Kindly, Stop Asking if My Children Are Mine

It’s sad, really. The majority of off-colour, poor-taste comments aren’t even malicious. People just don’t think. They don’t think about the power their words hold. They don’t know when it’s the fifth time that day that I’ve been asked if my beautiful babies are mine… but they don’t take that split second to catch themselves.

It started when my oldest daughter (now 2.5) was about 4 months old. During the day, I’d take her out to the mall or grocery shopping or for a meal, just the two of us, and I began to notice a pattern. People liked to stop me and comment on how cute, or chubby, or stoic she was, and 80% of the time, white people, women in particular, would follow it up with, “Is she yours?” I didn’t think much of it at first – maybe they think I’m her babysitter, it’s an easy mistake… right? I assumed it happened to everyone.


Once she was in a forward-facing stroller, looking out at the world, the questions and comments started getting more brazen.


“She’s beautiful, is she yours?”


“Yes.”


– “Oh, I just love mixed babies!” They wax poetic over how perfect “mixed skin” and “mixed hair” are, they tear down their own self-image, and they talk about their own children who weren’t as fortunate in those areas. It’s bizarre, and wildly uncomfortable. I just smile and try to keep moving.


– “Wow, she’s SO white!” Yep. It’s magic… or, you know, genetics. I smile and say, “Yes, Daddy is very white.”


– “Oh, now I see, she looks just like you!” This is just proof that people don’t think before they speak. Objectively, both my daughters have many of the same facial features as I do, but people come up to us with their preconceived notions, make googly-eyes at the girls, and don’t bother to look up at the face of the black woman pushing them around. Once I confirm that yes, they are mine, they raise their gaze to verify, to find resemblance, something to prove I’m not lying. Then they find it, and they can move on. They’re actually pleased with themselves. They’re satisfied then, they got a cute baby fix, they’re going to move on with their day. And I ruminate.


I decided I had to start investigating outside of my own experiences. A few weeks ago, I asked my husband for the first time if he ever gets the, “Are they yours?” question. Nope, not once. Do they ever comment on how beautiful your “mixed babies” are? Not to him, because he’s white, and they’re just tan. They have a lot of his features too, so people who know us tell us how much they look like an equal blend both of us. I’ve had white friends and babysitters take them to the park and have other parents just immediately assume they were Mom though, so I get the impression people aren’t looking too closely.


A good friend of mine is in the opposite situation; both her girls got more of dad’s melanin, and she likes to describe herself as “as white as they come”. We’ve been friends since we were pregnant with our firsts, and since then she says she’s only been asked if they’re hers once, by a child, whose mother was mortified and made her apologize. “I told the mom it was totally fine, then I talked to the little girl about how I’m their mom, and it might be confusing because we have different colored skin, so it’s ok to wonder. Her mom was pretty upset, so I told the little girl, ‘Ok, maybe your mom has a point. Next time, if you have a question about a family, you can ask mom first, and then ask the mom or dad.'”


“Wow.” I said. “Why do you think you never get asked?”


“Honestly? Because I’m white.”


“I guess, with two decades of getting used to white people adopting black kids, yeah, it’s been normalized.” That I know about all too well, unfortunately. I wonder if she’ll eventually start getting the, “So, where are they from?” question.


It’s sad, really. The majority of off-colour, poor-taste comments aren’t even malicious. People just don’t think. They don’t think about the power their words hold. They don’t know when it’s the fifth time that day that I’ve been asked if my beautiful babies are mine… but they don’t take that split second to catch themselves.


I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t scare me, too. With racial tensions ramping up around the country, I’ve heard more and more stories of multiracial families being harassed in public. I heard a story about a black woman out shopping with her young, lighter children, when a woman stopped her to tell her that the kids were cute, but that she’d soon be deported, being their black nanny and all. In the back of my mind, I wonder what might happen when one of my kids decides they don’t want to leave somewhere and turns into a screaming, spaghetti-limbed goblin, as some kids do, requiring me to pick her up mid-flail and carry her to the car. Will people see a black woman carrying a hysterical white child and think, “Is she hers?” And what could that lead to?


I think the easiest way to avoid putting someone in an awkward situation is to just not ask about parentage. There are so many different family structures, it seems ridiculous to demand someone explain theirs on the street to you, right then and there, while they’re trying to go about their day. What happens when the answer is, “Oh, I’m their older cousin. I just had to drop out of college to look after them because their parents died last weekend.”? How mortifying would that be? But truly, multi-racial, gay, adoptive, trans, single-parent, poly, foster, guardianship, military, three-parent IVF  – there are numerous types of family structures that may not be “conventional”, all of which are still valid and full of love. When you press someone to explain their family, you could be pushing on a very sensitive issue.


