Sunday, May 31, 2015

The no post post.

        I am sorry to say I had no time to write a post this week. My youngest daughter's wedding was this weekend and it was such a hectic week that I had no time for anything but Kiley, Mackey, and wedding preparations. The wedding was great! I drank too much, danced too much and everyone had a great time. See you next week.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Big Girl

These are the kind of fashion decisions 'Big' little girls are apt to make...

        Kiley is a “big girl”, as she reminds me at least a thousand times a day. She wears big girl pants (not diapers), sleeps in a big girl bed, and rides a big girl bike. She even uses the big girl potty (not the potty-chair), though I must admit she is barely big enough to accomplish this and is perched quite precariously on the edge of the seat when she does. (There have even been a couple of incidents where she slipped off of the big girl potty in mid-process, resulting in an unpleasant situation, and recriminations from me about her being more careful and from her about me being more watchful. One of the many hazards of being a big girl I’m afraid.)  Because she is a big girl, she can’t understand why she is not allowed to do certain other things that big girls do. Things like ride in the front seat of the car, use a metal knife and fork, or go out front by herself. At three years old, this longing to do what she is not yet mature enough to do will be a perpetual condition that she will struggle with for at least the next eighteen years and even beyond. “Stop treating me like a child” is the universal demand of all those who are still children.

Being a big girl is like being married; it’s not a destination it’s a journey. Big girlhood is a relative condition that slowly evolves over many years and even decades. That is hard for a three year old, sixteen year old, and sometimes even a sixty year old to understand. So I suppose it can be quite frustrating for the big girl in question when she has achieved big girl standing and yet does not fully partake in big girl privileges. This can be exhibited by minor or major divergences between big girl status and big girl abilities.

For a three-year-old, the minor divergences between desires and abilities are legion and are the kind that makes a caregiver give pause and contemplate whether the big girl in question is ready for that particular step. (Managing a big girl, of any age, is an art. It’s kind of like fishing. If you give them too much slack they spit the hook out and are gone from you. If you don’t give them enough slack they break the line and are gone from you.) Sometimes, however, what your big girl believes is within her power and abilities is so far out of the realm of possibility that it’s ludicrous, (like the sixteen-year-old who thinks she should be able to go to Cancun with her friends for spring break.)

Just the other day we were out on the deck when I suggested that it was lunchtime. Mackey, my “little girl”, immediately chimed in with: “Nuggets and fries!” Inspired by this suggestion, Kiley added, “Yeah, let’s go to McDonald’s!”  I was in a good mood and both girls had been angelic all day, so I acquiesced to their demands and we all piled into the car. On our way to McDonald’s the “big girl” in the back proposed: “Just drop me off at Friendly’s. I’m going to get some ice cream.” This from someone who is firmly strapped into a car seat, by the way. I briefly entertained the idea of dropping a three-year-old off at Friendly’s with a five-dollar bill in her hand but decided that was probably not in her best interest. “No, we’re going to McDonlad's”, I replied. This instigated a discussion reminiscent of many debates I’ve had in the course of raising three teenage girls and ended in similar fashion: with me laying down the law and her feeling that she was the victim of unjust oppression.

Such is the condition of the “big girl”. It has always been thus and always will be. We, none of us, are ever as big as we think we are. From the toddler learning to walk, to the teenager learning to drive, to the mother of grown children learning to “let go”, one hallmark of maturity reached only leads to another milestone yet to be conquered. That is only as it should be. For in the final analysis, Kiley becoming a “big girl” is nothing more than her growing beyond what she already is. And if any of us stop doing that then it’s time to pack it in.


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Outback

        Spring is finally here and it’s about time. It was another long and brutal winter where I live. April was disappointingly cold and it seemed like fair weather would never come back. But it has. I have been absolutely pining for spring. Not just for myself but also for the girls who have generally been cooped up in the house for the cold months and desperately needed a change of routine and scenery.Now, with the weather warm and sunny, we can all spend time in the fresh air. These past couple of weeks, having been blessed with especially pleasant weather (sunny, with temperatures in the seventies and sometimes eighties), we have spent the majority of our days outside enjoying it. And when I say “outside” I mean that sublime suburban oasis, that Eden of middle class life, that perfect combination of nature and artifice known the nation over as “the backyard”. “Come on girls. Let’s go out back.”

The girls cannot get enough of “out back”. They want to spend all day every day out there in the sun. The minute they walk into the house they want to know when we are going out back. This being May, the mornings are still a little damp and chilly so I have to fend off their desire for out back until mid-morning when the dew is mostly gone from the grass and the air has lost its crispness. Then I can finally acquiesce to their demands, open the backdoor (they always insist on helping with the back door), and usher them into paradise.

