The End of the World

Memoir MondaysRecently, Jay Dee Archer wrote a post on his blog about how everything can be the end of the world to a toddler. Wrong color Goldfish crackers? End of the world. YouTube show keeps buffering? End of the world. Shoes on the wrong feet (self-inflicted)? End of the goddamn world.

But there was one time that it was the end of the world and I actually understood the reaction.

Not long before Christmas last year my daughter got it into her head that she really wanted a Rocket Raccoon from Santa. She’d seen Guardians of the Galaxy and had taken a great liking to the furry little fellow, so after she asked 5 or 6 different mall Santa’s to bring her a Rocket Raccoon, my husband ordered this adorable little stuffed version of the character online. After some stress-inducing delays on the mail, it came just in time for Christmas, and the happiness on the little missy’s face when she saw him was immeasurable.

Come on, look at that love. Tell me your heart wouldn't break.
Come on, look at that love. Tell me your heart wouldn’t break.

Rocket quickly became her favorite toy; she slept with him every night, had him beside her all day long regardless of what else she was playing with, and she insisted on dragging him along with her everywhere from malls to restaurants.

One day, a couple of months after Christmas, I was in the bathroom trying to straighten unruly hair, while my daughter was playing in her room. I heard a small bang, but I paid it no mind because what kind of kid doesn’t make any noise when they’re playing? Then I heard the crying. I met her in the hallway on my way to her room. She was practically sobbing and was clutching Rocket to her chest. At first I couldn’t figure out what had happened – and she was in no fit state to tell me – but then I looked in her room and saw the mess. The cup of milk she’d been drinking was knocked over, the milk all over her table and the floor and several toys. A light bulb went off in my head as I turned back to look at my distraught daughter, clutching her little stuffed Rocket Raccoon. He was soaked with milk, clean through, like she’d actually dunked him right in the carton.

I couldn’t stop her crying, and I couldn’t blame her. In the past when she’d made big messes, I’d threatened her with losing her possessions – for instance, when she refused to go to the bathroom and ended up wetting herself, I’d tell her that we had to throw her princess panties in the garbage. The threats were my way of teaching her that she had to be more careful, but this time they’d backfired. The way she was clutching Rocket and bawling her eyes out, she definitely thought that I was going to take him and throw him in the trash. END OF THE WORLD.

Even after I explained that I was going to do my best to fix Rocket, I don’t think she stopped crying the entire time I was soaking him in the sink and scrubbing him with Purex. It was definitely, no questions asked, the absolute end of all creation. It was all over. Her special gift from Santa, her favorite toy, her little buddy…ruined. Life would never be the same. She couldn’t possibly go on.

Luckily he wasn’t really ruined. With quick action I somehow managed to extricate all the milk, and after a thorough powdering with baking soda and one good wash cycle with the laundry he was even smelling good as knew. The end of the world was postponed as I handed my daughter her fresh-as-a-daisy toy and she broke out in that adorable little grin again.

But it was pretty touch and go there for a little while.

The Parent-Child Time Paradox

It’s an idea that will never go away: “Enjoy your kids now, because they grow up too fast.” Everyone has heard this phrase, or a similar one, and every parent has repeated it at some time or another, probably multiple times. We hear it throughout the years and in various forms.

“Enjoy the baby stages, because they grow up so fast.”

“Enjoy having them at home because before you know it they’ll be in school.”

“Enjoy them while they’re still young because soon they’ll grow up and won’t want anything to do with you.”

“Enjoy them while they’re still around because before you know it they’ll be out on their own and you’ll never see them anymore.”

We know it’s all true, deep down, but we also tend to ignore it because at the time we feel like that moment will never come. When your child is a squalling infant you feel like you’ll be stuck in the helpless baby stage forever. When you’re trying to get them to eat decent food and learn to go potty you feel like you’re going to be chasing them around with a fork and a clean diaper until your hair goes gray. And when times are good, when you’re cuddling on the couch with them, or helping them learn something new, or exclaiming over the beautiful picture they made for you, you can’t help but feel that your kid is going to be like this – exactly like this – for the rest of time.

I mean, come on...
I mean, come on…
...what is this witchcraft??
…what is this witchcraft??

