Diagnosis: Princess Power

It’s happened.

I swore to myself it wouldn’t; the day she was born someone put a silly pink bow hat on my daughter’s head, and it was then I vowed; I’m going to keep her away from the girly stuff. All the frilly, lacy, pink stuff that is having a little little girl just isn’t my style and I wanted to raise my daughter to think independently and not conform to the standard stereotypical gender role of “little princess”.

It worked, for a bit. I mean, prior to age 2 and prior to her having the ability to form an opinion and express it clearly, it was pretty easy avoiding Disney princesses and crowns.

But slowly, the princess culture seeped in to her life.

She’s the only girl out of eight cousins on her father’s side of the family, so for every birthday and Christmas, our generous extended family has fun buying her girly toys. I get it it. Superhero’s and Star Wars for seven nephews/sons/grandsons is tiresome and any break from the routine is welcome. So she can get a poofy dress up skirt and parade around in it with joy, no big deal … as long as we don’t highlight the word princess, it’ll be ok, or so I thought.

And last year she went through a serious butterfly phase. Around the time she started wanting to choose her clothes everyday, she started demanding only butterfly shirts. That was a fun indulgence. Before we moved she wanted her new room to be a butterfly room, which gave me a lot of fun options to decorate with. In my mind, while butterflies are girly, they aren’t as “bad” as a princesses.

But sometime this summer my little girl dropped the obsession with butterflies and moved straight onto the princess train.

Sigh.

What do you want to be when you grow up, Lu?

A princess.

What do you want to dress up as for Halloween?

A princess!

What do you want to play when we are at the playground, sweetie?

Princess Luella!

She’s obsessed. Any paraphernalia we purchase with a cheap Disney synergy tie-in gives her glee. She’ll just sit and look at books with the darn princesses for hours. And nothing, nothing, lights up her face more than when we call her “Princess”.

And that’s my struggle. I want her to be a strong, independent, kind person in the world, and want her to follow her passions but also be a hard worker and someone who values inner strength and beauty more than outer, yet …. the pleasure on her face when I indulge her and call her Princess while tucking her in at night, man, that’s hard to fight. She was absolutely adorable dressed up as Ariel over Halloween, and if I can give her a sticker book with the princesses in it and it entertains her for hours, what’s the harm, really? What am I fighting, exactly?

She’s three. This phase should pass, eventually, right? Shouldn’t I just let her have this phase while it’s still pure and just because they’re pretty, now, while she’s little? Why and I trying to force my own distaste of it all on her? Her being into princesses doesn’t mean I, the mom, am raising her to literally think she’s an actual entitled princess… she will still work hard and be empathetic and know her smarts are far more important than her looks because those are the values we are instilling in her.

So, I’m okay with it. I’m going to smooth her hair, call her princess because it makes her smile, let her pretend and dress up and let her enjoy all the stupid plastic Disney crap because she’s a child and this is just a phase. And trying to control what she likes isn’t the type of mom I aim to be.

Playground Politics

*This goes out to the parents out there* …. Think back, to your days before “parent” was a label applied to you. What were your thoughts on children, moms and dads, and discipline? What sorts of behavior would you witness with rolled eyes and scoffing?

*This goes out to the parents of multiple children out there* …. Hey! Remember when you had one child and they consumed your world? Every moment you had eyes on them, you knew their quirks and had no doubt of their brilliance and uniqueness? Remember going to the playground and following their every step, every triumph of a ladder rung climbed, every round on the slide? Did you ever see some random, disheveled child pushing your precious out of the way and wonder aloud: “Whose kid is this??”

My personal answers to the questions above are probably pretty obvious.

Before I had E, I didn’t think about parenting at all. I had very little interaction with children beyond the ones I encountered at work, and I usually observed every scream or whimper or booger-streaked face with disgust.

That is, until I had a baby, and my entire life revolved around just E. I thought I had it figured out. I brought him to the playground every single day, rain or shine or wind or snow…. I hovered and hemmed and hawed over him at all hours of the day. I’d see sloppy looking moms parading their multiple offspring off and watch in horror as they pushed, shoved, and ran amok. And, I judged. Oh, how I judged.

But then I had two babies in a little under two years. Suddenly, the playground as a destination because a “trip”, a big “deal”. Beyond that, I started to see the play areas as a place for “them” and the benches along the side of the structures as “my” place. The luxury of sitting back and watching them do whatever it is they wanted seemed like a no brainer.

