We’re doing better these days, mainly because she’s older and there are fewer risks of miscommunication when discussing the complexities of God and such. But, from time to time, things still get lost in translation.
Last night at bedtime when Daddy was reading to the child from a book of nighttime blessings, they settled on a story about Jesus and shepherds. She seemed to be paying attention, but when the story ended, she jumped up and ran around the house chanting, “Shepherd’s Pie! Shepherd’s Pie! Shepherd’s Pie!” We think she may have missed the point of that story. Either that or she was hungry for pub food.
Our 5-year-old has an uncanny knack for summarizing and reviewing movies in just a few short sentences — no doubt this skill will have no real-world, practical application whatsoever, but we’re damn proud anyway. And it’s funny, and my child is my main source of amusement. So I thought I’d share a few of her recent movie reviews with you, in case you’re on the fence about seeing any of these delightful children’s films. After reading them, I’m sure you’ll agree that A) my child is the next Roger Ebert; B) her understanding of movie plots is borderline genius; and C) these movies all sound horrible (or awesome, depending on how weird you are).
May is always a hectic month for us: Mother’s Day, birthdays, and end of the school year stuff all come at us in a matter of weeks. And this year, we’ve added moving to that list. Huzzah! The other day, the husband was stressing about our May calendar of events, in particular the fast approach of Mother’s Day, and I decided to do everyone a favor and play the Low Maintenance Mommy card (This is not my natural state. I’ve been known to say things like, “I need crushed ice, not cubed!”) But Mother’s Day is no biggie to me, and something I certainly don’t want anyone stressing about. So we had this conversation:
“You know what I’d really like for Mother’s Day, guys?” I say. “I’d like the kiddo to draw a special picture just for me.”
“I’m going to draw you a picture of poop and farts,” she says.
“Maybe you can draw something a little more Mother’s Day-ish…” I say.
“OK. I’ll draw you a picture of a unicorn….pooping.”
Something strange was happening in our house this week. Nobody slept. Everyone was cranky. We cried for no particular reason. We yelled our conversations. Our bodies ached and creaked. We glared at each other from across the room. We were all tired, aggressive, sad and confused. At one point, the child collapsed into a heap of tears on our laundry room floor when I told her she couldn’t draw with a Sharpie pen. I asked her why she was crying. “I just don’t know!” she wailed. We just didn’t know. We had no idea what was going on this week. If I were one of those people who looked to astrology for the answers, I’d say that Jupiter was in retrograde. Yes, a planet had to be in retrograde to cause this inexplicable upset in our home. Or maybe it was El Niño’s fault. I’ll blame El Niño. Whatever the cause of this week’s chaos, it led to a few absolutely absurd conversations with my child. A few examples for your amusement:
Sometimes we teach our children coping skills and sometimes they teach us.
A few nights ago, we got home late after a long day out and headed upstairs to put the kiddo to bed. Our dogs had been home alone all day, never a good thing. One of our dogs, The Destroyer, has separation anxiety, and when we’re away for a long period of time, she goes a little nuts and takes it out on a piece of furniture or one of our possessions (the more irreplaceable, the better, according to her). Over the years we’ve locked down a seven-step dog proofing system that we go through every time we leave, but she’s a border collie and crazy smart and will find the flaws in our system when determined. She was determined on that night.
Our favorite time of year has arrived! We love the spooky in our house … horror films, Halloween, the Zombie Apocalypse … we’re all over it. And our daughter, it seems, has either inherited, or, more likely, been trained into an appreciation of scary things as well. (Though, to be clear, we are good parents and don’t let her watch horror movies. Strictly age appropriate “scary” at this point.) Last year, she told us she wanted to be Ana from Frozen for Halloween, a
I believe in having an honest dialog with my daughter about almost everything. Dog erections? I think I handled that Q&A candidly and quite nicely. Jesus? God? What is everything all about? Well, that’s an ongoing conversation. But we address Hailey’s questions with honesty as they arise. There are some things, though, that I don’t mind flat out lying to my child about. I call it lying with love. Below are the biggest and most frequent lies I tell Hailey. I hope someday when the truth is revealed, she’ll look back at this post and know that these fallacies were my attempt to keep her childhood as innocent as possible for as long as possible.
