My six-year-old daughter Brontë pretty much never stops talking. “Using her words” has never been one of her stumbling blocks.
It’s simultaneously adorable and exhausting. If I’m scrambling to get lunch ready, she’s demanding I go check out the portal she made in the living room. It takes you to a castle, she tells me, but the people will be VERY SURPRISED when you suddenly show up, so I have to be careful but GO SEE IT NOW.
Sometimes she has magic socks that take her to outer space and I need to go with her so I can encounter aliens who will give me magic powers like throwing out time barriers, an actual power she once invented for me.
It doesn’t even quiet down when I’m trying to pee. She’ll follow me in to inform me that I’m Batgirl and she’s Poison Ivy. She runs past me at breakneck speed, back and forth, over and over, while telling me I need to stop her by throwing one of those Batarang deals that I have in my pocket.
Which I pretend to throw, in hopes it’ll pretend-knock-her-down for three seconds so I can finish peeing in peace.
But I “miss,” and then she has to lecture me about the importance of taking down bad guys, like her, if I’m ever going to make a decent Batgirl.
It’s so constant that the other day, when she quietly walked in from the back yard and tiptoed all the way down the hall without saying a word, I knew something was up.
So, I set down my tea and book and quietly walk down the hall to see what she’s up to…
She’s got a giant bag slung over her shoulder. She steps quietly into her room and soundlessly closes the door.
“BRONTE? Please come out and talk to me.”
She walks out and sweetly says, “Yes, mother?” (“Mother” is her ‘tell.’)
“What were you carrying into your room?”
Turns out, it was a five-pound bag of peanut M&M’s. (Or as Brontë calls them, “M’s.” And she has a point, because that second “M” is somewhat redundant.)
“Where did you get that?” I asked.
“From Eva,” she said.
Ahhhh, it suddenly made sense.
You see, our backyard shares a fence with at least five other families. I say “at least” because I don’t go poking my nose into other people’s business, but at least three of those families include little kids, because my kids have found them.
On the left, we have friendly neighbors with a daughter who was in Brontë’s Kindergarten class. Her mom runs a daycare, so there can be ten kids who climb up on their play structure to shout back and forth with mine, who also have a play structure with stairs. I sometimes wonder if they could climb up their relative play structures during an emergency and light torches, Game of Thrones style, to call for aid…
And in the back, there’s a family with at least two little boys who sometimes whisper to my girls through holes in the fence. The dad plays loud rock music from the 90’s all the time, and someone also lights up skunk weed on the regular, but with all the shifting breezes, I can’t be sure it’s him… it could be the adjacent lady with the really clean yard who sometimes shouts obscenities at our barking dog (Sorry, lady! We pull him inside when we catch it) or Monster Jim, that ex-hippie that all the neighborhood kids love, who is retired now and spends his days slowing down time as he ponders the jasmine…
But on the right, there’s a little girl named “Eva” who is eight years old. This is a BIG deal for Brontë, who is incredibly proud to have secured such a mature friend. Eva attends the same school as Brontë, who will seek her out and casually say “hi” in front of all her Kindergarten classmates, gently signaling how she has a private life that includes mingling with an older, far more sophisticated set of kids.
At any rate, Eva and Brontë have been passing toys back and forth for months. Brontë will go into her room to fret and examine each My Little Pony before selecting the choicest batch to pass onto Eva, who will pass back whatever toys she’s selected for exchange. Brontë will play with said toys until the next week, when a new exchange is scheduled.
(And despite all of my pleas to take decent care of her toys, absolutely nothing has worked as well as her trying to impress Eva. Brontë would be mortified by passing back damaged goods.)
Well, eventually I reached out to Eva’s mom and offered to let Eva come over and play. Turns out, it’s actually Eva’s aunt who lives next to us and Eva’s mom is just visiting every week. We ended up with some beautiful vegetables from Eva’s aunt’s garden in exchange for letting Eva come over and play with Brontë for hours on the weekend.
And it further turns out that Eva’s mom has a hard time convincing Eva to eat anything but vegetables. Have you ever heard of such a thing? That must be why Eva was willing to part with the gargantuan bag of peanut M&M’s that Brontë struggled to noiselessly cart off down the hall…
Because if Brontë had her way, she would live off pesto pasta and cupcakes. Whereas Brontë’s little sister Bridget will tear into a Baby Back rib with a frighteningly Viking-like face of plunder-ecstasy, candy has become such a massive power struggle in our house– ever since Brontë was once diagnosed with anemia from rejecting every food source of iron in favor of cream puffs…
Which leads to parenting dilemmas: I remove candy because I need Brontë to be hungry enough to eat her dinner, but don’t want to remove it entirely because I went to school with a kid whose parents only fed him the most organic, free-range stuff. He got carob instead of chocolate, bean-paste instead of PB&J’s, and would dig through the trash for half-eaten Twinkies because he was obsessed.
Beyond that, I have real weakness when it comes to innovation. I mean, if my kid worked up the entrepreneurial chutzpah to leverage social skills into a candy pipeline square into her own backyard, I’m loath to take that away from her. The kid doesn’t have a job or a driver’s license, but she still somehow managed to secure enough candy for the next several months. I’m not about to quash that kind of outside-the-box thinking.
Her eyes scan mine, seeking my reaction, nervously blinking.
“Well,” I tell her, “You better hide it well in your room so your sister doesn’t tear into it.”
She cracks a grin before scurrying into her room, squirreling away the candy somewhere where it’s not immediately obvious. I wonder briefly whether or not I made the right call before remembering that Brontë has never liked peanut M&M’s. That’s what John and Bridget get at the movie theater, not her…
I don’t catch her eating M&M’s for days.
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s functioning as some sort of untapped trophy.
Until the day I tell Brontë she needs to clean up her toys and I catch her asking her little sister Bridget to pick up the Legos.
“Pshh,” I think. I’ve been trying to wrestle Bridget into picking up her toys without incident for the past six months.
But Bridget does it. She cheerfully cleans up the Legos she didn’t even play with without a word…
And then Brontë gives her a handful of peanut M&M’s, which Bridget scarfs down with gusto.
Should I stop this? I mean… Brontë is outsourcing her duties to her younger, more vulnerable sister in exchange for candy.
On the other hand, Bridget is finally motivated to pick up toys without a three-hour tantrum and series of possibly-ineffective time-outs that end with mutual hostility. And Brontë just reinvented Capitalism in her own backyard.
“Good job, guys. Let’s go read some Dr. Seuss.”