brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

For those of you who’ve been following along for a while, Nikola has a baby doll named Baby who he dotes upon and loves. He “changes her diapoh” and “cleans her dirty BUTT” and tucks her in for a nap and feeds her and burps her and celebrates her 1st birthday about one a week, complete with “cake” and “wrapped presents” (random crap he drapes paper or t-shirts or tissues or something over) and a card that he makes for her.

Lately, Baby has been displaced in his affections by… Spider-Man.

Nesko’s parents had a mini-family reunion and I got to meet like 50 people who were total strangers to me and mostly didn’t speak English (I am monolingual) and that wasn’t terrifying or awkward for me AT ALL and I made lemon cheesecake and turtle bar cookies and rice krispy treats and they were all big hits so yaaay. But Nesko’s culture has this thing where it’s common for visiting adults to bring presents, candy, and/or money to the kids they visit. One of Niko’s scores was a pretty big Spider-Man toy with a Spider-Copter or something. Spider-Man is his New Love and he’s been taking Spider-Man to bed with him and cuddling him and toting him around.

DID YOU KNOW: Spider-Man likes bacon, and he likes sausage, but he hates ham. Steak is ok, but pancakes and eggs are right out. His favorite breakfast consists of a croissant, donut, banana, and potato (??). We went out for breakfast the other day and Niko ordered a pancake for himself and a plate of bacon for Spider-Man. Niko set Spider-Man on the seat next to him and fed him bites of bacon and afterward he requested two lollipops… one for him and one for Spider-Man. (Niko also scolded me for being rude and mean to the waitress, so I explained to him that I was ordering a BELGIAN waffle, not a BELCHING waffle.)

Let me tell you what kind of parent I am: knowing that he was making a bold grab for two dum-dum suckers for himself, at the cash register, I said yes.

In the car, driving to Home Depot, Niko crunched away on his sucker and then piped up “Since Spider-Man isn’t really REAL, can I just go ahead and eat HIS lollipop TOO?” I said yes, of course.

In other news, we’re repainting Niko’s room and it’s taking longer than expected. He’s sleeping in our room while we paint. I hope we get done soon. Really. Seriously. And that he transitions back to his own bed quickly and easily.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

We were at the playground the other day and one of the kids there… well. He’s a bit of a dick. He’s 7 or so and enough of a bully that the other kids have completely turned on him. It came to a fever pitch a few weeks ago when every single kid on the playground (maybe 10?) cornered him, chanting a name-rhyming-taunt. His behavior hasn’t improved since then, and has included stealing Niko’s shoes, shoving him down, and slapping him on the back of the head in passing. One of the most difficult aspects of this is that 1) his mom doesn’t do ANYTHING about his behavior other than mild “now now, CHILD’S NAME, that’s not how we act” (when, uh, obviously it is?) and 2) Niko gets along with that kid’s younger sister and likes playing with her.

So anyway, most recent playground outing, those two kids were there with one of their babysitters (and their babysitters are much more hands on and disciplinarian than either of their parents) and Older Kid was being a real terror including chasing people around and kicking them. Like, kicking them in the chest/arms, aiming for their heads. Babysitter pulls him aside and starts trying to reason with him. “You shouldn’t kick and hit your friends!” “Oh, it’s ok, he’s not my friend.” “So you were just… you were just attacking him? Child’s Name, that is NOT right.”

It was at this point that Niko butted in, all concerned.

“You know, Child’s Name, if you weren’t so HORRIBLE all the time, maybe everybody wouldn’t HATE YOU.”

While true, that’s not really an appropriate thing to say, you know?

Later on, that child tried to join in an impromptu soccer game. The other kids ignored him entirely as he chased them around, tried to hog the ball, and bragged about how long he’d been playing soccer on a team (again, he’s S E V E N, it’s not like he can possibly have been playing THAT LONG), eventually breaking down in tears when everybody managed to keep the ball from him. Every single kid in the group was one he’d physically harmed that day, as best as I can tell with no provocation whatever.

It’s kind of hard to watch. It’s like watching someone repeatedly bashing their head against a brick wall trying to get through the wall when there’s a door right there. Unlocked. Not even fully closed. Just push it open. I don’t know why he acts the way he does… is he acting out? Terrible at reading social cues? Ignorant? A massive entitled jerk? He’s in a Gifted school, so at the very least he… uh. Takes standardized tests well. I just don’t get it. And it’s hard to watch my kid deal with that, with him, with this out of nowhere aggressive and hurtful behavior. He wants to teach that kid how to be friendly and have friends and get along with everyone and I don’t think there’s any seven year old on earth eager to take social lessons from a five year old who insists his REAL name is Raptor because he has TOE CLAWS and IS A RAPTOR, DUH.

WELL THANK GOD I HAVE ALL THE PARENTING ANSWERS AND MY CHILD IS PERFECT, AT LEAST.

In other news, we’re finally repainting Niko’s room over the holiday weekend. We have all the paint and supplies, including spackle. We’d been putting this off because we want to gut his room, upgrade the wiring, and install soundproof insulation and possibly refinish his floor but… if we wait until we have the money and time to do ALL THAT it will never get done. So we’re going to screw the wall back to the stud where it’s pulling away (yaaaay hundred old buildings wooooooo), spackle everything up, and slap some paint on. It’ll look a lot nicer when it’s done.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s been sick.

He hasn’t been take-him-to-the-doctor sick, but he has been two-severe-colds-in-a-row, miss-almost-two-weeks-of-school sick. His coughing-till-he-vomits has been way less than previous sicknesses, so either he’s growing out of that or he… just wasn’t that sick. I don’t know, but dang am I glad he only barfed once, although he did it all over a pillow that I made BY HAND and stitched BY HAND out of fabric I selected personally years before he was born. And it’s not the kind of pillow you can wash (too big, wrong kind of fill) and it was VERY soaked in barf, so… I put it in the trash can. GOOD BYE PILLOW.

So that’s the worst thing. Not that I had to throw out a pillow (although I miss that pillow. sniff.), but that my poor sweet baby has been so tediously ill. It’s really not fun being sick and starting to feel better enough to feel antsy and then feeling sick and ill again. He’s been a trooper through the whole experience, though, and hopefully we’re in for healthier times.

