Death and the 3 Year Old

Amelia’s introduction to death happened quite abruptly, poolside, last summer.  While cruising around the edge of the water, she spotted a beetle on its back, roasting in the summer sun.  “Mama, bug sleeping!” she announced.  My mother, reading in the shade, looked up from her book.  “No, honey. The bug is not sleeping. That bug is dead,” she said.

Amelia accepted this information with little fanfare.  “Bug dead,” she repeated.  Over the following year, we discussed dead bugs whenever we encountered one.  Amelia seemed to grasp the basics: dead was different than sleep; dead bugs were never going to move again; dead bugs were free from pain.  She didn’t seem to feel that being dead was such a bad way to be.

Very fortunately, other than cockroaches, worms and beetles, Amelia did not encounter death much in early life.  But in the last few months, she has been exposed to the death of two people: our elderly neighbor and her nanny’s mother.  The latter happened suddenly, when our babysitter’s mother died after being found unconscious in her house.  Naturally, our nanny had to make immediate arrangements to fly home, and we had to arrange urgent alternate childcare.

The event led to a lot of questions: “How can Tanna be going home to see her mama if her mother is dead?”, “Where is Tanna’s mama?”,  “What happens to us when we die?” and of course: “Are you and Papa going to die, too?”

Oh boy.

The most difficult part  of this stream of inquiries was their rapid fire emission.  I had no time to prepare my perfect, elegant answers!  I wanted to put Amelia on pause, Google “what are age appropriate responses to questions about death from a child of three and a half?”, do some reading, then return, totally prepared, to the conversation.

But no such luck: there she was, her shining eyes searching my face, expecting fully that I could explain death and afterlife (or not) in sixty seconds or less, using age-appropriate lingo.

Wheels spinning, I explained that much like a dead bug on the sidewalk, Tanna’s mama was still visible even though she was dead.  Amelia’s follow-up question: “Did someone step on her?!”

“No,” I said, “No one stepped on her.”

“Then why did she die?”

“Because she was very old and her body stopped working. Just like if your toy train runs out of batteries and it doesn’t work anymore, Tanna’s mother’s body won’t work.”

“Can’t someone give her new batteries?”

“Well…yes…that’s called an organ transplant…we do that sometimes…but other times the body is too sick even for a new organ.”

“Are you and Papa going to die?”

“Probably not, honey.  If we do, there will always be someone to take care of you.”

“I don’t want you to die.”

“Papa and I are very healthy, our bodies work just fine, we don’t plan to die.”

“Will you die when you’re old? I don’t want you to ever die!”

“That won’t happen for a long, long time.”

OMG, WHERE IS MY HANDBOOK?!?!

Balancing honesty with reassurance was quite the challenge.  I didn’t want to lie but at the same time, I didn’t want to create anxiety…but death is inherently scary…

Quite suddenly and thankfully, Amelia decided she had had enough of my fumbled answers.  “Ok, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Good night!” she said, and rolled into a deep, easy sleep.

Since that time, we’ve occasionally revisited the topic of death, but Amelia seems to have decided that for now, she’s had as much information as she needs or wants.  Thank goodness for self-regulation.

Until next time…

 

M is for Money

Last week, I was in the checkout line with Tessa at Michael’s.  From her perch on my arm, my 16 month old’s hawk-eyes were eagerly scouring the area for interesting objects.  Quite suddenly, her pointer finger shot out.  “Money!”  she yelled.  “MONEY!!!”

People in the line turned and looked at us with raised eyebrows.  Is this tiny baby a pickpocket? I could hear them thinking.  What has this mother been teaching this poor child?

“Tessie, what do you mean ‘money’?” I quietly asked my wriggling daughter.  She had no time to answer such a banal question.  In seconds, she was out of my arms and on the ground making a beeline for a display of stuffed animals.  After rifling through the toys like a starving squirrel searching for a nut, she emerged triumphantly clutching a rather brightly colored plush bunny.