And my eyes were opened to the phenomenon of “parents of one”. I don’t judge them, because I was them for four and a half years, but looking through the playground scene with my new lenses of a “mom of three”, I started to realize how different I was from them. Usually its Mom and Dad following every step of little Jr and their adventures in the structures, with lots of “Be Careful!” And “Oh look at you!” Meanwhile, I’d be in a corner, trying to appear forgotten. I want my kids to play, but I don’t feel the need to follow them everywhere.

This brings me to today; another playground trip on a warm November afternoon. The sun was bright. I have a quiz to study for and three kids under my watch (as the hubby is flying for a few days) so I foolishly thought I’d have time to look over notes at the local playground. I forgot it’s a weekend. I should have realized every other parent in our suburb had the same idea as me: enjoy the sun while we can. And I should have realized that while I’m perfectly okay with watching the 2-year-old climb up a slide the wrong way, the vast majority of parents out there (especially the ones with only one kid) frown upon such behavior.

So, what should have been a relaxing escape from our house, became an internal struggle of my own. I don’t want to be “that mom” whose children are causing issues, I don’t want someone to see my little L and H seemingly alone and assume their parents aren’t mindful of the abduction risk of unsupervised children, but I also know that particular playground, being fully fenced, is pretty safe. I know that kids want to climb up slides backwards and I know that they don’t need me there “just in case”. So it becomes a show, and I have to act. Because I care too much about what everyone else thinks. Their frantic anxiety becomes my frantic anxiety.

After an hour or so I was sick of chasing H so I told the kiddos it was time to go home. To play in our own backyard. And guess what? In the privacy of my own home, confined in the fully fenced back yard, I can sit and study over the pulmonary system and even read a novel without worrying about H and L taking turns going upside down, down the slide. I guess it’s true: there’s no place like home.

the joys of a little boy

Holden is my baby, the youngest of three, and my second son. But in so many ways he’s my first “boy”. My eldest, Eli, was a shy, studious toddler with a fixation on doors and trains and books and was quiet until he was 3. Literally. He didn’t really start talking until then, and this was after 18 months of speech-language therapy. Compared with our second child, Luella, Eli was easy as a toddler. Luella has her moments of drama and misbehavior, but she is also capable of focused play and is a pretty good listener.

But Holden. Man, Holden.

He’s that toddler who climbs. Climbs up high and dances at the top and dares you to stop him from repeating it once you drag him back down. He really enjoys pushing stools up to the kitchen counter and grabbing whatever he can reach, which is quite a lot. It’s terrifying to admit, but I’ve turned my back to him for seconds only to come back and see him brandishing a knife that I thought was out of reach. His grin as he waves it at me is mischief defined.

As I’m typing this out I’m realizing I just should ban him from the kitchen forever.

It’s just so obvious to me that he delights in naughtiness. When I tell him “no” his face lights up and he looks absolutely pleased with himself. He’s the first kid of mine to actually want to play in the toilet and the dog bowl and with the cleaners we store under the sink (which is child proof but he grabs for them whenever he can slide his quick hands past us when we open the cabinet doors).

He also enjoys carrying toys around and hitting me in the face with them, or his sister or brother if I’m not around. “Holden, are you going to hit me with that?” I’ll ask and he’ll wind up his arm and say, “Noooo” right before taking aim.

Okay, now I’m making it sound like he’s just this terror of a child who likes violence and danger and obviously there’s way more to him than that; it’s just funny to me how much of a boy I’ve got on my hands here. He needs limitations and constant supervision and this Mom has had two older kids who didn’t need a hawk-eye kept of them all day long, so the adjustment for me is hard.

Plus, for all his trouble-making, he’s insanely sweet and cute and those moments seem more tender because of his other stinky side. For example, today at the library program, whenever there was a toy prop for a song (like bells or bean bags) he’d bring me one first, before getting himself one. The kid’s not even 18 months old yet but he’s spoiling his mom. He hands me the toy and I swear winks before turning back around for one for himself.

And he’s just as likely to plant spontaneous kisses on my face, randomly, as he his to try and beat me with a metal toy truck. The kisses far outnumber the hitting and there’s nothing quite like having my rascal toddler bring me a book to snuggle up on my lap with. He melts my heart faster than butter on a frying pan with these moments.