Our backyard is a typical suburban retreat. Most of our modest, quarter acre, lot is in the back surrounded by a six foot privacy fence. There is a deck that my husband built when we first moved in twenty-five years ago. It runs the length of the house and is adorned with a pergola at one end, the grill, and the usual deck furniture. There is a paved walkway that leads from the deck to a patio in the south side of the yard, under a maple tree. My husband and I built the patio and walkway several years ago and my muscles still ache (stone work is hard). Past the patio, in the south corner of the yard, is the “Secret Garden” that we made for the girls last year. The “Secret Garden” is entered through a little gate in a vine-covered arbor that we hope will be covered with blooms this summer. Inside there are a multitude of flowers (Mackey would pick them all if you let her), garden sculptures, and a little bench just big enough for the two of them. The rest of the yard is grass and flowers and bushes and trees.

Out we go into this quiet retreat and the girls head right for the swings. There are two swings hanging from the pergola, one for each girl. Up until last week there was only one swing but that had become such an object of dispute between the girls that a second swing became a necessity. Both girls love to swing, but especially Mackey. She is a swing addict, and will swing, literally, for hours. That, of course, requires me to push her on the swing for said hours, since her less than two year old legs have not yet acquired the ability to pump. I push and she swings, back and forth, and gradually enters into what seems to be a transcendental state, her eyes glazing over and her body becoming so relaxed that she’ll sometimes fall asleep to the soft rush of air and rhythmic squeak of the swing.

Kiley likes to swing too but it holds her attention for a shorter amount of time than it does for Mackey, then she’s off to some other endeavor. Kiley is a true summer girl. She wants to feel the wind on her face and the grass between her toes, and she roams the backyard like a woodland sprite, her feet bare and her long, curly hair wild and unbrushed. She moves from one activity to another – swinging, hitting the T-Ball, kicking the kick ball around the yard, watching the ants on the patio, riding the big wheel on the deck, blowing bubbles, or relaxing in the secret garden. When Uncle Tom comes out she always wants him to help her climb the maple tree by the patio (when Mackey sees this she wants a turn too.) Uncle Tom had recently made the mistake of climbing into the maple tree himself to show off for the girls. They had been so impressed that climbing the Maple tree became one of their most desired diversions. They also like to watch Uncle Tom cut the grass, or split wood, or rake leaves. Anything Uncle Tom does seems heroic to them.

There are several types of wildlife that frequent the backyard. There are the birds, of course, which we feed, and the squirrels, which we also feed and who have become so accustomed to us that they are willing to share the back yard with us, as long as we don’t get too close. There are rabbits that live under the deck and a ground hog who lives in the yard next door and makes an occasional appearance through a hole he has dug under the fence. One day last week we were treated to the spectacle of a small flock of sparrows noisily ganging up on a large hawk that had invaded their territory. Butterflies abound (Kiley is afraid of them for some reason, in fact, she doesn’t like bugs in general.) There are also a number of carpenter bees which have bored a nest into the deck. They are big, the same size as bumble bees, and are strange creatures that hover buzzingly in front of your face, but appear to be merely curious rather than aggressive. They seem willing to share the deck with us without any real friction. Google says the males have no stingers but the females do, though they rarely use them and must be extremely provoked before they’ll sting. Uncle Tom is fond of the carpenter bees (he admires their curiosity and willingness to live in harmony with humans) but the girls don’t trust them and “raise the alarm” whenever they spot one. I, myself, am not fond of any bee that big, friendly or not, and since they upset the girls (and are probably doing irreparable damage to our deck and possibly house) I have begun a campaign of systematic extermination (don’t tell Uncle Tom.)

For now the back yard is a pleasant place to relax and play but, like all things, it will eventually become ho-hum to the girls who constantly need new kinds of stimulation to keep them interested. Of course, by then it will be time to break out the baby pool, sprinkler, squirt guns, and water balloons.  Summer!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Just A Wee Nibble!

        All creatures, both great and small, have natural defensive mechanisms by which they fend off aggression and prolong their survival. The skunk has its spray, the porcupine its quills, and the turtle its shell. For many creatures this entails, not a specialized body part, but, rather, an instinctive behavior. Fish school together, ground hogs burrow, cats arch their backs to make themselves look larger and more threatening. Sometimes these same defensive mechanisms are used for offensive purposes; instead of fending off aggression they are used to commit aggression. This type of behavior might entail scratching, or kicking, or stinging, depending on the particular creature in question. Apparently, when that creature is a small child, say twenty-one months old or so, with blond curly hair, chubby cheeks, and a rowdy attitude, the mechanism most natural and instinctive for both defensive and offensive purposes is that most primal of actions, that oldest, fiercest and most bestial of aggressions. That's right, you guessed it. Mackey bites.

