Lies, All Lies

My kids are great kids. They are smart (too smart) and loving and so kind to each other and to their parents. They are both quite verbal (too verbal) and they talk all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I mean, it feels like I haven’t written much lately and it is largely because Ella has been responding to my question about how she is doing for several weeks. I am here now because they think I’m showering. I’ve had to reduce myself to tradeoffs of basic, life-critical elements. But I digress (and if I focus, perhaps I can write AND shower). (Also the dog is probably destroying something upstairs. It is like when Ella the whirlwind was one and a half years old and I had to set up a sacrificial area of the house if I ever wanted to do something by myself. Now I set out things that belong to other members of my family for Maisie to chew so that I can sneak down alone into the basement.)

The kids. Great. They’re great. We’re all great. Everything is good.

Except the lying.

Why is there so much lying?

I never beat them; I never send them to bed without dinner; they don’t get crazy punishments like you might see on a Buzzfeed list. So why do I get ridiculous stories in response to so many of my direct questions? I am savvy, though. Whenever I hear the following phrases, I know that I am getting something “fictional:”

  • “I accidentally…”
    No. I am pretty sure that you are completely unaware of what you do accidentally. Like, ‘D2 and I were playing and then we accidentally got out the shaving cream and it accidentally is in symmetrical piles on the stairs. And then Maisie ate it–but we told her not to!’ Or, ‘Mom, I am sorry, but I accidentally borrowed your necklace and then used it as a jump rope but it wasn’t big enough, so it broke and the beads are now in the garden.’If you can tell me about it, it was on purpose.
  • “I just thought that I…”
    No. You didn’t. You knew that you could not. And you’re checking to see if I also remember that you could not. To see if you are in trouble.And I do. And you are.
  • “Just one more…”
    No. I know exactly how this works, since I do it, too. Just one more cookie. One more show. One more book before you go quietly to bed. Only you’re a kid, so, no. Just wait one more minute while I finish this and then I will come up there and stop you.
  • “Nothing.”
    No. You never did nothing. Or want nothing. Or think nothing. “Nothing” did not happen at school. You didn’t do “nothing” to your crying sister. “Nothing” is not a choice of which vegetable you want for dinner.In your life, there isn’t nothing. There is always something. So just tell me what it is, for better or worse, or I will go completely insane.

Timeline of Family Growth and Development Milestones, As They Relate to Dora the Explorer

2008-9: Small, new, baby–too small even to watch television–arrives. I have never seen Dora the Explorer. My world is about to change.

2010: Family trip to Asia with an 18-month old in coach. I unveil the magic of television watching for the first time, hoping it will be a spellbinding gift that will buy hours of peaceful time on the plane. 18 month old watches Dora the Explorer–in English and Korean–for about ten minutes. Seems. . .unimpressed. Crushing maternal disappointment for the first–perhaps only?–time that my kid will *NOT* watch TV. The flight is so very, very long. (Its completion is still one of my top five lifetime accomplishments.)

2011: Dora–and general TV watching–finally take. At first she silently observes with dora backpacksaucer-wide eyes and the slightest of smiles. By the end of the year, mini-marathon sessions are possible–30 to 45 minutes of free hands for parents!–and the characters have become well-loved family friends. We love music and know all the songs. (Not hard. One is just the word “backpack,” repeated 37 times with different inflection.)

2012: Someone gives us a plastic, purple, talking backpack and a book that does not fit on the shelf and includes 12 micro Dora figurines. The backpack sings its own theme song, or name, or life mantra: “backpack, backpack;” we listen again and again, longing to uncover the mystery. The figurines possess a strong sedative power but, if they are lost, as they often are, sleep is a stranger to us. We learn the best places to search for objects lost by the nonsensical and barely verbal, the best ways to distract emotional toddlers from unpleasant realities, and the occasions when you just have to cry it out.