They say every child is different, and this is true. My kids are all individuals but I never really thought my sweet baby would turn out so much more “boy” than his older brother, and even this, my third-time go-round with a young toddler, it’s a different ride and trip daily. My Holden is exasperating and funny and thrill-seeking and sweet and I finally have an understanding of what those moms who use the hashtag “boy mom” are all talking about.

Oh Holden. Stay my little sweet menance forever, sweet boy.

the paci menance

Last week, we broke our daughter’s heart. We denied her her one true love- something that brings her comfort, something she’s held dear her entire life. Ever since the night she took her first breath, it’s been there for her. Through sleep, sickness, happy times, the boring times … this precious talisman has calmed and soothed her. It’s never let her down.

And we took it away with little fanfare, harsh and abrupt.

I’m talking of course about her pacifier. The nook. The dummy as the Brits’ say – to L, her renowned “Paci”.

Paci and L went together nearly everywhere, although, because my kids crave security items in an excessive way, she also always has to have her blanket as well. But Paci was always first to her. And though we attempted to limit it, regulating it only to car rides, nap time and bedtime, the stinker always found a way to sneak it in all hours of the day. Multiple times a day I’d turn around to see her clutching her blanket with her pacifier spinning in her mouth, sucking furiously and glazed. If she got angry, upset, or hurt, she cried out “Paci blanket! PACI BLANKET!!!!” before “Mommy” or “Daddy”.

Anyway, if you knew L, you’d know I’m not speaking in hyperbole. My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter has a real problem.

So, last week. We are at an outdoor concert, a Spice Girl cover band down by the beach (a topic of which could easily segway into an entirely different post, such as, how is it possible the Spice Girls were popular 20 years ago? Does the world really need a Spice Girl cover band? How much of our tax money went towards this super group of girls?) and L was a handful. A loud, overtired, cranky toddler mess. When will my husband and I learn not to expect too much from our kids in public, at outings?

Upset over her behavior, my husband told her she couldn’t have the pacifier any longer. By this point L was screaming. “I’m serious, L” he said from the driver’s seat of the minivan, “No more pacifier. Ever.”. He then looked at me, “I’m serious, N. I’m for real”.

I just nodded, dreading the night ahead. I know it’s time, but, I also know her. I know how stubborn she is. There’s a reason she’s still in diapers; she’s a master of ‘sticking to her guns’ and I’m a pushover.

We got home, and she sobbed. Her chest heaved and she cried, and shook, and pleaded. My heart broke for her. Her paci has been an appendage for her, literally, since she came out of me. And to just take it away, like a 2.5-year-old band aid, ripped from her so harshly, well, it didn’t same fair.

But I held strong.

I gathered her up in her toddler-carrier, and swayed with her and her blanket as she convulsed with sadness. She fell asleep. I kept her on my chest and sat down and smoothed her hair and thought, “This wasn’t bad”.

Then 4am happened.

The girl wasn’t going to sleep again. Since she shares her room with her older brother, and we didn’t want her to scream the rest of the night, my husband took her out to the living room and turned on Peppa Pig. We took the loss.

Later that day I found an old pacifier of hers and snipped the end, a bit. I’ve tried this trick before and the girl demanded a different, whole pacifier, but faced with “no” paci or a “damaged” paci, she took the damaged one. This turned out to work beautifully. She was weaned within a few days. Now she proudly says: “Blanket, no PACI!”

Moral of the story? L is a child who needs a more gentle transition. Another lesson: we took away baby H’s pacifier. He has little complaints and doesn’t seem to mind, and we are avoiding the tears that poor L went through.

The next hurdle with L is the same one I so flippantly wrote about a few months ago: potty-training. Stay tuned, friends.

putting the fast in breakfast

This past week my 2-year-old, L, has decided eating is an option she doesn’t want to do it anymore. This is not written in my usual dramatic hyperbole. The girl doesn’t eat from about 4 pm each night until 7 am the next morning.

She’s making husband’s recent daily 14-hour fasting goal look easy.

I know toddlers are the best judges if they are hungry or not. I know she will not willingly starve herself. Her appetite starts waning after 1pm and apparently ceases once the sun goes down. I also know actual toddler “serving sizes” are microscopically smaller than you’d think: a quarter of a banana is the recommended serving for a 2-year-old, 2 tablespoons of Cheerios is all they are “supposed to” have at a time.

