Why Participation Trophies Are Awesome

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how Participation Trophies are a great idea…

Psh, calm DOWN everyone. I figure that most of you reading this are currently either 1) assuming I’m being sarcastic, or 2) quietly ranting to yourself about the spoiled Millennials and their unbelievable sense of entitlement after getting participation trophies their entire lives, except:

  1. I’m actually dead serious, and
  2. I’m not a Millennial, remember? I’m a Gen Xer who probably likes to complain about Millennials as much as my friends, even though they aren’t really that bad but life looks much different in retrospect and one of the great consolations of aging is pretending we had the world all sorted out before these lunatic punks got their hands on it.

(Kids, you’ll understand what I mean in about ten years when you’re rolling your eyes at all the Gen-Z shenanigans as cocky youths look at you sideways when you mention Justin Timberlake because seriously grandpa, who the hell is that!?)

But I digress.

My point is that kids, in fact, should be praised for participation. Not as a replacement for winning or losing, because winning and/or losing is a fact of life that kids will either learn to accept or spend much of their adult life throwing irrational fits whenever things don’t work out the way they wanted, which is frankly a parenting fail. We can’t be spending their childhoods validating the idea that the universe has dealt them an unfair cosmic blow whenever they find themselves slightly inconvenienced.

But… in addition to declaring winners and losers, we should definitely be praising participation and effort.

Why? Because sheer effort and persistence is a HUGE part of success.

You see, sometime around the 1980’s, while I was growing up, experts had roughly decided that low self-esteem was the root of a huge number of social problems, such as kids not reaching their full potential. Violence, addiction, and chronic unemployment probably all traced back to dysfunctional families that made kids not feel good enough about themselves to achieve anything productive in life, or so went the thought.

So, with extremely good intentions, parents and teachers were coached to basically tell every child how incredibly unique, brilliant, attractive, and insightful they were. They got to hear this all the time, whether or not they had actually accomplished anything, in hopes that their achievements would eventually meet the inflated self-images everyone had been feeding them.

Problem is, when kids believe everyone thinks so highly of them, they’re reluctant to try anything they’re not naturally good at in case they fail miserably and thereby screw up everyone’s high opinion. It actually makes kids afraid to try.

After years of seeing how You’re-Already-Awesome parenting methods worked out, researchers finally put on the brakes. DON’T tell your kids how brilliant and unique they are, the experts now tell us.

So what’s a parent to do? We still want them to feel good about themselves, right?

Yes, it turns out. But in a way that praises the process, not the result.

In other words, praise your kids for making an effort, for sticking to something, even after having lots of problems doing it right. Praise their work, their persistence, their bold moves of not giving up the first moment they encounter difficulty.

Because honestly, that’s a huge part of achieving anything. The people who graduate college aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ’s, but the ones who keep working at it, keep studying, keep doing lots of research and writing papers that they turn in when they’re supposed to, even if they have to bang their heads on the wall repeatedly before a concept they’re struggling with eventually sinks in. Same goes for getting promotions at work or any other winning measures you can think of.

We have this myth of God-given talent (at least in America) that culturally plays out in movie after movie and really messes with our heads. The idea involves some of us being natural quasi-demigods who are blessed with abilities that will raise us above our peers with little effort on our parts.

It’s a fun fantasy, all the glory with very little work… much like playing the lottery, where our lives are radically changed after only spending a buck at the convenience store before allowing the universe to whisper the lucky numbers into our chosen ears.

Along those lines, I remember a movie I was once forced to watch in a college film class that left me incredibly bitter about the entire idea: Running on Empty.

MV5BZGE4MzcwODktODdkOS00YjQ2LTkxYTAtYzc4NmM0MmM5NjIzL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEzNzczMA@@._V1_In the film, River Phoenix plays a kid with natural piano abilities who could never practice on an actual piano because his parents were fugitives from the law. Because of this fact, he could only practice on a soundless keyboard, without lessons, until he manages to one day snag an audition at Juilliard, where he plays a slow, easy, emotional song that immediately gets him enrolled on full scholarship.

The movie was praised by critics, but left me spitting mad.

Why? Because I’ve actually auditioned at Juilliard and know how stupid the entire movie’s premise really is.

See, before I was a whimsical freelance writer and offbeat parent reporting on her strange toddlers, I was a music performance major who played the flute competitively since the age of eight. I’ve played on TV, I’ve trained internationally for world premiere recordings of original compositions, attended the most prestigious music camps, went to a renowned conservatory, and have won more awards than I’ve bothered to count.

(Obviously, it didn’t end up becoming my line of work. My advice to aspiring classical flutists: consider taking up the bassoon.)

But I’m not sharing this information to brag. I want to relate how I was one of the last kids in my fourth grade class to make an initial sound on the flute, but I persisted. I kept at it when all of my friends were watching cartoons after elementary school and when they were later attending parties and sneaking Zima in the 7-11 parking lot. While other kids were learning skateboard tricks and practicing the Roger Rabbit behind closed doors, I was memorizing hours of music marked by painstaking metronome clicks, etching it so beneath my fingers’ skin that I could later reproduce it under the stress of a thousand dimly-lit spectators… tens of thousands of hours of playing songs excruciatingly slowly, moving up click by click on the metronome until, weeks later, I could execute a five-second rift quickly enough that no one could sense that I wasn’t born playing it.

