Category Archives: Toddler Psychology

An Unexpected Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, things started going wrong on Two More Days.

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

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

Me: WHAT THE HELL??

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

Me: Get…

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

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

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

John: Well, if…

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

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

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

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

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

John: I WAS HELPING YOU!

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

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

Oh, crap. This can’t be good.

This is about to suck. 

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

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

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

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

DR: Hold on…

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

Me: Whew, okay sounds good.

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

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

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

I braced myself to tell the kids.

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

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

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

Disappointing your children is agony.

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

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

Ancient Egypt,” she asked in wonder.

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

“Ohhhhhh…” she said, grinning.

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

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

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

And Bridget is four.

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

(Let’s hope for the best.)

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

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

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

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

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

And this was the other time.

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

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

“I love this, mama…”

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

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

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

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

Is it a real prison, she kept asking.

Yes, it is real.

They aren’t pretending?

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

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

Yes, real prisoners. Right now.

Can we see them?

No. But we can see the museum.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

It was altogether most creepy and fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

Which made it a pretty nice birthday, overall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Daughter Builds A Candy Pipeline Into Our Backyard

My six-year-old daughter Brontë pretty much never stops talking. “Using her words” has never been one of her stumbling blocks.

It’s simultaneously adorable and exhausting. If I’m scrambling to get lunch ready, she’s demanding I go check out the portal she made in the living room. It takes you to a castle, she tells me, but the people will be VERY SURPRISED when you suddenly show up, so I have to be careful but GO SEE IT NOW.

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Portal to a Scottish Castle

Sometimes she has magic socks that take her to outer space and I need to go with her so I can encounter aliens who will give me magic powers like throwing out time barriers, an actual power she once invented for me.

It doesn’t even quiet down when I’m trying to pee. She’ll follow me in to inform me that I’m Batgirl and she’s Poison Ivy. She runs past me at breakneck speed, back and forth, over and over, while telling me I need to stop her by throwing one of those Batarang deals that I have in my pocket.

Which I pretend to throw, in hopes it’ll pretend-knock-her-down for three seconds so I can finish peeing in peace.

But I “miss,” and then she has to lecture me about the importance of taking down bad guys, like her, if I’m ever going to make a decent Batgirl.

It’s so constant that the other day, when she quietly walked in from the back yard and tiptoed all the way down the hall without saying a word, I knew something was up.

So, I set down my tea and book and quietly walk down the hall to see what she’s up to…

She’s got a giant bag slung over her shoulder. She steps quietly into her room and soundlessly closes the door.

“BRONTE? Please come out and talk to me.”

She walks out and sweetly says, “Yes, mother?” (“Mother” is her ‘tell.’)

“What were you carrying into your room?”

Turns out, it was a five-pound bag of peanut M&M’s. (Or as Brontë calls them, “M’s.” And she has a point, because that second “M” is somewhat redundant.)

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“From Eva,” she said.

Ahhhh, it suddenly made sense.

You see, our backyard shares a fence with at least five other families. I say “at least” because I don’t go poking my nose into other people’s business, but at least three of those families include little kids, because my kids have found them.

On the left, we have friendly neighbors with a daughter who was in Brontë’s Kindergarten class. Her mom runs a daycare, so there can be ten kids who climb up on their play structure to shout back and forth with mine, who also have a play structure with stairs. I sometimes wonder if they could climb up their relative play structures during an emergency and light torches, Game of Thrones style, to call for aid…

And in the back, there’s a family with at least two little boys who sometimes whisper to my girls through holes in the fence. The dad plays loud rock music from the 90’s all the time, and someone also lights up skunk weed on the regular, but with all the shifting breezes, I can’t be sure it’s him… it could be the adjacent lady with the really clean yard who sometimes shouts obscenities at our barking dog (Sorry, lady! We pull him inside when we catch it) or Monster Jim, that ex-hippie that all the neighborhood kids love, who is retired now and spends his days slowing down time as he ponders the jasmine…

But on the right, there’s a little girl named “Eva” who is eight years old. This is a BIG deal for Brontë, who is incredibly proud to have secured such a mature friend. Eva attends the same school as Brontë, who will seek her out and casually say “hi” in front of all her Kindergarten classmates, gently signaling how she has a private life that includes mingling with an older, far more sophisticated set of kids.

