This exchange just happened between my daughter and I as she drifted off to sleep:
S – Mommy, did you know that life goes on and on for infinity? Not the kind of infinity that goes on and then stops when you stop it. The kind of infinity that goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and never stops. It’s kind of hard for you to imagine.
I mean, people die, but the life goes on. Like, you had me. Then I have a baby girl named Vinny. Then she has a baby boy named Peter, after Daddy’s middle name. Peter’s wife has a baby named Soshan, and Soshan has a baby named John, and his wife has a girl named Glora, and she has a girl named Rosie and she has a little boy named Izza. And it goes on and on. You know what I mean.
Me – You’re right, honey. That was really smart. Those concepts are hard.
S – I wasn’t even taught that. I just knew it from my own brain.
And what I meant by that ‘Oh’ was, Oh my God you’re going to be smarter than me by the time you’re in first grade. Also, she should name characters in the next YA dystopian novel.
My son has been employing an interesting new linguistic crutch lately. He’s in that development stage where kids discover that they can be part of conversation if they participate in the natural back and forth of discussion. The problem is that sometimes he starts to talk before he knows what he wants to say.
“Mommy?” He’ll say, getting my attention. Then nothing, until he feels the need to fill the silence to keep the attention. “I love you but…”
This phrase chafes.
It implies that there is going to be a low blow dealt to my parenting psyce. But it doesn’t come. He says, “I love you but…can I wear jammies with feet tonight?” or “I love you but…are we going to park?” It’s just a verbal filler to him. But it’s a crutch I picture with a big steel-toed boot on the end that’s poised to kick me in the ass.
My daughter, during the same period of verbal development, would say “can I join your conversation?” A much kinder, gentler introduction into the banter of life, no?
But she hasn’t always been the sweet lollipop of empathy she is now. “I love you but…” gets under my skin because she used to say it to me. Usually when I was at my most harried. “I love you but…I love Daddy more.” And she meant it. I am proud of myself that I didn’t throw a four letter word at her. And I mean that.
It wasn’t really surprising, though. The two of them have had an amazing relationship from the start. He was the one who could calm her down best during her colicky episodes. And when real estate kept me out working nights and weekends, they created a bond that I could not duplicate with her.
I’m okay with it now. Time has healed that wound and she and I have our own special (and completely different) relationship. Plus I read The Wonder of Girls and it drove home the importance of a good relationship between fathers and daughters.
So my son can say it all he wants: I love you but…at school I played with Reed yesterday. But…when are we going to California? But…I had a dream that I was. A. Lion!
This morning he said it again. “I love you but… I just love you.”
And of course it made me smile, because their two variations of the phrase sum them up. One honest and open. The other simple and understated. Except when it comes to dancing naked around the house. Then they’re both freakshows.
Six years ago my husband and I went to the ultrasound appointment where we would learn our baby’s gender. I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first child,
“I don’t care if it’s a boy or girl, as long as the baby is healthy,” I said, not for the first time, on the way there. I didn’t realize I was lying until we saw that we were having a girl.
I know that this is a controversial and awful statement. Hear me out.
|The first picture of our little girl.|
It wasn’t that I didn’t want a girl – most of me really did mean it when I said I don’t care about the gender. And now I can’t imagine life without this amazing kid and I am the better for her. But back then the idea of a girl seemed so much more difficult. I should have been thinking of the fun of dressing up, the inherent gentleness, the tendency toward cleanliness and fewer broken bones that comes with girls. Instead, the angst of my own teenage years (and, I’ll admit, the majority of my 20s) flashed to the foreground of my mind. Body image issues. Unworthy boyfriends. Mean girls. Break ups. Tears. Questionable fashion choices.
I took a deep breath and told myself to take it one day at a time. She was healthy. Plus, she hadn’t even been born yet! All of this was so far in the future that it was ridiculous to think about it. That would happen when she was a teenager!
(Tires screech. Needle scratches on a record.)
It happened last week. WHEN SHE WAS 5!!
We were at her boyfriend’s house. Yes, she refers to him as her boyfriend. No, she doesn’t mean it in any other way except that he’s a boy and he’s her friend. The kids were playing downstairs, parents were having a beer upstairs, and all was right in the world. Until my beautiful daughter stormed upstairs and sulked on the couch. Like a teenager.
“What’s wrong, Honey?” we asked.
“They’re being mean. They said I was chubby,” she said.
The two offenders, including my 3 year old, came into the room. When confronted, her boyfriend said, “yeah, I called her chubby.” And it was with venom and the knowledge and the intent of being hurtful.
Every adult was silent in the room for a beat. I was surprised that they all didn’t hear my heart break.
This was not supposed to happen at 5. This is not something kids this age should even know is a hurtful thing to say. And this is coming from a good kid. I know him and his parents. He’s raised to be respectful and kind. And it still happened. I had to remind myself that it was not okay to punch a 5 year-old in the pie hole.
We parents sprang to action after that, and I feel appropriate measures were taken. Boyfriend and Younger Brother were given a talking-to. Stella was given a pep-talk and hugs.
That words associated with weight have become insults thrown around by young children is one of those troubling things that I feel stymied by: this is how people are, they come in all shapes and sizes and we do not make fun of any of them. But if they open their eyes and ears as they move through the world around them, they see negative images and words about overweight people. Do as I say, not as the world around you does. How do I effectively combat this? Particularly when it comes to her own self-image?
As the kids were getting ready for bed that night, I asked my daughter if she was feeling okay after getting teased earlier.
“What?” she said, having already forgotten about the incident.
I should have known that my strong and strangely mature daughter would not let this be more than a blip of an incident in her big life. Still, now I was in a dilemma. Was it better to let it go? Or better to bring it up so that I can make sure it was properly, adequately addressed? I went with the latter.
“You know those are just words, right?” I asked. She nodded. “Sometimes people say things just to be mean and we have to remember that they are just words.”
“Why do they do that?”
“I don’t know, Honey,” I said. And then I had to ask, because I wanted to know if it was getting under her skin the way it was getting under mine, “do you think you’re chubby?”
“No,” she said, “I’m just right.”
“Yes, you are,” I agreed. “And I am. And daddy is.”
“But not Zachy. He’s too skinny,” she said. At least we’re part way there. We talked more about how unique each of us are, and that we all have things that make us special, and you know what? Sometimes people suck, too, when they’re mean.
Even though I can’t stop thinking of this a week later, I’m kind of glad it happened. Partly because we got both the first body image insult and the first questionable hairstyle out of the way in one evening. It also reminded me that we are both equipped to handle those angsty years that I dreaded as I saw my baby for the first time in that ultrasound. Even if they have already started. We just need to take them one day at a time. Pink hair and all.