So, the next time you see a baby you want to compliment, tell the person caring for that baby that the baby looks happy, healthy, and cute. If they want to talk about their family, they will. They also may really have to pee, or get the grocery shopping done before epic baby meltdown occurs, so if they seem in a hurry, just let them go.

 

The Time I Lost a Friend Over Standardized Testing

quiz-1373314_1920

As a kid, I hated testing. I didn’t test well, either because I got lazy and didn’t study, I knew the material and psyched myself out, or I mismanaged my time on the test and didn’t answer all the questions. Regardless of the reasons, tests stressed me out so badly that I’d get sick. My stomach would twist itself into knots, like it was trying to wring itself out, my heart would pound, and I would get terrible headaches. It made me sick, and though it was “all in my head”, it manifested real symptoms in my body. I never had panic attacks though, so my anxiety was mostly dismissed. But I fucking hated tests.

Before I tell my story, here’s a little detail. Starting in Grade 3 (8-years-old), Ontario public school students undergo provincial and national standardized testing. Most of these tests are provided by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), “an independent agency that creates and administers large-scale assessments to measure Ontario students’ achievement in reading, writing and math…” This is repeated for various subjects in grades 6, and 9 (plus the OSSLT the same year, and others). The EQAO tells parents, teachers, and students that the tests are for accountability on the school district’s part (which, in Ontario, is separated by county), as a feedback tool for the administration, and for national comparisons. The idea is that it’s supposed to be used to improve the teaching methods and district policies, without affecting the individual student. Students and parents are told that the test absolutely does not count towards the student’s grade, but that it can be used in conjunction with their report cards and other tests “to help evaluate student learning and determine what additional support may be needed”. Ok.

So, in Grade 3, I took the test. The weeks of prepping, the intensity of the teachers, and the long, boring, silent, stressful test was just too much for me. I vowed to never do it again. When Grade 6 rolled around, I panicked. I knew the drill, and I managed to work myself up at the first mention of EQAO testing. This wasn’t a test you could study for, they told us. This is a test of your current knowledge, they told us. Don’t make us look stupid, they told us. Ok.

The more we prepped, the more stressed I got. Do these sample tests, they told us. “Why? If you’re teaching us what we should know, why do we have to take practice tests?” To know the type of questions they’re going to ask, they told us. It was boring, monotonous, bizarrely abstract material that we really didn’t cover throughout the year, but boy did we cram during the months leading up to the test. Endless worksheets. Ok.

My stomach started its slow twist, and eventually, I was writhing in pain. By the time the test came, I was a mess. “I can’t go, I’m sick!” I said, as I laid in bed. I missed the testing days (yes, multiple), and thought I was in the clear. Sadly, I was mistaken.

“All Grade 3 [6, and 9] students who attend publicly funded schools and who follow The Ontario Curriculum are required by The Education Quality and Accountability Office Act to write the Grade 3 [6, and 9] assessment.”

Uh Oh.

“If your child is absent on the days the Grade 6 assessment is administered, the school can make arrangements to have your child write the assessment when he or she returns, but only within the designated two-week assessment period.”

Well, fuck me.

As soon as I got back to school, they told me I had to sit in a separate room, and do each part of the test. “But I’ll miss regular class work,” I argued. They didn’t care. I had to do the test. They sat me in a room by myself, with a teacher to proctor. “I’m just one kid, does it really matter?” Yes. Do the test. “Can I just be back in class with the rest of my friends?” No. Here’s a bottle of water. Do the test. So, I refused. That was the kind of kid I was. It seemed entirely unfair that I had to be separated from my peers and miss class work (that I didn’t get excused from, and I’d have to catch up on) to take this mandated test that didn’t count for anything. I was right pissed. In the end, I doodled on the test – even though I knew the answers – purely out of defiance. My 11-year-old self was done with the administrative bullshit, but noncompliance doesn’t go over so well for an 11-year-old.

3 days later, when I finally got to spend time with my friends again, something had changed. They wouldn’t talk to me. For days, I tried to figure out why. Finally, one rainy morning, as we huddled under a vestibule to stay out of the rain during recess, I asked them, “Did I do something? I know I was gone for a few days… what did I miss?” They mumbled for a bit, then my best friend turned to me and said, “You didn’t take the test.” What?

“No, I did,” I said.

