"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." (Aldo Leopold) Apparently, I cannot.


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Keeping Our Kids in the Dark — For Now

keeping kids in the dark

Several weeks ago, the kids and I were settling into our usual after-school routine — they were raiding the refrigerator and cabinets for a snack, and I was going through their backpacks to see what they brought home for me to display proudly or for me to fill out and return to school the next day (there’s always something, it seems).

As I was reading through a page of notes my daughter’s teacher sent home, I nearly had a panic attack when I got to the part about the lock down drills they’d be having that coming week. My hands began shaking, and tears started streaming down my face.

I was instantly transported back to the day last winter when we all learned about the horrendous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I did not personally know anyone who worked at or had kids in the school, but my family and I lived 45 minutes away, and a very good friend of mine who grew up in Newtown did. My heart ached for her as she spent her morning trying to get any news she could.  And my heart ached for the families at Sandy Hook. I could not imagine such a tragedy happening to my family. Like so many others, I spent the day sobbing and trying to wrap my brain around the heinous news that kept unfolding.

When I realized how visibly upset I was after reading through my daughter’s class notes, I ran into the other room to try and calm myself down so that the kids wouldn’t see me. At 2 and 4 when the shooting occurred, we did not tell our kids anything about it. They were too young to understand, and we didn’t want to put that type of fear into their minds.

And now, nearly one year later, as I tried to pull myself together, I didn’t want to explain to my kids — my daughter now a kindergartner herself — why I was so upset. Why it made me sick to my stomach to think of anything like that happening at their schools. Why it made me weak in the knees thinking of them having to huddle in the bathroom with their teachers and classmates as practice in case anything like that actually happened. Why it made me want to throw up thinking that the world we live in is such these days that we even need these lock down drills. I didn’t want to explain to them that not everyone in the world is good and that some people just do terrible things. I don’t want them to know that world. Ever.

But I’m not naive. I know they will learn the realities of the world eventually — either through us, friends, or something they’ll see on the news. (And probably a lot sooner than I’d like.) We’ve already talked to them about what they should do, for example, if they ever find themselves lost when we’re away from home, what they should do if they are ever approached by strangers if we’re not around, or what they should do if faced with an emergency. But we’re not broaching the topic of someone walking into their school with a gun.

Because this horror is not something they need to know (or fear). Again, I’d argue ever. But realistically, at least not now. Not yet. At 3 and 5 years old, they’re just not ready. I’m not ready. So for now, we’re keeping our kids in the dark. (And, thankfully, my daughter’s school is of the same mindset, at least when it comes to the younger kids. As far as my daughter is concerned, she thinks they have these lock down drills in case a wild animal, like a skunk, gets into the school accidentally.)

I know a lot of families are more forthcoming with their kids, even at such young ages, and a lot of people probably think we’re doing our kids a disservice by keeping them in the dark. But this is our family, and this is what works for us. We know there will come a time when we’ll need to talk about this kind of stuff. But that time, for us, is not now. Again, not yet.

I’m curious, though, for those of you who have had these conversations with your kids, how old were they? And what prompted the conversation? How did you approach the conversation? And how did your kids react? I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation with our kids, but I’d like to be sure to go into it as prepared as I can, so I thank you for any insight and suggestions you’re willing to share.

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To Bus or Not to Bus: That is the Question (Again)

Ever since my oldest discovered the existence of school buses, she began asking me when exactly she’d be able to take one to school. “When can I wide one?” my innocent little 2-year-old would ask, full of awe and excitement. “Oh, when you’re older sweetie,” I’d say. And that answer held her for a little while, but then she started asking, “But when, mamma?! When will I be older?” And so then I switched my response to, “Probably when you’re 5 and go to kindergarten.” I really didn’t want to think about putting my baby on a school bus ever, even when she turned 5, and luckily, 3 years was a long way off.

And then it wasn’t. It was almost as if I sneezed and we were instantly transported into the future — just weeks before Belle was to start kindergarten, and there we were, faced with the decision I didn’t really want to make: To bus or not to bus?

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But as far as my daughter was concerned, the decision had already been made. I had told her she could ride the bus when she turned 5 and was going to kindergarten, and that was that. In fact, over the years, her constant questions asking when she could ride the bus simply turned into statements of fact: “I’m going to ride the bus when I go to kindergarten.” Clearly she did not pick up on the fact that I had initially said she could “probably” ride the bus when she turned 5, nor did she pick up on my own fear and hesitation for her to actually do so. (Which, btw, I was grateful for.)

