Category Archives: Kids Around Other Kids

An Unexpected Birthday

So, today was my birthday and the lead up was NOT good.

Birthdays, holidays and milestones mean a lot to me. I demand real Christmas trees, that we hopefully have to cut down ourselves, and will stay up all night baking Christmas cookies with the girls because IT’S CHRISTMAS AND THATS WHAT PEOPLE DO.

Maybe it’s the ritual, or maybe I like the idea of setting days aside to make quality time spent with your loved ones the top priority, I don’t know. But either way, I spent my last birthday trying to keep the kids from killing each other and setting the house on fire and was determined not to do it again.

Because it made me really sad, like any holiday that passes without comment. Any day that’s supposed to count which brings feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

So, we planned to do something we’d never done before, which made me so happy:

We would wake up really early and go to Gilroy Gardens, a small amusement park with lots of waterslides and rides for the family. John and I had been hit with some unexpected expenses this month, so it couldn’t be anything extravagant, but I asked for a few chocolates for my birthday and a little trip with the family if he could comfortably get the day off from work.

He could, and the girls were EXCITED to hear about the fun trip to the water park. Since I firmly believe showmanship is 50% of proper parenting, I’d been pulling up internet  photos and planning for the past week, whetting the girls’ appetites until it turned into a nightly ritual of “How many more days until Gilroy Gardens?’ answered by “four more days,” “three more days,” “two more days.” Right after the book and before the goodnight kiss.

Well, things started going wrong on Two More Days.

'Well, yes. That's true, Gary. After you tackle and sting the other hive's quarterback...'First, after a week of 100+ degree weather, the pool was finally warm enough for me to swim in. I was laying stomach-down on a big blow-up alligator, closing my eyes and trailing my arms through the water as I felt a startling amount of stress magically float away, when suddenly I felt a sharp stinging in the worst place one could feel it…

Flipping up, bewildered and disoriented, falling off the alligator because someone just set my nether regions ON FIRE…

Me: WHAT THE HELL??

John: Hey, I tried to get him off you.

Me: Get…

And here, I stop talking because I find myself barking and yelling and trying really, really hard not to swear because I used to swear a blue streak before the kids were born but kids repeat what you say and I can’t have them dropping F-bombs everywhere because then people would think they were Born In A Barn and they just wouldn’t be received in the best houses and I’m trying to work out what John meant by “I tried to get him off you” as I wonder why  my first sense of timeless, weightless Nirvana in months had been interrupted by melting privates…

John: Hey, the bee was sitting there already when I knocked him away to help you. You want me to pull out the stinger?

Me: NO, I WANT TO WALK AROUND WITH A STINGER UP MY ASS.

John: Well, if…

Me: YES, I WANT YOU TO PULL THE STINGER OUT.

He pulls it out and scrapes it off on the side of the pool as I notice a dead bee laying there.  Was that the bee who stung me? Stinging kills honey bees. Suddenly, it occurs to me…

Me: HEY, I have NEVER been stung by a bee since I was four years old and touched one, but YOU have been stung A GAZILLION TIMES.

John: Well, I grew up in the South, so…

Me: No. Just, NO.  I’ve seen TONS of bees and we have NEVER had a problem with each other. YOU get involved AND SUDDENLY, I HAVE BEES STINGING MY PRIVATES.

John: I WAS HELPING YOU!

Me: I DO NOT WANT YOU TALKING TO BEES ON MY BEHALF. CLEARLY, YOU PISS THEM OFF.

Well, once the raging pain subsided, I calmed down and asked John to just tell me next time instead of smacking it. Everything was going fine (apart from the trouble I was having sitting down) until the next day, when I was eating some toast for breakfast and half a tooth falls out in my mouth.

Oh, crap. This can’t be good.

This is about to suck. 

S1e10_doofyI look this up online to figure out whether this is an EMERGENCY before realizing that the tooth I’m holding in my hand is actually a broken crown, since my teeth have been good to me apart from two back molars which gave me enough trouble to ultimately get crowned a couple of years ago. I call the dentist…

Me: I think the crown broke because it’s just the top with no root and is it really a huge emergency because my birthday is tomorrow and my husband took the day off work so we could go do something fun and we have plans and I really, really don’t want to cancel them to spend my birthday having dental work done, so is it okay to handle this later?

Dentist Receptionist: Ummm… are you in a lot of pain?

Me: Noooooooo….. I mean. I have to chew everything on the left side of my mouth and if I make a mistake it’s pretty unpleasant, but other than that I’m totally fine. It’s great, actually. I’m not even noticing anything. Feels awesome.

DR: Hold on…

Okay, we can see you the next day after your birthday in the afternoon.

Me: Whew, okay sounds good.

Tomorrow was saved and I was so relieved. Even if I spent today dealing with a right-side-of-my-head headache as my kids spent their afternoon trying to solve their boredom by winding each other up. That’s when my husband came home from work…

He looked troubled, but didn’t say anything until the kids were outside playing. Which made it even scarier.