“No,” she said, “You doodled.” My heart jumped into my throat. How did she even know that? These tests are supposed to be private. “My mom said that she talked to Mrs. F. Do you know that without your high score, our whole school is going to get a worse grade? Thanks a lot.” They all looked to her for a cue, then it was back to the silent treatment. My high score? How does anyone know my scores on my assignments except… the teacher? She did not like my refusal to participate, and apparently made it known to my friends’ parents. When? How? At the time, I never thought parents and teachers co-mingled, but I knew after that. Teachers are human, who interact in the human world, with other humans. Nuts, right? Parents are also humans who interact in the human world, and sometimes, they meet teachers and have human conversations. Sometimes, those conversations involve their children/students. At any given time, both parents and teachers can be assholes. Needless to say, the rest of the year was hell for me, and then I moved schools.

Yes, I did do the following years of standardized testing. Yes, I got sick every time. No, I was never allowed to skip another test. Yes, I permanently lost a friend over a government-mandated test that counted for nothing, and which did exactly zilch to improve anything anywhere. Yes,”teach to test” is still a huge issue in the education-sphere worldwide. No, my children will not endure standardized testing if they continue with the current methods. The end.

The Holy Parenting Grail: Winnie-the-Pooh

After reading the actual books, it’s easy to see that each of the characters in the Hundred-Acre-Wood represents an attribute of a child’s personality. Together, they make up a normal, healthy preschooler. Considering we’re treating more and more children like they’re mentally ill, it doesn’t surprise me that some interpreted the books that way, but I’m out to restore their good name.

wp-1468264435317.jpg Illustrations by E.H. Shepard

Have you ever read the original Winnie the Pooh stories? “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner” were written by Alan Alexander Milne in the late 1920s. I’ve read so many Disney spin-off books, and watched so many Disney Pooh movies, that I’d never realized the hidden treasure that was the original writing of A.A Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh is more than just a whimsical childhood favorite; he’s a parenting guru. Over the years, some have theorized that each character is the embodiment of untreated “neurodevelopmental and psychosocial problems”, or a mental illness. That wasn’t my take. After reading the actual books, it’s easy to see that each of the characters in the Hundred-Acre-Wood represents an attribute of a child’s personality. Together, they make up a normal, healthy preschooler. Considering we’re treating more and more children like they’re mentally ill, it doesn’t surprise me that some interpreted the books that way, but I’m out to restore their good name.

Filled with deep musings and sage advice, this classic is a must-read for every parent. The book is narrated by none other than Milne himself. In real life, he was the father of young Christopher Robin Milne, who renamed his stuffed bear, Winnie-ther-Pooh (no, that’s not a spelling mistake, “Don’t you know what ther means?”). Book 1 opens up with Milne casually telling us what Pooh’s morning routine is like. Christopher Robin interjects, and asks him to tell Pooh a story, “About himself. Because he’s that sort of bear”. So, Milne begins a Once Upon a Time saga. As he slowly sets the stage of a simple, hungry, fluff-stuffed bear who likes to write poetry, Christopher Robin keeps interrupting with questions and clarifications, but Milne doesn’t mind. It gets a little meta when Milne explains that Pooh is going to visit “his friend Christopher Robin, who lived behind a green door in another part of the forest.” The real Christopher Robin, who is having the story spun to him, is fascinated to hear his own name, and is referred to as “you” for a while.

“Well, it just happened that you had been to a party the day before at the house of your friend Piglet…”

Milne was brilliant, really. He lovingly indulged his son’s fantasy about a world where he and his stuffed-animal friends have great adventures, then wrote two books about them (and two lesser known poetry books). Pooh speaks very simply, yet there is something profound and knowing in his words. Let’s go through each of the characters and their traits. See if you can point out your toddler’s dominant Hundred-Acre-Wood personality.

wp-1468264436083.jpg

 

Winnie-the-Pooh: Our main character is innocent, well-meaning, and honest. He makes mistakes, asks forgiveness, and comes up with imaginative and creative solutions. He’s forgetful, he daydreams, his mind wanders, he’s always hungry, and he’s constantly thinking.

“‘I listened, but I had a small piece of fluff in my ear. Could you say it again, please, Rabbit?’ Rabbit never minded saying things again…”

Sometimes, you just have repeat something. Toddlers are constantly trying to learn, and sometimes that learning gets in the way of listening. Breathe, get their attention, repeat the question.

“…when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” 

I love this one. Kids say some pretty bizarre stuff sometimes. Once they get a grasp on language, they come up with all kinds of fanciful stories and unique ideas. Sometimes, something they think up makes more sense in their head than it does when they say it. Hey, I do that all the time.

“…my spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.” -Pooh

Translation: Please forgive my mistakes. I’m trying my best, and you get the gist of it, right? Plus, this is literally just something kids do. Parents often worry that their pre-schooler or kindergartener might be dyslexic, because they write their letters and numbers backwards, or get the order mixed up. In reality, this is fine and normal up through about the age of 7. They spell phonetically, and don’t always write in a straight line, but the great majority of them will  get there, with time and practice.

wp-1468264435332.jpg

 

Piglet: Little Piglet is nervous, insecure, anxious, and generally pretty cautious. He musters up strength when he needs to, and has more courage in him than he realizes, but sometimes his imagination gets carried away, and he scares himself.