My daughter was clearly excited about riding the bus — seriously, whenever anyone would ask her what she was looking forward to most about starting school, she’d say, “I get to ride the bus.” She’d even walk up to strangers in the grocery store or at the park and say, “I’m starting kindergarten soon, and I get to ride the bus.” I am not exaggerating when I say that the girl was obsessed with riding that damn bus. Bus, bus, bus, bus, bus — it’s all we heard about for weeks and weeks before school started.

And my husband was all in on the bus idea, too. “But what if she gets scared?” I asked him. “How will she know what to do when she gets off the bus at school?” “What if she gets lost on the way to her classroom? It’s so far from the bus drop off!” “How will she find the right bus at the end of the day?” “What if she misses her stop?” “What if the older kids are mean to her?” “What if the bus gets a flat tire and the bus driver doesn’t have a phone on her to call for help and she’s stuck on the bus for hours and hours not knowing what’s going on and is scared and crying?” I threw all my fears at my husband in hopes of swaying him in the other direction. But my questions didn’t phase him. “Kids have been riding the bus for decades, they figure it out,” he said. And then he added, “I think it’s mommy who isn’t ready for the bus, not Belle.” Grrrrrrr.

But of course, he was right. I knew in my head that Belle would get the whole bus thing down within a day or two, and this was a part of tradition, of growing up, but my heart just wasn’t ready to let her go out into the big, scary world of elementary school on her own. I wasn’t ready for her to do this, but she was. And so, we decided she could take the bus.

And aside from some tears (mine, of course) on the first day of school, we got our whole bus routine down within a few days. Every day I put Belle on the bus, and every day — wouldn’t you know — she meets me at the end of our street, bounding off the bus to tell me about her day. She has never gotten lost getting from her bus to her class or from her class to her bus. She has never missed her stop. And she has never been stranded on the bus for hours due to a flat tire. Everything has seemed to be just peachy.

But? (Unfortunately, there is a but.) Just last week, Belle did something she shouldn’t have, and in the middle of me talking to her about it, she broke into tears and, completely off topic, starting telling me that there was a boy on the bus who had been mean to her and many of the other kids and that she didn’t want to ride the bus any more. She wanted me to start driving her. “I know I really wanted to ride the bus,” she sobbed (sobbed!) to me, “but I don’t want to ride a bus like that!”

My first thought was, “Who the hell is this kid? I will make sure he never bothers you again. And of course I will drive you to school.” I didn’t say this to her, of course. Instead I asked her how the boy was mean to her — because you know, sometimes kids say other kids are “mean” if they don’t want to play with them or if they don’t hear them say something and so then don’t respond. You know, pretty benign things. And my daughter can be really sensitive about that sort of stuff. But nope, Belle said the boy would try to throw water at her and some of the other younger kids, and he had even hit a neighbor of ours. And when I asked around, a few other neighbors mentioned they had heard similar stories from their kids about this little boy.

That was it. It was settled. Belle wouldn’t be riding the bus any more. I would make sure of it. But after discussing it with my husband, who also got riled up about someone being mean to his little girl, he made the valid point that if there really is a problem, we shouldn’t have to pull our daughter off the bus, rather the boy who is causing the problems should be pulled from the bus. And even more, our first step should probably be to speak with the bus driver before making any rash decisions.

Man, the husband was on a roll. Right again. And so, the next morning, just this past Friday, we headed to the bus again. Belle was hesitant, but I told her that I would speak to her bus driver, and we should see how the next few bus rides went. After getting all of the kids on the bus, I had a chat with the bus driver. I let her know what Belle and other kids in the neighborhood had told me and their parents, and I asked that she pay particular attention to this kid to make sure he didn’t continue with the questionable behavior. She didn’t respond with the concern I had expected, but she said very matter-of-factly that she’d take care of it. And so, I sent my baby on her way again, with a slight lump in the throat, I’ll admit, and prayed she’d have a good ride to and from school.

I was anxious to pick her up at the end of the day, but she seemed fine when she got off the bus. When I asked her if the little boy gave her or her friends any problems she said, “no,” and promptly ran to catch up with her friends so they could walk to the other end of the street together. Phew, I thought.

But of course (yes, another but) over this past weekend Belle was back to telling me she didn’t want to ride the bus any more. And so we’re back at the crossroads we found ourselves at the beginning of the school year: To bus or not to bus? That is the question. Again.

On the one hand, my husband and I feel that this is something Belle needs to work through and figure out how to deal with. Not everyone is going to be nice to her, and she can’t avoid things every time someone is mean to her. (I should note here that, although I have not witnessed anything first hand, I do not have the sense that this little boy is consciously bullying the other kids — he is also a kindergartener, and I think he may be just one of those kids who plays a little rough and doesn’t have a sense of when “fun” teasing crosses the line and when he should stop. I am in no way condoning his behavior or saying that my daughter doesn’t have a right to get upset by it, but I wanted to put out there that I don’t have the sense he is a physical threat or danger to the other kids. At this point, anyway, with all of the information I have.)