Turns out, the loan for the replacement HVAC just got added to our mortgage which unexpectedly drove up out mortgage this month, which we didn’t see coming. And, the deductible for our insurance for the mold issue that happened in our laundry room because the previous owners hadn’t built the washer outlet up to code had suddenly come out of our account. That, and a few other unexpected bills had cropped up, which meant we were squeezing by and didn’t have enough for luxuries this month, like going to Gilroy Gardens or buying chocolates.

I braced myself to tell the kids.

Because I felt sick about promising them something fun then having to cancel it because mom and dad, the Titans who rule their world, had gotten their math wrong and now we’d have to be super practical for a while. They had underestimated and maybe the entire universe was resting on shaky foundations because the demi-gods they answer to and expect to keep the trains running on time were apparently two bad events away from total chaos at any given moment…. I was afraid they would think.

But they took it surprisingly well. Until they got into the car to run a quick errand with John, where they cried their eyes out the entire way, he later told me.

Which means they kept up a brave face for my sake, which felt even worse.

Disappointing your children is agony.

While they were gone, I scrambled for something else to do and came up with the idea of visiting the Egyptian museum a couple of hours away. Tickets were pretty cheap.

“There’s a real mummy in there,” I told Brontë when she returned.

Ancient Egypt,” she asked in wonder.

“Yes,” I said. “And you can see the mummy’s tongue. It’s all black and dried up.”

“Ohhhhhh…” she said, grinning.

It wasn’t until after they went to bed that I looked up the hours and realized it would be closed today. As would be most other things.

I scrambled even harder and came up with a plan: we could go on an Underground Sacramento tour, which neither John nor I had done, before then checking out the Folsom Prison museum, which could be accomplished for $2 adult tickets and children-under-12 are free.

John and I had already bought the sacrificial Underground tour tickets online before reading that “TOUR NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN UNDER SIX.”

And Bridget is four.

It’s an outside walking tour, over an hour long, and it would be over 100 degrees outside.

(Let’s hope for the best.)

So… we woke up early today, scrambled to get the kids’ hair brushed and shoes buckled and sunblock and snacks stuffed into backpacks, which took longer than it should’ve and meant we would hit bad traffic while watching the clock tick down to ten minutes before the tour would leave when we were still 20 minutes out.

We parked the car too far away because we saw an open space, then jogged to the ticket booth, grabbing the kids’ hands across the street as Bridget endlessly asked “why?” and finally passed the tour that had already started as the grey-bearded, prospector-looking tour guide in full, period costume saw us and said:

“It’s okay. You get your headsets and I’ll talk real slow.”

There have been a couple of desperate moments in parenting when a few kind words completely restored my faith in humanity.

One was when John and I took a screaming infant Brontë out in her stroller at 3AM, in the crazed hope that her five hours of tortured, window-shaking shrieks would be calmed by a gentle morning walk, and that she’d stop screaming outside before waking up the entire neighborhood. Another father took one look at our crippled faces, tilted his head in sincere sympathy and promised us, “It gets easier. it really does.”

And this was the other time.

We ran to the ticket office and fitted the kids with their headsets and receivers and scrambled outside to join the rest of the tour. I looked at Bridget and inwardly prayed… please, Bridget… Please don’t break the headset and don’t get bored and start babbling in the middle of the tour and throwing a fit until we have to leave and waste our money and time and deal with you freaking out while every other adult in the vicinity judges us and thinks we are terrible parents who are ruining everything…

And then the guide walked us to the Eagle Theater, made of canvas apparently because it’s a mockup of the kinds of canvas buildings built in Sacramento before brick became the standard because anyone could boat down the river and scoop up discarded, easily-transportable canvas for free when Bridget took my hand, lead over, and whispered:

“I love this, mama…”

And I smiled, and she kissed my hand. She was perfectly-behaved during the whole tour, beaming as she followed instructions and squeezed my hand the entire way. We went under a few buildings to learn how floods were destroying Old Sacramento and how rich people paid people to put cranks under buildings with the tenants still living there, raising the buildings, inch-by-inch, until Sacramento was lifted several feet up and the American river had been hand-diverted by workers shoveling dirt into buckets.

The guide even picked me out as the imaginary rich woman of Old Sacramento who would hire the lifting company to move my fancy brick building full of city bigwigs… I got special attention from the guide, even though he didn’t know it was my birthday, and any woman over 25 is always flattered to be referred to as “young miss” repeatedly, even if the referrer is over seventy if he is a day…

VC_UndergroundCalifornia_Module02_OldSacramentoTours_Supplied_daynastudios_140[1]_1280x640.jpgWe finally reached the underground building where an archeological dig is going on, which had unearthed surgeon/dentist/guy-who-owns-whisky-and-knives tools, where a ghost with a beard and red vest had apparently been spotted yelling at an angry woman who disappeared–on more than one occasion. The guide seemed reluctant to mention supernatural facts around my young children, but they were thrilled and would later call it their favorite moment.

