Under the control of a toddler

It’s good to feel loved and needed, right? It’s a nice secure feeling when someone, without saying it, demonstrates that they can’t live without you, that they need you and only you, always.  Or is that some kind of emotional abuse? Is it actually a small tyrant exerting control over your life?

Like when your two-year-old will not let anyone else do anything for her, not even open her car door.  If someone like, say, her papa, opens her car door, she screams ‘No, Mama do it,’ and if the door is not immediately closed, breaks down into heart wrenching tears. Because surely, only Mama knows the correct way to open a door (it involves pulling on the handle, in a manner that is – in some undetectable way – different from the way anyone else can do it).

Like when your two-year-old trips and falls, mere feet away from her loving adoring Papa, who wants nothing more than to console her, but she backs away from him, screaming, because only Mama is allowed to pick her up, even though Mama is on the other side of the house, fully occupied with other tasks.

Like when your husband is able to successfully transfer your sleeping toddler from the car, carries her into the house and settles in with her on his lap, staring at her adoringly, but she wakes and sees whose arms she is in, and a full on meltdown occurs, because only Mama is supposed to hold her, and she makes that hysterically clear until Mama runs in to rescue the sobbing mess and the poor man who is trying to deal with both the physical contortions of the flailing child and the stabbing emotional pain of knowing that he cannot console her.

It’s harder for Will than it is for me.  I can sigh and bow to the whims of the little dictator, I can fulfill my role as the only butt-wiper and wound-kisser, and I know it is only temporary, and one day she will be a teenager and reject both of us.  It is poor Will who suffers, poor Will who just wants to be able to interact with his child without being faced with screaming rejection.

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Ornamental Saga

Three years ago, my mother-in-law Kathy brought over a couple of ornaments for us.  One of them was a little mouse sitting on a candy cane.  Wildling loved it.  Each year, when we decorated the tree, she got so excited to find the little mouse and hang it up.

This year was no different.

Wildling pulled out the mouse ornament and exclaimed “I remember this one! It’s my favorite!” Of course, that meant Mellow, who is suffering from a terrible case of the terrible twos, wanted it very badly.  So Wildling very carefully hung the ornament high on the tree “so Mellow can’t break it!”

This led to Mellow throwing a massive tantrum, which involved hiding behind the tree and screaming, a scene that she will gleefully reenact if you ask her (“I behind tree screaming.  Me screamed like this ‘wah wah wah'”).

But we didn’t give in to the tantrum, and the mouse remained safely out of Mellow’s reach.

Until two days later when she asked me for it, and I figured what harm can she do?  And of course, she broke the mouse off the candy cane.  “Mama, this broken.  Papa need glue this.”

“Oh no, that’s Wildling’s favorite ornament!” I said.  She looked at me solemnly.

“Wildling be so mad at me.”

And Wildling was upset, but that night Will glued the mouse back to the candy cane, and all was well…or should have been.

The next day, the repaired mouse ornament was sitting on the table, when I set my water bottle down next to it – and my bottle fell over, crashed into the damn mouse, and knocked it off the candy cane.

That evening, when Wildling was already in a fragile meltdown state, not only did Will foolishly surprise her with the knowledge that her favorite ornament was once again broken, he also revealed that one of it’s paws was missing.

The desperate search for the paw (which, incidentally, revealed how many small white objects are on our tile floor) was set to a soundtrack of screaming, because Wildling just couldn’t handle it.

The search was fruitless, and we needed to put an end to the madness. Fortunately, I have mad google skills, and a copyright Hallmark 1981 was imprinted on the side of the candy cane. Within a few minutes, I had found several available ornaments (and discovered it originally came with a bell), and bought one for $10 on Ebay.

Not five minutes later, I walked into the kitchen, and there on the ground in plain sight was the damn mouse paw.

 

Turbie Mistakes

I made a terrible parenting mistake the other day.  It was the kind of thing that other parents would shake their heads at and quietly mutter “rookie mistake.”

Backstory:

A couple of weeks ago, Wildling came running out of the bathroom post-bath, dripping wet and carrying her towel.  Miraculously, she did not slip on the tile floor and bash her skull open.  She had decided she wanted me to dry her off, not Will, who had been the one who actually gave her the bath.  So I dried her with the bath towel and then wrapped her hair up in it like a turban.  She’s quite small, and the towel was large and heavy, so she had to steady the turban with her hand, but she just loved it, it was the greatest, funniest thing ever.  Of course that meant that every night after that, a dripping wet child, followed by her dripping wet toddler sister came running out of the bathroom looking for me so I could give her pretend hair again (because, obviously, a large bath towel is like a wig of fake hair, in Wildlingland).