On the other hand, we recognize that Belle is only 5, and if she doesn’t want to ride the bus any more — for whatever reason — we want to help her feel as safe and comfortable as possible and remove all cause for anxiety or unhappiness, even if she has just changed her mind and decided she doesn’t like riding the bus.

Our solution as of today is to give this some time to see if things get better on the bus and if Belle starts to enjoy riding it again. We’ll see how the next few days go and re-evaluate after that.

Have you ever had a similar experience with your kids? If so, how did you handle it?


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What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What to Do?

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I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes as I write this because I am at a complete and utter loss for what to do. Our 3-year-old and I are going through a real rough patch as of late. Another one. And actually, it’s not just with me, really. It’s with everyone. He has epic meltdowns over everything. There’s screaming and flailing. And more screaming. And even more screaming. And there’s the whole not listening issue. It’s to the point where I’ve been in tears multiple times a day the past few days. Because in these moments, I do not like my own child. (Wow, that was really hard to write. Please note I said “like,” not “love”–I always love my children, but what’s that saying? I’ll always love you, but I may not always like you? Something like that. Or did I just make that up? No matter, I hope you understand what I mean here.) In these moments I just want to be 100 miles away from him. Doing anything else besides having to deal with his behavior. And that makes me feel like the worst parent in the entire universe. I’m consumed with guilt.

The 3-year-old is our second, so it’s not like I’m new at this parenting thing. I get that kids have temper tantrums. I get that kids get upset when they don’t get their way, and that, especially at this age, they have a hard time expressing themselves or even knowing what is going on within themselves. And I get that all kids are different. I even wrote about that early on in my Multiple Personality Parenting post. But I guess my problem is that I don’t really know what to do about it. How do I parent our 3-year-old effectively based on his unique needs? What exactly do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I hate comparing my children, but it’s so hard not to in this respect. Don’t get me wrong, our 5-year-old daughter had her moments and can still drive me bonkers, but we honestly never had these problems with her to this extent. NEVER. This is all new to us. Which leads me to a lot of questions about the 3-year-old’s behavior. Is it a boy thing? A second child thing? (I don’t ask if it’s a middle child thing because we’ve been having these issues since way before our third was even a consideration.) Is it age appropriate and our daughter was just calmer? Could there be something wrong with him, like some sort of personality disorder? ADHD? Are we raising a sociopath? Really, I worry about these things because it can be that bad.

I think part of the problem is that I have never witnessed any other kid behaving like this. Sure, I’ve heard about epic meltdowns, but I’ve never seen one with my own two eyes like the ones we experience with our son. Now that can partly be chalked up to the fact that we don’t have too many friends here in CT with kids this age, and partly to the fact that even if you see someone else’s kid having a tantrum, you’re just seeing the one instance, you’re not living with them 24/7 and getting an accurate image of what’s going on behind the scenes. Plus, no one’s kid could possibly be as challenging as your own.

The other part of the problem is that when he isn’t spazzing out, he is the sweetest, most loving, most cuddliest, most empathetic child. Really. He’s seriously like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute he’s saying, “Mamma, I love you so much” and smothering me with hugs, and the next he’s throwing himself on the ground and screaming like a banshee. It’s hard to know what I’m going to get.

And all of this makes me feel like I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Probably because I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

It got to the point where I was starting to get so worried that I spoke to our pediatrician. Everything sounded typical, she said. Or at least not out of the ordinary. Which made me feel a little better. “But what do we do about it?” I wanted to know. She gave us some suggestions, and we’ve implemented them with a fair amount of success. But then 5 minutes later we’re dealing with the same exact issues all over again. And I know the child doesn’t have a hearing problem because he can hear when I’m opening food in the kitchen no matter where he is in the house.

Last night I posted to my personal Facebook page how emotionally drained I was from the past few days, and many of my friends wrote to tell me that I’m not alone. Which was comforting. Not because they had to deal with this too (because god knows I don’t wish this stuff on others), but because they were dealing with this too. Like maybe this is just fairly typical behavior (and maybe our experience with our daughter was atypical). But even so, it seems like we’re all left wondering exactly how we deal with this.

Is this just how it is at this age? Another stage we need to get through? Something, much like the tantrums themselves, we just need to ride out? And how the hell long will we be on this ride? Does it ever end? (Please for the love of all things Brad Pitt, tell me it ends at some point!)