“Money,” she said, satisfied, hugging the toy tightly to her chest.  Apparently the letter “B” is not quite within reach…

Tessa also has a beloved bunny at home: one of those floppy loveys with a blanket for a body.  It’s become quite the tool in our baby arsenal: Tessa is so conditioned to associate the lovey with sleep, that just the site of the bunny causes her eyes to start fluttering toward dreamland.  It’s like Pavlovian Narcolepsy.  (the greatest parenting win of all time, no?)

As you can imagine, Tessa loves the bunny very much.  Shortly after the Michael’s incident, she started asking for the bunny by name. His name, of course, is Money.

Screeches of “Money! Money!” now echo through our house at nap time.  When Tessa spots her lovey, a delighted purr of “mmmm, Moneeeee” emerges from her throat before she snuggles Money closely, puts her tiny thumb in her mouth and drifts off to asleep.

Money is equated with happiness, comfort and delight.

When Money is not around for soothing purposes, there is significant distress.

We also launder Money on occasion. Tessa hates it when we launder Money – it never smells the same afterward…

There is so so so much wrong with this, isn’t there?  But somehow, I just can’t bring myself to correct it.  I’m sure the sad day will come when my little girl learns to say the letter “B”…but in the meantime, I’ll just keep giggling immaturely to myself and enjoy.

 

 

 

The Wretched Goodbye

In a home with two working parents and a nanny who arrives sharply at 8am, my husband and I trade off who goes into work first and who plays with the kids/gets them dressed/starts breakfast before our (sainted) babysitter appears.

Hubby has described his morning exits like they are scenes out of a Normal Rockwell painting.  The children sit angelically at the table, neatly eating their breakfast of oatmeal and fruit.  The nanny enters, shaking the snow gently from her boots.  “YAY!” cry the children, leaping from their chairs and hugging their babysitter.  “Goodbye, Papa!” they wave, their tiny plump hands sending him on his way to work.

When I am the last parent to leave the house, you would think the children are being torn limb from limb as I exit.  I mean, seriously.  The moment they hear our nanny’s key in the door, it starts.  Tessa’s face crumples in agony and her little eyes fill with tears.  A forlorn wail of agony emits from her wide-open mouth.  Her four limbs grip onto me tightly, her face red with the effort.

Amelia starts her stream of negotiating without hesitation. “Mama, can you stay a little longer? Mama, can you stay all morning?  Mama, don’t go yet, I want you to eat breakfast with us. Mama, I don’t want to go to preschool.  Mama will you pick me up? Mama, don’t leave!”

When I insist that I unfortunately must go to work, Amelia’s tears start flowing.  She grabs me around the legs (the only open space, because Tessa is still suction-cupped to my upper body) and cries with all her heart and soul.  In this formation, we slowly make our way painfully toward the door.

At that point, our dear nanny tries to intervene and manages to peel my youngest child off me, which of course triggers renewed high-pitched screeching.  I pry Amelia’s arms off my legs and open the door.  “MAMA!!!!!” she screams.  As I make my way to the car, I see both kids, faces pressed against the door, tears staining the glass…our nanny trying to hug them or distract them in any way she can.

Almost without fail, ten minutes later, I receive a set of pictures from our lovely nanny on my phone. Kids are doing an art project, grinning ear to ear, or holding hands while taking a walk in the sunshine.  WTF, kids. Why must you do this to your mother?

Each time, I tell my husband “I’m never leaving last again.  I hate it.” And each time he reminds me that it cannot be avoided and that they are “fine a few minutes after you go.” It doesn’t really help my sadness.

I know they are happy and well cared for when I am gone. I know their tears dry quickly.  I know I have to work and frankly, would not do well being a stay-at-home-mom.  I know all of that.  But it doesn’t make walking out the door any easier.

