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Archive for the ‘Parenthood’ Category

Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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Posting has become harder for me lately. The kinds of things I want to talk about in this space – cooking for my family, planning for the holidays, complaining about ridiculous things – seem so glib and frivolous what with the state of the world. I don’t want to ignore the grief and fear and outrage so many people are feeling so acutely these days. But nor do I want to post about those things; I am fully aware that my existential dread is not worth discussing in depth, and I don’t feel like I have anything substantial to contribute to the existing conversations around All Of This.

When I seek out content online, it is typically to distract me from what’s going on in the world. Yes, I try to stay informed, but I can’t linger too much or I want to crawl into bed and sob forever. Instead, I want to spend my free time reading blog posts about baby names and holiday gift suggestions and how people spend their day and what people are doing with the veggies from their latest CSA and what it’s like to send a child to college. Things that are fun and, sure, sometimes, important, but maybe not important important, you know? (Are you blogging these days? Leave me a link. I want to read your posts.)

So today I am trying to push through the resistance that comes from not wanting to be too cheerful in the face of (another) tragedy and talk about something frivolous and unimportant.

I want to talk about phases.

Carla is at the intersection of several, shall we say, “challenging” phases. The phase where she is four, so she obviously knows MUCH better than me what she should be doing at any given moment which results in me asking her to put on her shoes fifty times and then just putting them on myself because we are already 14 minutes late for school. The phase where she screams when she (perceives she) is Deeply Wronged. (She has NEVER been a tantrum thrower, so this is startling and I am Not A Fan.) The phase where she eats nothing (we have been here before, at least). Mornings are especially fun around my house, is what you should take from all this.

It is so very difficult, when you are in the midst of a phase, to see it as A Phase rather than The Way Things Shall Be Until The Bitter End. I am only looking at these as phases because I was complaining to my friend the other day and she very calmly said, “Gosh, phases always last about two weeks longer than you think they should.” And all of a sudden, I realized that yes! These were phases! They will not last forever! (Also: Two weeks? Hahahahaha, friend.)

Sure, I want to “enjoy every minute” and I certainly am not trying to wish time away. It goes by fast enough. But also sometimes being a parent SUCKS and I wish these phases would end more quickly.

Of course, the trade off is that one phase ends only to usher in a new, perhaps equally challenging phase.

BUT there is a bright side. An annoying bright side, for those of us who are Not At This Particular Stage Yet. But a bright side nonetheless and I am grasping at anything to keep me upright here people. The bright side is that once this phase passes, it will (probably) cease to seem that bad.

This must be biological, right? The way I sometimes think fondly of pregnancy and daydream about being pregnant again. When pregnancy – for me – was not just smiling strangers and baby hiccups and cute maternity clothes. Oh no. It was twenty-five weeks of all-day-every-day morning sickness. And sudden onset crying. And it lasted for FORTY-TWO WEEKS. It was NOT GREAT. Stop rose-coloring those pregnancy glasses, me.

But the same goes for challenging childhood phases! And I know it’s not just me. My mother and mother-in-law have this rosy vision of their own children and how perfect they were. It’s kind of dispiriting – almost insulting – in a way, to have your parent look at your child, shaking her head in utter disbelief, saying, “Boy, I never went through this with my kids! They were perfect!”

Okay, okay. I am exaggerating for effect. When they talk about how perfect their kids were (and you realize “their kids” are me and my husband, right? so perhaps there is a little creative license based on audience going on here), they are not doing it in comparison to how un-perfect Carla is. (Obviously, she IS perfect.) They are not jerks. And my mom even has a story about how she once took me to the doctor and asked him what was wrong with me, because I was driving her so absolutely crazy. But it doesn’t seem like she remembers the specifics of that particular challenging phase, just that it happened.

(And, to be fair, I haven’t yet asked her about the Challenging Teen Years. I am still too close to them to hear her discuss them without dismay and chagrin. So there could be some doozies awaiting me. Let’s get through the early childhood years first, shall we?)

What I’m saying is, it’s one thing to be smack in the middle of a challenging phase and another thing entirely to be looking back at it through the gauzy mist of the past. Perhaps it would be therapeutic to take a good hard look backward at some phases and remember them as they were, rather than as the dewy memories of an idyllic babyhood they have somehow become. And then remind ourselves that those phases ENDED and today’s phases will too.