Update: Click here to read my follow-up post “Encouragement, A Walk, and Date Night.


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Keep Calm and Let Your Son Dress Like a Princess if He Wants

I’m at a point in parenting where a lot have come before me and many will follow, and I’m left with a ton of questions and am not sure why it has to be so hard. This post is my way of trying to sort through these questions. I warn you now that this post does not take a straight path to its conclusion. And I don’t have any grand revelation at the end or a lesson that I learned. For I am still looking for answers and grappling with how to deal with all of this . . .

My husband and I have three children: 1 girl and 2 boys. As such, we have all manner of toys and whatnot in our house: We have princesses and ponies, dinosaurs and matchbox cars, dolls and trains. Not to mention an entire wardrobe of dress-up clothes. We have tutus and dresses, superhero capes, and firefighter and police officer uniforms. So pretty much a good mix of everything stereotypically “girl” and stereotypically “boy.”

But, as I know is the case in many houses, there are no rules in our house about who can play with what. There is no rule that only my daughter can play with the toys meant for girls and only my sons can play with the toys meant for boys. (The fact that I just had to write about toys being “meant for” one sex or another is so very irksome to me!) Same goes for dress up. Although they do tend to stick to gendered norms, they don’t always. Sometimes my daughter wants to be the male superhero and sometimes my son wants to be a princess. My daughter likes to put on makeup and paint her nails like mommy, and so does my son. And we’re ok with that.

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What I’m struggling with now, however, is the double standard our society places on even our youngest members–namely, that it’s ok for girls to play with “boy” toys and dress up in “boy” clothes, but not ok for boys to play with “girl” toys or dress in “girl” clothes. Why is it more acceptable for my daughter to wear her hair short, get dirty playing sports, and dress up as Spider-Man for Halloween than for my son to wear his hair long, take ballet, and dress up as a princess for Halloween? Why is it when a girl does anything traditionally male she is considered tough, but when a boy does anything traditionally female he is considered a sissy?

I ask these questions in earnest because I don’t know the answers to them. Is it because our culture respects men more than women so that a girl dressing as a boy would be considered an “upgrade” in status, whereas a boy dressing as a girl is considered a “downgrade”? Is there a worry that boys playing with girl toys and dressing as girls might mean there is a question about gender identity? That these little boys either are already showing signs they are gay or might somehow turn gay if allowed to continue playing or dressing in this manner? And why aren’t these same concerns raised for girls? (Not that I’m suggesting in any way that they should be!)

Most importantly, how the hell are we supposed to address these issues with our children?

I like to think that I have a pretty open mind about things, and we preach equality to our children in all things–we are all people first and should be treated equally no matter what. Period. End of story. “Do what you want kids and don’t worry about what others think!” I’d like to practice what we preach here, BUT unfortunately, it’s just not that easy in real life. I’m learning that just because our family holds this belief, that doesn’t mean everyone does. We do not live in a bubble, and as much as I wish everyone felt the same about it as we do, they don’t. How do we teach our kids to be themselves and not worry about what anyone else thinks when there are so many people out there ready to tell them exactly what they think?

What do we do, for instance, if one day our son wants to wear a princess outfit out of the house? Part of me couldn’t care less what the kid is wearing as long as he’s not naked. But the other part of me knows that there are bullies and haters and people around every corner just waiting to tear down anyone who thinks or acts differently from the societal norm. The thought of my kids being subjected to ridicule or hate, even, makes me ill. All this mamma bear wants to do is protect her precious little cubs.

I can say with great conviction, for instance, that I’m going to allow my kids to be themselves and do and wear whatever the hell they want and f#ck the rest of the world if they don’t like it. But it’s hard to actually do that in real life. In an ideal world, no one would blink an eye if my son went to the grocery store in his princess outfit. But we don’t live in an ideal world. How do we deal with the looks? The snickers? The teasing and taunting? The suggestions that maybe we need to get our son some more masculine clothes? And how do we explain all of this to our kids?

Do we teach our kids that there are societal norms that they need to follow in public, but they can do whatever the they want in the privacy of our own house, or does his somehow promote hiding their true selves or shame them into following the norm if they are inclined not to?

Do we use this as a lesson that people have different opinions about everything imaginable, including gender norms, and that even though we don’t care, for example, what our kids do or wear, other people might? And they might make a big deal about it?

Do we instill these lessons early on, or do we go along minding our own business, doing our own thing and try to protect their innocence as long as we possibly can?

As much as I want to shout, “Keep calm and let your son dress like a princess if he wants!” do I actually have the courage to heed my own advice?

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