We Don’t Need a F*&^%@# Balloon

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If you’ve ever had to take a toddler out in public, then you’ve experienced something similar to this.

Your two year old is in the middle of a full-scale meltdown while you push an overfilled cart of groceries down the paper products aisle. Your refrigerator is empty, so completion of this trip is essential. Your kid, however, doesn’t understand. All she knows is that she wants to open a bag of frozen peas, and you’ve taken them away.

Just as you’re about to shush your child for what seems like the millionth time, a well-meaning stranger with a bright smile and a phony falsetto comes your way.

“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”

You child mumbles something unintelligible, and the stranger nods with understanding.

“It’s ok, cutie! You don’t have to cry.”

By the end of the exchange, your toddler is smiling, and you’re scowling as you stuff a jumbo pack of toilet paper underneath your cart.

This person didn’t do you or your kid any favors. If anything, this person showed your kid that she gets attention when she acts out.

My kid figured this out a while ago. With a cherub face, big brown eyes, and the ability to break glass with her screams, Lil’ Ma is an expert at getting attention. There are very few locations in the city that we’ve attended without incident. Restaurants and grocery stores are the worst.

I know she’s loud. I know it’s embarrassing. I know for the five seconds you are passing us in the cereal aisle that we are bothering you.  I’ll admit that when Lil’ Ma throws a public tantrum, my first instinct is to give in. But I have to teach her how to act when things aren’t going her way, and that means we’re taking the hard road. Your assistance, while it may seem necessary, is not required. I got this.

“This” may mean I have to leave the dining area, abandon my cart of groceries, or let her scream for a whole five minutes. I’m ok with that. You should be too. Her throwing a tantrum is not an indication of my ability to handle said tantrum.

Last week, Lil’ Ma decided at a restaurant that my plate of food looked better than hers. After three failed attempts to take it, she started screaming and tried to stand up in her booster seat. I held her in place to keep her from toppling over. My dad asked if he should take her outside. Even though the restaurant was very noisy and I doubted that she was disturbing anyone, I agreed.

Our waitress appeared before he could get out of his seat.

“Oh, somebody’s upset!” she said. “Can she have a balloon?”

My father nodded his head yes. The waitress smiled.

“Absolutely not.” I said.  The waitress took a step back. Her smile faded.

“I thought it would…”  I narrowed my eyes and shook my head as I mouthed the word “no.” She turned on her heels and walked away.

“Ok lady,” I said to Lil’ Ma as I continued to hold her in the seat. “You can eat or not, but you will sit.”

She cried for a moment more, and then she sat down. A few minutes later, the once offensive plate of food was deemed acceptable, and she began to eat.

The waitress came back to our table just as Lil’ Ma finished her meal.

“Now,” I said, “she can have a balloon.”

The woman’s face registered understanding. She gave Lil’ Ma a red balloon.

Dealing with a toddler is no easy feat, and there are some situations in which a parent could use an extra hand. Just try to make sure the one you offer is more help than harm.

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Explaining Michael Brown to My Nine Year Old

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My parents never sat me down for a talk on racism. They taught me through in-the-moment training. The first lesson came when I was six or seven years old. My mother pulled her blue 1975 Chevy Nova into a parking space marked with a wheelchair.

I noticed after we got out of the car. “Momma,” I said while pointing to the sign.  “This is a handicapped space.” (Handicapped was an acceptable term in the early ’80s.)

“Black people are handicapped.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me toward our destination.

Her words replayed and gained meaning over the years as I experienced prejudice and racism on my own. I heard them whenever my achievements were credited to affirmative action instead of my abilities. They whispered from the aisles of department stores when cashiers followed me while those with fairer skin slipped merchandise into their bags. They rode on the tail end of every racially charged insult and hovered in the atmosphere whenever I was the only person present with brown skin.

Black people are handicapped.

I’ve struggled with the when and how of sharing this message with my children. Mini Me was due to start fourth grade last week. The death of Michael Brown and subsequent protests have directly impacted her. The start of the school year was postponed for at least another week.

I’m good with the delay. That the world is not all that different from the one my mother described to me 33 years ago, and I hope the protests in Ferguson will help bring about change. Mini Me wouldn’t understand. Our dialogue on racism needed to start now.

Before I talked with her, I needed to decide how much information to share. At nine years old, Mini Me walks the line between little girl and preteen. Certain concepts require more age and experience for comprehension. Plus she’s deeply sensitive. Her capacity for empathy will place Mike Brown on her heart for weeks. She’ll lose sleep. Just when I think the moment has passed, she’ll ask a new question and begin the process anew.

I opted to build up details over time. I told her that school was cancelled for the rest of the week. She started to cry. I told her that school administrators were concerned for students’ safety.

