Do You Teach Your Child To Share?

Whether or not to teach your child to share is a matter of great controversy.

Some may find this surprising, because sharing is good, right? Doesn’t it teach kids not to be selfish?

Eh, not so fast. Like practically every other aspect of modern parenting, the issue is much more complicated than it seems…

For example, let’s say your coworker Todd likes your watch. Or your car. Or house. How would you feel if your boss made you hand them over, just because it’s so nice to share?

 

sharingWe’d find the idea outrageous, yet we expect our kids to comply without question. It’s admittedly a bit of a double standard, and one that rewards any kid who demands another kid’s stuff. We wouldn’t be happy if the adult world worked this way.

So, there’s a certain logic to the idea that making kids share is misguided, and NOT making kids share happened to be the policy of a preschool our daughter Brontë used to attend. It seemed to work well enough for kids who were around a bunch of kids who were roughly their own ages.

And probably also for only children, which my husband John and I both were.

But… once we had another daughter, it didn’t seem to work anymore. We were completely unprepared for the new dynamic.

You see, Brontë was two when her little sister Bridget was born. Brontë understandibly faced her changing reality with some ambivalence: on the one hand, her baby sister was cute and seemed to like her.

On the other, Bridget was a blatant usurper of mommy and daddy’s love. Brontë would “accidentally” trip and scream whenever Bridget needed attention.

And if that wasn’t enough, Bridget also felt entitled to grab any toy in the house. Brontë was used to ALL toys being HER toys, so she found Bridget’s behavior absolutely unacceptable.

To make matters worse, around the same age that Bridget began crawling and grabbing anything she could get her hands on, Brontë also reached that apex age of insisting the entire world belonged to her.

Other parents will know exactly what I mean by this. There’s a phase, around age two, where a toddler’s chief motivations involve negating suggestions and declaring universal ownership.

Well, our kids both reached the possessive and grabby stages, all at once. John and I would watch Bridget grab something Brontë was holding, then hear Brontë scream “NO!'” and “MINE!”  approximately six thousand times per day.

Bridget would then move onto some other object, which Brontë would also wrestle away from her while screaming “MINE!”

That was PURPLE BUNNY, for the love of all that’s holy…

This would go on and on until Bridget finally broke down in hysterical seizures.

sharingdog.jpgWhich makes sense, because Bridget could hardly speak a word of English at the time, let alone fathom concepts of ownership. And Brontë couldn’t accept that while she had heretofore held complete dominion over every object in her environment, she now had to hand them over to get chewed on. Even when it was purple bunny.

It wasn’t easy to reconcile, but they clearly had to learn to share.

Problem is, the concept of sharing is a tough one for toddlers to grasp.

Because what does sharing actually mean? When you share a cookie, you don’t get it back. When you share a toy, the other kid keeps it as long as they want, which could be forever.

If your kids are supposed to hand over toys whenever another kid wants it, then they will also feel entitled to grab any other kid’s toys. Even when that kid is some stranger at the park. I mean, they’ll just pick up some other kid’s Tonka truck and try to take it home, which is super awkward, because you just told them that maintaining the integrity of one’s personal property is unacceptable.

So… after much trial and error, this is what my husband and I figured out:

Kid’s thinking may not be especially nuanced, but they can usually grasp basic concepts of fairness.

Fairness includes the idea that if *you* get one, then *I* get one.

It also involves the idea that everyone should get the same thing, including a turn at playing with or participating in whatever desired object or activity is in question.

So, instead of telling them to “share,” which is really vague, it’s easier to tell kids to “wait their turn.”

It gives them clearer rules… You will wait patiently until the other kid is done with the object, then they will let you play with it without hassling you.

And in return, they won’t bug you for playing with it once they’re done, just as you won’t pitch a fit when they pick up something you’ve discarded.

purplebunnyThis approach has worked sooooo much better for us. The kids understand these rules better and seem to respect them. It appeals to their inherent sense of fairness. They get the idea of “you were done with it, so now she gets to play with it.”

And weirdly, now they’ll patiently wait for a toy (sometimes finding something else to do) as long as they know they’ll be the next one in line.

I’m guessing that as kids get older, they’ll have an easier time distinguishing the difference between personal property and community objects that should be shared.

But for now, telling our kids to “wait their turn” has made life a while lot easier.

So, what do other parents think about teaching your kids to share?

Do you believe it’s a good idea? Do you believe it’s better to let kids work it out on their own?

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet and Greet: 5/26/17

Thanks to Dream Big Dream Often, we’re having another Meet & Greet! It’s a great chance to find other bloggers and share your blog!

Dream Big, Dream Often

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It’s the Meet and Greet weekend everyone!! Strap on your party shoes and join the fun!

Ok so here are the rules:

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See ya on Monday!!

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Gorillas On The Playground

IMG_5164So, yesterday I took the girls to the local park to get some exercise, never realizing what mean-girl psychodramas were about to unfold.

Bridget immediately begged to be pushed on the swings, but I told her to GO PLAY. All morning they’d been chewing up the couch like overwrought labradors who needed to work off some adrenalin.

Which would never happen as long as I was still holding their hands. I settled onto a park bench to keep a loose watch on them. Bridget began testing her mettle against a miniature rock wall as Brontë sized up the crowd for potential friends.

I tried to get in a little reading, pausing occasionally to remind Bridget that the bucket of sand she was hauling off wasn’t hers. I smiled, noticing that Brontë had joined a group of girls, before returning to my book.

There were six little girls in the pack, of varying hem-lengths, braids and ponytails.  They were all running back and forth when the phone rang. It was John, who always calls me during his lunch hour.