 

“‘It is hard to be brave,’ said Piglet, sniffling slightly, ‘when you’re only a Very Small Animal.'”

I am twice as tall, and five times as heavy as my oldest Very Small Human. That’s a big difference! If you’re 5ft 5in tall, and 150lbs, imagine living in a world where everything is made for creatures who are 11ft tall, and 750lbs, give or take. You would be considered a Very Small Animal, so things like Very Loud Toilets, and Very Jumpy Dogs might scare you.

“Piglet was so excited at the idea of being Useful, that he forgot to be frightened anymore.”

Great tip! Help them snap out of some of the fear of the unknown (or that meltdown) by letting them feel useful and needed. It always feels nice when someone appreciates your efforts. It can help you feel more competent, confident, in control (of yourself, not necessarily others), and proud of your efforts. Most importantly though, it has the potential to calm them the —- down.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
‘Pooh!’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’
‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.'”

Replace “Pooh” with “Mommy”. And repeat it a few more times. Louder. So, that’s usually how we hear it, but I guess I can understand why. With all of the other facets of our lives pulling at our attention, our kids are sometimes forced to yell repeatedly to get it, but the only thing they want sometimes is to be sure we’re going to respond. They’re still Very Small Humans who need help in a Fast-Moving-Very-Large World, and sometimes, they just need to crawl into your arms and know you’re still looking out for them.

wp-1468264435326.jpg

 

Tigger: Always on the move, always ready to bounce on you, Tigger can wear on everyone, but his heart is in the right place. Even his friends get a little fed up with him sometimes. He doesn’t realize his own strength and size, and when he unintentionally hurts others, he doesn’t understand why they don’t want to be around him. Tigger is also quite sensitive; he can get easily offended, and often doesn’t know what to do with his feelings. He’s a happy Tigger, though! He’s playful, he teases, he forgives, and he puts everything in his mouth.

“Tigger, who was a Very Bouncy Animal, with a way of saying How-do-you-do, which always left your ears full of sand, even after Kanga had said, ‘Gently, Tigger dear’…”

If you’ve ever heard the Tigger Movie song, you know Tiggers are “bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!” These days, we know that sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity, like we once believed. That’s a myth. So why is your child made of rubber and springs? There are numerous studies which explain the intense, and very real need for children to get up and move, and that it is actually crucial to  learning and retention. So, when you’re reading that bedtime story, don’t get upset if your toddler doesn’t want to sit in your lap.; let them walk, keep reading. Wandering or playing with another toy is not a sign that they aren’t listening, test them and see!

“…however big Tigger seemed to be, he wanted as much kindness as Roo.” – Kanga

Kanga gets it. At what age is, “You’re not a baby anymore!” the right response to a behaviour or request? 2? 6? 12? At what point should your kids stop needing your help, patience, or leeway? “Can you tie my shoe please, Mom?” We have to go! You’re 9 years old, you know how to tie your own shoe! I know there are days when I ask my husband, “Can you tie my shoe, please? I’m just too tired.” No matter how big, we all deserve a little slack, and a lot of kindness.

“‘They’re very good flyers, Tiggers are. Stornry good flyers.’
‘Ooo,’ said Roo. ‘Can they fly as well as Owl?’
‘Yes’, said Tigger, ‘Only they don’t want to.’
‘Why don’t they want to?’
‘Well, they just don’t like it, somehow.'”

I think we all know this isn’t true. Tigger fibs, but not maliciously. Kids fib and tell fanciful stories all the time. As parents and caregivers, it’s our job to teach them that lying is bad, but why do they do it? It’s mostly unintentional, and they just need to be reminded that lying isn’t a great way to operate, because, like Pooh, they can be a little forgetful at times. Preschoolers have a difficult time discerning fantasy from reality, and sometimes a retelling of the day morphs into some underwater excursion because their imagination takes over, and they don’t even realize it. Some outright lie to your face to get out of trouble. The first instances of lying show they’ve developed the wherewithal to understand a false narrative. Bravo, Very Small Human! Mine’s still at the brutally honest stage. This great Scholastic’s article also points out that, ya know, we kinda lie to them all the time (Easter Bunny, Elf on the Shelf, we’re all out of snack bars, etc). Since they’ve only been earthside for all of 3-6 years (give or take), they really don’t have a whole lot of relevant experience – I don’t know about you, but I had 17 years of schooling and testing, and I only learned how to study in the last 3. The experience preschoolers do have in their short lives is that fibbing is very bad, but kind of acceptable… sometimes. So, they’ll test reality. If it’s harmless, let it slide, participate in the fantasy and make it wildly outlandish! There are many other reasons preschoolers lie, but most of them can result be explained by normal, healthy child development. Story-telling is great, lying is not great.