The Pumping Phase. Worst. Ever. I produced a lot of extra milk, and the only way to not choke my baby was to pump before feeding her. And then, because she got enough nourishment from just one side, to pump the other side, again, afterward. I spent what felt like most of the day attached either to my child or to that horrific breast pump. It was a Very Challenging Phase but it ended.

The Spitting Up After Every Meal Phase. Oh. My. Goodness. That was so frustrating. And wet. I’m sure it had to do with all the extra milk. But I still had to feed the child, you know? And she spat up every single time. We got some of those cloth diaper inserts to use as burp rags, and then got a huge pile more, because we went through ten or more a day. And we had to buy huge stacks of pajamas because I’d have to change Carla after every feeding. (Which, if you recall, was every two hours at some point. EGADS.) I lived in tank tops and nursing bras because I could rotate them out every time the spit up landed on me. That phase sucked. But we eventually got through it.

The Refusal to Sleep on Her Own Phase. Oh, Carla. Until she was… two? Older? (See, how quickly I have forgotten?), Carla would not fall asleep unless my husband or I was holding her or at the very least in the room with her. My husband spent portions of many nights asleep on the floor in front of her crib. Because I could not fall asleep on the floor, I remember singing her endless verses of lullabies and then trying to back very slowly out of the room without her noticing. Very rarely successfully. UGH. That was rough. But it’s over now!

The Reckless Disregard for Personal Safety Phase. There was a time when Carla had the speed of a cheetah and the caution of those wild squirrels that leap out in front of your car as you drive through your neighborhood. There was one incident where she dashed into a PARKING LOT and I almost died right there, so certain was I that she would be crushed by a car. She used to run pell-mell down the halls of her school, completely oblivious to things like commands and other people and immovable obstacles. There was a memorable heart-stopping few moments at Target when she took off down an aisle and out of my sight. Now, at least, she has some sense that streets and parking lots are dangerous and that she needs to keep me in sight at all times. The phase ended, and I no longer have to carry her everywhere for fear that she will escape and fling herself off a cliff.

The Putting Everything in Her Mouth Phase. Yuck. I was not a fan. My floors were much cleaner, but still. I am glad this one’s in the rear view.

The Potty Training Phase. This one is partially my fault, because I got it into my head that she should potty train at age two even though I don’t think she was quite ready. And then it’s partially her daycare’s fault, because the classroom teacher decided she was going to potty train the entire class at the same time (why? WHY????), and then a few weeks later she quit. In any event, I am SO GLAD THIS ONE IS OVER.

The Postpartum Phase. This really has nothing to do with Carla, but when I look back on it, I wonder if I had some form of PPD or post-partum anxiety. I was so afraid to leave the house. There’s a picture of me and my husband and Carla together in a park when she was twelve days old. It’s super cute, and one of the first of the three of us together. But I don’t really like it because it carries with it all these bad feelings. I remember so clearly how awful that trip was, how afraid I was that something would happen to her, how hyper-aware I was of how soon we’d need to head home so I could pump and feed her, how upset I got when Carla started to cry. It seems as though she and I stayed in the house pretty much the entire time I was on maternity leave, even though she was a summer baby and the weather was (presumably? I don’t remember.) great. I was so fixated on all these potential horrors, constantly worrying that she was sick or there was something wrong with her, so afraid to put her in the car, afraid even to let her spend time alone with my husband or my mom, just in case something happened to me or her at that very moment. I needed to be there. I couldn’t miss out. Add that to the endless pumping/breastfeeding cycle and it wasn’t the happiest time. So very glad that ended.

Of course, there are other phases that I truly miss. Like when Carla was learning to talk, and every day meant a few new words to practice and delight over. Like when she was a snuggly, happy six-month-old who stayed in one spot. Like when she called me Mama.

And there are other phases she’s in the midst of now that I never want to end: The Wakes Up Singing Phase. Or the Phase Where She and Her Friends All Compare Outfits and Jewelry the Second They See Each Other at School (it is ridiculous and adorable). Or the Phase Where She Wants to Help Me in the Kitchen. Or the Voice-Texting Daddy Super Sweet Things Phase. Or the Just Learning How to Read Phase. Or the “I Love You So Much I Never Want to Live Anywhere Without You” Phase.

She is a joy and a delight and I am glad to hold on to the good phases and let the bad ones fade into the detritus of memory.

What are the childhood phases you really miss? The ones that couldn’t have ended soon enough? And the ones you are not looking forward to? (Me, I’m just trying to focus on getting through TODAY. I am not even thinking about the Door Slamming Phase or the Boy-Crazy Phase or the Upsetting Report Card Phase.)