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At any rate, Eva and Brontë have been passing toys back and forth for months. Brontë will go into her room to fret and examine each My Little Pony before selecting the choicest batch to pass onto Eva, who will pass back whatever toys she’s selected for exchange. Brontë will play with said toys until the next week, when a new exchange is scheduled.

(And despite all of my pleas to take decent care of her toys, absolutely nothing has worked as well as her trying to impress Eva. Brontë would be mortified by passing back damaged goods.)

Well, eventually I reached out to Eva’s mom and offered to let Eva come over and play. Turns out, it’s actually Eva’s aunt who lives next to us and Eva’s mom is just visiting every week. We ended up with some beautiful vegetables from Eva’s aunt’s garden in exchange for letting Eva come over and play with Brontë for hours on the weekend.

And it further turns out that Eva’s mom has a hard time convincing Eva to eat anything but vegetables. Have you ever heard of such a thing? That must be why Eva was willing to part with the gargantuan bag of peanut M&M’s that Brontë struggled to noiselessly cart off down the hall…

Because if Brontë had her way, she would live off pesto pasta and cupcakes. Whereas Brontë’s little sister Bridget will tear into a Baby Back rib with a frighteningly Viking-like face of plunder-ecstasy, candy has become such a massive power struggle in our house– ever since Brontë was once diagnosed with anemia from rejecting every food source of iron in favor of cream puffs…

Which leads to parenting dilemmas: I remove candy because I need Brontë to be hungry enough to eat her dinner, but don’t want to remove it entirely because I went to school with a kid whose parents only fed him the most organic, free-range stuff. He got carob instead of chocolate, bean-paste instead of PB&J’s, and would dig through the trash for half-eaten Twinkies because he was obsessed.

Beyond that, I have real weakness when it comes to innovation. I mean, if my kid worked up the entrepreneurial chutzpah to leverage social skills into a candy pipeline square into her own backyard, I’m loath to take that away from her. The kid doesn’t have a job or a driver’s license, but she still somehow managed to secure enough candy for the next several months. I’m not about to quash that kind of outside-the-box thinking.

Her eyes scan mine, seeking my reaction, nervously blinking.

“Well,” I tell her, “You better hide it well in your room so your sister doesn’t tear into it.”

She cracks a grin before scurrying into her room, squirreling away the candy somewhere where it’s not immediately obvious. I wonder briefly whether or not I made the right call before remembering that Brontë has never liked peanut M&M’s. That’s what John and Bridget get at the movie theater, not her…

I don’t catch her eating M&M’s for days.

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s functioning as some sort of untapped trophy.

Until the day I tell Brontë she needs to clean up her toys and I catch her asking her little sister Bridget to pick up the Legos.

“Pshh,” I think. I’ve been trying to wrestle Bridget into picking up her toys without incident for the past six months.

But Bridget does it. She cheerfully cleans up the Legos she didn’t even play with without a word…

And then Brontë gives her a handful of peanut M&M’s, which Bridget scarfs down with gusto.

Should I stop this? I mean… Brontë is outsourcing her duties to her younger, more vulnerable sister in exchange for candy. 

On the other hand, Bridget is finally motivated to pick up toys without a three-hour tantrum and series of possibly-ineffective time-outs that end with mutual hostility. And Brontë just reinvented Capitalism in her own backyard. 

I shrug:

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

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Try This Again…

Argh… after a few months of being super busy and letting the blog slide, I finally started writing again when BAM! Germs snuck up and slapped me down for the count…

It’s been a real pain, actually. This year has been a bad year for illness in general and we just moved to a new town, right next door to a daycare. Brontë just started Kindergarten and we’d all been passing some kind of cold back and forth to each other and the neighbors, every few weeks.

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The Mind-blowing Powers of Cute

So I didn’t think much of it when I was feeling crappy around the girls’ birthdays and I rallied because, well… because you’d jump on a grenade for your kid, so you definitely rally for your kid’s birthday party.

But I was feeling worse and worse as my date for a minor surgery approached. Again, I tried to rally because cancelling would be super inconvenient: John had saved up time off work, the neighbors were helping take Brontë to school, the girls had Spring Break lined up the next week…

And that’s when my temperature spiked to 104 degrees and I stopped being able to eat anything for days on end.

Even coffee. Coffee was the real insult because it added a killer caffeine-withdrawal headache to the whole mess, and though I tried to fake it and go in anyway, the anesthesiologist took one look at me and said we were gonna have to reschedule.