wp-1468264435797.jpg

 

Eeyore: Poor, sulky Eeyore lives at Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, which should tell you something. He’s mopey, unmotivated, and has a very defeatist attitude. He feels unloved, ignored, and sometimes he misses the kind things people do for him. Despite his melancholy persona, his friends never give up on him. They always do their best to cheer him up, and a lot of the time, he has legitimate reasons for being blue.

“‘It’s bad enough,’ said Eeyore, almost breaking down, ‘being miserable myself, what with no presents and no cake and no candles, and no proper notice taken of me at all…'”

Sometimes, we don’t realize the significance of our actions or inaction when it comes to our kids. Something as small as forgetting a good-night kiss could set off a colossal meltdown because, “What if they forgot about me? What if they don’t want to kiss me? What if they don’t love me anymore?” It doesn’t have to be rational to us, but when everything to them is extreme and concrete, it can mean a whole lot.

“Sometimes he thought to himself, ‘Why?’ and sometimes he thought, ‘Wherefore?’ and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?'”

Dreary Eeyore gets a little depressed and existential at times. Have you ever see a toddler do it? The head droops, nothing will assuage the melodrama that is about to unfold. Nothing matters. What’s the point of anything? All is lost. Sometimes, it’s a little more intense – arms akimbo, they flop down on a bed or couch or floor, burying their face in their hands or a pillow or blanket, crying like they just watched their investments plummet through the floor. “Uuuuughhh!!!” It’s all very dramatic at 3, I suppose.

‘Could you stop turning round for a moment, because it muddles me rather?’
‘No,’ said Eeyore, ‘I like turning round.'”

Eeyore can be stubborn. Occasionally, he works against the best efforts of those trying to help him, and that gets hella frustrating.
wp-1468264435328.jpg

 

Owl: Talkative, very talkative. Owl likes to educate, tell stories, and explain rules. He’s precocious, which we often use as a negative adjective, but which really just means he’s ahead of the game, maturity- and/or ability-wise. He’s the go-to animal in the Forest for information and advice.

 

“‘My dear Pooh,’ said Owl in his superior way, ‘Don’t you know what an ambush is?'”

Owl is what some might call a know-it-all. Owl can spell (sort of, as he gets his letters mixed up quite a bit, too), he is full of facts (which are mostly true), and he likes to explain things to others (with a few misconceptions accidentally thrown in). Sometimes, he comes off as snobbish, but it’s only because he wants to feel important. Just like Piglet, he wants to be useful, and the best way he knows how to be useful is by using or sharing his knowledge.

“…Owl was telling Kanga an Interesting Anecdote full of long words like Encyclopaedia and Rhododendron…” 

He knows he doesn’t know everything, but when Owl has big words to use, he uses them, because he’s proud that he knows them. Sometimes it frustrates or confuses his friends, but he’s always the first they go to with a problem, or when they need clarification on something.

“‘It was on just such a blusterous day as this that my Uncle Robert, a portrait of whom you see upon the wall on your right, Piglet, while returning in the late forenoon from a-…'”

Owl LOVES to recount stories. He has an excellent memory, and remembers events in vivid detail. Sometimes, if he gets interrupted, he’ll try to restart the story multiple times, because he has a strong need to be heard. Don’t we all?

 

wp-1468265168548.jpg

 

Rabbit: Rabbit is another one of those characters who can get under your skin, even though he means well. He’s bossy, he can be an instigator, he holds grudges, but he always has novel ideas. Rabbit is a bit of an introvert sometimes; he prefers if things are calmer and quieter, and gets angry when that doesn’t work out. He’s generous though, and takes care of his closest friends.

 

“Rabbit began to feel like it was time he took command.”

When things start to spiral out of control, Rabbit has to step in, because HE knows the answer. Actually, he usually does. He can organize and mobilize the gang to do just about anything, and they usually need the help.

“‘Tigger’s getting so bouncy nowadays that it’s time we taught him a lesson. Don’t you think so, Piglet?'”

When Rabbit gets hold of an idea, he can be very persuasive, and because he’s a leader, he can sometimes lead his friends in a bad direction. He influences the others, and they respect him because of his air of authority, even though it’s not always the best idea.

wp-1468264435337.jpg

 

Kanga & Roo: The caregiver, and the baby. Kanga is the protective, patient, gentle, understanding mama, who opens her home and her pantry to everyone. She bathes little Roo, gives him his medicine, and makes sure he stays out of trouble. To Kanga, everyone is “Dear”. She can seem exasperated at times, and she doesn’t put up with any nonsense, but she’s forgiving. I see Kanga as being both the nurturing side of toddlers, as well as the epitome of “Mama”.

