- “Why are your clothes on backwards?!”
- “How many days have you been wearing that?!”
- “Five more minutes ended twenty minutes ago!”
- “It wasn’t really a question!”
- “Did you stick your head in the sink again?!”
- “Don’t touch my stuff!”
- “Pudding isn’t breakfast!”
- “Put the couch cushions back on!”
- “You have ice cream in your hair!”
- “Don’t feed the dog your banana!”
Butterfly: My Daughter’s “Diffwent Mom”
I’ve written previously in “Like Space Mother, Like Daughter” about how my little girl surprised me with her claim she had a “diffwent mom” before me. I have since learned more details.
Her name is Butterfly, she has purple hair and wears skirts. She is married to Brian and they live somewhere cold (I asked her to show me on a map and she pointed to Alaska). Her siblings are baby twin sisters named Bella and Rosy, and a baby brother named Junior. Brian likes to fish and they eat what he brings home. My daughter says she was seven years old when she lived with them. She doesn’t know why she had to leave and live with me. She claims to love me and Butterfly the same.
I find it fascinating that Diffwent Mom’s name is Butterfly. The spiritual and symbolic significance impresses me, as many people believe butterflies represent the soul, and are a powerful symbol of endurance, change, transformation and resilience. The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is one of confusion and struggle before the creature emerges from the isolation of its chrysalis a more beautiful, enlightened, and less fearful version of itself.
The butterfly is a good allegory for recovery of any kind — from loss, grief or illness — all of which I know too well. You probably do too. A lot of people know what it’s like to go through a process of self-isolation and emerge braver and stronger.
I feel badly for Butterfly, if she truly exists somewhere she’s mourning her loss. She doesn’t know how much our little girl is loved and adored. She can’t see that she’s happy and glowing. I relate to her struggle, because I wonder about my deceased son every day. I wonder if his soul was returned somewhere in the world, being loved while he talks about his Diffwent Mom with brown hair who likes to wear flannels, whom he slightly remembers and hopefully misses. If this scenario is possible, I’d wish he’d still love me the same as his present mom.
I want Butterfly to know that I understand, and she doesn’t have to worry because I’m loving our girl enough for both of us. If I could write Butterfly a letter, I’d tell her she did a good job fostering our girl’s exuberant and silly soul which arrived intact, along with her big personality and feelings. She came with an overflowing capacity to charm and spread love, which fills my heart with joy every day.
My daughter talks about Diffwent Mom and “baby bwaddah and sistahs” several times a day. I think she was a protective and doting big sister because now she frequently wants to give them her leftover food, outgrown clothes and baby toys. She talks about their favorite foods, activities and colors. I’m fascinated by her stories, especially the details, like Junior won’t eat macaroni and cheese but her sisters love it. Her sisters have brown hair but Junior has no hair (“but him still cute”).
I’m oddly comforted when she talks about life with Butterfly. It gives me hope that maybe our souls, no matter where they travel in the world, never forget love. If that’s true, then my son will never forget me. My daughter’s fantastic tale about a possible past life makes me believe my deceased son could still remember me. His Butterfly.
My Daughter’s Pants are on Fire
“What’s behind your back?” My toddler daughter stood next to my bed with a strange look on her face and both hands behind her. I knew she was hiding something. I just hoped it wasn’t a kitchen knife.
She shook her head, “Me not want to tell you.”
I approached her carefully. Surprisingly, she didn’t run away. Behind her back I found a half eaten candy bar. The other half, I presumed, was in her tummy. This happened after I told her flat out no more candy before dinner. I asked, “Did you eat candy after I told you not to?”
“No,” she answered. Then my daughter stood there all smiley and cute.
My baby lied to me. She lied like she invented it. She did it quickly, convincingly, and with minimal remorse. All I could think of was how much bigger her lies would get, and how much better she’s going to be at lying when she becomes a teenager. I thought, this one is going to be trouble.
Is she showing me her true colors? Is my cute-little-sweet-squishy baby girl a born liar?
It got me wondering — is lying an innate skill or a learned one? And what does this really say about my baby? Surprisingly, Dr. Google says toddlers who tell lies may have advanced cognitive skills, like a diabolical criminal mastermind (I added that last part). Apparently lying is a complicated skill. It’s a sign of early intelligence and requires my cute-little-sweet-squishy baby girl to know how to pander to her audience, namely me, and tell me what she thinks I want to hear, not dissimilar to a master showman who runs for high office. Some psychologists suggest toddlers lie because they can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, again an asset along with her tiny hands which may propel her to high office.
So, I guess I’m raising the first woman president?