Sigh.

Well, turns out I had pneumonia and I’m glad it wasn’t anything worse (pneumonia is nasty but I’ll get over it). I’ve been on powerful antibiotics for the past couple of weeks and am starting to feel much better, though bummed that John burned his time off, that I’m going to take a couple more months off at the gym, that I’ll have to lean on neighbors and grandparents even more…

But if there’s any silver lining to this whole deal, it’s that John had to do my job for a couple of weeks. Fearing my reaction should I eventually come out of the fever to an exploded house, he attempted to not only keep the the kids alive, but keep the house reasonably neat.

And the weekly highlight of all that had to be watching him flip out about the kids dumping one more armload of toys on the living room floor while he was trying to vacuum it. He was just shaking his arms, like a crazed muppet, yelling “DO YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM VACUUMING THE FLOOR RIGHT NOW? PICK UP YOUR TOYS AND PUT YOUR SHOES IN THE DAMN SHOEBOX!”

Oh, it was SO gratifying to watch, I can’t even tell you.

Why? Because it’s normally ME waving my arms and yelling about shoes while he gives me the side eye, wondering when exactly I lost the plot. He didn’t understand why we needed the shoebox in the first place.

“It’s cluttering up the entryway,” he once said. “Do we really need that? [Sees my face] Okay, okay… sheesh. “

Fast-forward to last week, and suddenly he’s reorganizing the shoebox even harder and asking Bridget:

“WHERE are your shoes? WHY ARE THEY NOT IN THIS BOX RIGHT NOW?”

lifebuzz-bd8f4620110936872bcb0497400ffd36-limit_2000Because now he gets that when you’re wrangling wild kids out the door in a hurry, not-having-shoes creates an extra twenty minutes of shoe drama that means your kid may be late to Kindergarten and suddenly you’re the flake who probably day drinks. God help you if you’re supposed to pick up another kid for carpool. (Oh, and it’s tantrum time now because you’re putting out stress vibes… kids sense your energy, you know.)

He no longer thinks I’m insane for flipping out about people piling dirty dishes on the counter every day when the dishwasher is empty, because now he gets how crazy-making it is to clean up after grownups after spending your entire morning clearing out toddler detritus. Now he gets why I started piling his dirty socks and coffee cups in his closet after using my words kept failing to make my point.

Because taking care of little kids is a lot tougher than it looks. You never get promotions or positive performance reviews, and you basically have three options:

  1. Live in a toddler-exploded craphole, always stepping on Legos and rolling onto pointy Barbies when you’re trying to sleep,
  2. Spend your every waking moment picking crap up, or
  3. Run a tight ship.

It’s that last part that can kill your sense of humor if you’re not careful.

It’s not the daily maintenance stuff that really gets to you. Feeding your kids, bathing them, dressing them, guiding them, helping them learn… that stuff needs to be done and comes with the territory.

Nah, it’s the extra, made-up, pointless stuff like watching them spin around the dinner table, flinging 600 grains of rice onto a rug you’ve already vacuumed twice. It’s the covert sibling torture tactics, where they wind each other up just to watch the other get into trouble. It’s that phase where Brontë would tear long scraps of paper from library books and eat them because I don’t know kids are nuts that can’t taste good for the love of all that’s holy STOP EATING LIBRARY BOOKS THAT HAVE PROBABLY BEEN SMEARED BY EVERY SNOT-DRENCHED TODDLER FINGER IN THE COUNTY AND NOW WE HAVE TO PAY FOR IT…

Yeah, I got to sleep through that for the past two weeks, occasionally waking to watch my husband flail his arms around and shriek about finding one more My Little Pony stuffed into the couch.

Because he’s a trooper and I love him and he did a great job.

And now he puts his dirty coffee cups into the dishwasher.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Adventures of Catfish, The Poop Goblin

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My three-year-old daughter Bridget has been blaming all of her problems on Catfish lately, even though he’s her favorite stuffed animal.

He’s a Siamese-looking cat with a fish on his collar. She snuggles up to him every night even though he keeps wetting her bed.

And I was already having a rough day the other day when Bridget walks up to report:

“Really sorry mama, but Catfish pooped your bed…”

Great.

I run up to my room to find a bunch of poop circles all over the duvet cover (which of course I’d JUST washed and changed).

