You are eight and five. You are friends now.
Yesterday I listened from the kitchen as you said,
“Here, Ada. You be this guy!”
And you lost yourselves together in imagination; the round couch your castle, the pile of stuffed animals your cohorts.
From the very beginning you were fascinated by this little sister. She was enamoured with you.
She sat in the baby chair in her fuzzy pink Cookie Monster sleeper,
her blue eyes concentrated on you,
When she cried it upset you and you begged me for “a two-arm hug, momma,”
Not understanding that you had to share me.
You started playing together, sort of,
When she was about 12 months old.
She trotted along behind you, fascinated by you, frustrated when she couldn’t keep up with your manic pace.
Your painstakingly built Lego pirate ship smashed to the ground by a curious two-year-old was the next step; your face crumbled as you screamed “THAT BABY wrecked it again!” And again.
But you wanted to be with her. You didn’t want to sit alone in your room where the toys were protected and quiet.
Now she is five. You are eight.
“Wait for me, Benny!” she calls, racing behind you on her rainbow bike, determined to keep up. Only she is allowed to call you Benny.
You have raging fights when things aren’t fair.
There is hitting and yelling, whining and alone time.
But you love each other.
She wraps her tiny arms around your neck and squeezes, pulling you in tightly.
“My Benny,” she says. You smile and gruffly answer,
“I love you too, Ada.”
Soon she will follow you to your school.
She will be just down the hall, peeking into your classroom door on her way to the library.
The fears and loneliness she had at preschool will be dampened because
You are there.
My daughter loves the Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer. Little Critter is easy for her to identify with; he forgets his boots, leaves the tap running, and “accidentally” eats the whole bag of cookies. One of my 4-year-old daughter’s current favorite books is When I Get Bigger. In it, Little Critter lists the things he will do when he is older. Things like: pour milk into his own cereal, walk to the corner store alone, make a phone call by himself and camp out in the backyard.
At the end of the book, Little Critter concludes that “Mom and Dad say…I’m not bigger yet.”
Sometimes it’s hard to know when my children are ready for new things. Is my seven-year old son ready for guitar lessons? Is he ready to go on a sleepover? Is my four-year old ready to play at a friend’s house without me? Will she be ready for full-day kindergarten next fall? We’ve all got these questions. Sometimes our kids need a little push to try new things. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to push and when to give our kids more time to grow up.
My daughter loves dancing. When she’s in the mood to dance she disappears up the stairs and into her room. I hear a few thumps and bumps, and drawers opening and closing. When she comes out, she wears a hand-me-down, frayed yellow tutu, too-small, pink teddy bear slippers and a purple shirt. She switches on my dusty old CD player and Frozen’s Let it Go blares into our living room. She tilts her head to the right, closes her sparkly blue eyes, twirls, jumps and spins, and gets lost in the music and her imagination.
Like a typical momma with a little girl, when my daughter turned three and a half, I thought “She loves to dance so I must sign her up for dance classes!” We convinced two of her best buddies to sign up for Tiny Tutus and Tights at the local rec centre.
The first day she was excited; the yellow tutu and teddy bear slippers were ready. When we got there the moms were told to wait in the hall while the little girls hesitantly followed the teacher into the studio. That seemed okay with my daughter, on the first day.
The second day it was a completely different story. My daughter refused to enter the room of three-year olds in tights. I tried every trick in the book: encouragement, getting her to hold her friend’s hand, even bribery with the promise of ice cream later, but under no circumstance would she enter that room without me. The tears came, then the loud cries. She clung to me. There was no way she was going to dance class without me. The teacher suggested “tough love” (that I should walk away and leave her) but my gut said it wasn’t quite time for that. I wasn’t invited to come into the room and watch.
Out in the hallway my daughter buried her grape-shampoo-scented hair into my chest. Her tiny hands grasped my neck and hung on for dear life. “Let’s <sob> go <sob> get hot chocolate mommy.”