The advice is for parents not to put their toddler on the spot, so of course the first thing I said was, “Did you just lie to your mommy?” My tiny Punky-Cutester blinked her adorable baby blues and answered, “No.”
She lied again. She ran away. I chased her into the kitchen and got there in time to see her throw the half eaten candy bar into the junk food basket on the counter (which is right next to the fruit bowl, btw). She giggled the whole time. I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Nuh-fing,” she answered. Then tried to look all innocent but it only came across as adorable.
I’m pretty certain the Candy Bar Lie (yes, I’ve named the incident) is my daughter’s gateway lie. It will be a slippery slope toward a lifetime of far-fetched cover-ups and shirking responsibility.
There’s a common misconception that kids don’t lie. Hahahahahaha. Of course they do! Anyone who has kids knows this. They lie to get things, they lie to get out of things, they lie to please us, they lie because it’s Tuesday and other ridiculous reasons. Dr. Google says it’s a completely normal developmental process. I just don’t want my baby to lie to me. Ever.
My sister is an early childhood expert and she explained I shouldn’t worry about my daughter telling lies unless she shows no remorse. Uh oh. I looked at my daughter after flinging the candy bar into the basket, I swear, she looked proud of herself.
I’m not used to living with a good liar. My sons were both bad liars. My middle one likes to tell people my husband and I once left him and his brother home alone while we went to a wedding. Of course this never happened. I advised him if he’s going to lie it should at least be rooted in reality. For all his smarts he never learned this fundamental truth about lying, which is why another time, after staying at my sister’s house, he told me his Aunt washed his hair with poo. Upon further grilling he recanted and to save face insisted he meant to say “shampoo.” I once asked my older son what was the worst lie he ever told me. He responded, “That I brushed my teeth when I didn’t.” See, bad liars.
But the girl child impresses me with her natural ability.
Back in the 80s I was allowed to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert because I told my father he was a Jewish rock star. Maybe I repressed all the other lies I’ve told my parents, but that’s the only one I remember. I’m sure I lied about drinking and covered my tracks when I was actually doing stupid things with my friends, but the specifics evade my memory. The world has changed so much I can’t bear the thought of someday being on the receiving end of my daughter’s lies about her whereabouts.
I have to nip this in the bud. But how?
Dr. Google says there’s not much I can or should do. Lying is a developmental milestone and should be celebrated (I added that last part).
So I guess I’ll tell you I’m proud my baby girl fibbed to my face…but that would be a lie.
Things My Kids Don’t Know I Do
- Eat their Halloween candy
- Sneak their old toys out of the house to drop at Goodwill
- Throw out most of their art projects
- Keep their baby teeth
- Miss them when they’re at school
- Kiss them in their sleep
- Plan to live with them when I’m an old lady
- Have ambitions
- Want to go on vacation somewhere besides Disney
- Eat their Easter candy
Deal With It, Kid
“Mom, do you want me to make a list of everything you do wrong?”
This question came from my son. Nothing provoked it. It was just something on his mind and he thought he would be helpful. I declined, and now I think we can add me declining his unsolicited assessment of my job performance to the list of things I’ve done wrong — feedback is good, right? It would be good to have my shortcomings itemized by the tiny human boss I gave life to.
However, I already have a critic inside my head that’s pretty good at telling me everything I do wrong, so maybe I don’t need her and my son comparing notes — can’t we all just laugh at me and get along?
This same son once told me when he grows up he wants to be a great man so I have to raise him right. When I asked how I was doing so far he shrugged and said, “Okay, I guess.” He’s a tough boss to please. I still have a lot to learn about parenting, like how to resist rolling my eyes when my son criticizes me. But every now and then I can add something relevant to the conversation.
A while back I (thought I) was a seasoned second-time mom in a mommy-and-me group surrounded by younger first-timers. One newbie asked what everyone thought was the best and worst parts of being a mom.
Now, there are a lot of priceless things, like source material for a blog, but that’s not what I said. I told the group the best thing about being a mom is the love — nothing compares to the love you feel for your child and the love you get in return. I don’t care how much you love your spouse/partner (and I do), every mom knows what I’m talking about and you’re all nodding your head.
As far as the worst thing goes, I skipped over lack of sleep, weight gain and accelerated aging and went straight to the truth. The worst thing is the worry — nothing prepares you for the absurd amount of time a mom spends worrying. About everything. I can’t even get started on this one. Worry consumed me even before my oldest son became ill with cancer. I wear worry like an accessory. It hangs around my neck like an ugly chain.
