Category Archives: Siblings

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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??

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Solve Your Toddler Problems With Timers

A chicken may have just solved 95 % of the Toddler Problems in our house.

Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

You see, once we finally got past that stage where the kids were throwing hour-long tantrums about things like not wanting a glass of water then being enraged about not having one, most of our hassles involved three main issues:

Not Focusing on Any Activity for More than 30 Seconds

“Momma, I want to play with the crayons and coloring books!”

“Okay, but if I get them down, you need to play with them for a while.”

“Okay, I will!”

I heave the art boxes and crayons down from high shelves, open all the boxes, lay out coloring books, paper, and start separating crayons into piles for Brontë and Bridget.

And thirty seconds later, they both scream: “DONE!”

chimpNow, just picture that scenario happening again and again with Legos, scooters, blocks, tea sets or what-have-you, and you’ll get a rough picture of how I spend my day.  Since the children won’t entertain themselves for any length of time, it’s hard to do anything else without kids tripping over my feet throughout the process.

It’s draining, I worry about their lack of focus, and sometimes consider pushing them outside then locking the back door for an hour.

For their own good.

Leaving Toys All Over the House

To a non-parent, this probably doesn’t sound like a huge deal because toddlers are little.  How many toys could they have? How big of a mess could they possibly make?

Well, it’s staggering, folks.

People love to spoil kids on holiday and whenever the mood strikes them, so my kids are constantly getting toys from us and every grandparent, relative, friend and Happy Meal. They build up.

pikypieAnd, like miniature bag ladies, my girls are driven to carry as many toys as they can pack into their tiny fists every time they leave a room, or really, move in any direction for any reason, before dropping them to chase the next shiny object. Since they don’t sustain activities for more than a couple of minutes, toy bits quickly seep into nook and crevice of our house and yard.

I don’t know if it’s some secret toddler scheme to conquer every last inch of adult territory, but you’ll find yourself stepping on Legos everywhere you walk and crunching Barbie limbs anytime you sit.  Doll shoes and plastic animals fly out of my bedspread whenever I straighten it. As much as I try to weed them out, the toys just keep regenerating, like I’m using a sieve to dump water out of my capsizing rowboat.

But beyond the overwhelming mess, it’s also a waste of money. Toys keep getting lost, stepped on or eaten by the dog.

 

Not Cleaning Up After Themselves

Teaching kids to pick up after themselves would seem like the obvious solution, right?

Yeah, to me too. So, I’ve been working on that for the past two years and man, has it been a haul…

At first, they’d whine and shriek about needing me to help them, but would just goof off whenever I did.

So I stopped, making them do it themselves. This turned ten-minute jobs into two-hour grinds of them putting one Lego block in their mouth then slowly rolling across the floor to spit it into the box, whenever they weren’t angrily throwing it.

I would grit my teeth and sit through it, not wanting to reward them by relieving the pressure and hoping they’d eventually get bored of taking forever to pick things up because doing anything else would obviously be more fun.

lego.jpgAfter many months of this, we reached a point where they would actually pick things up, however slowly and begrudgingly. It took about 600 time-outs to get there, because rational explanations had no effect.

Then, when I was finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, our routine suddenly devolved into the Passive-Agressive Olympics.  Neither kid wanted to be the patsy who ended up doing most the work, so they’d both fold their arms and spout off long rants about refusing to pick up toys until the other one put in more effort.

At some point during the second year of this, I’d tried every angle I could think up that didn’t involve spanking the crap out of my kids (though I was beginning to understand why some parents do). I even tried the “I have cookie for the best cleaner!” method, which wasn’t nearly as effective (for me) as you would think.

Enter the Chicken

foghornleghorn
“I say I say I say… pick up your CRAP”

So last week, when I was complaining about all this to my daycare-running neighbor, she casually mentioned that she sometimes sets a timer during activities.

Hmm. Worth a try, right? I figured it probably wouldn’t work, since nothing else had, but it couldn’t hurt.

So later that afternoon, when the kids started bugging me for crayons, I decided to give it a shot. We have a kitchen timer, shaped like a chicken, that the kids are really fond of.

I got the art supplies, slapped down the chicken, and told them:

“Okay, here are the rules:

  1. I’m setting this chicken timer for 30 minutes. You have to color for the entire time.
  2. You have to color at the art table, because that’s where we color. So, no getting up and leaving the table.
  3. When the chicken timer is up, you clean up the art supplies.”

And then I backed away to watch.

They…

SAT AT THE ART TABLE COLORING FOR THIRTY MINUTES.

They did NOT leave the table

When the timer went off, they started shouting, “CLEAN UP TIME!” and scrambled to pick up all their toys, without stopping once, then slapped the lids back on the boxes.

WHOA…

Was it a fluke? I tried again with Legos, this time for forty minutes, during which they couldn’t leave the Lego area (which happens to be the living room).

And it WORKED!

They played with Legos for a full FORTY minutes before scrambling to pick them all up without whining about it once.

chickentimer
“I’m the most effective authority in this house”

I went on to use this method a few times a day for an entire week, and it worked every time.

I got so much done. I even had space to knock out lower-priority projects, like reorganizing cabinets (which doesn’t sound that exciting but nevertheless marks the moment when adult order returned to our house).

I’m still not sure why this particular combination was effective, since I’d tried every element of it before (apart from the chicken timer), but it was miraculous. Something about timer + play-area limits + cleaning up when the timer goes off = MAGIC.

And I had to share it, in case it helps other struggling parents.

 

 

 

 

 

How ‘Bout Them Bapples? and Other Assorted Toddler Rebellions

It’s been interesting to check out the kind of advertising they’ve been running on my site lately. Expecting something more along the lines of Legos or diaper deals, I’ve been shocked by all the ads for MBA degrees and thousand-dollar Polyvore skirts.

(Was this because I made fun of Gwyneth Paltrow a while back? I’ll just assume their

paltrow
Says the woman with a pizza-stove in her backyard

algorithm can’t detect sarcasm.)

Or maybe it has more to do with my audience; in which case, you guys are classy folks.

In other news, Bridget, my 3-year-old, has been eating one bite of every apple we own.

Or strawberries, or bananas, or chips, or what-have-you: any grouping of like food substances in a bowl has been vulnerable. It’s the toddler equivalent of grownups who take a small chunk out of every chocolate in the box until they finally find a filling they deem acceptable.

Except in this case, they’re all the same. So why, toddlers, why? Are you trying to find the best one? Are you claiming all the apples for later use? Is it just because you’re not supposed to do it?

She loves to beg for “bapples” then scream “DONE!” after taking one taste. Or burritos, or tacos, or whatever else she catches anyone eating and therefore wants. It’s baffling.

But this toddler phenomenon is hardly news to other parents. A more compelling development has been her 5-year-old sister Brontë becoming the house’s new Apple Sheriff.

After observing the drama enough times, she decided to climb onboard my ongoing Bridget projects by coaching her on everything from potty-training to putting dirty clothes in the hamper to not finishing apples. What’s more, I just figured out that she’s been taping these coaching sessions on the iPad her grandparents bought her, which is hilarious:

 

Of course, Brontë never accounted for how much more fun eating one bite of an apple would become after Bridget realized how much it would torture her big sister. It’s like Brontë just handed her a big, red, sister-freakout button and then begged her not press it.

I do appreciate Brontë’s efforts, though 🙂