So we did. We walked, hand in hand out of the rec centre. Maybe if I had pushed a little harder I could’ve convinced her to try it the next week. I don’t think so.
Three and a half is a time for twirling in the living room in teddy bear slippers. Maybe four will be a better time for leaving momma in the hall.
She’s not bigger yet and that’s okay with me.
We took a new Lego set with us: a race car that drove onto a truck and trailer. My purse had a jar of peanut butter and three Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups tucked inside. We were at the allergist’s office to do a Peanut Challenge test.
At 20 months old, we took our son for allergy testing, expecting to find a mild milk allergy. Instead we were sent home with epipens, fear and an anaphylactic peanut allergy.
I had food allergies as a kid too. I remember the mean girls at the Girl Guides picnic who laughed at my special hot dogs when I was seven. I can still taste the homemade marshmallows my grandma made in an 8×8 pan so my brother and I wouldn’t feel left out at the campfire. Luckily, I outgrew my allergies by twelve. Peanut allergies are different. “Only one in five children outgrow a peanut allergy” the allergist said. “It’s pretty likely he will have this forever.”
For four years we carried epipens everywhere. I checked food labels obsessively and talked to the manager and held my breath at restaurants. We never had to use the epipen. But the fear was always there.
I was the helicopter mother that I used to scoff at.
Birthday parties were tricky. I would call ahead. “My son has a severe peanut allergy. Where are you getting the cake from? No, he can’t eat it if it says ‘may contain peanuts’. No, he can’t eat Dairy Queen ice cream cakes. That’s okay. I’ll bring something else for him.”
I grew nervous as Kindergarten approached. We scheduled an allergist appointment with the hope that things had changed. I held my breath as they did the scratch tests on his arm. Pollen- Negative. Milk- Negative. Cats- Positive. Dogs- Positive. Penicillin- Positive. Peanuts- Positive. Sigh.
“Don’t lose hope!” said the kind intern. “Wait and see what the blood tests say.”
School started and things were okay. A letter came home to parents declaring the class Peanut–Free. My son’s epipen tucked right into the front pocket of his Buzz Lightyear backpack, just a few feet away from where he ate his snacks and lunch. The teacher was trained in what to do. My son was a pro by then and knew the rules: Never try anyone’s snack. Always ask a grown-up to read labels. Don’t trust other kids.
There was a bright red star beside my son’s name on the Kindergarten table; a reminder to the caretaker to clean that area extra well each night.
One afternoon my phone rang and the school’s name flashed in capital letters on my call display. I held my breath as I answered. “Everything’s okay!” the secretary said quickly. “Your son just had a bee sting and needed to hear your voice.” Exhale. Disaster averted.
The blood tests came and went and showed one glaring difference from the scratch test: Peanuts- Negative.
The allergist said that “80% of children who get a negative blood test have outgrown their allergy. Come in again and we will do a peanut challenge.”
So, there we were. My son, me, a jar of peanut butter and a new Lego set.
My hands shook as I opened up the jar. For years I had been protecting my son from the very thing I was about to give him.
The doctor started with a smear of peanut butter on a scratch on his arm. Wait 15 minutes. Build the Lego guys. No reaction.
Then, a tiny taste on the tip of a wooden tongue depressor. Wait fifteen very long minutes. Watch child very carefully. Ask him every five minutes if he feels okay. Build the little race car from the set. No reaction!
This same drill went on three more times and each time my son licked a little more peanut butter off the stick. Each time I held my breath and my heart raced as I watched him. For hives. For sniffles. For coughs. For anything out of the ordinary. Each time the timer beeped we’d meet the doctor in the little room for a quick check and more peanut butter.
The doctor looked excited after the third or fourth dose. “Statistics say that most people who make it past the third dose won’t have a reaction.” I allowed myself to get a tiny bit excited. My boy was excited too. The implications of no peanut allergy raced through my mind.