The best thing recently is that Niko has kind of leveled up in his art. He’s been bugging me lately to copy the art on some dinosaur flash cards he has, and then after I do so he critiques me heavily. So the other day I was all DUDE, DO IT YOURSELF and he was all I CAAAAAAAN’T and I was all DO ITTTT DOOOOOO ITTTTTTTTTT JUST TRY and he did and it was really cool! He impressed himself. So he’s been copying pictures HIMSELF and it’s super interesting to see what he picks up on as important details, and he’s started adding more details to his dinosaurs… which are essentially really stylized stick figures. But now they are really stylized stick figures with crests and feathers.

He also, and this is even more cool, has started making little still lifes and dioramas with his dinosaurs and plastic trees etc and then… drawing those scenes that he has made. That is absolutely the best and most awesome thing he’s been doing lately.

Well, other than coming up with Princess Dinosaur, but that’s a topic for another post, I think.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Until he started school, we’d never taken Niko to the doctor for anything other than scheduled check ups. He had no big illnesses, no big accidents, nothing. I mean, he whacked his head HARD once and I debated taking him in, but there was no urgent YES MUST GO IN NOW moment. Then he started school and started getting sick all the time. We’ve taken him in twice for illness since August and I expect that we’ll take him in a few more times. A very nice and helpful nurse assured me at our last visit that after the first year’s exposure to germs he’ll be back to hardly getting sick at all. Which is lovely to think about, considering that Winter Vomiting Sickness is apparently sweeping through Niko’s school right now, and there’s a lice outbreak in his classroom even as we speak.

That’s not the worst thing about starting school, though. It’s irritating and sometimes a little bit scary, but it’s not the worst.

The worst thing is that Niko is now exposed to 17 other kids on a daily basis– kids with a variety of backgrounds and behaviors and lifestyles. And while it’s great to think that kids can get together and teach other things good habits and behaviors and ways of being, the truth of the matter is that kids are jerks and they only pick up negative things from each other.

We’ve seen all KINDS of negative behavior that’s totally new and frankly some of it utterly baffling. Also making an appearance: whining. He flirted with whining briefly about a year ago but we were able to nip it in the bud. Now it’s a daily thing, nasal and drawn out and as irritating as fingernails on a blackboard is to most people. And I know EXACTLY the kid he’s picked that up from. He’s picked up some very bossy turns of phrase, and has started demanding things instead of asking for them. It’s like my kid is channeling someone else, some other personality; acting as a medium to the most irritating ghost in existence. I hate it so much.

And, you know, my kid is far from perfect and I cringe at the thought of the other kids bringing home his less than sterling habits (which include screaming fits, I’m sorry to say, and also licking snot off his upper lip. I’m not sure which is worse.)

It’s really frustrating to see certain behaviors that we’ve worked hard on establishing go completely out the window the first time he interacts with other kids.

Any suggestions on how to deal with this?

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Sometimes I feel like I’m fucking up this whole parenting thing.

Niko is very, aggressively, brilliantly, loudly, ferociously, FOUR (and a half). He’s stubborn and loud and has been refusing to sleep in his own bed for the past six months or so, and has been acting out his frustrations of not having his tata around as much as he used to be with his new job and longer hours.

Today we hit the playground after school and Niko was trying to play with some bigger kids. They rebuffed him, kindly, and he was disappointed and kept trying to play with them. And then a big kid knocked over a two year old accidentally, and the little girl started crying, and Niko teleported over there to make goofy faces at her and dance until she stopped crying and started laughing.

He spent the next 15 minutes telling her “jokes” (NB: the jokes told by 4 year olds are comprehensible only to other 2-4 year olds), holding her hand, leading her up steps and across a shakey bridge, encouraging her to slide down a slide and be brave, and the like. The only reason he stopped was that her mama took her home. He followed her to the gate saying good bye, and then got distracted by a little baby and paused to coo over the baby and make faces and talk about how cute that baby was (IT WAS VERY CUTE).

If nothing else, we’re managing to raise a kid who’s kind and considerate toward other kids, especially kids younger and smaller than he is. And that’s something I’m so, so proud of. He’s a good kid with a big goofy smile and a huge heart. He’s very loving. It’s so great. HE is so great.

At least we’re doing something right, I guess.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Hello, hello, hello everyone.

I’d just like to take a moment and say hello to our newest family member, Felicity:

Niko's New Name

WAIT WAIT WAIT, I hear you say. ISN’T THAT JUST NIKO IN A KAIJU SHIRT?

Ha ha yes, it is!

But after reading “Funny, funny Lyle” and hearing the name “Felicity” he’s decided that Nikola is a crap name for craps and from now on he shall be known as Felicity.

Apparently his teacher, bless her heart, is playing along.

But he has a hard time remembering the name Felicity so he keeps asking me “What’s my name, mama?” and I say “Nikola” and he says “NO MAMA WHAT IS MY REAL NAME” and I say “Felicity” and he says “OH YES! Felicity. Hello, I am Felicity.”

He’s a pretty Felicity type of person, to be honest. And Felix is a name we briefly considered for him.

I don’t expect he’ll stay Felicity for very long, though. Sooner or later he always comes back to Niko.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Have you seen this blog post about collaborating artistically with a four year old? Making art with a kid is super fun. Niko and I do something similar, except usually I’ll draw whatever dinosaur he dictates me to draw, and some background, and then he adds trees and colors everything in and adds “a big glop of poop comin’ outta dat dinosaur’s BUTT” or blood to their teeth or something I DO NOT EVEN KNOW. He’s pretty down with nature red in tooth and claw.