We then bought a little candy from the nearby old-timey candy shop and I pretended the piece I just accidentally chewed on the right side wasn’t driving ice-picks into my right temple before departing for Folsom Prison, which Brontë could hardly believe.

Is it a real prison, she kept asking.

Yes, it is real.

They aren’t pretending?

No. They are real prisoners who did bad things. They killed people or did something really bad, and some of them have to stay there forever. See that tower over there? (She nods.) That’s where guards are watching to see if prisoners try to escape. They can shoot them from those towers.

Brontë blinks rapidly. Are they there now?, she asks.

Yes, real prisoners. Right now.

Can we see them?

No. But we can see the museum.

We enter the museum and are led to a video of Huell Howser visiting Folsom prison. Huell Howser was a very tall man with a very rural accent who once made a career at PBS out of being super impressed by simple things.

Like a box of rocks. Huell Howser once wouldn’t stop talking about a small box of rocks he saw at a quarry. Adam Corella called him exactly the guy you want seeing your new house in front of your mother-in-law. I really miss that guy.

Well, Huell was checking out the original Folsom Prison cells, which didn’t used to have air-holes and existed in open-air in 1890, when prisoners would poop in a bucket and empty said bucket every morning before breakfast.

Feeling the 100+ degree heat, I couldn’t help wondering how many of them died of heat exhaustion.

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Huell may have been the most positive human being who ever lived. 

 

We also saw pictures of Death Row, where prisoners pooped in buckets in slightly bigger cells with a few more air-holes before being hanged with ropes and buried in graves whose gravestones and ropes we would soon see in the museum.

Which we did, along with early Gatling guns and a giant toothpick Ferris wheel built by a bored-but-talented prisoner. And roses made of toilet paper and marker pens, which smelled like roses, though the placards didn’t mention how the artist had infused the rose-like scent. We saw a wall of improvised shanks, dating back to the 1930’s, which John found titillating.

It was altogether most creepy and fascinating.

And on the ride home, the girls couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the day had been.

“What was your favorite part?” I asked them.

“Seeing where prisoners live, and how they made toys out of toothpicks. And getting candy. And hearing about ghosts,” said Brontë.

“See where the ghost with a beard likes to yell,” said Bridget. “And holding you hand because I love you.”

We grabbed a pizza and went home and to swim. The girls wanted me to hold them in the pool and talk about all the crazy, wonderful things they’d seen.

Which made it a pretty nice birthday, overall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Daughter Builds A Candy Pipeline Into Our Backyard

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.

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Portal to a Scottish Castle

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.

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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. 

I shrug:

“Good job, guys. Let’s go read some Dr. Seuss.”

 

 

 

 

 

What Kind Of Parent Are You?

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Before I had kids, I knew exactly what kind of parent I would be.

I’d be the kind who:

  1. Makes their kid wonderful meals from scratch and teaches them to love eating healthy sophisticated foods, and
  2. Reasonably explains why screaming in public is a bad idea and therefore has super well-behaved kids in public.

And as it turns out, my kids will consider shoving a piece of broccoli in their mouths… if it’s covered in cheese or butter and holding a plate of ketchup-drenched dinosaur nuggets hostage.

And last week, Bridget threw such a huge fit in the park that three other parents stepped in to help me deal with it. They found her grit truly impressive.

Brontë later reported her baby sister’s episode to her father thusly:

Brontë: Bidgie threw a huge fit at the park today.

John: Oh yeah?

Brontë: Yes, a BIG… HUGE… CRAZY FIT!

Bridget: THAT NOT TRUE.

Brontë: Yes it is.

Bridget: I DON’T LIKE YOU.

Brontë (bursting into tears): That hurts my feelings.

Bridget: Okay, okay, I love you… Now SHUT UP!

So apparently, we don’t really know what kind of parents we’ll be until we actually have kids and other parents to compare ourselves with and while other parents are reminding their kids to “make good choices today” while dropping them off at school, I’m hiding behind trees for jump-scares.

(I don’t know if jump-scares are a good choice, even if your kids think it’s hilarious, so I’m guessing that “Super-Responsible Mom” isn’t me.)

IMG_2465Even so, the neighborhood somehow talked me into being one of the Girl Scout Leaders for our local troupe, which makes me question their collective judgment. Cookie sales have been happening lately, for example, and yet no one’s on board with my ideas about targeting bars and dispensaries. I mean… fish in a barrel, right?

Are these good choices, Erin?

And then I go encouraging little girls to write about dog poop, which makes more sense in context…

See, since I’m a freelance writer, I was asked to give a small presentation about writing so the girls could earn their journaling badges. Really? In front of people? I’m an introverted writer, sheesh…

But I managed it and then the girls broke into groups to write their own stories. Since this week’s theme was helpfulness, they had to write about Something They Did That Was Helpful.

