Tuesday is library day, which the girls love because of its set routine.
First, we load water and snacks into the girls’ backpacks and the past week’s books into mine. Then, we walk out of our neighborhood, pausing on our way to stare at the bizarre cacophony of objects in the Vietnam Vet’s front yard.
Doll heads, Snoopy statues, American flags, ancient tools in a gravel maze of cacti and rosebuds… to me, it represents lingering existential puzzles. But for Brontë and Bridget, it’s a Where’s Waldo of disordered beauty. They always point out something random before moving on.
We hit the boulevard where I always pick up Bridget and squeeze Brontë’s hand to cross the street. Knowing this, Bridget reaches both arms up as we approach, then pushes her face into my neck as we wait for an opening before trotting across. I set her down as we continue past the lost animal posters, the guttered fast-food cups, the place where the skateboarding kids’ skunk-toned air turns to jasmine bushes.
The kids greet the Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting in front of the library in flowered dresses and well-ironed suits, then they charge toward their respective book return slots. Bridget always goes to the left, and Brontë to the right. I hand them books to return until my backpack is empty.
Then we walk to the park to play before Storytime begins at the library. Sometimes we meet our neighbor there, but she was busy last week. So instead, the girls ran to the playground after immediately ditching their backpacks and shoes, as they always do.
I sat down on a nearby bench, trying hard not to judge the lady who was at least well into her seventies wearing short-shorts that just walked by because I hate those preachy 30 Things Not to Wear After Thirty lists and shouldn’t be so damn hypocritical. It was warm outside, so I should cut her a break, even if I’d never wear something like that myself. Even Jessica Simpson would have trouble pulling those off.
Showcased flesh aside, I was wondering if we’d have to drive next week because it would be too hot to walk when I noticed Bridget walking up the big, spiral slide again. Dang it… I’m always telling her not to do that because it creates a traffic jam with the kids at the top, but there were no kids at the top right then and sometimes parents have to pick their battles so maybe I’ll just let it slide.
Let it slide, let it slide… shut UP, annoying brain with your terrible puns.Climbing up the slide must be incredibly fun, considering how badly kids want to do it. Like a spiral mountain-climbing event. Aerial geometry.
And that’s when Bridget started screaming.
I walked over confused, because she’s climbed up that slide a thousand times before.
“They boarded up the slide because the slide is hot,” the grand dame in short-shorts told me.
OH. Bridget’s freaking out because she’s trapped. That makes sense. I reached my arms up toward her.
“Come here, baby,” I said. “I’ll get you down.”
And then loudly, the lady said, “Well, she CAN’T walk down the slide because she ISN’T WEARING ANY SHOES!” (subtext: Only a monster of a mother would let her child run around without any shoes on).
Then, without missing a beat or pausing for breath, she worked up her most martyred-sounding tone and yelled, “I guess I’LL have to GO GET HER THEN,” before shoving me out of the way to reach the slide bottom.
Panicked by the sight of a crazed old lady in hot pants advancing upon her, Bridget shrieked before jumping sideways off the top of the slide into my arms. Irritated by the forced parkour, I twirled her away as the lady let out a frustrated HMPH! and one more “she WASN’T wearing any SHOES!”
“She walked UP the slide, didn’t she!?” I yelled back, wondering why the woman thought trying to cart a hysterical toddler backwards down a spiral slide wouldn’t be dangerous and whether she would later recount her heroically-attempted rescue of the poor kid whose mom wanted to boil her feet to all her friends, who would then pontificate on how social media and participation trophies ruined the Millennials.
Well, we made it to library Storytime, where the kids had a blast and learned all about the Storybook Summer Reading Challenge. If they read five books and log reviews into the website, they get to pick out a free gift book. If they read twenty, they get a SUPER READER medal with their name on it.
This is beyond exciting for my kids and all they can talk about. They want that medal. They’re hungry for it. It has their NAME ON IT.