–Suddenly, mid-year, the Dora love dries up: Swiper the rule-breaking-Fox is no longer cute in his capers. He is a dangerous social menace who can’t be trusted. We develop empathy for Dora and Tico and Roberto the Robot–who are often the victims of Swiper’s TRULY SENSELESS crimes. Hysterical crying makes even the most innocent-seeming episode a bridge too far. So we focus on reading books and playing with other kids and Dora briefly exits our life.

2013: A new toddler enters the scene, seemingly born knowing how to stream from Netflix, and she wants to watch Dora. She sits, saucer-eyed and smiles; but her older sister continues the Swiper-the-Fox freak out. So it is that they learn to fight over controlling the television, to tease each other about irrational fears, and to pretend nothing happened when parents arrive, skills that–as I remember it–will be heavily used in coming years.

2014: A trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house–CABLE! Nick Junior!!–reveals the existence of “Dora and Friends,” in-to-the-ci-ty. A catchier theme song and more mature content (Dora is a tween! in the city! with a changing wardrobe!), make this an instant hit. Upon returning home to our basic-TV-channels-only home, we begin learning the rule that we don’t always have and won’t always get all of the cool things other people have. This lesson is hard, and they test it weekly, just to make sure.

2015: We finally get cable. Not for Dora; I feel confident no one does that. It is maybe for MI to watch baseball, or to allow more movie recording options, or just so I feel hip (irony of using “hip” to be hip is not lost. The irony of “being hip” by getting cable during the 2015 cable-cutting era was lost, though, until MI pointed it out while proofreading. Whatever, haters.) We now have to and can record Dora and Friends in-to-the-ci-ty. The entertainment grail. We must now learn the secret of moderation–a lifelong human pursuit that applies to everything except smiling and cookies. We learn about finishing work before play, turning things off when it is time to leave, and not singing theme songs around people who are hungry.


They’re growing up, and the lessons are getting deep. It struck me how Dora has been woven through the early years of my children’s development in a way the show’s creators perhaps didn’t anticipate. We didn’t learn about passing first through the Coconut Forest, past the place with the bubbles that can be repaired with duct tape, to the big red hill that is actually a large chicken. We already knew that. We learned about family and fears and relationships and compromise…

…and this pearl of wisdom, which I heard Ella passing along to D2 at dinner:

Dora and Friends is not just a show. Dora and Friends is actually a non-fiction movie. It is about 2060 years ago, about *real* life, told in a fun, fiction-like way so that kids can understand. It. is. REAL.

D2 nodded sagely.

My kids are taking me, literally

My brilliant gymnastics teammate from college, Carolyn, is a real-life actress. And I really love one of her recent comedy sketches about children as the “Literal Police.”  First, check it out:

So, this video hit close to home because I always use hyperbole, and my kids have literally become the Literal Police at our house.

Just a Minute

There is no possible way to parent without saying, “Just a minute!” I feel completely certain and confident about this. I also feel confident that it is completely impossible to remain calm when a small person starts counting to 60 after you tell them to wait a minute. You just have to completely lose it.  It is the only way.

After all, “wait a minute,” is secret, polite-sounding parenting code for, “I have to/want to do something else, you won’t leave me alone, I sort of hate you right now, I wish were by myself.” So, when your adorable, adoring tormentor stands right next to you and counts slowly to 60, well, I am actually so annoyed just remembering times when this happened that I can’t finish writing this sentence.

I blame the whole thing on Frozen. (I feel internet readers nodding their heads in understanding approval. I mean, I’ve heard some children–like my sister–did the ‘count to 60’ thing back in B.F. (the time ‘Before Frozen’), but I can’t remember specifics about the era before Frozen, and suspect it is all just legend). Other parents of Frozen fanatics, do you remember the part of the movie where Anna tells Olaf to wait ‘for a minute’? Then Olaf counts to 60 before barging in? I remember seeing that scene unfold in the theater for the first time like it was yesterday (I think I did see that scene yesterday, like I see Frozen scenes most days. But I remember the emotion of that first time: the foreboding; the horror).

“1, 2, 3 . . .”

“Nooooo. Disney would never teach children . . .”

“59, 60!”

“OH, NO. You. Did. Not.”