         I first became aware of this development a couple of weeks back. Actually, at the time, it was more of a suspicion than anything else. Mackey and I were playing around and she was climbing up into my lap when her mouth came in contact with my bare knee (I was wearing shorts at the time). When this happened she paused for a moment and I felt a small bite, actually more like a small amount of pressure from her teeth, on my knee. I stopped her and gave her the standard warning about "no biting". Then we went on about our day and I didn't think anything more about it.

          Then a week ago Sunday, Uncle Tom and I dropped in at their house to pay a visit. Kiley and Mackey have recently moved into a new house that they are very proud of, and they had been eager to show Uncle Tom their new domicile, especially their new bedroom, where Kiley's "big girl bed" and Mackey's crib are quaintly situated with their names artistically rendered on the wall above each. During the grand tour their mother pointed out a small red mark on Kiley's face. It appears that during a recent altercation, Mackey bit Kiley on the cheek. Uh oh! This served as confirmation of what I had previously only suspected. Twice can't really be called a pattern, but it was pointing in that direction.

         Then this past week, Kiley and Mackey were watching the squirrels through the kitchen window and, as is their nature, were pushing and jostling for the most advantageous position, when Mackey, in frustration, grabbed Kiley and attempted to bite her on the arm. I stopped her by yelling and again warned her about biting. (Kiley overreacted and went into hysterics about how Mackey had bitten her when she actually had merely attempted to bite her. This was understandable, however, in view of the fact that she had recently been bitten on the face and was probably a little "bite shy"). I calmed them both down and gave Mackey a harsh reprimand that she took grudgingly. Then later in the week, while I was in the house and the girls were out back with Uncle Tom, an altercation over the use of the swings arose and, in the tussle, Mackey once again attempted to bite Kiley on the cheek.

        There can now be no doubt that Mackey has an inclination to use her teeth for both offensive and defensive purposes, which is somewhat alarming. When it comes to babies, a propensity to bite, once established, is hard to break. That's because biting, for those wee ones who indulge in it, is really an instinctive behavior that doesn't seem to have any real thought behind it. It's more of a reflexive action than a deliberate strategy so it doesn't lend itself to reason, or logic, (not that twenty-one-month-olds are all that responsive to reason or logic to begin with). On top of this, the teeth are very powerful weapons for those who are willing to use them. A good bite is a painful thing that can turn the tide of battle even when one's opponent is bigger and stronger as is the case with Kiley and Mackey. It can be hard to convince the otherwise defenseless to forgo their one effective weapon when doing so dooms them to perpetual defeat, especially in the thick of the fight when tempers are high and desperation sets in.

        I have faced this problem before. My youngest daughter, Sarah, was a biter. (Her favorite target was the soft spot on the shoulder right below the neck.) So maybe biting runs in our family. There might be a "biting gene" floating around out there that, though recessive, expresses itself every generation or so. So what do you do with a biter? In the past the rule of thumb was that biting could be cured by simply giving the offender a taste of her own medicine. In other words, by biting the biter. I was certainly given that advice a generation ago and even tried it once, but I found it to be an unsatisfactory means of curbing behavior. It is hard, for the unpracticed, to gauge the proper biting pressure to administer. With a bite there is no such thing as a little too much. Too much is always way too much. Besides, I immediately found the psychological effects of biting my little girl to be far greater on me than they apparently were on her. Once was too much.

        Like Mackey, Sarah also has a sister who was older, bigger, and stronger than she was when they were little. So maybe the biting habit isn't genetically hard wired into the offenders after all. Maybe it is merely the weapon of last resort employed by the weak when faced with otherwise unbeatable foes. Kiley and Mackey adore each other but, as sisters, they inevitably come into conflict with one another. Kiley has always had the upper hand in those conflicts until Mackey began using her teeth to level the playing field. The only way to stop that empowering behavior is to be watchful and vigilant, and discourage it whenever it occurs. She will eventually grow out of it.

        In the long run it is in Mackey's best interest that she stops using her teeth as a weapon. Not only because it's not a civilized thing to do but also because what goes around often comes around, and if Kiley ever decides to bite back she will undoubtedly, as the older sister, be far better at it than poor Mackey. Besides, dogs bite, sharks bite, even mosquitoes bite, but little girls don't bite, at least not each other. "People aren't food, don't bite!"


