takin’ care of the kids


m has two buddies at playschool: m2, whom she teases by holding out a toy while running away from her, and d. we haven’t really sorted out m’s relationship with d, but d comes running to the door every time m is dropped off, and he always walks us to the door to say good-bye.  d first came to our attention when we were told that m had been patting his face at lunchtime and inadvertently scratched his cheek so would we please trim her fingernails, thank you very much.

yesterday, it turns out, m and d were playing at the “kitchen” in their playroom. d apparently was in m’s spot. so m bit him. and got her very first time out.

i feel terrible that she bit another child, but i can’t quit laughing at the idea that she got a time out. i can see her, making a face and throwing a tantrum and shaking her head and banging her forehead against the wall (her latest way of telling us just how really stupid we truly are), all the while standing in the corner just like she’s told because she is generally an incredibly obedient child. mostly, though, i love the idea that she was bossing someone around in the kitchen.  in our house, she would have learned that from her dad. not that he’s bossy in the kitchen — he’s just, well, actually in the kitchen, actually doing things, far more than i am. while m and s were home together they baked bread most days in addition to preparing dinners so that we could all eat together when i got home from work. so she’s got a lot of experience seeing a man be super-handy in the food department. plus, what little tv we actually watch includes the occasional viewing of good eats featuring alton brown, cooking away and making her daddy laugh out loud. a man in the kitchen, in m’s experience, is a good, good thing.

so when i think about what could have been happening with d, i can only imagine that he was doing something unmanly, like washing the dishes, and m thought he should be doing more, like, you know, cooking a meal. for her. (on the other hand, i guess it’s possible that she is my daughter after all, and just decided that she’d shared long enough and someone else was in her space and she didn’t know what to do except lash out.  but i like the first scenario better. it’s more flattering to all of us.)

DR tells me that her daughter also has shoe, um, preferences, and suggested that maybe m’s issues with her mary janes is the grown-up-ness of the shoe itself. that got me thinking. i had already considered that maybe m was reacting to the shine of the patent (p)leather. and then m exhibited such determinination to fasten the straps herself, i thought maybe those little flowered straps were responsible for her fetishization.

and then one morning m brought her new shoes into my bedroom and put them down on the floor, next to my black shoes that i was getting ready to put on.  aha! my daughter wants to be like me.  like most mamas, i was happy to believe that.

well.

last night we needed diapers and a window scraper (turns out we’ve lost ALL of ours — we used to live in minnesota, for god’s sake) and now we’re driving around with frost-encrusted windows. so m and i bundled up and headed off to target.

once inside the store there are many, many ways to get to the diaper aisle. i happened to choose the one that went past the shoes. and we were no more than 3 or 4 strides in when m started pointing desperately at her right foot, which she had lifted as high as the shopping cart seat leg-holes would allow, and started making that charming “unnh, unnhh” toddler sound. i asked her if she wanted her shoe off. she nodded. i took it off. then she pointed at a pair of shoes on the shelf and repeated the process– lift foot. point. whine. i asked her if she wanted to try on that shoe. she nodded.

i swear. i swear i had never taken her shoe-shopping before the first mary jane incident. nor have i had money to shop for shoes myself in m’s recent memory. she has not learned this behavior from actually shopping for shoes. i have no idea where this is coming from. but it is here.

we spent the next few minutes trying to find shoes she liked. seriously. one shoe she requested made her cry as soon as i put it on her. another shoe she liked so much that she wanted to hold it, not wear it. we finally found a really, too-cute pair of brown mary janes with pink flowers around the edges. no glitter, no shine, and as an added bonus, softer soles than her black shoes. (say bye-bye to the clomp-clomping of little feet!) m was thrilled.

for the rest of our shopping time she wore one black mj on her left foot and one brown one on her right. the match to the new brown shoe was dangling by an elastic thread from the shoe m was wearing, but that dangling seemed preferable to me trying to take the shoe off (NOOOO!) and separate the pair and then fight over which shoe — black and shiny or brown and flowery? — was meant to be on her left foot.

she was tickled to show her dad her new shoes when we got home, and was very happy to put them on this morning. so happy, in fact, that she eschewed the fleece jacket her dad tried to dress her in and opted for — i’m serious here — a brown sweater with flowers on it. yeah, you got it — a sweater that is a perfect complement to her brown shoes with flowers on them. is it possible that she loved the shoes so much because they reminded her of a sweater she wears all the time? or, holy christ, does my fifteen-month-old have both a shoe-fetish and a highly-evolved fasion sense?

