My Daughter Declares Herself Queen

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I thought this would taste better.

Upon figuring out how to work her mechanical toy the other day, my daughter Brontë threw both her arms up in a victory salute, shouting, “I’M A PRINCESS!!!”

Not sure how she defines “princess,” but I’m glad it involves competence.

She may, however, be moving on to bigger and better things. Today, Brontë declared herself the queen and is trying to set the agenda.

Somehow she figured out that a queen is like a princess with far more power.

Power is a fascinating concept for toddlers, who live utterly dependent lives in helpless passivity until they grow past infancy.

First, they learn to crawl, then walk, then say a few words. They learn to say “milk,” for example, and milk magically appears.

Dizzy with newly-discovered control over their environments, at some point, they learn the word “no,” and it completely goes to their heads.

NO! The power of refusal. NO! I will not eat that. No! I will not put on some pants. NO!

They just start refusing everything, left and right. They refuse anything and everything, just because they can, even things you know they want.

“You want a piece of candy?” (Here’s the real test. Will they actually refuse candy?)

“NO! NONONONONONONONONONONO!”

“Alrighty then.”

(Toddler starts screaming.)

“You said you didn’t want it.”

(Oh, the conundrum. Toddler starts rolling on the floor, kicking the ground while wailing, “NONONONONONONO!”)

It’s bizarre how easily we all could say “no” at age two, given that so many of us will spend our adulthood trying to feel comfortable saying it again.

Eventually, however, toddlers move past the “No” stage and into more sophisticated methods of attempted power coups.

They will constantly test boundaries, social dynamics, limits and self-expression. In any way that occurs to them.

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Brontë wanted to be Cinderella for her third birthday

Play mommy off daddy? Sure, let’s give it a shot. Let’s also see how much endurance mommy and daddy have for a two-hour public tantrum. What happens if… say… I chuck this peanut butter and jelly sandwich so hard across the kitchen that it sticks to the wall?

Why not? Toddlers have no jobs or regular chores, so they have a lot of time on their hands to think this stuff up. They also have few ideas about how the world, and people, function. So, why not run a few experiments and note the results for later use?

I’m particularly impressed with Brontë’s most recent experiment of declaring herself queen then proceeding to issue orders.

It also leaves me with quite a dilemma: I don’t want to stifle that sort of creativity, but I can’t actually let her be in charge. Because if Brontë is in charge, then we will be taking an all-day bath while eating sixty pounds of chocolate.

While I like her self-confidence, we still need to maintain a proper hierarchy around here, so I declared myself “empress” and explained that I outranked her.

Hmph. Brontë begrudgingly accepted this turn of events, though she was rather disgruntled about her Disney-and-chocolate Bath Marathon getting canceled by the higher-ups.

To console herself, Brontë turned her attention to baby sister Bridget, whom she figured she still outranked.

Luckily, Brontë is a benevolent dictator. She wants her subjects to prosper, so instead of abusing her henchman, she decided to educate her.

After stepping into her room for a few minutes, Brontë returned with an armful of princess dolls. Sitting down in front of Bridget, Brontë looked her baby sister in the eye, very seriously, and began holding them up, one by one, to explain who each of them are.

 

Brontë (holding up princess dolls to her sister): It’s Belle… And Hair White… And Frog…

Me: That’s Elsa and Tiana.

Brontë (humiliated): “MOMMY, I’M TELLING MY SISTER!

Me: “Carry on.”

(Gosh, I didn’t mean to embarrass her.)

She has a point though. There’s no way the monarchy will succeed in this house if queens keep having their mistakes publicly pointed out.

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Poop Warfare: The Continuing Potty-Training Saga

unicornpotty
Princess Celestia has to go sometimes too

Brontë and I continue to work on potty training, and I’ve just about exhausted my bag of tricks.

It’s starting to feel like a two-year-old has taken me hostage. She has her finger right above the poop trigger, and either I meet her crazy demands, or this whole place is going to explode.

Recently, she demanded that a unicorn accompany her to the potty chair. Not just accompany her, but the unicorn needs her own potty too. Only the best for Princess Celestia.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I fulfilled this demand, setting up a secondary potty chair and even talking Princess Celestia through the process to maintain the unicorn fantasy.

It seemed reasonable enough at the time. Who wouldn’t be reassured by a fluffy cupcake unicorn, crapping right along with you?