Monday, May 4, 2015


       "Careful!" "Be careful!" "Careful, now!" I don't know how many times I say one of these phrases in a day but it must be somewhere around two to three thousand. At present, I have the worst of both worlds. I have an almost-two-year-old and a three-year-old to look after, both of which are of a prime age for hurting themselves in a myriad number of ways. "Careful", "be careful", and "careful now", along with their more specific companions, "slow down" and "watch your fingers", are such frequent utterances in my house that I've seriously contemplated recording them and playing them over a loud speaker on a continuous loop throughout the day as a constant reminder of caution to those who are, by nature, cautionless. This would probably work rather well since there is never more than a minute or two throughout the day when at least one of these warnings, if not several, are appropriate. At the very least it would save the strain on my vocal chords.

        My-almost-two-year-old (Mackey) can get around pretty good. As an almost-two-year-old she is walking, running, climbing on things, and generally doing whatever a real person can do as far as locomotion is concerned, but in an unskilled, uncoordinated, clumsy, falling down a thousand times a day sort of way. She slips on the kitchen tiles. She takes turns too quickly and falls.  She trips over things. She runs into things head on. She misjudges distances and heights. She careens around the house like a drunken uncle and generally falls off of, out of, into, onto, and over everything you can possibly imagine including, in fact especially, her own two feet. Trying to prevent Mackey from falling down and hurting herself takes up approximately 45% of my day. "Careful!"

        My three-year-old (Kiley) is generally past the overly clumsy stage. As she so often reminds me, she is now a "big girl". As a "big girl" she now has a "big girl's" abilities and coordination. She is steady on her feet, nimble and agile, and though she is not immune to slipping and tripping, she is far less likely to do so than Mackey. Added to this, she also has a "big girl's" reflexes.  Mackey trips and falls right on her face, whereas Kiley instinctively puts out her hands to catch herself and, thereby, prevent injury.  Unfortunately, as a "big girl" she has the one great vulnerability of all "big girls" - overconfidence.

       Ability without experience can be a recipe for disaster. Having the ability to jump, for instance, is not the same as knowing when to jump. Not all jumps are equal, and having experienced landing from a one-foot jump does not prepare you for landing from a two-foot jump. Similarly, running on grass is relatively hazard free for a three-year-old, but running on concrete is another story. Kiley will gain the experience and the accompanying restraint she lacks in these regards, as we all do, with some pain. It is to be hoped that it will be the pain of skinned hands and knees and not the pain of chipped teeth and stitched lips. "Be careful!"

        As you can see, both girls have their own individual shortcomings, their own "style", when it comes to a propensity for potential injury. That's bad enough.  But when you put the two together, that potential, and the resulting strain on my poor nerves, is magnified exponentially. It's like the Richter Scale. An earthquake with a Magnitude of 5.0 is not just a little stronger than one with a magnitude of 4.0. It is ten times stronger. A 4.1 is twice as strong as a 4.0. So too, the injury potential, as measured on the Nanny Scale, of a "Mackey Accident" is only one tenth the potential of a "Kiley/Mackey Accident". We could delve into the science behind this phenomenon but I don't want you to get lost in the math. Suffice it to say, when you combine Mackey's lack of coordination with Kiley's lack of restraint, the resulting mayhem can go off the Nanny Scale chart. Mackey running is hazardous on it's own, but Mackey running with Kiley running behind her is a sure fire recipe for at least a Mackey booboo and quite possibly a Kiley booboo as well. Having a three-year-old and an almost-two-year-old in the house, running and jumping and careening about, is like living on the San Andreas Fault. You have to constantly worry about what's going on in the "subduction zone".

       All of this, of course, will run its course in due course. They won't be small and accident-prone forever. In fact, they won't be small for long. Isn't that what we always say? That "they grow so fast"? Time will turn things around the way it always does and, eventually, our roles will be reversed. They will grow up and I will grow old, and then it will be they who are worried about "poor old Nan" hurting herself again with her brittle old bones. The old are like the young in one respect. They are often clumsy and don't know their limits. Having experienced landing from a two-foot jump at fifty does not prepare you for landing from a two-foot jump at eighty. I can hear their worried voices now. "Slow down, Nan". "Watch your hip!" I probably won't listen any more than they do, thinking that they worry too much.  What is true at three is true at ninety-three: we all have to learn by experience and hope that the lessons aren't too painful. Careful, now!