“Kanga never takes her eyes off Baby Roo, except when he’s safely buttoned up in her pocket.”

Thank goodness for babywearing.

“a Kanga was Generally Regarded as One of the Fiercer Animals… it is well known that, if One of the Fiercer Animals is Deprived of Its Young, it becomes as fierce as Two of the Fiercer Animals… Rabbit went on to say that Kangas were only Fierce during the winter months, being at other times of an Affectionate Disposition.”

I need a shirt that says, “Generally Regarded as One of the Fiercer Animals.” Milne wasn’t just watching his son play; he knew his wife, and he knew what mothering meant to her.

“Roo was washing his face and hands in the stream, while Kanga explained to everybody proudly that this was the first time he had ever washed his face himself…”

There’s that proud Mama Kanga. Parents know that even the smallest milestone is enough to make you beam with pride.

Roo is the baby. He still speaks like a baby, but nobody corrects him; they just smile and move on. Kanga has to tell him the hard truths, like that it’s bath time, or that he can’t eat that, or that it’s time to go home, and it’s tough for Baby Roo, but he has a lot of people to comfort him. Everyone looks out for him, and everyone makes sure he’s protected and fed. Aside from that time they stole him. Just read the book.

“I can swim. I fell into the river and I swimmed.”

Sweet, silly Roo. Often too small to participate or stay out too long, he gets his adventure wherever he can. He’s earnest, honest, and a touch impulsive, but he likes to follow instructions when they work in his favour.

wp-1468264435755.jpg

 

Christopher Robin: Their best friend, and the one who knows the Forest the best. He’s revered and loved, because he encourages his friends, teaches them, gets them out of trouble, mitigates conflict, and goes on adventures with them. He believes every word they say, and he loves them unconditionally. No matter what trouble they get into, or what they do to each other, he loves them.

“Christopher Robin had spent the morning indoors going to Africa and back, and he had just got off the boat and was wondering what it was like outside, when who should come knocking at the door but Eeyore.”

Christopher Robin’s imagination never lets him down. He doesn’t question his reality, even if it means hopping back and forth between continents. Remember too, he’s four. Getting involved in your child’s fantasy world, I mean really involved, is a blast! It’s always great to have someone to go on adventures with, whether it’s a princess tea party, running the zoo, or taking a train to the pyramids. It’s not just fun, pretend play is an important part of child development. It assists the maturation of  self-discipline and impulse control, as well as giving kids a safe place to process the new things they’ve learned out in the big world.

“…’But what I like doing best is Nothing.’
‘How do you do Nothing?’ asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time. ‘Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Pooh.
‘This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing right now.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Pooh again.
‘It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear and not bothering.’ ‘Oh!’ said Pooh.”

This one is important, parents. Christopher Robin and the Art of Doing Nothing. Listen to all the things you can’t hear, enjoy the silence, and don’t worry about what you might be missing. I’m still working on perfecting this one myself.

“Pooh, promise me you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”

Waterworks. The request your heart want to give your children, without sounding needy and clingy. “Promise me, no matter how old and decrepit I get, you’ll always call me Mommy, and you’ll love me forever!” So as not to totally traumatize them, we usually don’t break down and make them promise. As long as we do our job, we’ll make memories for our kids that will last many lifetimes over, because they’ll tell their children about them, and their children will talk about them, and on it will go.

So, did Milne mean for any of his tales to be interpreted in any specific way? Who knows? His dedications do answer why he wrote them, though. Get those tissues ready. The beautiful, heartfelt inscriptions in each book shows a man so incredibly thankful for his family, trying to repay his wife for the best gift he had ever know, and ever would. He immortalized his son’s childhood for Daphne, his wife.

Winnie-The-Pooh: 

To Her
Hand in hand, here we come
Christopher Robin and I
To lay this book in your lap.
Say you’re surprised?
Say you like it?
Say it’s just what you wanted?
Because it’s yours-
Because we love you.

The House at Pooh Corner:

You gave me Christopher Robin, and then
You breathed new life in Pooh.
Whatever of each has left my pen
Goes homing back to you.
My book is ready, and comes to greet
The mother it longs to see-
It would be my present to you, my sweet,
If it weren’t your gift to me.

The moral?

“By the time it came to the edge of the Forest, the stream had grown up, so it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, ‘There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.’ But all the little streams high up in the Forest went this way and that, quickly, eagerly, having so much to find out before it was too late.”