Yes, I had talent, but talent gets you absolutely nowhere without years of focused, hard work.

And many, many other people have talent too. It’s an equation that gets you nothing without rivers of sweat. It’s an equation that every little duck in a little pond faces upon entering the larger waterways.

Kids watch movies about River Phoenix, who never practices on a real piano until he one day sits at Juilliard and feels the gods move his fingers until landing a full scholarship at the most coveted Conservatory in the world. Psh, there are kids from Detroit to Beijing, with enormous talent, who have been practicing the piano for hours a day since the age of five… and still don’t make it.

Yet movies like Running on Empty make it seem like whatever you’re meant to do will just naturally happen. It’s enough to make you think that any supernatural talents would instantly manifest, so if you’re not automatically good at something, why even bother?

Which is kind of what just happened with the last generation of kids.

Our city libraries have a summer reading program that rewards kids for logging books they’ve read. After so many books, they get to pick out a free book. After even more books, they receive a reading medal with their name on it.

The idea of winning this medal has been unbelievably motivating for my kids. They cared far more about that achievement medal than winning a free book, which by any objective standard would seem to be the bigger payoff. They even cared more about medals than being entered into a raffle for winning an iPad.

Since we go to the library every week and I read new books with them every night, winning the medal was inevitable, but they still asked me how many more books it would be until they received their medal… every night.

IMG_5302When we’d finally read enough books, they squeaked and danced a happy dance around the house. They were incredibly proud when walking up to the front desk at the library to receive their medals and uncontrollably danced around the library, squealing, showing off their medals to anyone happening by. They wore their medals to bed that night and made sure to let the neighbors and their grandparents know they had earned medals for superior reading.

And I think it was a great program. Kids should be recognized for trying, for showing up, for doing the work. Because that’s one of the main secrets to making things happen in life: you have to keep trying.

Even when it’s hard.

But that makes it better. Kids WANT to earn it.

Make them earn it. And praise them when they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Princess and the Viking

As I’ve mentioned before, I walked into parenting thinking most gender norms were social constructs.

Not wanting to cram my daughter into a pink box from the get-go, I painted her room green, bought her gender-neutral toys, and avoided onesies that said crap like “I’m so pretty” like the plague.

shirtcollage4
Like THIS crap

And… I still ended up with the girliest girl that ever walked the planet.

Since she was two years old, Brontë would beeline for the pinkest, fluffiest dress she could get her tiny hands on before sneaking my lipstick to smear all over her face so she’d look fetching enough to host the stuffed animal tea parties she was constantly throwing in her room.

I didn’t think she’d even heard about tea parties, yet there she was… constantly debating the relative merits of various Disney princesses with the giant bears and dinosaurs sipping imaginary flower tea and helping themselves to the pink hors d’oeuvres she’d pretended to lay out on plates.

It was a real head-scratcher.

After she shoved enough trucks aside in favor of dolls, or screamed in enough agony when asked to put on pants, I had to start wondering if… maybe… gender norms weren’t entirely a pack of lies.

And then, her sister Bridget came along.

Whereas Brontë would throw Hollywood-worthy scenes whenever she scraped her knee, Bridget would punch the trees and walls around her like a miniature Hulk.

While Brontë would run away sobbing whenever one of the playground girls were mean to her, Bridget would literally roll her eyes, fart at them and laugh.

The hilarious thing is, while Bridget absolutely loves her sister, sometimes Brontë’s super-dramatic, hyper-feminine antics get on her last nerve. Like the time Brontë was acting out some romantic fantasy car date between a prince and princess and the moment her back was turned, Bridget replaced the prince with a giant dinosaur then laughed herself stupid after Brontë shrieked in outrage:

dinosaur
When Brontë returned to the table…

 

Or the way Bridget loves grossing out her sister. We had this dialogue the other day…

John: What should be eat for dinner?

Brontë: Pasta!

John: We’ve had pasta for the past three nights. What else would you like?

Bridget: Popcorn and salt!

John: That’s just a snack. What do you want for dinner?

Bridget: Fish cones and bone sauce!

John: What?

Bridget (miming swimming fish with her hands): FISH CONES and BONE SAUCE.

Brontë: That’s DISGUSTING.

Bridget: Fish cones, NOW!

Brontë: EWW, GROSS!

Bridget rolls on the floor laughing.

Or the other day, when the girls and I were walking home from the library when Brontë notices a dandelion in the grass…

Twirling, she says, “A candy-lion! My favorite! I want to make a wish!”

Holding her skirt with one hand, she bends over to pick it with the other. Like a Disney princess, she prances around with it for several minutes, striking poses and saying, “I wish I wish I wish in my deepest heart, the greatest wish that ever…”

And in the middle of her soliloquy, Bridget rolls her eyes, stomps over and blows all the dandelion petals away.

MY WISH!” she says, stomping away like Finally, we can go home in peace.

aurora.gif
(Reenactment of the Dandelion incident)

I’m not sure whether she was commandeering Brontë’s wish flower or if getting Brontë to stop prancing around was actually her wish, but it was pretty funny, either way.

But it just goes to show that this gender question isn’t quite that simple. Some girls roll out into a glittery cupcake universe from the start, while others are more… sarcastic.