Yup, Disney did. Within days, Ella was counting to 60 when I asked her to wait for a minute. I quickly converted to “moment” but it was too late. A whole world of literal-ity had literally been born. And I had paid Disney for it. 

I’ll be right there.
Just one more minute.
We’ll talk about that later.
I am almost ready.

All of a sudden, there was no safe way to talk about time or the future. All was lost. Forever.

But, after a minute of reflection, I see the other side of my kids’ taking me literally: it can be wonderfully hilarious. I love the way their minds work. For example, Ella had her first soccer game earlier this week. She was excited. I was nervous. It was her first game, her first team sport, maybe her first time listening, and I didn’t know how it would go since she doesn’t have . . . an established track record of strong athletic performance or a record of listening to anyone ever.

On the way to the game, I tried to build up her confidence and impart my sports wisdom. Engage with her team. Pay attention to her coach (MI). Run fast. Be aggressive with the ball. Listen to instructions. Be fierce.

Be fierce

The game started and she really got in there, running with the feral pack of other six-year olds arrayed in an electron-like circle around the ball. She was an outer electron, to be sure, but she was responsive and generally moving with the atom, so I was happy.

Max_and his clawsExcept her run. She was running in this wild way, swinging her arms in front of her body, in strange arcs above her head. Her fingers were spread and rigid, scrunched like talon-ed claws. She looked pretty much exactly like Max when he dances with the wild things.

When her (dad) coach finally subbed her out, I whisper-yelled for her to come over and asked her what she was doing with that crazy run. So looked confused and answered that she was just doing it how I told her to.

Uhhhh. . . when did I say, run like Grendel? Zombie manicure barbie? Deranged beekeeper? Raptor in the Jurassic Park kitchen?

She clarified: I told her to “BE FIERCE.” Animals are the things that people usually describe as “fierce.” Fierce animals are hunters. They have claws. So, to be fierce, you need claws. If a soccer player wants to “be fierce” she should channel the behavior of a cat of prey, and run with her outstretched claws.

How do you respond to that? I gave her her water and went back to cheering for her team, looking closely for other kids who were as strange as mine. (There were several. I love kids.)

Take-a-ways

  1. Ella’s team needs to discuss and practice some of the basic principals of soccer, and I should probably stay out of it until the basics have solidified.
  2. “Just a minute” is no longer a safe place for me, so I need to just hide in the bathroom sometimes.
  3. “Frozen,” beautiful American cinematic animated masterpiece that it is, also has the power to ruin lives. Watch with care. And Disney, teach no pranks, complaints, or annoyances if you want me to buy any more beaded plastic shoes or princess-branded pink yogurt. (As I typed that, I realized we already need to not buy plastic shoes or pink princess yogurt. So that’s, like, take-a-way 3b.)
  4. Be fierce.

Lessons from the First Kid

Lessons: Yes, your baby can be naked in PF Changs, though people get judge-y. Two sets of clothes, always two sets of clothes. Never bring the small pack of wipes. Everything is a wipe in a time of crisis.

One of my favorite commercials ever is from the ‘First Kid, Second Kid’ series by Luvs diapers. They nailed this:

Not that I was THAT much crazy for my first kid. We don’t own that many umbrellas and they hadn’t yet invented squeezy baby food bags. (Seriously. HAD NOT INVENTED. I think I feel about that the way housewives of the 50s must feel about cooking dinner before the microwave: like, why did I even bother to start so early?) But I have some great first-time parent stories.

1.      The first time I took Ella to church. I dressed her in a WHITE VELVET dress (Why

IMG_9846do they even HAVE those??) with white tights and a onesie that contrasted perfectly with the dress detailing. And little baby shoes (why do they even HAVE those!??). And a matching hair bow. And she looked beautiful–angelic–and I was ready to show her off and feel perfect and proud. We got there and we sat down and reached in to pull her out for the Pride Rock-esque unveiling.