Today, while I sit in my chair and refuse to get up because my knee is filled with angry hornets and hate, I’ve been drawing for him. At his request, I drew a brown line train at the station. It’s only 3 cars long, which he claims is the perfect length (probably because we usually ride when it’s not the rush hour) and although I drew the Kedzie station he requested I add the buffers that are at the end of the line. Sorry train, you’re not going any further. There’s buffers in your way! I doodled it all out, including the cool little stools they have clustered on the platform, and handed it over. he proceeded to draw two other trains (sharing a track! DANGER ZONE!) and a buffer for them. I took a picture with my phone so it’s not the best, but here you go:

brown_line_001

Speaking of art he’s doing, he seems to have made a jump forward in his art production lately. Instead of sticking only to dinosaurs, trains, dinosaurs waiting for trains, and the occasional picture of his family, yesterday he drew a cement mixer. This was a very WHAT moment because he’s never been super interested in cement mixers in general or drawing trucks or any vehicles other than trains. And yet, cement mixers. He’s also been drawing himself lately, which is cool, except he has a certain technique for drawing dinosaurs that includes a big mouth full of teeth that is kind of creepy and he adds that giant mouth of teeth to himself. He also adds hair. Lots of hair. Today he drew a picture of himself and an HO model train in a house, complete with a roof and a chimney, but no smoke, because it’s OUR house and we have a decorative fireplace therefore no smoke.

Welp.

He’s also been drawing whales, carnivorous whales, fish, and “the dead part of the sea that’s got too much water so sharks can’t swim in it. I know because scientists who study dinosaurs said it. I looked it up on my phone!” Uh huh.

I’ve been meaning to pick up a sketchbook for myself for a project I’m working on, but I think I’ll pick up another one for the two of us to fill together. How cool is that? I’m nowhere near as good an artist as busymockingbird, but it’ll still be way fun.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Today isn’t just the first day of school in Chicago, it’s Niko’s first ever day of school. He’s starting preschool at our neighborhood school. Since Chicago is so big, there’s a bunch of little (and medium and large, his school is actually pretty large) school buildings and you default into a specific school based on your address. But there’s also Selective schools that, for higher grades, are Gifted or STEM or International Baccalaureate or various flavor of Charter or what have you. It’s incredibly hard to get into Selective schools in Chicago. Like, there’s literally hundreds more kids who qualify for and want to get into separate Gifted programs than there are available slots (Niko’s school has a Gifted track, but I don’t think all neighborhood schools do). We are going to have to do some serious thinking while Niko is in kindergarten about what kind of school we want him to go to for first grade and on, because generally speaking if you don’t get into your first choice school in first grade (or 6th or freshman year or whenever the school’s lowest grade is) you’re never going to get in. There’s just so much competition, so many students waiting to get in. Which means a lot of kids start really specific types of schooling (STEM, Classical, IB, a school with a fantastic music program, a school with an emphasis on physical education, etc) when they’re like 6… which is ridiculously early to make those kinds of decisions. So we might just go with the flow and keep him at his neighborhood school and supplement at home and with museum memberships and stuff. But then if he’s at a neighborhood school, will he get into a competitive high school and then college? I kind of resent that I’m feeling pressure NOW, when he’s FOUR, to do everything right so he has a successful adult academic career (which, I mean, that assumes he even WILL go to college and not just, like, become an auto mechanic or electrician or something else he’d go to a trade school and apprentice for).

I have an Anxiety Disorder and tend to spiral into alternate universes of WHAT IFs at the drop of a hat, so I’m trying really hard to just… Let Go and focus on the important thing right now, which is to shepherd Niko through preschool. The school is being less than helpful by waiting until super late to send out official notices (including school supply lists, nearly creating a financial issue for us), and not telling us ahead of time which door in a building the size of a full city block we should enter for his first day of school. I mean, if they’d just included the notice “Use door X which is on street Y” we wouldn’t have started the first day of school literally soaking with sweat and flushed from walking 4 additional blocks, quickly, in 90 degree heat. I’m also a little peeved that I signed him up for morning classes and they plunked him into afternoon, which take place riiiiight when he’s normally taking a nap. But there were too many kids signed up for AM so whatever.

But now we know what door to go to and what to do if he wants to eat lunch in the cafeteria first and we plan to have donuts or ice cream every Monday after school, and we know for sure which class he’s going to be in and which time, and that he’s going to have 3 field trips this year (the zoo, the Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier). He’s got his own cubby and he’s met most of his class mates (and WOW there is a girl in his class who is a future Homecoming Queen/Lady President) and he’s gone on record as saying he won’t cry tomorrow when I drop him off and leave him there. So we’ll see how it goes.

School is a half mile away so unless I hang out up there (at the school? at Dunkin Donuts down the street?) I’ll be walking 2 miles a day to drop off/pick up. I’m not looking forward to doing that come winter. But we’ll survive.

Niko Dressed Himself

Niko Going To School

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A Bloggy Sandwich

Thursday, 1 August 2013 11:11
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

When I was still taking art classes, I had a session on how to construct a portfolio. One of the tips was, of course, make sure EVERY PIECE is good. And if you’re doing sequential art, show that you actually can DO sequential art, can tell a story through art, not just have a bunch of splash pages and pin ups. But specifically, we were told to have your strongest piece as the very first one, and your second strongest one as the last one. That way, you set the tone with the first piece and then you end on a high note, so people viewing your portfolio are impressed right away and also leave with a good impression.

Then Nesko and I watched a pop sci show about how the brain works, and they just said lead with positive stuff and people gloss over the negative. First impressions super matter, apparently.

But I’m going to stick with what I was originally taught, and I’m going to sandwich some grossness between cute stories.

THE FIRST CUTE STORY

Niko no longer says “yes.”

When I say that, I don’t mean that he’s become suddenly and overwhelmingly negative. I mean that while he agrees to things, the word “yes” no longer passes his lips. Nor does yeah, or as he says it, “yay-uh.” No, it’s suddenly all “Sure” and “Of course.” As in, “Niko, would you like some milk?” “Oh, of course I would!” “Niko, would you please pick up your blocks?” “Oh, sure!” “Niko, would you like a hug?” “Oh, of course I do!”

WHAT EVEN IS THIS.

It’s like he has a secret handbook on being cute.

The other day, I asked him if he would like some applesauce and he said “Of course.” And then he said “Actually, I would really appreciate it if I would have some pudding instead, please.”

Actually.

I would really appreciate.

OH MY GOD.

Can I have another kid who’s just, like, a copy of him? Because he’s basically perfect. Except not as the next story will reveal.

