Category Archives: Toddler Havoc

Sharks, Santa, and Farting Bear Ghosts…

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

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

“SHARKS in my cup!”

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

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

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

“Umm… YES.”

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

“Well, that’s scary,” I told her.

Bridget rolled her eyes.

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

Nightmares

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

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

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

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

What a relief after that nasty, farting bear.

And then Santa started menacing our house…

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

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

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

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

Still, I wasn’t sure:

“How did you cut your foot, Bridget?”

“Santa did it.”

Santa?

“YES… Santa.”

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

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

meansanta

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it was revenge…

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

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

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

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

I was baffled.

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

“But Poppa is nice, ” I said.

“Yes, Poppa nice. He BITE MY FOOT!”

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

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

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

 

 

Advertisements

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee Stings and Toddler Vengeance

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

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

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

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

Bidgie: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Me: OW! It’s okay…

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

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

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

Bidgie: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

(Neighbors start looking over with concern)

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

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

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

Bidgie (raising her eyebrows): Yeah?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We ate honey on our toast the next morning.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

My Toddler Throws a Coffee Fit

UnknownMy 3-year-old daughter Bridget is starting to sting together sentences and have actual conversations, which is when I think parenting starts getting real fun.

I mean, I love them before that and all, but it’s a whole lot of screaming and you-cleaning-up poop before intelligible sentences come into play. Graspable language is when you start getting to hear their hilarious, unfiltered take on life.

Like the other day, when Bridget started nosing around my coffee cup…

Bridget (pointing to my coffee): That COFFEE.

Me: Yep.

Bridget: I drink?

Me: No, drink your milk.

Bridget (sighing): I smell? Smell good.

Me: Okay, you can smell it.

She grabs the cup, closes her eyes, and inhales. 

Bridget: Smells GOOD, mama… I drink?

Me (grabbing the cup back): No, Bidgie.

Bridget (hands on hips): YOU drink!?

Me: I’m a grown-up. This is a grown-up drink.

Bridget (stomping away): This is… POOP!

The funniest part was how she clearly meant to say “This is a bunch of bullsh*t!” before stomping down the hall, but she did the three-year-old version of baby-swearing instead. Given the look on her face, I could practically hear the proper obscenities falling into place.

(Aww, she wants to drink lots of coffee and swear… she is mine.)

 

 

 

Why Participation Trophies Are Awesome

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how Participation Trophies are a great idea…

Psh, calm DOWN everyone. I figure that most of you reading this are currently either 1) assuming I’m being sarcastic, or 2) quietly ranting to yourself about the spoiled Millennials and their unbelievable sense of entitlement after getting participation trophies their entire lives, except:

  1. I’m actually dead serious, and
  2. I’m not a Millennial, remember? I’m a Gen Xer who probably likes to complain about Millennials as much as my friends, even though they aren’t really that bad but life looks much different in retrospect and one of the great consolations of aging is pretending we had the world all sorted out before these lunatic punks got their hands on it.

(Kids, you’ll understand what I mean in about ten years when you’re rolling your eyes at all the Gen-Z shenanigans as cocky youths look at you sideways when you mention Justin Timberlake because seriously grandpa, who the hell is that!?)

But I digress.

My point is that kids, in fact, should be praised for participation. Not as a replacement for winning or losing, because winning and/or losing is a fact of life that kids will either learn to accept or spend much of their adult life throwing irrational fits whenever things don’t work out the way they wanted, which is frankly a parenting fail. We can’t be spending their childhoods validating the idea that the universe has dealt them an unfair cosmic blow whenever they find themselves slightly inconvenienced.

But… in addition to declaring winners and losers, we should definitely be praising participation and effort.

Why? Because sheer effort and persistence is a HUGE part of success.

You see, sometime around the 1980’s, while I was growing up, experts had roughly decided that low self-esteem was the root of a huge number of social problems, such as kids not reaching their full potential. Violence, addiction, and chronic unemployment probably all traced back to dysfunctional families that made kids not feel good enough about themselves to achieve anything productive in life, or so went the thought.

So, with extremely good intentions, parents and teachers were coached to basically tell every child how incredibly unique, brilliant, attractive, and insightful they were. They got to hear this all the time, whether or not they had actually accomplished anything, in hopes that their achievements would eventually meet the inflated self-images everyone had been feeding them.

Problem is, when kids believe everyone thinks so highly of them, they’re reluctant to try anything they’re not naturally good at in case they fail miserably and thereby screw up everyone’s high opinion. It actually makes kids afraid to try.

After years of seeing how You’re-Already-Awesome parenting methods worked out, researchers finally put on the brakes. DON’T tell your kids how brilliant and unique they are, the experts now tell us.

So what’s a parent to do? We still want them to feel good about themselves, right?

Yes, it turns out. But in a way that praises the process, not the result.

In other words, praise your kids for making an effort, for sticking to something, even after having lots of problems doing it right. Praise their work, their persistence, their bold moves of not giving up the first moment they encounter difficulty.

Because honestly, that’s a huge part of achieving anything. The people who graduate college aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ’s, but the ones who keep working at it, keep studying, keep doing lots of research and writing papers that they turn in when they’re supposed to, even if they have to bang their heads on the wall repeatedly before a concept they’re struggling with eventually sinks in. Same goes for getting promotions at work or any other winning measures you can think of.

We have this myth of God-given talent (at least in America) that culturally plays out in movie after movie and really messes with our heads. The idea involves some of us being natural quasi-demigods who are blessed with abilities that will raise us above our peers with little effort on our parts.

It’s a fun fantasy, all the glory with very little work… much like playing the lottery, where our lives are radically changed after only spending a buck at the convenience store before allowing the universe to whisper the lucky numbers into our chosen ears.