What’s not reasonable? My daughter also decided to empty the stuffing out of her Doc McStuffins pillow all over her bed yesterday morning. Whether she is delving into a possible connection between stuffing and McStuffins, or simply being a Toddler Destruco-Agent, I wasn’t certain…

stuffing
Toddler resource-gathering activities

I’ve been trying to hit this potty training thing from every angle. We’ve done stickers, candy rewards, lavish praise, bedtime stories about potties… tried to employ various methods from smug little books about potty-training in three days or less, but to no avail.

Brontë enjoys the candy and stickers but remains quite resistant.

I finally saw some success after leaving her naked and giving her no where to go. She repeatedly asked for a diaper but was denied. She finally resorted to actually sitting on the potty and trickling out the littlest bit of pee.

Of course, I praised her as through she just painted the Sistine Chapel. Maybe she would be convinced to do it again.

But she was having none of it. I just caught her on her bed, trying to pack the disemboweled pillow stuffing around her butt to make a diaper.

So THAT’S why she tore the pillow up.  She was making a diaper.

You would think a child with enough creativity to build a diaper from scratch would have this potty thing down. Kids are a conundrum.

Later that evening, I went out to dinner with girlfriends. I needed a break from the Potty Wars.

But Brontë was quite upset, so upset that she crapped in her hand and rubbed it ALL OVER the mirror in her room. She really put some elbow grease into it. My poor husband.

When I came home, I walked into her room to greet her and was met with a fecal-smeared wall. She looked up at me with initial defiance before suddenly reading she was both literally and figuratively in a world of…

Her eyes grew wide as she walked up to me, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I missed you, mommy. I love you.”

The parenting books DO NOT PREPARE YOU FOR THIS.

Parents are just flying by the seat of their pants. Try to be forgiving. ‪#‎Brontëkeepsitreal‬

A Tribute to the French

sanfrancityhallThis post was originally going to be all about how my kids had a stomach virus during the past week, one that made them projectile vomit for days, in unison, all over the living room, the car, the bathroom, the staircase, and just about anywhere else that wasn’t a toilet or bin.

But then the Parisian terrorist attacks happened, leaving 129 innocent people dead and putting my temporary problems into better perspective.

French flags currently dress around half of my Facebook friends’ faces. It’s a small part of the Western world’s outpouring of sympathy for the French tragedy.

Many are predictably politicizing the event. Some are blaming Obama, or saying this wouldn’t have happened if the French were better armed, while others perceive racism in the sympathy itself, pointing out that no one was this upset about the deadly attacks in Beirut. Each of us are trying to make sense of it through the filters of our own world lenses.

I wish human decency weren’t a cause for attack these days… that grieving for someone’s loss didn’t make one vulnerable, just as attending the funeral of a loved one doesn’t lead to open criticism about how you weren’t as upset by every other random death on the planet.

Death is always tragic, but naturally more painful whenever you feel a personal connection to its victims.

I love France, adore the French, and feel awful about what has happened.

My connections go back to early childhood, when my mother was majoring in French and I was surrounded by French people for as long as I can remember. We made many trips to France as I was growing up, and the French have always been close to my heart.

Americans tend to believe many negative French stereotypes: that the French are rude, pretentious, and weak. It’s odd that these beliefs are so widespread, given that most Americans never travel to France and never meet any actual French people.

It’s also odd because the French have long been our closest allies, from helping us win the American Revolution to being part of the Allied powers during the World Wars. Plus, they gave us the Statue of Liberty.

I figure it’s part of our Anglo-Saxon roots, the cultural legacy of the rivalry between England and France that has gone on for centuries. The English called syphilis the “French Pox,”  and vulgar kissing became “French kissing,” and condoms were “French letters.” Anything dirty became “French.”

And the French responded in kind, with the “English pox” and “English kissing.” England and France are like a couple of siblings, endlessly playing an “I’m-not-touching-you” game with each, and I don’t want to take sides, loving both the French and British alike.

I think these petty rivalries are forgotten in turbulent times, though. Despite all the squabbling, the British, Americans and French come together when it counts. Like when Nazis invade.

American and French tensions might also come from a few cultural differences… the French have a slightly more formal culture, for example, which can be read as “stuffy” to informal Americans, and they don’t smile as often, which is mistaken for coldness by Americans, who smile by default.

But in my experiences, the French have been very warm people. I’d like to tell you a little story about the French, and why I love them, as a small tribute during these painful times.

In the winter of 2000, my (then) husband and I were a couple of very young and broke American soldiers. We had just gotten married and didn’t have much money for a honeymoon, so we decided to take a military hop into Europe, to explore London and Paris.