Nobody knows the future. That’s what is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But as parents we learn from the past and each other. For example, I knew a mom who told me her three year-old son had an inconsolable crying and hyperventilating fit over something. “We had to shove his face in a mud puddle to get him to calm down,” she said. The mud puddle technique never got into my repertoire. I’m not clear on the logic — perhaps she thought if the baby couldn’t breathe he couldn’t cry? This story came from a mom from a different generation and it shows how much easier it was to get away with banana parenting techniques before cell phones.
Now let me tell you her kid turned out just fine. Most do regardless of our eccentric decisions — kids are the most durable thing on the planet. They go through so much turmoil on the road to adulthood yet (most) become productive grown humans.
I screw up every day and my son somehow makes it to bedtime unscathed and relatively happy. One day he will appreciate having a complicated mother. After all, he’ll need something to discuss with his therapist when he’s older.
Or material for a blog…
The Apple and the Tree
My mother was forty when she gave birth to me. This was in an era when women were generally finished with childbearing around thirty, rather than now when many women are just getting started at that age. When my mom was pregnant there was no such thing as genetic testing, no amniocentesis, no nucal-translucency test and no ultrasounds. It was widely assumed to be very risky for both mother and baby to be pregnant after forty.
Family legend goes my mother spent two years convincing my father they should add a fourth baby to the family. Then it was another couple years of trying until she finally became pregnant with me. My mother didn’t tell anyone she was expecting for the first six months. Instead, she let her friends and neighbors think she was getting fat. She refused to wear maternity clothes and bought larger sized normal clothes instead. My mother was a beautiful and vain woman who looked like Natalie Wood, but she was also superstitious and known to wear a splash of red to ward off the evil eye. Her vanity took a back seat to the combined pressure of her superstitions and intense need to be protective of herself and unborn me. (How my mother ended up with my father, who looked like Larry Fine, was a mystery to me — until she told me he was the nicest and funniest man she ever met, and when I got married I also chose the nicest and funniest man I ever met, but this is story for another time.)
So there my mom was, in all the glory of the late 60’s, the anomaly of being and old new mom. Granted she wasn’t quite pushing fifty, like me, but I find it interesting that we share the experience of having a baby late in life. Once I became a mom, I spent more time thinking about my own mother and trying to figure her out. She died of cancer when I was seventeen, during the normal rite of passage of adolescence that drew me further away from her and toward my own identity. She died before I got through that phase and would have the opportunity to go back to her as a young adult and form a mature relationship. Part of me is forever stuck in teenaged rebellion because of this, but another part is remarkably mature because I had to grow up fast and figure things out for myself.
After my mother died I had the idea I would be a young mom so I could spend as much time as possible with my children. To quote Al Capone in “Thrill Ride,” “Nothing ever goes how you plan.” Even though I met my husband in my 20’s it would be years before we’d start a family together. We thought we were done with babies after two beautiful boys, but we were wrong. Child loss fueled an intense desire in me to have one more, and we had no place else to turn except science.
Like my mother before me, we spent two years discussing whether having another child was the right decision, then another year trying to get pregnant. And like my mother before me I didn’t tell anyone until nearly the sixth month. But unlike my mother before me I had every test under the sun and nearly constant monitoring to make certain both the baby and I remained healthy and without complications.
My son recently asked me to describe my mother — his grandmother — for him. I said she was beautiful, protective and loyal. I said there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her family. She knew what was best for others and sometimes herself. I said she was a good bargain shopper but had trouble making decisions so she wound up buying the same blouse in different colors. She liked health food but not exercise. She loved pecan pie. She wore Maybelline liquid eyeliner. She had a temper and was also extremely loving.
My son said she sounded exactly like me, except for the eyeliner.
I never thought about how I’d wind up resembling my mother because, truth is, I don’t know her that well. For years I couldn’t see the traits we shared. Only looking back and after talking with my older siblings do I see her as someone enormously strong and willful, who survived trauma, setbacks and a crazy family to eventually flourish later in life. This description fits me. It probably fits you, too.
And it will also probably fit my daughter.
The arc of a woman’s life isn’t set in stone but there are many things we all share. I’m happy the arc of my life has so much in common with my mother’s. I feel her willfulness and strength supporting me whenever I need it. And I feel her love every time my heart beats.
And so will my daughter.
Mommy’s Magic Eye
A great thing about little kids is they believe everything you say. They think a fat old man breaks into our homes once a year and leaves a pile of presents in the living room. They think a fairy flies all over the world collecting bloody, used teeth and in exchange leaves money under the pillow. (What could The Tooth Fairy possibly do with those teeth? It’s creepy.) They also think a giant bunny sneaks into the house every spring to leave a basket of chocolate on the kitchen table. Each of these scenarios takes place in the middle of the night — It’s a miracle children sleep soundly with the rash of break-ins going on.
