Category Archives: Babies

Sharks, Santa, and Farting Bear Ghosts…

So lately, my three-year-old daughter Bridget keeps getting attacked…

Just the other day, she was drinking a glass of water when out of nowhere she shrieked and threw the cup down:

“SHARKS in my cup!”

Bridget doesn’t always speak clearly, so I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her right.

“There are sharks in your cup?” I asked.

0ac7ebbb7abf94175f26382e9f96dcae--shark-pics-the-muscleBridget peered nervously, and very carefully, inside:

“Umm… YES.”

She showed me. There was a lot of ice in the cup. I tried to decide whether ice could look like shark fins if you squinted your eyes and had a wild imagination. Or if it was a mini-world of icebergs with sharks lurking underneath.

“Well, that’s scary,” I told her.

Bridget rolled her eyes.

“Just baby sharks,” she told me, like I was being a total wimp.

Nightmares

IMG_5407Of course, she was already on edge from all the ghost nightmares she’d been having.  She’d been screaming “GHOSTS!” at 3 AM, night after night, and I’d run to her room to find both of her arms held up in cartoon shock.

“It’s okay! Did you have a nightmare?”

She’d nod her head and tell me about the ghosts who were trying to “take her.” They were MEAN ghosts. One had a bear head and wouldn’t stop farting in her room.

Which must’ve really added insult to injury. This routine kept up until she finally had a dream about nice ghosts who smelled good.

What a relief after that nasty, farting bear.

And then Santa started menacing our house…

Bridget cut her foot two days in a row while taking a bath with her big sister Brontë.

And I mean, really CUT it… like she left bloody footprints all over the floor after getting out.

Which freaked me out. The cuts were smallish, but bled a lot, and I couldn’t understand how it happened.

I looked the bathtub over, inside and out, never finding anything sharp and finally figuring she must’ve somehow kicked the shower door tracks (since she was being very kicky at the time).

Still, I wasn’t sure:

“How did you cut your foot, Bridget?”

“Santa did it.”

Santa?

“YES… Santa.”

“Santa, like Christmas Santa with reindeer and toys for the kids?”

“YES!” she screamed in persecuted agony. “Santa CUT my FOOT.”

meansanta

She changed her story when her father came home, though.

When John asked why she had Bandaids on her feet, she explained that Poppa had:

  • Crawled into her shoe,
  • Crawled into her sock, and
  • Bitten her foot until it was bleeding

Which was strange, because she worships her grandpa and begs to go to his house so much I almost find it irritating…

So, I have NO idea why she would blame both the guy who brings her presents every year as well as her grandpa for her bleeding feet, but she absolutely wouldn’t let up. 

Maybe it was revenge…

You see, Bridget really likes men with mustaches. Her Poppa has a mustache and he seems to be the measuring stick against which she compares all men. Whenever she sees a guy with a mustache, for example, Bidgie insists he looks just like Poppa. Even when they’re completely different-looking people apart from both having a mustache.

Except my dad inexplicably just shaved his mustache, which did not go down well with my kids, who now say he doesn’t look “right.”

I don’t know if that’s why Bridget started accusing him of crawling into her shoes to bite her feet, but… it did happen at roughly the same time.

The following day, Bridget cut her foot in the bathtub again. This time on her heel, instead of her toe.

I was baffled.

I asked her how she cut her foot and she again insisted that Poppa did it.

“But Poppa is nice, ” I said.

“Yes, Poppa nice. He BITE MY FOOT!”

She seemed outraged. She demanded yet another Mickey Mouse bandaid then appeared to forget about the incident until later that night, when my parents came over to pick up the kids for a visit.

In front of them, I asked Bridget whether Poppa had been crawling into her shoes to bite her feet.

“Psshhh… no,” she said, turning bright pink and smirking. “Psssh…”

 

 

Advertisements

Bee Stings and Toddler Vengeance

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m pretty fond of my kids and of being a mom, overall. Maybe it’s the whole dedicated-parenting-blog-thing that gave it away, or how I kind of flipped out on the anti-child childfree folks a while back…

But I have to admit that I’m a bigger fan of kids than I am of babies. Don’t get me wrong… I loved my babies to pieces and they’re incredibly fun (whenever they aren’t waking you up every 47 minutes for nights on end or irrationally screaming whenever you venture into public space) except they don’t really do much.