Kids are moving a mile a minute – adventuring, absorbing, applying new knowledge – and as much as we feel the pressure to make their daily activities engrossing and educational, there’s lots of time for that. Hard skills (reading, writing, math, physics, etc) can come later; help them face their Heffalumps and Woozles, watch them jump as high as a Jagular, pick up some haycorns together in the park. Be loving. Be patient. Be present. “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

 

 

Here are a few quotes you can find attributed to Milne, but were actually from the various movies, not either of the book:

“A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 

Why Isn’t Teleparenting a Thing?

“We’re in the future, we just don’t act like it.” I said. He’s in tech, he knows this better than anyone. It’s true, though. Our phones, which we can control with our voices, are now our clocks, cameras, journals, grocery lists, baby monitors, news/sports/entertainment sources, GPSs, music players, primary mode of communication, calendars, banks, travel agents, debit/credit cards, translators (and the list goes on, and on, and on). Hospitals and doctors are doing telehealth appointments, you can telecommute to work, teleconference at work, you can get a tele-education from a real university (which is just an awkward way of saying online distance ed). WHY ON EARTH are we not using video chat daily, to communicate with the ones who are most important to us?

20160526_102444.jpg

America’s 40hr workweek isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. My husband’s 50+hr workweek isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. More and more parents are working longer and longer hours. Paid parental leave is ever-so s.l.o.w.l.y creeping in, but not fast enough, and with a fair amount of pushback. Parents are missing out on time with their children, and the kids can feel it.

I’ve rallied against the unsustainable workweek, I’ve fought for longer parental leave, I’ve tried convincing my husband that we should move to an off-grid commune (preferably nudist, so I have less laundry). Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me giving up on those things; we can’t just roll over and accept that the American workweek is so long it’s becoming less productive, while slowly killing its workers. Solutions to these problems are certainly things we need to continue to push for, but what do we do in the meantime?

This morning, I had an idea. I sent my hubby a message:

“Why isn’t teleparenting a thing? Video chat is always advertised for long distance, like work trips, or family that lives out of state, but never for day-to-day. They give people smoke breaks, why not give them teleparenting breaks? It’s free! If you have wifi at work, it can be cheaper than a phone call.”

He seemed intrigued.

“We’re in the future, we just don’t act like it.” I said. He’s in tech, he knows this better than anyone. It’s true, though. Our phones, which we can control with our voices, are now our clocks, cameras, journals, grocery lists, baby monitors, news/sports/entertainment sources, GPSs, music players, primary mode of communication, calendars, banks, travel agents, debit/credit cards, translators (and the list goes on, and on, and on). Hospitals and doctors are doing telehealth appointments, you can telecommute to work, teleconference at work, you can get a tele-education from a real university (which is just an awkward way of saying online distance ed). WHY ON EARTH are we not using video chat daily, to communicate with the ones who are most important to us?

“Do you think Z is at a point where “[Google] hangouts with dada” would do any good?” He asked.

“Definitely.” I said. Over the last few years, researchers have been studying how babies interact with handheld technology (i.e. what’s good for them, what’s not, what they understand, what nuances are lost on them, what age is best, etc). We’ve learned that Baby Einstein et al were such a flop because children have a hard time learning new words and concepts from recordings. As much as a pre-recorded show or movie can pretend to interact, it just can’t. We’ve also discovered that kids learn better from live, interactive video than from recorded video. This starts younger than people think, with babies as young as 6-months-old being able to tell the difference between a recording and a live chat. So, while the focus doesn’t have to be “learning”, as much as just “bonding”, they’d still recognize your presence, and they’d definitely appreciate it.

“Just two or three minutes,” I said. “Check in, see faces, comfort mommy, back to work.”

At first blush, this seems more practical with one stay-at-home parent, than for the working parents with kids in daycare. He disagreed. “It could even be doable in daycare. Have some tablets or kiosks at the daycare, talk to your own kid.” This is true. It could be scheduled, or at either the child’s or the parent’s request. They might have to implement a limit, but it could prevent some daycare meltdowns. The more I thought about it, the more practical it seemed for everyone. They could have a tablet in every school nurse’s office, so that parents can talk to their sick kids without leaving work (if they don’t have to). Sometimes, just a minute talking to mom will save an afternoon.