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And here is the lizard…

We were chatting about some server issue he was having at work when Brontë came running up with this little Johnny Depp looking kid wearing a comedy T-shirt. She crawled under the table as he blinked at her from beneath his shaggy brown bob. He seemed nice enough, so I ignored them while telling my husband about finding another baby lizard in the living room.

And that’s when Johnny Depp’s mom tapped me on the shoulder.

I politely hung up to face her.

She sighed…

“Umm, I wanted you to know that those girls have been bullying your daughter. “

“What? Really?”

“Yes. They were chasing her and trying to throw sand in her eyes. They were talking about throwing grass at her too, but the tall one with the ponytail was saying it was mean. I stepped in and told them they couldn’t.”

“Oh… wow. THANK YOU. I didn’t see ANY of that. How did I miss that??”

“Well, the one with the two French braids and the pink dress was the ringleader and I heard her say ‘not now, her MOM is looking,’ so they were only doing it whenever your back was turned.”

My face felt hot. “Thank you so much for letting me know, because I had NO idea.”

She nodded. I turned to look at Brontë, who was staring at the ground.

I don’t worry too much about Bridget on the playground. She’s the type who’ll roll her eyes at anyone who has a problem with her before promptly ignoring them. It’s a quality that will serve her well in this dog-eat-dog world.

But Brontë… this hurt her. She wants so desperately to connect with other people that she leaps at them without defenseless.  Rejection trips her and casual cruelty simply doesn’t compute. She just keeps trying, as though it must be a language barrier.

But what to do?

It was over now, and she was playing with Johnny Depp. Do I talk to the girls? Do I talk to the moms, who were all sitting together in short shorts and baseball caps at another picnic table, looking mildly as though they’d just smelled a fart?

“Do you think their moms saw what was happening? It was right in front of them.” I asked Mini-Depp’s mom.

“I don’t know, but I doubt they’d do anything if you told them. I hate to say it, but it’s always those cliquish little mom groups who have the bullying kids.”

“Well, I guess mean women were all mean girls once,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “I don’t get it, cause my kids would never get away with acting like that.”

“OH, I’d spank the crap out of my boys if I caught them throwing sand in some kid’s face and they KNOW it. These girls are brutal. That’s why I always played with boys growing up.”

I chuckled, thrown by her casual admission of spanking her kids, while resisting the urge to admit how I played with the boys too. It felt traitorous to spell out, like I’d be one of those women who brags about being more guy-like. As though it’s more evolved.

mean girls.jpgBut I knew exactly what she meant. Much as I loved the girl friends I had (and love my female friends today), boys were just… easier. You knew exactly how they felt about you and didn’t always have to scan their expressions for micro-hints of betrayal, just in case.

Hell, once I even made friends with a boy after splitting his head open. He had thrown an orange at my cousin’s mouth, on purpose, cutting her lip open against her braces, and I had chased after him with a stick to avenge her honor. Once he’d gotten too far away, I’d flung the stick at him.

He ducked, so it twacked him in the skull, which required twenty-two stitches to fix.

And though his mom never forgave me, he became my buddy the very next day. It was a little disorienting for me at the time, given how one misplaced comment could make a girl your arch-nemesis for life, but I guess he felt I’d acted reasonably under the circumstances.

Then I remembered how that red-haired, doctor’s daughter was always walking up to me on the playground, while I was minding my own business, to ask me questions about my clothes while smirking with her friends:

Where did you get them, she would ask. They’re awfully dirty. You look really poor. I’ve never even seen clothes like that. How can you wear them?

Her pack of friends would giggle as I ran away.

I turned to Brontë. “This park is for EVERYONE. You go where you want and you don’t let snotty little bullies push you around.

“YEAH,” Mini-Depp yelled. “It’s for EVERYONE!”

Grabbing her hand, we walked across the park and over to the table of moms, as their little girls smacked a teddy bear against a nearby tree.

Holding Brontë’s hand tighter, I walked in a slow circle around the moms until the girls noticed our presence. They paused the beatdown to find out what I would do next, the bear’s defeated glassy-eyes watching the ground as the ringleader held him by a broken foot.

I looked over at the girl in a pink dress and braids and she looked back, dropping the bear on his head.

Then she tilted her chin, clasped her hands, and spread the biggest, sugariest, most innocent smile across her face.

Teddy Bear lonely and sad alone in Love failureI stared back at her as though she were ten seconds from evisceration. I stared until her friends watched all the smugness disappear.

And then I sat down at the table of moms and stared at them too.

One of the moms popped up, cheerfully saying, “It’s time to go, kids!” They all packed up their stuff and left.

Maybe they thought I was crazy, but who cares? Looking crazy is an underrated move in the urban toolbox. Even I’m not even sure what I was trying to demonstrate, except what body language, alone, can accomplish.

Brontë squeezed my hand hard, saying, “You’re the best, mom. You protect me.”

We hugged as I thought about how in the hell to prepare her for stuff like this, how to teach her to stand up for herself without becoming a monster herself.

Because all the classic advice, that stuff about bullies just being insecure cowards in need of more approval, is truly unhelpful.

gorillas.jpgIt’s just the right thing to say. It’s the horoscope that rings true because it’s so vaguely universal: we’re all insecure at that age. We all have psychological defenses and the need to fit in.

These bullies were just alpha gorillas in lacy skirts, chest-bumping the competition right under the radar. Ruling through exclusion and fear.

But running to authority figures every time someone offends you gets you pegged as a crybaby. It wouldn’t work much longer.