As a parent, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but as a parent who travels out West I’ve found that I see the changes that time brings a little more clearly than some others may. I’m away from my daughter for two weeks at a time, so I’ll actually notice things like how her hair has grown and chubby belly has begun to thin out. I spend half of every month on the other side of the country, so it’s very evident to me when her demeanor shifts or she picks up some new habits or attitudes. I see her changing before my eyes, and though I love watching what she is growing into, the view can sometimes be a little sad.

This summer past, before I was laid off, I’d been working out West for a full year. Almost every night I would call home on Skype so I could talk to the baby and let her know that mama was still around. She would get excited to see me, run around the room like a crazy person, try to show me all of her toys as though I’d managed to forget they existed whileI was gone, and then when it was time for me to say good-bye, she would get upset. Not all the time, but most times. She would whine and cry and hide her face and refuse to say good-bye or blow me a kiss. Almost every night. She didn’t want mama to leave.

Seven months have passed since my last Skype call like that, and things have changed dramatically. Now my daughter sits and talks to me, tells me about her shows and what she ate and about how she helped daddy shovel snow today. She’s pleasant and adorable and talkative. And then after twenty minutes or so she looks at her father and tells him that she wants to say good-bye. He tells her to go ahead and she waves at me, and we blow each other kisses, and she says good-bye and smiles at me while I hang up. It’s sweet, and cute as a button, and just a little sad.

I’m not being selfish; I don’t want her to be sad and crying when it’s time for me to go. But it hurts, just that little bit deep down in my heart, to know that she’s grown up enough that it doesn’t bother her at all that I’m not there with her, that she’s perfectly happy to wave and say good-bye and go about her busines without me. It’s a good thing – a very good thing – that my daughter has grown mature and independent enough to be okay with mommy going away for work, but it seems that mommy hasn’t grown mature and independent enough to deal with that big-girl attitude just yet.

Enjoy your kids, no matter what stage of life they are in, because before you know it they’ll have moved on to the next stage and everything will have changed again.

It May Not Be the End of the World…But it Can Feel Like It

When I was very young, I had a toy called “Puppy Surprise”. For those who are too young to remember (or too old to care), this was a stuffed “mama” dog with little beanbag puppies in her tummy. The surprise part was in how many puppies you got, since it could be anywhere between two and five. I was one of the lucky kids who ended up with five puppies, and I was ecstatic. I loved those puppies, gave them all names, and played with them constantly.

Then one day one of the puppies went missing. I searched high and low but I couldn’t find it. I was certain it had gotten left at my neighbor’s house, but they were unable to find it either. For all I knew, that puppy was gone forever.

That night, I recall, my mother was working a backshift and I’d asked my father if I could sleep in their bed with him. And at some point during the night, as I was laying in bed unable to sleep, I thought about that lost puppy. I started crying. I tried to hold it in, but my shoulders shook and a little gasp or two escaped. Before I knew it I’d accidentally woken my father, who asked me what was wrong. I told him, and though I don’t remember exactly what it was he said, I do recall that it more or less amounted to what any parent in the same situation would say: “It’s just a toy; it’s not the end of the world.”

It’s not the end of the world. These are words that have probably been spoken by every parent on the planet at one time or another. They are words that can be very true…but also very, very wrong.

See, the problem with becoming an adult is that we tend to completely forget what it feels like to be a child. My father’s response was a completely reasonable one from the viewpoint of an adult, but not from the viewpoint of a child. At the time of this story I was about six or seven years old, and at that age losing one of your favorite toys is the end of the world.

We change dramatically as we grow, and bit by bit we begin to learn about what is and isn’t really important in life. Children haven’t gained that knowledge yet. A toddler doesn’t understand why they can’t have cookies for breakfast because they have no understanding of the concept of “health”. All they know is that you are refusing to give them something they want very badly. A child who is being teased at school can not grasp the idea that someday the opinions of their peers will mean little to nothing. They only know that the teasing hurts their feelings and maybe even makes them depressed. Even as teenagers we still haven’t grown enough emotionally to avoid these traps. Have you ever been around a teenager who just got dumped? It’s pitiful. Beyond pitiful. But you can’t explain to them that it’s “not the end of the world” because to them it is. Yes, as adults we know that the pain of a dumped teenager is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but to that teenager it is the worst pain they have ever felt.