when i was pregnant with mairin i had a lot of anxiety about having a daughter. in part i was worried that i would lose her, as i had lost her older sister. but once that seemed unlikely, i was simply worried about raising a girl. more precisely, i was worried i would raise a floozy.

every time we go to a park and i see little girls running around in frilly skirts with nail polish (invariably chipped, because manicuring a 3-yr-old’s nails can NOT be an easy thing to do) i cringe. at summertime parties when i see girls in grade schools wearing belly-baring halters i look away. i mean, really. what are their parents thinking? who let the girls out the door looking like that? and worse, who made such outfits possible in the first place? don’t buy it for the kids, i reasoned, and they won’t have a chance to wear it.

even gifts of clothes can require careful management. a good friend of mine who travels regularly to italy brought m back an italian bikini. the top is the classic two-triangles-over-the-breasts style; the bottom is a thong. A TODDLER THONG! that’s just not right. but i dutifully took the bikini with us to the beach this past summer, and one day even put it on m. all the sane people on vacation with us agreed with me that it was a little creepy — a little too sexualized for a young child. (luckily, the diaper underneath the thong made it more funny than weird. but still.) m did NOT leave the house until she was wearing her jaunty, surfer-inspired outfit, with all her little baby girl parts appropriately covered.

well. my fears and failures — those that are obvious as well as pending — are here to haunt me. on a recent expedition to buy m an extra crib sheet i decided to have a look at shoes for her, since her older cousin handed down a lovely red velvet holiday dress that m can wear this year. now, m is a rough-and-tumble, robeez-wearing kinda kid. she falls a lot, and rarely cries while she picks herself up and toddles off. there is nothing demure about her. nice dresses and fancy shoes are not her thing. but every girl needs a party dress, right? and since all great outfits are built from the shoe up,  we needed to check things out.

as we looked at various shoes — a novelty for m, who typically gets little to no say in what she wears — she became enraptured with a pair of black patent mary janes. ok, i thought to myself. that’s kind of classic: red dress, white tights, black shoes. i can live with that. so we find a pair in her size, i take off one of her yellow-sunflower robeez, and i slip on one of the mary janes.

and that was that.

m would not let me take the shoe back off. i mean, i COULD take it off, but i was certainly going to hear about it. even the magic snack bag — a baggy endlessly supplied with cheerios, raisins and cheddar bunnies, and which makes all bad things seem bearable — did nothing to assuage the poor kid. she eventually had a meltdown in the baby-bedding aisle, the kind that requires you to hold the screaming child and rub her back while she snots and blub-blubs all over your shoulder. she eventually calmed down and was willing to sit back in the cart…as long as she could wear one of her shoes.

so ok, i think. it’s a bit of a novelty for her, she’s come down with a cold from her cousins over thanksgiving, and she’s suffering from massive holiday-craziness-induced sleep deprivation. she’s not herself. we’ll get home, we’ll show daddy the shoes, and when she’s ready to have them taken off we’ll put them away. all will be well.

[insert maniacal laughter here]

yesterday morning i got a call at work from s, telling me that m had cried and cried when he tried to put her brown robeez on her. she gave him sad face and the ASL sign for “all done” — what don’t you understand, daddy? i DO NOT WANT TO WEAR THOSE SHOES! she kept whining and reaching for the mary janes, which s dutifully put on. m spent the rest of the day gleefully clomp-clomping around in those stiff-soled shoes.

when i came home from work she came to show me her shoes. i took some pictures. (so what? a little enabling never hurt anyone.) then eventually it was dinnertime, and then bathtime, and then jammy time, and then…NO. NO BOTTLE. MUST HAVE SHOES.

the mary janes are NOT made to fit over fleece footed sleepers, but m would not rest until both shoes were on her feet. i wanted to win the small victory of at least not taking off  her pajamas. so we crammed and squeezed and shoved until, lo and behold, the kid was walking around in flowery-blue fleece jammies with black patent leather mary janes on her feet.

i didn’t even try to take them off until after she was asleep. i put them out of sight. i was not going to repeat this nonsense tomorrow.