No… for me, the really fun part happens at the latter stages of three, working up through five or more, after kids start really grasping the English language and expressing all the raw, unbridled notions in their heads. You can see how humans think when they still believe magic is possible and before they’ve been properly socialized or learned how to fake being “normal.”

Take, for example, what happened a couple days ago when Bridget (3) was stung by a bee in a bush in our front yard right before our family took our evening walk and then her sister Brontë (5), being a kid herself, figured out the best way to comfort her…

Bidgie: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Me: OW! It’s okay…

Bidgie (bright red and screaming): BWAAAAAAA! WAAAAAAAAAH!

Me (grabbing her arm in concern): Show me!

(I see a welt around a red spot and try to compare the two arms for swelling. I secretly worry about whether my kid has a bee sting allergy and quietly check her face and throat for signs that she’s right about to dangerously swell up while trying to cover up my secret panic… as Bridget nonstop screams)

Bidgie: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

(Neighbors start looking over with concern)

John (after picking out the stinger): It’s all red. Let’s get you some ice to make it feel better. Daddy has been stung by lots of bees and hornets and jellyfish and it will feel better really soon…

Bidgie (furiously clawing the air in her rage): BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Brontë: You know what? That bee is gonna die for stinging you.

Bidgie (raising her eyebrows): Yeah?

bee.jpgHer sister’s comments cut the screaming short so fast, I could almost hear a record screeching in the background. We took Bidgie inside to put a bag of frozen peas on her arm and she was 100 percent better, ten minutes later.

Turns out, she isn’t allergic to bees (whew) and Brontë was obviously paying attention to the bee nature videos I had rented from the library.

You see, Brontë had a deathly fear of bees herself, so I’d grabbed a bee video, wondering whether increased knowledge would help her conquer fears of the frightening unknown (as it does with me) and I ended up being started by the unblinking fascination she held for the life of bees.

“They die when they sting you?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I told her. “The stinger falls out in your skin and they die.”

She nodded solemnly, contemplating the cosmic balancing scales, tucking away this newly-discovered fact for an opportune moment… such as when comforting her baby sister after just being stung by a bee.

See… the fact that Bridget would scream, nonstop, despite all of her parents’ attempts at comfort, would make one think that the pain itself was prompting hysterics. Except she quit the very second her sister revealed that the culprit would die…

Which means that Bridget’s screaming was less about the pain than a general feeling of gross injustice: here she was, minding her own business when this furry insect flies over and painfully stings her in an unprompted show of aggression…

And the moment her sister explained that this lunatic would be sentenced to death, Bridget calmed down and mustered the internal fortitude to carry on with toddler dignity.

It’s a primitive justice, to be sure. Most adults would consider how the animal was just protecting itself and consider celebrating its death to be somewhat macabre.

But it demonstrates how one’s sense of justice is wired early on. Convince a kid that something is “fair,” and they’ll get surprisingly reasonable.

We ate honey on our toast the next morning.

 

 

 

 

Viking Role Reversals

So, Bridget the Viking has been rapidly civilizing ever since her big sister Brontë started Kindergarten a few weeks ago.

Gone are the sudden, inexplicable tantrums that would alarm neighbors living two blocks away.

FullSizeRender.jpgShe doesn’t throw Legos at cats anymore, or refuse to eat anything while simultaneously screaming about how hungry she is. She’s actually using the potty (like a big girl) instead of calling me into the bathroom, 600 times a day, to watch her yell “DONE” (after not really trying), before running into the next room to pee on the floor.

At first, I was baffled by Brontë’s absence accomplishing what a million stern talks and time-outs couldn’t…

The more I thought about it, however, the more it started making sense: this is the first time Bridget is getting regular, one-on-one attention from mom.

Believe me, I’ve tried…but it’s tough to maintain focused attention on one toddler when there’s always another one feeling threatened, nipping at your heels. One who never quits jockeying for lap space or talking all the air out of the room.

I’m not kidding about that last part. Brontë will start talking at 4 in the morning and literally not stop until she’s sleeping that night. She talks frantically, sometimes even glitching while repeating the same question, over and over, when she’s too keyed-up, repeating the same few words until they garble as she panics in a desperate attempt to filibuster the house…

Which has got to be very intimidating for Bridget, who is two years younger than Brontë, which is a massive developmental gulf at this point. Bidgie might be struggling to pronounce the “t” in “water,” fighting to successfully bark out one-word demands in the rare breaks of big sister Brontë breathing during her hour-long dissertations about why Pinkie-Pie makes a better pony than Applejack.

