I sit at the dining table, reading, and munching on some illicit almonds. Illicit, because almonds are not something the children can eat, meaning, I can’t share. Meaning, such eating had really best be done under cover of darkness. Far, far from the children.
However, the only child up at the moment is Gwynn. The littles are all sleeping. I made sure that Gwynn was utterly engrossed in her blocks over there in the living room before I quietly sat down here, in the dining room, so I’d say that I’m —
“What you eating, Mary?”
There is no point in lying about it. She can see me chewing. She can hear me crunching. I wonder if the crunching is what drew her attention, in this quiet house? From the other room? Over the clink and clunk of her blocks? With her back to me??? (Seriously. How do they know?)
(More to the point: why do I ever think I can get away with it? After all these years, it borders on delusional.)
But I’m not sharing. First, she’s had her snack, before the littles started their nap. Second, almonds are not safe for a two-year-old. Technically, they shouldn’t be getting whole nuts until they’re four, because of the risk of choking. (In fact, when I was a young mother, my pediatrician said five was the magic number.) I did not wait that long with my own kids. I took into consideration their teeth: obviously, kids without molars don’t get little crunchy esophagus-blocking morsels. I took into consideration their eating styles. Kids who madly cram food in did not get nuts (I had at least one of those). Kids who take little bites and chew slowly (I had at least one of those!) got nuts. So I honestly don’t remember how old they were when they first got nuts, but I do know it wasn’t the five years old my doctor was suggesting.
However. That was my own kids. With other people’s kids, I am much more careful. Gwynn only turned two a couple of months ago. Not even close.
“I am eating almonds, sweetie.” I show her the nuts in my hand. “But you can’t have almonds, my dear, because you could choke on them. They are dangerous for you. You can’t have almonds until you are five years old.” I pause to let that sink in. She pauses, to see if I’m about to change my mind. “How old are you, Gwynnie?”
She grows still as she considers. Her brilliant, pale blue eyes widen, her face is framed by wisps of white-blond hair. She speaks in careful, sincere, measured tones. She knows she just has one shot at this, and she’d better make it good. Her voice rings with conviction and sincerity as she assure me,
“I am old, Mary!”
She didn’t get any nuts.
She did get a giant, laughter-filled hug before being sent on her way, though.
“Dis yooks yike a ditar pit.”
Oh, sorry. You don’t speak Daniel. I’ll translate. Daniel is holding up a plastic button from our lacing box. I’ve always seen it as oval, but it is more pointed at one end than the other.
D: This looks like a guitar pick.
M: Heh. You’re right, it does. Does someone you know play guitar?
M: You don’t know anyone who plays a guitar?
D: No. I don’t.
M: Then how do you know what a guitar pick is?
D: Because my daddy has one. He keeps it with his guitar, so sometimes he hits the strings with it to make the music come out.
This kid is the happiest tot I’ve had in care for a long time. She has her moments, sure. She struggles a little with anxiety, though much less than before. She can pout and whine — she’s three after all. But all in all, the most consistently upbeat little human it’s my pleasure to know.
She’s also verbal. (She’s three.) Very verbal. Ceaselessly verbal. A steady stream of chatter flows from this girl, but because it’s 99.9% happy chatter, it’s utterly charming. Yes, my ears do get tired, but my heart? Never. (And does Mary feel a little goofy for expressing herself with such sentimental cheesiness as ‘heart’? Yes. But it’s true, nonetheless.)
The children are wrestling with some Big Problem. How to move a chair around the dining table so they can all sit on the same side, I think, and one chair leg had gotten snagged on a table leg. Daniel is frustrated, and Rosie is shouting at the chair.
“It’s okay, guys!” says Poppy, full of confident positivity. “We can fix it! We are the Solution Gang!”
Adorable, I tell you.
Three-year-olds are fascinated by genitalia.
What they have, what the other guy has. It comes up in conversation, casual conversation, all the time. I don’t get flustered, I just deal in facts. Well, facts and appropriate social boundaries. Truth be known, I actively enjoy these conversations. They’re funny and sweet, charming and utterly innocent.
The cutesy-prudery that is endemic in our society irritates the ever-loving crap out of me. We cringe at the thought of having “The Talk” with our kids. We wince when they mention their genitalia. We moan together about how embarrassed we are about our children’s perfectly normal (and perfectly innocent) curiosity about their own bodies.
