with concern)

John (after picking out the stinger): It’s all red. Let’s get you some ice to make it feel better. Daddy has been stung by lots of bees and hornets and jellyfish and it will feel better really soon…

Bidgie (furiously clawing the air in her rage): BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Brontë: You know what? That bee is gonna die for stinging you.

Bidgie (raising her eyebrows): Yeah?

bee.jpgHer sister’s comments cut the screaming short so fast, I could almost hear a record screeching in the background. We took Bidgie inside to put a bag of frozen peas on her arm and she was 100 percent better, ten minutes later.

Turns out, she isn’t allergic to bees (whew) and Brontë was obviously paying attention to the bee nature videos I had rented from the library.

You see, Brontë had a deathly fear of bees herself, so I’d grabbed a bee video, wondering whether increased knowledge would help her conquer fears of the frightening unknown (as it does with me) and I ended up being started by the unblinking fascination she held for the life of bees.

“They die when they sting you?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I told her. “The stinger falls out in your skin and they die.”

She nodded solemnly, contemplating the cosmic balancing scales, tucking away this newly-discovered fact for an opportune moment… such as when comforting her baby sister after just being stung by a bee.

See… the fact that Bridget would scream, nonstop, despite all of her parents’ attempts at comfort, would make one think that the pain itself was prompting hysterics. Except she quit the very second her sister revealed that the culprit would die…

Which means that Bridget’s screaming was less about the pain than a general feeling of gross injustice: here she was, minding her own business when this furry insect flies over and painfully stings her in an unprompted show of aggression…

And the moment her sister explained that this lunatic would be sentenced to death, Bridget calmed down and mustered the internal fortitude to carry on with toddler dignity.

It’s a primitive justice, to be sure. Most adults would consider how the animal was just protecting itself and consider celebrating its death to be somewhat macabre.

But it demonstrates how one’s sense of justice is wired early on. Convince a kid that something is “fair,” and they’ll get surprisingly reasonable.

We ate honey on our toast the next morning.

 

 

 

 

My Childrens’ Dark Side Emerges

I was always a strange child.

When I was seven, I used to cover my drawings with another piece of paper, shaded in black, so you’d have to hold it up to the light to see the images behind it. One was of a beautiful dead woman at the bottom of the sea, draped in wilting flowers. Every year, her lover would return to the place where she had fallen to her death to drop another rose.

When I was eight, I frightened my parents by building a guillotine out of Tinker Toys, which didn’t actually work. I used piano wire to make hoop skirts for my Barbies and cut out little folded fans with drawn-on birds and landscapes. I painstakingly covered their faces in white paint, drew exaggerated beauty marks, and pinned cotton balls and feathers into their heads until they looked just like 18th century aristocrats. I only owned one Ken doll, though, which complicated my reenactment a bit.

And when I was eleven, I won an award for a Thanksgiving short story I casually penned  one day in class. My parents’ faces were so proud when they asked me to read it to them, then slowly fell as they realized it was written from the point of view of a turkey whose wife had been pulled from their humble wooden shack for slaughter, about how his heart had burned upon watching the pink-cheeked farmer’s daughter, with her bouncy blonde curls, giggling as she dragged his shivering wife to the block.

My grandmother proudly pulled the turkey out of the oven later that night. I was genuinely surprised when my parents went awkwardly quiet.

Maybe it was their fault for buying me all those kid-friendly Shakespeare books, or letting me watch Wagnerian operas at two, but I had never been the type to sell lemonade for a quarter with an adorably messed-up, hand-painted sign. Because I was too swept up in the beauty of tragic romanticism to understand what a creepy little kid I was.

But in time, I learned that adding a few punchy pop songs to your opera death-scene playlist was socially helpful. That maybe you shouldn’t bring up the history of torture and what it might mean about human psychology when people are discussing politics, or that when you’re in mom circles, maybe you keep to yourself that trying to make friends with bullies is really bad advice for children because sometimes, just windmilling your arms works ten times as well.

I had nearly forgotten that dark imagination until its echoes crept up on me today, in the form of my five-year-old daughter Brontë…

It would be Brontë, the child I named for my love of the Brontë sisters. I was in high school, having lost my taste for books for years, even though I felt guilty about it because reading was something smart people were supposed to do, even though it bored me senseless until I was forcing my way through a school-required Wuthering Heights and found the scene where Heathcliff runs to the broken window to scream for the ghost of Catherine to return…

Well, I was playing with the kids outside when I finally asked them why they kept throwing flowers into the rickety birdbath in the back of the yard.

Brontë’s face took on a quiet, reverential tone as she solemnly spoke to me…

“This is NOT a birdbath.”

“Okay, what is it?”

She took a breath. “This… is the monument to our dead queen.”

And, shocked that she knew the word “monument,” I prodded her further: “Oh?”

Pointing to the pool house, she continued: “That was her house and we don’t go in there. She was very old and very nice. She had long white hair and always smiled. She was so… kind. The bad guys killed her,”

Then, wiggling the top of the birdbath, she said, “You can never push this over because if you do, you will break the queen’s bones and destroy her soul. They killed her father too, but they cut off his head and all his body is in pieces so we can’t find his body, which is a very sad thing.”

“I see,” I told her, trying not to disrespect the sacred site with too casual a tone. Bridget nodded sadly, placing another picked flower on the birdbath and grabbing my hand. She walked me over to the gazebo to explain how this was her house, where they serve tacos, and sometimes chocolate cake.

“And we play hide-and-seek,” Brontë added. “And you should play with us…

But DON’T knock over the queen’s bones.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Because children are people too… really weird little people.

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