 

Apples and Trees

Apparently, when my father was a young boy, he would argue with his grandmother (an English teacher) about the correct spelling of certain words.  When they could not come to an agreement, they would look the word up in the dictionary*.  When my great grandmother triumphantly pointed to the dictionary entry that proved she was right, my father, without a hesitation, would say “well, the dictionary must be wrong on this one.”

Prior to last week, there was little evidence of Amelia’s genetic relationship to my dad.  She resembles my husband’s family much more than my own.  But last Saturday morning, she crept into my room and asked what we were doing that day.

“We’re going to visit Aunt Laura and Uncle Aaron,” I said, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

“I fotso!” said Amelia gladly. Then, to ensure I was being appreciative of her intelligence: “Fotso is a hard word.”

“Well,” I ventured, “it’s actually two words…and it’s ‘thought’ so, not ‘fot’ so.”

“No mama, you’re wrong. It is fotso.”

“Um, nope…”

“Yes it is.  Fotso.

Later that day, whilst doing her daily constitutionals (an event to which I am always invited…), Amelia informed me proudly that she does “both a pee and a poop, after day, after day, after day.”

“I think you mean ‘day after day’…” I offered.  I was promptly rebuffed.

When I gently pointed out that I have a lot more practice talking than she does, Amelia became defensive and reminded me that she knows “a lot of words.”

I suggested we take a poll of the nearby adults to see what they thought. This resulted in immediate suspicion – pretty good chance Mama would rig the game.  Adults, after all, are often in cahoots with each other.  Amelia decided this was not a good plan.  No need to check with other people, she informed me – she was right.

I considered the dictionary trick, but remembered that she can’t read.  No question the dictionary would be wrong, anyway…

On one hand, I love the conviction of a tiny child.  Her world is still so small, and she is so sure that she understands it completely.  As the scope of her landscape grows, she will probably have the jarring realization that much more is unknown than known.  Or, she’ll be a stubborn pain in the ass forever.  Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, she can remind me “after day, after day, after day…” that she is always right!

 

 

*A dictionary is a book that people once used to look up words. You may know it by its contemporary name: “a Google search.”

 

 

 

Teeny, Tiny Psycho

When Amelia threw her regular tantrums as a baby and young toddler, it certainly evoked an emotional reaction in me.  Words like annoyed, frustrated and helpless come to mind.  But other than some garden variety parenting-isn’t-always-what-it’s-cracked-up-to-be feelings, it seemed like a very normal part of her development.

But things are different now. As she hones in on three-and-a-half, Amelia seems incredibly adult-like.  It’s truly mind boggling what a 3 year old can do and say.  How do they learn so much in such a short amount of time?  Language and a general understanding of the world around her have exploded in the past year.

Today, I was working in my home office, when Amelia stopped by for a friendly discourse.  “Mama,” she said, as if she had stepped right out of an episode of Downtown Abbey, “perhaps when you are finished with your work, you could join us for lunch.”

Um, what?

The strangest thing about this newly hatched miniature adult, however, is that she is simultaneously also still a baby, with all the brightly colored emotional outbursts that this includes.  Amelia’s weird double brain makes for some interesting times.

It’s quite jarring, for example, to one minute be discussing the details of germ theory with your adult toddler and the next be bear-hugging a now writhing, screaming, foaming creature who has flipped her shit because her “foot was sweaty.”

Amelia is like someone living on the razor-thin edge of sanity.  She drifts between the real world and delusional fantasies: for example, she believes that our hands, when held with the forefinger lifted and the other four fingers on the table, are “spiders” that can hold extensive conversations, fly on command and talk to her stuffed animals.  She vacillates between the most complex, adult emotions and the most primal, visceral impulses.  She is a teeny, tiny psycho.

We’re keeping her heavily sedated.

Just kidding.

But you just never know what the future is going to bring…one moment she’s gently teaching her sister how to use a spoon (and bringing tears of pride to my eyes!)…the next she’s round-house kicking on the floor because I won’t let her dump an entire container of parmesan cheese onto her pasta.

All I can say is: this is weird.  Totally normal, of course.  But still really, really weird.