Everything will be okay. This is a common refrain among mothers. A favorite toy is lost, her best friend chose to play with someone else during playtime, she’s going to have new teachers and classmates next year — everything will be okay. At some point in her life, there will come a time when something will not be okay, but my 4-year-old does not need to know this. For now, she needs to know that the small obstacles in her life are just that, small, and she has the strength, resourcefulness, intellect and humor to navigate these challenges.
Death is just a visit to the van down by the river. After reading a few Disney books to Hailey, we realized that they use death as a plot device A LOT. Within the first few pages, parents die and children are orphaned. This seems overly tragic for children’s bedtime reading material. I don’t know when the time is right to have the death talk with Hailey, but I know that she is not emotionally ready to learn that her parents will die someday. She knows that some relatives are no longer here and live in Heaven, and in her mind, she has interpreted this to mean they live in outer space. Sometimes she will say to random people, “My grandpa Bruce lives in outer space.” I’m okay with this for now. It’s part of her strange charm. But when we read Disney books or any other morbid children’s literature to her (Secret Garden, I’m looking at you), we replace any mention of death with the old Chris Farley bit about the van down by the river. It goes something like this, “Cinderella’s mother died went to the van down by the river, so her father married a wicked woman who became her stepmother.” Similarly, having two dogs, and one that’s getting up there in age, we have told Hailey that when dogs get very old they go to a lovely place called Puppy Lake. Sometimes she threatens to send them there early when they misbehave. This makes me feel bad for them because I know that she’s unknowingly wishing death upon them.
Trolls live under bridges. I don’t know, people. I lived in Seattle briefly and there’s a statue of a troll under a bridge in Fremont and I loved it…so I always associate trolls with bridges. So one time Hailey and I were crossing a bridge and I told her trolls live under bridges and she was fascinated. Now she looks for trolls every time we cross a bridge. She gets a kick out of it; sometimes she thinks she spots one and sometimes she asks why we don’t see more. “Because they’re shy and they mostly sleep during the day,” I explain. She’s satisfied with this answer, but still hopes to find one awake and about during the day. I think childhood should be whimsical and full of make believe. Some kids can read at 4. My kid hunts for trolls under bridges.
Everything will be fine in the morning.This is a lie my mom used to tell me. And although I’m old enough now to know it’s not true — 8 hours of sleep doesn’t solve your problems — I still find it to be good advice and partly true. In my experience everything always seems worse in the middle of the night. A good night’s sleep and looking at your problem with a fresh perspective in the morning does often help and does indeed make your problem seem less dire. So, sleep on it, my dear. Always sleep on it.
Fruits and veggies make you big and strong. I’m not disputing that fruits and veggies are good for your overall nutrition and health, but Hailey is obsessed with growing taller and stronger. I imagine her height will have more to do with genetics than anything and her strength is likely impacted more by her protein intake and exercise. Nonetheless, every time I put a new or less than favorite fruit or veggie on her plate, I ask her to try it because it will make her big and strong.
Mommy will always be here. Hailey is attached to mommy and this can cause her a bit of anxiety when she is separated from mommy for a long period of time. These situations usually require a pep talk, and the pep talk always ends the same way: “At the end of the day, mommy will always be here. Mommy is never going anywhere. You will always come home to mommy.” With these words, Hailey holds her chin high and marches into the great unknown. Each time I say it I wonder, what if I have an emergency someday? What if I get called away? Go out of town? Surely, I can’t be here all the time. What happens when I go to the van down by the river and break my promise of always being here? I hope by then she will be much, much older and wiser and telling loving lies to her own children.
Santa is real. The Easter Bunny is for suckers. When I was 5 I had a friend whose parents’ parenting philosophy was to never to lie to their children. Thus, their kids were never allowed to believe in Santa. The problem with this is that kids have big mouths, and this friend broke the news to me about Santa when I was 5. I barely got to lucidly believe in Santa for more than a couple of years. My kid believes in Santa. Santa is magical, and as I said, I think childhood should be full of whimsy. From Thanksgiving through New Years, Santa, reindeer with red noses, snowmen who talk, elves — they’re all real in our house. Now, the Easter Bunny…I’ve done a shit job of explaining that guy, mostly because I don’t understand him myself. “Why is he giant?” Hailey asks. “I don’t know.” “Why does a bunny have eggs?” she asks. “That’s a good question. It makes no sense,” I say.