Scenario 1): You’re on the job site, when you get a call from the daycare. Your 2-year-old has been completely melting down for over an hour, and they have no idea why, so they request you come pick him up. You’re the only certified front-end loader operator on site, traffic is backed up for miles, rain has already pushed this job out a week, and there’s nobody to watch your toddler at home. It’s a meltdown, he’s not sick, he just wants… something. Instead of driving all the way there to figure out what that something is, the daycare attendant could say, “Do you want to talk to him?” You climb down, call your site manager over, and he gives you the work tablet. You open the app, make the call, and see his snot-covered, puffy-eyed, rosey-cheeked face. Your heart melts a little. “Hi sweetie, Daddy’s here, what’s up?” He says, “Dadaaaaaaa! I want goggy bop bop!” His daycare attendant pops her head into view, “We’ve been trying to figure out what he wants, we have no idea what ‘Googly bap bap’ is.” You shake your head. “It’s not ‘googly bap bap’, that’s nonsense. He said, ‘goggy bop bop’, which is ‘crocodile chomp chomp’, which means he wants his stuffed crocodile from his bag.” Obviously. You turn your attention back to him, “You want your crocodile, right?” He squeals with joy. “What does a crocodile say?” He gives you an enthusiastic, “BOP BOP BOP”, arms stretched out, chomping wildly. “Yay! Chomp chomp! I love you, buddy. Daddy’s gotta drive the big truck, but I’ll see you soon, ok? Have lots of fun, listen to your teachers, and play nice. Can you do that for me?” He can, and he says he will. The teacher mouths a thank you from behind him, and off they go. You hand the tablet back, and you’re back at it.

Scenario 2): You’re at the office, it’s 11:30am and a notification pops up on your screen. Time for your daily chat with your 9-year-old daughter, who has ASD. She starts off on a tangent about how one of her classmates didn’t get detention for talking out in class, and she got one for the same reason last month, which is entirely unfair. She’s fidgeting, and staring off into the distance. “I hear you. That does seem unfair. I need your eyes on me, please.” She looks into the camera. You talk softly. “You like Mrs. Jones. She is a good teacher, and she likes you. Can you repeat that for me?” She does. Ok. “Mrs. Jones is often very fair, right?” She nods. “What did that other student say when they spoke out?” Mrs. Jones was talking about trees, and Little Jonny jumped in to talk about how big the tress in his neighborhood were. Thanks for your contribution, Jonny. “Well, Little Jonny should not have spoken out, he should have raised his hand. Did his comment hurt anyone’s feelings?” No. “Did it make Mrs. Jones angry?” No. “Did you get in trouble for anything today?” No. “That’s great! Since Little Jonny’s words didn’t hurt anyone, or upset Mrs. Jones, we can let this one slide. I know, I know, it’s a slippery slope. It’s time for you to go back and join the class now. I love you. When I pick you up, we’ll go for a walk on the greenway, and you can tell me everything you’ve learned about trees today.” All is well, time for your Q2 meeting.

Scenario 3): You’re at work, and you get called to the front of the store. The preschool is on line 1, your son, who has severe food allergies, just threw up. The school is freaking out, ready to call the ambulance (as per your directives in his file). You ask your shift manager for a minute, run to the breakroom, and grab your cell. You open the app, and when you finally see his happy little face, you’re relieved, and confused. “What happened, buddy?” He smiles. He says he was spinning in big circles, and then he got dizzy, and then he fell down, but then he got up again, but then he fell down again, and then he threw up. Sounds like fun. “Did you eat anything bad?” Nope. He’s 4, he knows what he can and can’t eat, and this mythical, vigilant school is very strict about adhering to food allergy protocols. You can breathe again.

It seems pretty simple, and cost could be managed. The school nurse’s/counselor’s office would require, at most, half-a-dozen tablets. They (hopefully) already have a secure network for their laptops, and possibly already have tablets. A daycare could have 3 emergency/comfort call tablets, at $50 to $100 apiece. Or, they could have 12 tablet kiosks for one or two scheduled, 3-minute chats with mom or dad per day.

I’m an activist, but I’m a practical activist. As much as I want to push the work-life balance movement forward, I’m also looking for solutions to keep myself and my family happy and sane. I have to, if I want to actually have the strength and mental acuity required to keep being an activist, and a mother.

So, for the next few weeks, we’re going to use Google Hangouts (I’ve always found it faster, and it’s a smaller, easier-to-run app than Skype, and I have no ithings, so I have no idea how well Facetime works) for some scheduled Daddy time during the week. Join me! Try it! Tell me what you think! Obviously, the daycare/school solution isn’t an option yet, but that’s not to say it can’t be. Just 3 minutes (or more, if you want to and can swing it). Sing, ask about their day, tell them about your day, make silly faces, whatever. And if your employer isn’t having it (as I just learned that “FLSA does not require employers to give their employees any breaks from work for any reason”) tell them you have violent diarrhea, or a super-heavy period, and that you’ll stay in your chair if they really want you to, but you just need a few minutes. And then enjoy some smiley time with your kid.