 

 

Mommy is my new favorite toy

When Tessa was born last year, the impact upon Amelia was minimal.  Amelia had, in essence, acquired a pooping, wrinkly doll.  She happily continued about her merry business while Tessa was a quiet accessory.  I would say the disruption to Amelia was no more than if I had gotten a new purse…  And as such, there were no jealous outrages, no regressive behaviors, no worsening tantrums…

After worrying for months that Amelia would self-destruct upon the baby’s arrival, we felt incredibly relieved.  The world had not, apparently, tilted on its axis. Amelia acted unperturbed.  Of course, we applauded ourselves wildly.

“Oh my, how well we prepared her for the new baby. It must have been all those ‘I’m getting a baby sister’ books!” I mused.  “Oh yes, and the discussions we had with her before Tessa was born,” added my husband.  We concluded that we were simply amaaaazing parents.

Several nay-saying friends warned us that the rough times may yet be ahead.  “When the baby starts stealing all her toys, that’s when you’ll see it…” they said.  We ignored this hogwash. Were they not aware of our amaaaaazing parenting skills?  Obviously not.

Fast forward to now.

Tessa is 14 months and developing at lightening speed. She walks, she runs, she talks and she wants.  What does she want?  EVERYTHING.  Toys, snacks, the remote control, a toothbrush, toilet paper, dust bunnies…you name it.  When does she want it? YESTERDAY.

Amelia wants things, too. What does she want? Whatever Tessa has.  When does she want it? The moment Tessa grabs it.

Amelia watches the playroom like a hawk.  It may appear that she is intensely  engaged in her trains, but actually she is on cat-like high alert.  Tessa toddles over to an abandoned baby carriage in the corner and lays a single finger on it.  “NOOOOOOOO, TESSAAAAAAAAAA!!!” Amelia bounds across the room and rips the carriage out of her sister’s hands.  “That’s MINE!”

“Amelia,” I try, “you weren’t playing with that.”

“Yes, I was,” she says stubbornly.  Then she shows me how true this is by making a circle around the playroom with the carriage before dropping it and going back to her trains.  Tessa looks at me, her brow knit with confusion.

Lately, Tessa’s most precious object of affection is me.  If I’m not holding her, then ooooh boy, I should be.  She communicates her intense displeasure of my absence (ie walking away for one second to refill her sippy cup…) with breath-holding followed by siren-like screams and giant tears.  If I, God forbid, hand her to her father for even a moment, the betrayal on her face is deadly.  “How could you, you treasonous witch?!”  

Amelia has noticed that I’m quite prized by her little sister.  You know how sometimes a pair of shoes just looks so-so…until you see them on someone whose fashion style you admire? Well, I’m that pair of shoes.  Through Tessa’s shiny eyes, I’ve become Amelia’s new prized plaything.

So now I quite frequently have two howling banshees competing for my attention. Amelia no longer wants her father (whom she adores) to carry her up the stairs; she  no longer wants to sit next to anyone except me at dinner; my hand is the only one she will hold.  If Tessa clambers onto my lap, Amelia is close behind…

For Amelia, the sensation of displacement is happening now instead of at Tessa’s birth.  Before, she had a baby.  But now, she has a little sister.  I can sense she feels somewhat dethroned.  I do my best to make sure she gets one-on-one time with me in the evenings, whenever Tessa is napping and on weekends.  I try to talk her through the jealous feelings so she can understand what they are, and that they are normal.  I’ll hope that we can coach both kids through the transition so they each discover their rightful place within the family – both important, equal and different at the same time.

 

 

 

Our Sainted Pediatrician

Tessa had her 9 month appointment this past week.  Thankfully, she seems to be meeting all her developmental milestones.  The conversation went something like this:

Dr. G: Any questions for me?

Us: Nah, she seems fine.

