Tag Archives: grandparents

My Kid Made Me Look Racist In Public


Looks like an upscale joint

I didn’t used to know if kids actually embarrassed their parents by saying super inappropriate things in public, or if that only happened on TV.

I thought maybe it just was a convenient comedy device, like kids wearing off-center  baseball caps and scrawling backwards letters on their lemonade stand signs as they learned the value of a dollar. Or running away from home carrying all their jacks and marbles tied up in a red bandana on a stick.

Off to eat Moon pies and sulk by the Ol’ Fishing Hole

Maybe I’m getting modern kids confused with kids from the 1930’s, I don’t know.

But after our family’s last trip to the zoo, I DO know the public embarrassment deal isn’t just a sitcom gag.

And I’m not talking about public tantrums, either. Yes, those can be embarrassing, but on some level everyone knows toddlers have tantrums, so it isn’t all that shocking when it happens.

No, I’m talking about the blood-freezing, chest-locking public humiliation that can happen when the planets line up just so to make your painfully honest, naive toddler shout out just the wrong thing at just the wrong time. It doesn’t help that toddlers have intermediate language skills, at best.

Let me tell you what happened…

Kids-have-so-much-energyWe had been walking all day at the Sacramento Zoo, following our hyperactive kids as they darted from one animal to another through a mass of crowds. It was HOT and we were tired.

Even the kids were winding down by this point. It was nearly 100 degrees and the crowds were feeling it, getting touchier by the second. Our four-year-old daughter Brontë was frustrated by her inability to find cheetahs and her baby sister kept trying to eat popcorn off the ground.

Pushing on, we suddenly saw a beautiful oasis off to the side: a koi pond with Japanese statues surrounded by gardens and stone benches. My husband and I rushed over to rest on the benches while Brontë and her two-year-old sister Bridget ran up to the pond.

Awesome, we can sit. 

There was a large family to our left.  They appeared to be Mexican. There was a black family to the right. Both families included kids, which was great because Brontë LOVES to introduce herself to new kids and try to make friends with them. I figured she would start talking to the kids and end up playing with them for a while, so John and I could take a nice long break.

But that was not to be.

IMG_3407Instead, Brontë stared at the pond for a minute before bunching her little eyebrows up in a ball. She turned to me before saying, “Mom? There’s orange fish and brown fish and I DON’T LIKE BROWN FISH.”

I got up from the bench and walked over to her. Maybe being next to her would help keep her volume down.

“Brown fish are okay,” I said. “Brown fish and orange fish are BOTH nice.”

Brontë gave me a hard look, angry that I didn’t seem to get it.

“NO, mama,” she said, with rising volume. “I like orange fish. Or white fish. I DON’T LIKE BROWN! WHITE IS BETTER!”

OMG… My face gets hot as my eyes dart side to side. I’m wondering why my daughter is saying these things and am suddenly painfully aware of everyone tan in our vicinity.

Brontë looks at me dead in the eye, throws back her head, and screams, “BROWN IS UGLY!”

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH, for the love of all that’s holy, child, SHUT THE HELL UP!  

I had no idea where this came from and was beginning to panic. But it felt like if I got all flustered, telling her to be quiet, it would make me look REALLY GUILTY. Like everyone hearing it would assume she’s just repeating stuff she’s heard at home.

Not sure of the best way to handle it, I tried turning her around on the whole issue of brown.

“Brown isn’t ugly,” I told her. “LOTS of thing you love are brown. Chocolate is brown. Cinnamon is brown. Deer and horses and big beautiful eyes are sometimes brown. Brown is beautiful too.”

I was talking aimlessly, but was so mortified by my toddler’s sudden public screamfest about white superiority that I didn’t know WHAT to do.

I’m judging you too

Where did this come from? After Brontë spent two weeks crying about not being “pretty enough” because her hair isn’t blonde like Rapunzel’s in Tangled, I made such a huge point of teaching her why Aryan blondeness isn’t the only way. How could she say these things after her special moment with Princess Tiana in Disneyland?

After I ramble on about brown beauty for a while, Brontë looks me dead in the eye, throws her head back, and screams:



The Mexican mom looks at me sideways as I fantasize about the Earth swallowing me whole.