I’m just as guilty as any parent who perpetuates the legends of Santa, The Tooth Fairy and The Easter Bunny, but I go even further. I doubled down against my kids’ gullibility and invented the myth of Mommy’s Magic Eye, an all-knowing and all-seeing superpower designed to keep my kids in line when I’m not around. For a good chunk of their childhood, my sons believed I’m part psychic and part wizard with the ability to know if they committed no-nos without me being present.
I’m pretty sure people behave better if we think our mother is watching. My idea was to instill a little dose of healthy paranoia, much like Elf on a Shelf tricks kids into believing the strangely dressed toy has a direct line to Santa and is filing numerous behavior reports prior to Christmas. The difference is Mommy’s Magic Eye works 24/7 and has a direct line to me, my kids’ ultimate boss.
You’d be surprised how effective this was, but eventually things took an unexpected turn. My second son believed in the power of Mommy’s Magic Eye so deeply that for him it evolved into a cross between a Magic Eight Ball and a personalized Google Search. He asked questions like, “Does your Magic Eye know if I’m getting a Happy Meal today?” or “Does your Magic Eye know if we’ll have outside recess?” Then, after losing his older brother, my little guy became anxious and relied on Mommy’s Magic Eye for reassurance. His questions became more existential and worrisome. He’d ask, “How long am I going to live?” or “Is anything bad going to happen today.”
For him, the power of Mommy’s Magic Eye went beyond what I originally intended and I realized it could have therapeutic potential to give him comfort. I used it to calm his fears, of which he had many. I assured him my Magic Eye knew there would be no car accidents, no diseases or tragedies, and everybody we love will be fine. He’d calm down and believe what Mommy’s Magic Eye saw.
There are little lies we tell ourselves to get through our day (this piece of dessert won’t matter, this shirt looks good on me). There are little lies we tell others to help them get through their day (that piece of dessert won’t matter, that shirt looks good on you). Then there are little lies we tell our kids designed to enhance their childhood or make them better people. I’m not sure exactly where Mommy’s Magic Eye fits into all of this, but I wonder — are lies always bad? Maybe not in the moment, but even the most well intentioned lie can boomerang years later.
My oldest son was four when we sat with him by the picture window at his grandparents farm on Christmas Eve to watch for Santa Claus. After a few minutes we saw a figure in a red suit with a large sack slung over his shoulder walk across the meadow and leave footprints in the snow. My son stared, his mouth open in disbelief, too overwhelmed to utter any words. He later told his friends at preschool about the Santa sighting. He was a firm believer for years — after all he saw him with his own eyes.
When he finally learned the truth — that “Santa” was actually his grandfather — the look on his face was devastating. Sure, he was upset to learn Santa wasn’t real, but he was more crushed that I lied to him. My heart sank as the little boy who believed everything I said now saw me in a different light.
You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but I’m a slow learner.
My daughter is starting to potty train. I told her I’d get her anything she wants once she learns to pee and poo in the potty. Without hesitation she said she wants to fly. Now I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to pilot an airplane — she’s talking about full-on Peter Pan levitating. I told her she can start lessons as soon as she gives up her pull-ups. I consider this lie a necessary step in our negotiations. For a little while I will let her believe that learning to fly is a possibility, and then I will gracefully exit our agreement when I tell her the local Park District catalogue doesn’t offer flying lessons.
I haven’t yet told my daughter about Mommy’s Magic Eye, but I doubt she’ll believe me anyway. She surprises me each day with her outsized sense of self-assuredness and sass, so I’m guessing she’d just tell my Magic Eye to buzz off, and then do her own thing like count her teeth and plan what she’ll do with the money from The Tooth Fairy.
When my second son got older I decided it was time to fade out Mommy’s Magic Eye. I told him it got “tired” and couldn’t see the future anymore. Eventually, he caught on and confronted me. I asked if he was mad that I tricked him into believing I had a superpower and he said he wasn’t sure, he’d have to ask his Magic Eight Ball.
Things I Say A Lot (With Exclamation Points)
- “I didn’t hear a flush!”
- “Stop licking that!”
- “Why did you draw on your face with marker?!”
- “Are those dried boogers on your shirt?!”
- “What’s that smell?!”
- “Boogers aren’t food!”
- “Don’t throw that away, I’ll eat it!”
- “You have two devices going, turn one off!”
- “Who’s going to clean this up?!”
- “How much longer do I have to stay awake?!”