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Carla has decided that, when she grows up, she wants to be a zookeeper. A zookeeper with a cat for an assistant.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Carla. She loves animals more than anything in the universe. She chooses videos of animals whenever I give her the chance to watch something on my computer. She prefers stuffed animals over dolls, and her favorite game of late (read: past year and a half at least) is playing “Kitty,” wherein I count to ten, she hides, and then she pretends she’s a cat and I have to bring her home and teach her to do tricks. (The reward for the tricks is Goldfish crackers, obviously.) If I hand her my phone in the car or in the grocery store, she will keep herself busy googling pictures of whatever animal is most on her mind (mountain lion, giraffe, porcupine, praying mantis, armadillo). She has no innate fear of animals: she loves snakes and lizards and insects as much as she likes the fluffier, cuddlier critters.

If I had to choose her FAVORITE animal, though, I’d say dog.

She claims she likes cats best – and maybe she does; that’s certainly the animal she pretends to be. She seems to play with her stuffed cats most often. Cats star in her favorite online videos. But she hasn’t had much real-life experience with cats.

Dogs, on the other hand…

Dog

I don’t actually know this dog. But it hasn’t gotten the memo that I am firmly and forever A Cat Person. It’s very cute, though. 

Carla’s first experience with a dog was at her great grandmother’s funeral. Well, to be more accurate, the reception after the funeral; this wasn’t the type of mortuary that has dogs wandering around, although that sounds like it would be quite comforting. She was not quite a year old, and she fell in love with the dog who lived at the house where the reception took place. And she followed it around the ENTIRE TIME we were there. It was some sort of golden retriever and so it was big enough that it could knock her over with a wag of its tail. She loved it and I think it launched a passion for dogs that has so far only continued to blossom.

My parents have a dog, and Carla has been OBSESSED with him since she first met him. She will follow him around constantly. She has to be touching him at all times. Whenever she’s not with him – even if that means she’s sitting at the table eating breakfast and the dog is on the other side of the room – she has to know what he’s doing. Even though we were all in the same room together, she would insist on narrating what the dog was doing. “He’s licking his paw!” she would crow to my mother, who was sitting several feet away from the dog. “He’s sleeping!” she would announce to my father, who was literally at that moment petting the dog. When we are away from my parents and Carla mentions them – I miss them, I love them, I wonder what they’re doing – she never omits the dog. When we talk about members of her family, she lists the dog right up there with her uncle and aunt and grandparents and cousin.

We are lucky to live on a quiet cul-de-sac that has MANY dogs. One dog lives next door. Another lives across the street. Another lives across the street and three doors down. There are four others that live at the north end of the street, and three more that live at the south end. Plenty of dogs in close proximity.

Which is great!

But it’s also raised previously unknown-to-me etiquette concerns. What is an ideal Dog Neighbor Relationship supposed to look like? What are the appropriate Dog Neighbor Boundaries? How can we be good and non-irritating Neighbors to Dogs?

To make matters more complicated and uncertain, I do not like dogs.

Perhaps this changes your mind about me. I’m sorry if it does. But dogs are not my thing. I do not like how slobbery they are. I don’t like the licking. I don’t like the idea of picking up another creature’s excrement. I don’t like the hair or the scent or the forced walking.

Listen, I’m not going to be mean to a dog. I will say hello to a dog as I pass it on the street. I will happily look at your dog pictures. I will even, on occasion, pet one. I can appreciate a dog. I certainly want YOU to love dogs.

But I bring this up because I don’t really know anything about what it means to HAVE a dog. To be a Dog Owner. I mean, I grew up with dogs… but they were outdoor-only dogs and they had the run of our many-acre property so there wasn’t any pooper-scooper action or even any walking to be done. I never went to a dog park. My parents were responsible for the brushing and the feeding. They kind of existed at the periphery of my attention.

This means that I’ve had to learn, from scratch, how to interact with other people’s dogs. I’ve always sort of thought of Dog People as sociable types, who enjoy being outside with their dogs, who bask in sharing their Joy of Dogs with other dog lovers. So when Carla learned to walk, and we’d be out and about in the neighborhood, I thought nothing of allowing her to pet our neighbors’ dogs.

(Note for the concerned: I have always taken great care to teach Carla about Dog Safety: asking the dog’s owner before touching a dog; allowing the dog to sniff your hand first; preferred places to touch the dog; steering clear of dogs alone on their lawns, protecting their homes; being alert to signs that the dog is frightened or upset – ears laid back on the head, tail between the legs, growling.)

