My Daughter Slams Me For Not Taking Her to France Already

My five-year-old daughter and I are eating lunch when she casually starts reminiscing…

Brontë: So I really enjoyed seeing the Eiffel Tower with you…

Me: We haven’t been there yet.

Brontë: Yeah, I’m PRETENDING.

Me: Oh, okay. So, we could see the entire city from far above…

Brontë: Because SOMEONE hasn’t taken me yet.

Me: We will go someday. I promise.

Brontë: Can we get a baguette?

Me: Yes–you know what that is?

Brontë: Yeah, a giant bread. Can we see Madeline?

Me: Well, Madeline is pretend, but we can see the places she goes.

Brontë: Can we say “Bonjour” to people?

Me: Of course! They’ll like that… you should always say “bonjour” to people in France.

Brontë: That means “goodbye,”

Me: No, it means “good day.”

Brontë: Yeah, like saying “bye.”

Me: No, it’s more like saying, “Hello.”

Brontë: You’re being RIDICULOUS, mom.

So… color me shocked that my five-year-old already knows about the Eiffel Tower and baguettes and how to say “bonjour.”

I suppose I am taking French classes and watching French films and maybe she’s picked something up. Even if she’s questioning my basic French knowledge and shaming me for not already have taken her to Paris, she seems fairly culturally adept for a toddler.

 

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When Trying to Be Cute Backfires

Struggling to Make Her Eat:stock-vector-silhouette-of-a-girl-holding-a-wineglass-487225333

A Dialogue Between Mom and Her 5-year-old Child

(That mother is me. I’m the mom in this scenario.)

Scene: It’s lunchtime. Mom has lovingly prepared a princess-pink divider plate with a bean burrito and a handful of strawberries, with the stems scooped out, because her daughter has loved strawberries since infancy and couldn’t possibly reject this particular member of the produce family.

Brontë, the daughter, has wolfed down the bean burrito but is inexplicably looking askance at the handful of strawberries, preparing to make random shows of her Power of Choice by rejecting them…

Meanwhile, her little sister Bridget has wolfed down all of the strawberries while rejecting the burrito outright.

(The child is hovering in a hummingbird blur over her seat, her butt never really resting on the chair and her eyes clearly longing to throw toys in every direction instead of continuing the archaic snooze-fest our society keeps insisting is lunch.)

A strawberry fruit sweating in painBrontë: I don’t want to eat my strawberries. Bidgie can have them.

Me: Just eat one.

Brontë: I don’t want to.

Me (picking up one of her strawberries and making it talk in a chirpy voice): “Brontë, eat me and help me fulfill my destiny as your lunch! I’m soooo tasty… Don’t throw me away and make me feel sad!”

Brontë (Taking a bite and shrieking): “OW! My legs are GONE… I can’t walk anymore!”

 

My Toddler Throws a Coffee Fit

UnknownMy 3-year-old daughter Bridget is starting to sting together sentences and have actual conversations, which is when I think parenting starts getting real fun.

I mean, I love them before that and all, but it’s a whole lot of screaming and you-cleaning-up poop before intelligible sentences come into play. Graspable language is when you start getting to hear their hilarious, unfiltered take on life.

Like the other day, when Bridget started nosing around my coffee cup…

Bridget (pointing to my coffee): That COFFEE.

Me: Yep.

Bridget: I drink?

Me: No, drink your milk.

Bridget (sighing): I smell? Smell good.

Me: Okay, you can smell it.

She grabs the cup, closes her eyes, and inhales. 

Bridget: Smells GOOD, mama… I drink?

Me (grabbing the cup back): No, Bidgie.

Bridget (hands on hips): YOU drink!?

Me: I’m a grown-up. This is a grown-up drink.

Bridget (stomping away): This is… POOP!

The funniest part was how she clearly meant to say “This is a bunch of bullsh*t!” before stomping down the hall, but she did the three-year-old version of baby-swearing instead. Given the look on her face, I could practically hear the proper obscenities falling into place.

(Aww, she wants to drink lots of coffee and swear… she is mine.)

 

 

 

Kids Are Fascinated By Gross Things

os7_251a.jpgDoes anyone remember Garbage Pail Kids? They were these nasty trading cards you could get in the late 80’s and 90’s of cartoon toddlers covered in vomit or otherwise being gross or violent.

They were wildly popular. I think they were a backlash against the Cabbage Patch Kid fad at the time, which was all about baby dolls that supposedly grew out of cabbages with levels of cuteness so nuclear that moms actually got into fistfights over them at the time.

Note that I said moms, because their kids were busy collecting trading cards about cabbage spawn exploding their zits or dropping whatever they were doing to go witness the playground fight that just broke out because they suspected this thing we call “life” involves something darker than the perky cartoon facades the adults kept constructing  around them while arguing they were 100 percent true

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(Not sure if Millennials will get this.)

Somewhere around age 5, if my daughter Brontë is anything to go by, kids start grasping the idea that some things are considered wrong and you’re socially obligated to be offended by them. Girls, at least, like to throw their arms in the air and dramatically shriek upon confronting them.

But I suspect it’s somewhat of an act.

See.. the other day, I was walking up the steps to our house with Brontë and her little sister Bridget when we passed a dead June bug…

Bridget (pointing and shrieking): A bee! A BEE!

Bidgie and I squat and stare at the dead bug for a minute.

Me: That’s a June bug, Bidgie. Where do these dead bugs keep coming from?

Brontë (running away): EWW, GROSS! I don’t want to see that.

Me (watching Bridget poke it with a stick): Whoa, looks like those ants are eating it.

Brontë (running back): WHERE??

 

 

 

 

Why Participation Trophies Are Awesome

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even when it’s hard.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Princess and the Viking

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

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

shirtcollage4
Like THIS crap

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

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

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

It was a real head-scratcher.

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

And then, her sister Bridget came along.

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

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

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

dinosaur
When Brontë returned to the table…

 

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

John: What should be eat for dinner?

Brontë: Pasta!

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

Bridget: Popcorn and salt!

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

Bridget: Fish cones and bone sauce!

John: What?

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

Brontë: That’s DISGUSTING.

Bridget: Fish cones, NOW!

Brontë: EWW, GROSS!

Bridget rolls on the floor laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

aurora.gif
(Reenactment of the Dandelion incident)

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

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

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

It shall be interesting to see how this develops…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Faces in the Moon

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

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

nuns
Two upside-down nuns…

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

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

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

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

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