Great. Now everyone thinks my daughter has a racist grandma and God knows what we’ve been telling her on the side.

I took some time to ask Brontë how grandma feels about brown fish and white ones as I grabbed her hand and made a speedy exit.

Later, I tried to figure out the best way to broach the subject with my folks.

I didn’t want to straight up ask them, “So, have you been saying racist sh*t around my kids?” Because that would be really offensive and unwarranted, considering everything I know about my folks.

BUT, the next time we had dinner with my parents, I planned to raise the subject when the moment was right.

My dad had invited us over for ribs, which was awesome because he’s really good at cooking ribs. We had all eaten not just babyback but St. Louis too, all had a beer or three, and the kids had run off to play with a bevy of Barbie dolls. Everyone was relaxed and the time seemed possibly right…

I tried to think about how to bring it up without sounding like I was pointing fingers.

“So, umm…” I started. “We were at the zoo and were hanging out at the koi pond and Brontë, out of nowhere, starts talking about how much she hates brown fish and how white fish are better…”

I try to relay the story as best I could, ending with how Brontë shouted about grandma thinking brown was bad. Didn’t want to insult my parents, of course, but sometimes 60’s sensibilities aren’t the same as modern day.

“Ohhhhhh…” Dad started. “Well, we have the koi pond out front, and the filter was on the fritz.”


“So the pond wasn’t getting cleaned and a brown film was building up. Maybe we said something about the white fish turning brown and how it was ugly and we needed to fix it.”

Ahhh. It was all starting to make sense…

Still, the things that come out of your mouth that your children end up repeating with their limited understanding and even more limited tact…

He’s just paying you back

I was happy the explanation ended up being  reasonable, but still…Parenting is nothing if not boot camp for control issues and sensitivity. There comes a point when your kid has crapped or screamed or thrown things enough in public that you finally start building a thicker skin.

This was not one of those times.

But it’s still early. I have no idea what’s still in store for me. I’ve already braved my child screaming what sounded like racist rants in public, so there’s no telling what’s coming next.

What about you? Has your kid embarrassed you in public, or are they the quietly-coloring type that I always see on TV? 🙂












I Wish My Great Grandparents Could’ve Met My Children

My great grandparents could’ve made soap out of a dog.

Not that they would’ve wanted to, but they could do it in a pinch. They were earthy midwesterners who had those kinds of self-sufficient skills, who could glance at your backyard garden and tell you how you’d gotten it all wrong.

Grandma was a round woman who wore green muumuus covered in fluorescent pink flowers. But if you asked him to, Grandpa would ferret out a faded black-and-white photo of her from his wallet.

In it, she smiled with rounded cheeks, wearing a 1920’s drop-waisted dress that showed off the garter belt on her plump left thigh. He kept that faded picture of her in his wallet until the day he died.

He grew up on a farm in Missouri, where the men ate first at supper.

The women ate next, and then the children.

Sometimes there wasn’t much left, and memories of this hunger never left him. Anytime you ate meals with my great grandparents, my grandfather was sure to ask every child present if they had gotten enough to eat.

He loved children.

Grandma grew up on a Kansas farm, but got a job making stationary at a time when few women were working. She glued lace and ribbons onto paper, making enough to buy a car and drive around town. One day, her car got stuck in the mud.

My Grandfather was from Missouri and Grandma was from Kansas, but they were only separated by a small wooden bridge running between the two states.

And Grandpa came to Grandma’s rescue when her car got stuck in the mud. That’s how they met.

After they got married, they attended a burlesque show, where Grandma was so embarrassed by the threatened nudity that she ran out of the building blushing. They spent their wedding night in a tent.

tomjoad.jpgAnd had two children in the early 1930’s, in the middle of the Great Depression. At the Dustbowl climax, they made their way West in search of better jobs, like Tom Joad in his jalopy.

They lived for a while in a trailer in the desert, where Grandma would sieve out little treasures from the sand.

Then they moved to Roseville, near Sacramento, where Grandpa got a job climbing up dangerous wooden poles to string electrical wires.  We have black-and-white photos of him hanging in the sky.

They never trusted banks. They hid thousands of dollars in backroom mattresses and in secret places all over the house.