Dr. G: Cool.  (proverbial thumbs up)

It struck me during the visit how different this encounter was as compared to our early well-baby checks with Amelia.  Like Tessa, Amelia (thankfully) developed normally.  Unlike Tessa, she was the daughter of first time parents.

At the first visit, our list of questions, had it been printed on paper, would have stretched all the way down the hallway.  We had questions about everything. We frantically scribbled down questions morning noon and night. Then, at the visit, we systematically dumped the significant burden of our first-time-parent worry onto our pediatrician. We positively buried him.

And he was awesome about it.  A true testament to his professionalism in the face of total cray-cray, this kindest of doctors carefully answered each query with exquisite poise and zero eye-rolling.  His head was probably exploding on the inside, but you would never have known it.  Except for that one bulging vein in his forehead, he was the epitome of calm. Just kidding.

Thankfully, my husband saves everything (are you surprised? No?), so when I mused after Tessa’s visit “man, I wonder what nutty crap we asked when Amelia was this age…” hubby pulled out his phone and produced the entire massive list plus the answers we got.  Here, for your entertainment pleasure, a few samples:

Us: How do you we know if she has a cold?

Dr. G: …Um, if she has cold symptoms, then she probably has a cold.

~

Us: She does a weird thing with her eyes. She has funky eye movements.  Is she having seizures?

Dr. G: No.  This is normal until 4 months.  Then it’s not normal.

~

Us: We are keeping our room super cold because, ya know, SIDS.  How do we know if it’s too cold?

Dr. G: If she’s happily asleep, she’s not cold.  If she wakes up screaming, she’s too cold.

~

Us: What should we be doing with her to entertain her? (she was 1 month)

Dr. G: Play with her.

Us: Anything more specific?

Dr. G: No.

Us: Are you sure?

Dr. G: Yes.

~

Us: How much tummy time should we do? Is three hours a day enough?

Dr. G: She doesn’t need physical therapy. I promise, she’ll develop neck muscles no matter what you do.

~

Us: We got Johnson and Johnson shampoo, but now, due to propaganda on the internet, we are worried that  terrible carcinogenic chemicals are leaking into her body during bathtime. What should we do?

Dr. G: Feel free to switch soaps. But in three years, the soap you switched to will also have something terrible and dangerous in it.

On and on and on we went. How did we know if she was eating enough? Should we be turning her head at nap time so she wasn’t always on the same side? What was that weird bluish hue on her lower backside? We were there for a full hour the first time.  I watched a medical student who was rotating in Dr. G’s office get an increasingly alarmed look on his face as question after question rolled out.  That poor kid.  He definitely did not go into pediatrics after meeting us.

This is just to say: I have a whole new respect for the practice of Psychiatry. Um, I mean, Pediatrics.

Mean Girls

For the last few years, I’ve been operating under the blissful assumption that the dreaded teenage behavior – you know, the extraordinary cruelty that girls unleash upon one another – would not start until Amelia was an actual teenager.  Up until this point, Amelia and her little gaggle of daycare girlfriends have been nothing but fun.  Sure, there have been scuffles over whose turn it is to ride the big bike next or hold a favorite toy, but these disagreements have been short-lived and relatively equal across genders.  Amelia will just as readily throw a little boy off his bike as he will shove her out of the way.  Amelia and her buddies have played in (almost) perfect harmony for three years.

Until now.

Recently, the concept of the “best friend” has entered their collective vocabulary.  Why anyone needs to be the best friend rather than just one of the friends eludes me, but Amelia came home one day and announced that Leah – a classmate since the infancy – is now her best friend.  Leah has made the same proclamation.  We seem to be about a hair’s breadth away from matching tattoos (A+L 4EVER!!!).

Amelia and Leah save seats for each other at the breakfast table.  They exchange meaningful hugs at the end of each day and pine for one another during vacation time.  As the parents of these blood sisters, Leah’s mom and I have loved watching our girls become so bonded with each other.