Being nice to the bully doesn’t work either, and it just opens you up to further humiliation. You’re actually better off windmilling your arms until you don’t seem worth the trouble.

And we all secretly know it.

“Some people are jerks, Brontë,” I began. “Some are nice and some are mean. Some are usually nice but are having a bad day, and others… are just nasty. You can’t always tell from looking at them.”

She nodded.

“And you know what? Some grownups are nice and some grownups are mean too. You just have to find out and then be friends with the nice ones. But don’t let the mean ones know you are scared.”

“I was scared,” she said.

“That’s okay, but don’t tell them.”

“Next time I’ll tell them they’re a bunch of MANIACS!”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. Or make a joke at their expense. But never be the mean one first.”

We walked home as I silently questioned the wisdom of teaching my daughter to mock other children.

The issue seemed much simpler to my husband, whose face paled when I later related the story:

“So, we’ve got to teach her how to throw a good punch, then.” he said.

“NO, we can’t teach her to punch them. She’ll get into trouble.”

“You can’t *really* get into trouble before you’re 18.”

I sighed. “Look… Yes, I’ll admit that seeing Brontë smack that girl in the face would’ve been awesome. But we can NOT teach her to get into fistfights.”

“Why not?”

“Because she will get into serious trouble. She’ll be suspended and get talked to and be considered a troubled kid. Especially as a girl. They’ll think she has real behavioral issues. We can’t teach her to solve problems with her fists.”

“FINE.”

“I mean… I get where you’re coming from. I was trying to teach her to not look scared and be confident and even insult them back if they keep bothering her. Maybe we should remind her to make sure no other grownups are listening?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Argh. I just don’t know the best way to teach girls how to navigate the female jungle. It’s a much nastier place then most guys realize.

Anyone else have ideas?

My Toddler’s On Fleek Playground Ensembles

I let my kids dress themselves, within reason.

When it really counts, I resort to the faux-democracy of preselected acceptable choices (“Would you like to wear this, or this?”) because any semblance of a choice, however manufactured, tends to appease deep toddler yearnings for some control while under their current dictatorship.

But usually, I just let them pick. I figure it’s a harmless way for them to express themselves, even if I have to occasionally suffer sideways glances and condescending questions about whether or not their father dressed them today.

Plus, we’ll be spending most of our lives NOT dressed like our favorite princesses, so why deny them now?

And my older daughter Brontë definitely went through a phase of going practically everywhere dressed like a wedding cake, flouncing about every mundane errand while glittering fluffy pink tulle in her wake…

Yet after getting enough princessing out of her system, she eventually developed a far more sophisticated fashion sense than you’d expect from a five-year-old. In fact, I once had a fun idea about writing a blog post where I let my toddler pick out my outfits for a week that I later abandoned after she kept constructing truly tasteful outfits with well-coordinated accessories.

Well lately, her 3-year-old sister Bridget has also been expressing an interest in her clothing: YES, to the cats-with-glasses dress and DEFINITELY NO to the turquoise shirt.

I was a little surprised to find my Viking daughter suddenly demonstrating fashion sensitivity, but decided it must be time to let her pick her own outfits too.

So, after I told her to get dressed for the park, she came out wearing this:

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Apparently, she thinks we live in a pretty rough neighborhood.

And it was AWESOME.

In case it isn’t clear from the blurry picture, she’s wearing a pirate outfit with a sword and a knight’s helmet.

She’s pretty proud of it, too. Absolutely no kid is going to mess with her when she’s looking like that and she knows it.

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Why do I feel like she needs a flagon of grog?

She also made sure to grab her pirate musket water gun on the way out, because you can never be too armed for the playground.

Nor was it the last time this week she’s incorporated the helmet into her wardrobe. Yesterday, she got ready for the library like this:

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This is her “non-threatening” medieval gear, for perusing the arcane tomes

You may be wondering why, at this point, we have a toddler-sized medieval helmet. Well, Bidgie saw it in the store and absolutely fell in love. She slapped that piece of armor on her head and blissfully rode around in the grocery cart like it had finally completed her.

Maybe YOU can deny your child medieval accouterments while looking into their innocent eyes, but I, for one, felt that watching a toddler stumble around in aggressive, Monty Python-esque head accessories was something my life desperately needed.

And it’s definitely been improving my day.

Because, well…

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Tell me that didn’t just make you feel better.

When You Love Different Members of The Food Chain

One of the trickier parts of parenting is deciding how and when you’ll explain to your children that the world isn’t always pretty or fair.

Promising that shot won’t hurt will make you a liar in thirty more seconds and pretending everyone is kind will backfire the first time some playground kid makes your baby cry.

Still, we live so few years in the just Disneyan universe that it’s painful to watch the colors dim. Like that time I whisked my girls toward an ice cream shop at the zoo the moment a peacock flew sideways into the wolf cage, or my avoidance of serving chicken after we raised a couple of baby hens.

IMG_4921I just didn’t want it all to click into place one night at dinner. Especially after 5-year-old Brontë started asking me if octopi had feelings, since our pet kitties obviously did.

So when my husband and I found a dead bird in the yard, we quietly disposed of it. And then a mole. Then another bird.

Until finally, Brontë and I left the house one morning to see a dead bird laying on the doorstep…

Brontë (upon seeing the bird): AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Her beloved cat Frodo proudly sits next to it.

Me: Looks like Frodo got that bird.

Brontë (horrified): Oh NO, Frodo! Bad! That’s SO sad.

Me: Well… see, I think he’s giving it to you. As a present.

Brontë: EWW!