They never forgot extreme poverty. I remember whenever ballpoint pens ran out, Grandma would soak them in hot water to squeeze out a little more use. She would keep McDonald’s cardboard drink trays in stacks in the back rooms of her house. Being able to take her family out for dinner was a blessing she never took for granted.

She loved elephants. She collected them.

Nor did she forget being in the Lord’s good graces. Obviously she was, since her children and grandchildren were fed. My grandparents would say grace every time they sat down to supper, remaining soundless for the rest of the meal.

This soundlessness used to confuse me as a child. Were they angry? I was used to lively conversation.

But I knew it couldn’t be true. My grandparents loved children and grandchildren above anything else. Our family produces girls at an alarming rate… I think there have only been a couple boys in several generations.

My Grandfather thought his baby girls were wonderful, but wanted to be sure we could hold our own. I remember him teaching us how to box, holding his palms in front of us and instructing us to punch them. Smiling when we punched them hard.

He didn’t want to go to the hospital when he was dying. He stayed at home with three generations keeping watch.

He couldn’t speak. We heard his labored breathing and Cheyne-stoking for days.

I was the stoic member of the family, conserving emotions as though they might run out. But at one point during the family’s watch, I sat on his bed, took his hand, and burst into tears. He began sobbing and squeezed my hand.

He could hear us.

After he was gone, my grandmother cried every day until she died.

When she died, we found a plaque in their house commemorating the thousands of dollars my grandma had donated to orphanages throughout her lifetime.

She never told anyone.

My family divided up her possessions after she died and I asked for her blue ceramic elephant.

The fading elephant sits in my kitchen, where it reminds me of her every day.

I wish they could’ve met my two daughters.

They would have loved them.




My Daughter Is Sold Downriver By a Giant Orange Bear

Even though Brontë isn’t in preschool yet, she is never lonely. Out of a ridiculous number of dolls and stuffed animals, she has selected three best friends: Pink Bear, Yellow Bunny, and Minnie.

Caught sneaking honey again.
Caught sneaking honey again.

Pink Bear is a little bear that wears a pink hoodie. She selected him from Nugget’s flower shop one day and they have been buddies ever since. He’s cute, but given to lots of mischief behind the scenes. He jumps on her bed, throws her books off the bookshelf when no one is looking, and sneaks honey whenever he gets the chance (because, as we all know, bears like honey).

Pink Bear gets into trouble but is still lovable. I think he makes Brontë feel better about her own mischievous tendencies.

Yep, caught drinking honey straight out of the bottle.
Yep, caught drinking honey straight out of the bottle.

Yellow Bunny is Pink Bear’s quieter friend. He occasionally argues with Pink Bear, but is usually his calm sidekick. Still, he has been elected to Brontë’s inner circle, mostly because she flat out loves bunnies. They have two long fuzzy ears with which she can drag them around  and which she also likes to rub  under her nose.

It's a bunny. And he's yellow.
It’s a bunny. And he’s yellow.

Orange Bear is a giant orange bear with a blue nose that used to live in Brontë’s room. He was once a close friend, but fell out of favor. One evening, during her monster episodes (when Brontë was convinced monsters were menacing her room), I told Brontë not to be afraid   because: 1) there aren’t any monsters. I checked, and 2) if there were monsters, Orange Bear would protect her from them. I pointed out that Orange Bear is very big and could take care of any monsters, should they happen to sneak in. She seemed reassured by this idea.

The next morning, however, I was surprised to see Brontë with angry cartoon eyebrows, dragging Orange Bear out into the hallway and summarily dumping him there without fanfare. “What’s wrong?,”I asked her, “Don’t you like Orange Bear any more?”

“NO!” she said. “Orange Bear LET THE MONSTERS IN.”

“Orange Bear protects you from monsters,” I argued.

“NOOOOOOOOOO!,” she yelled, “He LET MONSTERS IN.” She stomped back into her room and slammed the door.

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

Hmm. Well, I can understand why she was so pissed off with him. He’s supposed to be her friend and gives her this whole song and dance about protecting her from monsters, then late at night she saw him letting them inside her room? What a douche.

