Sunday, May 29, 2011

Playground or Battleground?

I took Sophia to the playground up by my mother’s house. She lives in a town where: 1) many mothers do not have to and choose not to work; and, 2) many other families have two parents who work very high powered, high paying jobs and have full time nannies. So, that’s who the playground was packed with on this gorgeous, sunny day—mothers with their children, nannies with their charges. Many of the mothers (but not all) clustered in conversation or on cell phones, some of the nannies commiserating with each other or also on cell phones.

Wanting to give Sophie more independence, I sat off to the side, observing, while she tried to make a friend. She approached girl number one, who was filling a bucket with damp sand “Can I help you?” Sophie asked.

The girl whipped her long hair around, “No! I don’t need any help.” Sophie turned to me, looking stricken. I motioned for her to come over. “Now, that wasn’t very polite of her,” I said, “but she doesn’t want someone to help her right now. Look around for someone who seems friendly, someone who smiles or would like for you to help and go ask them to play.” Then I caught myself. “On second thought. Don’t ask. Just join in.”

I believe for years I was making a critical error in teaching kids with disabilities to make social overtures by asking peers to play. When a child asks, “Can I play with you?” she places the power in the other child’s hand, and what child passes on an opportunity to wield power? Asking establishes hierarchy. It says “I am in the one down position from you.” It gives the opportunity to reject. But, after observing children, a confident child will just join in or suggest ideas that excite the other children.

Sophie went up to a slightly older girl and added a shovel full of sand to the child’s castle. The girl said, “Hey! Don’t step in my moat!”

To which Sophie replied, “Okay.” And suddenly, they were playing together.

It wasn’t long before a boy about three years of age came careering over and jumped on their sand castle. The girl was mildly upset and yelled at the boy, who wandered off. Remaining just close enough to observe when the castle would be ready for another wrecking. The older girl and Sophie rebuilt and the boy came over again, and stopped on the castle. This time, the girl ran over to his mother, who was mid-conversation with a friend, she turned in the direction of the girl, and loomed over her. “He stomped on my castle! Two times!” The girl cried, exasperated.

Still standing, the mother angled her body towards her child. In the most bored of voices she said, “Henry, come here.” Henry dragged his feet over to where his mother was standing and looked away, towards the rest of the activity on the playground. His mother was looking over his head, staring at some spot in the distance in the opposite direction. Anyone who looked at them would not know that they were in conversation. She continued in her couldn’t-be-bothered tone, “Henry. It’s not nice to stomp on other people’s sand castles. Tell mommy you’ll never do it again.”

“I’ll never do it again,” Henry parroted.

“Now go play,” waved the mother, turning back to her friends and drawing her cell phone out of her pocket.

At this point, Sophie and I had begun to play together. We had built a castle of our own, for me, the queen. She stuck a flag in it, and was trying to find a suitable dragon to guard the castle when you-know-who showed up.


My reaction was automatic. It was the same reaction I would have given Sophie, had she done this twice before and promised me she wouldn’t do it again. It was the same reaction I would have given my students, back when I was a teacher.

With a tone, I said, “Excuse me!”

His mother snapped out of her cellular stupor and came over. “What did he do? Did he just kick her?” The way she asked indicated that this was a distinct possibility.

“No, no. Nothing like that. He just destroyed her sand castle.”

“Oh, well from the way that you YELLED at him, I thought he had hurt her.”

“No, he didn’t physically harm her.”

“Look. If you have a problem with my child, you come to me,” she barked. As if I was supposed to know who, in this sea of mothers, was his.

Then she leaned over to Henry and said, “What that woman did is WRONG. NO ONE has the right to yell at you.” And she continued on in this way, talking about how awful a human being I was, dragging him off.

Of course, she said nothing about his role in the interaction. His behavior. From what I could tell she just reinforced, 1) it is okay to damage other people’s property; 2) if I tell you not to do something, you don’t have to listen; 3) other adults have no authority over you; 4) I will defend your honor, even if you have done something naughty.

Interestingly, after his mother talked to him, Henry approached me. He looked at me in earnest and, though his speech was difficult to understand, I believe he was trying to make reparations. I was kneeled down to his level and in the process of listening to what he had to say, when his mother came marching over again, and yanked him away by the arm, “Do NOT talk to THAT woman.”