Me (taking her hand): Well Brontë, cats eat birds. They catch them and eat them and they don’t understand how we don’t eat birds like that. Frodo probably noticed he hasn’t seen you eat a fresh bird in really long time, so he spent all day catching it for you to have a nice dinner. And he was probably sitting here waiting to see how excited you’d be about his gift.

Brontë: Aww, Frodo loves me.

Me: Yeah, he thought it would be a great present for you and that you’d really like it.

Brontë (speaking slowly to the cat): Aww Frodo, THANK YOU! That bird looks SUPER DELICIOUS. I’m gonna eat that later, kay?

(Whispering to me): Okay mom, hurry up. Let’s get out of here….

I think she handled it pretty well.

 

Tales of the Lizard People

Maybe I’m psychic, but the other day I got a distinct feeling there was something going on in our closet.

Or, maybe it had something to do with seeing this:

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And then, this:

 

Yup, this wasn’t looking coincidental in the slightest. Next, Frodo the Cat got involved:

 

Let me just zoom in here, in case you missed it…

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Yep, there was a cute little baby lizard hanging out in the closet, delighting my kids. It ran in a graceful S-shape, seeming rather shy.

“CAN WE KEEP IT AS A PET?” Brontë squealed.

I had nearly picked it up so the kids could hold it before my husband came racing over  with a bowl and paper to trap it. “Are you SURE that’s not a SNAKE?” he shouted.

“YES. It has LEGS.”

Still, he promptly walked it out the door and dumped it into some bushes. The kids were disappointed.

But it ended up being the right move, because we eventually figured out that the little guy was an alligator lizard.

And alligator lizards, it turns out, are NASTY.

Good thing I didn’t try to grab it, because alligator lizards are really aggressive and will hiss, chase, attack, and bite you HARD. Like this:

lizardbite

See? It’s so common, they have free stock images of alligator lizard bites all over the web.  Here’s a YouTube link about some guy looking for alligator lizards and another one, where some guy thinks it’s hilarious to get his finger bitten multiple times (!?).  I wouldn’t recommend this, btw, because apart from the obvious unpleasantness of getting bitten by a lizard, they also spread a lot of infections and Lyme disease.

The one we found in our closet was small though, clearly a baby. He may have been harmless…

BUT, after my parents came to visit the next day, they found THIS one sitting on their car when they were leaving to drive home:

IMG_5186
**Shudder**
I’m convinced it was the closet lizard’s mom, giving everyone a stern warning. “Don’t even THINK about messing with my kid!”

Ugh, okay. No problem. You guys just go do your own lizard thing, okay?

 

Everyone In Our House Has A Cat

I’m a cat person. In fact, this was very nearly a cat blog instead of a mommy blog.

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Why can’t it be both?

Occasionally, cat-themed posts have still found their way in, like that time I was trying to figure out why hating cats is so popular. I even started pulling them in order to start a separate kitty blog until I figured out how maintaining both would be unrealistically time-consuming.

But I’m starting to wonder if ignoring all the cats leaves you with an incomplete picture of our family. You see, my two daughters have been socialized around cats since day 1, when our five kitties surrounded and guarded the human newborns. My girls are so fluent in cat that they’ll occasionally infiltrate their ranks and try to blend in.

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Boxes are really popular here

And everyone here has a personal cat. This wasn’t by design, but somehow every family member ended up taking ownership of one kitty in particular. So to understand our household politics, grasping the shadow feline alliances going on behind the scenes is critical. It provides relevant character insight:

Wylie

Wylie is a gorgeous grey-striped cat with white eyeliner. He looks and acts a bit feral. In fact, he had been labelled an “unadoptable” kitten with “problem behavior” when we met him in Petco that day…

IMG_0771He IS a bit stubborn and neurotic, though otherwise sweet. He jumps into every open cabinet and gets accidentally trapped all the time, which is really annoying around the kitchen. He’ll also keep jumping into your lap, easily thirty times in row, when you don’t want him sitting there and keep throwing him down. He’ll put his ears back, jump onto your chest and scream, “You WILL love me, damn it!” in cat.

He is my husband John’s cat, which is kind of hilarious. John was always a dog person until Wylie kept putting his front paws on John’s chest and meowing in his face, occasionally hugging him tightly around the neck and smashing his cat face into John’s forehead.

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Wyliecat guards the monkey kitten.

I don’t know if John, who once considered cats aloof, ever pictured himself being worn down by some cat’s incessant neediness, but Wylie follows him around like a crazed stalker and repeatedly torpedoes into John’s lap whenever he sits down. “Not NOW, cat!” John barks at him, as Wylie endlessly climbs up the opposite side of the couch and dives again, hoping a fresh angle will make all the difference.

John can’t help but be somewhat touched by this, especially since Wylie used to guard Brontë for hours when she was napping in her baby swing.

Violet

IMG_3339Very few people in the world will ever know of Violet. Violet sightings are extraordinarily rare.

She’s utterly elusive, slipping soundlessly out of view at the slightest footstep. She’s a tiny, 5-pound, black-and-white cat who must not have been held very much as a kitten because she’s deathly afraid of humans.

And she’s my kitty.

Luckily for her, I’m quasi-Druid and have an uncanny ability to tame wild animals (or part ranger, depending on how you roll). I spent about a year slowly sidling up to Violet, which was tough because she’d vaporize any time I made noise or perceptively moved in her direct line of sight.

But finally, she became my loyal friend. She only hangs out in my territory, sleeping next to me every night and whenever I’m up too late writing, she sneaks in to settle atop my desk until I’m ready to go to bed.