In the Army, you could pay about $10 for a box lunch and tag along a military flight to any base in the world. It wasn’t fancy, but it was affordable.

We caught a C130 flight going over to Ramstein, an Air Force Base in  Germany. We sat on plastic netting next to a tank that was chained to the cargo hold, with ear plugs in our ears, and were told to use a communal bucket in the corner if we had to use the bathroom.

As I said, this wasn’t fancy.

Still, I was okay with this arrangement until the plane’s door fell off. Yes, the door fell off as they were trying to close it, hitting the asphalt with a loud smack. A couple of guys worked for several minutes to get the loose door back on its tracks as I felt growing anxiety about the integrity of the machine I was squatted inside, the one that was about to carry us over the ocean for thousands of miles.

They got it back on and we made it over the pond (obviously, since I’m able to write this) before taking a train into Paris, where we had the time of our lives for several days as we tried to do whatever we could until our pennies ran out.

We carried everything with us in two Army rucksacks on our backs. We carted them through Notre Dame, the catacombs, Versailles, the Louvre, and the Paris Youth hostel we stayed in. We had no set plans, no hotel arrangements, and certainly no backup plans.

When it came time to travel to Calais and catch the Ferry into England, we miscalculated, ending up in Lille in the middle of the night in an onslaught of rain.

We found out the train station wouldn’t open until the next day and we didn’t have enough money to book a hotel. Stomping through the flooded countryside next to a freeway, my husband unsuccessfully tried to hitchhike.

I remember him sticking a thumb out at a passing single female motorist and her careening by at the speed of light. He was baffled, but I reminded him that he was an over-six-foot-tall man in rags with a black knit watch cap and a beat-up rucksack trying to hitch a ride from a single woman at two in the morning. I wouldn’t have picked him up either.

Defeated, we trudged our way toward the Lille bus stop. Our legs were sopping wet to the thighs, and I was catching pneumonia, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

We passed an old man who asked my husband if he had a light. My husband gave him one, and the French man first thanked him, then noticed our US Army rucksacks.

“Vous etes Americains?” he asked, pointing at our torn backpacks.

“Oui,” I responded.

“Merci,” the old man said before shaking both of our hands. He walked a few steps away before turning around, saluting us both, and wiping a tear from his face.

I’m not always sentimental, but I wanted to burst out crying on the spot.

Rallied by the gesture, my husband and I trudged along further, for a seeming eternity, before finding shelter at a covered bus stop. I pulled out a deck of cards and we planned to keep ourselves awake by playing until morning.

Around three, a young woman walked by and asked me if I had any rolling papers. I told her no, and asked her if any place was open. We spoke back and forth for a while (her in broken English and me in broken French) until I had communicated our situation well enough to give her the gist.

She took us back to her apartment, where she had a few friends over, to get us out of the storm while we waited out the night. She told her friends about us and a French man brought us two hot cups of tea to warm us up.

“Thank you,” I told him, “It’s so cold. We are from California.”

“Oh no, you are American!” he gasped.

“Yes,” I said.

“I thought you were English!” he said, panicking, “You don’t want tea! You want COFFEE. I will make you some!”

No no no, we reassured him. Hot tea was wonderful. We were more than grateful for tea.

We were frankly shocked that anyone would not only bring bedraggled strangers into their home in the middle of the night, but would then scramble to make them as comfortable as possible.

We spent the night having wonderful discussions with three French people about culture, food, and local customs. The hot tea man broke out a nice Italian liquor to share, to introduce us to a local favored variety.

We talked about the proliferation of McDonalds in France, how the French were concerned about losing local culinary traditions. The hot tea Frenchman told us that his daughter recently confessed to eating at a McDonalds.

“Did you enjoy it?” he asked her.

“No daddy, it was awful! I just went there because all of my friends were going.”

It made us laugh because it sounded just like a confession to one’s parents about feeling peer pressure to kiss a boy or smoke a joint. We talked about food traditions and never had the sense that the French were hostile to Americana so much as worried about local traditions dissolving in the age of globalization.

The next morning, they walked us to the train station so we could buy our tickets and move on to Calais.

I’ve had many pleasant encounters with the French, too many to mention here. But I remembered this one in particular when reading about #porteouverte.

Solidarity.