I sat next to a little girl, aged about 7, with a blonde bob that we’ll call “Lucy” for the purposes of this tale.

Me: What would you like to write about, Lucy?

Lucy (looking defiant): DOG POOP.

Me: Alright, dog poop. Is dog poop helpful?

Lucy (smirking): My dog POOPED in my room and I HAD TO PICK IT UP. That was HELPFUL of me.

Me (nodding): I can see that. But look, you can’t just write “I picked up some dog poop in my room.” We need to be able to *see* the poo, to smell it…

Lucy (giggling): What!?

Me: Well, what did it look like? Was it brown or black? Stinky or dry? Tell me about this dog and your room and where he pooped in it.

Lucy (turning pink): He’s a small dog and the poo was small and he pooped in the corner of my room.

Me: That’s a good start, but we need more details. I want to be able to feel the warmth of his turd in my hand as I read your story.

Lucy (laughing until she’s wiping tears off her cheeks): OMG, well, it was dry already and cold but still pretty gross. I have to pick up his poop ALL THE TIME!

Me: And how does that make you feel?

Lucy: Angry!

Me: But also good at picking up dog poop?

Lucy: I guess… yeah. Can a draw a picture when I’m done?

Me: Sure. Be sure to draw the poop and circle it and write “poop” with an arrow pointing to the poop when you’re done.

And she did. She wrote two whole pages all about this poo episode and was feeling pretty good about it until her mom was picking her up and another Scout yells, “LUCY WROTE ABOUT POOP!”

Lucy’s mom’s face turns mortified white.

I jump in: “See, the girls were supposed to write about being helpful and Lucy felt helpful about cleaning up after the dog. She wrote all about her dog and what the poop was like and how she was being helpful for the family.”

Lucy’s mom relaxed, whew. Maybe she thinks I’m a maniac now, but she needed to know I’d encouraged this behavior before Lucy got in trouble for repeatedly saying “POOP” in front of all the other girl scout moms.

I mean, maybe it wasn’t the loftiest topic, but she did end up writing a long, creative story instead of continuing to resist the exercise, and vented her frustration in a harmless way.

Plus, Lucy’s totally my buddy now. She thinks I’m on the level. Which is why she approached me at the next meeting to ask what was going on in a photo she found in National Geographic. (We were cutting photos out of magazines to illustrate posters about good values and my group’s poster was about HONESTY.)

Me: Hmm… it looks like a shaman is trying to get rid of this woman’s uterine tumor.

Lucy: What’s a uterine?

Me: Umm… well, you know how women get big bellies when they’re going to have a baby?

Lucy: Yes?

Me: The baby is inside their “uterus.” It’s where the baby grows.

Lucy: Oh. What’s a tumor?

Me: It’s when cells keep growing like mad scientists and it makes a big lump that can kill you.

Lucy (nodding): What’s a shaman?

Me: It’s like… a witch doctor. Someone who heals by using spells and medicine.

Lucy: Is it working?

Me: Probably not.

sneakalongRight then, another Girl Scout mom walks up, swipes our copy of National Geographic and adds it to the pile she’s carrying. “These are NOT appropriate for children,” she says, and I can’t help wondering if it’s because I was just explaining witch doctors and uterine tumors to the children.

(But wouldn’t lying to the children while making a poster about HONESTY be somewhat hypocritical?)

So it turns out, I’m a weird parent. Eh, at least the kids seem to appreciate how I’m not real easy to shock.

And they also like the jump-scares.

 

 

Judgey Cakes and Baby Angst

Upon finding out that Halloween is soon and she could eat all the chocolate she wants, my Viking baby Bridget made this face:

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Because she loves spooky stuff (Jack Skellington is her personal hero) and really, really likes chocolate.

This was welcome news, because Bridget has been on a real tear lately. Having lots of baby angst about baby issues, I guess.

Just the other day, she was stomping around the house, grumbling under her breath like a crotchety old man: “Pshh… NO Chuck E. Cheese. NO chocolate cake. Brontë wants SPACE! Cat won’t TALK to me…”

And it’s been tough for me not to laugh at these disgruntled toddler ravings. I just don’t feel right about openly mocking her pain. Especially because cats-not-talking has been a real sore point.

Withholding Cats

Like on Wednesday afternoon, when she was lying next to me, sucking her thumb, watching My Little Pony. Her enormous cat Raj jumps on the couch and plops down on her chest, his nose three inches from her face…

She pets him with her free hand for a second before knotting up her eyebrows in an angry, cartoon “V.”

I figured it was because she couldn’t breathe with a thirty-pound stripey cat cutting off her air supply, but she hadn’t flinched. She just kept staring him down, harder and harder, until she finally pops her thumb out of her mouth and yells, “Raj, why you NOT TALK!?”