Brontë also has more advanced psychological manipulation techniques up her sleeve. She can silently work Bridget into a screaming fit with just the right look or whispered catchphrase, which I finally caught one day in the rearview mirror, after demanding that Bridget stop shrieking in the car for the thirtieth time.

(Mind you, Bridget isn’t completely defenseless. She’s a dark horse who occasionally figures out quiet ways to get revenge.

Like that time I caught Bridget hiding the remote control under her blanket as Brontë went into hysterics about why her cartoon kept flipping off & on. Brontë was really freaking out, starting to wonder whether she was making it happen by waving her arms, when I finally caught Bridget doing it and Bridget kept a completely straight face until that moment.)

IMG_5276Well, I get it now… Bridget was really frustrated. She was angry and didn’t have enough skills to communicate what she was feeling, so she kept acting out. Because ever since Brontë started going to Kindergarten, Bridget has been talking more, stringing together entire sentences, and generally being a little angel who picks me flowers and does whatever she’s asked.

After dropping Brontë off this morning, Bridget and I took a walk to Starbucks so we could have some special time together, and she sat nicely in her chair (instead of jumping and climbing), had a civilized conversation with me about the current issues plaguing Sesame Street (instead of unpredictably screaming), and happily finished her hot cocoa and cake pop before wiping her hands on a napkin and throwing away her own trash.

On the walk home, the idea of building her own cow struck Bridget like a thunderbolt. She began gathering materials for her project (including dandelions, sticks, and Starbucks napkins), announcing she planned to paint it orange and pink and that she needed enough stuff to make it MOO.

(Given her obsession with dairy, I can only assume she was thinking up ways to access an unlimited milk supply.)

She abandoned the project upon returning home, however, deciding instead to line up Elsa, Anna, Ariel, and a shark on the couch so she could serve then all a bunch of coffee and tea. She also gave them napkins and little plastic cakes.

And that’s when Ariel started acting up.

She was apparently making a bunch of noise, because Bridget had to run over and frantically shush her. But Ariel kept at it, crawling on the furniture until Bridget ran over  to insist she “SIT STILL!” Bridget tried calming her with a baby blanket and toy, but Ariel just wouldn’t behave.

This went on for a while until Ariel completely lost it, jumping on Bridget until they were rolling all over the living room floor. Bridget marched the Ariel doll over to a chair, saying “That’s IT! TIME OUT!” before running away laughing.

I never would’ve pictured Bridget getting into law enforcement, but there it is.

 

 

 

Leveling Up The Parenting Game

One of the most frustrating parts of parenting is when you’re struggling to cope with brand new life equations as more veteran parents chuckle about how you don’t even know.

Like, you’ll be dealing with morning sickness and ill-timed incontinence while constantly hearing: Just WAIT until the baby is born… 

Then you’re losing your mind from netting five unbroken hours of sleep last week be as people keep telling you: Psh… this is the EASY part. 

Because parenting, much like a video game (or life itself), involves always developing more skills and better strategies. Once you’re past infant stage, you tackle the Potty-Training Challenge, the Cleaning Up Your Toys Challenge, and try to swing the Not Throwing Tantrums in Restaurants & Grocery Stores Achievement for bonus points.

And recently, I leveled up. Yay! My daughter Brontë just started Kindergarten.

IMG_5383She was pretty excited about it. She kept yelling, “WHO HAS TWO THUMBS AND IS GOING TO KINDERGARTEN? THIS GIRL!” on the ride over,

She was thrilled to put her unicorn backpack on the little hook and line up with the other kids to file into class. When I came to pick her up, she walked out of class to find me standing where I’d left her and, looking perplexed, asked me, “Have you been waiting for me this whole time?

She was relieved to find out I hadn’t been stuck there all day, but her mood soured on the car ride home.

“I’m MAD at you,” she said.

“Why?”

“Because… Kindergarten wasn’t what I expected. I’m disappointed. And you just left me there. I think I want to stay home with you and Bridget instead.”

