Defending against (and taking care not to raise) a “mean kid”

Lily, on her first day of kindergarten.

Lily, on her first day of kindergarten.

Lily’s generally had a smooth, easy transition into kindergarten, but in the middle of the night, after maybe only her 3rd or 4th day, she awoke from a bad dream; and when she couldn’t go back to sleep right away, she started to tell me about what a mean older girl had said to her as she waited for the bus after school.

“She said my teacher was Mrs. Ugly,” Lily said, starting to cry. “And she said I jump like this.” Lily climbed down from her bed and stood, tossing her arms up while her feet just barely left the ground.

Oh, sweetie.

Though my outgoing girl is brave in many ways – she climbed the steps of a 12-foot inflatable slide by herself shortly after turning 2 – she’s about as thick-skinned as a paper doll (as are nearly all boys and girls her age, of course).

And as we all acknowledge, with a slow-boiling dread, the big, bad world is not for the faint of heart, and sending your little one out into that world for the first time is a profound, if inevitable, act of trust.

Which is to say, you best not mess with my little girl, world. But more on that later.

“Lily, your teacher is brand new to your school this year,” I said. “So the girl who said this to you, she doesn’t even know Mrs. M. She probably has no idea what she even looks like. So she’s just calling her Mrs. Ugly to upset you. Same with the jumping thing. This girl doesn’t know what you’re capable of. She doesn’t know anything about you – how well you can paint and draw, and what a great big sister you are, all that stuff. She’s saying these things without knowing what she’s talking about, which means they’re meaningless.”

“But why did she say those things?”

“Well, that’s a hard question. I don’t know why she was mean to you. Sometimes people are mean because they don’t feel good about themselves, and they feel better if they pick on someone else. Sometimes they’re upset about something that has nothing to do with you, but they feel angry and they take it on you. At work, I get people who say mean things to me sometimes, too.”

Lily shifted gears and got concerned on my behalf all the sudden. “Who’s mean to you? What do they say?”

My heart melted even more. Even in Lily’s own moment of distress, she felt protective of me. Continue reading

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“It’s not what it looks like!”: One parent’s lament

Neve, playing happily on dry land

Neve, playing happily on dry land

There are so many things about parenting that, from the outside, look entirely different from the inside.

Subtle things. Like, one day, I’d herded both girls (because the little one wanted to tag along, of course) into a restaurant’s single restroom, and when, after everyone had washed their hands, Lily pulled multiple paper towels from the dispenser – after I told her she only needed one – I got surly and sharp with her.

“That’s a waste! We need to create as little waste as possible! It’s terrible for the environment! And I asked you to take one! You took FIVE! You don’t need five!”

In this moment, even as I’m saying the words, I hear them through the perspective of a 5 year old (or my calmly blinking spouse, to whom I repeat my grievance moments later), and they sound like the ravings of a crazy person. What is she talking about? Why is Mommy losing her s*** over paper towels?

A pretty reasonable question, really. And I don’t honestly know the answer. I wasn’t more sleep-deprived than usual. I’d had a decent day up until then. But out of nowhere, this ugly anger just poured out of me, and I snapped. What the what? Continue reading