THE GROSS STORY

At the age of four years and 5 months, Niko has decided that it is HIGH TIME he learns to wipe his own butt. He’s been using up flushable wipes at an alarming rate and we’ve been dealing with random poo fingers here and there. But then yesterday he apparently decided it was TIME TO STOP FUCKING AROUND. He approached wiping his own butt with a grim seriousness. LET’S DO THIS THING, he resolved.

And he started going in the bathroom every half hour to squeeze out some pathetic tiny turd nugget.

He’s kind of obsessed.

And suddenly, we’re back to having pants accidents.

“Mama,” he says sternly. “I had a little bit of a poop accident.”

He is not proud of these.

So I’ve been picking up flecks of feces from the bathroom floor, doing a lot of hand washing, reminding him that he can’t use an entire package of flushable wipes in one go, etc.

And then, just after Nesko got home, I was in the dining room when I saw what looked to my weak eyes to be a a brand new knot hole in the wooden floor. Wait. There was no knothole there before… was there? I prodded it with my toe. It went squish.

Look.

I don’t have a lot of expectations out of life.

But one that I cling to is the expectation that I can walk through my house without stepping in shit.

Nesko launched into a long story about how HE was working at a house with DOGS and they had to RUN A LINE and the yard was FULL OF POOP and I’m like, ok. That’s horrible and gross. But that, at least, is outside. In nature. Nature, you know, that thing that is a toilet for wild animals. THE GREAT OUT DOORS IS ONE HUGE TOILET. My house? Not so much. My dining room floor? NOPE.

nope_001

nope_002

nope_003

I just… no.

So then I patrolled the rest of the house, squinting at every smudge and speck, armed with a bottle of disinfectant and paper towels.

And then Nesko gathered Niko into his lap for cuddles and finger nail trimmings, and we discovered a motherlode of poo on Niko’s heel.

ugh_001

THE SECOND CUTE STORY

Niko has a baby.

His baby is named Baby.

Baby is a girl (a DWIR-OLE) except for when she’s a boy.

Baby currently lives in the bouncy seat that he used when he was an infant, that we’re holding on to until Nesko’s sister who just had a baby returns from Europe. At this point, we will have to evict Baby from her perch, her soft and cradling throne.

Niko sometimes carries Baby around, and feeds her cookies (wooden blocks, string, etc) or shares things he’s eating with her. “One little nut for me, and one for Baby. And one little nut for me, and one for Baby.” He invariably eats Baby’s portion, of course. He also brings her small toys, books, and shoes (?) for her to snuggle with so she doesn’t get lonely. And from time to time he decides that baby is taking a nap so he walks around and shushes us all because Baby is sleeping. Then he decides that Baby is fully asleep so we can be loud again. “Baby sure is sleeping hard! She’s a hard sleeper.”

Sometimes Baby needs a diaper change, or Niko decides it’s time to potty train her. He’s very encouraging. He cleans her up and cuddles her and says kind things.

It is the most adorable thing.

It almost makes me forget that I stepped in poop in the dining room.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s been making a lot of art recently. We worked on one together, but the other is all him.

niko_garden_art_collage

He told me that he wanted to cut out some flowers and glue them to paper to make a garden. So we sat down together and I helped him cut out some blossoms. He tried cutting out stems but got frustrated so I did that. He glued some of them down before getting bored so I finished that up, then he helped me glue the grass down. He drew the sun and I drew some clouds. I wanted him to draw the sun on a piece of white paper, or cut out a piece of yellow paper for the sun, but he would have none of that.

I’d like to do this again on a piece of bristol board, using patterned paper and a better glue (spray on adhesive instead of glue stick) because I think that’d be a cool piece of art. Using decorative paper punches that made flower heads, leaves, etc would also be cool/fun and speed things up quite a bit.

niko_art_allosaur

Remember when I mentioned the white board and how much Niko liked it? He’s been drawing a lot of awesome dinosaurs on it. This is one of them, an allosaurus. On the left you can see its enormous head and massive teeth and on the right you can see its feathered tail. You can also see its hands and feet with fingers/toes. FUN FACT: in Serbian, prst means both “finger” and “toe.” “Digit,” says Nesko. “It means digit.” I did not help with this one at all.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko has seriously levelled up in some aspects of his problem solving/helpfulness skills and it’s both adorable and ARGH NO STOP PLEASE NO at the same time. For instance, pouring his own drinks leads to massive spills, wiping his own pooey bum leads to poo everywhere, and jumping up and using a tool to turn on a light switch is an awesome idea but when that tool is a crayon it leads to crayon on the lightswitch/walls. There’s also the frustrating fact that he is ABLE to fully dress himself but still insists on us “helping” him where “helping” is “doing almost everything.” However, I think that’s primarily him being a bit clingy because a lot of stuff is changing and changing fast (Nesko has a new job and isn’t home as much, school is starting soon, we’re talking about moving albeit not for at least a year, etc). But I look at my little baby who came into this world as a helpless squalling grub, and every day I get closer to seeing the adult who’s going to leave my house.

He spent most of Saturday with his Tetka (aunt), and didn’t get home until pretty late. He had a super great time with her (he always does, she’s great) and before he left she told him that LATER ON as in IN THE FUTURE he could come over again and “swim” in the pool (a little wading pool, nothing big/fancy… if it was a real pool you know I’d rudely move in and never leave). He interpreted this, as little kids do, as TOMORROW.

So instead of sleeping in on Sunday he bounded into our bedroom, bright and alert, at 5:00 a. m.

I’M AWAKE NOW! IT’S TIME TO BE AWAKE! HEY WHY ARE YOU GUYS STILL SLEEPING?!? IT’S TIME TO BE AWAKE NOW! I NEED YOU TO HELP ME PUT ON MY SWIMMING CLOTHES! I’M GOING SWIMMING WITH TETKA NAMEREDACTED! I NEED TO PUT ON MY SWIMMING PANTS! WHERE IS MY WATER SHIRT? I’M GOING TO GO PACK MY BAG!

Then he scampered off.

He came back a few minutes later wearing swim trunks (over underpants).

