Tag Archives: child psychology

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kids Are Fascinated By Gross Things

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

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

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

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

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

But I suspect it’s somewhat of an act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brontë (running back): WHERE??

 

 

 

 

My Daughter’s Mutinous, Stabby Pants

pants.jpgSo, I caught my daughter smacking her own butt this morning while yelling, “BAD! You’re WRONG! You need to STOP IT!”

It was a perplexing situation, one I hoped to better understand. So instead of telling her to cut it out, I tried to uncover what strange manner of 4-year-old psychology had driven her to this desperate point…

Me: Umm… what are you doing? Why are you spanking yourself?

Brontë: I’m NOT. I’m spanking MY PANTS.

Me: I see. Okay… why?

Brontë: Because they won’t do cartwheels and somersaults the way I want them to.

Me: That’s an interesting dilemma.

Brontë: They’re being WRONG pants!

Me: Well… you do realize that *you’re* actually the one that does cartwheels and somersaults, right? And that right now, you’re really just spanking yourself?

Brontë’s eyes got big for a moment before she swiveled around and stomped off, muttering, “DAMN IT, stupid pants!”

As I thought: Don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh… 

Because I really shouldn’t encourage swearing, even when executed perfectly and to hilarious effect.

But I can definitely see why she’d be mad at those pants. First, they mess up her cartwheels and somersaults. Then, they trick her into smacking herself and looking silly in front of her mom.

They were definitely being WRONG pants that deserved everything they got.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Living Room

Being a parent teaches you a lot about human psychology. Toddlers, for example, think the world revolves around them.

I’m not trying to be critical here, because this is a normal stage of kid development. It’s not malicious, they just live in a self-focused universe where everything is one giant movie starring them as the main character with everyone else in a supporting role only existing to advance the plot.

Sometimes this causes a breakdown in communication, like when I ask my husband about his day at work and he can’t answer because our four-year-old daughter Brontë keeps interrupting with, “I DIDN’T GO TO WORK, I’VE BEEN PLAYING ALL DAY!”

And sometimes, it can be downright hilarious.

Take, for example, the surreal confusion that recently ensued when our two-year-old daughter Bridget was wandering around the house, looking for me.

It went like this:

Bridget (wandering around): Mommy? Mama?

Brontë (from the next room): I’m not mommy, Bridget. I’m “Brontë.”

Bridget: Mooooooommmmeeeeeee…

Brontë (walking in): I’m NOT mommy. I’M JUST ANOTHER KID.

Bridget (looking around): Mommy?

Brontë (speaking slowly as she puts her hands on Bridget’s shoulders): LISTEN TO ME, Bridget… I’m NOT your mom. I’m your SISTER. My name is “BRONTË.”

Bidgie blinks and Brontë throws her arms in the air before stomping off and grumbling, “HOW does she not know this by now??”

img_3678Brontë was so frustrated by her sister’s cluelessness, she even looked a little scared. Like she was pondering whether or not her baby sister actually had a screw loose.

And when I explained that Bridget was talking to me, Brontë only looked more scared. Like maybe everyone in the house, except her, had lost their mind. Because we were clearly both there for the whole conversation where Bridget couldn’t recognize her own family members, so how is mom not understanding how serious this is?

I couldn’t help laughing, which only made things worse.

My Daughter Projects Her Psychic Apparatus Onto Imaginary Friends

My two-year-old daughter has personified the warring factions of her psyche and is literally working out her issues using imaginary friends.

Kids are concrete thinkers. They are literalists who imagine all manner of abstractions as physical beings. Everything unknown is magic and The Dark, or disquieting unknown, is the perfect breeding ground for magic of any sort. Fears and anxieties become monsters… nocturnal monsters that can hide under your bed. 

Brontë lives in a world bursting with monsters, but also has a strong coterie of imaginary stuffed animal and doll friends.  She makes them talk, giving them unique temperaments and catch phrases.

Within her inner circle are a number of distinct personalities, roughly corresponding to Freud’s model of the psychic apparatus.

The Id

Pink Bear climbs the Forbidden Cat Tree
Pink Bear climbs the Forbidden Cat Tree
Pink Bear strikes again, flipping Brontë's bed into a jungle gym
Pink Bear strikes again, flipping Brontë’s bed into a jungle gym

Don’t be fooled by how adorable Pink Bear looks in his little pink hoodie. He is pure chaos. He jumps on the bed, knocking everything over. He scrambles up into the kitchen cabinets to sneak honey. He pulls all of Brontë’s clothes out of her dresser and dumps them around her room.

