Friday, March 13, 2015

Five Awesome Lessons I Have Taught My Toddler

After all my hand-wringing related to the last post, you would think that my darling son's worst exposure comes from the playground, soft or otherwise. You would be wrong. I have increasingly come to accept that all my child's bad habits come from me. Behold some choice lessons I have taught him over the last three years.

5 Awesome Lessons I Have Taught My Toddler

Lesson #1 - Cry to Get What You Want

[This conversation was relayed to me second-hand by his preschool teacher. Henry has been having issues...ahem...listening in class.]

Henry: When I don't cooperate with Mommy, she cries.
Teacher: Well you should listen to Mommy then, so you don't make her feel bad, right?
Henry: No.
Teacher: Why not?
Henry: Well, when someone doesn't cooperate with me, then I'll cry.

Lesson #2 - Curse Words Are Valid Forms of Expression

Henry last fall: Daddy, Mommy yelled fox when she couldn't park the car.

Henry every day since when aggravated: FOX! FOXES! FOX!*

Lesson #3 - How to Hide an Eating Disorder

A common conversation with my lactose-intolerant son:
Henry: I want that cheese.
Me: You can't have cheese, it will make you sick.
Henry: I want those cookies.
Me: You can't have those, they have milk, and that will make you sick.
Henry: But I want them.
Me: They will make you sick. Let's get something else.

Me: Eat your dinner.
Henry: No, it has milk in it.
Me: No it doesn't. Finish your sweet potatoes. You love sweet potatoes.
Henry: No, it has milk in it.
Me: There's no milk.
Henry: Yes, it will make me sick.

Lesson #4 - Mommy Looks Disheveled; Anything Else Is Unacceptable

Henry: Mommy, what's on your eyes?
Me: Makeup.
Henry: Mommy, why are your eyes blue and black?
Me: Because I put on makeup so I could be fancy for dinner with Daddy. Do you like it?
Henry: No. Take it off.
Me: Okay, I will tonight. Give me a kiss goodbye.
Henry: No. You have black eyes.

Lesson #5 - Use the Horn, Always and Liberally

Me in the car, stuck behind a bus, muttering under my breath: What's going on here, bus?
Henry: What did you say, Mommy?
Me: [silence]
Henry, persisting: What happened with the bus?
Me: The bus is stopped here, and I can't figure out how to get around.
Henry: Beep the horn!

* He also occasionally mutters "balls," and I know that's not from me. Ahem, hubby.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Is the Appropriate Response to Bullying?

The Playground of Life

Today I took Henry to one of those Gymboree-type places in my neighborhood so he could run around for an hour in their indoor gym. The combination of the freezing temperatures and my pregnancy has reduced him to a caged animal this winter. There is never enough indoor space to satisfy an energetic three-year-old. I can’t tell you how many picture frames have been broken in the past two months.

The gym is padded like those images of insane asylums in old films. Every surface is covered in foam. There are foam blocks and uneven bars over foam mats, basketball hoops with soft balls and a bouncy lane with a soft, red landing pad at its end. Henry made a beeline for the bouncy lane (look! a giant couch Mommy won’t tell me to stop jumping on!), and I tried to find a seat away from the mob of over-excited, under-exercised children.

What Is the Appropriate Response to Bullying? ~ Urban Moo Cow

All the usual suspects of the playground milieu were there. The bored babysitter barely bothering with her two afternoon charges. The older girl with a small cadre of young ducklings following her around.

The mother who couldn’t seem to keep her kindergartner from hitting, kicking and pushing indiscriminately. “Anthony!”—name changed to protect the innocent—“Anthony! Stop [kicking, hitting, running, pushing, cutting in line, stealing the ball]!” And so on.

The father who hovered over his nearly-three-year-old daughter in case she fell twelve inches onto a padded mat and told Henry to find his own toy when he wandered over to play. I mean, he might have germs, right? It was a little flashback to Brooklyn, and its singularity among the adults in the room reminded me why I was so happy to have left.


Anthony’s older brother was shooting hoops. He looked to be about seven and was quite a natural. I smiled at him when he did a particularly good layup. After that he looked at me for approval every time he made a shot. Or asked his mom to look. Or tried to get the attention of anyone else. The fruits, perhaps, of our over-praising culture on display.