Shelter from the storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Why Queen Elsa Is a Good Idea For Little Girls

frozen-meme-oscar-only-movie-parent-parenthoodIn exciting toddler news, apparently Queen Elsa from Frozen has dethroned Barbie as the reigning queen of childhood royalty. I have to say, I’m very pleased with this development. Having discovered that it’s damn near impossible to prevent princess obsessions in little girls, I think the least we could do is give these princess skills beyond looking pretty while waiting for someone to save them.

As every parent of a girl under 12 is well aware, Frozen has taken America by storm, but despite all the pretty dresses and princesses,  I think Frozen will be a good influence on the next generation of women. Here’s why

  1. Frozen teaches little girls not to trust every cute guy that flirts with you.

Traditionally, figuring out who is good and who is evil in Disney movies was easy: just follow the warts. Pretty people are good and ugly people are bad. There was a rare exception when Queen Ursula transformed herself into a beautiful woman to steal the prince from Ariel, but I can’t think of a single handsome guy that was ever bad.

hansmemePrince Hans, however, is a good-looking smooth-talker who says all the right things. Despite his murderous plans, he acts adorably bashful and sings all the right cute songs to win over Princess Anna’s heart. She jumps into a quick engagement before learning that it’s better to hook up with the guy who’s got your back when it counts than fall for a smooth act.

My daughter learned this lesson as well. Every time Anna and Hans start singing about sandwiches, Brontë jumps to her feet, yelling, “NO! NOT THIS GUY!”

2. Frozen teaches little girls that it’s okay to be powerful.

Convention for Disney's most powerful women
Convention for Disney’s most powerful women

I also can’t think of a single Disney movie besides Frozen where a female character: 1) has magical powers, and 2) isn’t evil. The only exception may be Cinderella’s fairy godmother, whose powers were limited to conjuring evening gowns.

Let’s face it, little girls dream about magical abilities as much as little boys. We don’t want to always be the helpless, pretty damsel just waiting for a real adult to save us. It’s cool that Aladdin took Jasmine on a magic carpet ride, but it would be awfully nice if she could fly on her own. Why do we always have to piggyback on some guy’s wish-fulfillment fantasy?

Usually, any woman with powers is an evil witch who must be destroyed… until Queen Elsa, who, interestingly enough, was originally supposed to be an evil witch who must be destroyed until the “Let it Go” song was written.

Hearing that song touched something deep within screenwriter Jennifer Lee’s psyche. She decided, damn it, this time the magical woman wasn’t going to be evil. Halfway through production, she rewrote the entire storyline to make Elsa a good character instead.

And my daughter loves it. She runs around the house vanquishing monsters with her “ice powers” all the time.

3.  Frozen teaches little girls they can count on other women.

ugly-stepsisters-ugly-wicked-evil-stepsiter-stepsiters-cinde-demotivational-poster-1248784022Disney doesn’t have a great track record with female relationships. Usually, other women are powerless at best, and rivals at worst. If they aren’t witches hellbent on your destruction, they are evil stepmothers or stepsisters doing everything possible to make your life miserable. You can’t even trust women in your own family, and there’s little you can do about it except be pretty enough for a cute guy to want to save you.

Disney started fixing this dysfunctional dynamic with Brave, when Merida’s hostile relationship with her mother becomes stronger by the movie’s end, and continued with Frozen. Anna first thought that Hans could save her from freezing with true love’s kiss, then believed Christophe was the answer. In the end, however, it was the sisters’ love for each other that saved  both of their lives and restored peace to Arendelle.

As the mother of two daughters, I’m thrilled to finally see positive role models for sister relationships.

4. Frozen teaches that being a queen is pretty cool too.

ma'amWhile it’s strange that the monarchy still reigns supreme in a country that prides itself on democracy, I can’t help but notice how little girls are more interested in being princesses than queens. Why long to be little more than a marriage pawn for political alliances, when you could hold supreme power yourself?

Simple. Princess are younger and therefore more beautiful, whereas queens are older and less attractive. It’s the same reason I cringe any time someone calls me “Ma’am” (unless you’re from the South. Then it’s cute).

Frozen flips this dynamic on its head by making Queen Elsa both beautiful and powerful. Imagine that.

5. Frozen teaches girls that it’s okay to have a boyfriend and it’s okay to be single.

Sometime during our long of history of being told that getting a man should be our primary goal, women got tired of being handed out as prizes to whomever slew the local dragon. We wanted some freedom, for a change, the chance to create our own destinies… Maybe all of our life stories didn’t need to end in marriage,

princess-meridaBrave did a great job with this. Princess Merida wanted independence, to ride her horse, unshackled, with her wild curly hair flowing in the moonlight as she chased fairies and vanquished monster with her excellent archery skills. She didn’t want to be married off to whatever chump happened to win a local contest.