At first, it was easy enough – and, frankly, tiny Carla was adorable enough – to get away with a lot of dog attention. Our neighbors were very indulgent. But as Carla’s gotten older and more autonomous – and ever more obsessed with dogs – it’s gotten more uncomfortable. For me, I guess I should say. I have no idea how the neighbors feel. I am just assuming that their patience with Carla and our constant Dog-Related Interruptions is wearing thin.

For instance, Carla would see a dog in its yard as we walked past and would call out to the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or she would see a dog passing the house and would run to the door shrieking after the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or, worst of all, she would see a dog owner arriving home, and would call out, “Can you bring your dog outside?” Anytime we glimpsed one of the dogs on our street, Carla would make a beeline for it. And then she’d foist attention upon it – to the exclusion of all other things, like neighbors asking her kind questions about what she’d done in school that day, or like her mother noting that we’d need to leave in two minutes to go eat dinner – until the point where I would physically extract her from the situation, sometimes with accompanying tears and/or screaming.

Delightful, right?

Our kind, patient neighbors would usually acquiesce to her doggy demands with gracious kindness. But it makes ME feel like such an imposition. And an over-indulgent parent. And a person who doesn’t understand proper Dog Boundaries. AND a Bad Neighbor.

In maybe the past six months, we’ve instituted a new “rule,” which is that we only ask if we can pet someone’s dog if we encounter it on a walk. As in, if the dog is walking with its owner and we are walking. If we are on a walk and we pass by someone’s house, even if the dog and its owner are sitting outside on the lawn, we will not bother them. The rule is accompanied by a stern reminder that we need to pet the dog for short time, and when the dog owner or I say it’s time to go, we need to leave immediately and with no tears.

So I am trying to teach her about privacy and boundaries and all the things that are important to me. And we’re having success!

But it’s HARD. Because she LOVES THOSE DOGS. And sometimes, before I can remind her of the rule, she calls out – across the street, down the block, out of a car window – “CAN I PET YOUR DOG?” And then the neighbors feel obligated to comply.

In those cases, I usually explain to Carla that it’s not the right time, remind her of our rule, etc. And guide her away from the dog. But occasionally, the dog owner will say something like, “It’s okay,” and then Carla gets to pet the dog anyway. And I die quietly of humiliation.

Because I never know what’s appropriate, you know? I never know if I am being too strict with my own boundaries, or if I’m reading the situation correctly, or if I am totally overthinking things, or if I am being way TOO lax with what I allow Carla to ask and do.

The other day, we walked a few blocks to the post office. On the way, we noticed that our neighbor was walking his dog – about half a block in front of us. I reminded Carla of our rule, and told her if we crossed paths, she could ask if she could pet his dog. So Carla took off running. I had her stop and come back, but of course she wanted to catch up to the neighbor dog. At one point, the dog stopped to sniff a tree and we were within a few yards. So she yelled, “Hello, Mr. Neighbor! Can I pet your dog?” (I am also trying to teach her to acknowledge the person and not simply the dog.) But he was wearing earphones and didn’t hear.

I knew he had seen us though; we’d exchanged a wave. And I also knew that he KNOWS Carla and her dog obsession. I wondered if he was purposely staying ahead of us so he didn’t have to deal with Carla. And then I began to panic that he might think we were following him. No! We were just going in the same direction! Fortunately, he veered off one way and we went the opposite direction to the post office.

But of course, on the way home, we spotted him. I told Carla that we would probably cross paths and that she could say hello and ask to pet the dog. But he STOPPED, on the other side of the street. I don’t know why. To avoid us? Perhaps. (Panic, panic.) But we had to cross the street anyway, and then he was maybe five yards away, and she had been so patient and so rigorous in sticking to the rules, so I let her go up to him and say hello and pet the dog. Our neighbor was very pleasant about it. But sweet amaryllis did it make me anxious, intruding on his walk like that! If it had been up to me, I would have assumed that he was keeping his distance on purpose, and then I would have waved, stayed on my side of the street, and walked briskly to my house.

As an introverted person with, shall we say, Very Strong Boundaries, it is extremely uncomfortable for me to try to navigate these types of situations appropriately – and even worse when I have to teach my boundary-light daughter how to do so. What’s the right thing? What’s overstepping? What’s too much Dog Joy vs. not enough?