I was fairly calm with the little bits on the stick but started freaking out when the doctor handed my son a big glob of it on a soda cracker. “Eat it up!” said the doc. “Really?” I asked. The doctor nodded and my son was delighted. He loved the taste and smacked his lips happily. That wait was a very long fifteen minutes. The whole cab of the Lego semi-truck was built. I’m not sure I breathed.
The timer beeped and we headed in for the final challenge: two crackers loaded up with peanut butter and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup thrown in for good measure. “Really?” I asked again. “Are you sure?” The allergist nodded and the timer was set, this time for 30 minutes. If he made it to the end with no symptoms we were home free.
I watched my son obsessively, texted my husband and posted updates on Facebook. My son finished building the trailer for the Lego truck. The timer dinged. We were done.
“That’s it!” said the allergist. “His allergy is gone.” Four simple words that changed my son’s life.
The next day before school I tucked his epipen into his backpack, just in case. Old habits are hard to break. I’m not sure how long I’ll leave it there. He doesn’t mind. This is new territory for him too. He happily scratched the red star off his desk and announced to the kindergarten children that his allergy was gone. They hugged him and cheered with true kindergarten camaraderie.
As we list off all the foods he can finally try (Peanut Butter Marshmallow Squares! Thai food! Vietnamese!) and imagine the birthday parties, barbeques, summer camps and restaurants he can attend without fear, we are thankful.
- Your Kid’s Peanut Allergy is an Inconvenience (blogher.com)
The following chart appeared on my Facebook feed this morning. Take a look and carefully read the appropriate chores for 2-3 year olds. What helpful suggestions! Don’t forget to read below for some added tips.
My 2.5 year old loves to “help” too. Her version is slightly different. It goes more like this:
Throw toys toward toy box. Decide that’s no fun and dump toy box out instead.
- One by one, remove books from shelf. Make a tower out of them. Stand on the tower to reach books from higher shelves. Fall over and scream.
- Remove brother’s dirty underwear from laundry hamper and place on head. Dance around the house and sing, “Underwear, underwear, underwear on my head!”
- Collect all the full trash baskets from around the house. Use them to make a tower, with each basket upside down, of course.
- Carry firewood around the backyard. Find some nails and a hammer and start banging. Get a splinter, hammer your fingers and cry.
- Remove all clean wash cloths from the cupboard. Unfold them. Use each one to tuck a dolly to sleep on the bathroom floor.
- Help clear the table after supper. Place each dirty utensil carefully back into the utensil drawer. Throw plates onto the counter.
- Fetch 17 diapers and a package of baby wipes. Wipe each of your older brother’s plastic super heroes’ bottoms with four baby wipes and attempt to diaper each one. (I don’t make this stuff up!)
- Find a water sprayer and some of mommy’s good towels. Drench the baseboards and big picture window until they are dripping with water. Wipe with a white towel. Repeat.
This picture reminds me of the time my daughter “helped” me clean the bathroom:
In Developmental psychology, the age of reason is the age when a child is capable of carrying on complex conversation with an adult, usually around seven or eight years old. My BA was full of psychology courses but all the textbook reading and expert opinion comes alive as I actually watch my own children go through the different stages.
My son is turning six this week and I can see glimpses of the age of reason popping up all over the place. Suddenly we are having conversations about death, about right and wrong, about why some daddies don’t live in the same house as the mommies and kids. I watch my son thinking about the things he overhears me saying to my husband and I’m more careful when I talk, knowing that he misses nothing.
The sweet filter of innocence is starting to fray around the edges as my son realizes that not everyone is kind and good and not every story ends the way he thinks it should. I’m torn as to how I feel about his approach to this new age and stage.
On one hand, I adore finally having more in-depth conversations with him; conversations that go beyond, “Can I have some juice?” and “Mom! My sister broke my Lego!” It’s been almost six years of baby and little-kid conversations and it’s nice to change things up. It’s exciting to see my son maturing and taking on little bits of responsibility all by himself. “It’s okay, little sis, I’ll get your dolly for you.” and “Mom, today I took my friend to the office because someone hit him in the face.” I wonder, is this stage a reward for a mom who’s talked about only snacks, toys, sleep and bodily functions for six years?