It’s a good lesson, unless it leaves girls with the impression that they have to stay single if they want a fair shake. Never being able to fall in love is a steep price for female strength, one that could turn many women off if we’re not careful. We shouldn’t have to give up having a personal life to feel any personal power.

But we also shouldn’t feel incomplete without a man. Frozen handles this well, in my opinion, by putting Anna in a healthy relationship with Christophe while leaving Elsa single. It’s okay to have a boyfriend and okay not to have a boyfriend. What matters is staying true to your own feelings.

Truth be told, I don’t really want to watch any movie 63 billion times in a row. But if I have to, I’m glad that it will be Frozen.

What’s Up With All the Peanut Allergies?

My daughter Brontë recently started attending preschool. It was high time for her to go (she really wants to make friends with other children), but for me, it was bittersweet. It’s the end of an era: the World of Just Mommy and Brontë.

It means she won’t stay a little girl forever. Someday she will learn to drive, go off to college, and move out of the house…

We are very close, so I knew it could be a tough transition for her. The night before her first day, I lovingly packed her My Little Pony backpack with a coat, extra socks, and a change of clothes. In the morning, I gave her a special treat (Frozen cereal. Anything Elsa is gold) and explained to her on the drive over that mommy would be dropping her off to play, but not to be scared, because mommy would come back in a little while to pick her up.

She looks terrified, right?
She looks terrified, right?

When we arrived, I squeezed her tiny warm hand as we crossed the parking lot to the front door. She was wide-eyed. I knelt down to hug and kiss her as I mentally prepared myself for an emotional flood. This was the first time she would be left by herself in a new place. She might grab me around the legs, sobbing, and beg me not to leave her. I would reassure her, again and again, promising her that this would be so much fun and I would definitely always come back for her.

Instead, she popped her My Little Pony backpack on a nearby hook, like a pro, then casually said “Bye moms!” before tearing off into the building.

The transition went, umm, rather smoothly.

I, on the other hand, have much to learn. This is a unique,  play-based preschool where one parent works a shift every week. I love the concept of parental participation, but it means a steep learning-curve about a bunch of new policies and procedures. My shift is on Wednesday, and I’m supposed to bring kid and parent snacks every month.

These impending snack duties made me anxious. How much is enough? How organic should it be? Can it contain gluten? Are graham crackers alright, or do they contain too much sugar? What if it’s messy? Will other parents be mad?

I’m the new kid on the block and don’t want to jack up my reputation with an embarrassing snack faux-pas, so on my first Wednesday, I was curious to see what the snack-bringer was dishing up.

It was quite impressive: hot crockpot chili (it’s finally getting chilly in California), with tortilla chips and cheddar cheese. She told me she had also made corn muffins, but couldn’t bring them in after reading on the box that the mix was prepared in a facility that also processes tree nuts. Last year, five of the kids had severe nut allergies.

My daughter demonstrates her mastery of backpack-hook technology
My daughter demonstrates her mastery of backpack-hook technology

Uh-oh… nut allergies. Not only can’t we bring in any food containing nuts, but we can’t bring in anything prepared with ingredients that might have once made friends with a nut. Non-nut ingredients can’t even run in the same social circles without tarnishing their reputations.

I don’t mean to make light of severe allergies, of course. Allergies are a serious issue with potentially tragic consequences. But what confounds me is how nut allergies have become so prevalent.

I was a kid during the 1980’s. Back then, if you tossed a handful of rocks into a cafeteria and hit five random kids, I guarantee that at least one of them would have been eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the time. Another one would’ve been bouncing off the walls while stuffing his face with Willy Wonka candy.

That Willy Wonka kid would be diagnosed with ADHD, nowadays, just like that hyper kid who used to sit behind me whose butt never actually touched his seat. He would just hover over it, trying to sit down, but shaking with too much energy to manage it,  like a trapped Roomba smacking repeatedly against a corner of the room.

ADHD diagnoses have also exploded in the past twenty years, but it’s possible that we just didn’t know what to call it, in those days, when a kid didn’t pay attention (besides “spazz”). Perhaps we have a better handle on behavioral patterns and potential treatments now than in my youth.

Back then, the principal would give each class a brief speech every year, during which he would introduce his spanking paddle and warn us about how our butts might get better acquainted with it if we chose to misbehave.