“Oooooo!” some mommy-blogger writes, “My little boy asked how long it takes to make a baby!” (The child, elementary school age, I gather, had enough of the facts that he wasn’t asking about gestation, you understand. He wanted to know how long The Act took.) This mother dedicated a thousand words (some of them, I admit, kind of funny) to describing how she didn’t answer her son’s honest question, but did manage to convey a whole lot of embarrassment, unease, and shame.
Or the daddy-blogger who waxed lyrical (and, yes, he was funny, too) about how HIS precious angel is not going to be allowed to have a boyfriend until she’s 30, and that all prospective suitors will have to run the gauntlet of his protective manliness to achieve their virgin princess in a tower.
Irritates the SHIT out of me, people.
Because God forbid we produce children who grow up into ADULTS. Adults who have the information, attitudes and resources to have, among other things, a healthy adult sex life. They don’t get there because we had one squirming, cringing, stilted conversation, aka “The Talk”, or, worse, just had a leaflet thrown at them when they were thirteen or so.
Do we want kids who have confidence and self-respect? Teens who will see us as trustworthy resources, and come to us with questions and concerns? Adults who choose loving and nurturing partners? Then get over yourself and talk. to. your. kids. Talk sanely, calmly, sensibly, respectfully. Your children is much more likely to achieve healthy sexuality when their parents answer straight questions with age-appropriate information. When their parents are relaxed and matter-of-fact about this topic.
Our children stand a far better chance of getting to be healthy adults with healthy sexuality if we act like adults ourselves, instead of sniggering 9-year-old boys or simpering 9-year-old girls. Grow up, people!
So when the topic of genitalia comes up here, and it does, routinely, we use medically accurate terms. No “pee-pees” in this house. “Down there” means “on the floor”, not a body part.
Boys have a penis and testicles. Girls have a vulva and a vagina. Those are the words we use. We use them quite a bit these days, because there are two three-year-olds in the house.
Jazz and Grace stand over Josh, who is being changed.
“He has a penis,” Grace observes.
“Yes, and tessacles,” Jazz adds. They nod, sagely pleased with their observations.
When Poppy is being changed,
“Her vulva gots poo on it.”
“Yes, Jazz, it does. I’m cleaning it now.”
“And you gots to be careful and not get poo in her vagina,” Grace adds.
“Smart girl! You’re absolutely right. I have to make sure her vagina stays clean.”
See how easy it is?
I have done my best to put this exciting vocabulary in the appropriate social context. These are private areas of the body, and so we don’t talk about them just anywhere. I’ve explained that it’s okay to talk about these things with me and with mummy and daddy, but not just anyone.
This morning I had some wiring replaced in my basement. The electrician is also a friend, so he stopped to chat with the tots. Being a sensible man, he admired Grace’s dress.
“Yes, I have a pretty dress, and Mary has a skirt!”
“So she does,” he nods.
“Mary has a skirt and she has a shirt and she has a sweater and she has tights and she has unnerwears, and”
Uh-oh. “Unnerwears” was already too much information, and my electrician friend is snorting into his beard. He thinks that’s the punch line. He thinks the joke is over, but I know better. I can see the trajectory here, and it’s not heading in a G-rated direction. I don’t interject quickly enough, however.
“… unnerwears and she has a VULVA!” Grace stops, pleased to have gotten the Topic of the Month into conversation.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Only a three-year-old could put you in the position of encouraging your electrician to consider your nether regions. (Is it better or worse that he’s a friend, I wonder?) So much for “private things talked about in private”, huh? Except, from the perspective of a three-year-old, we’re IN THE HOUSE, and he IS A FRIEND, so we’re discussing private things in private, amongst friends. What could possibly be wrong with that??
What’s a little genital consideration amongst friends, anyway? We do it ALL THE TIME around here!! Hee.
Thankfully, my friend the electrician is, like me, a grown-up about these matters. He also has children of his own (children old enough to be producing grandchildren, but still, children). He’s been here. He barely blinks. Well, unless you count the wink he threw my way.
“Medically accurate, huh? Good job!” He raises two thumbs as he heads out the front door.
Me and my vulva, we go make lunch for the children.
And she makes me laugh at least four times an hour.
This morning, Poppy kneels on a chair at my dining table, a tray puzzle of jungle animals in front of her. She is the only child here yet, so I am finishing the breakfast dishes before the others arrive. Poppy sings to herself as the fits pieces into the puzzle, removes them, puts them back. Only after a few minutes do I realize that she is singing “Old MacDonald”, and fitting the words to the puzzle. This Old MacDonald has a zebra, a hippo, a giraffe, a monkey, an elephant, a parrot, and a rhino on his farm. Animals which make a fairly impressive range of growls, snorts, and squawks.