So I thought I’d be a good parent and also make things easier on myself by purchasing towels that are intended to be used as hair-drying turbans.  I went to the store and found the Turbie Twist Towel.  Perfect.  They were small, lightweight, intended for hair purposes, and they came two in a box (plus I had a 20% off coupon).

I bought a package with one blue and one pink.

Parents, have you discovered my mistake yet? If you noticed there were two different colored towels in the box then yes, you noticed the mistake. But it gets worse.

I washed the towels before use, because I always do that.  Then I had a great big pile of laundry on the couch and it was almost bath time, and I was somewhat proud of myself for making the purchase, so I said “Hey Wildling, come here. Check out what I got you.” [mistake #2].  I grabbed the first Turbie Twist that I could find in the pile [mistake #3] and showed it to Wildling and put it in her hair as a demonstration.  It was the blue one [mistake #4].  Mellow, of course, came running up saying “Me too! Me too!” so I dug out the pink one [mistake #5] and gave it to her (she wouldn’t try it on).

Wildling immediately wanted the pink one.  I explained that both Turbie Twists belonged to both girls, and they could wear whichever ones they wanted and take turns or whatever.  I told her the towels were a shared resource [mistake #6].

To Wildling, this meant that she was in charge of towel distribution.  She decided on a pattern, in which she would get the pink one night and the blue the next.  Can you guess which one she wanted first? The pink, of course.

Mellow is two.  She did not understand Wildling’s planning and patterns and so all she understood was that her sister was taking away her new towel! Mama had just given her a pink towel and now someone was taking it away! The horror! This was a situation that could only be resolved through violence, mostly in the form of biting.

This was not a singular event.  The towel battle, inevitably leading to screaming and tears, takes place every other night, when Wildling uses the pink towel.

It is my fault.  I overestimated the reasoning skills and under estimated the possessiveness of children.  Also, I failed to understand the desirability of pink towels.

I’ll do better next time, I promise.

Advice for a Child’s Birthday Party

After hosting a birthday party for both Mellow and Wildling this weekend, I learned a few things:

  1. Don’t waste time baking cakes.  Kids just want mini-marshmallows. They don’t care that there is a sun and nine planets made out of a variety of delicious cakes – they’ll just eat the mini-marshmallow asteroids that you scattered around for display purposes.
  2. You can work as hard as you want to avoid artificial food coloring.  If you use one thing, just one thing, with artificial food coloring in it, that thing will be the most popular item on the table.
  3. Tang sounds like a fun beverage for a space party, since the astronauts drink it.  It’s not. Or at least, it’s less interesting than bottled water with strangely child-proof lids.
  4. If you make a pinata and expect a bunch of kids ages 2-6 to break it, maybe build some hidden weaknesses in it so that the moms don’t have to bash the crap out of it in order to get the candy (though, truth be told, hitting a pinata is a lot of fun).
  5. Why waste time on games when there is a bunk bed kids can climb on?
  6. Nobody likes gluten-free cookies. Nobody. They are expensive and gross.
  7. When your daughter tells you that she wants a space themed party and you comply, expect that the day of the party she will decide she wants to have a costume party with a wing theme instead and you will find yourself texting friends and asking that their children bring their own fairy or butterfly wings because you don’t have enough for everybody.
  8. Grown-ups don’t really like going to kids birthday parties, especially for their kids’ school friends when they don’t know the parents*.  That’s why it’s important to serve cocktails. Then everybody gets along, which is good, especially when your child goes to a small school and you know you’ll have to see these parents for the next seven years.
  9. If you have an older relative, invite them.  They are likely to worry about messes and, if you’re lucky, they kind of wander around and clean stuff up throughout the party.
  10. Relating to #9, always have trashcans accessible.  Nobody needs to have to work to figure out your child safety locks.

*Actually, I learned this a long time ago, when I first went to an interminable birthday party for one of Wildling’s classmates.  And that’s why we’ve always had something special for the adults at our parties.

Car conversations

This is the conversation in the car every single day after I pick Wildling up from school:

Song comes on the radio (probably Taylor Swift)

Wildling: I like this song.

Mellow: Me like song!

Wildling: I like this song, too.

Mellow: No! No Wi-Wi! No like this song anymore!

Wildling: I do too like this song!