Not sure if anyone’s butt ever met Mr. Paddle, though. The warning may have been enough.

Whether a child is choosing to misbehave, or simply has abnormal brain chemistry, can be a difficult call. While experts continue to debate the relative merits of punishment vs. medication to treat problem behavior, allergies seem more straightforward: a bad physical reaction to a peanut is an objective fact. A positive test result is clear.

Still, you can’t bring a peanut anywhere near most schools anymore, in case peanut dust hits the air stream, whereas about half the brown lunch bags at my elementary school contained PB&J’s on any given day.

Once, when I was a child, I heard about a kid with a severe peanut allergy who died after taking a bite of something containing peanuts. I remembered it forever, mostly because it sounded so incredibly strange. Allergic to peanuts? How was that possible?

I never knew that kid, or knew anyone who knew him. It was always a friend-of-a-friend story. For all I knew, it was an urban legend, like the razor blades stuck into apples in some kid’s trick-or-treat bag.

And now, there are five kids with severe allergies at a small preschool?

The problem is now so prevalent that I was warned, by medical experts, not to eat any nuts during pregnancy, in case it triggered nut allergies. It bothered me at the time, since nuts are incredibly nutritious and I was used to eating almond butter every day.

After much internal debate, I decided to ignore the advice.

My family has no history of nut allergies, so I figured it wasn’t a big risk. Plus, the list of foods we are supposed to avoid when pregnant is very long. Depending on the source, it includes rare meat, dairy, soft cheeses, fruit juice, sushi, homemade desserts, pre-stuffed poultry, lunchmeat, fish, meat spreads, vegetables, sprouts, salads, smoked meat, refrigerated meat, nuts, and herbal tea.

The list of banned foods so long, in fact, that I was more concerned with not getting beneficial nutrients than about potential contamination. Following such strict guidelines means you won’t be left with much to eat beyond saltine crackers (which probably have too much salt). We don’t even know how well vitamin supplements work, so I cast my lot in the “food variety” bucket, rather than playing it safe.

pregnantnutsTurns out, I may have been onto something. A study following more than 11,000 pregnant women found that mothers who ate tree nuts during pregnancy actually reduced the incidence of allergies. In this CNN report, the study’s lead author suggests that early exposure helps children build up a tolerance.

This makes intuitive sense to me. Allergies happen when your immune system attacks something it doesn’t recognize, so wouldn’t you increase the risk of allergies through lack of exposure? How could introducing a food “trigger” an allergy in someone who wasn’t genetically predisposed?

A recent article in Time suggests exposure peanuts might even cure peanut allergies. Another study showed that predisposed children fitted with a “peanut patch” increased their tolerance to peanuts ten-fold.

A sanitized environment isn’t always the answer. As I mentioned in a previous post (“Americans are Too Damn Clean“), studies show that children exposed to a little contamination (such as the mold and plant particles on a family pet) tend to have lower rates of allergies and asthma than those kept in more disinfected environments.

Is it possible that our well-intended avoidance of tree nuts is what’s responsible for the allergy explosion? Are other countries experiencing a similar tree nut allergy phenomenon?

It’s such a difficult issue. No one wants to be responsible for a preventable death, especially of a child. But on the other hand, is our vigilance actually making things worse?

Children’s Toys Are Creepy

I can see your soul
“I can see your soul”

Having kids is a wonderful thing, but it’s exhausting. Also, the grass is green and the sky is blue.

The power drain of childcare, though, is hard to fully appreciate until you’ve done it yourself.  Sitcoms aren’t a good substitute.

Beyond the physical demands, constantly being alert mentally wears you down. You are always having to make sure no one jumps off the second story or crams something into an electric socket.

And the questions… so many questions. I used to hear about parents getting frustrated by kids asking questions to which they didn’t know the answer, but never understood their grief until now.

“What’s the problem?” I thought, “Just turn it into an opportunity to find information! Say ‘let’s find out’ and take your kids to the internet to look up, I don’t know, the depth of the Amazon. Everything is on Wikipedia now.”

But there are no resources available for many of these questions. The other day, for example, my daughter asked me why I never put rocket ship stickers on my boobies.

She was completely serious. She loves stickers, thinks rocket ships are cool, and thinks boobies make the perfect place to stick some. Why wouldn’t I avail myself of that opportunity?

How do you answer something like that? it’s a legitimate question though, apparently, because everyone who heard about it also wanted to know.