Well, fine. I knew better than to argue. Sophie and I moved to another section of the sandbox and continued to play together.

Still, I felt rattled by the experience and couldn’t help but replay it in my mind over and over again. Had it been Sophie, I would WANT someone to reprimand her. In fact, just moments earlier, Sophie was seated next to another child on a wide metal slide. She was banging on it with her feet, which she had once enjoyed doing with a friend before. But this boy was disturbed by it. He asked her not to. Then she smirked and did it again. At which point, I jumped in and said if she did it again, she was coming off the slide. And she stopped. It wasn’t that I thought banging on the slide was inherently a bad thing to do, but it was bothering this other kid, and knowing that, Sophie still did it. Not nice.

It is my opinion that at this age, kids don’t have the skills to work out their difficulty with each other. There will be plenty of time for “work it out on your own,” after they learn how to do just that. But having that expectation, without giving them the tools to be successful, just leads to conflict. Oh, there are some kids who intuitively know what to do and say, but from my observations of the playground, that seems to be the exception, not the rule.

It’s a fine line between hovering and educating for success, fostering a socially skilled child now, so I don’t have to deal with the repercussions of a rude, bullying or entitled child later. But I'd like to err on the side of caution.

The way I see it, the playground is preparation for life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Very Best Stories...

So good. I know I am not supposed to review the books I read for From Left to Write, but in this case, I cannot help but gush. Read Christine Watson’s Tiny Sunbirds Far Away. I’m not going to tell you anything else. Just read it. Neither the author nor the publishing company paid me to say this, however, I did receive the book gratis because I participate in the coolest online book club in the world. And, no, the book club did not pay me to say that either. What follows is a post inspired by the book. You can read other posts inspired by the book right here.

It is my hope and fear that one day Sophia will read my blog. My hope, because it is the story of her life, carefully and closely examined, lovingly told. Perhaps it will help her to know herself better one day, to understand how she came to be who she is. True, it is not her narrative, it is mine, but I believe that insight can be born of an outside perspective. If it offers her any wisdom, any pleasure, it will have been worth it. Of course, a person is more than the sum of her stories. A person is ineffable, defying description. I have only captured a flavor of her. My writing of her life will always be inadequate.

A person is like a book, part what is there and part the perception of others. We are our stories. And we are so much more.

I try to imagine having such a complex and complete literary portrait of my life and I cannot. Children of this generation are better recorded (both photographically and narratively) than any previous generation. I realize that this could have unintended consequences. Consequences beyond my imagining. She has had no control over this information. She may be hurt by it. She may resent it. She may despise me for it.

And so, I also fear that she will read my blog. I joke that, one day, she will start a rival blog, Life with Melissa: An Expose of How I was Parented. If she does, I will embrace whatever she writes, as long as it is her truth. Already, she has begun to tell stories. They are facsimiles of the stories I tell her, but increasingly, they are hers. They are expressions of her experience. Her attempts to entertain me and inform me: this is what I value; this is who I am; this is how I see you; this is how I want you to see me.

Christine Watson writes, “The very best stories are told to a daughter.”

Yes, Christine, I agree. And, I might deign to add, the stories a daughter tells her mother have a magic all their own.

Because I want to pass this book on--it is too good to keep to myself--I’m going to try something new. I’d like to do a random drawing. If you leave a comment and some way for me to get in touch with you (because I’m not technologically advanced enough to figure out who you are without it), I’ll put your names in a hat, pick one out, and send you the book. It’s in really good condition, except for a tear stain or two.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

She Gives Me Naches

Sophie could hardly wait for the day of her second visit to the dentist to arrive. Her first, six months ago, had gone splendidly. And she still remembered the appointment with great fondness. She repeatedly told me, “I’m going to tell the dentist that I eat jelly beans after dinner, but then I brush my teeth so I won’t get cavities.”

“That will make her very happy,” I assured her. At the library last Tuesday, Sophie asked, “Can we get the book, Charlie and Lola Go to the Dentist?”

“Soph, I don’t know if that book exists. We have to ask the librarian.”

So we did. It didn’t. But another character she is fond of, Vera, did have such a book. We ordered it through interlibrary loan.