I walk into my bathroom to see a three-foot tower of toilet paper exploding from the toilet bowl, leading all the way back to a nearly-naked toilet room on the wall, which was splashed in brown handprints.  Dirty crumpled pants were wadded up on the wet floor.

I take a deep breath…

“Bridget,” I say in the most understanding tone I can muster. “I know it was you who pooped my bed, not Catfish.”

IT WAS CATFISH!”

“Catfish doesn’t poop. Look, I’m really proud that you’re using the potty like a big girl, but you need to tell me because you still need help with…”

“STOP LYING, THAT NOT TRUE!” she screams, stomping away all indignant and mortified.

unicornSee, a guy friend of mine once ranted on Facebook about how badly his female coworker’s blatant grabbing of a newspaper before walking into the restroom had shocked him. He said women were delicate creatures whom he needed to picture floating several feet above the toilet to do their business, yards of fluffy tulle skirts separating them from the foulness below as they plan their next unicorn ride (or whatever it is boys think we do in our spare time).

The crazy thing is how he has two high-school aged daughters. Because I have no idea how the myth of the fartless female could survive the raising of two actual girls.

For my part, I’ve been reminded that girls poop every day for the past six years. My daughters still think farts are hilarious and will demand credit for them (I should probably do something about that before they reach high school).

IMG_5500
“Umm… Catfish stole a croissant too.”

Still,  I’m finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Honestly, I don’t understand what other parents mean when they say their kid was potty-trained “at 11 months” (or whenever) because it’s not exactly a sudden event.

It’s more of a process spanning many unpredictable months (or years) of still needing diapers when asleep, relapsing for several days, or wetting themselves whenever they’re distracted or because they’re telling you they have to go potty eleven seconds before it happens and there doesn’t happen to be a toilet five feet away…

Handling Number Two all by yourself is the black belt of potty mastery, and Bridget really, really wants to believe she’s already there.

But her skill level doesn’t match her confidence yet. She’ll ask me to “PLEASE LEAVE” if I’m hovering and shriek “NO! DO IT MYSELF!” whenever I try to help.

But I still do, to avoid the gross aftermath of her independence streak, which is why she started sneaking into one of our four bathrooms to poop on the sly.

I find out whenever she’s mysteriously changed into new clothes, stink lines wafting above her head, and I start suspiciously checking the bathrooms for clear evidence of a struggle:

“Why did you change your pants, Bridget?

“Um… Like these pants better.”

Understandably, she’s not been wanting to own it. So, poor Catfish has been stealing Brontë’s toys, occasionally peeing the bed and leaving poopy clothes all over the bathroom floor next to piles of half-dirty toilet paper. Even though he doesn’t wear any pants.

At least Bridget keeps apologizing on his behalf.

 

Because English is Hard

The other day at breakfast, I was handing my five-year-old some toast…

Me: Here, eat some jam and bread like your ancestors.

Brontë: What are my “ancestors?”

Me: Well… okay, you know how I’m your mom and my mom is your grandma?

Brontë: Yeah.

Me: Her mom is your great-grandma, right? And her mom was your great-great-grandma. If you keep going, you get to your ancestors… like your great-great-great-great-great-grandma. A lot of them came out of England and Scotland where they have lots of shows about orphans and eat jam and bread.

She ponders this.

Brontë: We have boys in our family, right?

Me: Of course!

Brontë: And they are our “an-brothers?”

Me: Oh… no. They’re also our ancestors. It’s an-CEST-ors, not an-SIST-ers…

Brontë (stomping off): THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

 

A Fresh Perspective

As we were passing a man with dwarfism the other day, my five-year-old daughter Brontë leaned in to tell me:

“Mom, that man kind of looks like a kid.”

I went pink, silently praying he didn’t overhear her, yet not wanting to apologize (in case he didn’t).

And while considering how to explain why saying such things are rude, it hit me that Brontë is a kid, herself.

So:

  1. She couldn’t have meant it as an insult, and…
  2. Telling her that being kid-like is insulting would hurt her feelings.

Because do you explain that someone would obviously not want to be anything like you?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…”

 

 

Octopus Love: A Fun Kid Activity from Education.com

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

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

Plus, the kids go back to school… yay!

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

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

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

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

What You Need:

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

What You Do:

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

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

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

And here’s what happened…

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Bidgie ponders her octopus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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