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When no one is looking

My daughter Brontë holds Violet in special regard, her being “mommy’s kitty.” She was hurt that Violet always ran away from her, so I taught her how to make friendly cat sounds and approach gently… this was invaluable practice being quiet for a toddler who usually stomped around screaming, because the cute little kitty would always disappear when she did. Violet taught Brontë how to be sneaky.

Now, Violet will let Brontë pet her and will even climb onto her lap. Brontë is very proud of this and loves to talk about how Violet “only trusts mommy and me” to anyone willing to listen, except they may suspect Violet is only a legend, having never caught sight of her.

Frodo

cropped-285784_10150914693639821_2031424290_n.jpgFrodo is the little black cat who always had a special bond with Brontë. When she would cry in her pack-n-play as an infant, he would jump in, ninja-style, licking her face until she stopped. He’s Violet’s brother, but much less shy than she.
Frodo is a good hunter and likes to hunch up his shoulders and walk like a panther as he terrorizes the local birds and squirrels. He our best bet for taking down errant spiders.

IMG_4016Fun fact: Frodo was initially named “Vivien” until the name became clearly inappropriate.

Another fun fact: Brontë keeps trying to teach Frodo to walk. She’s not there yet, but she can get him to stand on his hand legs by holding up her hand until he raises to meet it. He appreciates all the time she’s spent trying to help him evolve and tries to make it up to her with dead bird offerings, which she keeps pretending to like.

Raj

bridgetandraj

Raj (whom I sometimes call “Roger”) is a big, meaty cat that looks like someone went to town decorating on with a black Sharpie. I mean, he’s yellowy with white eyeliner ringed in black eyeliner and a ridiculously ornate color pattern of black swirling and stripes, dots, waves, and a distinctly raccoon-looking tail. Big, beefy paws.

He’s our unpretentious, galumphing, cuddly enforcer… the only one chasing our lunatic dog Douglas to beat the crap out of him, whenever he’s getting out of hand, before collapsing into our laps in a purring lump. He likes to eat, fight, love, and sleep.

And he’s Bridget the Viking’s cat, which was an obvious pairing.

She’s also a fighter, who responds to skinning her knee by first punching the air and walls around her, then collapsing into my lap in a snuggly, toddler lump. Raj and Bridget “get” each other.

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Send help.

Bridget has a ridiculous ongoing routine with Raj that involves her tackling him with everything she’s got like a 3-foot Lenny, which he handles the best he can until she’s crushing his intestines to the point where he has to lightly smack her to not suffocate. Then she cries about “Raj scratching” until I remind her that she had it coming, which seems to keep getting us nowhere.

But she still profoundly loves him with all of her toddler heart and he loves her too. Raj is the cat she measures all other cats against… she screams out “RAJ!” whenever she meets a new one. And when our dog gets too hyper around Bridget and knocks her over, it’s Raj who always comes running to her defense.

Zoë

IMG_3361Ah, Zoë… she’s a beautiful black, long-haired girly cat who adopted shy little Violet when Violet was still scared and missing her mom. They would snuggle together for hours.

Zoë has a sweet little voice, is a beautiful doll, and knew I was pregnant before the tests did. She would signal this by sitting on my belly, purring, and guarding me. I’m convinced my girls could hear her purring when they were in the womb, and are still soothed by the sound.

Zoë is such a girly-girl cat, however, that she’ll blow up to 3X her original size upon catching sight of Wylie, Frodo, or Raj. I don’t know what her problem is, but she HATES boy cats.

And I mean HATES them. Wylie, Frodo, and Raj instantly transform gentle Zoë into a spitting, cat-swearing, claw-flinging maniac.

Having to live around boy cats pisses her off. Even after we tried everything from cat pheromones and separate liter boxes, Zoë would still protest her unacceptable proximity to boy cats by crapping in Brontë’s bed every time she saw one.

Catandchicken
Zoë actually identifies as a chicken

Night after night, Brontë would throw back her covers to reveal yet another curling cat turd before raising both arms in the air and shrieking at the insult. We finally decided Zoë would have to mostly be an outside cat.

Which is where she is now: circling the house perimeter in relative harmony until she happens upon one of the boy cats and flies into lunatic ravings.

So, there’s my introduction to the cat members of our household. Our sweet neighbor has also started fostering kittens for a local shelter, so there are two new kitties next door. She asked me if I wanted to participate, but frankly I’m a little worried because, as you can probably tell, I have some issues getting attached to stray animals and welcoming them into my home forever. Because I kind of like animals. A lot.

Especially cats.

Why I’m A Mean Mommy

I really try not to be a judgey parent, because I know how judged we already feel.

But sometimes it’s hard not to be.

For example, we were attending a pool party when another mom warned me about my daughter’s soon-to-be kindergarten teacher:

“Miss Virtue is old and rigid and just doesn’t understand my son Dougie’s needs. He’s a very high-energy boy.”

IMG_0575This wasn’t the first time I’d been warned about Miss Virtue, so I was beginning to worry. That is, until I later saw little Dougie in action…

The host was barbecuing burgers when the hostess opened up the pool. Every nearby kid stripped down to their bathing suits, their parents affixed floatation devices onto them, and suddenly, Elsa’s and Batmen were everywhere.

And that’s when little Dougie started fighting with with his mom. “You HAVE to wear your floaties,” she kept insisting.

All the other kids were jumping into the pool, squealing, as little Dougie chucked his floaties to the floor then stepped onto the pool ladder, rolling his eyes.

Oh no… he did NOT just do that.