Mellow: NO!!!!!! Wi-Wi no like this song ANYMORE!

Wildling: <shrieking> I can like this song too Mellow!

Mellow: <emits high pitched scream>

Wildling: <crying> Mama, she’s not letting me like this song!

Me: <gritting my teeth> You can both like this song.  You can both like any song. Lots of people like this song, that’s why they play it on the radio.

Mellow & Wildling, simultaneously: <high pitched shriek>

Mellow: No Wi-Wi like this song ANYMORE!

Wildling: She’s still not letting me like this song! Wahhhhhhhh! <dissolves into hysterical puddle of tears>

Mellow: <satisfied> Wi-wi no like this song anymore. Me like this song.

Same conversation, every damn day.

Why I let my children climb up the slide

You know when you go to a park, there’s always that kid who runs straight to the slide and starts climbing up it? Yeah, those are my kids.  They love to climb up slides, and I don’t try to stop them (unless someone else is about to come down, I don’t let my kids act like assholes).

It’s instinct. Slides are shiny and fun, and there are no repercussions if you make a mistake – if you slip on the way up, you just slide to the bottom, which is the eventual goal anyway.

I’ve heard some parents make passive-aggressive remarks to their children about it “I don’t know why that girl is climbing up the slide. We don’t do that,” and “Slides are for going down, I don’t know why that girl’s parents aren’t stopping her.”  Fortunately for them, I normally don’t respond to passive-aggressive remarks.  I tend to ignore those (but make an aggressive-aggressive remark, especially involving my children, and you will regret it).

Here’s why I think those parents are wrong: they are teaching their children there is only one way to do something.  You must follow the pattern, you cannot color outside the lines, you must go up the ladder if you want to go down the slide.  That’s great.  Their children will make wonderful office drones some day.

I’m kidding about the office drone thing.  But I really believe that we need to allow children to exercise their creativity and let them explore their world.  As adults, we know how (some) things work – we’ve had years to figure it all out.  We shouldn’t assume that our children have the same knowledge base that we do – they don’t have years of experience to rely upon, so for them there is not one way to do something.  They have to try different ways and figure it out.

Let your kid climb up the slide.  Let them approach the world differently.

Things I guess I should have learned as a child

My child isn’t even close to her teenage years, but she already thinks I’m a colossal idiot.

Last year, when Wildling turned four, she got to participate in a ritual at her school, one in which the birthday child carries an earth and walks in a circle around a sun to symbolize turning another year older.  Later, when I was telling my mother-in-law about it, Kathy asked what the sun that they used was made out of, and since I didn’t know, I asked.  “Hey, Wildling,” I said, “What’s the sun made out of?”  She gave me a withering look, as though she could not believe she was even related to me, said “It’s a big ball of burning gas,” and turned back to her toys.

Tonight after dinner, Wildling announced that it was ‘Dessert time!!!!”  I hadn’t planned on serving anything for dessert and didn’t know what she was talking about, so I asked “What’s dessert?”  And she responded by explaining the concept of dessert.  Thanks, Wildling.

Wildling says…

Some recent quotes from my Wildling:

Wildling: Papa, Mellow hit me!
Will: If she hit you, it’s because she learned it from you.
Wildling: NO SHE DIDN’T! I was kicking her!

Wildling: I don’t want to invite Carson to my birthday party [in September!] because HE HAS A FRICKIN’ DOG!
Me: I don’t think he’d bring his dog to the party.
Wildling: Yes he would! That’s what people with dogs do. And I don’t want him to bring his frickin’ dog!

Wildling: I’m making this book for Great-grandma Rose.
Me: That’s nice.
Wildling: Yeah, I’m making it for her because I love her, and I want her to love me more than I love her.

Wildling, while looking through a He-Man comic from the early ’80’s: I have a new game that I got from from this page. Let’s play Teela throws a large heavy object at Beastman’s head. I’m Teela. Papa, you’re Beastman.

Children and their toys: the fewer the better

Here is a complete list of all the toys that Mellow played with today:

1. Wildling’s toothbrush
2. Plastic cups (in the shower)
3. A small plastic fairy
4. A stuffed dragon.
5. Every article of clothing in her top drawer
6. Wildling’s boots
7. Books
8. A copy of Discover magazine
9. The living room window
10. A blanket
11. Wildling’s bed
12. A lego train
13. The girls’ playhouse in the backyard
14. Her tricycle
15. A small toy frying pan

That’s it. Notice how many items on that list are not toys? I tried to compose a similar list for Wildling once, but it consisted of just a piece of PVC, so I didn’t bother posting about it.

