We had three or four days straight of rain recently, so the kiddo and I spent a lot of time indoors. We Los Angelenos aren’t highly functional in the rain — it’s pretty much a blur of sweats, bedhead, cookie dough and Netflix. Lots of Netflix. At some point during this recent rainy period (oh yeah, three days of rain equals a “rainy period” in LA), the child and I exhausted our puzzle, craft and book options and turned to good ‘ol Netflix. The kiddo was in charge of the remote. Danger. She pointed that remote at what I was sure could only be an independent art film: “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva la Fiesta.” She clicked. She was delighted with those tiny talking chihuahuas. We watched that shit at least six times over the next couple days. Then she discovered “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2.” Then she discovered “Snow Buddies.” She discovered there’s a whole subgenre of films about talking dogs. It was a long rainy season in Los Angeles for this lady.
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.
Hailey’s grandparents and aunt took her and her cousins to the aquarium yesterday. When they picked Hailey up in the morning, my almost 3-year-old nephew’s first words to me were, “My daddy farts. And mommy poops. A LOT.” Oh boy, I thought. His mommy will be thrilled to know this is how he greets people now. Then Hailey felt compelled to chime in: “My mommy…” “My mommy…” she began a couple of times. Where’s she going to go with this? I wondered, a little nervously. “I used to live in my mommy’s tummy,” she finished. Phew. I really dodged a bullet there. She could have gone any number of embarrassing places. At 4, Hailey is not yet able to filter the information that stays at home and that which can be shared with the world. Below are the five stories I’m a little terrified she’ll share in public someday.
1. Naked wrestling. Josh is really into MMA and watches UFC fights, mostly out of the house with his friends, but every once in a while at home after Hailey has gone to bed. Hailey is moderately aware of Josh’s interest. She knows what UFC is and she’ll peer over daddy’s shoulder when he’s reading highlights of the fights on his phone or laptop. Since the men are shirtless when they fight, Hailey calls it “naked wrestling,” and she’ll say things like, “I want the guy in the black chonies (undies) to win!” Or, “Is Daddy watching naked wrestling with Raul tonight?” Sometimes she’ll even challenge daddy to a naked wrestling fight. I’m very worried that someday authorities will show up at my door because Hailey shared with her teachers or classmates that she naked wrestles at home.
2. Where’s the chingadera? Josh and I refer to the remote control, or pretty much anything we can never find, as “the chingadera’ — loosely translated: that fucking thing. When Hailey started talking and Josh and I put our potty mouths on lock down, we forgot this one. As a result, guess what Hailey calls the remote: the chingadera. Example: “Mom, can I watch Strawberry Shortcake? I think the chingadera is on the couch.” I really should put the kibosh on this, but the Spanish speaking side of me chuckles ever time she says this and the English speaking side is none the wiser. But now Hailey’s reached the age where she could have a play date with a bilingual friend and refer to a soccer ball or a sand bucket as “the chingadera,” and that child’s parents will judge me. They’ll judge me good.
3. Any information about our dogs. Our dogs Bella and Chewie are our fourth and fifth members of the family. And when your pets are so integrated into the family you have ample opportunity to witness nature in all its glory and all its grossness. In the last year I’ve had to have a frank but nonthreatening talk with Hailey about dog erections, which inspired a shadow puppet show. We’ve discussed why dogs don’t use toilet paper. I’ll let you arrive at your own conclusions about how that conversation went, but I will say, Hailey’s reaction was, “Are you serious, Mom?” We also had an impromptu conversation about why puppies come out of dogs’
butts vaginas. Still considering getting that puppy for your child?
4. Poop. We talk about poop a lot in our house. We say the word “poop” a lot in our house. Both Josh’s family and my family are afflicted with various distressing gastrointestinal conditions. Hailey did not hit the genetic jackpot in this respect. Someday she will talk about poop a lot with her own family. Already, she has picked up on our lack of discretion about poop talk. I had to censor her four or five times on our last play date.
5. How we feel about our neighbors and a couple of other folks. We have nice neighbors on one side of us and jerks on the other side of us. Sometimes when we’re talking about our nasty neighbors or anyone else we don’t happen to care for, we forget that Hailey sometimes overhears us talking and is taking it all in. Every once in a while she’ll distinguish our neighbors as, “the ones we like” and “the ones we don’t like.” I’m a little afraid that she might spill the beans on this one, not because she’ll offend the neighbors — I’m sure they know how we feel about them — but because at 4 she isn’t ready to feel the emotions associated with telling someone, “we don’t like you.” Also, it’s inappropriate for a 4-year-old to divide people into “like” and “dislike” columns. Let’s save that for middle school.
So how do you stop a 4-year-old from sharing the family stories with the world? Do you do as my mom did and put the fear in your children that you NEVER talk about family stuff outside of the house? No, I don’t think so. I will often gently remind Hailey that some things are okay to talk about at home but not at school or at the park. Just the other night we were saying prayers and she said “poop” (of course she did), and we took the opportunity to talk about the moments when it is important to be respectful. Does it sink in? A little, I’d say. Keeping the conversation short and sweet is key. You cannot harangue a preschooler. I think so much depends on us as parents too. Josh and I will have to encourage Hailey to rename naked wrestling and confine our complaints about the neighbors to the hours after her bedtime. I think, sadly, we might even have to rename the chingadera. I suppose you eventually have to let go of some of the things that make for cute stories in the home once your child ventures out of the home. Cute stories they may be, but kids grow up and parents have to grow up right along with them.