Our theme for this month is Rainbows. November is a dismal, grey, drab, altogether tedious and disheartening month. How better to resist the slide into the drab by having a Rainbow theme? I went out looking for a prism to make rainbows, and came back with one of these. It makes rainbows. Really. It adheres to my living room window with a suction cup. A teeny solar panel at the top powers the motor, which spins the crystal at the bottom, sending rainbow-hued blobs swirling around the room, on the walls, floor, ceiling. Through some wonder of faceted crystals, they move in many directions. Some go left, some go right, some surge upward, some down. It’s lovely.
It takes direct sunlight on the solar panel, though, something in which November is sorely lacking. No sunshine = no rainbows. This morning, though, the sun broke through and within a few minutes, the crystal had begun to turn. It was Poppy who noticed first.
She stands in the middle of the room, her face alight. “RAINBOWS! There are RAINBOWS!!” Her arms extend above her head, her eyes wide in delighted wonder, she twirls with the rainbows. Then she chases them, laughing, before deciding that THE VERY BEST thing to do is to jump on the ones racing across the floor. Laughing, laughing the whole while. The other children, who had been oblivious to the rainbows, are drawn to her joy, and soon the room is filled with laughing, reaching, dancing toddlers.
Though I had put away the dogs’ leashes and other dog-walk accessories (poop bags, treat bag, Daisy’s harness), I had left the small flashlight on the shelf in the front hall. This is not where it belongs. Poppy noticed. She carries it to me, and declares in her usual enthusiastic, decisive tones, “This is your flashlight for looking at poo!”
Not quite how I’d have phrased it, perhaps, but the child is absolutely correct. Hard to distinguish poo from leaves from sticks from grass in the PITCH DARK of our early morning walks. (Though less so this week, now that we’ve FINALLY switched to daylight savings. Two weeks late. Ahem.) All responsible dog-owners find themselves at some point peering into the beam of their handy flashlight for the shit they KNOW is RIGHT THERE, if they could only find it.
My “flashlight for looking at poo”, indeed.
Poppy. My little laugh machine. Love that girl.
We are walking to the park.
“I have polka-dot boots!” Poppy speaks mostly in highly-enthused declaratives. “I have polka-dot boots, and polka-dots on my pants! And Jazz has polka-dots on her coat!”
Jazz and Poppy are equally delighted by this revelation. Which is true. Poppy has the World’s Cutest Boots, black with large white dots, and trimmed with a bright pink bow. Truly adorable. Her pants are white, with multiple pastel-coloured dots in varying sizes. Cute, too. Jazz’s coat is more muted: pale pink with smallish polka-dots in tones of white through grey.
“Oh! ROSIE has polka-dots!” Poppy has had to look a bit harder for Rosie’s dots, but there they are, on her socks, visible in a thin band between pants and shoes as her feet peep out from the stroller. (Rosie does not care one bit about dots, nor does she notice the careful examination of the other children. Rosie has a fallen leaf. Rosie is happy.)
Daniel cares about dots. “I has dots!” he declares, excited to be joining in. We all look at him, a little blank. Plain blue knit hat, dark red jacket with white stripes along the pockets, jeans, orange shoes. But even as Jazz inhales for her hearty denunciation of his delusion, Daniel proudly points to his new runners. Runners which, unlike every pair of shoes he was worn in his short life, do not have velcro. Today, for the first time, LACES! With holes in the shoes to thread the laces through! And those holes? Are ROUND! Round like POLKA-DOTS!!!
To their credit, the girls let this pass. Daniel has polka-dots on his new shoes. COOL!
All eyes are now on Grace. Oh, dear. Poor Grace does not have polka-dots. From the top of her head to the tip of her toe, there is not a polka-dot, nor even a polka-dot approximation. We all pause to take in the pathos of this lack. Then Jazz’s face brightens. “But you have doggies, Grace!” It’s true. Her coat is a visual cacophany of largish dog silhouettes — Scotties, I’d say — in tones of white, grey and blue on a pink background.
We are all very pleased for Grace.
Now, it seems, it’s my turn. Jazz looks me up and down. Red cable-knit sweater hangs loosely down around jean-clad hips, pink runners enclose black socks. No polka-dots. (Apparently the grommets in my shoes do not count.) No doggies. No patterns at all. (Cable knit, it seems, does not count, either.)