That’s the thing with kids and toys – they don’t need nearly as much as we think (and definitely not as much as a certain set of grandparents thinks!). When Wildling was young, we got her too many toys. I think we didn’t want to deprive her, so anytime she showed interest in something, we bought it. There were some toys she liked at the library playgroup, so of course I had to get her similar things for the house. She liked a toy at a friend’s house? Well, then we had to get her one of her own.

Fortunately for our wallets and our sanity, we realized early on what we were doing and we stopped. We noticed that Wildling didn’t actually play with very much, and everything was always cluttered and messy. One day, soon after she had turned two, she and I were in a store and she kept running away from me. I told her if she ran away from me again, I would take her giraffes away – those were the toys she was playing with most often at the time. She ran away. I caught her and told her if she ran away again, I would take her dinosaurs away too. She looked at me, said “ok, take my dinosaurs away,” and took off running.

On a separate occasion soon after that incident (back when I thought taking things away might help change her behavior – it never worked), I threatened to take away her toy kitchen if she didn’t do some activity (I think it had to do with potty training). She refused to do it, and when I started to take her kitchen away, she said “Here, take this too. And this. And this.” She was running back and forth adding items to the pile.

That’s when we knew we needed to change things. A couple of months later, after reading more on minimalism and decreasing toys and what children really need, Will and I decided to get rid of most of her toys. I talked to Wildling about it and had her pick out stuffed animals to get rid of (I wanted her to participate in the cull). She spent the night at my in-laws and while she was gone, Will and I did a complete overhaul of the playroom. We pulled a huge amount of toys out. Some we held as baby toys for the future baby we wanted (Mellow was born about a year later), some we set aside to sell at a consignment sale, some we added to our donation pile, and some that were not in good enough shape for those categories were just thrown out. The remainder of the toys were organized into boxes and put in the closet – Wildling is supposed to only have one out at a time (we aren’t good at enforcing that).

When Wildling got home from her grandparents and saw the playroom she was thrilled. We could see just by looking at her how happy cleaning that space made her. She had been overwhelmed by all the stuff. It was too much for her to process. With the reduction in toys, she was finally able to enjoy what she had.

I’ve had a hard time conveying this to other people (ie my parents) who believe that we are depriving both girls of a childhood by not filling their room to the brim with toys and plastic crap. My parents are of the school of thought that ‘more is better’ and ‘bigger is better’ and ‘spending money is a way to show love.’

The thing is though, as we learned through purging toys, more is not better. When Wildling was little I let her pick out a stuffed animal for her first day of daycare (they were allowed to bring one for naptime). She picked a dog. My brother Ricky came to visit a couple of months later, and he brought her two stuffed dogs. So now she had three dogs, and she liked them. My mom found out that Wilding liked Ricky’s dogs. Instead of being happy that Ricky had good taste in toys, she was upset – she wanted to be the one to give the gift that Wildling became attached to. She wanted to give the favorite stuffed animal. So next time my parents came out to visit, they brought stuffed dogs. Lots of them. One or two new ones for each day of the visit. And they sent her some in the mail. And a couple of months later, they visited again, and again brought lots of dogs. End result? Wildling stopped liking stuffed dogs. She had so many she never played with them again, not even her special school naptime dog. Most of the dogs went in the first stuffed animal purge.

Wildling is happier now with fewer toys, and I think Mellow is too. Neither of them are ever bored, they are infinitely creative, and they always have something to play with, even if what they have to play with is just a household object coupled with imagination.

Wildling’s beauty

Sometimes I look at Wildling, and I cannot believe how amazingly terrifyingly beautiful she is.  I can’t believe that two people as average as Will and myself were able to create a child of such heart-stopping beauty.  Her perfect face, the shape, the angles of it, the perfect symmetry.  Her big blue eyes rimmed with such thick dark lashes.  Her skin, so smooth, so perfect. I cannot count how many times have strangers stopped me to comment on her perfect face, her porcelain skin, ‘like a little doll, a perfect porcelain doll’ they say. I both want and fear that she will keep this great beauty; I want her to stay beautiful because it will make her life easier, but I fear it because she is so much more than her looks and that is all people will see, all people will think of, and I want her to be more than just a pretty face.

I look at her, and I think about her scary near-perfection, and she will look at me, and smile lazily, and put a finger in her nose, pull out a booger, and eat it.

Yes, that’s my daughter.