Along those lines, I remember a movie I was once forced to watch in a college film class that left me incredibly bitter about the entire idea: Running on Empty.

MV5BZGE4MzcwODktODdkOS00YjQ2LTkxYTAtYzc4NmM0MmM5NjIzL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEzNzczMA@@._V1_In the film, River Phoenix plays a kid with natural piano abilities who could never practice on an actual piano because his parents were fugitives from the law. Because of this fact, he could only practice on a soundless keyboard, without lessons, until he manages to one day snag an audition at Juilliard, where he plays a slow, easy, emotional song that immediately gets him enrolled on full scholarship.

The movie was praised by critics, but left me spitting mad.

Why? Because I’ve actually auditioned at Juilliard and know how stupid the entire movie’s premise really is.

See, before I was a whimsical freelance writer and offbeat parent reporting on her strange toddlers, I was a music performance major who played the flute competitively since the age of eight. I’ve played on TV, I’ve trained internationally for world premiere recordings of original compositions, attended the most prestigious music camps, went to a renowned conservatory, and have won more awards than I’ve bothered to count.

(Obviously, it didn’t end up becoming my line of work. My advice to aspiring classical flutists: consider taking up the bassoon.)

But I’m not sharing this information to brag. I want to relate how I was one of the last kids in my fourth grade class to make an initial sound on the flute, but I persisted. I kept at it when all of my friends were watching cartoons after elementary school and when they were later attending parties and sneaking Zima in the 7-11 parking lot. While other kids were learning skateboard tricks and practicing the Roger Rabbit behind closed doors, I was memorizing hours of music marked by painstaking metronome clicks, etching it so beneath my fingers’ skin that I could later reproduce it under the stress of a thousand dimly-lit spectators… tens of thousands of hours of playing songs excruciatingly slowly, moving up click by click on the metronome until, weeks later, I could execute a five-second rift quickly enough that no one could sense that I wasn’t born playing it.

Yes, I had talent, but talent gets you absolutely nowhere without years of focused, hard work.

And many, many other people have talent too. It’s an equation that gets you nothing without rivers of sweat. It’s an equation that every little duck in a little pond faces upon entering the larger waterways.

Kids watch movies about River Phoenix, who never practices on a real piano until he one day sits at Juilliard and feels the gods move his fingers until landing a full scholarship at the most coveted Conservatory in the world. Psh, there are kids from Detroit to Beijing, with enormous talent, who have been practicing the piano for hours a day since the age of five… and still don’t make it.

Yet movies like Running on Empty make it seem like whatever you’re meant to do will just naturally happen. It’s enough to make you think that any supernatural talents would instantly manifest, so if you’re not automatically good at something, why even bother?

Which is kind of what just happened with the last generation of kids.

Our city libraries have a summer reading program that rewards kids for logging books they’ve read. After so many books, they get to pick out a free book. After even more books, they receive a reading medal with their name on it.

The idea of winning this medal has been unbelievably motivating for my kids. They cared far more about that achievement medal than winning a free book, which by any objective standard would seem to be the bigger payoff. They even cared more about medals than being entered into a raffle for winning an iPad.

Since we go to the library every week and I read new books with them every night, winning the medal was inevitable, but they still asked me how many more books it would be until they received their medal… every night.

IMG_5302When we’d finally read enough books, they squeaked and danced a happy dance around the house. They were incredibly proud when walking up to the front desk at the library to receive their medals and uncontrollably danced around the library, squealing, showing off their medals to anyone happening by. They wore their medals to bed that night and made sure to let the neighbors and their grandparents know they had earned medals for superior reading.

And I think it was a great program. Kids should be recognized for trying, for showing up, for doing the work. Because that’s one of the main secrets to making things happen in life: you have to keep trying.

Even when it’s hard.

But that makes it better. Kids WANT to earn it.

Make them earn it. And praise them when they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

Weekly Weirdness

Lately, I’ve been admiring the Weekly Roundups some of my fellow bloggers have been posting and I want to try it too!

But here’s my spin: I’d like to share a few funny exchanges I had with my weird kids this week, then mention some reactions the week’s topics:

Our Ridiculous Dog

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-2-36-25-amBrontë (looking very serious): Mommy, I need to talk to you about something.

Me (sitting down): What is it?

Brontë (deeply sighing, then taking my hand): Well, Douglas chewed up the cushions, ate our toys, barks at the kitties, and keeps knocking us over when we play outside…

Me: I know. He’s a very frustrating dog.

Brontë: And I think we should change his name from ‘Douglas’ to ‘Butthole.’

Kids Who Won’t Nap

 

IMG_5227
Bidgie pokes her sister in the eyeball as she naps

Brontë: So are we gonna go on a walk and then swim?

 

Me: That depends on you. We’ll have time if you guys take a nap when we get home. If I keep having to go in there because you’re playing, then we’ll probably run out of time.

Brontë: We’ll be good and take a nap but first, I want to make a bunch of noise and have you run in and say, “SHUT IT DOWN, BABIES!” Then we’ll be quiet, okay?

Me: That works.

Refugee Lemurs

IMG_5215Brontë (upon seeing her stuffed lemur in my room): What are you DOING here??

Me: He’s been hanging out here lately.

Brontë: Why? To pet Violet the kitty?

Me: Yeah. Plus he said your room smells like farts.

Brontë: WHAT!? Okay, that’s fair. Can you come open my window?

Weekly Feedback

  • Got props on Twitter this week for being the mommy blogger who actually worked the phrase “Angry Rabbit Perverts” into an article.
  • Turns out, most parents are still firmly in the pro-sharing camp. I think that’s probably wise.
  • According to my kids, Bubbles and Beebots remains painfully short on bunny captions.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