“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

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The Nuclear Option

The other night after dinner, Lily begged me to go with her to ask whether a neighborhood boy – whose house we pass every day as we walk to and from Lily’s preschool – could come over to play on the trampoline in our backyard.

I’d previously mentioned Lily’s interest in playing to the boy’s mom, so I agreed to help carry out Lily’s plan (and yes, she DOES always have one).

Indeed, because we’d run into the family earlier that day, and suggested the possibility of a post-dinner get-together, the boy – I’ll call him William – spotted Lily as we approached and burst out the door to accept her invitation.

All good, right?

We walk back to our house, and the kids jump on the trampoline for a few minutes. Then Lily decides she wants to change into her bathing suit and run through the sprinkler. Now, as it happens, she’s so excited that she’s had an accident, anyway; but then I worry about William not having his swimsuit with him. His mother quickly says William can just wear his shorts, though, and Lily’s giddiness at having a new friend over to her house instantly ratchets up several notches.

So the two of them run through the sprinkler a couple of times, until Lily decides that she wants to fill the kiddie pool with water and go in that next – and she kind of orders William to do the same, even though he seems initially uninterested.

“Lily, you should ask him if he wants to go in. It’s up to him,” I say, but she’s like a coked-up hummingbird by this point and doesn’t hear a word, doesn’t change her bossy tone.

“She’s just excited,” I tell myself. “Nothing is making it through those little ears just now. Cut her a little extra slack until she get a bit more used to William being here.”

Joe arrives back home with Neve at about this time, having taken her downtown to an outdoor concert for kids. The poor little pigtailed baby is konked out in her stroller, so Joe, after chatting with William’s mom for a few minutes, takes Neve inside to get her jammied up for bed.

Meanwhile, in the pool, things slowly go off the rails. William agrees to come in as the hose fills the pool, and Lily suddenly gets obsessed about seeing his underwear under his shorts (“Let it go, Lily,” I tell her – and the source of all this is another blog post altogether, people); she also starts randomly throwing things like a large plastic watering can, with no regard for whom it might hurt on its way down.

I sternly tell Lily not to throw it again, but she’s just as oblivious to my voice as before. She starts splashing William, who asks her to stop it. She promises him she will; but then, moments later, she points the hose at him again, and I see the watering can go airborne again, too.

That’s the instant when some switch inside me gets flipped on – some recognition that Lily is way out of control, and that suddenly, the only option is the nuclear option. Continue reading

Inevitably tardy letter to Lily on her 4th birthday

Dear Lily:

I thought I’d start with this image from your 4th birthday party – May 19, 2012 – because for me, it sums up both who you are at this time in your life, and what your party day was like.

Since you were a baby, you’ve often been branded (by your Grandpa Grekin and others) as a “spitfire” and a “spark plug” – and, in somewhat less appealing moments, a “handful.” You are your father’s daughter in that you are fiercely passionate, you have strong opinions (God help us when you’re a teenager), and you show no signs of shyness or inhibition. (Your father reports that on a recent evening, when I had to work, you were in a restaurant and pursued conversations with patrons at two different tables.) So for me, this photo seems to, at the very least, hint at all of these things.

Appropriately, you’re wearing a purple fairy dress (complete with limp mesh wings in the back) that we got from your Aunt Susan at Christmastime, when the airline lost your little suitcase. You’ve stuck a bright pink flower hair clip that’s supposed to be part of a headband into the dead center of your hairline; and you’re wearing a bunny towel as a bizarre kind of cape while running barefoot in the sunshine across our backyard, beaming as you go. You are in your element.

And more broadly, the party had just this kind of vibe. Between the trampoline we just inherited from neighbors who moved, and the kiddie pool, and the easel and sidewalk chalk, and the inflatable slide we rented for the day, you and the dozen or so kids who showed up during the course of the afternoon were free to run around like happy puppies from one amusement to another. (And since it was in the middle of the afternoon, no one had to worry about a meal; instead, we set out goldfish, fruit, and other snacks and drinks and everyone was happy to help themselves.) The only time the kids were temporarily harnessed was when you opened presents – which was the first time many of them had spotted and noticed the trampoline, so even that segment had its kiddo appeal.

Melanie, my talented photographer co-worker who took this picture (and many more), seemed to capture the freedom and carefree-ness of your childhood in this picture, and I’m so glad to have it. I know that things will get more complicated as you get older, but at least for now, I appreciate the way you have this profound capacity to embrace the world and just feel unadulterated joy. 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