alas, when it was time to put m’s robeez on this morning, she fussed, whined, looked completely forlorn, and practically screamed the “ALL DONE!” sign at me. she reached and reached for her shoe shelf, even though she could not see the shoes she wanted.  i caved. i pulled out the mary janes and put them on her feet. she was instantly as happy as, well, as a toddler who got her way. she clambered down off my lap and joyfully clomp-clomped her way around our second floor.

so there it is: mary jane as gateway drug. this is undoubtedly the beginning of a long and tortured relationship between my sense of propriety and m’s insistence on being her own person, dammit.

now how i do i make sure she doesn’t turn out to be a floozy?

mairin is one of eight cousins, ranging in age from 5 months (her fave, baby e) to 15 years (her least fave, cousin l, a tall kid whose height really scares her). throw all those kids in a room with a wii and let the fun begin.

which is to say, it’s been a crazy weekend.

last night i brought m home early because she kept climbing in my lap and squirming and crying, which didn’t annoy me until it began to interfere with my focus on my glass of wine . when m and i got home we put on jammies and brushed our teeth, climbed into the big bed in our room, and cuddled while she drank her bottle and fondled her bellybutton. when she was done she handed me her bottle and sank a little further into the bed.

but she didn’t close her eyes.

usually at bedtime m finishes her bottle she hands it to me, then rolls over and goes to sleep; a few minutes later i carry her into her crib. but last night she lay next to me, eyes wide open, slowly looking around the room. when it was clear to me she wasn’t going to go to sleep anytime soon i started talking to her quietly about her day. i reminded her of the games she’d played, the people she’d seen, how much fun she’d had. as i was talking she turned toward me and smiled that all-heart smile that every toddler reserves for just the right moment to melt a grown-up’s heart.

feeling all gooey and melty myself, i smiled back, kissed her on the top of her head, and kept talking. i told her what a good girl she was. her smile got bigger. i told her that she is my favorite 15-month-old. her smile got a little bit bigger. i told her i love her. she lifted her head a little more and then slowly started to nod.

yes mama, you love me.

tertia talked last week about the incredible feeling that is mommy-love — the all-encompassing affection and devotion that parents feel towards their kids. i love that feeling. love love love it. that feeling is my addiction: i love loving these little people. it makes me bigger and more spacious — my heart has a room in it for each daughter, and each room is its own little big sky country.

what more can a girl ask for?

at least in our house. today is s’s one-year anniversary as a stay-at-home dad.

having s stay home with m was a pretty easy decision for us. while neither of us objects to day care outside of the home, i had not lifted my tuckus to bother to find any for m while i was on maternity leave (nor during my second trimester, when everybody recommends you do it, nor during my third trimester, when i was secretly hoping that s would decide that staying home was a good idea for him). while i was home for three months being lazy breastfeeding and changing diapers, s was at work hating it more, and more, and more. not that he doesn’t like working (any more than the rest of us) but he really hated the work he was doing. fortunately he was paid so well for it that keepin’ on keepin’ on seemed ok. but the pull of daddyhood won out. his last day at work was a friday; my first day back was the monday afterward.

we had big plans for his stay-at-home-dad-days. he and mairin got a slew of gifts to get them started on their big adventures: a membership to the children’s museum, m’s very own library card, a fixed-gear around-towner bike to hitch the bike trailer to, a notebook.

while m was having fun all day with her dad, s & i were having standard stay-at-home-mom convos all night:   i’m bored all day, and i feel guilty about it. i am dying for some adult conversation. sure the kid is cute, but can you please get her away from me for ten minutes? please?

and so s’s tenure is coming to a close. on a total fluke we found a spot for m at a local play-skool, one that’s walking distance from our house and has a massively-long waiting list that, given some bizarre combination of luck, timing, and magnificent planetary alignment we were able to completely avoid. her first day is dec 3.

and actually, i think it might work out really well for all of us. it’s time for m to play more regularly with other kids. (and, i guess, to catch all their nasty germies.) it’s time for s to be in a different daily psychological space. and, if things work out as we hope, s will be able to drop m off late-ish and i can pick her up early-ish, leaving both of us time alone with her but also time for ourselves. and then, after her bedtime, time we can spend together without wishing we were getting time to spend alone.