And we don’t fall entirely into either camp. Brontë loves Legos, Outer Space and superheroes, for example. whereas Bridget also loves smelling perfume and having me paint her nails.

It shall be interesting to see how this develops…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Faces in the Moon

At some point during my childhood, I read that Chinese people don’t see a man in the moon, like we do. They see a teacup.

And for decades now, I’ve been trying to teacup that moon man’s face.

nuns
Two upside-down nuns…

I figured I could do it, since I see upside-down nuns in the metal part of the seatbelt that fits into the seatbelt slot (assuming it isn’t the type with two tabs that become Siamese cat ears),

But it just won’t go. All I see are two eyes, a nose, and a mouth facing left.

Where is the teacup? Is China far enough away to see different patterns in the moon?

If I’m ever in China, I hope the moon will be full because it will remind me of being a tiny child contemplating the universe.

Chances are, I’ll see a face again… looking leftward, smirking about teacups that would open other dimensions if I could only see them.

How To Solve Your Toddler Problems With Timers

A chicken may have just solved 95 % of the Toddler Problems in our house.

Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

You see, once we finally got past that stage where the kids were throwing hour-long tantrums about things like not wanting a glass of water then being enraged about not having one, most of our hassles involved three main issues:

Not Focusing on Any Activity for More than 30 Seconds

“Momma, I want to play with the crayons and coloring books!”

“Okay, but if I get them down, you need to play with them for a while.”

“Okay, I will!”

I heave the art boxes and crayons down from high shelves, open all the boxes, lay out coloring books, paper, and start separating crayons into piles for Brontë and Bridget.

And thirty seconds later, they both scream: “DONE!”

chimpNow, just picture that scenario happening again and again with Legos, scooters, blocks, tea sets or what-have-you, and you’ll get a rough picture of how I spend my day.  Since the children won’t entertain themselves for any length of time, it’s hard to do anything else without kids tripping over my feet throughout the process.

It’s draining, I worry about their lack of focus, and sometimes consider pushing them outside then locking the back door for an hour.

For their own good.

Leaving Toys All Over the House

To a non-parent, this probably doesn’t sound like a huge deal because toddlers are little.  How many toys could they have? How big of a mess could they possibly make?

Well, it’s staggering, folks.

People love to spoil kids on holiday and whenever the mood strikes them, so my kids are constantly getting toys from us and every grandparent, relative, friend and Happy Meal. They build up.

pikypieAnd, like miniature bag ladies, my girls are driven to carry as many toys as they can pack into their tiny fists every time they leave a room, or really, move in any direction for any reason, before dropping them to chase the next shiny object. Since they don’t sustain activities for more than a couple of minutes, toy bits quickly seep into nook and crevice of our house and yard.

I don’t know if it’s some secret toddler scheme to conquer every last inch of adult territory, but you’ll find yourself stepping on Legos everywhere you walk and crunching Barbie limbs anytime you sit.  Doll shoes and plastic animals fly out of my bedspread whenever I straighten it. As much as I try to weed them out, the toys just keep regenerating, like I’m using a sieve to dump water out of my capsizing rowboat.

But beyond the overwhelming mess, it’s also a waste of money. Toys keep getting lost, stepped on or eaten by the dog.

 

Not Cleaning Up After Themselves

Teaching kids to pick up after themselves would seem like the obvious solution, right?

Yeah, to me too. So, I’ve been working on that for the past two years and man, has it been a haul…

At first, they’d whine and shriek about needing me to help them, but would just goof off whenever I did.

So I stopped, making them do it themselves. This turned ten-minute jobs into two-hour grinds of them putting one Lego block in their mouth then slowly rolling across the floor to spit it into the box, whenever they weren’t angrily throwing it.

I would grit my teeth and sit through it, not wanting to reward them by relieving the pressure and hoping they’d eventually get bored of taking forever to pick things up because doing anything else would obviously be more fun.

lego.jpgAfter many months of this, we reached a point where they would actually pick things up, however slowly and begrudgingly. It took about 600 time-outs to get there, because rational explanations had no effect.

Then, when I was finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, our routine suddenly devolved into the Passive-Agressive Olympics.  Neither kid wanted to be the patsy who ended up doing most the work, so they’d both fold their arms and spout off long rants about refusing to pick up toys until the other one put in more effort.

At some point during the second year of this, I’d tried every angle I could think up that didn’t involve spanking the crap out of my kids (though I was beginning to understand why some parents do). I even tried the “I have cookie for the best cleaner!” method, which wasn’t nearly as effective (for me) as you would think.

Enter the Chicken

foghornleghorn
“I say I say I say… pick up your CRAP”

So last week, when I was complaining about all this to my daycare-running neighbor, she casually mentioned that she sometimes sets a timer during activities.

Hmm. Worth a try, right? I figured it probably wouldn’t work, since nothing else had, but it couldn’t hurt.

So later that afternoon, when the kids started bugging me for crayons, I decided to give it a shot. We have a kitchen timer, shaped like a chicken, that the kids are really fond of.

I got the art supplies, slapped down the chicken, and told them:

“Okay, here are the rules:

  1. I’m setting this chicken timer for 30 minutes. You have to color for the entire time.
  2. You have to color at the art table, because that’s where we color. So, no getting up and leaving the table.
  3. When the chicken timer is up, you clean up the art supplies.”