(That’s got to be frustrating. All the cartoon cats talk on TV, like pretty much every other animal, and she’s known Raj for three whole years…  yet he refuses to say a single word.)

Judgey Desserts

Plus, her desserts have been judging her. We were eating some leftover chocolate cake for breakfast yesterday (because that’s the kind of responsible mother I am) when Bridget points out two chocolate chips on her slice.

Bridget: Look, mama… eyes!

Me (not quite seeing it): Oh yeah? Cake eyes?

She starts to take another bite before violently throwing the cake back on her plate.

Bridget: NO LOOK AT ME, CAKE!

Fighting the Establishment

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I know waaaaay too much about this pony.

And lately, Bridget has been sassing her big sister too.

I was driving Brontë home from Kindergarten when Bridget kept going on and on, from the backseat, about “Tie-Back-Oh.”

What? I finally asked: “What is Tie-Back-O?”

Brontë explained: “She means ‘Twilight Sparkle,’ mommy.”

(OH. One of the My Little Ponies. The purple one who likes to read and hangs around with that dinosaur, Spike. Any current parent of toddler girls will know exactly who I mean.)

Then, Brontë set about fixing her baby sister’s pony-naming issue. It makes sense, because she wouldn’t want her sister to go embarrassing herself in serious toddler discussions about current issues.

So, she applied some of her Kindergarten teacher’s language techniques:

Clapping her hands on each syllable, Brontë said, “It’s TWI (clap)-  LIGHT (clap)-  SPAR (clap)- KLE (clap)!”

Silence.

“Okay let’s try again, Bridget. Twi—Light–SPAR–KLE! Now, YOU!”

And Bridget said, “Okay: PEE… PEE… POO… POO!”

“NO!” Brontë screamed…  as Bridget convulsed in giggles.

(I have to wonder if firstborn children more readily understand the parental perspective because they get all that baby sibling sass when trying to be helpful.)

So… with her breakfast silently judging her, her cat giving her the silent treatment, and her big sister talking down to her with her fancy-schmancy college techniques, Bridget is truly looking forward to the annual chocolate-binging fest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Octopus Love: A Fun Kid Activity from Education.com

Hey everyone! I hope you’re enjoying Fall so far.

It’s my favorite season: crisp, but not freezing. The leaves turn pretty colors and the world smells of cinnamon.

Plus, the kids go back to school… yay!

Brontë is a Kindergartener now, and her little sister Bridget really wishes she were too.

I know, because she yells “Too! TOO!” whenever we drop her sister off. One day, Bridget brought her own backpack along, hung it with the other backpacks outside the classroom and quietly got in line with the other kids. She figured that backpack was TOTALLY her ticket in and was SO sad when they turned her away.

And on that note, I was recently contacted by Education.com and asked to review a fun learning activity for kids. It’s called “Octopus Love” and goes like this:

Octopi aren’t the most cute or cuddly creatures, but they deserve love too! Let your child share her love on the legs of a paper octopus.

What You Need:

  • Construction paper (red, pink, and whatever other colors you desire!)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Markers

What You Do:

  1. Draw a octopus head for your child and help her cut it out
  2. Draw a face on the octopus using the markers. It can be realistic or more like a cartoon, whatever she wants.
  3. Have her use the pencil to draw 8 octopus legs.
  4. Help her cut out the 8 legs.
  5. Glue the legs to the back of the octopus’s head.
  6. Have your child draw 8 hearts on red paper.
  7. Assist her in cutting out the hearts.

    IMG_5422
    (My kids got a little creative with the hearts)
  8. Ask your child to thing of a few different people and things that she love. Lightly write out her responses, one in each heart. Let your child trace over your writing with a marker.
  9. Help her glue one heart to each leg.

You can post this octopus of love on the refrigerator or display it prominently in your child’s room as a reminder of everything she loves about life!

And here’s what happened…

IMG_5423
Bidgie ponders her octopus

Well, this was a very cute activity and the kids had a lot of fun doing it.

I did have to slightly modify it because my kid’s skillset isn’t quite up to drawing even limbs or cutting out shapes as intricate as hearts. Maybe if you made a really BIG octopus, it would go better… or maybe if your kid is particularly good with scissors or a year or two older, you could follow it to the letter.

Because, kids do develop at different rates. There’s this little girl from Cambodia in Brontë’s class, for example, who completely blew me away with her reading and writing skills when I was helping her in the classroom last week. And English isn’t even her first language…

IMG_5428Still, the kids still had tons of fun and are proud of their octopi, even without having cut out their feet.

It was also very interesting to get a peek into the things your kid loves right now. Bridget named the various lead characters of My Little Pony, plus baby cows and horses, because she’s all about ponies.

IMG_5431Brontë named me and her sister (aww!) and also cookies, apple juice, playing outside, tag, coloring… and Rainbow Dash. Because unicorn glitter ponies are really big over here.