I’M ALL PACKED NOW! WHERE IS MY WATER SHIRT? WHEW IT’S GOING TO BE A HOT AND SUNNY DAY, I NEED MY SUNSCREEM. WHERE IS MY SUNSCREEM? WE CAN ALL PUT ON SUNSCREEM AND GO SWIMMING IN MY LITTLE POOL. IT’S SOOOOOO HUGE IT’S ENORMOUS! I PACKED MY BAG! HEY, WHY AREN’T YOU UP? I NEED TO EAT SOME CEREAL YOU GUYS! I HAVE TO EAT A GOOD BREAKFAST BEFORE I GO SWIMMING!

I dragged myself out of bed and helped him get a bowl of cereal (WITH MILK OK MAMA) and told him he had to not wear underpants with his swim suit, so he stripped down and redressed in just the trunks. He scarfed down two bowls of cereal and I checked his bag. He’d packed:

  • a full change of clothing including underpants and socks
  • a hat
  • sunglasses
  • his water bottle
  • appropriate snacks in little containers

This child does not need me anymore, except to get things off of high shelves. OBVIOUSLY.

Nesko called his sister who was all yeah no, I’m busy all day, I meant LATER and we broke the news gently to Niko. But not until he’d told me just how BIG and HUGE and ENORMOUS his swimming pool is. Internets, his swimming pool is SO BIG it is the size of my butt.

Apparently my bottom is now a unit of measure.

I told him that my butt is pretty small for a swimming pool and he said OH HM WAIT NO. MY SWIMMING POOL, he said, IS THE SIZE OF THAT THING YOU GOT UP THERE and he pointed at my shoulder which, I mean, that’s even smaller than my butt. Whaaat?

He’s decided that today is a good day to have a picnic so he’s spread a little blanket on the floor and consuming all food (breakfast, snack, lunch) right there. I can dig it.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

I folded up a load of clean clothing for Niko, all neat little packages, sorted by clothing type and drawer (he has a drawer that holds pyjamas, underpants, and socks; and a drawer that holds long and short pants and long and short sleeve shirts, each of those getting their own section). I placed them carefully in a basket and told him to put away his clothing.

He refused.

He offered that I could help him, and we could work together, and I could put them away for him.

I declined.

He asked if he could watch tv.

I declined.

He eventually hoisted the basket and brought it into his room, threw it onto the floor, and stared at it, then stared at the dirty clothing on the floor next to his empty hamper.

Then he picked up one t-shirt from the middle of the pile, shook it out, walked over to the underpants drawer, opened it shoved the t-shirt in, closed the drawer, and walked back to the basket.

He proceeded to pick up each item individually, carry it over to the drawers, open the drawer, place it, and close it for each item. SO MANY EXTRA STEPS. He took many breaks to drink water, show me his electric train, pick up (individual) pieces of dirty clothing (one by one) and drop them in the hamper, move dinosaurs around, climb into the basket and rub his head all over the clean laundry, etc.

What should have taken five minutes MAXIMUM took fifteen and I finally grabbed a stack of pyjamas, thrust them at him, and ordered him to put them in the drawers. I did the same with the t-shirts, insisting LIKE SOME KIND OF JERK that they all go in the same drawer that holds his other t-shirts.

Oh my goddddddddddddddddddd.

He’s been super “helpful” all day including asking if he could help me clean the bathroom then rejecting all tasks I offered him and standing RIGHT NEXT TO OR BEHIND ME the entire time. Like a limpet, but one that tells really shitty jokes (why did the chicken cross the road? BECAUSE OF A RADIATOR!)

We started the day off, btw, by testing out our new sprinkler in the front yard. Our yard is so small it was hard to adjust it to not water other peoples’ yards and houses, the sidewalk, etc. One of our next door neighbors (who listens to Rush Limbaugh REALLY REALLY LOUDLY) came outside to monitor our progress and I started getting super paranoid he was getting pissed off at us for watering his steps but then he kept laughing at Niko’s antics so maybe he was just curious I DO NOT EVEN KNOW. Our sprinkler’s adjustable and I kept darting over to it, trying to avoid the spray and also make it not spray in peoples’ windows, and I’m sure that was comedic to watch. Niko looked like he was having fun the whole time, but after the fact he complained about how he hates getting wet and he hates water and the only reason he spends an hour+ in the bath tub splashing around is because he HAS to get wet to get clean. THE ONLY REASON. Playing in water is AWFUL and HORRIBLE and for SUCKERS. I didn’t take any photos of him pretending to have fun running into the hose and sprinkler because I didn’t want my camera or phone to get wet.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

We had ISSUES yesterday involving TEARS and RECRIMINATIONS because Niko wanted to paint but didn’t want to clean up his toys first, which I set as a requirement… in part because I couldn’t even get TO his painting stuff to get it out, so thick were the wooden train tracks and stuffed animals upon the ground. He eventually came around and we Cleaned All The Things but he’d lost the urge to paint.

It came back this morning.

He helped me get his supplies, including spreading out the blue plastic table cloth we put on the table to protect it. He took off his shirt and painted several dinosaur scenes and practiced writing his name with big chunky paint brush and tempera paint.

I really need to video Niko painting because he narrates what’s going on while he creates. This is the sky and this is sand down here and here’s a Mamenchisaurus with its RIDICULOUSLY LONG NECK and its really big feet and here is a Diplodocus with its long neck and long tail and its spikes on its back and now here are its really big feet. And these are its footprints! And here are some clouds, because it’s going to rain and it’s going to rain on them and here are some rain drops falling on them and they’re falling on the ground and over here on the sea. This is the sea. And here’s a baby! It hatched out of this egg and here’s some other eggs in a nest.

It’s wonderful and adorable and he got very covered in paint. I had to scrub it out of his ear and one arm pit. TOTALLY WORTH IT.

After about an hour of painting we cleaned up and he got into his play dough and made an apple that is lumpy but recognizable as an apple, complete with stem and leaves, and then he made a potato (what?!?) and some cookies and a pancake.

He also lamented that it was SO SAD that he didn’t have A SPECIAL TABLE FOR HIS TRAINS like he’s seen at some stores. I reminded him that he has a really big table in the living room that he could PUT trains on, so he constructed a city on the table with wooden block sky scrapers, wooden train tracks, plastic trees, and rocks. There’s a train station with a parking lot.

After his nap we’re going to work on writing some more.

It’s a good life.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s greatest love is dinosaurs.