And then I backed away to watch.

They…

SAT AT THE ART TABLE COLORING FOR THIRTY MINUTES.

They did NOT leave the table

When the timer went off, they started shouting, “CLEAN UP TIME!” and scrambled to pick up all their toys, without stopping once, then slapped the lids back on the boxes.

WHOA…

Was it a fluke? I tried again with Legos, this time for forty minutes, during which they couldn’t leave the Lego area (which happens to be the living room).

And it WORKED!

They played with Legos for a full FORTY minutes before scrambling to pick them all up without whining about it once.

chickentimer
“I’m the most effective authority in this house”

I went on to use this method a few times a day for an entire week, and it worked every time.

I got so much done. I even had space to knock out lower-priority projects, like reorganizing cabinets (which doesn’t sound that exciting but nevertheless marks the moment when adult order returned to our house).

I’m still not sure why this particular combination was effective, since I’d tried every element of it before (apart from the chicken timer), but it was miraculous. Something about timer + play-area limits + cleaning up when the timer goes off = MAGIC.

And I had to share it, in case it helps other struggling parents.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections of Generation X

Hey, I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day!

I should probably get my ducks in a row by preparing timely holiday posts, but I’m too busy celebrating with my family and am apparently not great at planning ahead. We had a nice time swimming and eating a good meal with my folks, at any rate.

Watching my kids with their grandparents got me thinking about the different childhoods we various generations have had. My folks are Baby Boomers, the young adults currently dominating the scene are Millennials, of course, and my kids will be part of some generation that doesn’t even have a name yet. You know, the one soon to be characterized by all their robot friends or teleportation skills or whatever.

crawford_lang1And me? I’m late Generation X (the “whatever” should’ve clued you in). We used to be all the rage, back when we were waiting to see if Winona Ryder would pick Ethan Hawke or Ben Stiller before rocking out to Nirvana while wearing our long-sleeved plaid shirts and brown lipstick.

We gave you cynicism, MTV, Rap and Grunge Rock (it was a backlash against those flashy 80’s. Plus, we had AIDS & crack epidemics on our hands and all watched the much-hyped Challenger explode when we were little kids).

We questioned the American Dream and debated all existing philosophies without worrying much about PC language, beyond a few obvious terms (we just turned everything into sarcasm and irony if someone got annoyed). We figured we had the racism deal mostly licked by the time The Cosby Show came out (oh, how different that seems in retrospect) and sexism practically beat with Title IX and Puritanism was clearly on the wane since Bart Simpson started swearing in family cartoons (that’s right, folks. You so wouldn’t have Family Guy and Robot Chicken if it weren’t for us. Honestly, I can’t believe The Simpsons is still on TV).

See, Gen Xer’s are young enough to have been introduced to email, smart phones, and the internet relatively early, (early enough to master them without frequent bouts of cranky belligerence, at least) while still old enough to remember what growing up without them was like.

And lately, I’ve been thinking about how they made life different, for better or worse:

Video Games

I’m… ahem… old enough to barely remember when playing a video game meant loading a tape for 45 minutes then smacking pixelated squares around with a joystick. Or dumping quarters into an arcade while avoiding the much older, friendlier men.

I can actually remember trying to sort out Zork commands. Those games always had long, tedious maze sections.

And I also remember when hitting a snag in a game meant possibly never finishing the game. I got stuck in one that doesn’t exist anymore while trying to get my rich family to travel back in time to their medieval selves, hoping for the chance to type in the “sneer” command. I hit this puzzle that I couldn’t solve and still don’t know how that story ended.

You couldn’t look up walkthroughs. You would just sit there, stuck, unable to finish your game and running to the nearest comic book store to find whatever local nerd you figured had the best chance of having figured it out.

I played Sim City back when it was a bunch of red and yellow rectangles and Age of Empires, back when it was just minuscule cave men saying, “Rooooooh-gan!” before cutting down a tree. I remember when Castle Wolfenstein was a bunch of stick figures shouting angry German amidst the hiss of walkie-talkies (surprisingly terrifying at the time) and when Doom began setting the standards for awesome graphics and superficial, blow-everything-up game play.

And now… well… I still love video games and modern graphics make the ones I grew up playing look like something a drunk toddler worked out on an Etch-o-Sketch, but we did have elaborate stories and had to mentally fill out those stick figures with our wild imaginations. We also didn’t have those massive multiplayer online role-playing games that now suck up years of people’s lives with their thin storylines and continuously-regenerating VI opponents that make you button-mash like a laboratory chimp jonesing for its next cocaine hit until it starts peeing itself and finally forgets to mate or eat.

So… there’s that.

Plus, we’re now seeing a strange return to those earlier simplistic games with FarmVille and similar phone apps, now combined with the addictive qualities of MMORPG’s. Hey, it doesn’t really matter if your pumpkin crop fails, people. Get on with your life (and get off my lawn).

Smart phones

chandler
Yeah, they were pretty goofy.

For a while, when I was growing up, personal phones were around but not something most people had access to. They were really popular in Italy and we all found that really funny (Psh, those crazy Italians and their crazy cell phones and wild hand gestures and protection rackets).

They were also roughly shaped like a shoebox and cost a ton of money to use, so only businessmen were using them to make sure everyone knew that their time was really that important and those guys were probably also shelling out for those exorbitant plane phones while flying Business Class or getting their suits tailored or otherwise worshipping at the altar of Ayn Rand.