The book came just in time, the day before Sophie’s six month check up. I was a little wary of reading this one to her. Vera Rosenberry writes autobiographical children’s books about her experiences with her sisters. They are very sweet and poignant tales of her youth, but the dentist one emphasized fear. When the dentist tries to polish Vera’s teeth, she bit him, hopped out of the chair and ran out of the office.

I didn’t want to give Sophie any ideas. I wouldn’t put it past her to imitate Vera’s behavior.

We had barely announced ourselves at the receptionist’s desk when the assistant popped her head out to call Sophie’s name. Sophie and I stood up to follow her to the examination room, when Sophie turned to me and put her hand up.

“No Mom. Just me.”

I was stunned. I had no idea how to respond. My face must have registered my shock and confusion, because the assistant looked at me with wide eyes and said, “It’s okay mom. You can wait here. She’ll be fine.”


Then Sophia marched through the door that was covered with brown paper and the words “We’re happy to see you here!” following the assistant without looking back even once.

I stood there for a moment, still recovering for the shock, before I began pacing. “It’s okay, Mom,” the receptionist told me, “this is a good thing.”

“But she’s three.” I had never even considered her going in for the appointment on her own. Then I remembered Vera. First each of her two sisters had been called back. Then Vera, who went in to see the dentist all by herself, while her family sat in the waiting room. It wasn’t the fear she had internalized, but the confidence. What she perceived as Vera’s independence.

I forced myself to sit and let myself feel awash in awe, shock and pride as I thought about who this person—my daughter—is.

Then I remembered the television hooked up to the dentist chair. No, I said to myself. You are not going to barge in there and insist on no television.

As if on cue, the dental assistant poked her head out, “I just wanted to let you know that she’s fine. And that when she saw the video screen she told us she’s not allowed to watch television.”


Okay, so what if it’s temporary. So what if she ignores every word I say ten, or even two, years from now. Right now, I’ve got naches. Full on Jewish parental pride. I’m bursting with it.

When she was finished, the dentist came out and gushed about the appointment. She jokingly asked if Sophie wanted a job putting other kids at ease.

“Actually,” I told her, “Sophie has aspirations of being a dentist when she grows up. She pretends to work on our teeth at home. I bet she’d love that.”

“I could really see her assisting here, as a teenager.” She sounded serious.


“Seriously. We’ll have to see if she’s still interested—but let’s keep it in mind.”

“Oh, I will” I assured her, my cheeks beginning to ache from my permagrin. “Sophie, you just got your first job offer!” I told her. Sophie poked her head out of the prize box for a second to consider this. “I don’t want to be a dentist. I want to be a mommy.”

“You can be both,” the dentist and I said in unison.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Every Little Thing

Sleep deprived and locked in a brutal conflict with my meltdown queen, I’ve become highly irritable. I have zero tolerance for even the slightest of infractions. And, the fact of the matter is, I can’t let anything go with Sophia. If I give her an inch, she takes 26.2 miles.

Here’s the problem. On top of the usual battles, I’ve been manufacturing issues. I didn’t get it until my mother pointed it out after dinner.

While we were eating, Sophie crammed her whole hand in her mouth, triggering her gag reflex. Oh, she wasn’t quite to the point of retching…but she’d kind of turn red and choke for a second, pull her hand out, reinsert, and repeat.

Now, in my book, it’s dinner. And at dinner we eat. We don’t deep throat our fists. So I told Sophia to stop. You have to imagine me doing so not in a Zen mother kind of way, but in a totally grossed out, thoroughly pissed off, almost sisterly kind of way. And, thus, she reacted as any sibling would.

She smiled, reinserted her fist, and proceeded to gag herself with even greater enthusiasm.

I look at my mother and give her my bug-eyed look. The one that says, “I’m about to go completely insane.”

“Melissa, calm down,” my mother says in a whisper loud enough for the neighbors to hear. “This is not a big deal. She’s not hurting anyone. She’s not anorexic. She’s doing it to get your goat. Let it go.”

I wanted to whine: But mo-om! I can’t. She’s gagging at me! On purpose. Make her stop!

But, to my credit, I didn’t.