But so is spending time with mommy doing something creative and talking about the things we love. They’re so proud of the friendly octopi!

 

My Kid Is SO Over Tom & Jerry

So my kids were watching Tom and Jerry this morning when my daughter Brontë finally stood up to announce:

“Well, the mouse won AGAIN. Like ALWAYS.”

And stomped off in disgust.

“But if the cat won, that would be the end of the show,” I tell her.

“Yeah, so the mouse is gonna SAVE THE DAY because he’s always the BIG WINNER,” she said with impressive sarcasm for a five-year-old.

Tom-and-jerry-cartoon-822729
Jerry demonstrates his Napoleonic complex

I’m not sure whether she’s more upset by already knowing how a show will turn out, watching what’s clearly an anti-cat propaganda cartoon when she’s a fan of kitties, or her Nietzschean disgust for mindlessly favoring the underdog.

But I’m favoring the latter, because she IS my kid…

roadrunner

And I can remember also being disgusted by how the Roadrunner always won. I mean, here you have Wile E. Coyote, who is undeniably brilliant, inventing elaborate schemes to catch the roadrunner that involve sending away for specialized technical equipment and setting it up.

He’s an outside-the-box thinker who problem-solves from multiple angles. You have to admit that he’s VERY advanced, for a coyote.

Then… there’s the Roadrunner.

Wile-E-Coyotes-Gravity-Lessons-1440x900-Wallpaper-ToonsWallpapers.com-
(After observing how the rules of our natural universe don’t apply to the bird)

Who runs straight into landscapes that are obviously painted-on signs. He eats “birdseed” that’s blatantly rigged up to dynamite.

 

And he gets away with it. Every. Time.

Not because he outwits the Coyote or had worked up an ounce of forethought or defensive strategy.

No, he just confidently blunders forth, smugly aware that the very rules of Space and Time will bend to accommodate his idiocy.

It always seemed so colossally unfair.

Just once, I wanted to see the Wile E. get that roadrunner. Poor guy must’ve been starving to death.

 

 

My Daughter Starts Bullsh*tting Her Friends

Okay, so I’ve mentioned how watching little kids is hilarious because all the starter adult elements are already there, along with a belief in magic and an underdeveloped sense of  self-consciousness…

(This whole self-consciousness deal was a huge conundrum for me, as a parent, because I find myself eternally balancing the need to NOT teach my kids crippling shame with the practical need to impart rules of social acceptability, which was a real humdinger  when Brontë was about two and wanting to be naked all the time, because it felt good. I mean… how do you simultaneously explain that there’s nothing inherently wrong with her body, but it’s not okay to constantly strip off her clothes in public and run around screaming?  Especially when getting into why strangers seeing her naked is a bad idea is more than I want to share at this vulnerable age… For some reason, telling her “You can only be naked when most everyone else is naked too” finally did the trick.)

Squirrel 6Well, as a parent, you’re always vaguely terrified about doing a good job while being reassured every time your kid passes through a stage of development.

First, it’s amazing to see your kid stay alive, then you’re excited about hearing them say their first word or crawl for the first time.

Each step moves the crying, blurry starter-human closer and closer to what you recognize about normal people… for example, I’ve seen my kid move from wanting to be naked and screaming all the time to showing her first signs of social embarrassment:

For this next part, I’m gonna pretend Brontë lives near another little girl in her Kindergarten class who goes by the name of “Alice.” I’m pretending that because I’m about to share a hilarious potty conversation she had and I don’t know if Alice’s mom is okay with me publicly talking about it, so out of respect, I’m going to give her the name we gave the backyard squirrel before our lunatic dog ran it off in a misguided attempt to protect our property

Because parents like to project the safest, cutest moments of their kids, their kids, which is probably a good idea, except it paints an insincere portrait of parenting as though it were a giant series of Norman Rockwell scenes punctured by occasional Hallmark greeting cards, when really, it’s more like humanity stripped of any sense of grasping how other people are going to interpret you, which can be both hilarious and awkward… like today, when Bridget laid on her back, spread-eagle, and danced her legs in the air, toes pointed, singling “Faaa-aaaa-aaaa-aaa–aaaaart” in a way that evoked Gregorian chanting before ripping an enormous, comedy fart.

And frankly, I’m the type of mom who gets more worried about discouraging Gregorian chanting than outrageous farting displays. I mean, her announcement had a decidedly medieval flair, which seemed a most impressive build-up for a three-year-old at the time, but I have a feeling that my analysis of the situation won’t be the best one for getting her invited to future dinner parties, if you know what I mean…

At any rate, today I was charged with picking up both Brontë and “Alice” from Kindergarten, while my neighbor watched over farting baby Bridget. Sometimes I’m surprised that a neighbor as popular and level-headed as mine will entrust me with the supervision of her kids, and that she seems to find my quirks endearing, but she’s madly in love with Bridget’s ridiculous antics and we strangely seem to get along just fine.