But normal people had landlines. If you wanted to showcase your whimsical, Bohemian self, you’d get something like a hamburger-shaped phone (Hell, I remember when cordless phones were a big deal because they’d you let you walk outside a two-foot radius).

People couldn’t contact you outside your house. Sure, we had answering machines so you’d find out if someone called, but you wouldn’t know about it before you came home (and you could be on vacation). You could feasibly put off calling someone back for several days, because you hadn’t had a chance to check your messages.

On the one hand, texting is really convenient. You can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time.

On the other, now anyone can reach you, anywhere, at any time. They now expect you to get back to them right away, or else they’ll be mad. There’s no excuse, because you’re wearing your phone at all times, or should be. You can never totally escape into the activities of the present moment, because in a way, you’re always leashed to a device that keeps you perpetually “on call.”

And you can’t heighten romantic tension anymore by making your significant other think you’re running around having an awesome time, innocently oblivious to all of their attempts to contact you. Now, you’re just ignoring them, which is rude. It used to be much easier to remain mysterious.

But I sure wish I had Google maps back in college because it would saved me from so many crying jags on L.A. freeways. Thomas Guides were absolute crap.

Downloadable media

It was once much harder to get your hands on entertainment. You had to buy compact discs for $16, so they’d better be worth it. You either had to catch shows when they were on or make sure you programmed your VCR correctly, and also that no one accidentally taped over your show, because once you missed it, you could be waiting years for it to come back on. If ever.

blockbuster
However, there used to be more comedy scenarios about people you wanted to impress catching you picking up embarrassing films.

If you wanted to see a movie, you’d drive to Blockbuster Video. You could rent movies for just a dollar, but they’d triple in price if you returned them thirty seconds after 8 PM the next day. For some reason, your rental bill always ended up being $8, which was roughy the same price as a couple of fast-food dinners, so renting several movies meant having to order fewer pizzas that month.

It’s a bizarre equation, but trust me… that’s how it was.

It’s nice to be able to instantly access whatever you’re interested in without having to rearrange your schedule. But on the other hand, we probably watched less TV and spent more time outside, doing stuff during which no one could contact us without getting into a car and finding us.

We also had fewer channels, which means we couldn’t as easily live in the polarized political echo-chambers people live in today, with internet sites, news channels, and Facebook groups completely devoted to upholding whatever one-sided world views we’re aligning with. We tended to argue more face-to-face.

The Internet

It’s pretty great to access whatever information we want, across international borders, within a minute or two. You can fall into rabbit-holes of infotainment that you once had to tackle walls of library microfiche to navigate.

We can also fact-check more easily now. If someone warns you about the guys at the Walmart parking lot knocking unsuspecting women out with chloroform disguised as perfume samples, it now takes 30 seconds to debunk the idea on Snopes.com, whereas it used to remain an unconfirmed rumor, forever.

So you’d think people would get less paranoid, right? Except now we have entire websites devoted to whatever whackadoodle conspiracies people take as Gospel Truth, so I’m not sure.

Today, anyone can also write anything on the internet and get lots of attention for it. I don’t think we had as much of a troll culture back in the 90’s. We spoke much more earnestly back then.

trollNow, it’s hard to tell if someone’s a jerk or just trying to get a rise out of people, which inherently casts doubt upon any unconventional opinion. If you start taking on someone’s nasty argument, you get worried about becoming the sap that’s playing into some obnoxious troll’s hands, so we now hear increasingly crazy, unchallenged opinions on a regular basis that go half-ignored by most because we’re unsure of how to best distinguish idiocy from narcissism.

Maybe that’s why people seem more outraged these days… they have to convince everyone that they really, really mean it.


So, any other Gen-Xer’s out there who want to weigh in on what I’ve been saying? How about some Boomers or Millennials?

Or even the Greatest Generation, if you guys are actually perusing blogs right now instead of discussing the mechanics of WWII planes. I’d love to hear your insights as well, since you guys definitely have the long view in this equation.

 

 

 

 

How ‘Bout Them Bapples? and Other Assorted Toddler Rebellions

It’s been interesting to check out the kind of advertising they’ve been running on my site lately. Expecting something more along the lines of Legos or diaper deals, I’ve been shocked by all the ads for MBA degrees and thousand-dollar Polyvore skirts.

(Was this because I made fun of Gwyneth Paltrow a while back? I’ll just assume their

paltrow
Says the woman with a pizza-stove in her backyard

algorithm can’t detect sarcasm.)

Or maybe it has more to do with my audience; in which case, you guys are classy folks.

In other news, Bridget, my 3-year-old, has been eating one bite of every apple we own.

Or strawberries, or bananas, or chips, or what-have-you: any grouping of like food substances in a bowl has been vulnerable. It’s the toddler equivalent of grownups who take a small chunk out of every chocolate in the box until they finally find a filling they deem acceptable.

Except in this case, they’re all the same. So why, toddlers, why? Are you trying to find the best one? Are you claiming all the apples for later use? Is it just because you’re not supposed to do it?

She loves to beg for “bapples” then scream “DONE!” after taking one taste. Or burritos, or tacos, or whatever else she catches anyone eating and therefore wants. It’s baffling.

