Monthly Archives: September 2016

That’s Not Fair!

We are packing for a road trip.

Alexander has taken it upon himself to pack some car snacks.

He comes up to me after putting snacks in everyone’s bag. “Mommy, there are two extras.”

I am counting out diapers into the diaper bag. I do not think before answering.

“You can just put that in your bag, since you packed the snacks.” (Fair enough, I guess?)

“I think Isaac should have it.” he says. “He is bigger and eats more.”

“Does that seem fair?” I ask. It is my go-to question. We discuss fairness often, I am the one who brings it up. He understands that I am asking him if he is considering himself as well as his brother. 

He smiles. He says yes. I ask him if he wants to check with Keenie and see if she thinks it is fair, too. She is enthusiastic and on board. “Isaac eats more!” She agrees.

I see a lot of posts about how to stop the whining about fairness. 

My kids bring up fairness with me and my partner maybe a few times a year at most. 

I answer it with a question. “What do you feel would be fair to everyone?” 

Fairness isn’t making a single person happy. That is “I would like” and “can I please?” Fairness is a discussion where everyone’s needs are weighed and considered. Fair is not necessarily equal. It would not be fair for Keenie and I to have the exact same amount of food on our plates. She eats like a bird, I eat like a bulldozer. She needs less food. I need more. It would not be fair for me to insist that I get to use the toilet because I got there first, if one of my children is doing the potty dance.

Life? Life is not fair. Life is a combination of many things.  But family is not a “too bad,so sad, sucks to be you” Thing unless we choose to treat it that way.

If I am asking one of my children to accept something unfair, I tell them. I ask them.  I say “I know that what I am asking is not fair to you. I am asking you if you can please help me by doing XYZ this once. Next time I promise we will do QRS instead. Is that okay?” And I thank them genuinely. 

I make space for myself, as well. I calmly say “I need to be fair to myself, too. And when things are unfair to me, I start the same discussion. 

It takes different forms, but the gist of it is that “I do more because I am older and faster and you are my children and I want to make sure you have all the space you need to play. 

Right now I am trying to get ready so we can all go. I need your help. It is not fair to ask me to do every single thing that needs to be done before we can leave. What can you help with?”

This is not a thing I am perfect with. It is an evolving mindset. I have had no examples for this. I have plucked it out of the moments when I have felt like every bit of me wanted to shriek “THIS IS NOT FAIR!!!!”

What gets me to that point?
What has brought my child there?
How can I help my child feel respected?
Giving them whatever they want is not respect.
Neither is refusing on principle.

It needs to be a conversation.

And I need to be the calm one.

Otherwise what my child is yelling is true.

It isn’t fair.

How to Talk to Babies Like No One is Watching

I am talking to my 5.5mo baby as she is playing with a toy.

And I begin naming the things that are on it.

And I name the lady beetle.

Intentionally not using the term “bug”.
Because lady beetles are not true bugs.

Then I explain this in a perfectly serious voice.

To my 5.5mo baby.

And suddenly I flash back to my first child at that age.

And how I used to wonder what I should talk to him about.

Everything. Talk to your baby about everything.

Describe things as verdant green.
Fingers and toes as pudgy digits that each have names.
Talk like a book.
Talk like yourself.
Explain things the way you would to a two year old.
A nine year old.
An adult.
Laugh.
Quote movies.
Talk about the marvelous things your baby is learning.
And about all the things they will do when they are bigger.
Name colors.
Talk about the potty and poop and pee and how their body will tell them they need to do certain things.
Run your finger inside their little chompy chewy mouth. Trace the gums. Name what teeth will come in where.
Or confess that you never learned their names, but that you should learn them so that you can teach them later.

Sit in silence and stare at their face with the same wonder they are staring at yours.

Say their name in hushed awed tones. Spell it out. Introduce yourself.

And tell them how ridiculously happy you are to have them here with you.

Then be quiet, too. Carry them in your arms and wander through your life in silence as they look at things.

And let them speak. In high pitched squeals and squeaks and babbles.

They are telling you how ridiculously happy they are to be here. With you. In your arms.

And When You Come Home to a Messy House, What Will You See?

Isaac is watching me as I clean.
I have just put the bedtime snack on the table.

And rounded up my giggling children. 

“Mommy, come eat with us!” He says. I am swishing water on plates with one hand while holding a cooing Wren on my hip with the other hand. She is attempting to hang upside down to grab the water as it runs. 

“I can’t right now, sweetie.” I say. “I have to clean up.”

A moment later I shut off the water.  I go over to the table. I sit down. 

“Isaac?” I say. “Can I ask you a question?”

He looks up. 

“Do you think you will want to have kids someday? A family?” 

He says he does. 