Hearing those floaties thunk to the floor, I prepared to watch his parents open a can of whoop-ass. What was it going to be… a time-out? An embarrassing lecture in front of all the other kids?

“Well, okay. But… just stay in the shallow end. Don’t go in the deep end, Dougie.”

Dougie immediately started thrashing toward the deep end, of course, looking back every few seconds to make sure they saw him doing it.

Hoo boy… he’s had it now.

(His parents were probably just fumbling around for the can opener before yanking him straight out of that pool and teaching him what being The Only Kid Not Swimming feels like.) 

Except, no. They let it slide and later did nothing when Dougie kept badgering the hostess to let him into the pool after she’d closed it. She must’ve said “No Dougie, we’re not swimming anymore” twenty times, in an increasingly chilly tone, as his parents argued about whether someone should go watch him.

Look, maybe Dougie was having an unusually bad day, or maybe his parents just didn’t want to make a scene at someone else’s party. But I couldn’t help noticing the utter lack of consequences for Dougie’s actions, even when they became a safety hazard as well as an annoyance to everyone around him.

Plus, it had been the second time that month I’d watched someone let their kid get away with murder. The first was at a zombie-themed birthday party for a boy who likes to express himself…

A lot. Loudly.

His folks had gone to great lengths for three weeks to plan the party, making painted-eyeball doughnut holes, watermelons delicately carved to resemble brains, and grab-bags of zombie-fighting kits.

We hadn’t seen them for the past year and were hoping they’d been having an easier time with their son, who hadn’t been responding well to their lenient, validation-focused parenting style.

Well, our hopes were in vain, because when asked where the boy was starting kindergarten, the dad explained that the boy would be held back another year “because he needs more time to develop his social skills.”

And then, his explanation was actually punctuated by his son picking up a metal truck and smacking the little girl next to him square in the face with it.

After she ran away sobbing, dad told the boy that maybe he’d had enough time playing trucks for right now and I stood there praying that the boy wouldn’t attack one of my daughters like that because I didn’t want to have to choke some kid out in front of his dad.

(Alright, simmer down. I was probably totally kidding about choking out a kid.)

At any rate, I then suddenly realized there were half as many kids in attendance as there had been at his last birthday party. It wasn’t hard to see why. As the party continued, the boy screamed at everyone, didn’t thank anyone for their present, and tossed his grandmother’s gift aside with disgust as the woman looked genuinely hurt.

He went on to spit in his mother’s face and punch her repeatedly whenever slightly frustrated, which somehow upset her enough to complain about his behavior to other guests, after all of her hard work, yet never to him.

 

I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this was hurting him.

What do I mean by that? Well, his parents are good people who obviously love their kid. They genuinely believe that giving him complete freedom will help him develop into a creative, self-actualized adult. They make sacrifices each and every day by showing saintlike patience in the face of his ingratitude.

Except… the kid is lonely.

Because nobody likes him.

And that’s the part self-esteem-centered parenting theories often seem to forget: if you allow your kid to ignore every rule, disrespect others, and expect to be catered to without so much as a “thank you,” people won’t like having them around.

Yes, we have to give them reasonable leeway. You can’t always stop babies from screaming and toddlers WILL throw public tantrums on occasion, no matter what we do.   They’re still incredibly irrational and have limited communication skills right then.

But by the time they’re entering school, it’s not unreasonable to teach them basic manners. Like greeting people, respecting property, and following house rules when they are guests in someone’s home. It gets them invited back.

Which is also why I’m a really mean mommy:

I expect my girls to say “thank you” when they receive a gift, and remind them when they forget.

If they start bullying another kid, I yank them away from their activity and explain why it’s unacceptable until they either understand or have to stop playing.

I even make them wait to be excused from dinner, because right now it’s the only thing that keeps them from tearing around restaurants like screaming banshees whenever we go out to eat.

 

IMG_0645All of which, by some parenting standards, is downright fascist. My girls should be broken puddles of damaged self-esteem and unmet expectations by now.

Except they’re not. They’re happy kids with lots of friends.

They’re obviously not perfect and have their bad days too. We parents all struggle with knowing when we’re being too strict and when we’re letting our kids walk all over us, always stressing about which rules are reasonable and which consequences are fair. Most of all, we worry about hurting our kids.

But having consequences, in itself, won’t damage your children. Not as long as you also acknowledge when they’re being good, give them plenty of love and attention, and make sure your expectations are consistent.

And with that, I’m off my soap-box for the day. I won’t be judging Miss Virtue, not just yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Kids Advance to Higher Level Tantrums

Generally speaking, Brontë and Bridget are much easier to manage now that they’re five and three. Gone are the days of three-hour fits and grocery store tantrums. Consistent refusal to reward bad behavior slowly winnowed them out.

Or of Brontë’s poop-mural experiments, which went on for months. Making her clean them up, by the way, was what finally did the trick.

Or of Bridget ruthlessly tackling the cat. We let the cat sort that one out himself.

We’ve finally moved on to more advanced kid skills, like not constantly interrupting people and getting through meals like civilized people. Occasionally, they’ll try snotty attitudes on for size, experimenting with the social ramifications, or check to see how much leverage they’ll get from being tragic.

Like the other day, when Bridget fell into some gravel and scraped her knee.  Viking that she is, she handled it by punching everything around her, including the air, which made her fall over and over again, growing ever angrier.

I raced over to help her with her bloody leg and she responded by boxing my legs like a violent leprechaun. This didn’t go over very well, because mommy is not a punching-bag. Even if you’re sick or injured.