When I arrived at daycare last Thursday, Amelia and Leah were having a heated fight over a ladder-building toy.  This isn’t unusual, but the argument was clearly escalating, with both girls yanking violently on the desired object.  Suddenly, Leah stopped cold.  She narrowed her black eyes and announced “Amelia, you aren’t my best friend anymore.  Mary is my best friend now.”  Then she stalked off, dragging a rather bewildered Mary (the pawn in this game) with her.

Amelia gasped audibly before taking a huge breath in.  “MY FRIEND IS GONE!!!!” she wailed.  Large tears rolled down her flushed cheeks, her mouth wide open in agony.  “My friend is gone!” 

In seconds, the daycare teacher had grabbed both kids and brought them together.  “That’s no way to treat your best friend,” she said sternly to Leah.  “Now give each other a hug.”  Hugs ensued.  Harmony was, at least temporarily, restored.

The teacher turned to me: “Little girls just do this,” she said tiredly. “Boys don’t do this…but girls…” she trailed off.  “At age three?!” I asked weakly.  “Oh yeah!” she affirmed. “Amelia and Leah won’t let Mary sit with them half the time.  Now boys, they’ll play with anybody!”  Greeaaaaat… (and poor Mary…)

So mama, steel your heart.  This is only the beginning.  This is life with a threenager.

Curious George Needs a Xanax

We were riding home from daycare last week, when a lecture began to emanate from the backseat. Amelia’s Curious George doll, complete with a sad (if not tortured) look on his face, was getting a serious talking-to from The General.

“Curious George,” she said sternly and with more than a hint of disapproval, “Sit up. Don’t fall down. If you fall down, I will hold onto your arm very tight, but I will not be happy with you.”

Curious George did not respond, but rather continued to look forlorn.

“Curious George, are you listening to my words?” continued Amelia, “Zip your lips and turn on your ears like this: Click Click.  Sit up. It’s Circle Time. Please put your birdies in your nest.”

Curious George’s floppy arms were firmly folded in his lap and Amelia began her repertoire of Circle Time songs, which included but were not limited to: “Good Morning To You”, “Get Up And Dance” and “Baby Beluga.”

By the time we got home, I’m pretty sure that Curious George’s could have used a Xanax with a vodka chaser.

Also…I guess we now know how Amelia’s daycare provider gets the kids to pay attention…

Poop Candy

We are in full-on potty training mode at our house. Amelia first started showing an academic interest in the Porcelain God back in September, but the process got a bit derailed after she accidentally dropped a deuce in the tub and freaked out…

So things cooled off for a while, until several of Amelia’s colleagues at daycare became fully potty trained. Just as social psychology would predict, Amelia wanted to join in the fun (because really, what could be more thrilling than doing your business in a totally public mini-toilet and sharing the joy with all your buddies?).

Even with the temptation of peer pressure, however, more motivation was required. This motivation came in the form of Poop Candy. In this terrific parenting move, we have started rewarding Amelia with a bit of candy each time she makes a poopie in the appropriate receptacle. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the connection of “feces = delicious treats” that we’re making…but meh. Plus, this will be terrific fodder for her future therapy.

Poop Candy is a huge success. Whenever Amelia makes a poop on the potty, she is rewarded with several tiny pieces of licorice. She has recently announced that she requires three pieces of Poop Candy per poop. She drives a hard bargain.

Sometimes, she devours the licorice while she is still on the potty.

If they are lucky, unsuspecting strangers get to hear about the Poop Candy as well. “I did a poopie on the potty!” Amelia tells another mother at the daycare. “Oh…good for you!” says the woman, hurrying away. “WHEN I MAKE A POOPIE, I GET CANDY!!” Amelia screeches after her.

With all our work, I am proud to report that Amelia has not soiled her diaper in FIVE days. I am extremely proud of her. I’m ever-so-slightly concerned that she demands candy the moment she makes a splash in the toilet…and am maybe, sort of starting to wonder how we’re ever going to un-do this association…but hey, progress is progress. And I’ll take it.