Hmm. Well, I suppose Kindergarten is a whole different animal than preschool, where the kids get to run around playing and doing whatever they want. Kindergarten involves RULES and sitting still and stuff like that.

“I’m sorry you were disappointed,” I told her. “But I’m sure you’ll get used to it and make lots of friends. You’ll learn about a lot of stuff. Like, how to read.”

“I already know everything.”

“No… you don’t.”

“I can pretend.”

This went on for a while until I finally reminded her that she wants to be an astronaut and that being an astronaut means having to go to school and she found herself without reasonable counterarguments.

Thankfully, after a week or so of this Kindergarten routine, Brontë actually started looking forward to it. She likes her teacher and gets to go to class with the neighbor’s kid, who is already her good friend.

But that’s not all. Brontë is also a Girl Scout now.

This all happened when my neighbor, a close friend, teamed up with some other neighborhood women to embark on their very own Girl Scout Troop and I was yanked into their orbit.

Being part of this pioneering group means I’m going to be one of the leaders, which is somewhat daunting because I don’t know anything about Girl Scouts since being kicked out of the Brownies, many years ago, for frustration-pinching the other kids after the indignities of being forced to pimp their cookies without getting to tie cool knots overwhelmed me.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Some boy in my class was showing off his merit badges for knowing how to tie seven different knots when it suddenly occurred to me: How come I don’t know how to tie any knots? How come I’ve never been camping? ALL WE DO IS SPRAY GOLD PAINT ON MACARONI BOXES AND SELL THEIR COOKIES AND I’M CLEARLY BEING USED…

Which all culminated in me running around pinching everyone at the Girl Scout meet-up, later that night, because kids don’t know how to properly express themselves.

I can still remember my mother driving me home, too confused to even be angry, repeatedly asking me why I wanted to run around pinching everyone as I sat there unable to explain. I think the fact that I was normally such a calm, obedient child made it all the more baffling.

And I have yet to share this information with the neighborhood moms.

(Not sure if I will.)

But that’s not all. Brontë is now also on a soccer team: The Dragonflies.

Which makes me now, officially, a Soccer Mom.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this because it’s such a cliche. I was really irritated that one time a taxation-is-theft guy on Facebook condescendingly called me a soccer mom as we were arguing about gun control because it seemed to imply I’d lived too sheltered and naive a plastic life to appreciate How The World Really Works. As though I’d spontaneously sprung into the role of mothering without any previous life experiences to inform my views…

But mostly, it means that the trendy midtown resident I used to be, who listened to all the weird bands and went dancing with her girlfriends at whatever new place may be gone forever. That the notion of parenthood never changing me was all a lie.

It echoed that fateful moment at the dinner table when my husband shouted, “I’ve got a POCKETFUL OF TIMEOUTS!” to our unruly kids and I realized we just weren’t cool anymore.

On the other hand, Brontë thinks soccer practice is super fantastic because she likes being part of a team, especially when it involves uniforms. She likes that “Everything is Awesome” song from the Lego movie, un-ironically.

Even though she doesn’t fully understand what soccer means. At the first meet up, after the coach gave the kids a long lecture about how to play, the meaning of sportsmanship, and asked if anyone had any questions, the girls sat silent for a few moments until Brontë slowly raised her hand.

“Yes?” he asked.

“I think that Sleeping Beauty is the very best princess,” she said, with extreme authority.

Another kid raised her hand.

“Ariel is my favorite princess.”

“That’s a good one too,” Brontë acknowledged.

And meanwhile, Bridget quietly grabbed a soccer ball and having never touched one before, started pulling these moves:

So… Bridget may end up appreciating soccer on an entirely different level than her sister, but she’s still too young to play. It’s been a rough month for Bridget, who has to watch her big sister go to Kindergarten, become a Girl Scout, and join a soccer team without being able to participate. Being a three-year-old with an older sibling is hard.

And as for me, well… my whole schedule has been having to adjust, which is why I haven’t been blogging as regularly. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what I’ll be up against once Brontë and Bridget are both doing lots of stuff.

Just wait until they’re teenagers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.)

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love in Darkness

Sometimes, I wish I lived in my five-year-old’s universe. It’s a magical land of unbridled optimism.

Just the other night, she proudly announced that the moon loves her.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because it’s always following me,” she said. Pointing to the sky, she hopped up and down with excitement:

“Look, it’s doing it again!”