Which pretty much set off a cascade of bad behavior for the next few hours, during which time her sister Brontë was the perfect, model child: holding mommy’s hand, cheerfully doing everything she was supposed to, and giving heart-melting monologues about how much she loves her family.

Because I don’t know if this is typical, but my kids like to take turns acting out. I think that one of them acting like a hooligan gives the other the perfect opportunity to look angelic by comparison, and they relish the opportunity to rub their good behavior and all of its associated privileges in their sister’s face.

IMG_5184
This smiling cherub would NEVER act like that. 

But, growing bored with their good cop/bad cop routine, they changed places yesterday. While Bridget was snuggling mommy and bringing her flowers, Brontë was accidentally spilling huge glasses of chocolate milk and then later wouldn’t shut up about the “giant turd she’d been wrestling” during lunch because Brontë has picked up that mommy’s weakness is finding your bad behavior hilarious.

Yesterday was the day when Brontë forgot how to put on shoes, after years of doing it correctly, and suddenly found the request outrageous. She wouldn’t quit pushing around her sister either, grabbing toys out of her hands on account of her possessing such a “stinky butt,” which probably made sense to her wound-up toddler brain.

At any rate, it all culminated in last night’s dinner episode. Bridget was quietly eating her taco while Brontë somehow hovered in a blur about the air pockets around her seat as my husband and I desperately tried to have a conversation:

John: So then I went to the manager meeting, and

Brontë: I’M THE QUEEN OF JELLYFISH.

John: I went to the managers’ meeting where they were talking about…

Brontë: I HAVE A BURRITO. MY EYES ARE BLUE. I WANT TO GO IN THE POOL.

Me: Stop interrupting, Brontë. Wait until your dad finishes what he’s saying.

Brontë keeps jabbering on for the next few minutes while John and I try ignoring her until it stops. Bridget keeps eating her taco, watching the whole thing play out. Finally, John looks over…

John: Okay, Brontë. What were you saying?

Brontë: I WANT TO GO SWIMMING AT MIDNIGHT WITH THE POOL LIGHT ON.

John: Not tonight, because you’re going to bed on time. Maybe this weekend we can go swimming when it’s dark outside.

Brontë (stomping away): I’m EXCUSED!

John: Come BACK here and sit down. We didn’t excuse you.

Brontë (making a face): HMPH!

John: Go to your room.

Brontë screams down the hallway before slamming the door. The room gets quiet. Bridget takes another bite of taco, her tiny legs swinging under her chair.

Bridget: Psh… Brontë childish.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways Having Kids Makes You Fat

Dieting SUCKS, so there’s usually some triggering event that convinces someone to start eating better.

For a friend of mine, it once was getting thrown out of a roller-coaster line by an attendant twice her size. For me, it’s been arguing with my five-year-old about not actually being pregnant. Because she insists that the last time my belly got SO BIG, she ended up with a baby sister.

the-only-honest-people-in-the-world.jpgShe doesn’t mean any harm. It’s just that toddlers are painfully honest without any grasp of the social ramifications. Like how she keeps playing with grandma’s upper arms because they’re so “fun and squishy.” Or like the other day, when my daughter grabbed a handful of my postpartum belly and asked why it looked like that.

“Because you lived there for year,” I told her. “Your sister too, before you’d even taken down all the staples from your posters.”

She was understandably confused, and I’ll admit leaking a twinge of bitterness into my response. Even though I should know better, because kids say ridiculous, rude things all the time.

It touched a nerve, though, because my jeans are indeed getting tight. I can still CLOSE them, thank you very much, but it’s not super comfortable and results in some sideways flare-out. My husband looks mildly panicked every time I frown at my muffin top, because it could mean all the chocolate is about to vacate the house.

The weird thing is, I actually lost the baby weight from both of my pregnancies within six months. You see, I’d grown up hearing countless women talk about how they used to be so skinny and had such fast metabolisms until they had children and then never managed to regain their pre-pregnancy figures again.

Since I didn’t have a fast metabolism to begin with, the threat of permanent explosion seemed imminent. So I hopped right onto a diet and exercise program as soon as I recovered from childbirth. I knew I had to unleash a Tony Horton-style dictatorship onto those rioting hormones before they swallowed me whole.

And I conquered it LIKE A BOSS. Why? Because I was prepared to fight that estrogen-soaked battle of making people, but knew nothing of the parenting lifestyle’s insidious creep.  It turns out, you still can’t let your guard down once pregnancy is over, because having kids makes it really, really easy to put on weight.

So I’ve been thinking about why this is, and have decided to warn prospective parents about what they’ll be up against:

1-  Kids have really small bodies

Once you have children, you’ll never take a normal, grown-up step again.

See, most of your free time is spent in their company. That means if you walk anywhere on foot, you’ll have to take them with you, usually while holding their hand.

And kid bodies are very small, which means their legs are really tiny. They can’t walk at a grown-up pace. If you try to walk like a normal person, the child will trip on the sidewalk, smack their face on the ground, begin screaming and make everyone stare at you in horror like you’re a monster who won’t wait for your kids.

So, you’ll have to start walking at the pace of someone with ten-inch legs. It’s slow, even without accounting for them being mesmerized by the mysteries of sidewalk grooves or the life-freezing eurekas of passing thought, both of which will occur approximately every 15 seconds because kids really don’t care about getting somewhere on time.

Clearly, strollers would seem to be the obvious answer here, except they mean sacrificing the exercise your pent-up toddlers so desperately need. I’ve seen far too many über-fit moms pushing grumpy, pudgy 8-year-olds in strollers to think strollers are a good idea once the kiddos can walk.