Sliding my hand under her to lift her out–wait, slimey? So slimey. Oh. OOOOH. Immediate retreat to mother’s room with carseat and slime baby. Can it be washed? No… Can they be saved? No. Do I have anything else…. No. We emerged 40 minutes later, both still somewhat slimey and the baby in a diaper… and a hair bow.

Lessons: no white, no shoes, always extra clothes, try not to leave the house.

 2.      My first time taking Ella to meet a friend at a REAL RESTAURANT. I had learned: stocked diaper bag, change of clothes, stroller, baby toy. I was ready.

As I parked the car, I checked to make sure everything was in order. And a good thing!! Her diaper was full and her pants a bit un-fresh. NO worries. I have a portable changing pad and extra clothes, so I will just take care of it right here. I am so prepared; she will still be so cute.

We enter the restaurant, friend admires, we order. Then Ella promptly has an adult-size bowel movement made out of baby slime poop that is immediately everywhere. So… we retreat to the bathroom. The ever-so-mildly dirty first pants are out in the car, out of reach; these *ARE* THE BACKUP PANTS!!! I don’t have enough wipes! How do you get paper towels while not leaving your baby unattended?? Should I just throw it all away? That’s wasteful…but this is a restaurant, in America… Can your baby just be naked in PF Changs? Is that allowed?

Lessons: Yes, your baby can be naked in PF Changs, though people get judge-y. Two sets of clothes, always two sets of clothes. Never bring the small pack of wipes. Everything is a wipe in a time of crisis.

3.      Calling the doctor to see if my baby was sleeping too much. Yes, I made this call, when Ella was about 4 months old. She slept until 8:00, woke up, ate, went back to sleep until noon, woke up ate, went back to sleep until 3. Two days in a row. I was used to her eating every 90 minutes so this sudden constant sleeping… was she okay? Was something wrong? Was she in a sleep coma because she wasn’t getting enough food? Did she need me to wake her up to eat more often? Was she over stimulated? Was she under stimulated? Should I wake her up to feed her or to stimulate her baby mind more…or less?

Lessons: Babies are almost always fine. Do not ask *why* the baby sleeps; say a quick prayer of thanks, turn on the TV, flip through a magazine, have lunch using two hands, make yourself some brownies. Never wake napping baby.*


Flash forward: Today I had lunch with several friends who have children younger than mine and find themselves still navigating the ‘First Kid’ stage. How far away those problems felt. Worries that needn’t be worried; issues that would sort themselves out; kids who would be just fine. 

Gone, for example, is my one-time paranoia about proper bedtime attire and whether the house was too cold and if I could use a blanket or instead needed a baby sleeping bag and what kind and zippers-or-snaps and…

[Me, calling up the stairs, halfheartedly] How is getting on your pajamas?
[Silence.]
HOW IS GETTING ON YOUR PAJAMAS?!
[Silence.]
PAAAJAAAMMMAS!!!!!!!!!
I am . . . getting ready to put on my pajamas.

… I’ll take it.

The perspective change I’ve already had post-infants probably implies that my updated set of current kid worries will also probably sort themselves out. Time to grab a handful of cheerios and brace.


*This advice is intended to be funny and ironic, not medical or universally applicable. For example, some people have gluten issues with brownies, real or imagined, and I get that. Modify as appropriate for you and your family.

To my future internet-savvy children

Dear future Ella and D2,

The year is, I guess, 20…20? (I don’t know, actually. I think this guess is influenced by my having just gone to the optometrist.) and you are *on the Internet.*

Maybe its after school. You idolize me still, and want to read the blog you’ve seen me work on over the years, to love and understand me even better. And there you’ll find all of my parenting secrets from your early years. I knew this day would come. Now, you are ready for:

A list of things that I suppose I should tell you now that you can read my blog.

[[Aside to present day readers: The use of “sneaky code names” was at first a bit silly to me. Most of the people who come to this site at present know who I am (except that mystery reader in Qatar. Marhaba, Qatarian fan!) At least until I make it big in the blogging world, which I think mostly happened to people like five years ago. So, I worried that perhaps monikers are more confusing than helpful.