Well, I ended up bringing Brontë and Alice to the park right next to the school, because I’d rather let the kids play until the insane traffic out of the one-way road from the school dies down and the kids seem to settle down better after playing for a few minutes after all those rules, so its a win-win.

But on the way to the park, Brontë said she REALLY needed to use the bathroom, so we ran to the girls’ bathroom where there ended up being a line, and she ended up peeing her pants before reaching the toilet.

Brontë is 99 percent potty-trained at this point, but little kids don’t have a good sense of how long they have until they need a toilet. Brontë yelled that she’d peed her pants in the bathroom, and Alice sweetly offered to give her some underwear, but I threw away Brontë’s underwear while reminding her that she couldn’t go on the swings or slide in the park because she didn’t have underwear and please try to mention needing to use the bathroom before it got critical… in the meantime, Brontë’s loud announcements about discretion over peeing her pants had the ironic effect of informing all the older girls in the bathroom to her situation, and to their credit, all of them uncomfortably pretended they didn’t hear anything as she exited the stall and I threw her underpants away in the trash. Because we already have a lot of underpants and I didn’t want to deal with it.

Brontë walked up to Alice, looked her in the eye, and said…

“Please don’t ever laugh at me for peeing my pants.”

Alice looked back into Brontë’s eyes and said, very sincerely, “I will NOT,” thus cementing a probable lifetime bond. Especially after they’d recounted how another kid in their class had peed his pants earlier that day, and how the kids had all laughed and pointed at him… Brontë stared into the distance, appearing to reconsider her earlier take.

craawdadWe then went to the park so the kids could play by the creek, where boys were pulling up red stripey crawdads. Bidgie had been amazed at the sight of crawdads, calling them “red things with two snaps, that snap your finger,” and the girls were simultaneously fascinated by them and worried that the boys would bring them too close.

(As an aside, I first learned that I was of a unique American social class when I was in the Army, discussing the eating of crawdads. Turns out, only people from Louisiana and their ilk would consider such a thing… my cousins and I would wade, unsupervised, into city creeks and catch the things to put into random aquariums by the playhouse. I had NO idea that this was truly bizarre.)

When the girls wanted to walk across the pond, one boy pointed out a thin branch that someone had laid across the water. The girls decided they wanted to try this way across, so I started mentally calculating the hazards risked by trying it:

“Hmm… shallow pond, rickety stick. They could fall. It wouldn’t be far, but they could get muddy and at worst, get pinched by a crawdad… I think Alice’s mom would okay with muddy clothes?”

My sense of consequences warred with my heartfelt belief that trying to cross a shallow creek on a rickety stick was a critical element in understanding one’s boundaries in childhood…

“Okay, let’s take off your shoes and give me your backpacks, then you can try,” I told them.

“Why do we give you our backpacks?” Alice said.

“So if you fall, your homework and backpacks won’t get wet. Don’t go at the same time: one goes first and the next waits, or you’ll pull each other in the water.”

They chucked their backpacks at my feet and stripped off their shoes. Alice took a few steps and started to waver…

Ahhh! She jumped back. “You go first!” she told Brontë.

Brontë took a few hesitant steps before wavering and jumping to the shore. They asked the boy how he got across, so he demonstrated while holding his arms out to the side.

“I’m going to do what he did,” Brontë said, holding her arms out to the side and taking a few steps. She began to lose her balance and jumped back to the bank.

“The easier way,” the boy said, “is to just walk across right here.” He walked across a shallow part to the other side.

“I’m gonna try that,” Brontë said.

“Okay,” I told her. “But here’s the trick: look before you step and only walk where you can see the ground. Don’t walk in the weeds or there could be a crawdad.”

Brontë nodded before taking a couple steps into the pond. She stepped again, then a big red crawdad popped his head up…

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” She screamed and ran to a pile of other kids. “I was walking across the pond,” she told them, breathlessly, “When a giant crawdad jumps out and ran at me, trying to attack me!”

Meanwhile, I took a stick and tried to get the crawdad to pinch it so I could pull him out. But he kept backing off when I tapped him. He was rather docile.

I walked up to the kids as a boy tried to offer Alice a frog to pet. She screamed until I told her that frogs can’t bite or pinch you. She carefully reached out and tapped the frog before shrinking back in horror:

“He’s WET,” she said.

“Yes, he was swimming.”

She considered this before I told the girls to play for just a few more minutes before I took them home. They played until I realized we’d been gone an hour, and Alice’s mom was texting to make sure nothing had gone wrong.

And on the way home, I was awed by overhearing my child’s first successful attempt to completely bullsh*t her friends. Their conversation from the backseat went like this…

Alice: I pooped today.

Brontë: Where?

Alice: In the bathroom.

Brontë: That’s good. What color was it?

Alice: Umm… brown.

Brontë: Brown? Not rainbow colors?