And there was Henry: bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, running, jumping, tumbling, falling and bouncing some more. I watched him play contentedly on his own—such a first-child trait—completely oblivious to “Anthony!” even when Anthony and one of the babysitter’s charges started punching each other and had to be broken up by Anthony’s mom.

I watched him turn around on a set of padded stairs and go back the way he came when another child climbed up the opposite direction.

My sweet, non-confrontational boy. The one who never hit or bit, who preferred puzzles to balls. Mommy’s little cerebral child-lock dismantler, born good-natured, just like Daddy.

He’s going to get eaten alive on The Playground. The thought floated unbidden through my mind. Not this playground in particular. But some playground in the future. The Playground of life.

The Future Is Now

But let’s not be melodramatic, right? I would not even have written this post if a glimpse of that future had not unfurled before my eyes.

Anthony had teamed up with his former punching-bag, Punching-Bag’s brother and another boy. They were all around the same age and had begun running wildly around the gym until they made it to the bouncy lane where Henry was playing.

Then: “Hey black-shirt,” one of them called to Henry, “get away from here!” Henry didn’t understand. He thought they wanted to play with him, so he bounced over laughing. The boys ran away and then came back and yelled at him again. I could see he was getting a little confused.

I sat back and watched. I did. I swear. I watched these older boys pick on a younger boy. My younger boy. Practice what you preach, and all that.

Until finally they all jumped onto the soft landing pad in a bunch, and Anthony smacked Henry across the face.

From there, for me, there was one thought and one thought alone: get my child away from them. All reaction; all mama bear.

I jumped up, looked at Anthony’s mom across the gym and pointed her in the direction of her son, who was blocked from her line of sight by a column (well played, Anthony).

“No hitting,” I said sternly and loudly to Anthony.

Just then, Punching-Bag kicked Henry.

“NO. HITTING,” I said to him in a scary, scary voice I scarcely recognized as my own.

I’m pretty sure disciplining someone else’s child goes in the category of “never, ever, ever.”

At the same time, I’m pretty sure that if either of those kids had continued to hit my son, I would have pulled their little bodies off him and tossed them to the padded ground.

I felt in that moment like I do in a crisis. A real crisis. I might be hysterical and helpless in the face of a sink over-filled with dirty dishes, but in emergencies I become a machine. My mouth goes dry, but I am completely composed. When Rayne was in a car accident in the back of a cab, I was so calm on the phone, telling him which hospital to instruct the ambulance to take him to, putting on my hospital badge, walking through the door of the ER and asking for my husband like I was ordering a sandwich. I suppose that is what my particular "fight" instinct looks like.

The kids dispersed and Anthony’s mom dragged him away. Punching-Bag’s babysitter did nothing.

Instead of making a big deal, I went back to my place and watched Henry’s look of betrayal melt away as he got back up and continued to bounce, bounce, bounce.


“He was an easy target,” Rayne said later. “He was alone, he was smaller.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks. “They were four five-year-olds picking on a two-and-a-half-year-old, for all they knew.” He is so small for his age.

“They’re bullies,” he said. “It’s going to happen, though. He’s going to get hurt playing a sport; when he’s 14 a girl will break his heart; and he will get teased on the playground.”

“I can’t do this.”

“I know you. You want the world to be perfect.”

“I want the world to be fair.”

“But it’s not.”

“I hate that.”

“I know.”

How Do You Handle Bullies?

I don’t know what I should have done. Nothing? Something more? He’s probably too small for any such conversation right now, but in a few years do I tell him to walk away? Hit back? 

What is the appropriate response to bullying?


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seriously, When Will People Learn to Mind Their Own Business

I was having lunch with an old friend at Le Pain Quotidien ("Our handmade bread serves as the canvas for a myriad of organic and seasonal ingredients") last week. Henry did well -- he ate his sandwich after mushing it around a bit -- but, he's three, i.e., a bit unpredictable. When he found a train near the bottom of my bottomless diaper bag and started to play on the floor at our feet, I was thankful he was amused enough for me to catch up with my friend.