But, I recently read an article about cyber bullying that made me realize the value of code names in minimizing the material easily searchable about my children. I suppose they’ll leave their own internet trail, but I will try not to add to it. After all, I would hate for their friends in high school to know that they spent several years mis-using markers and failing to clear the table.]]

  1. The batteries in musical toys given to you by relatives didn’t really last for one magical day. That was just my patience for them.
  2. The store pretty much always has marshmallows.
  3. I put kale in the milkshakes.peeps on a stick
  4. Yes, you had enough allowance money to buy peeps-on-a-stick. And a small bounce-y ball. But I wanted to help you learn about saving and those were terrible purchase ideas.
  5. Sometimes I *did* have a quarter. But those are for parking, not artificially-flavored blue raspberry gumballs that one of you will swallow and one of you will lose in the car.
  6. The cleaners never threw your art in the trash. You made an unsustainable volume of art, some of which was just off-brand pasta glued to green paper. Our house is small. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
  7. Eating candy has never made teeth fall out, that I am aware of. I have actually found (from my friend) that if you eat it consistently, you build up immunity and it cannot make you sick, even if you eat it on an otherwise empty stomach. Try not to overdo it.
  8. I put carrots in the smoothies.smoothie in blender
  9. When you demanded medicinal cream for extremely minor or imagined injuries, I gave you Vaseline. It worked, though: check your hand!  Healed, right?
  10. They did have your size of light-up mock-glass slippers at Target. I just could not own them.
  11. I was not really going to call your teacher/the neighbor/your dad/Santa to confirm your story. I could tell you were lying to me. You would crumble under pressure. Or Santa would actually know about it.
  12. Soap isn’t that expensive. I just drives me crazy that I have to replace it weekly in thesoapy seashell bathroom because D2 avoids cleaning time by creating Aerial’s under-the-sea bubble kingdom in the sink and painstakingly filling decorative seashells with soap.
  13. Putting the Kit-Kat under Ella’s pillow from the Tooth Fairy was actually my (in retrospect, poorly thought-out) idea. We were out of dollar bills and I was not going to give you a five. And now you know about how I save quarters. When you gave me the melted part to throw away, I ate it.

Phew, I am glad to get that off my chest. Maybe I’ll make regular installments in this series. I know you’ll still love and seek to understand me. Except when you’re a teenager, which I am already working to make peace with.

Make good choices!

Getting Your Kids to Listen: Pro Tips from an Expert

If I got a dollar for every time I said:

“Thank you for politely listening right away!”

I’d start saying it all the time.

Not because it was true, but because it would be nice to be a salaried parent. And I’d be saying something that–when true–probably makes you feel like a really amazing mom.

Professional parenting. Boom.

baby listening

Big reveal:

I am actually a professional at asking my kids six times, using the tonal pattern:

1. so nice, so polite / 2. nice, polite / 3. pretty nice, drop polite / 4. edgy, but sane / 5. threatening loss of privileges with moderate loss of perspective / 6. yelling in that voice I promised I would never use.

That last one is the one that usually works, but I never jump straight to step 6; I am a true professional, and I stick to the system.

Ella currently is in a one-week camp at an MMA studio (which was my idea, you might have guessed; I was hoping it was ‘make you listen and be somewhat coordinated’ boot camp for small people). She described one of her teachers as “less chance-y” than me. Apparently, whereas I give lots and lots of chances to listen before I dole out punishment, Ms. Sarah asks once and then you’re sitting on your knees facing the wall.

Props, Ms. Sarah. Come over anytime–I’ve got a kids’ chore list and a dollar with your name on it.

That Girl’s Got it Figured Out

Me: Ella, please come in to help set the table for dinner.

Ella: I am not [Ella]. I am Queen Chila.

Me: Queen Chila?

Ella: Yes. I am a ruler of a far-away land.

Me: I see. And what brings you to my kitchen?

Ella: I am on vacation here. Vacation from all my problems.

Me: Wow, vacation from all your problems sounds excellent. I need to go on a vacation like that!