Walk into Brontë’s room to see all the books knocked out of her bookshelf into piles on the floor? “Pink Bear did it!” she will say.

Pure chaos
Pure chaos

Pink Bear will take off whenever he feels like it, living by the pleasure principle alone. Pink Bear will unwind toilet paper all over the place. He will make a mess, just to do it. He’s a rebel without a cause.

Sometimes he even locks Brontë’s baby sister in the bathroom. Pink Bear is clearly a bad influence.

The Superego

Perfect Punzel, the Pollyanna Princess
Perfect Punzel, the Pollyanna Princess

Brontë’s Superego is embodied by “Punzel,” the princess doll. She has long blonde hair and always wears beautiful dresses. She is pretty: her hair is pretty, her face is pretty, her clothes are pretty, and all of her things are pretty. She likes to ride horses and eat cupcakes. She is friends with all other the other princess dolls and likes to invite them to princess parties.

Brontë invites her aunt to Perfect Punzel-Land
Brontë invites her aunt to Perfect Punzel-Land

Punzel is everything we expect her to be, as well as everything we want little girls to be. She wears frilly dresses, hosts tea parties, and talks in a pretty, soft voice. She never gets angry, never says anything ugly, and never, absolutely ever, sneaks honey out of the kitchen cabinets. She often finds herself in distress and needs rescuing, but that comes with the territory of being a glamorous princess.

Punzel does, however, sometimes come into conflict with Pink Bear. She disapproves of his mess-making and general barbarian tendencies, whereas Pink Bear thinks Punzel is a prissy little goodie two-shoes with no backbone.

At story time, which is Brontë’s favorite nightly ritual, Punzel and Pink Bear will often jockey for position next to Brontë as a book is being read. They both want to see the pictures, but don’t want to look at each other’s stupid face.

The Ego

Brontë's consigliere and best imaginary friend
Brontë’s consigliere and best imaginary friend

Chief among Brontë’s inner circle is Minnie. She is a Minnie Mouse puppet blanket and Brontë’s constant companion.

Minnie knows how to balance her public persona with a good dose of merrymaking, but also has a wild side. She will throw tantrums, draw pictures of poo, blow indignant raspberries, grab books in her mouth and throw them, and even try to bite the other animals when angry enough.

Ensconced in Minnie's comforting loyalty
Ensconced in Minnie’s comforting loyalty

Most of her antics, however, are motivated by her desire to keep the other imaginary friends in line. When Pink Bear and Punzel are disrupting story time with constant bickering, Minnie Mouse tells them to “SHUT UP” and points out where each of them needs to sit. She can be a little bossy, but without her level-headed mediation, all hell would break loose.  Someone has to step up.

The Shadow

Monster double agent
Monster double agent and all-around untrustworthy bear.

In Brontë’s imaginary pantheon of psychic dilemmas, there even exists a shadow figure. Meet Orange Bear, the traitor.

See that gentle grin? Those reassuring eyebrows lifted in the middle in a way that suggests harmless benevolence? Don’t believe them. Those eyebrows are a lie.

Brontë thought Orange Bear was her friend, but he was entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting her from monsters at night. He looks big and tough, so one night when she was telling me all about the scary night monsters that sneak into her room, I reassured her that Orange Bear was there to keep her safe.

The next morning, she stomped out of her room, disgusted, while dragging Orange Bear behind her. With utter disdain, she summarily dumped Orange Bear in the hallway.

Confused, I started dragging him back into her room and she had a fit. “NO!” she screamed, “NO ORANGE BEAR!”

“You don’t want Orange Bear in your room? He keeps the monsters out,” I said.

“HE DO NOT,” she shouted, “He let monsters IN my room!” And with that, she banished Orange Bear forever.

Brontë considers loyalty a great virtue. Betrayal will not be tolerated. Orange Bear’s transgression was unforgivable, and to this day, Orange Bear is not allowed to step foot into Brontëland.

Technically, the Shadow figure is an element of Jungian psychology, not Freudian. I find this gratifying, since I’m fonder of Jung than Freud. Perhaps this entire schema should be revised  in terms of Jungian archetypes. Let’s see… Punzel would be the princess. Pink Bear is the outlaw, and Minnie is the mentor?

Whoever thought that child’s play is frivolous? Seems fraught with emotional drama to me. Next time your kids (or any kids) are acting stuff out with their dolls (or “action figures” if they are boys, because obviously boys play with “action figures”), pay attention. You might be surprised by how often inner turmoil is personified into concrete characters.