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’m happy to say it wasn’t our dog that unknowingly initiated the birds and bees talk with Hailey this time; it was the preschool reading program. Every Thursday, Hailey’s preschool sends home four new books with each child to read with his or her parents. Hailey loves this program, and when we get home from school on Thursdays, she eagerly tears open the book bag and we read all four books immediately. Now, the school flyer in the book bag advises parents to go through the books before reading them to the kids, but I never have been one for reading instructions. So, on this particular Thursday, we dive into the books, and pick up one titled, The Last Puppy. Sounds lovely. (Sidenote: I just realized all of Hailey’s birds and bees lessons do have some link to dogs, even if just tangentially. I’ll have to have a good think about this later.) We open the first page of The Last Puppy and are treated to a delightful illustration of a dog giving birth. Not once, but NINE times.
“Why is there a puppy coming out of that dog’s butt?” Hailey asks. She doesn’t sound horrified or anything…in fact, she’s a little nonchalant about it if you ask me. So, on a quiet Thursday afternoon, this mommy has a 20-minute, “Why babies come out of mommies’
butts vajajays” talk with her 3 and a half year old.
Hailey has been around enough pregnant women that she asked me how babies get in mommies’ tummies well before she was 3. So we discussed families being ready to have a child, God putting a baby in a mommy’s tummy, and a baby growing in there until he or she is ready to be born. When she has asked how the baby comes out, I gave her a very tame explanation of my c-section, as she was not unfamiliar with the idea of operations, her dad having nearly severed his finger a year ago and her uncle having crushed his elbow in a biking accident around the same time. I figured these explanations were enough for her maturity level at the time, and the discussion about the biology of conception and childbirth could wait a while. She seemed to really understand the concept up to this point, and now, with another pregnant aunt, she has a good grasp of how the baby is growing, etc. Now that we’ve read The Last Puppy, however, I think she’s worried for what her Aunt Kiki faces in a few months.
When I finished my Last Puppy-inspired, toned down version of labor and childbirth, Hailey turned to me and said, “That sounds like it hurts.”
What to do? I wondered. Do I sugar coat this one for her?
Instead I took another tack.
“It does, honey. It hurts very much.”
Sharing a home with two dogs (Bella and Chewie) has inspired many a teaching moment in the Howe house: We’ve learned about body language, being gentle with animals, how it’s not okay for human children to pee in the backyard, about the five senses and how animals use their intuition. On most days I’d say having dogs has been an asset when it comes to parenting, that is, until the day Chewie’s behavior led to a discussion for which I wasn’t quite prepared.
We’re putting Hailey to bed one night, and we’re all in her room — parents, child and dogs — the light is low, it’s quiet and everyone is sleepy. Apparently the ambiance puts Chewie in the mood for romance. At first we ignore the slurping and licking and chewing (yes, chewing) sounds coming from the hot pink throw rug in the middle of the room. We fix our eyes on the Pete the Cat book we’re reading Hailey…shoes. Pete loves his white shoes. But soon the sheer enthusiasm with which Chewie is romancing himself has gotten everyone’s attention, Parents, Hailey, Bella…hell, even Pete the Cat couldn’t focus on his jazzy white shoes anymore. Chewie starts rolling around on the floor…. Is that moaning we hear? “What’s he doing?” Hailey asks. And then Chewie, sensing he has an audience now, decides to display his crotch to the viewing public. Hailey screams. I scream. Josh exclaims, “What the hell??!!!” What we see is a dog penis so engorged, it is truly terrifying. And then the questions start:
“What is that?”
“Is that a bone?”
“Why is it pink?”
“Does it hurt him?”
“What’s he doing to it?”
“Why won’t it go away? I want it to go away.”
“For the love of God, get him out of the room!” I say to Josh. Josh shoos him out, and the poor dog is so handicapped by his current state that he kind of hobble/rolls out of the room. Bella looks scared. I look at Hailey, hoping she might have a temporary glitch in her short term memory and forget all about what she just saw. “What was thaaaaaaat?!” she asks. So I launch into the most generic/non-frightening/hopefully-3-year-old-appropriate talk about dog boners I could muster. She listens. I don’t know if any of it computes. I keep checking in with her to see if she understands. She just nods. I think she might still be trying to erase the visual from her mind.
“OK,” I say when I’m finished. “Do you have any questions?”
“No,” she says. “Let’s do shadow puppets.” All right, I think. This went pretty well. I handled it. How awesome am I? Spontaneously having a boner discussion with my daughter and not scaring the crap out of her. Mother. Of. The. Year. So I switch off the lamp, turn on her nightlight and lie down next to her.
“What shadow puppets are we going to make tonight?” I ask.
“Let’s make Chewie’s bone!” she says, arching her index finger and wiggling it toward the wall.
Lord help me if they ever do shadow puppets in her preschool class.