Surprised by Joy: Toddler Edition

Neve, after she recently squished a Smurf. (Or colored her hands in "washable" blue marker. One of those.)

Neve, after squishing a Smurf with her bare hands. Or applying “washable” blue marker to her palms. One of those.

Part of the bedtime ritual around here consists of me carrying Neve – after she’s been changed into her jammies and had her teeth brushed – upstairs to her room while chanting “Books with Mommy, books with mommy” repeatedly, climbing one step for each syllable. It’s catchy.

So catchy that Neve usually sings along quietly, anticipating the time we lie sideways on the queen bed in her room (which used to be the guest room before we moved the crib in there) each night by lamplight, reading “Corduroy,” “Silly Sally,” “Bear Snores On” and other books, our heads sharing the same pillow.

Even though Lily has her own reading time with Joe or me before she goes to sleep, she’s lately asked to be part of “books with Mommy.” So of course I said yes, but told her that Neve gets to choose the books.

We grab a second pillow, I lie between my girls – who like to snuggle under their old baby blankets while I read – and we read. Which is lovely, because only lately has Neve been engaged in books Lily would enjoy, too. Books with a story. (She’s getting there, I’ve been thinking. Her little brain’s developing, just as her vocabulary is exploding.)

So last night, after an unusually peaceful night, wherein the girls even helped Joe make quesadillas for dinner, we enjoyed “books with Mommy” together and Lily left the room for her own bedtime preparations.

I lifted Neve into her crib, and at first, things went as they usually do. She flopped out on her stomach in the darkness, with a blanket over her, and I rubbed and patted her back through the bars.

Normally, she’s out in minutes – she’s my easy sleeper, folks, believe me – but last night, she was restless. And that’s when a small miracle occurred. Continue reading

How a toy gun and my 4 year old (unwittingly) helped me process the Newtown tragedy

The toy that led me to have a talk with my 4 year old that I didn't want to have.

The toy that led me to have a talk with my 4 year old that I didn’t want to have.

One week after the Newtown tragedy, I came downstairs, still in my pajamas, and saw a silver toy pistol on our kitchen table, in the place we normally set down meals for our four year old daughter, Lily.

Sitting in her chair, wearing white tights and a white dress with blue polka dots, Lily declared, “I’m taking it to preschool.”

“No, sweetie,” I said, shaking my head firmly, a chill in my voice. “You’re not.”

“Yes, I am,” she replied, stubbornly. “For show and tell. Some of the boys bring guns for show and tell.”

“I told her she couldn’t take it,” my husband said, bustling about the kitchen, getting everyone’s breakfast. But my mind was already racing. How could I explain Newtown to a four year old when adults – myself included – were having an impossible time processing it themselves? I’d naively thought I could avoid the whole conversation. Lily wasn’t in elementary school yet, and kids her own age wouldn’t necessarily have stumbled upon the story.

But it was like the tragedy refused to stay in the shadows, shoved under a rug. Continue reading

Sweet, comic valentine (for infants!)

After spending about 90 minutes of my precious and rare free time this evening tearing “Toy Story” and Disney Princess valentines apart; and doing the same with accompanying sheets of stamp-size stickers; and inserting the stickers – with surgeon-like precision – into tiny, diagonal tabs on the valentines; and folding the valentines in half; and affixing a heart-shaped sticker to keep them closed; and signing Lily or Neve’s name onto each one, I finally wondered, “What the hell am I doing?”

The answer, of course, is that for some inexplicable reason, I’m choosing to participate in the weird, self-perpetuating, down-the-rabbit-hole annual holiday ritual of parents – OK, fine, mothers – who have little ones in daycare, and thus have kids that are “instructed” in the ways of Valentine’s Day before they can even crawl. (I’ll add here that I love the kids’ daycare center, and my guess is that these rituals were likely, ironically, parent-driven originally more than driven by those who work at the center. I’ll also submit that I should, in the future, by kids’ valentines that require less assembly.)

Consequently, tomorrow, during a preschool Valentine’s Day party, Lily will randomly distribute 55 impersonal, unaddressed, grocery-store-bought valentines to kids who will probably look at them briefly, if at all, before they end up in the trash or recycling (all that painstaking sticker insertion for naught!); and Neve – presumably with the help of her caregivers, since the extent of her powers just now max out at “drooling like a waterfall” and “sitting up unassisted” – will give out 16 of the same cards to her cooing comrades in the same daycare center’s baby room.

So much effort – for what, exactly?

I was all uber-rational about such things when Lily was a 9 month old in the baby room. Yes, I got the pre-emptive Valentine’s letter that stated how many kids were in each class, and how we shouldn’t send candy or treats, but I ignored it – as I assumed the other “baby room” parents would – and brought a big fat bowl of nothing on Valentine’s Day.

Now cut to me picking Lily up later that day and finding a brown paper bag full of little valentines, signed with the name of her classmates (these babies had astonishing penmanship, I might add). After we arrived home, I stared at Lily’s pile of valentines with a mixture of bafflement, guilt, amusement, gratitude, and anger. For there was something undeniably sweet about this adults’ game of pretend – this puppet show of affection and good will that we parents played out through our infant children. Continue reading

Field notes and follow-ups

* Joe and I took Lily to see “Tangled” this past weekend at the nearby, second-run theater, and the basic premise, of course, involves a witch stealing Rapunzel as a baby from her parents (who are the land’s king and queen). In the movie version, the beloved king and queen, as well as their subjects, release glowing lanterns that float up into the sky each year on the girl’s birthday, in hopes that she will return. By Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, after being shut up in a high tower her whole life, she ventures out to see this ceremony in person; and simultaneously, we see the king and queen briefly behind-the-scenes, just before they step outside to release a lantern once again.

It’s probably about 30 seconds of film, and involves the father looking inconsolably sad, while the mother touches his cheek in comfort. And at this point, I completely fell apart, quietly crying while Lily sat attentively on my lap.

This throwaway little scene that would have passed me right by a few years ago. But the difference, I’m sure, is that while I would have empathy for these characters before, and would have vaguely imagined what the loss of a child might feel like, Lily makes these kind of scenes powerfully concrete rather than merely abstract. There’s not a blank, faceless child in my mind; it’s Lily’s face, and cry, and laugh, and smile, and voice. The thought of her, and the very specifics that make her who she is, being suddenly taken away is too devastating to even imagine. 

Hence my turning into a weepy mom during a Disney movie – despite the fact that in the past, I established a reputation for being pretty stony while watching movies and plays. (The phrase “dead inside” has surfaced more than once.) But apparently, my falling head over heels in love with this little girl has endowed me with a new Achille’s heel. Continue reading