We moved Orange Bear into Bridget’s room because Brontë absolutely would not have him back, and luckily, he and Bridget seem to make better roommates.

Minnie, on the other hand, is Brontë’s absolute BFF. Pink Bear and Yellow Bunny are fun, but Minnie is undoubtedly the favorite. She is chief counselor and vice-president reigning supreme over all other toys in Brontë’s play world.

Minnie is a Minnie Mouse puppet blanket that Brontë likes to throw around her neck and drag along, wherever she goes. Minnie always cuddles Brontë when she goes to sleep. Brontë often tries to shove the Minnie puppet on my hand so I will talk for Minnie, yet my daughter seems to accept Minnie as a distinct personality despite her awareness that she’s frequently powered by my hand.

Nonetheless, Minnie is completely out of control. She may speak with a cutesy mouse voice, but she’s moody, throws fits, and often tries to chew on Brontë’s hands. She mocks Brontë and Brontë mocks her right back. Sometimes Minnie does incredibly inappropriate things like grab pencils and draw pictures of poop on notepads, yell at Brontë for being loud when she’s “trying to sleep,” or take over story time and repeatedly attempt to eat Brontë’s books.

I think Brontë not only can identify with Minnie’s wild impulses, but she also likes to be the one saying “No!” For once, Brontë gets to bark the orders, enforce house rules, and tell Minnie Mouse to settle down.

Minnie has been a surprisingly useful training tool. For example, we had a problem for several months with Brontë’s behavior when we picked her up from grandma and grandpa’s house. Brontë wouldn’t look at me for hours, would throw nasty screaming fits, refuse hugs and all conversation, and would generally act up well into the next day. This would happen again and again, until John and I were at our wits’ end trying to figure out how to handle the situation.

We weren’t sure if Brontë just didn’t want to leave her grandparents’ house, where she never gets in trouble and popsicles flow like running water, or if she was incredibly angry at me for leaving her. It was probably a bit of both, but I was tired of dealing with two days of constant tantrums for whenever Brontë stayed with her grandparents and every approach to calm her down was an utter failure.

Finally, one night we were going home after picking the girls up from their grandparents and Brontë, as usual, was pouting, whining, and averting her eyes whenever I looked at her. I called her into her room to go to bed, as Brontë stomped around behind me, where Minnie was throwing a massive fit. Brontë stared, wide-eyed… “I’M MAD! I’M MAD AT YOU!” Minnie said, then started rolling back and forth, yelling and screaming and kicking her little high-heeled mouse feet. Brontë’s eyes bugged out for a second before she started to giggle. Then Minnie got right in Brontë’s face, opened her big muppet mouth, and started yelling, shaking her head back and forth. Brontë broke into hysterics, laughing so hard that her eyes started watering.

Very popular, despite her rockstar antics.
Very popular, despite her rockstar antics.

“I MISSED YOU! YOU LEFT ME! YOU WERE GONE, GONE, GONE AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHEN YOU WOULD COME BACK!” Minnie screamed. “Aww,” Brontë murmured sympathetically, a real look concern in her eyes. “I”m back!” she said, and gave Minnie a big hug. She pet Minnie’s head sweetly and said, “I missed you too.” They cuddled up and went to bed.

You know what? The next time we picked up the girls from their grandparents’ house, Brontë walked out, looked me in the eye, and said, “I missed you, mommy.”

“I missed you too! I’m back!” I reassured her. I gave her a giant hug and she squeezed me back before grabbing my hand in her little fist. No tantrums that night.

Minnie continues her ridiculous antics from time to time, but she has proven herself a valuable ally in Brontë’s coterie. She can talk to her about stuff that’s too scary to tell mom. And Minnie always understands.

Babies and Emotional Experimentation

I'm just going to
“I’m just going to put these glasses on my head backwards and stomp off. Take that!”

Brontë has made up some kind of kiss-and-run game where she sneaks up, kisses you, and runs away giggling. Then I kiss her back and run away in an apparent game of Love Tag. This may be the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me.

Having a toddler can regularly bring on emotional whiplash, though. Some days, they are total sweethearts who love you to pieces. Other times, they crush you with rejection. You think… I feed this kid, clean them up, wake up all hours of the night, clean up poop and vomit, buy toys, and get treated like this!?  

