How new underpants, a giant stuffed snake and a Tigers announcer can utterly ruin an evening

underpants

Sometimes your not-quite-3 year old, still awake an hour past her bedtime, briefly stops crying – specifically, about how you forgot to grab Snakey (a giant, purple-and-pink stuffed snake) from her preschool cubby – to make you feel just a little bit more guilty.

“Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”

Because, sweetie, sometimes, the crushing sense that all you do is never, ever enough drains your patience reserves.

Like, you stop at Costco on the way home from work (after getting stuck in traffic) to get individual hummus packs and underpants for both your 3 year old and your 6 year old; and then hours later, the 6 year old throws a screaming, weeping tantrum because you got her one pack of underwear and got the newly-potty-trained 3 year old two packs. (Because, you know, the 3 year old only has a few pairs, and is likely to have some accidents as she gets used to underwear. But when confronted with this reasoning, the 6 year old wails the equivalent of, “ATTICA!!”)

Like, you finally arrive home from Costco with a little time to spare, and you spend it bringing your purchases inside; shutting windows and turning on the air so everyone’s comfortable when they arrive home; moving the laundry – including the sheets and mattress cover your 6 year old peed on the night before – into the dryer; and ordering your daughters’ dinner.

Like, you pick up and deliver their food, and you give them plenty of time to eat it and read a few books with you before leaving for gymnastics. But because you’re so focused on getting them fed and across town, and this is the first night on this particular schedule, you uncharacteristically forget to clear their cubbies of lunchboxes and beloved stuffed animals (see: Snakey – plus Neve’s equivalent of Old Faithful, Doggie). So when your 3 year old, after sabotaging bedtime in every way possible, finally lies down on her bed and asks for Snakey, well, you’re S.O.L. Continue reading

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Splitting myself in two

Neve and I preparing for a Halloween event this past weekend. She’s a cute little elephant, no?

It’s almost midnight on Halloween, 2012, and I just crept from Neve’s room, where she’d cried out moments ago. Though she was mostly still asleep as I stroked her hair, I heard the strange crinkle of foil as she shifted her body against the crib’s bars.

It took me a moment to figure out what I was hearing. But then I remembered Joe telling me that Neve had insisted on taking a granola bar – given to her by a neighbor during her inaugural, miniature trick or treat adventure – to bed. And as my eyes adjusted to the room’s dark, I started to see the baby monitor’s blue light reflecting off the foil package gripped in Neve’s fist.

Seeing that light sparked a new, small pang of sadness in me. I’d missed Neve’s first trick or treat outing – missed seeing her dressed up again in her little elephant costume – because I was accompanying Lily and her friend as they exuberantly worked the neighborhood.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my time with Lily. I had great fun with her. It’s just that now, with two children, I often feel that when I spend time with one daughter, I’m potentially missing out on some great moments with the other. Continue reading

“Rapunzel dollie!” = Kill me now.

My long-haired, sweet nemesis

To tell the story I want to tell, I have to backtrack a little in order to provide context. So bear with me.

Lily is just now getting her first experiences with money. At a neighbor’s suggestion, we recently encouraged her to help us pick up sticks in the yard, and we gave her a penny for each stick. After a while, she’d earned $3, so we took her to the nearby CVS and told her she could pick out something that cost that much or less. (She chose glittery gold nail polish, naturally.)

Plus, a couple of weekends ago, I took her to Toys R Us to pick out a present for a preschool friend who was having a birthday party. In the past, in similar circumstances, Joe had also let her choose something small for herself, so I did the same. But the first thing she gravitated to was a Rapunzel doll that costs $20 (“Tangled” is probably her favorite movie). I told her it was too much money, and she didn’t cry, she didn’t throw a fit. She found other things, and each time, when I explained they were too much money, she put them back without a fight and looked for something more appropriate. We finally settled on a lower-key doll that was $8 – more than I initially intended to spend on her thing, but she’d been so good about all the “nos” that preceded it that I cut her some extra slack – and I told her that Hanukkah and Christmas were coming up, so maybe she’d get the Rapunzel dollie then.

“Rapunzel was too much money,” she said several times on the drive home, lovingly stroking the red hair of the doll we actually purchased. “But maybe I can get it for Hanukkah. When is Hanukkah?”

“Well, it’s several weeks away yet,” I said, looking at her in the reariew mirror. “But if you’re a good girl, like you usually are, I think you’re chances of getting a Rapunzel dollie are good, sweetie.”

OK. A lovely experience, generally, and I was proud of Lily. She hadn’t acted like an entitled brat in the store, and she seemed to be in the early stages of learning the value of money. All good.

Then, last Wednesday night, I’d wished I’d never had this conversation with her. Continue reading

Dinner Theater: Home Edition

It's fitting that this cheese grater appears to be floating in space, since a similar one flew across our kitchen recently.

On a recent evening, during dinner, our hand-crank cheese grater soared across our kitchen and landed with a cringe-inducing crash.

It wasn’t thrown by our two year old. But our two year old was the reason the object took flight.

Why? Because like her mother before her – ahem – my daughter Lily is what is called, in polite conversation, a “picky eater.” (In impolite conversations, I believe, we’re referred to as a collective “pain in the tuckus.”)

I can’t help but feel partly responsible. I distinctly remember, at age six or seven, being at a friend’s birthday party and refusing to eat the hot dogs because they had black lines from the grill. I thought they were “dirty.” And despite assurances to the contrary from my friend’s parents, my lips remained stubbornly closed.