So after a long day of hyper vigilance and baffling queries, I tend to take some “me” time late at night.  Being a natural insomniac, I not only keep going well into the tiny hours of the morning, but also enjoy the solitude. There is no one but me and my mystery novel, or my writing. I sip a soothing cup of tea while one of my kitties sidles up to me in the dim light as I work quietly to fill a small corner of the internet with floating ideas.

The house is calm and dark. It’s the Magic Hour. The world is silent… until it isn’t.

The other night, I was lost in a creative trance when I heard a faint voice in the background. I stopped to listen. Was it the kids?

The voice spoke again. An adult voice. My ears sharpened their focus.

“Hello?”

A wave of goosebumps tickled my forearms. Did I just imagine that?

“Hello?”

Felt my heart slapping my chest. What the hell is that? Is someone at the door? It’s coming from the front door. I’m wearing yoga pants, so I could run, but is there anything I could use as  weapon? Why is someone talking through the windows at 2 in the morning?

I swear I just heard a quiet ringing. “Hello?”

A woman’s voice. Not unfriendly, but possibly deranged. I’m going to go wake up my husband…

Soundlessly leaving the living room to creep up the stairs, I suddenly saw it: the children’s toy telephone. You press a button and it rings and says “Hello?”

I felt much better. Kind of.

With children’s toys, there is a very fine line between adorable and horror flick. The girl’s toy telephone keeps ringing and talking, but no one is touching it. It’s totally creeping me out. All I need is a clown picture on the wall with a soft music box soundtrack and I’ll be running straight out of the house.

Maybe a little doll that says “Mamma” while staring me dead in the eyes…

Who thought this was a good idea?
Who thought this was a good idea?

Scrape together all the monsters you want, but it can’t beat a carousel slowly revolving to slightly off-key music. I’ve been afraid of children’s toys since I was an actual child. I still remember jumping in horror, during my toddler years, to a small demonic box with a deranged clown inside it.

My parents would chase me with this brightly-colored cube, slowly turning its satanic handle until the angry clown would explode from inside it, his arms stretched wide in a clear attempt to snatch me into his twisted parallel dimension. Foreboding, uneven, music signaled the imminent attack.

Toddler imaginations being what they are, I think my parents were actually trying to show me that a Jack-in-the-Box can’t hurt me. They were probably sitting quietly while turning the handle and reassuring me that it’s just a doll with a jumping spring, but in my tortured mind, they were menacing me with an insane sorcerer clown, bent on imprisoning me in his twisted lair.

(To this day, I’m not fond of Jack-in-the-Box commercials. Sure, he looks like a clown executive, but you know he’s not right in the head. Just look at his deranged posse of Harley Quinns, eating sandwiches so inappropriately.)

Locating the source of whispered Hello’s, however, was reassuring. I remembered something about appliances beeping and making noise when the batteries are low. At least that’s what fire-detectors do. Not sure how that happens, but the kids’ telephone must be running low on juice. Mystery solved. Whew.

I yanked the batteries out of the phone, crept back into the living room, and sat down on the couch. I picked up my laptop, with a relieved sigh, and resumed writing in the middle of the night. Everything was quiet.

Until it wasn’t.

I heard a note. A sound.

Another note. A gentle chime.

I shivered.

*Bing*

Creepy-ass cat
Creepy-ass cat

My heart started pounding. I clutched a lap blanket around me tightly, as though it would make me ghost-proof, and stomped back into the front room. Frodo, my small black cat, was tapping his paw on a toy piano. He looked at me, and perhaps sensing the psychic tension, bolted from the room.

Was he trying to evolve? Had he watched the children manipulate these buttons all day and wanted to try out basic machinery after everyone went to bed? Or was he playing a trick on me, somehow aware of human fears about animated children’s toys in the middle of the night?

I felt a little bad for interfering with his cat experiments. but he really scared the crap out of me. Maybe next time he should rig up a kitty clown picture or drag some dolls around the room.

My Daughter Has a Halloween Panic Attack

Pirate queen.
Pirate queen

Children are unpredictable.

As you can see in the photo, my daughter Brontë loves everything about being a Halloween pirate queen. Being a massive fan of dressing up, she jumped right on board the Halloween train as soon as she figured out costumes would be involved.

She’s a fearless and enthusiastic kid. Whenever we’re in public, she screams “HI! WHO ARE YOU?” to every passing stranger (sometimes embarrassing her shy parents) and is disturbingly unafraid of most things. She will grab strange dogs, hurl herself face-first down the tallest slide on the playground, and resents still being too short to ride upside-down roller coasters.