Jazz looks me up and down, then makes her declaration, her face matter-of-fact:
“Your clothes are boring, Mary!”
Her tone is mildly pitying. Poor, poor Mary, so sartorially impoverished.
I think I need to get me some polka-dots.
Grace: I have a flower in my hairclip.
Jazz, her tone bright and interested: Oh. You have a flower in your hairclip?
Grace: Yeah. My mommy put it in there.
Jazz, her tone regretful: I didn’t got one today.
Grace, after a pause, with great sympathy: Oh. Well, that happens.
Jazz and Grace, together, nodding sagely: Yeah.
Every sunny morning when we walk by the river on our way to the park, or maybe just to go frolic in the field by the river, Poppy will do this.
If you were here with us, with that lovely scene in front of you, you might think that she’d noticed a fish (carp, probably) breaking the water and splashing back, causing a cascade of circular ripples. Or maybe she spotted one or two of the royal swans. A red-wing blackbird? A heron? A frog?
But if you were here with us, you’d be able to hear her little voice, high with delight. Every sunny morning that we walk along the river, Poppy will stop, point and call out,
“Look! SPARKLES! SPARKLES!”
And every sunny morning, I love the sparkles. Almost as much as I love Poppy.
What do you call that circular toy, a round piece of rigid plastic tubing that you set to spinning around your hips and try to keep up there by just the right timing of hip-swaying?
Yes, that’s what I’d call it, too.
mangles pronounces it slightly differently. She spots the kid-sized one in the back porch as I go out there to retrieve some spring toys so that we may play outside in the (freakishly) warm weather. (Twenty-seven degrees! In MARCH! For five days now! Though the record-breaking hot spell is broken now: today’s high is 17, and for the rest of the week we’re back to more seasonal 0 – 10C temps. But has it been WONDERFUL? Aaaaahhhh…)
Jazz spots the thing in the back porch as I’m lifting the back of buckets and shovels, sifters and tractors.
“Oh! A hoo-er hoop! Mary, there is a hoo-er hoop!”
Snort. I’ve heard lots of weird mispronunciations in my time, but they usually make intuitive sense. I had a (much younger) cousin who used that exact same pronunciation for “squirrel”. Made for entertaining streetcar rides through Toronto, I’ll tell you, and excited two-year-old bouncing on the seat beside me and pointing out the window. “Look, Mary, look! A whore!!!”
You get quick in those situations. Before everyone on the car can be horrified that ‘my’ two-year-old not only knows the word, but can use it properly, I would leap in and ostentatiously point past the young woman on the sidewalk to the tree behind her head. “Yes, Jeremy. There is a squirrel. Squir-rel.”
“Hooo-er.” Yeah. See, all you people on the streetcar, he really is talking about the rodent! But ‘squirrel’ to ‘hoo-er’ isn’t so much of a stretch. Those initial esses are hard to pronounce, and so are ells and ‘qu’s. And there is an ‘r’ in there. Somewhere. So it’s weird, but you can see it. Sorta. But ‘hoo-er’ from ‘hula’??
Nope. How she gets ‘er’ from ‘la’ is beyond me. However, I don’t really want her bellowing that across the playground. Let’s send some other children home with a shiny new word which will sound much, much worse at home than if their earnest mommies had the visual to explain the joke.
“That’s hula, sweetie. Hooo – lllla.”
Her blue eyes fix on mine earnestly, little pink lips form the word carefully, carefully.
“Try this, lovie. La, la, la.”
“La, la, la.”
So far, so good. “Hoo, hoo, hoo.”
“Hoo, hoo, hoo.”
Okay, it’s clear she’s just not capable. She’s really trying, but it’s just not going to come out right. Goodness only knows how her mind/lips/tongue turn a ‘la’ into an ‘er’, but that’s what they do, and there’s no changing it today. But, just for the entertainment:
“Hula, hula, hula!”
“Whore, whore, whooore!”
We don’t take the hoop to the park.
Two little girls colour at the dining room table. One pauses and looks at the other.
“Grace? What is your name, Grace?”
The second little girl pauses to give the question due consideration, then answers.
“Oh. Your name is Grace?” This said in tones of so-polite enquiry. Just checking that she heard it right.
“Yes. And your name is Jazz?” An equally polite question, its inflection oh-so-genteel.
“Yes, I am Jazz.”
And they continue colouring, both under the apparent impression this was a perfectly rational exchange. Between, I note, two elderly Edwardian ladies. All that was missing was tea and crumpets and white lace gloves…