But this toddler phenomenon is hardly news to other parents. A more compelling development has been her 5-year-old sister Brontë becoming the house’s new Apple Sheriff.

After observing the drama enough times, she decided to climb onboard my ongoing Bridget projects by coaching her on everything from potty-training to putting dirty clothes in the hamper to not finishing apples. What’s more, I just figured out that she’s been taping these coaching sessions on the iPad her grandparents bought her, which is hilarious:

 

Of course, Brontë never accounted for how much more fun eating one bite of an apple would become after Bridget realized how much it would torture her big sister. It’s like Brontë just handed her a big, red, sister-freakout button and then begged her not press it.

I do appreciate Brontë’s efforts, though 🙂

Love in Darkness

Sometimes, I wish I lived in my five-year-old’s universe. It’s a magical land of unbridled optimism.

Just the other night, she proudly announced that the moon loves her.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because it’s always following me,” she said. Pointing to the sky, she hopped up and down with excitement:

“Look, it’s doing it again!”

Seniors in Hotpants and Toddler Book Reviews

Tuesday is library day, which the girls love because of its set routine.

First, we load water and snacks into the girls’ backpacks and the past week’s books into mine. Then, we walk out of our neighborhood, pausing on our way to stare at the bizarre cacophony of objects in the Vietnam Vet’s front yard.

Doll heads, Snoopy statues, American flags, ancient tools in a gravel maze of cacti and rosebuds… to me, it represents lingering existential puzzles. But for Brontë and Bridget, it’s a Where’s Waldo of disordered beauty. They always point out something random before moving on.

We hit the boulevard where I always pick up Bridget and squeeze Brontë’s hand to cross the street. Knowing this, Bridget reaches both arms up as we approach, then pushes her face into my neck as we wait for an opening before trotting across. I set her down as we continue past the lost animal posters, the guttered fast-food cups, the place where the skateboarding kids’ skunk-toned air turns to jasmine bushes.

The kids greet the Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting in front of the library in flowered dresses and well-ironed suits, then they charge toward their respective book return slots. Bridget always goes to the left, and Brontë to the right. I hand them books to return until my backpack is empty.

Then we walk to the park to play before Storytime begins at the library. Sometimes we meet our neighbor there, but she was busy last week. So instead, the girls ran to the playground after immediately ditching their backpacks and shoes, as they always do.

I sat down on a nearby bench, trying hard not to judge the lady who was at least well into her seventies wearing short-shorts that just walked by because I hate those preachy 30 Things Not to Wear After Thirty lists and shouldn’t be so damn hypocritical. It was warm outside, so I should cut her a break, even if I’d never wear something like that myself. Even Jessica Simpson would have trouble pulling those off.

Showcased flesh aside, I was wondering if we’d have to drive next week because it would be too hot to walk when I noticed Bridget walking up the big, spiral slide again. Dang it… I’m always telling her not to do that because it creates a traffic jam with the kids at the top, but there were no kids at the top right then and sometimes parents have to pick their battles so maybe I’ll just let it slide.

Let it slide, let it slide… shut UP, annoying brain with your terrible puns. Climbing up the slide must be incredibly fun, considering how badly kids want to do it. Like a spiral mountain-climbing event. Aerial geometry. 

And that’s when Bridget started screaming.

I walked over confused, because she’s climbed up that slide a thousand times before.

“They boarded up the slide because the slide is hot,” the grand dame in short-shorts told me.

OH. Bridget’s freaking out because she’s trapped. That makes sense. I reached my arms up toward her.

“Come here, baby,” I said. “I’ll get you down.”

And then loudly, the lady said, “Well, she CAN’T walk down the slide because she ISN’T WEARING ANY SHOES!” (subtext: Only a monster of a mother would let her child run around without any shoes on).

Then, without missing a beat or pausing for breath, she worked up her most martyred-sounding tone and yelled, “I guess I’LL have to GO GET HER THEN,” before shoving me out of the way to reach the slide bottom.

Panicked by the sight of a crazed old lady in hot pants advancing upon her, Bridget shrieked before jumping sideways off the top of the slide into my arms. Irritated by the forced parkour, I twirled her away as the lady let out a frustrated HMPH! and one more “she WASN’T wearing any SHOES!”

“She walked UP the slide, didn’t she!?” I yelled back, wondering why the woman thought trying to cart a hysterical toddler backwards down a spiral slide wouldn’t be dangerous and whether she would later recount her heroically-attempted rescue of the poor kid whose mom wanted to boil her feet to all her friends, who would then pontificate on how social media and participation trophies ruined the Millennials.

Well, we made it to library Storytime, where the kids had a blast and learned all about the Storybook Summer Reading Challenge. If they read five books and log reviews into the website, they get to pick out a free gift book. If they read twenty, they get a SUPER READER medal with their name on it.

This is beyond exciting for my kids and all they can talk about. They want that medal. They’re hungry for it. It has their NAME ON IT.

It will be easy, since I read Brontë a different story every night. We always check out three books for Bidgie to choose from, but she always picks the same one… whatever one she happened to read first. Bonus points if it’s Dr. Seuss though, whom she loves, even though Brontë inexplicably HATES him.

For Brontë, I try to select a bunch of different styles and genres to open up her brain. I usually get a couple of weird ones to make her think. She usually loves them.