I think Carla is going to win lots of friends in the neighborhood when she gets old enough to be a dog walker. But until then, I guess I will just keep bumbling my way through Neighbor Dog Relationship Issues.

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A few months ago, I asked for advice about kids’ books with an instructive element. I loved the comments on that post – they were so full of good ideas, and I have since requested many of your suggestions from the library.

THEN. After I published the post, I got an email from A Kind and Generous Person who just so happened to have an entire STACK of the Joy Berry books I fondly remember from my own childhood.

Her children had outgrown them, she said, and she was thinking about the best way to release them from her house. And would I want them?

WOULD I?!?!

She boxed them up and sent them to me, FOR FREE – AND DID NOT EVEN WANT ME TO COVER THE SHIPPING – and they now live in my daughter’s bedroom. (Can you even believe how KIND and GENEROUS and ALL-CAPS WONDERFUL that is?!?!)

Joy Berry Books 1

I get a little tingle of delight EVERY TIME I see this stack of books!

We have read them several times over. Carla was OBSESSED with them when they first arrived, so we read all 20 of them right away, two-at-a-time before naps or bedtime. And then she began asking for specific books. And now we work them in among the other, less-instructive books that crowd her bookcase.

The books, by the way, are as wonderful as I remember… PLUS they are better, because now I am the one trying to teach my own child certain concepts. And some concepts are HARD.

Joy Berry Books 4

The elephant is already very clear on the concept of disobedience.

Thank goodness for Joy Berry. She very clearly and simply lays out a term and what it means and then offers several clear, firm, no-nonsense examples, all accompanied by a cartoon that shows the concept in action.

Joy Berry Books 5

There’s always an animal along for comic relief/extra shaming.

Then she lists simple examples of what you should do and what you should not do in order to avoid the concept being taught.

Joy Berry Books 6

SO EASY to abstain from disobeying! Just follow the two steps! (Disclaimer: May not be quite as easy in practice as it seems in the book.)

It was such a wonderful, pleasing case of serendipity. That this Kind and Generous Person would not only have the Joy Berry books, and be done with them herself, and be looking to pass them on to someone else… but that she would also read my blog at the exact moment I posted about my longing for those very books.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me itch to pass along the kindness.

To that end, I happen to possess three books that a) I LOVE and b) I am no longer in need of and c) I would wholeheartedly recommend you buy anyway because they are soothing and easy to read and short. So I would like to give them away to you.

They are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and they are slim “guidebooks,” if you will, to the inner workings of a two- and three-year-old.

Louise Bates Ames

I have no idea why these are not ordered CORRECTLY. It is driving me batty (although apparently not so batty as to retake the photo), so let’s just quickly look away, shall we?

The two-year-old book and one of the three-year-old books are gently used. The other arrived from Amazon as a surprise extra, and Amazon – which apparently has more money than it knows what to do with – just shrugged its shoulders and said, “keep it.” So the book is fresh as the day it arrived, more than a year and a half ago.

The books follow the same basic structure, outlining the characteristics of a child of that age, techniques for dealing with a child of that age, accomplishments and abilities typical for the age range, how the child sees the world, etc. There are “real life stories” sections in the back of each, where parents give a brief description of some problem they are encountering and the author responds.

I like these books for their cheery and matter-of-fact tone, for the “help with routines” sections, for the books/toys suggestions at the back, and for the short lists of “things to avoid” when interacting with your child. Sample, from the book on two-year-olds: “Avoid any expectation that all daily routines will go smoothly.” Second sample, same book: “Avoid any questions that can be answered by ‘no.'” I don’t know why, but these simple suggestions give me the giggles. And have I mentioned that they are short and very easy to read? Some parenting books are so dense. Others are so wordy. These books are so quick. Of course, that also means that they don’t really cover anything in-depth. But as an overview of what to expect from your kid at a specific age, they are top notch.

If you (or a loved one) are in possession of a nearly two-, or three-year-old, and if you don’t already own these books, let me know in the comments if you would like a) Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender, b) Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, or c) both. I will do some sort of random number drawing on Friday.

Oh! And whether you want a copy of the Louise Bates Ames books or not, I would love to know what your favorite instructive-type children’s book is… and/or your favorite/most useful parenting book.

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Carla will be attending a couple of different camps this summer. It’s our first experience with camp, so, if you imagine my mind like a large industrial size gas stove, with pots of worry on each of the burners, the camp pot is currently set at a low simmer. With each passing day, though, it comes closer to a boil.