I once went to a ‘Toddler Workshop’ at the library and the childhood nutrition specialist there blew my mind with these facts. At that time E was 2 and would easily eat more than me for at least one meal on the daily.  He’d plow through two full Eggo waffles, two scrambled eggs, a handful of berries and juice and want a snack one hour later.

It’s hard to fight the ‘clean plate club’ idea. It’s driven into me, from somewhere, kids need to eat. Eat something. I can now see how easy it is to fall into the trap of young children skipping dinner but then eating “snacks” an hour later. You don’t want to harm your kids. You don’t want them to starve.

But that’s the thing. I also rationally know, if L is hungry enough, she will eat what we offer her. And it’s not like she is sitting at the table screaming her head off for sweets- she doesn’t even want to sit down in the evening to eat. “L, time to eat!” I call. “No!” she shoots back, and runs away.

So, even though a part of me feels like I’m failing somehow, as I sit down to eat a nutritiously balanced dinner with my older son and she’s in her room playing with dolls, I also know that I’m avoiding a tantrum, tears, and annoyance by just letting her be. She goes to bed without dinner, sleeps 12 hours straight and wakes up hungry and happy so, I guess for now it’s all good.

Living with a toddler is living with an irrational power hungry dictator wanna-be. I know I can not physically force the kid to eat. She’s gonna do it when she wants to do it. But, on the flip side, I control what she eats. I can’t give her options, the knowledge that she maybe could have a choice of not just when to eat but also what– that’s how you end up with kids only eating chicken nuggets or grilled cheeses for three years straight.

So, this power struggle really isn’t a power struggle. It’s all internal with myself. She will eat when hungry, but only what we, the parents, deem healthy for her. And that’s how it is she ends up eating roughly the same calorie intake that Emma Stone dieting to fit into her Oscar gown does each day. And it’s ok.

 

 

most precious

We were at a birthday party on Saturday night, and it was crowded. Very crowded, like the clubs I used to get dolled up for back in my early twenties, except instead of anonymous strangers and a pulsing dance beat, it was filled with a large Italian family we know, all there to celebrate a 2-year-olds birthday.

E & L pretty much disappeared the moment we went into the small Cape Cod house. While my husband and I navigated the small talk and stuffed our faces, they were happy to play with the different toys of someone else’s kids. The last hour or so, though, L started having breakdown after breakdown. “I WANT MAAA” was said on repeat throughout the latter half of the party. Tears and arms outreached towards me, she caused a scene. This caused tension, as I had little baby H in my arms or wrapped against me the entire night. I’d pick her up, soothe her the best I could, and once she calmed down, send her on her way, only for her to return about five minutes later.

All the party attendees kept looking at me with surprised raised eyebrows, “Wow. She’s a handful” seemed like the best comment to make by multiple people there.

I wasn’t offended, really. L is a handful, at times. A squirmy, bouncing, loud, independent, willful, strong-minded and stubborn little girl. But, I could see why she was upset. She didn’t know anyone there apart from my husband and I and the place was overcrowded and overheated. Just because she can be remarkably self-reliant and independent (especially for a 22-month-old) doesn’t mean she’s always going to want to be that way.

And furthermore, why is a little girl wanting her mom a bad thing? Like, ever?

One aspect of parenting young kids I always try to keep in mind, especially in my down moments, is how my role as “mom” completely encompasses my kid’s lives. Or, better yet, I try to remember I am their whole world. I will never again be so admired, so loved, so looked up to, by any other being as my kids. And this is a fleeting thing. My first-grader adores his teacher just as much as me. They will eventually grow bigger, and their peer’s opinions will outweigh anything I have to say to them.

As a grown woman, the only people who will ever cry simply because I’ve left the room are my children. I can sing as loud as I want to around them, and rather than judge my off-key squalling, they dance and laugh. I spend the majority of my time in nursing tank tops and yoga pants with unwashed hair, glasses, and zero makeup, but when my newborn looks at me and smiles, I feel beautiful. Just seeing me lights his world up. This admiration, this power I have over my kids is unique, and as I said before, doesn’t last forever.

So, I’m not going to let my toddler’s fit for me at a party I didn’t even care much about in the first place bring me down, or embarrass me. I’m glad she loves me enough to fight and cry for me. And I’m going to continue to sing out loud, dance like a dork, goof around all day long as much as I can. One day, very soon, I will be just “Mom”, and the fan club I have will lose much of their fervor and admiration. I will revel in being Mommy as much as I can.