It will be easy, since I read Brontë a different story every night. We always check out three books for Bidgie to choose from, but she always picks the same one… whatever one she happened to read first. Bonus points if it’s Dr. Seuss though, whom she loves, even though Brontë inexplicably HATES him.
For Brontë, I try to select a bunch of different styles and genres to open up her brain. I usually get a couple of weird ones to make her think. She usually loves them.
But not the one we read last night.
It’s called “In the Night Kitchen,” by Maurice Sendak. It was published in 1970, but looks like something out of the 1920’s: a little boy falls asleep, floats out of his clothes and into the dough of three chubby bakers who want to cook him because they think he’s milk…
The boy fashions the dough into an airplane, then flies over a huge glass bottle of milk. Jumping inside it, he gets a pitcher to bring back to the bakers, who then sing a happy song about having milk for their cake. The boy makes rooster noises before floating back into his clothes and his bed.
It was mildly disturbing, to tell you the truth. I was curious about Brontë’s take…
Me: So, what did you think?
Brontë: That was… weird.
Me: Yeah. I’m sensing you didn’t like it.
Brontë: No, because that little boy was NAKED.
Me: He was.
Brontë: And then he GOT into the MILK. Naked! I do NOT want naked boys in my milk, momma. He could PEE in there!
Brontë: Or even POOP!
(The girls laugh hysterically).
Me: Okay, so in your review, you want to say, “I thought the naked boy in the milk was weird because he could pee in there.”
Brontë (very seriously): YES. Or poop. Don’t forget that part. I don’t want to see any more books about naked boys in milk. You write that.
And I did. Anyone researching children’s books in Sacramento libraries can now read all about how this one contains disturbing imagery of naked little boys in milk jars who could spontaneously pee and run everybody’s breakfasts. I can’t help wondering if that lady in hot pants will someday come upon it and spontaneously combust.
I also can’t help wondering if there was some deeper, more intricate symbolism in the book that both of us missed. That couldn’t have just been about being baked naked in Oliver Hardy’s cake, right?
Hopefully, Brontë will like tomorrow’s batch much better, but on the other hand, her negative reviews are much more entertaining.
Maybe because wild imaginations often lead to paranoia, I’ve never been much of a natural saleswoman. I can still remember wondering, as a tiny child, exactly what the fifth dentist had against Trident gum.
So, given my cynical streak, I find my 5-year-old’s natural salesmanship startling. Maybe it’s her wild optimism. She almost already sold me the impossible, just the other day…
Brontë: Mom? You know what would be really nice?
Brontë: A bunny pet. That would be GREAT. Look at our yard… just pretend we had a bunny hopping around. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Me: Yes, that would be super cute, but…
Brontë: Picture a BLUE bunny pet, just chewing on the flowers, sitting by the waterfall…
And for a brief moment, damn it, I found myself picturing that adorable blue bunny. Brontë knows blue is my favorite color, you see, and she’s already incorporated this fact into her marketing.
Marketing that was effective enough to make me briefly wonder if getting a bunny was actually feasible, even though I know blue bunnies don’t really exist. It didn’t hurt that Brontë has worshipped bunny rabbits since she was a baby, so I could almost hear her delighted squeals upon seeing one.
She probably doesn’t remember how it all started, but I do. See, when she was an infant, she liked rubbing fuzzy blankets on the skin above her upper lip. In time, she grew to favor bunny stuffed animals because they had two long ears that were perfect for rubbing under her nose and dragging them around with…
“Yellow Bunny,” a yellow bunny with long, fuzzy ears, became one of her favorite toys and yellow, her favorite color. She’d blame many of her stuffed animals for the messes she got caught making, but Yellow Bunny could never do any wrong.
It didn’t stop there. She always loved the books I read her at bedtime, except one called, “That’s Not My Bunny.”