“If you are working and your partner is at home with the kids… when you come home, if the house is messy what will you think?”

“That she was taking care of the kids all day and playing with them.”

“There is something I want you to try and remember, okay?” I am looking at him in the eyes. “It is very very important.”

He is listening. 

“Do you see the dishes still in the sink?” He looks. 

“Do you see the bits of coffee grounds that spilled earlier and that I missed when I cleaned them up?” He looks. 

“And the unfolded laundry in the library?” He nods. 

“You can see all the things I haven’t done, right?” I ask. “Can you see what I *have* done?”

He says he can. 

“How?”

He saw me do three other loads of laundry. Feed the animals. Cook three meals. Wash the pans for two of those meals. He saw me clean up after them all day. Put things away. He saw me focus their new microscope on the smear of blood I coaxed from my pricked fingertip onto a slide. He saw me round up the library books. Breastfeed and bounce the baby, change countless diapers. Help them all settle disagreements.  Work on Alexander’s reading and on everyone’s math. He asked me for help getting things, and I said “of course” over and over again. 

“But if you did not see what I did, and you just came home to see everything I haven’t managed to do.. would you think I did nothing all day?”

He shakes his head.

“Some people do think that way.” I tell him. “They see what still needs to be done, and they get upset.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.” I say. “But it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT that if you ever have a partner you don’t think that way.”

“I won’t.” He promises. “I will do what daddy does.”

“What does daddy do?” I smile. 

“He comes home and he helps you clean and brings you food so you can sit down”

My heart swells fit to burst.

“Yes. Daddy does that.” I smile. “He loves me very much, and knows how hard I work every day.”

I pause. 

“And that is why, every night before he comes home I try to clean up as much as I can. Because I love him very much and I know how hard he works every day even though I am not there to see it.”

That is what family is.

A bunch of imperfect people trying to find their balance on this crazy spinning sphere of a planet. 

This is love. 

And love is good. 

Gentle!


Wren is on the swings. 

I am pushing gently.  

A little girl comes over and wants to push her too. 

“Gently” I say. And she pushes her gently, slowly building up momentum until it approaches being too fast. 

I could repeat the word “gently”, have her figure it out. Or dive in and stop the swing,assuming she is ignoring my words. 

Instead I smile and add more words to paint a better picture of what “gentle” means right now. 

“A little slower, okay? She is littler than her friend in the other swing. Her neck is not as strong, if you push her too quickly she won’t be able to hold her head up.”

She’s looking at me. “Can I show you?” I ask. I push gently. “See?” 

The little girl pushes so gently the swing slows almost to a stop. I chuckle with a smile.”that is very gentle. She can go a little faster than that.”

She tries again, this time at the perfect speed. 

“You are very good with babies.” I say. 

She smiles a huge smile. 

Often when the word “gentle” is not immediately understood, we jump in quickly. If the baby is going to be hurt, jumping in is good. But often we can pause the older child’s actions with more words and paint a better picture of what we expect.

Or we can redirect to a different positive interaction. 

The gentle that we are with a horse is different from the gentle we are with daddy. The gentle we are with daddy is different from the gentle we are with mommy when she is pregnant. There is the gentleness we show great grandma who is sick. The gentleness we show a bunny. Another child our size. The gentleness we show a newborn, a six month old,a one year old, a five year old. There is the gentleness we show a butterfly or a tiny little inchworm.

I like to use more words to help people guess well. 

The Earliest Forms of Consent and Communication (Part 1)

She stirs.
Stretches.
Smiles.
Blows bubbles.
I smile, too.
And tell her good morning.
“Hello.”
“You are awake!”
Then I ask her a question.
It has always been a silly question.
“Can I pick you up?”
I started asking her this at the hospital when she was just born.
I hold out my hands and pause before I pick her up.
In the space of that pause, today?
At five and a half months old?
She rolled away from me to grab at her little stuffed dog.
And then she rolled back to me.
Ready to be picked up.
“Wait a second, mommy. Let me get this first.”

I’d Like to Live in a World Like This

A volunteer blackberry plant in the weedy remnants of last summer’s garden. 

I am looking at the little blackberry with my four year old daughter when a little skipper lands. 

She squeals in happiness, her hands fly up to her face and she goes breathless. 

Disconnect makes life ugly. I can stand off and stare at the unkempt and awful weedy place where my garden used to grow.

Or I can creep closer, crouch low. I can look for the beautiful things that my life is full of. 

“I’d like to live in a world like this.” I think. 

The sun to our backs. Frozen in a moment, my two daughters and I. 

I’d like to live in a world like this.  The world I live in with these kids of mine. 

They remind me that it is full of small and simple things.

Full of beauty and wonder.