Part of that, I think, is that there has been little to no communication from the camps. We got emails right away that they processed our payments… and then… nothing. One of the camps required some sort of something that I’ve forgotten, to take place in April, and eventually I just contacted them myself to get it taken care of. (Would the camp administrators have ever reached out to me?) One of the other camps did send out a sort of welcome email, which promised to send more information in the coming weeks (it has not). The welcome email also included three attachments, two of which were forms that didn’t apply to Carla and one of which was a welcome letter (why couldn’t the content of the letter be part of the email?) that mentioned camp t-shirts and where to buy them, and also gave the date of a… something. I don’t really know what to expect, but I guess we get to go see where the camp takes place and… maybe meet some of the camp staff? It’s very unclear, and I have read it several times to make sense of it.

So the lack of communication is concerning. And it feeds into the part of my worry that derives from the fact that this is a Total Unknown. I never really did camp as a kid. We had a nanny when I was growing up, and my brother and I spent our summers at home. I think there were several years of swimming lessons, and maybe a few visits to a local park that offered face painting. But mostly, we played in the vast wilderness surrounding our house and tried not to get bitten by a rattlesnake. (It was a pretty idyllic way to spend a summer, I have to admit. I have fond memories of riding my bike over gravel and over twin ruts in the prairie that counted as a path; of inspecting ant hills with great care and interest; of swinging for hours in the sun; of swiping a handful of oats from the horses and planting them and watching them grow; of writing messages on pieces of birch bark from the wood pile; of playing with kittens in the hayloft; and so many other outdoor pursuits. I feel like I spent all summer long outside, but memory may be playing tricks on me.

The one childhood camp I remember attending was a sleepaway camp, and the first night I was there I developed pneumonia and had to be sent home. In any event, I was much older than Carla is, and plus this was a million years ago, so I have no idea how camps work anymore. The paragraph-long descriptions that persuaded us to enroll Carla are, from an information perspective, very slim. What does it actually mean to be “exploring the natural world through art” or “mastering new sports skills”?  What will the kids be doing all day?

One of the things I am fretting about is Carla’s reaction to camp. I think she will love camp, based on the broad understanding that the kids will be outdoors a lot and that there will be art and sports. But transitions are challenging for Carla, and I am a little concerned that it will take her so long to adjust to camp that she won’t get much out of it. Also, I have this nagging worry that the camp counselors will be… lacksadaisical, and I have scary visions of Carla running off and getting lost in the forest or something.

Okay, breathe, breathe. It’s going to be okay, yes? The camps will eventually send me some real information, right? I will know more than the dates and location of the camp, preferably before the first day of camp, yes?

I keep opening emails to the camp director, wanting to ask in a cheerful and not-overly-eager-or-bothersome manner whether we can anticipate any details in the coming days… or if there is a welcome session to introduce Carla to the camp venue… But then I chide myself about being patient and close the emails. I don’t want to be labeled as That Mom until they get to know me.

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Yesterday was Carla’s last day of preschool. It was a short day, so I ran to Target after I dropped her off. I had a list of things we needed, and a stack of coupons, and a cartload of Feelings, and where better to go when you have Feelings, I ask you, than to Target, where you can mindlessly wander the aisles and also participate in the soothing act of buying things?

It surprised me – which is surprising, knowing me – how much I was affected by The End of Preschool. I’ve been having terrible dreams for days: the one where I’m trying to save Carla from an active shooter but the only path away is riddled with motorcyclists and highways full of speeding cars; the one where I’m trying to save her from a furious grizzly bear lumbering toward us at the terrifying speed of bears; the one where she’s swimming with her face in the water and I’m terrified she’ll drown (way to be super original in your choice of metaphors, sub-conscious).

It’s pretty clear that this little milestone is presenting as a more significant marker of The Ceaseless Passage of Time than maybe it should be.

 

Right after I yanked my cart from the corral (and wiped down the handle with my own sanitizing wipe; I am nothing if not a germaphobe, and the wipes provided by Target say NOTHING about being sanitizing), I heard the two part harmony of children crying. The volume and intensity ramped up as I rounded the $1 section, and as I trekked down the aisle between the purses/jewelry section and the bank of checkouts, I could make out words. The older child was wailing, “I want the candy!” Her younger sibling was crying, too, but – it seemed to me – in sympathy rather than in any sort of personal outrage. The older child was really getting into it, hysterical sobs punctuated by very loud, very insistent screams of “I want the candy!” Her timbre and noise level read full-on meltdown and I am sure her mother was glad of the early-morning dearth of shoppers.