I tried not to look at Sophie. Still, I could see her, out of the corner of my eye. Her fingers slick with saliva. Drool leaking out of the corner of her mouth. Really? Was I supposed to let this go?

Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer, “Sophia, finish your dinner or you’re going straight to bed.”

“Without a book?” She asked, weighing her options. In her estimation, the potential elimination of the book might make dinner worthwhile. But I was not about to withdraw it; the book is my only leverage at this point. I needed that leverage for whatever was about to come next.

“We’ll discuss the book later.” I say, “If you can’t keep your hands out of your mouth you must be done with dinner.”

“I am. May I please be excused?” She was already climbing out of her chair.

“Yes. But then we’re getting ready for bed.”

“With a book?”

“Yes, WITH A BOOK!” I said, completely exasperated.

After we fought to get her pajamas on and her teeth brushed and she ordered me to leave the door cracked so a little light will shine through and to please sing her goodnight song as a duck and I quacked her to sleep, I collapsed on the couch across from my mother.

“Melissa. You can’t fight her on every little thing. I almost feel like, you’re too intensely focused on her. If you had another child, you wouldn’t be able to do this.”

“If I had another child, I’d lose my mind.” I retorted. But I knew she was right. I can’t let every little thing she does get to me. But I also don’t know how to reel myself in. Maybe if I just get some sleep.

Well, that night I got some sleep. So did Sophia, for a change. (I had finally solved her run-to-the-bathroom-40-times-each-night problem by putting a potty in her room. Having a bedside toilet quelled her fear that she wouldn’t make it to the bathroom on time, and so her checking behavior: “Do I have to go now? Do I have to go now? Do I have to go now?” finally abated.) I don’t think she got up once that night.

The next day was the most conflict-free day we’ve had. Oh, I had to struggle to get her dressed because the outfit I brought to my mothers’ had some blue in it and wasn’t solidly pink. And she also resisted the tooth-brushing, running to her bed and pulling the covers up over her head. But she compliantly put on her shoes and followed me out to the car. And after nursery school she reported that she had “no fusses,” which her teacher corroborated. She ate her lunch without incident, and napped for a full hour and a half. Afterwards, we played Candyland, and she actually moved her pieces when she was supposed to and didn’t hoard the candy cards. We laughed and sang on the car ride home, stopping for a girls-night-out at Wegmans where we ate sushi overlooking the produce section. She sat beautifully through dinner (i.e. didn’t shove her fist down her throat), and afterwards she performed three improvised dances for me while I finished my salmon.

Heading home, I looked into the rearview mirror and told Sophie what a wonderful day I had. How much I enjoyed being with her. How nice it was when she was fuss free.

“I love you.” I told her.

And then, she said it back. Not in the rote way that she generally does, but with her eyes and voice filled with emotion.

“I love you, too.”

And in a quiet voice she added. “I’m always with you. Even when I’m not in the car. I’m always with you.” It was a variant of a reassurance I had given her, before I found the potty solution, as I put her to bed. “I’m always with you Sophie, even if I’m not right here in the room.”

She’s always with me. For better or for worse. She’s always with me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Had Enough

As a member of the From Left to Write online book club, I received a copy of this book for review. The following is a blog inspired by the book. All opinions are my own. You can read other members’ posts inspired by the book on May 10th here.

Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple’s new book, Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, collapses privileged American moms into two categories: the “Never Enough’s” and the “Good Enoughs.” Less sociological study than an attempt to fashion a “new” ideal of motherhood, Gillespie and Temple tell us that there is a “new wave of mothers who are learning to let go of the little things and focus on what each really wants out of her career, her family and her life.”

Here we go again.

There is no transparency with regard to the analysis of their data or the psychometric properties of their instrument, so, as a psychologist I find it a little hard to trust the results, let alone the authors’ interpretation of them. Rather, I took the book to be a compilation of anecdotal advice on finding success and happiness, offered up by mothers who are also CEOs, Founding Presidents, Vice Presidents, professors, psychologists, lawyers and physicians. By using their values as a rudder, these women have found what works for them. And I am happy for them.

What I take issue with is the black or white, all or nothing, wrong or right, never enough or good enough split the authors make between modern parenting styles. It is a false dichotomy that does not encompass the broader spectrum of ways of being a parent, and it does not take into account the varied contexts in which parents are parenting.