The girl’s dad tried his best to placate me, managing to grill a lukewarm dog that had only a few marks on it; and I DID eat the part that looked like it had come right out of the package. But even then, I was leery, critical, and unappreciative. (Oy – such a brat I was!)

Thinking back on this incident – and all the others, where I’d refused to eat foods that were touching each other; foods that had previously had something on them that I didn’t like (peeling stuff off generally wasn’t good enough for me); and foods that I decided I didn’t like by the look of them (a great deal fell into this category) – makes me chuckle uncomfortably, but mostly, I feel a profound embarrassment.

Of course, when thinking back on your childhood, you have to cut yourself some slack. You were just a kid, and you didn’t know any better or different. And certainly I grew up to be a person who, despite having strong preferences (I’ve seldom tasted a fish, a mushroom, or a beer that I’ve ever liked), enjoys a wide range of foods. So being a picky eater as a kid doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spend your whole life eating only five items (though this can certainly happen, too – I’m looking at you, Dad).

But this “big picture” notion was hardly at the forefront of our minds when that cheese grater flew across our kitchen. No, that was about dealing with the day-to-day fallout of encouraging your two year old to eat something besides mac and cheese or hot dogs for dinner, and putting effort into creating something you think she’d like – only to see her hold a small piece up to her tongue, make a face, put it down for good, and pronounce, “I don’t like it.” Or worse, chew it for a moment and then stick her tongue out, waiting for the goopy, half-chewed food to fall from her mouth. Ick.

My husband Joe was one of those kids who happily ate everything you put in front of him. (Not surprisingly, he’s pretty much that guy as an adult, too.) So he struggles mightily to comprehend why anyone, young or old, would have such narrow tastes.

But more than that, Joe’s the cook of our house, so he’s the one who – after changing out of his suit at the end of a long day – rolls cut-up pieces of chicken in crushed corn flakes to make chicken nuggets, or makes a tamer version of the spicy spaghetti that he and I are eating, only to have Lily reject it out of turn.

Finally, to add insult to injury, all reports indicate that Lily eats a wide variety of foods at her daycare center; but when we try to feed her some of the things she eats there at home, she turns up her nose (chicken nuggets being but one example). I tell myself that perhaps it’s because she’s surrounded by other kids who are eating the same hot lunch that she is, so in the moment, she’s distracted and not thinking so much about WHAT it is she’s eating. But truthfully, I just don’t know.

What I do know is that between Joe’s frustration at Lily’s rejection of his culinary efforts, and my discomfort at seeing one of my own worst childhood qualities on parade before me daily, we occasionally lose our patience.

We’ve gone the subtle route – Lily’s always gone grocery shopping with Joe and helped pick things out, and he’s included her in making some of the dishes – but these things generally don’t translate into Lily being enthusiastic about eating our meals.

And I’ve skimmed the <strong>Supernanny</strong>’s book on this issue (I confess, I’m a fan of her common sense approaches), and her main advice is to avoid letting this become a melodramatic power struggle between you and your child; to make it clear that the dinner you’re presenting is the dinner the child gets; and to be strict about not letting her snack afterward if she refuses dinner. (This is hard, not surprisingly, but I remind myself that Lily has been off the charts growth-wise since she was born. She’s hardly in danger of being undernourished.)

We’ve done this more lately, emphasizing that Lily can’t eat anything else at night once she leaves the table. But also, when I pick up Lily from daycare, I must try, if at all possible, to put the brakes on her snacking there or on the way home. She’s always reaching into her day bag and pulling stuff out; but I’m slowly changing my habits regarding over-packing.

It’s a hard balance to strike. Usually, at that time of day, she hasn’t eaten a snack in a couple of hours, and it will be another hour or two before Joe is home and dinner is ready. So what snack wouldn’t ruin her appetite for dinner, but would sustain her enough to prevent a sudden, random tantrum about not wanting to wear socks?

Tough call. The whole subject of food and little kids seems a minefield of tough calls (I haven’t even mentioned how Lily refuses nearly every vegetable offered to her, both at home and at daycare). And the cheese grater incident came to a head because Lily got obsessed with grating cheese while absolutely refusing to try the pasta that lay beneath it. Her attention was consumed by the grater – she wouldn’t listen to or see anything else – and when we tried to tell her she’d gotten enough, and that it was for eating, not for playing, she started whining and crying.

So the grater took to the air. After it crashed, she was terrified, and I realized that she probably had no cotton-picking idea what this was about, or why her parents were frazzled. I pulled her onto my lap, stroked her hair and calmed her, and then eventually tried to get her to eat some of the fruit Joe had cut up for her, reminding her that this would be her only food for the night. She ate a little, but wasn’t really that interested, leaving my lap to play happily in the nearby living room.

That’s one saving grace, anyway. Little ones are quick to forgive and forget, even if the adults in the house have a harder time doing the same.

More generally, I tell myself that if she’s hungry, she’ll eat, and if we stay calm and consistent with this “no snacks after dinner” policy, she’ll figure out sooner or later that meals are the time for us all to eat together. (Preferably the same meal, as opposed to the three different meals my mom often found herself making each night.) Until then, we have to adjust our expectations, try to find even more stores of patience, and remember that this, like most things, is probably temporary.

Still, I’m guessing it will be a while before the cheese grater makes another appearance on our dinner table.