On each page, it would show a different bunny with tactile parts for babies to feel. It would have a bunny with a bumpy section on a page, for example, and the text would read, “That’s not my bunny, it’s too bumpy” until you finally get to the perfect bunny at the end and it says, “THAT’S my bunny!”
It was cute, but not to Brontë, who felt that all bunnies were, in fact, HER bunnies and we were pretending she was judging and rejecting them in the most hurtful ways imaginable She’d sometimes have to shut the book and throw it across the room to stop the lies.
It upset her so much, I had to quit reading it. And later, bunnies would invade her dreams. She’d dream about pink and purple bunnies driving around in cars, all stuffed in like clowns in a Volkswagen, or pink and purple bunnies raiding the fridge before setting out fine meals around the dining table. They’d smack their paws on the table with chants of “Bron-TEE! Bron-TEE!” to lure her down the stairs…
Brontë is vaguely starting to understand that I write a blog about her and her sister, which she finds fascinating. She wants to see it sometimes, pointing out “THAT’S BIDGIE!” or “HEY, THAT’S ME!” when the pictures go by. She wants to know what I’m talking about in the articles and giggles when I remind her of something funny she once said.
It means she’s more wiling to give me space, now, to tell the world about her hilarious antics. Even if I’m starting to wonder if her junior-high self will resent me for once reporting on her potty-training fails.
Brontë: It’s a GREAT bunny. Why didn’t you write words under the bunny picture, mommy? You wrote words under the other ones. You need to write what that bunny is saying because I WANT TO KNOW.
Her obsession makes me curious about how she’d react to a real live bunny in the yard, except we can’t have a baby bunny jumping around five cats and it would HAVE to be a baby bunny because, well… I’ve had bad experiences with grown-up bunnies before.
Back when I was in college, my grandmother once bought all my cousins stuffed animal bunnies for Easter, but because she knew I loved animals so much, she wanted to get me a couple of real bunnies instead.
Which was a very sweet gesture, except she had me pick from a pile of grown up bunnies that all seemed to HATE people. That’s when I had this reckless thought:
Okay, these bunnies are insane, but if I pick a boy and a girl, I could tame a baby bunny and sell the rest to a pet store.
Not knowing anything about rabbits, picking a boy and girl rabbit ended up being much harder than it seemed. I figured I’d grab two with different-looking genitalia and time would inevitably reveal which one was which.
It did. About a day later, the rabbits fell in love and they quickly became known as Patrick and Katherine.
Except later that day, Katherine was looking awfully dominant. Maybe I had it wrong. Katherine quickly became known as Kirk.
Except next day, Patrick was on top again.
It wasn’t long before I realized that Patrick and Kirk were really, REALLY into each other. Like, into each other all day, every day, taking turns… expressing themselves.
And those bunnies were bastards.
Not because they were gay. I don’t have bunny homophobia or anything. No, it’s because every time I gently tried to pull one away from its frenzied love-making, it would leave multiple bloody scratches along my arms with its back feet. They would flat-out attack me for trying to be friends with them, then run over to bury their head into their lover’s side as though they’d just been horribly violated. The other one with lick his face to help him get over the shock.
Even my rats hated their guts. That’s right, I had a couple of rat pets at the time and because of that experience, I’m fully aware that rats are approximately ten-thousand times smarter than bunnies, despite the terrible rep.
Because the rats used to tag team the rabbits in ingenious ways. One would crawl up the side of the rabbit cage to distract them, while the other would crawl up near the rabbits’ food dish to throw handfuls of rabbit food on the floor that the rats would later pile into their own cage, since the bunnies were to big to retrieve it.
After about fifty episodes of this particular rat con, Patrick finally figured out what was happening. He indignantly rabbit-kicked the rat who was stealing his food, which made the rat jump onto Patrick’s back and start furiously pulling out Patrick’s fur in handfuls while biting him. Patrick jumped around in circles, unsuccessfully trying to kick the rat, until I ended up picking Patrick up and oh-so-carefully extracting the hysterical rat while hoping not to lose a chunk of skin.