Here’s what I mean by this:

Gillespie and Schwartz put together a survey of 905 working mothers born between 1965 and 1980. Question 22 reads as follows:

Which BEST describes your approach to juggling work and family?
 Family needs FAR outweigh work and almost always come first; I only work out of necessity
 Although my children are very important to me, my job must come first—I need to be a superstar at work in order to provide for my family
 I try to be a superstar at work AND at home, even if it kills me
 Both family and work are important, and I try to do a relatively decent job at both and accept that I am not perfect
 Both family and work are important, but I constant feel as though I am not doing a good job at either.

I found it impossible to answer this question. Where is the “none of the above” option when you need it? I wanted to write in my own item: my family is my priority and almost always comes first…I give my family my very best; I work just enough to meet my financial, emotional and professional needs…and I also give work my very best.

Not “relatively decent job.” My very best.

And someone else’s (aka my husband’s) might read: "I have to work very hard to support my family, and though I find this work deeply fulfilling and I give it my best, I wish I had more time with my family, to whom I give my best when I am with them."

And I can also imagine many, many other shades of gray:

“I have to work full time, but unfortunately, it keeps me from being able to spend time with the people who matter most to me. I give work my best, but I wish I was giving my family my best.”

“Although my family is important to me, “mother” is not my primary identity. I need to achieve at work because my professional identity is such a large part of who I am.”

And so on.

Splitting moms into two categories—one fairly denigrating, that a mother clearly would not want to be in, the “never enoughs” who suffer from “unrelenting perfectionism,” have “dizzying to do lists and heaps of guilt,” and whose biggest obstacles are “themselves” and the other presumably more desirable, the “good enoughs” who are more satisfied at work, have time to connect with loved ones as well as time for themselves, and “know perfection doesn’t exist” does not actually support the thesis that there is a “new perfect.” In fact, the authors tell us that the mothers were roughly split down the middle into these two categories—which is exactly what you would expect to happen if you had a full bell curve of behavior, split it down the middle, and decided people on one side fit into one category and people on the other side fit into another.

I believe that we’re talking personality traits, not “movements in motherhood.” There will always be those who are at one end of the continuum or the other…and perhaps, those who fall into the “never enoughs” category might actually have happier kids than the “good enoughs,” or they might enjoy closer relationships with their children, or their lows might be lower and their highs might be higher—none of which was studied.

And where, oh where do the majority of women—those who make up the middle and lower class fall? What shall we call their category? The “had enoughs”?

My fear is that this placing moms into the artificial category, “never enough,” has the effect of making those mothers feel guilty for feeling guilty. Another should, layered on to a life of well-stratified shoulds. They are being told they are not living in accordance with their values, when in fact, they probably are. Most people are doing the very best with what they’ve got at any given moment.

I know, as someone who would likely fit into the “never enough” category, that I am.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mommy, What Is a Gun?

I was in the adjacent bedroom, cleaning up, when Sophie burst in, sweaty and delirious from her nap.

She turned her palms up and wiggled her fingers, “Look, Mommy! I’m shooting!”

I was quite sure I had not heard my daughter correctly, “You’re what?”

“I’m shooting! Like Marcos*.” Marcos is another three-year-old in her class at my mother’s preschool. Now, I know that my mother does not permit gun play or war toys in school. Still, it doesn’t stop the kids who have seen it elsewhere (television, video games, older siblings) from trying to shoot their less street-savvy preschool peers.

I touched her hands gently. “Sophie, I know Marcos was doing it. But shooting is naughty. Did Miss M make him stop?”

“Yes, she did.”

“So you see, shooting is something you are not supposed to do. Not ever. I know that you are just playing, but shooting is a bad thing to do.”

Words are failing me. How do I talk about shooting without talking about shooting? I can see in her eyes that she doesn’t understand. That she might as well be making tickling motions. But she doesn’t pursue if further. And she stops.

I call my mother. “Mom, I think you should know the three-year-olds are shooting each other?”


“In your school. In Sophie’s class. The three-year-olds are pretending to shoot each other. With guns.” I told her what Sophie did.