Mommy’s iPad only works for 20 minutes at a time. Praise the Lord for YouTube parental settings and its glorious timer or my child would be lost in a trance of Hobby Kids TV, Disney Collector BR and Peppa Pig for hours at a time. And mommy can’t stand those little Hobby Kids. So when the timer shuts the iPad off and Hailey snaps out of her trance and yelps in protest as the fog lifts, I say, “Sorry honey, mommy’s iPad only works for 20 minutes and then I have to charge it. You can earn more iPad time for tomorrow.”
I’d love to hear the lies of love other mommies tell their children.
I realized I might be neglecting my child’s religious education when she asked me recently if we could go to “cheech” on Sunday. The Carmelite Sisters at my Catholic high school would have cringed at that one. God and all things spiritual are definitely part of the dialogue in our house, but our weekly, or even monthly, schedule doesn’t involve attending religious services short of the occasional baptism or wedding mass.
Hailey attends a Presbyterian preschool, and while it doesn’t indoctrinate the children into any particular denomination, the kids attend chapel once a month and hear stories and sing songs about Jesus. I suppose I’ve lazily relied on these chapel visits as Hailey’s more formal religious education. After Hailey expressed her interest in cheech, we talked about Jesus for a bit. I asked her who Jesus was, what he did, what he looked like. She spun a grand tale of the son of God who was a super hero and wore a helmet and a cape. Not far off, I suppose.
One ritual we do practice is nightly prayers and expressions of gratitude when we put Hailey to bed. Hailey usually kicks these off with something simple: “Thank you, God, for my good day. I’m thankful for my teachers.” But recently, even this simple ritual has taken a strange turn. The other night, Hailey’s prayer went like this: “God, thank you for everything but I have a question: Why does Elsa freeze stuff so much? Why does she do it? Why?” We better get ourselves to cheech immediately.
Hailey is wonderfully weird and we love it. But there are certain times when she’ll do or say something that makes us, weird as we are, pause and wonder if her behavior falls within “normal” weird or if she’ll be going to conventions dressed like stuffed animals someday. Below are some examples that may or may not fall within the “warning sign” category.
1. Gets a Thrill from Torturing Dinosaurs. I serve Hailey Dino Nuggets for lunch then go back to the kitchen. A few minutes later I hear her growling and roaring. “Are you playing with your nuggets?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “I’m biting the heads off the baby dinosaurs and making their mommies watch.”
2. A Penchant for Violence. I take Hailey to her pediatrician, and while we’re waiting in the exam room, down the hall a baby is wailing. “Why is that baby crying?” Hailey asks. Awww, she’s concerned, I think, explaining to her that the baby is probably scared and unhappy. “I want to see that baby,” she says. “I want to kick that baby.”
3. Swears Like an Adorable Sailor. Hailey went through a phase where she repeated swear words she overheard someone…ummm, ok, me…say. A Lot. Then one day she drops her juice and says, “Dang it.” I praise her. “Good,” I say. “Dang it is okay to say.” I prefer this to some other choice words anyway. “Well,” she says. “I like ‘damn it’ better. ‘Damn it’ is my favorite.”
4. Mother Issues. Hailey sits next to me and puts her hands on each side of my face looking intently into my eyes, then turns to her dad and says, “I want to take mommy’s eyeballs out.”
5. A Cold as Ice Attitude Toward Authority. Hailey was misbehaving and I told her she was going to get a warning (warnings lead to timeouts if the behavior continues). “Why don’t you just wrap it up like a present and give it to yourself,” she challenges. Another evening she simply refused to go to sleep and our bedtime ritual had stretched to the wee hours of the night. I was about to crumble, and, verging on tears and insanity, I pulled myself together and made one last plea, explaining to her why she had to go to bed and listen to mommy and get enough rest to prepare for the next day, blah, blah blah. When I finished, she was quiet and I thought, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to her and she would be sleeping peacefully shortly. Then she looks at me and breaks the silence: “Why are you like this?” she wonders.
6. Bloodlust. On Hailey’s first day of preschool, I couldn’t wait to pick her up and hear about her day. When we got into the car after school I started with a million questions: “What did you do?” “What did you learn?” “Do you like your teachers?” “Did you make friends?” She gave me nothing. I tried again. “What did you have for snack?” “Did your teachers read to you?” “Did you play?” Finally, she answers…yay, she is going to tell me about her first day of school and I’m so excited! “Molly got a bloody nose. She picked it til it got bloody. There was A LOT of blood, mom.” And that’s what I got…. Her first day of school ever and all I’m ever going to know about it is that Molly got a bloody nose.
Never a dull moment in the Howe house with our lovely little weirdo.