2.  Kids take ages to get through everyday activities

90624-children-with-guns-meme-Walkin-rdE1
You’ll take seven hours to cross the street and LIKE it!
Things that used to take 30 seconds now take 10 minutes, if not half the morning. Things like just putting on shoes and walking out of the house.

You used to just grab your keys and walk out the door, but now you’ve got to clean up, change someone, and lace their shoes up, assuming that locating shoes doesn’t become it’s own drawn-out detective saga, or that said child isn’t naked, which are both wildly optimistic assumptions when parenting.

Remember how I said kids get mesmerized by sidewalk cracks? Apply that same principle to eating a meal or exiting a vehicle…

You’ve unsnapped their car seats, you’ve opened their door, and  you’re now standing on the side of the car while they stare blankly into space. “Okay sweetie, time to get out of the car,” you say.

So they take a step forward and start messing with the parking brake. Thirty seconds go by and you’re telling them, “Don’t mess with that, sweetheart. It’s time to get out of the car now.”

And then they step onto the doorframe, hold the back of the front seat with one hand, then stare at the ground with all the intensity of someone trying to solve the Palestinian crisis. They just keep standing there, as you look at your watch.

It’s all you can do, at this point, to not scream, “GET OUT OF THE DAMN CAR,”  except you’ve read about how vitally important it is to never, ever rush a child through trying to do something. Because rushing your kid means being impatient, which makes them feel incompetent, eventually destroying their self-esteem and leaving them sobbing in the women’s bathroom a decade from now, right after their pole-shifts, wondering where it all went wrong.

If only frustration burned calories.

3.  Because kids want to eat garbage

Before I had kids, I used to go to the farmer’s market to find fresh, seasonal produce with which to make elaborate meals from scratch. In fact, my insistence on unprocessed food was once a bone of contention with my Hot-pocket-eating boyfriend (later my husband).

I assumed I’d keep my lifestyle up after the kids were born, neither envisioning how much less energy I’d have, nor my frustration at seeing a thousand carefully-prepared meals splatter against the wall.

Or how desperate I’d be to keep the kids from rioting. Ideally, I’d love to feed the kids healthy food, all the time. I do still try, but it’s hard to keep throwing money and time at meals that end up in the garbage when literally every television channel and store display is flashing cartoon utopias of brightly-colored garbage that’s so much easier and cheaper.

You’ll also find yourself in the grocery store with a wound-up kid and a dozen reproachful eyes, just waiting for the looming meltdown, while knowing you could either put a stop to it all with a 50 cent treat, or hold your ground through yet another public episode of overwhelmed-mom-with-the-tantruming kids.

The struggle is real. And sometimes I cave.

4.  Because kids don’t eat much

You know how you finish your lunch because you paid for it and you don’t want to throw your food away, only to get hungry an hour later and have to pay for something else?

Yeah, kids don’t worry about that. They don’t care what you just spent on their dinner when you’re eating out and will push it aside then literally start throwing a fit about being “so hungry,” 20 minutes later.

You’d think a few rounds of “Well, you should’ve eaten your dinner then, because I’m not not getting you any more food” would fix that, but they’re surprisingly stubborn. Because kids always plan roughly five minutes ahead of wherever they are now. They don’t remember how hungry they ended up being last night and won’t apply that lesson to this evening. Sometimes I’m amazed the human race is still around.

Even when they DO eat, it’s frequently only a tiny bit. I’ve watched my daughter suck the chocolate out of a croissant, pick the croutons out of a salad, lick the parmesan off pasta, and pick the Shake-n-bake coating off pork chops before loudly declaring that she was done.

My husband cleans up our kids’ leftovers like a champ. It just sucks too much to spend your hard-earned money on a meal that ends up only two tablespoons lighter, so my husband takes one for the team by polishing off the rest. Problem is, I’ve noticed him pushing the kids to order something he really likes an awful lot.  Which makes sense, because you may as well order something you like if you’re going to end up eating most of it… except it’s a slippery slope from being thrifty to eating an extra, fatty meal because you “have” to.

Most of these meals, I notice, involve a lot of melted cheese. On the plus side, he’s really been leaning on our 3-year-old to practice her silverware, because who wants to polish off a meal someone’s massaged with booger-hands?

5.  Your own habits start to backslide

So… you find yourself ordering increasingly empty-caloried garbage in hopes that your kids will possibly eat it, then polishing off said garbage so you won’t feel like you just set your wallet on fire.

You find yourself keeping a few more boxes of cookies around too, because it’s so helpful to have little rewards handy for when your kids finally pick up all their Legos and use an appropriate receptacle to pee into.

And after a while, that kale & quinoa salad isn’t looking so appetizing to you either. I’m not sure it ever really did, but it’s a lot easier to lie to yourself without all this peer pressure.

You get used to meandering along, taking 45 minutes to do what used to take you 10.

caillou.jpg
You’re the reason my pants don’t fit, you little bald monster!
Plus, you may be eating a few more chocolates now, because it’s the only vice you’re still allowed. I mean, after you’ve put all that drinking, swearing, and watching violent movies aside, what else can you do?. Who doesn’t want to stuff their face after 300 hours of Caillou?

Either way, these are some of the health pitfalls to watch out for after you move into a lifestyle with kids.

It’s tough, but I’m sure we can overcome it: start following an exercise program and letting the kids get hungry enough to choke down some well-balanced meals. Remind my husband to stop ordering out for pizza or bringing home fast food before we’re shelling out for whole new wardrobes of pants…

Wish me luck 🙂