“Melissa,” my mother sounded very tired, “we try to put a stop to it when we see it. But it happens. She’s going to get exposure to these things.”

“Yeah, but what do I tell her? How do I help her understand that it is a bad thing?” I feel…helpless. “Tell her they are bad. Tell her they can hurt people. You know, an 8 year old in Queens sold a gun to another kid for three dollars on Friday. It was loaded. In a good area.” This is not helping me feel better.

That evening I consult Kevin, after Sophie’s gone to bed. I do a demo, wiggling my fingers in his direction.

Kevin took one look at me and said, “He’s shooting webs. He’s pretending to be Spider Man.” Kevin has an expertise in superheros.

Of course! I gave a big sigh of relief. Spider Man! Why didn’t I think of that? Marcos LOVES Spider Man. He’s always getting into trouble for pretending to be Spider Man.

I call Mom, “It’s okay. Kevin, figured it out. Marcos was pretending to be Spider Man.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” my mother agreed. “He’s always pretending to be Spider Man.”

The next day, as Sophie was getting dressed she asked me, “Mommy, what’s a gun?”

My head whipped around at the question, “A what?” I really think I have a hearing problem when it comes to talk of weaponry.

“A GUN. What’s a gun?”

“Why do you ask?” I’m stalling.

“Because Marcos was shooting a gun at me.” My heart sinks. Why couldn’t Kevin have been right? Really, you’re supposed to cock your thumb and aim your pointer finger at your victim. Who shoots at other people by wiggling their fingers?


I go with the most simple, benign explanation I can think of. I pull a copy of A Fly Went By off the shelf and open to the page that has a man with a gun. I point to the object in his hand. The thing I previously omitted from the story. “This,” I tell her with great reluctance, “is a gun. People use them to kill animals, so they can eat them. That’s called hunting. See, this man is a hunter.” I stop there. I’m not sure what else to say. I don’t want to freak her out about her food. I know she doesn’t have a concept of death yet.

She’s fascinated. “This is a gun?”

“Yes.” I tell her.

“A gun?” I think she is picking up on my distaste for the topic. “Yes, Sophie. Now let’s focus on getting dressed.”

“Can we bring this book with us?”

“Yes, we can.” I sighed, hoping we were not going to spend the rest of the afternoon talking about guns. I wasn’t satisfied with my response, but apparently she was, because she didn’t ask again.

Though I wish I could have kept weapons out of her awareness for another year or two, I do know that these questions are inevitable. The problem is that you can’t control the timing of them. They arrive suddenly, without warning, little bombs dropped out of blue skies, when you are least prepared for the assault.

So, knowing I had to arm myself, I conducted a little gonzo research.

Over a lovely picnic lunch at the Japanese Gardens, I shared the story with my friend Jen, who also has an inquisitive preschooler (one, who, by the way, just asked how babies are made). Jen and I talked about the conventional wisdom when it comes to answering difficult questions from kids:

1. Find out why they want to know.
2. Answer the questions in earnest
3. Give factual information in an a developmentally appropriate way
4. Give as little information as they need to be satisfied
5. When they stop asking, stop answering

Then we discussed what that minimal, factual, developmentally-appropriate response to “What is a gun?” might be. Jen said that, because she lives in the city, she thinks it’s important to convey the dangers of guns. I nodded my head, realizing that in my desire to shield Sophie from the evil that people do to each other, I had neglected to speak about this aspect of guns. And, having known someone who was tragically shot and killed right outside his own home, I am well aware that one does not have to live in the inner city to encounter gun violence.

Other parents offered excellent, clean, clear language in response to my inquiry on Facebook:

Kim: “A gun is a weapon. Only grown ups should touch weapons. Who are some of the grownups who have guns? Police officers, guards, etc. Kids should not touch guns. If you see a gun at a friend’s house, go tell a grown up, but don’t touch it.”

Ross: “There are lots of types of guns. They are used to shoot things, like water guns, clue guns, and the kinds of guns that police carry. Guns can be very dangerous…so it’s important that you talk to mom or dad if you see a gun or someone talks about guns. If you ever see a gun, you have to come talk to me about it.”

I loved the emphasis they placed on the instruction: if you see a gun, come talk to me about it.