On the other hand, it breaks my heart. Walking up the hill from kindergarten the other day we had our first conversation about death. “You mean everybody dies, Momma? But I don’t want to die!” The look on his face almost finished me off then and there and I realized that this was just the beginning of the tough discussions. Ready or not, they are here. I hope that the listening and responding I do now will be good practice for when he is a teenager and the questions get even harder.
I saw the best quote on Facebook last year that has stuck with me:
While roaming the aisles of a big-box toy store the other day, I realized that my 18 month old daughter could care less about 99% of the stuff for sale. I know what she wants for Christmas and it’s not a dolly that sits on the toilet or a pink plastic household appliance. Here’s a list of what every toddler really wants to see under the tree:
- A Kleenex box. The biggest one you can find, with the cardboard piece already ripped off the top. Free reign to pull the tissues out when she pleases, shred into tiny pieces and fling around the house.
- A box of Christmas oranges to dump, line up and move in and out of the box to her heart’s content.
- A toothbrush to chew as much as she wants, swirl in the toilet and poke her big brother with.
- Her own roll of tape. She can rip the tape out over and over with no one saying, “Give it back to mommy, please. Give it back to mommy” and prying it out of her tiny hands. A roll of wrapping paper from the dollar store will also go over well.
- A family sized box of rice to spread over every room of the house, just for fun. She already knows how to do this. She learned it last week in Sunday School.
- A Lego set for her to step on and throw against the wall while laughing with glee.
- An extra $10 to put towards the water bill so she can play at the kitchen sink and yell, “water! water!” as she pours, stirs and splashes joyfully.
- An expensive fabric angel decoration to hug and kiss with spaghetti-sauce-stained hands & face.
- An old plate to take to the cement floor in the garage, lift high over her head, and smash to smithereens.
Ah…the perfect Christmas.
*If you’ve been following me for over a year, you will recognize this post from last Christmas. I can’t resist posting it again this week.
“Momma. Momma? Momma!!!”
It’s the darkest time of night.
A little voice crashes into my slumber.
Creak, crack go the floorboards as I fumble towards her room.
Her tiny face, muddled with sleep,
is happy to see me.
Like in the old days
hour after hour she would call and her daddy or I would go
Creak, crack on the floorboards, fumbling towards her room,
Again and again.
A steady hot river of coffee flowed into our veins, lifting us above the days, weeks, months and years of
Now the nighttime calls are less frequent.
They are almost a privilege,
The closing of the chapters of six years and two babies.
When the call comes I go
Creak, crack on the floorboards, fumbling towards her room,
To hold her close and rock her
Breathe in her warm smell
And listen to her gentle breaths
That echo those long, long nights that are slowly fading.
It’s 5:00 a.m.. My daughter woke a few minutes ago, crying “Dollo! Dollo!” so I crept from the big bed to find her favorite dolly in the mess of stuffed animals and blankets that fill her crib. After a few minutes of rocking and a restart of Twinkle Twinkle on her stereo, I crept out. I tiptoed into my room and silently picked up my slippers, cursing the random toy that slipped off the dresser when I passed. My husband and son were splayed out on the big bed, still wrapped up in the cozy wonderfulness that is sleep.
I yearn for a few minutes of quiet each day, a snippet of peace when no tiny child needs another snack, help fixing a Lego airplane or a big hug after a fall. Sometimes I find my quiet at 5:00 a.m., if I can sneak downstairs and will the coffee pot to do its magic quietly. Then it’s just me, the hum of the refrigerator and the occasional flicker of the outside motion light from a deer rooting around in the yard, enjoying her peace too.
My days seem to sort themselves out better when they start this way, even though it’s early.
What about you? Where do you find your quiet?