Ten minutes later, a woman approached our table.

"Excuse me, your child is on the floor."

I glanced down at Henry. He wasn't in the way, which is what I assumed she meant, and he seemed perfectly fine.

"Okay, thanks." I smiled.

"No," she continued, as if I wasn't following. "Like, his cheek is on the floor."

Ah, I saw where this was going.

"Okay, thanks," I said again, with another smile.

But she wasn't done!

"Um, it's dirty,"

"Okay," I said once again, "thanks."

She walked away in a huff, and I'm sure she told everyone the story about the irresponsible mom who let her child rest his cheek on the floor of an upscale cafe chain on the Upper East Side.

I'm not going to go into a tirade about Americans' collective (marketing-driven, I might opine) obsession with cleanliness and parents' helicoptering to the point of suffocation. As I've said before, I'd rather my son break his arm falling out of a tree than never climb a tree at all.

Instead, I'm going to share an anecdote from when Henry was a mere 13 months old. First, there are a lot of new people around here, and I wouldn't want you to miss out on this gem of an insight into my personality. For everyone else, I just want some damn props for keeping my cool. Give me props, people!

The excerpt below is from a longer essay published in the 2013 anthology, The Mother of All Meltdowns. You can find the original post here.


By winter, I had learned braving the subway was a whole hell of a lot easier if I strapped my son to my chest in the baby carrier and stashed him inside a special Papoose coat big enough to close around us both. Once bundled in, my son’s round, hairless, disembodied head stuck out of the middle of the enormous poofy coat, like a little Voldemort. Remember in the first Harry Potter movie where Professor Quirrell carried Voldemort in his turban? Yeah, like that.

The book doesn't have this snazzy picture, though.

Everyone raves about baby-wearing, but toddler-wearing is something else entirely. I have neither the shoulders nor the upper body strength to glide effortlessly along with twenty pounds strapped to my chest. I spent the entire winter swearing and perspiring from one place to another.

On my way to the subway in Manhattan one mild January afternoon, I called a friend who had been trying to conceive for months to see if she was free for lunch. She wasn't, but we chatted briefly about her recent doctor’s appointment. Just then, I saw a fifty-something-year-old man walking toward me, gesticulating wildly with an appalled look on his face.

I narrowed my eyes in the silent but universally understood sign of: What? Is there a Tyrannosaurus behind me about to chomp my head off? Why else would you be interrupting my phone call, complete stranger?

"Hat," he said, gesturing again, a bit more frantically as he passed. "Put a hat on the baby! It's cold out."

I. Almost. Lost. My. Mind.

It was the hat that broke the camel’s back. I cracked under the invisible weight of comments and insults that had been heaped upon me, my body and my mothering over the past two years.

"Really?" I said, turning to follow him down the street like a lunatic.

The man continued on his way, pretending to ignore me, which was ironic, considering I should have been the one to pretend to ignore him. But I did not. Oh, no, I did not.

"Really??” I continued, yelling. People stopped to stare at the woman carrying Voldemort who was verbally accosting an apparent stranger. Even by New York standards, I was acting a little crazy. “Is it cold out? I couldn't tell!” I called to him as I followed. “Do you think I should put a hat on him? I wasn't sure!”

Was I imagining things or was he picking up his pace a little so he could cross before the sign changed from the inviting white walker to the forbidding red hand?

“Thanks for letting me know!" I screamed as he crossed the street.

I realized at that point that I had been holding the phone in my hand the whole time. My friend was still there, laughing. My heart was pounding; I was furious and not a little embarrassed. What I should have said, I told her, was:

Excuse me, complete stranger, but did you carry this child in your uterus for nine months? No? Is that because he's not yours? Or because you don't even have a uterus of your own? Did you carry his 20 pounds strapped to your chest inside a parka made for the Arctic Circle from the ass-end of Brooklyn to the Flatiron District, sweating, late and trying not to trip down the subway stairs and kill the both of you?

Did you?


Are you me?



Then, for the love of all that is holy, MIND YOUR OWN @$#%^* BUSINESS.


That goes for you, too, Le Pain Quotidien lady.