But not the one we read last night.

Sendak-nightkitchenIt’s called “In the Night Kitchen,” by Maurice Sendak. It was published in 1970, but looks like something out of the 1920’s: a little boy falls asleep, floats out of his clothes and into  the dough of three chubby bakers who want to cook him because they think he’s milk…

The boy fashions the dough into an airplane, then flies over a huge glass bottle of milk. Jumping inside it, he gets a pitcher to bring back to the bakers, who then sing a happy song about having milk for their cake. The boy makes rooster noises before floating back into his clothes and his bed.

It was mildly disturbing, to tell you the truth. I was curious about Brontë’s take…

Night Kitchen milk
Frankly, this creeped me out too

Me: So, what did you think?

Brontë: That was… weird.

Me: Yeah. I’m sensing you didn’t like it.

Brontë: No, because that little boy was NAKED.

Me: He was.

Brontë: And then he GOT into the MILK. Naked! I do NOT want naked boys in my milk, momma. He could PEE in there!

Me: True.

Brontë: Or even POOP!

Bridget: GROSS!

(The girls laugh hysterically).

Me: Okay, so in your review, you want to say, “I thought the naked boy in the milk was weird because he could pee in there.”

Brontë (very seriously): YES. Or poop. Don’t forget that part. I don’t want to see any more books about naked boys in milk. You write that.

Me: Okay.

And I did. Anyone researching children’s books in Sacramento libraries can now read all about how this one contains disturbing imagery of naked little boys in milk jars who could spontaneously pee and run everybody’s breakfasts. I can’t help wondering if that lady in hot pants will someday come upon it and spontaneously combust.

I also can’t help wondering if there was some deeper, more intricate symbolism in the book that both of us missed. That couldn’t have just been about being baked naked in Oliver Hardy’s cake, right?

Hopefully, Brontë will like tomorrow’s batch much better, but on the other hand, her negative reviews are much more entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Weirdness

Lately, I’ve been admiring the Weekly Roundups some of my fellow bloggers have been posting and I want to try it too!

But here’s my spin: I’d like to share a few funny exchanges I had with my weird kids this week, then mention some reactions the week’s topics:

Our Ridiculous Dog

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-2-36-25-amBrontë (looking very serious): Mommy, I need to talk to you about something.

Me (sitting down): What is it?

Brontë (deeply sighing, then taking my hand): Well, Douglas chewed up the cushions, ate our toys, barks at the kitties, and keeps knocking us over when we play outside…

Me: I know. He’s a very frustrating dog.

Brontë: And I think we should change his name from ‘Douglas’ to ‘Butthole.’

Kids Who Won’t Nap

 

IMG_5227
Bidgie pokes her sister in the eyeball as she naps

Brontë: So are we gonna go on a walk and then swim?

 

Me: That depends on you. We’ll have time if you guys take a nap when we get home. If I keep having to go in there because you’re playing, then we’ll probably run out of time.

Brontë: We’ll be good and take a nap but first, I want to make a bunch of noise and have you run in and say, “SHUT IT DOWN, BABIES!” Then we’ll be quiet, okay?

Me: That works.

Refugee Lemurs

IMG_5215Brontë (upon seeing her stuffed lemur in my room): What are you DOING here??

Me: He’s been hanging out here lately.

Brontë: Why? To pet Violet the kitty?

Me: Yeah. Plus he said your room smells like farts.

Brontë: WHAT!? Okay, that’s fair. Can you come open my window?

Weekly Feedback

  • Got props on Twitter this week for being the mommy blogger who actually worked the phrase “Angry Rabbit Perverts” into an article.
  • Turns out, most parents are still firmly in the pro-sharing camp. I think that’s probably wise.
  • According to my kids, Bubbles and Beebots remains painfully short on bunny captions.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂

 

 

 

 

For the Love Of Bunny

Maybe because wild imaginations often lead to paranoia, I’ve never been much of a natural saleswoman. I can still remember wondering, as a tiny child, exactly what the fifth dentist had against Trident gum.

So, given my cynical streak, I find my 5-year-old’s natural salesmanship startling. Maybe it’s her wild optimism.  She almost already sold me the impossible, just the other day…

Brontë: Mom? You know what would be really nice?

Me: What?

Brontë: A bunny pet. That would be GREAT. Look at our yard… just pretend we had a bunny hopping around. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Me: Yes, that would be super cute, but…

Brontë: Picture a BLUE bunny pet, just chewing on the flowers, sitting by the waterfall…

bluebunnyAnd for a brief moment, damn it, I found myself picturing that adorable blue bunny. Brontë knows blue is my favorite color, you see, and she’s already incorporated this fact into her marketing.

Marketing that was effective enough to make me briefly wonder if getting a bunny was actually feasible, even though I know blue bunnies don’t really exist. It didn’t hurt that Brontë has worshipped bunny rabbits since she was a baby, so I could almost hear her delighted squeals upon seeing one.

She probably doesn’t remember how it all started, but I do. See, when she was an infant, she liked rubbing fuzzy blankets on the skin above her upper lip. In time, she grew to favor bunny stuffed animals because they had two long ears that were perfect for rubbing under her nose and dragging them around with…

“Yellow Bunny,” a yellow bunny with long, fuzzy ears, became one of her favorite toys and yellow, her favorite color. She’d blame many of her stuffed animals for the messes she got caught making, but Yellow Bunny could never do any wrong.