I felt, as one does, great affection and empathy for the mother, who was calmly unloading her cart onto the conveyor belt as her child railed and flailed.

As I passed, I overheard the person behind the family note, to the mother, “She wants the candy!” in a tone that conveyed bewilderment as to how the mother had missed this crucial point. And the mother responded, with great patience, “I know, but she can’t have the candy because she hit her sister. And I can’t give her candy just because she’s upset.”

Oh, internet! I was already weepy with all the sunrise, sunset feelings that The End of Preschool had brought on. But now, here was a mom who was just doing her best to teach her children, who was being scolded – albeit very gently, it seemed, from my in-motion and distant eavesdropping – for allowing her child to scream rather than just giving her the damn candy, and, in addition, she was calmly and steadfastly defending her actions to said scolder. Like she really needed a THIRD person to instruct when all she wanted was to buy her diapers and her chicken dinosaurs and get the hell out of there. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, internet, and tell her she is doing such a good job. That it will be all right.

But I don’t know that it will be. And especially at that moment, when I had to suppress the urge to shout, “Give her the candy now because she’ll be off to college in an eyeblink and you need to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”

 

We’ve been enjoying some really glorious weather the past week or so. Low humidity. Cool breezes. Warm sunshine. Carla and I have been spending as much time outdoors as possible.

One of our favorite activities of late is “bubbles.” I have this enormous bubble wand (from Target, obvs.) that produces excellent bubbles, both in size and quantity. I stand in our front yard and wave the wand, and then Carla chases the bubbles and tries to pop them (often with her face, which I have tried explaining is not the smartest plan).

It’s good from an energy-expenditure standpoint; Carla really throws herself into the chase. She runs hard, she leaps, she twirls, she dives. I contemplate her future as a soccer star. After fifteen or twenty minutes, she’s breathing hard and I know she will sleep well.

But aside from being good exercise (for her; unless you count “mild upper arm tiredness” as exercise on my part), it’s also kind of magical. The bubbles have their own sort of childish beauty, shiny and round, bumbling around the yard on air currents, nudging into one another, popping on the grass. When a breeze picks up, they erupt from the wand all at once: a flock of smooth and iridescent birds, bobbing this way and that in luminous clusters. When the air is still, they form slowly, elongating shimmers that finally coalesce into globes, unsure of their shape as they stretch and wobble through the air.

I love watching them burst against Carla’s hand, her cheek, her blond head. Even more, I love watching the gleaming orbs drift skyward, growing smaller as they rise, pinpricks of light against the clouds.

 

Preschool ending must have really messed me up, because – despite my list – I kept forgetting things. So I’d be in the pretzel aisle and remember that I forgot to pick up vitamins. And then I would schlep all the way back to the vitamin aisle… and realize I forgot all about Carla’s shampoo, on the complete other side of Target. And then I’d get to that side and remember I needed aluminum foil, which was way back in the opposite corner. It was a good thing I had a couple hours to kill, because I traversed that Target many times over.

One of my coupons was for 20% off Cat & Jack toddler clothing (ONE item, which at least they now state on the back of the coupon; harrumph). So I searched for awhile among the toddler clothes. But really, Carla is big enough now to shop in the older children’s section. (Of course, a pair of shorts in size XS or 4 may be identical in price to a pair of 4T shorts in the toddler section, but the coupon is applicable only to the 4T shorts.)

A whole end-cap of socks was on clearance. The display was in disarray, with all the sizes out of order. I dug around until I found the style I liked in size medium — lots of colorful stripes; pom moms on the back of one pair. A pack of Frozen socks caught my eye; Carla has a set that she’s outgrowing, so it would be nice to replace them. But they only had XL and XS – enormous socks for much older children; little teeny socks for tiny baby feet. So I had a little cry right there in the clearance section.