“Why?” she asked.

I told her Mike Brown was killed by a police officer. I explained many people, including me, were upset about it. Some expressed their frustration by protesting around the city. But when those involved, citizens and police alike, are angry and scared, more bad things could happen.

“Why is everyone so mad?” she asked.

“There are people in with world who think we aren’t as important because of our brown skin, so they treat us differently.” I braced myself for tears, but I got anger instead.

“We’re no different than anyone else!” she yelled.

“No, you aren’t.” I said. “And that’s what the protests in Ferguson are about. People are speaking out against what they think is wrong.”

“Do you think I can change things when I grow up?” she asked.

“Yes.” I said. The road to change is long, complex, and painful, but I figured we talked enough for one day. Plus, it was close to bed time.

I don’t know if I waited too long to talk to her about this. I don’t know if I told her too much or not enough. The only thing I know for sure is that I can’t stop talking.

 

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Bedtime Update

It’s been a week since I vowed to be more focused with Lil Ma’s bedtime routine, and I wish that I could say that we were farther along.

I’ve been much better about watching the time, so we’ve started winding down 30 minutes before lights out. PJs and story time generally go without incident. But, she still cries for a few minutes after I put her in bed.

The easiest thing would be for Hubby to take over. She actually dives into bed when he’s on the night shift. Unfortunately, his work schedule doesn’t allow for full-time goodnight duty.

So Lil Ma and I have to figure this out. Wish me luck.

What are your tips for making bedtime go smoothly?

 

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Mom vs. Dad: The Bedtime Routine

The kids’ bedtime routine goes one of two ways.

Option 1: Lil Ma and Daddy put on PJs, read two stories, and sing a song. Daddy then places the kid in her crib. Lil Ma grabs her lovie, snuggles under the covers, and starts to snore almost immediately.

Daddy then tells Mini Me to go to bed. She gets up, kisses him goodnight, and runs to her room.

Option 2: Lil Ma and Mommy put on PJs, read two stories, and sing a song. Mommy then places the kid in her crib. Lil Ma grabs her lovie, stands up with arms outstretched, and screams at the top of her lungs. Mommy tiptoes out of the room, hoping that Lil Ma will settle down soon, which happens after a few minutes.

Mommy then tells Mini Me to got to bed. She falls dramatically to the floor and asks if she can stay up “just a little longer.”

I’d like to say that the girls act this way because they like me better and want to spend more time with me. The truth is they know they can get over on me every once in a while, especially when I’m distracted. On nights like that, I sometimes miss our bedtime mark by nearly half an hour.

Hubby, however, is focused. He’s not trying to throw another load of clothes in the wash or send a quick work email. My guy also is not a sucker for theatrics. I get caught up in their antics more often than I should. I swear these kids are honing their skills for Hollywood.

This week, I have promised myself to stay focused. I will be the Teflon Mom — none of their tricks will stick to me!

You don’t believe it? Yeah, me neither.

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Mom Guilt: Soccer

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My soon-to-be fourth grader reads at an eighth-grade level, which is a simultaneous blessing and curse.

This past spring, Mini Me brought home a flier advertising soccer camp. I used to be able hide these multicolored sheets before she saw them. I miss those days sometimes.

“I’d like to go,” she said after reading every word aloud.

In her entire nine-year existence, I don’t remember Mini Me ever saying the word soccer, much less expressing interest in the sport.

Camp ran from 6 – 7:30 p.m. for four days at the end of June. It was $20, and participants got a Tshirt. That all sounded good. The bad news was my work day ended at 5:30 p.m. Factor in a couple of traffic jams and pickups at two separate childcare facilities, and that meant we couldn’t get to camp before 6:45.  Hubby was on the road during that time, so soccer camp was a no-go. I delivered the bad news.

Mini Me burst into tears before I could finish the sentence.

“I just want to know how to play,” she wailed. “Whenever we play soccer in gym class, my team loses because of me. I can only kick the ball a couple of inches.” She fell onto my bed and upped the volume on her cries.

I immediately felt guilty. I knew she was overstating things. I didn’t believe for a second anyone in her class could bend it like Beckham. But this seemed important to her, and I couldn’t deliver. I don’t think it’s the job of a parent to give kids everything they want, but Mom Guilt can be very strong. It’s the sinking feeling that you somehow are failing your children and causing irreparable damage to their fragile psyches.

I couldn’t shake the guilt this time, so I figured it out. My dad had reduced summer hours at work, and he agreed to pick up Lil Ma from daycare. I left my job early those four days and got Mini Me to camp on time. She enjoyed the experience but thankfully decided she doesn’t want to join a league. She did, however, did ask for a soccer ball so she play in the yard with her sister. I told her to save her allowance.

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