Alice: No….

turdBrontë: I poop rainbow colors… don’t you?

Alice looks out the window, stunned, looking a little intimidated.

Brontë: Rainbow poops are cool, but at least you pooped in the bathroom. That’s good.

Alice nodded, then I walked her back to her house.

As we returned home, Brontë squeezed my hand, saying “Alice did NOT laugh at me when I peed my pants.”

“She did NOT. That’s a good friend.”

Brontë nodded, considering the significance.

And I couldn’t help wondering if feelings of insecurity about peeing her pants had prompted these boasts about pooping in technicolor. I mean… these boasts had obviously  been effective among the five-year-old set, where people don’t grasp the limits of biology. Alice was clearly wondering whether or not her poop was performing adequately in a world of multicolored options.

Take the levels up a few notches, though,  and you have an adult interaction. One is feeling insecure when the other boasts about mastery of the topic at hand. Then the other recalls a previous time when they had delivery superpowers.

But despite all the boasting about rainbow turd, Brontë noticed that Alice didn’t laugh at her when she had the chance, and she appreciated that.

There’s got to be some adult lesson in all this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Childrens’ Dark Side Emerges

I was always a strange child.

When I was seven, I used to cover my drawings with another piece of paper, shaded in black, so you’d have to hold it up to the light to see the images behind it. One was of a beautiful dead woman at the bottom of the sea, draped in wilting flowers. Every year, her lover would return to the place where she had fallen to her death to drop another rose.

When I was eight, I frightened my parents by building a guillotine out of Tinker Toys, which didn’t actually work. I used piano wire to make hoop skirts for my Barbies and cut out little folded fans with drawn-on birds and landscapes. I painstakingly covered their faces in white paint, drew exaggerated beauty marks, and pinned cotton balls and feathers into their heads until they looked just like 18th century aristocrats. I only owned one Ken doll, though, which complicated my reenactment a bit.

And when I was eleven, I won an award for a Thanksgiving short story I casually penned  one day in class. My parents’ faces were so proud when they asked me to read it to them, then slowly fell as they realized it was written from the point of view of a turkey whose wife had been pulled from their humble wooden shack for slaughter, about how his heart had burned upon watching the pink-cheeked farmer’s daughter, with her bouncy blonde curls, giggling as she dragged his shivering wife to the block.

My grandmother proudly pulled the turkey out of the oven later that night. I was genuinely surprised when my parents went awkwardly quiet.

Maybe it was their fault for buying me all those kid-friendly Shakespeare books, or letting me watch Wagnerian operas at two, but I had never been the type to sell lemonade for a quarter with an adorably messed-up, hand-painted sign. Because I was too swept up in the beauty of tragic romanticism to understand what a creepy little kid I was.

But in time, I learned that adding a few punchy pop songs to your opera death-scene playlist was socially helpful. That maybe you shouldn’t bring up the history of torture and what it might mean about human psychology when people are discussing politics, or that when you’re in mom circles, maybe you keep to yourself that trying to make friends with bullies is really bad advice for children because sometimes, just windmilling your arms works ten times as well.

I had nearly forgotten that dark imagination until its echoes crept up on me today, in the form of my five-year-old daughter Brontë…

It would be Brontë, the child I named for my love of the Brontë sisters. I was in high school, having lost my taste for books for years, even though I felt guilty about it because reading was something smart people were supposed to do, even though it bored me senseless until I was forcing my way through a school-required Wuthering Heights and found the scene where Heathcliff runs to the broken window to scream for the ghost of Catherine to return…

Well, I was playing with the kids outside when I finally asked them why they kept throwing flowers into the rickety birdbath in the back of the yard.

Brontë’s face took on a quiet, reverential tone as she solemnly spoke to me…

“This is NOT a birdbath.”

“Okay, what is it?”

She took a breath. “This… is the monument to our dead queen.”

And, shocked that she knew the word “monument,” I prodded her further: “Oh?”

Pointing to the pool house, she continued: “That was her house and we don’t go in there. She was very old and very nice. She had long white hair and always smiled. She was so… kind. The bad guys killed her,”

Then, wiggling the top of the birdbath, she said, “You can never push this over because if you do, you will break the queen’s bones and destroy her soul. They killed her father too, but they cut off his head and all his body is in pieces so we can’t find his body, which is a very sad thing.”

“I see,” I told her, trying not to disrespect the sacred site with too casual a tone. Bridget nodded sadly, placing another picked flower on the birdbath and grabbing my hand. She walked me over to the gazebo to explain how this was her house, where they serve tacos, and sometimes chocolate cake.

“And we play hide-and-seek,” Brontë added. “And you should play with us…

But DON’T knock over the queen’s bones.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Kids Are Fascinated By Gross Things

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

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

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

cards21n-2-web
(Not sure if Millennials will get this.)

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

But I suspect it’s somewhat of an act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brontë (running back): WHERE??