A whole wall of Carlas, at every age. Little wide-eyed infant with the jerky kicks and the balled up fists. Soft blond fuzz and chubby thighs crawling across the carpet. One-year-old Carla shrieking with delight as she clutches a blue carnation in her fist. Eighteen-month-old Carla saying “Hi, hi, hi” into a toy phone or digging into a baby-Carla-size pumpkin with an enormous spoon. Two-year old Carla eating snow by the bowlful, cheeks pink from the cold. Three-year-old Carla jumping gleefully on a trampoline in the backyard, blond curls taking flight around her. Three-year-old Carla in her polka dot dress and backpack posing with her chin up on her first day of school. Three-and-a-half-year-old Carla, fearless on skis, twirling with her father on ice skates, arms wrapped around the neck of a tolerant neighbor dog. Nearly-four-year-old Carla, chasing bubbles in the sunshine. Lifting her feet off the ground and gliding on her balance bike. Bending over a drawing – real! recognizable! – of a person. Skipping down the hall toward her classroom for the last time, “Elsa” braid swinging at her back. Slipping away from me, ever forward, not a glance behind.

Me, running to catch up. Never having mastered now enough to fully enjoy it. Grasping to hold onto each glimmering moment, even as the breeze catches it and pushes it up into the sky.

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We have reached the stage of life where I am constantly searching for books that have some sort of teaching component.

Carla loves to read. And I find that reading a book about a topic and then discussing that topic and whatever lessons are inside it really help secure them in her brain.

But I am picky about the books.

The Berenstain Bears series is okay.

We have Too Much TV and The Truth and both are all right. Not perfect – Papa Bear is (as many cartoon/children’s book fathers seem to be) kind of a dolt, who seems to have as much to work on as the cubs do. And that annoys me, for some reason. Not that parents in kids’ books shouldn’t be real and vulnerable and have their own struggles, but… I don’t know. There’s just something mildly irritating to me about how the Bear Family parents come across. They are SUPER CHEAP though, so that’s nice.

I love the Frances books.

We have A Birthday for Frances and Bread and Jam for Frances and we have checked out Bedtime for Frances from the library many, many times. They are not perfect either; I seem to recall that the father threatens to spank Frances in the bedtime story, and I am not a fan of that. But otherwise, I very much admire her parents’ calm, unflappable way of dealing with Frances’s antics. My biggest complaint about the Frances books, perhaps, is that there aren’t enough of them.

Last fall, we were getting some… feedback from Carla’s teachers that she may benefit from a refresher on listening and following directions. So I researched a bunch of books on the topic, looked them up at my  local library (NOT IN THE SYSTEM AT ALL), and ordered a few highly-rated books from Amazon.

We read them each once.

(In case it’s not clear, I did not like ANY of them. I Just Want to Do It My Way would have been better titled “Staying on Task” or “Asking for Help” or something. And, in that book and in That Rule Doesn’t Apply to Me, I found the inconsistent rhyming and use of different fonts very irritating. Plus, they seemed to be geared toward a kid a bit older than Carla is. Which I guess isn’t the BOOK’S fault so much as mine. They are destined to be donated, I think. [To be fair, Why Should I Listen was okay. It showed multiple examples of a child not listening, and the consequences. And it also showed a few examples of how bad the child felt when others didn’t listen to him.])

Now, I am looking for books about talking to strangers and being polite and keeping your hands to yourself. I have a bunch in my Amazon cart, and I just need to order them. But what I keep wishing for is these books that I had as a kid.

At first, I couldn’t remember anything about them except that they covered a wide range of topics. But then I found them on Amazon! They belonged to a series by Joy Wilt Berry, and when I was a kid, the series was called “Let’s Talk About…” Looks like the originals came out in the early-to-mid 1980s. Of course, they are long out of print. (It seems like they got revised and republished a few times, as recently as 2000. But even those aren’t sold directly by Amazon.) (I haven’t looked for them anywhere else. YET.)

It makes me laugh to scroll through all the titles. If you take a look at the ones that I remember CLEARLY from my childhood, you may get a sense of what a delightful child I must have been.

I like to think I really absorbed the lessons of the books and have transformed into a polite, honest, non-greedy, hardworking, non-bossy person. But let’s be honest, I’m still not the neatest.

It’s comforting to think of my mother seeking out books in the same way I am now seeking books for my own daughter.

I suppose I can order used copies of some of them. I wonder if they hold up to my memory of them?

Anyway, I am wondering if YOU have any books of an instructive nature – about anything, really, from using good judgment to table manners to making friends to using an indoor voice and everything beyond – that you loved, as a child or as a parent.

In the meantime, I am going to go order some books from the Cheri J. Meiners Learning to Get Along series.

And maybe a couple of other random books for good measure. (At around $3-$6 a book, why not?) (I may have a book buying problem.)

Note: All of the photos above came from Amazon.com. I think you can see that if you scroll over the photos themselves, but… who knows.

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