I’m so grateful to be surrounded by wise, been there-answered that, parents who I can call upon in my moments of uncertainty. If only I had the prescience to know that next question, I could consult my team of experts and have a reply at the ready.

But now, my arsenal is ready:
A gun is a weapon. A weapon is something that can hurt or kill a living thing. Once something is killed and is dead, it is gone. It can never come back. So guns can be very dangerous. Only grownups can touch guns, police have guns, which they learn how to use in police school. Kids should NEVER touch guns. If you see a gun or someone shows you a gun, come talk to me about is right away. I will keep you safe.

Go ahead and ask me, Sophie.

Ask me.

*Name has been changed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Yes, Sophia There IS an Easter Bunny

Never have I regretted words like I regret telling Sophia that there is an Easter Bunny.

Maybe it’s because I wanted Kevin’s traditions represented in the household as well as mine. Perhaps I didn’t want Sophie to be denied the pleasures of an Easter Basket that I had as a child. Or maybe I’m just as easily caught up in the sweeping wave of consumerism that accompanies every holiday in this country as much as the next person. But I went to Target and I got the makings of an Easter basket.

Nothing crazy. A felt bucket decorated with Sophie’s power animal, a monkey, wearing a pink dress. I filled it with gardening tools, seeds, and gloves. The only candy it contained was a couple of naturally flavored and colored (Kosher) jelly beans from Trader Joes.

Then, just before sending her off to bed, I said, “When you go to sleep tonight, the Easter Bunny is going to stop by and bring you a basket. It will be here when you wake up.”

Sophie seemed pleased, went to bed without incident, and Kevin and I retired to the attic to watch a movie. Not long into it, I heard screams emanating from below.

I flew down the steps, popped open her bedroom door. Sophie was standing up in her crib, holding herself, sobbing, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom, Mommy!” I scooped her up, hopeful that we would not have an incident like the last time she cried out for me in the middle of the night, when she blazed a trail of urine from her crib to the toilet.

Thankfully, she held it and went to the bathroom, but when I put her back to bed, she protested. “No, Sophia. It’s time to go to sleep,” I whispered, and headed back upstairs.

Not much later, I heard her cry out again, “Mommy, bathroom!” Kevin raised his eyebrows at me. I knew that there was very little chance that she actually had to go. But I was willing to give her one chance before I moved to “planned ignoring” of her pleas.

I walked into her darkened room and warned her, “Sophia, you better squeeze something out into that toilet.” And she managed to, though it did look effortful. When she finished, I warned her: “Okay, Sophia. This was the last time. Now you need to close your eyes, rub your Snakey Pie and go to sleep.”

Less than a half an hour later she called out, “Daddy, daddy, Daddy!” At least she knew not to call for me. Kevin looked at me. She quickly escalated to full-scale bawling. “Just one more book! I need one more book!” came her cries. Kevin said he would go down, say that she was to go to sleep and not call out again. Because this behavior is so rare now, I found myself really rattled by her cries. They hurt, like when she was an infant. I stood on the stairs, listening to him, and then her, begging and sobbing. He closed the door on her and seemed satisfied.

But now I was on hyper alert. I could no longer focus on the film. My ears strained for her cries.
“I have to get the monitor,” I told Kevin,

“You have to?”

“Yes, I’m straining to listen for her. Being able to hear will help me relax.”

“Okay, if that’s what you need to relax, go get it.” He turned off the movie we were watching and channel surfed while I fetched the monitor from the kitchen. I set the monitor to voice activated and re-joined him on the couch.

A few seconds later, the wailing started up again.

“Do we have to listen to that?” Kevin asked, irritated. He didn’t see the point in it, if we weren’t going to respond. It was interrupting his ability to focus, his ability to relax. I felt torn. I knew what I was feeling was irrational, but I needed to know when she calmed down and feel asleep. I needed to know when I could stop listening. I turned down the monitor. Her muffled cries continued to distract us.

Then, suddenly, there was a slight rattling sound and it got quiet.

“See? She finally exhausted herself and went to sleep.” Kevin said, rubbing my shoulders. I had a brief flash—perhaps I should check on her? But the part of me that was relieved that she had stopped crying, that I could finally chill out and enjoy the rest of the evening with my husband overrode the impulse.