Don’t despair, it’s temporary and normal! Here are five common toddler behaviors that can occasionally crush your spirits:

1.  They shove you away.

Toddlers, like the rest of us, can be cranky when tired, hungry, or bored. They also get frustrated because they can’t do a lot things they want to do and have a limited ability to communicate. It’s probably a lot like you or I would feel in a foreign country, struggling with a transaction using a language and cultural customs we aren’t very familiar with.  Kids can also get overstimulated–there is just too much going on and they need some breathing space, but don’t know how to tell you.

2.  They play favorites.

Sometimes John gives Brontë a hug, and she pushes him away, screaming, “NO, I WANT MOMMY!” I can tell he is hurt, but since I am the one staying home with her, it’s natural that she is used to mommy providing a sense of comfort and security.

On the other hand, after a day of fighting with Brontë about why she shouldn’t paint the cat with her poop, John will come home and my previously angry toddler will light up and run squealing to her father with happy hugs and kisses. While it’s frustrating to have your spouse suddenly become Superman after you’ve been in the trenches for hours, it’s natural that your kid will be bitter after you stop them from doing whatever they wanted to do. You still have to stop them. It’s your job, and they will get over it.

3.  They give you the silent treatment.

For the longest time, whenever my husband and I would leave Brontë at her grandparents so we could have a date night, Brontë would give me the cold shoulder. We would come to pick her up and she wouldn’t seem happy to see us, wouldn’t hug me, and usually wouldn’t look at or answer me when I talked to her. She could keep this up for hours, even until the next day. I was hurt and wondered if I could ever take any time for myself without causing a fight.

Well, I can and you should. Parenting is hard work and every parent needs a break to prevent complete burnout. The child may feel rejected and abandoned, but it’s important for kids to learn that their parents can go away temporarily but will come back. Lately, I have been telling Brontë that we will come back later, and upon returning, I take her into a room where I tell her I missed her and we hug. She has started saying, “I missed you, mommy” and doesn’t feel the need to punish me anymore, since she is better able to express her feelings.

Somehow, John escapes her anger. I think it’s because he goes to work every day and she is used to that, but mommy is supposed to be available at all times.

4.  They don’t want to come home.

Occasionally, after spending some time at her grandparents’ house, Brontë will yell that she doesn’t want to come back home. She has even told us to “go away!” It breaks our hearts, of course… it’s tough to feel like you do all the heavy lifting of childcare just to be tossed aside.

But it’s also completely understandable. Grandparents are a novelty, since your child doesn’t see them as often as you, and they have a whole new environment full of different toys to play with. Grandparents spoil you rotten, hardly ever get mad at you, give you candy and ice cream between meals, and let you get away with all kinds of crap your parents won’t.

Staying with your grandparents is like being on vacation: all play, no responsibilities. A child will always love his parents, however, and in time, they do get homesick. When Brontë has been with her grandparents long enough, she always starts asking where mommy and daddy are. Eventually, she wants to come home again, rules and all.

Children are also taking their first steps into what it means to be a person. They want to bond, but also want to test out independence. They want help, but also want to figure things out themselves. They want to please you, but also want to prove that they have their own identities. Sometimes they just need to experiment with drawing you close then pushing you away. It can be confusing, but if you remain calm and remind yourself that this is all normal, they will feel more secure.

5.  They say “NO!” to absolutely everything.

There is a particularly frustrating stage of development, generally around age two, when children tend to scream, “NO!” at absolutely anything you put in front of them. They ask for water, you bring them water, and they scream “NO WATER!”

You want to watch “My Little Pony?” NO! You want some dinner? NO! You want some chocolate? NO NO NO!!!

It seems irrational and can drive you up a wall. From the child’s perspective, however, they are experimenting with boundaries. They came into this world utterly powerless: someone had to feed them, change them, lift them into bed. Their entire world is decided for them, from what they will be eating to where they will be sitting. They want to figure out what power, if any, they have over their world. The first power they figure out is the Power of Refusal, and they will use it again and again until the novelty wears off. Hang in there.

These behaviors, though frustrating, are universal. So keep calm, mom and dad, breathe, and know that this too shall pass.