Late at night when the house is still enough to hear the whirring of the refrigerator and the buzz of the odd car on the road beyond the high trees, there is a stirring. The groaning of a mattress spring, the creak of small feet on hardwood and the click of a door are hardly noticeable to anyone unfortunate enough to be awake in the late, late hours of the night.
The hasty thump thump of small steps on the carpeted hallway flee the horrendous monsters under the bed; monsters now locked in the bedroom with no one to frighten.
The door pushes open and a small shadowy pyjama-clad figure bursts in quietly. He is stealthy. His heart is racing. He is holding his breath. The monsters have lost their power with his arrival. He is safe.
He creeps up on the Big Bed, his stuffed doggie clutched in his right hand. He climbs up to the special pillow in the middle. Momma on one side, Daddy on the other, he slides his feet down into the comforting warmth of his safe place. His small hand reaches over to rest on my cheek and his doggie tucks under his chin. He exhales and shuts his eyes, asleep in seconds.
We followed all the rules when he was a baby. “Train him to sleep in his crib, in his own room” the book said. “Don’t let him get used to sleeping with you” the expert warned. He slept like a darn by himself and loved his own bed dearly, until he turned three and the monsters of his vivid imagination took over. The bedtime wails of his newborn sister didn’t help.
Now he is five and a half and eyebrows rise when I mention our little visitor who enters in the darkest hours of the night. A few years of parenting under my belt and I don’t care what others think. He is young and he is afraid. He is my boy and I am his momma.
I’m sure our nighttime ninja will be gone as swiftly as he came, older and stronger and independent. I won’t miss the odd kick in my side, arm flung across my ear and 5:30 wake ups. I know I’ll miss the running steps in the hall and the quiet, grateful hand on my cheek.
I’ve been at home with you since you were born, over five and a half years. The longest I’ve been apart from you is three hours for a few mornings a week of preschool and the odd shopping trip, movie night or weekend away. I’ve never had the opportunity to miss you on a daily basis.
There were many days when it was rare for you to be more than an arm’s length away from me. We were together a lot.
When your little sister was tucked in for her afternoon nap, we built Lego. You soaked up the time alone with me. We had two overloaded drawers of Lego and two hours of quiet; our silence punctuated only by, “Can you find Batman’s head?” and “I need help getting these pieces apart!” and “Don’t look! I’m not finished yet!” Sometimes I’d doze off on your bed while you built. You didn’t mind. My presence was what you wanted.
You are in kindergarten now. I think you are doing okay. I hope so. I try not to worry that you might be playing alone at recess. I pray.
Now when your sister naps you aren’t here. I have a glorious two hours of time to myself, time I’ve been looking forward to for months. It’s a treat, but I do miss you.
Our Lego time is on the weekends or in the evenings now. It’s far more meaningful.
Our laughter together is louder and mine more genuine when you announce “I tooted Momma!” or some other silly thing.
I listen to you more carefully when you chatter away happily about school because I haven’t been listening to you all day long.
I don’t mind when you charge into the house after school like a runaway train, your backpack, bike helmet and Superman lunch bag flying around the living room. The mess is the only one you’ve made all day.
I see you, really see you, when you look at me. I’m more curious about how you feel because I haven’t been there all day to hear what makes you sad or excited or angry.
I’m more willing to answer your endless “why?” questions because I haven’t had a steady stream of them like I used to.
When we sing our off-key bedtime duets to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Rainbow Song I think our voices mixing together may just be a little preview of what heaven sounds like.
When I wake up in the night and you’ve snuck into the middle of the big bed, with your little breaths and your hair that smells like sunshine, your arm flung on my back, I think about how lucky we are to have a snuggly nighttime visitor for a little while longer.
You give me loud, smacking kisses on my cheek. You hug me tighter and neither of us lets go as fast as we used to.
This kindergarten thing is not so bad. It’s exactly what we needed. I love you.
(An earlier version of this post was published on The Purple Fig.)