The rat didn’t hurt me, but Patrick responded by leaving a ten-inch gash on my arm. Meanwhile, Kirk looked truly baffled, though I swear he shot me a couple of dirty looks.
So… clearly… we can’t have an untamed rabbit on the premises. Those suckers are MEAN, despite being adorable. And a baby bunny wouldn’t last long.
Yet despite my sordid history with a couple of angry rabbit perverts, I was still briefly charmed by Brontë’s visions of blue bunnies dancing around the yard.
That girl’s got a future in marketing, if she isn’t too busy being a Jedi princess unicorn in Outer Space.
You might’ve noticed that Bubbles and Beebots looks different now.
I may keep on tweaking it until I’m happy. But see, B&B is now getting enough foot traffic to receive advertising invitations and I had to rework its layout into a more ads-friendly theme.
Which is kind of exciting, though I won’t be expecting more than pocket change for a bit. Maybe just enough to get my kids some ice cream at the zoo… don’t you want my adorable kids to be able to eat ice cream, folks?
There. That was my best attempt at salesmanship because I’m so NOT a natural saleswoman. I figured I’d try the guilt angle, since it comes so naturally to parents and as far as I can tell, advertisers usually work their magic using one of a few tools:
Again, a natural selling-point for parents, since we already feel so responsible…
Hey, buy these spoons that tell you when food is too hot, so your trusting baby won’t end up burning her poor little mouth!
Sure, this cereal costs three times more, but there’s a cartoon princess on the box and cartoon princesses make your kid HAPPY. What kind of a monster doesn’t want their kid to be happy?
Using dogs and cats works well too. Aren’t they your best friend?? Don’t they deserve the best!?
Mostly of being socially ostracized because not buying Product X will make you disgusting.
I mean, what if you use a substandard deodorant and end up stinking up the subway? You’ll put your arm up to hold onto the rail, and… BAM! No more invites. You wouldn’t want to gross out your taxicab cab partner, would you?
Or toothpaste. What if that woman you’ve had a huge crush on for ages finally walks up to talk to you and you melt her eyebrows with your jalapeño egg salad breath? Don’t be so GROSS.
It also works with more literal fears about your physical safety. There are always tons of commercials for home alarm systems whenever you’re watching a crime show.
I’ve been noticing a theme here, and it mostly involves our fears of being judged. We don’t want other people to think bad things about us.
And on the flip side, we DO want them to think good things. Like, it’s great to have a fashionable product because then everyone will know you’re on the level. Or if you’re a hipster, you want a product that ISN’T popular, so you can be part of the elite club that actually appreciates it. We don’t want the ads to look too rehearsed or glossy, in that case.
Let’s say you think that girl from the Sketchers ad is pretty hot and you’d like to look like her or date her (or both, depending on your persuasion). So, maybe if you wear those tennis shoes, some of her hotness will rub off on you and then you can rock her awesome figure without having to do any crunches or lay off the Cinnabons.
And hey, Benicio Del Toro is pretty macho and successful and maybe you could also be a world traveler if you tossed back a few Heinekens. At the very least, you’d be cool.
Eh… my terrible natural salesmanship is becoming all too apparent. In fact, I should probably pull this post before any actual advertisers read it.
And go back to being a manic pixie who occasionally mentions poop tantrums. It’s what I do best. 🙂
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?
We’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.
Which 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.
This 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?
So, 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.
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.
“Umm, I wanted you to know that those girls have been bullying your daughter. “
“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.
But 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.
I 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.
It’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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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:
And then, this:
Empty space couldn’t be this exciting
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…
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:
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:
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?
I’m a cat person. In fact, this was very nearly a cat blog instead of a mommy blog.
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.
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 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…
He 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.
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.
Very 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.
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 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.
Fun 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 (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.
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.
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.
Ah, 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.
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.
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.”
This 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.
All 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.