An hour later, we descended the stairs. The second floor looked like a crime scene. Sophia’s door was open, a chair was positioned under the light switch and the light turned on. We walked in. Sophia was no where to be seen. Her crib tent was unzipped and the crib was empty. “Sophia?” I called?

No answer.

I was vaguely worried. Though all of the evidence pointed to the fact that she had escaped, the Lindberg case popped into my head: the missing child, no one heard a thing, the ladder up to the room. “SOPHIA?” I called, louder this time.

Still no answer.

Kevin and I padded down the stairs to the living room. And there she was, sitting on the couch, sucking her thumb and rubbing Snakey Pie, not doing anything. When she spotted us she announced, “I’m waiting for the Easter Bunny.”

A pox on the Easter Bunny! Perhaps this is why Jews don’t worship idols.

“Sophia,” I began the series of lies parents tell their children that the seminal lie of the Easter Bunny begets, “he doesn’t come if you’re awake.”

“I am going to stay up ALL NIGHT!” three year old Sophie announced.

“Well, we’re going to bed,” I told her.

“I will stay right here. Daddy you can sleep there,” she said, indicating the easy chair in the corner. “And Mommy, you can sleep in your chair,” she added, pointing to the overstuffed chair-and-a-half.

“No, Sophia. We are all going to sleep, IN our beds.”

“No No NO!” It was about this time I considered telling her there was no Easter Bunny. It was all a hoax. Kevin read my expression and mouthed, “Don’t you dare.”


Kevin started to reason with her, in his calm, psychologist way. But I could see she was beyond the point of reason. “This is going to end right now,” I announced. “You’re going to bed,” and I picked her up in the way that always manages to wrench my back and carried her upstairs.

I put her in the crib, zipped up the tent, said goodnight, and shut the door.

But now that she had figured out how to get out, there was no keeping her in. Thirty seconds later, she appeared on the stairwell. “I think we need to put her in the bed. There’s no point to keeping her in the crib now. She’ll only hurt herself trying to escape.”

“NO! I can’t handle the bed. I CAN’T HANDLE THE BED!!!” Sophia objected. Amid her protests, Kevin dragged the mattress out of her crib, plopped it in her toddler bed and flipped the crib over on its side, rendering it unusable.

What ensued, is typically referred to as "jack-in-the-box syndrome":

He put her in.
She came out.
I put her in.
She came out.
He put her in.
She came out.
I put her in, pulled a chair up to the door and waited. I stood stock still in my chair for 15 minutes. When I no longer heard her, I got up.
She came out.

Tomorrow night we are having braised Easter Bunny for dinner.

I told Kevin to go ahead to sleep. There was no point in all three of us being up all night. At least the next day was Sunday and I only had to be minimally functional.

I went into my room and got ready for bed. Sophia ran back and forth between her room and the bathroom. Repeatedly “trying to go.” She had no idea what to do with this freedom, how to conduct herself in a wall-less bed. It was a skill deficit she was going to have to work through. Upon her third trip back to her room, I walked in and announced.

“Okay, Soph. I’m going to bed now. I don’t want to hear you come out of this room again.” I locked the gate at the top of the staircase, so she couldn’t accidentally tumble down during one of her midnight runs. I took an extra helping of sleep medication. I popped ear plugs in my ears, and I went to sleep.

My eyes popped open at 6:30 am, to find Sophia breathing into my face. “I woke up!” she announced. This came as something of a relief, since it meant she must have gotten some sleep. “I looked out the window and it’s light outside so it’s time to get up.”

Curse the vernal equinox. Spring is conspiring against me.

She climbed into bed with me and we read together, just like old times. Then, we sat in my picture window and gazed outside, playing I Spy. When it finally seemed late enough to wake up Kevin, we headed downstairs.

There, on the kitchen table, was the Easter Basket. “OH! The Easter Bunny came!” Sophie shouted as she ran toward it and emptied its contents, exclaiming over each thing. I brewed the coffee and fixed Matzo Brei as she played with her new gardening tools, raking our Welcome mat, which had become a garden plot.

Outside our picture window, a feral rabbit made its way across our yard. In my mind’s eye, I silently gave him the finger.