After that, though, he loves mysteries. Also: trains, cars, My Little Pony, and Chicago’s architecture. But he’s really keen on mysteries and went through a phase where he was super into “The Great Mouse Detective” and “Busy Town Mysteries.” If someone is looking for something, his first question is ‘well, where is the last place you saw it?’ which is a pretty helpful question to ask.

He was helping me clean the dining room yesterday, running a microfiber cloth around the molding and windowsills and chair legs to dust them. Then he wandered off. I needed that cloth so I could dust the tops of some things, so I called him back into the dining room to ask him where it was.

“Hm,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Hm. It sounds like A MYSTERY.”

“Dude, just tell me where it is. Where did you put it?”

“I didn’t put it! It’s lost. It is… A MYSTERY.”

He walked over to his easel and flipped the paper out of the way, picked up a chunky piece of yellow chalk and tapped it against the chalk board.

“What did it look like?”

“What do you mean what did it look like? You just had it.”

He tapped the chalk board again.

“WHAT did it LOOK LIKE mama?”

“It was a yellow square of microfiber cloth.”

“Uh huh. Uh huh. AH HAH.”

He drew a close approximation of a square on the chalk board.

“A yellow square. OF CLOTH. Where is the last place you saw it?”

“You were dusting the window sill with it. Did you take it into the living room to play with?”

“I must LOOK FOR CLUES. You wait here.”

He ran off and came back with it.

“FOUND IT. I found it. SOMEBODY put it… IN THE LIVING ROOM. Another mystery solved!”

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s gotten really into coloring and painting lately. He pretty much exclusively is interested in dinosaurs ONLY and gets super pissed if a dinosaur that’s supposed to have spikes/plates/a frill/horns/etc isn’t portrayed as such so he will DRAW THEM ON while scolding the original artist. “How could they even DO THAT? They should KNOW that a Kentrosaurus has a big spike on its side! They should KNOW THAT!”

He likes to paint, mostly with tempera paint (finger paints make his fingers feel icky, so mostly he uses a Popsicle stick to scoop paint onto the paper then push it around). He paints stegosaurs and allosaurs and baby sauropods eating ferns, and he adds some trackways (footprints), and then he draws a giant comet coming straight at them. It’s a whole story process.

We used to set him up with an art easel in the kitchen, which has tile floor. Now that he’s marginally less prone to sloping paint EVERYWHERE I set him up on the dining room table, over the hard wood floors.

I pour some paint into these little paper cups I picked up for free somewhere. They’re about the size of a dixie or bathroom cup. A 1/2 cup sized reusable plastic storage container, small glass, or ice cube tray would also work. And then the pain, paper, etc gets set down on the plastic table cloth we saved from his birthday.

When we were ordering birthday decorating supplies, I splurged a tiny bit on a blue plastic table cloth. It’s meant to be disposable. I did not dispose of it. Instead, I wiped off all birthday crumbs, folded it up, and stuck it in our big white cabinet that holds printer paper, art supplies, and computer cords. And when he wants to paint I pull that sucker out and lay it down on the table. It’s water resistant, so if he spills a bit of water on it the water doesn’t soak into the table cloth or (antique) (and ugly, but emotionally priceless for Nesko) dining room table. It protects the table and table cloth from paint spills. And when he’s done, I just fold it up and put it away.

We’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. It’s way cheaper than “oil cloth” (which is not actually oil cloth, may I pedantically point out), and less likely to be impregnated with cancer-causing chemicals. It reduces my anxiety about paint RUINING EVERYTHING. And it lets Niko MAKE A LOT OF ART!!! Which he loves doing.

Speaking of child!art, what do you do with it? I have kept a total of maybe 3 pieces (two of which are drawings of us as a family, and the first drawings he made of humans) and I display the rest for a while before tossing it. Or I send it to family or friends. But really, I toss a lot of his art. I might scan or photograph some of his current stuff before tossing it, but really I consider it ephemera.

What’s your take on this?

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

I was getting a jump on dinner, which includes a sauce that needs to simmer for multiple hours, when Niko hotfooted it into the kitchen with no pants on, demanding my help. WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS I demanded back and it turns out that when he said he had an accident he didn’t mean the bodily fluids kind but the full glass of water kind. All over the floor. And the external hard drive, ha ha ha! Ughhh.

It took me twenty minutes and three towels to clean this water up, and I had to wedge my fat self in between the couch and the wall to get the water up… off of our hundred year old hard wood floors. Niko hung all his colored dinosaur pictures up on the wall in the living room, and one of them got splashed and soaked. Markers, when wet, bleed ink all OVER the place. At least my laptop didn’t get wet.

Niko was dismayed at the accident, and get upset when I used a stern voice. “You can’t be angry at me!” he scolded “It was an accident!” I want him to always feel he can come to me, that no mistake is so big or horrible that he can’t turn to me for help. But Jesus Fuck he is four years old, when will he stop butterfingering glasses of water onto the floor? I’m very frustrated, especially about the external hard drive. I hope it withstood its tumble to the floor. There’s some photos on there that don’t exist anywhere else.

Focusing on the positive, he helped me out today by cleaning all of his toys out of the dining room and then helping me dust in there. Helpful!

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s gotten interested in “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” or as he calls it, “I Love You Pony.” He’s very taken with the show and talks about how the ponies are his friends. He’s renamed various stuffed animals as Pinky Pie (his favorite), Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Inky Dinky (his own made up pony character, who is a lizard) and sometimes we play Ponies. The show is ostensibly about friendship, and each show wraps up with an explicit discussion of the lesson learned in that show, usually one about friendship or respect or generally not being an asshole.

Sounds good, right?

But actually it’s not.

The show models a lot of negative behavior that’s only resolved at the very end. So there’s 5 minutes of positive verbal addressing of the negative behavior, and 16 minutes of demonstrating negative behavior before then. The main focus is on the negative behavior, that’s what’s given the most attention, that’s what’s modeled for the kids. Kids who watch shows that model negative behavior with a positive ending focus overwhelmingly on the negative behavior. They act on what’s modeled. As most parents and caregivers know, “do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t really work.

I’m not really loving “My Little Pony.” Too much negative behavior is displayed, and the ending lesson generally feels overly prescriptive and too sugary sweet. It’s a lesson, and we know it’s a lesson.