Physical challenges do not intimidate Brontë one bit. Psychological dangers, on the other hand, push her toddler imagination to the brink. She insists on keeping the lights on and the closet doors shut at bedtime. We have tried easing her into a dark bedroom with night lights and glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars, but she shrieks in bloodcurdling terror whenever the door closes. Anything less than stadium lights and welded closets make you monster bait.

Still, her sister and parents were going to be with her as she strolled the neighborhood streets at dusk, collecting candy. Candy is one of her favorite things, and apparently, random strangers were about to fill her Frozen bucket with chocolate whenever they answered the door.  It sounded like an excellent idea.

We were stepping into the quiet streets, hand-in-hand, when Brontë looked around her and realized the world was scary. Demons had invaded the calm, familiar row of houses surrounding our nest. Graves with emerging skeletons had mushroomed up around our neighbor’s rose bushes and witches were menacing the hedges.  Ghosts with glowing eyes hung from doorways. Brontë swiveled in circles, surveying the haunted dangers surrounding her, and dropping to the ground, she threw her head back and screamed.

I grabbed her tight and reminded her it was all pretend. People put up scary decorations on Halloween, but everything is make-believe. Mommy and daddy were with her, nothing could hurt her, and we were going to knock on the door and people would give her loads of candy. It’s fun!

Brontë sobbed for a minute as she considered my offer. I wiped her tears and kept reassuring her as she squeezed my hand and tried to rally for this demonic treasure hunt. A look of determination shot from her toddler eyes and she realized that to obtain said candy, she would have to pass through the witch-laden obstacle course guarding each door.

We began walking up a driveway and Brontë squeezed my hand harder with every step. She pulled back as we passed a dancing skeleton and stepped nervously under a hovering bat. We finally reached the door, knocked, and waited.

The door swung open and Brontë froze. “Trick or treat?” I offered, smiling weakly at our neighbor as I tried to demonstrate how these Halloween negotiations go down. Brontë started visibly shaking before she slowly, tentatively stretched her tiny hand toward the candy bowl. A flash of light sparkled across her arm and when she turned to investigate its source, she found herself face-to-face with a jack-o-lantern.

His menacing triangle eyes glowed with flickering candlelight as his lips curled into fanged pumpkin laughter. Brontë dropped to the ground, hugging her feet, and let out a bloodcurdling scream. Our neighbor’s face fell. She bit her lip as she rushed over to help me reassure Brontë. We told her everything was okay, her shoulders heaving and dropping in full-blown panic. John dropped some candy in the Frozen bucket and we thanked our neighbor while leading Brontë away from the sarcastic pumpkin king.

I tried to give my daughter a pep talk, telling her everything was alright and that the next house would be easier. Brontë squeezed my fingers white then nodded when she was ready to proceed.

We walked past bat lanterns and flat frightened cats to the next doorway light signaling “candy oasis” to wandering children.  Brontë steadied herself as we approached the door. She went rigid, so I squeezed her shoulder reassuringly as I pressed the doorbell. The door swung open and another neighbor emerged with with a giant bowl of goodies. He looked down at Brontë with a welcoming smile.

She looked back at him, threw both her arms straight in the air, and ran away screaming. Dropping her Frozen bucket on the porch, she fled across the lawn and started running back home.

“She’s, umm, a little scared,” I told our neighbor. “Maybe next year?’ He nodded sympathetically.

We found her banging on the front door of our house, shaking with sobs. I picked her up and carried her inside, where we waited until she had calmed down before leaving to visit grandma and the rest of the family at a halloween get-together. Brontë’s cousins took one look at Brontë’s empty Frozen bucket then shook their heads in quiet sympathy. They huddled in a toddler negotiation circle  for a few moments before each contributing a little candy to Brontë’s tragic bucket. It was sweet.

The next morning, John and I hear a knock at the door. Opening it, we found the jack-o-lantern neighbor holding a bag of candy. “I felt so bad for her,” she said as she handed us the candy, “Poor little thing was so scared.”

After thanking her profusely for the kind gesture, John and I walked in a told Brontë the jack-o-lantern brought her some chocolate. “He didn’t mean to scare you like that. He brought you some chocolate to help you feel better.”

Maybe next year will go better. At least Brontë knows that the village is on her side.

Bronte retreats to familiar ground: giving her aunt a princess makeover.
Bronte retreats to familiar ground, giving her aunt a princess makeover.