Ella: Yes, you would like it, I bet.

Carrots: The boost you need to find your friend

I was standing in the kitchen, diligently cleaning and putting stuff away (read: eating sesame crackers out of the bag while standing in front of the fridge with the door open) when Ella came bursting in. She had been playing across the street at her friend’s house, so was out of breath from running fast in the cold. Through gulps of air, she asked me a question that I have never been asked. Perhaps that no parent has been asked ever: “Can I please have a carrot?  Quickly?”

The fridge door was already open, so without delay, I reached in and grabbed a carrot. I didn’t want to break the spell of a child requesting raw produce, but was so curious I had to ask her why she needed it. This exchange ensued:

“I am playing hide and seek with A–. I can’t find her, so I need to eat a carrot. Because carrots are good for your eyes.”

“Ha, that’s right — wait, is she still hiding right now?  Outside?”

“No. She’s hiding in her house.”

“You left her hiding and ran home to get a carrot!?”

“Yeah! To help my eyes. She hid really well. But I have to go try to find her now. That is why I needed it quickly. Ok, bye!”

 

And off she dashed out of the house. She came back 6 minutes later with the stub of a mostly-eaten carrot and told me it had worked.

So… does anyone know other classic children’s games that are improved by eating brocolli?

The Modernization of School Projects

Last week I attended Ella’s school’s “Art Showcase” to learn about how the teachers incorporate arts and technology into the standard curriculum. Ella loves school, brings home cool art, and seems to be learning a lot, so I was prepared to be generally impressed. Any organization that wants to provide the paint and glitter and do all of the clean up has my complete blessing. After all, at home we mostly just color computer-printed pictures of the Disney Princess Palace Pet “Blondie” over and over, so we probably need artistic backup.

D2's growing collection of Palace Pet print-outs.
D2’s growing collection of Palace Pet print-outs.

The showcase was also going to be a good chance for me to learn more about architecture class, one of her “specials.” I have heretofore been skeptical about architecture class because I figured it:

  1. Was in reality a class to appease the increasing number of helicopter parents trying to prep children too early and too aggressively for college, a northern-Virginia trend I fight hard to beat down.
  2. Would actually teach her about architecture and she would love it and then I’d have multiple people in the family who want to ‘appreciate and explore’ architecture. MI doesn’t need a partner in that crime.

After just one fourth-grade demo, though, I was completely on board. It was amazing to watch 8 year-old kids making scale models of Fort James on design software to complement a social studies project. I felt proud–if obsolete–to be raising, driving, and providing snacks to such geniuses. I now look forward to the future house Ella will design for me on her island.

Then I went to the demo of technology in storytelling–in Ella’s class!  She was so excited and reminded me beforehand to “remember my smartphone!” (I figured she wanted to star in lots of pictures and I was ready to snap away. Nope.) The demo included a project by each kindergartener where they had used a computer drawing program to illustrate the story of the Three Little Pigs. The children each recorded themselves narrating the story and then they pulled everything together into a video. I needed my smartphone to scan the QR code to pull up her specific project. After I hunted around the Google Play store for a QR reader ap, which I had not used before, I was ready to watch:

So, wow, right? I shared the link with my family (saving well over two dollars in postage, since you used to have to mail such things) and then had a few good laughs with my brother and sister about how we used to make dioramas in shoe boxes and I once won a state-wide prize for building a model that used parts from a toilet.

This is kindergarten education now, huh? Well, I am not backing away, afraid. (Why would you even think that?) The art showcase was school’s shot across the bow. And I will prepare. I am downloading apps. I am going to start reading all the fliers that come home (sorry, dear teachers, that we missed the one about recommended costumes for today’s 100th day of school festivities. Just saw that. . . Don’t worry, I recycled it.) And I am thinking of enrolling myself in the new STEM preschool that just opened in my neighborhood so that I can keep up.


 Time to step up art with Mom:

The time we took a piece of yellow paper and. . . painted it blue.
A tribute to the time we took a piece of yellow paper and… painted it blue.