So what show does my judgmental ass approve of?

I really like “Dinosaur Train.” When we first started watching it, I made fun of the show’s premise. It feels like such a marketing thing, you know? Just shoving together two things kids like: dinosaurs, and trains. Woo, hop on that merchandizing bandwagon! But the show fundamentally works. It follows 4 siblings (one of whom is adopted) and their parents and friends as they travel around studying other dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. The kids play together really well, address and solve interpersonal issues quickly and fairly, and demonstrate great interpersonal skills and problem solving… including shutting down bullying. The parents are involved in their lives, including the dad who is kind of goofy but not because he’s a guy, because he’s a goofy character. He’s really involved and competent as a parent. Social messages in the show are delivered subtly and consistently throughout an episode instead of broadcast at the end.

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is another good one. The social skills messages are more overt, since that’s the purpose of the show and it’s aimed at younger kids. But the messages are integrated and positive behavior is modeled throughout the entire show instead of being spoken about briefly at the end. Again, there’s rich involvement from male parents and guardians.

“Sid the Science Kid” also integrates positive interpersonal skills. The kids might argue or disagree, but it’s done so in a positive and constructive manner and quickly resolved. Sid’s dad is active, involved, and competent at parenting and the show makes an effort at showing a wide range of ethnicities and cultures as a norm and also emphasizing women’s role in STEM fields. There’s a big focus on critical thinking and working together and that’s again woven through the entire show and not just tacked on at the end.

It’s not a coincidence that these shows are all 1) on PBS and 2) relatively recent shows. I think there’s going to be a bigger push, at least for little kids’ programming, to get child psychologists involved in designing and writing the shows. There’s growing awareness of how kids consume media, and what they do and do not pick up on. As parents and guardians we are gatekeepers for what our kids consume. I don’t think occasional episodes of MLP or Scooby Doo or whatever will ruin a kid forever. But I do think that part of my job as a parent is to discuss things Niko watches with him. So, for instance, the last time he watched a MLP episode, I had to discuss with him how most people are terrible at things when they try them the first time but that if you work hard you’ll get good at it… a direct contradiction to the episode’s focus on being naturally gifted at things and great the first time one turns one’s hand at something new.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Sometimes bedtime is a happy magical rose-tinted time of cuddles and tickles and stories and sleepy sighs and love-yous and good-nights etc and all is right with the world.

But sometimes…

Sometimes…

it

is

not.

Amongst the things Niko was freaking out about tonight was that his water was not cold enough. We keep a lidded/sippy cup of water near his bed that he can drink through the night. He’s been dry over nights basically forever (since LONG before he was potty trained, what’s UP with THAT?) so liquids near/during/after bedtime have never been an issue for us. But today he made me refill that fucker with “clean clear cold fresh” water three times and it was never cold enough. “This still tastes like warm water!” So I filled it with ice from a novelty crab ice cube tray while the cold water was running to get as cold as possible, then topped it off. THIS ALARMED HIM. Because it was ICE and he didn’t not WANT ICE because ICE IS (apparently) TERRIFYING especially when it is MON-MON (crab shaped, no idea why he calls crabs mon-mons) SHAPED what was I trying to do, KILL HIM? Later I managed to get him into pyjamas and he got upset because I 1) didn’t help him take off his shirt and then 2) helped him take his shirt off. Then I offered him short pyjama pants instead of long pyjama pants WHAT WAS I THINKING (other than it being in the 80s)? Also I called him sunshine which, he was furiously quick to remind me, is NOT his NAME.

In the course of the night he pulled my pants down off of my body, exposing my bottom to anyone who might have been passing by. He was sobbing in incoherent rage when he did that, but also started laughing because LOL BUTTS so was sobbing and laughing and coughing and just… a mess.

Poor kid.

(it was pretty funny)

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Jason Good has a blog post about reasons his 3 year old is flipping out, and it’s pretty funny. It digs right into just how irrational little kids are, how confusing and overwhelming the world can be for them and how confusing and overwhelming they can be for their parents/caregivers. I like his blog. He’s obviously an involved and loving parent who knows his kids well and is able to put a humorous yet understanding spin on daily life. So when I first saw links to a tumblr about why a kid is crying I assumed it was a link to his site. It wasn’t. Instead, it’s a collection of photos of a crying 2 or 3 year old with a caption as to why he’s crying. The kid cries a lot, apparently. And the kid’s parent takes time to photograph the kid while crying and note down why he’s crying (milk’s in the wrong color cup, a piece of cheese is the wrong shape, etc). There’s a lot of people who think it’s really funny.

I don’t.

It’s really, really hard being a kid– especially a young kid. A really little kid flips out when his cheese is the wrong shape or her milk’s in the wrong cup because 1) that means it’s just plain WRONG and/or 2) that’s one thing in a huge world they have control over and now they’ve lost that control. Good’s blog post feels empathic. It reads as a guy who understands that it’s hard to be a little kid, and that it can be frustrating to be the parent of a little kid, but if you step back you can see the humor in the situation. The tumblr feels… I don’t know. My mind lights on words like “cruel” and “predatory” but I don’t think that’s quite it. Friends of mine suggest it’s something that was designed to go viral and sure enough, the creator and his family were on TV concerning it. But what’s the difference between Good’s blog post and the tumblr?

I think the biggest thing is that Good put in effort after the fact to list reasons his kid was flipping out and the sheer number, and ridiculousness of them, builds and is funny. And a lot of stuff he talks about were things he was doing with his kid, interacting with his kid. The tumblr is quick snapshots of a kid that already looks stressed out accompanied by one-sentence descriptions. It feels like the tumblr author prioritizes taking a photo of his kid in crises to helping his kid in crises solve the problem. Good talks about his kid, the tumblr author complains about his kid.

And, you know, sometimes parents and caregivers need to vent. Kids can be frustrating, challenging, hard work. And when parents and caregivers complain they’re frequently abused for doing so, especially if they’re women. (In fact, one friend of mine asked if the tumblr would be as popular if it were a mom writing it; dads get way more leeway to be less than saints. I think it’d fly as long as she was white, affluent, and joked about how much wine she drinks. Several “mommybloggers” fitting that description landed book deals based on their HILARZ discussions of alcoholic parenting, then checked into rehab. That really wouldn’t have worked for them if they weren’t a certain type.) So I’m all for finding and creating safe spaces to vent, to unload, to ask for help. But that really doesn’t feel like it’s what’s happening.