So try to remember that the next time you’re dealing with a toddler who won’t stop crying, a child who is scared and upset, or a teen who believes their whole world has just come to an abrupt end. Remember that they don’t understand that it’s not the end of the world because that’s exactly what it feels like to them. All pain, physical or emotional, is relative, and the younger the child the less they have to compare to.

Most of all, remember what it feels like to be a kid. I promise you’ll be a better parent – and person – for it.

On Discipline

They say that deep down all kids desire discipline. The idea is that young children can’t make reasonable, smart decisions for their own health, safety, and positive upbringing, so subconsciously they want us to do it for them. I’ve read about this time and time again in parenting magazines, on websites, and in the occasional newspaper article. I think it is, for lack of a more proper term, complete and utter b.s.

Yes children need discipline. There’s no argument about that. But no one, regardless of age, wants discipline.

Think about it logically for a moment. Say it’s bedtime. Your kid needs to go to bed or they won’t get enough sleep and will be cranky in the morning. But they want to stay up. Even if you could explain it logically and have the child completely understand where you’re coming from, telling them that they need to go to sleep isn’t going to make them want to go to sleep. You want to know how I know? Okay, now imagine yourself, staying up late doing something you really enjoy, whether it be playing video games, watching a movie, drinking with friends, or whatever. Your spouse/parent/friend/whoever comes up to you and says, “You really need to go to bed now, or you’re going to be worthless in the morning.” What is your reaction? If you answered, “I’d take their advice and go to bed, of course!” then you are absolutely in the minority. Most people, I’m willing to stake my reputation, would shoot a glare at the kill-joy and angrily state, “I’m a grown adult and I’ll go to bed when I want to.” Key word there: want.

We are creatures of ‘want’, every one of us. It’s nothing to get upset or argue about, it’s just the way we’re made. Logically we know that we need certain things (proper sleep, healthy food, etc), but other parts of our brain simultaneously tell us that we want certain things that conflict (to stay up late, junk food, etc). Similarly we want certain things (unnecessary expenditures, for example) even though we know damn well that we don’t need them and could exist perfectly fine without them.

So returning to the idea that kids want discipline. No, sorry, I refuse to believe that. Kids need discipline; no one wants discipline.

And that can make life difficult sometimes, even for adults. I’m going to use myself as an example because, hey, my blog:

I currently have two immediate goals. One is to finish editing my zombie novel so I can try to have it published, the other is to lose at least 30 lbs. Both require a good deal of discipline, and therein lay my problem.

It can be just as difficult to discipline yourself as it can be to discipline a child because a very large part of you simply doesn’t want to be disciplined. I tell myself that I need to do so much editing per day, but then I find something else I want to do more and the want outweighs the need…I go have fun instead of working. I tell myself that I need to take in fewer calories in order to lose weight, but I also want to eat that snack-cake and, oops, look, there it goes down my willpowerless throat. Sometimes I can almost agree with the claims that have been made about kidsĀ wanting discipline, because I imagine that if I had someone standing over me telling me exactly what to eat and when to work on my novel, all would be well. But then I realize that if I actually had such a person, I’d spend most of our time together struggling not to strangle them because, let’s face it, no one enjoys being told what to do. That’s why very few people have anything other than disdain for their immediate boss.

It all comes down to attitude and whether you’re able to set aside current ‘wants’ for future gains. As adults we have the ability to decide for ourselves…whether it was necessarily the right decision or the wrong one, at least it was ours. Small children are different. How do you explain to a toddler that she can’t have sweets for supper because it’s not healthy and she’ll get fat? You don’t, because in the toddler’s mind all she knows is that she wants the sweets and you’re not letting her have them, not letting her make the decision herself. Obviously we can’t allow such young children to make all their own decisions because, as previously mentioned, we are creatures of ‘want’, and that road leads to disaster. But we also have to be patient and understand where the kid is coming from. The next time you’re out at the mall and you hear a kid shrieking his head off because mommy won’t buy him toy he wants, think for a moment about how you’d feel if you wanted something and were told, for no other reason than “because I said so!”, that you couldn’t have it.

I bet you’d be pretty angry too.