It didn’t stop there. She always loved the books I read her at bedtime, except one called, “That’s Not My Bunny.”

notmybunny.jpgOn each page, it would show a different bunny with tactile parts for babies to feel. It would have a bunny with a bumpy section on a page, for example, and the text would read, “That’s not my bunny, it’s too bumpy” until you finally get to the perfect bunny at the end and it says, “THAT’S my bunny!”

It was cute, but not to Brontë, who felt that all bunnies were, in fact, HER bunnies and  we were pretending she was judging and rejecting them in the most hurtful ways imaginable She’d sometimes have to shut the book and throw it across the room to stop the lies.

It upset her so much, I had to quit reading it. And later, bunnies would invade her dreams. She’d dream about pink and purple bunnies driving around in cars, all stuffed in like clowns in a Volkswagen, or pink and purple bunnies raiding the fridge before setting out fine meals around the dining table. They’d smack their paws on the table with chants of “Bron-TEE! Bron-TEE!” to lure her down the stairs…

Brontë is vaguely starting to understand that I write a blog about her and her sister, which she finds fascinating. She wants to see it sometimes, pointing out “THAT’S BIDGIE!”  or “HEY, THAT’S ME!” when the pictures go by. She wants to know what I’m talking about in the articles and giggles when I remind her of something funny she once said.

It means she’s more wiling to give me space, now, to tell the world about her hilarious antics. Even if I’m starting to wonder if her junior-high self will resent me for once reporting on her potty-training fails.

At any rate, last week she saw a random clip-art purple bunny that has since consumed her. She’s even more interested in that bunny than in her own history.

Brontë: Let me see the bunny again, mama.

Me (sighing): Okay, here it is.

Brontë: Is that a boy or girl? What’s its name?

Me: I don’t know. It’s just a picture.

Brontë: It’s a GREAT bunny. Why didn’t you write words under the bunny picture, mommy? You wrote words under the other ones. You need to write what that bunny is saying because I WANT TO KNOW.

Her obsession makes me curious about how she’d react to a real live bunny in the yard, except we can’t have a baby bunny jumping around five cats and it would HAVE to be a baby bunny because, well… I’ve had bad experiences with grown-up bunnies before.

Back when I was in college, my grandmother once bought all my cousins stuffed animal bunnies for Easter, but because she knew I loved animals so much, she wanted to get me a couple of real bunnies instead.

Which was a very sweet gesture, except she had me pick from a pile of grown up bunnies that all seemed to HATE people. That’s when I had this reckless thought:

Okay, these bunnies are insane, but if I pick a boy and a girl, I could tame a baby bunny and sell the rest to a pet store.

Not knowing anything about rabbits, picking a boy and girl rabbit ended up being much harder than it seemed. I figured I’d grab two with different-looking genitalia and time would inevitably reveal which one was which.

It did. About a day later, the rabbits fell in love and they quickly became known as Patrick and Katherine.

Except later that day, Katherine was looking awfully dominant. Maybe I had it wrong. Katherine quickly became known as Kirk.

Except next day, Patrick was on top again.

It wasn’t long before I realized that Patrick and Kirk were really, REALLY into each other.  Like, into each other all day, every day, taking turns… expressing themselves.

And those bunnies were bastards.

Not because they were gay. I don’t have bunny homophobia or anything. No, it’s because every time I gently tried to pull one away from its frenzied love-making, it would leave multiple bloody scratches along my arms with its back feet. They would flat-out attack me for trying to be friends with them, then run over to bury their head into their lover’s side as though they’d just been horribly violated. The other one with lick his face to help him get over the shock.

MP_RABBIT_ATTACK_.jpg
And you thought it was fiction
Even my rats hated their guts. That’s right, I had a couple of rat pets at the time and because of that experience, I’m fully aware that rats are approximately ten-thousand times smarter than bunnies, despite the terrible rep.

Because the rats used to tag team the rabbits in ingenious ways. One would crawl up the side of the rabbit cage to distract them, while the other would crawl up near the rabbits’ food dish to throw handfuls of rabbit food on the floor that the rats would later pile into their own cage, since the bunnies were to big to retrieve it.

After about fifty episodes of this particular rat con, Patrick finally figured out what was happening. He indignantly rabbit-kicked the rat who was stealing his food, which made the rat jump onto Patrick’s back and start furiously pulling out Patrick’s fur in handfuls while biting him. Patrick jumped around in circles, unsuccessfully trying to kick the rat, until I ended up picking Patrick up and oh-so-carefully extracting the hysterical rat while hoping not to lose a chunk of skin.

The rat didn’t hurt me, but Patrick responded by leaving a ten-inch gash on my arm. Meanwhile, Kirk looked truly baffled, though I swear he shot me a couple of dirty looks.

So… clearly… we can’t have an untamed rabbit on the premises. Those suckers are MEAN, despite being adorable. And a baby bunny wouldn’t last long.

Yet despite my sordid history with a couple of angry rabbit perverts, I was still briefly charmed by Brontë’s visions of blue bunnies dancing around the yard.

That girl’s got a future in marketing, if she isn’t too busy being a Jedi princess unicorn in Outer Space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Because children are people too… really weird little people.

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