In my experience, which is fairly limited to my own relatively laid back 4 year old and some babysitting (age ranges from 1 1/2-7 years old) most freak outs can be nipped in the bud by remembering HALT. Is the kid Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? If your kid (or adult) starts getting on edge and acting brittle, look at the circumstances. When did they last eat? Do they need to calm down and sleep? Do they need attention? Are they angry/frustrated and need to express that and then calm down before proceeding? For really little kids, also check to see if they need to use the bathroom or are generally over whelmed. Being mindful of your kid’s needs can go a long way toward creating a smoother life for everyone involved. This isn’t some magic bullet that will solve all your problems, obviously.

It’s also important to remember that little kids don’t have adult brains. If they ask for a piece of cheese and you give them the “wrong” shape of cheese? That is not what they asked for. Until they make certain synaptic connections, they cannot translate that. It’s not possible. Their brains are growing, and they aren’t just increasing in size they’re increasing connections and the ability to make deductions. They have very little control over their lives, so cling to what they CAN control: what color cup they use, what shirt they wear. They are just learning new skills and get frustrated easily because what they WANT to do is so much harder than it should be because they are still learning how to do it. When little kids flip out, it’s because they can’t cope with the world at the moment. Part of maturing is learning to cope with it, even when frustrating… and part of parenting is teaching kids how to cope with a frustrating world.

Or you could take photos of your sobbing child and post it to tumblr, I guess.

Edited to add:
I was talking about this with a couple other people and more than one person compared it (negatively) to The Honest Toddler. Good and THT both discuss parenting and specific child-centered situations, and tend to poke fun at adults, parents, and specific styles of parenting (generally affluent, privileged parenting) while the tumblr pokes fun at a kid… a kid who’s defenseless at the moment. Instead of holding the powerful up to scrutiny, it holds the defenseless up. It’s a bit exploitative. And it bothers me that there’s just this constant string of negative photos of a little kid having problems.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

“Niko, did you finish your apple? Go take your plate to tata if you want bacon.”
“NO! I do NOT want… oooh! Yeah! I DO want bacon!”

“Mama, is this dinosaur a plant eater, or a meat eater?”
“Well, it’s got forward facing eyes and big sharp teeth. It looks like a meat eater.”
“No, I think it’s a plant eater.”
“But look, it’s a therapod. It’s got two feet with three toes on it, and a long tail for balance, and–”
“WELL MAMA, next time Elliot comes over I will ask HIM if it’s a plant eater or a meat eater.”
“And will you believe what he says?”
“I will if he says it’s a plant eater.”

“Ahhhh! Ahhh! Ahh! The living room is fulllll of dinosaur zombies!”
“Oh, huh.”
“DO YOU KNOW HOWWWWW to stop dinosaur zombies?”
“Do you…. I don’t know. How do you stop dinosaur zombies?”
“WITH FLOWER GUNS! pew pew pew pew pew.”

“I wanna watch that train show with that fox and that hound.”
“Oh… do you mean “The Fox And The Hound”?”
“Yes, it’s got a train in it.”

“Niko, no puppet show in the kitchen. No toys in the kitchen. You need to take that puppet show out of here.”
“TOO BAD it’s stuck to the floor TOO BAD I can’t move it OH WELL TOO BAD.”

“Hey, do you want to watch ‘Word World’?”
“Yes! They make words on that show, that word world show. Do they make the word dinosaur?”
“I don’t think so, that’s kind of a big word and they mostly spell little words.”
“What about Stegosaurus? That’s my favorite word.”
“Why is that your favorite word?”
“Because of all the S’es.”

We are ONCE AGAIN trying to transition Niko to sleep in his own little bed and not in our bed, kicking and punching us all night. The night before last he was up literally every hour, yowling and crying, resulting in three very tired people the next day. I had a headache LITERALLY ALL DAY from lack of sleep. Nesko slept in until almost 11:00, scuttling our plans to run errands in the morning. Niko was lobbying hard to go to the park that day and I told him that we’d planned to take him to the park in the morning but we were too tired to go because he’d kept us up all night. TOO BAD. He asked several times and I told him the same thing each time. Why can’t we go to the park? Why can’t we go outside? Why can’t tata play with him? Because he’s sleeping, because he’s tired, because he was up all night because Niko was being mean and unkind and not being quiet and not letting us sleep.

Last night went much better. He did wake us up with his crying once, but I think it was a legit nightmare. Nesko settled him and came back to bed. We both went to bed around 10:30 (although I had a hard time falling asleep) and woke up around 8:00 and my mood and energy levels are both vastly improved. I’ve still got a sleep deficit but am feeling a lot better. Niko and I had a talk today about his future allowance.

Basically, he gets 10 cents for each night he sleeps through the night without being a dick and if he makes it for a full week he gets an additional 30 cents, which makes a dollar. Also, if he helps us pick up all his toys and books before going to bed he gets 10 cents with a 30 cent bonus if he does it every night for a full week. This is another dollar. So he’s got the potential to earn $2.00 a week just by being a decent person and not an asshole. He wants to buy some more trans, so he’s got a goal to work toward. I’m going to make a chart so he can see how well he’s doing, including showing how well he’s working toward his goal. The train he wants costs $10.95 and I figure Nesko and I can handle the tax since he’s so young. When he’s 6 or so he can start figuring that out and accounting for it himself.

I know some people will object to “bribing” him for basic good behavior, but honestly, I want him in the habit of doing these things and I want to give him an allowance any way. Some people push for giving kids a base allowance that’s not dependent on behavior or chores. I think most people just do what their parents did, but neither Nesko nor I got an allowance so we don’t have that to fall back on.

How do you handle allowance in your household? Was it an easy decision, or hard? Is it what your parents did, or different? Is it dependent on chores, or not? What’s your pay scale? I’d love to hear more.

BTW, I wrote a post about diets, body size, and taking photos of yourself at my main blog. Please feel free to check it out.

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December 2015

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