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A Thanksgiving Family Drama

I yelled at Bibi today. Twice.

She's been such a 3-year-old lately by getting into naughty business, and I'm kind of at my bullshit limit from her. It takes great effort to exercise patience with a repeat offender, you know what I mean?

Knocking over my dresser, coloring on the bathroom wall with purple lip balm, going outside without telling anybody, eating chocolate chips this morning because the bag was left out last night, sticking my stamps on a letter that already had a stamp on it, kicking my bed blankets onto the floor, and that's just off the top of my head right now.

It's Thanksgiving today. The cooking and the chores really ramp up and can get stressful. In trying to get us all ready for the one night Megan and I could get off together, so we could hit the road as soon as she got home from work (yes she had to work today), I gave the both of the kids a bath this morning. It had been a couple days and their vaginas were all red because they don't yet realize the connection between wiping thoroughly and rash accumulation.

Dad life. At least I'm not changing diapers anymore.

And Bibi in the bath today was squirming and crying about water getting in her ear and I yelled at her to keep her head still. Pretty loud. I was pretty maximally annoyed.

So that was yelling #1.

A few hours later, everything's cool, and I'm running around doing chores and getting the house ready to be empty for 1 blessed day, and I find a stamp on an envelope that already had one on it. So I yelled again about how I have to baby-proof my entire house and I can't turn my back on her for five minutes before she's getting into my stuff I've told her to leave well enough alone. Plus I found stickers all over the dining room table, that she of course stuck there, and I'm finding all this at the same time I'm serving her food and a drink.

Christmas, I was mad. I found myself walking around the house, choring it up, thinking, "How is she supposed to know any better? She's only 3. She has no experience. Can I really honestly get this mad about this little-kid business? Isn't this what I signed on for?"

No effect, still mad. But I got over it.

Bibi didn't want the food I gave her, she went into the living room and laid on the couch with her toy sword and a blanket over her. I came over after a minute and said that it was wrong that I yelled at her, I didn't need to yell, and I was sorry. And she got a touch teary-eyed, but wiped it away and started opening up again and talking to me.

Lucy comes over and says, "Dad, are you apologizing to Bibi about yelling at her in the bathtub?"

Christmas. "Oh yeah. Bibi, I'm also sorry that I yelled at you in the bathtub."

Bibi nods and says, "Yeah."

And Lucy says, "It's okay, dad. She's alright!"

That was a huge statement for me. It was my own daughter validating me for wrongdoings against her. It meant I'm not a bad guy altogether, and that I was doing the right thing by apologizing and trying to make her sister feel better.

It meant that Lucy's getting older, that school's really opening up her horizons and having wonderful effects on her, and that she can now blow my mind with some of the things she says. I mean, she really cut through to me there, in a beautiful, human way.

Score! Not fucking up my kids! Whooo!

Then we took a bunch of webcam pictures, here's some of them.

Happy holidays today people. May you be able to get together with your family today or around today by a few days. We're a happy one here, way out in the Pacific Northwest.

disapproving dad face

the kids are in control


The A.V. Club educates with article on Sesame Street and talking to children

Not usually do A.V. Club articles make me tear up, but this one just hit me in exactly the right place.

Go and read “We all feel sad, Big Bird”: When Sesame Street confronted death: As it mourned Mr. Hooper, the show found strength in honesty.

Reading the piece, I gained insight into how children interpret their very worlds, and how as a parent I can accurately, simply, and sensitively explain the nature of something as difficult as death.

Writer Molly Eichel put her research in about Sesame Street's own intensive research, the findings of which informed the scriptwriting. They looked at not only the ways children process death, but the entire worldview of a child. What does death looks like through the lens of that overview? It was all deftly incorporated in their depiction of conceptually-6-years-old Big Bird.

Further, the way the Sesame Street adult actors explained the permanence of death to Big Bird was perfect—simple, and patient—with the added incredible weight of the entire conversation revolving around a recently-deceased Sesame Street mainstay, Mr. Hooper.

The episode is a weighty and special part of the Sesame Street canon. Eichel nailed it with her description of the episode's tone, in that it eschews patronizing for honesty, even in the face of a difficult topic. In doing so she encapsulates what Sesame Street does so well and so successfully, and it all revolves around honesty.

Image via The A.V. Club
Watching the sketch made me quite emotional. It's embedded within the text of the piece. Big Bird's talking to everyone around the table, showing his drawings. Besides reminding me of my own childhood, and of people in my life who have died, it reinforced this notion that I had been wrongly approaching an issue we're currently having with Lucy in our house.

She keeps mentioning Claudia. Claudia died, and she was our friend. She was on a scooter in Los Angeles, and got hit by a car. It made Lucy's mom, a former co-worker of Claudia's, really sad. The sizable Seattle community who knew her reacted the same.

I had hung out with Claudia at the Scarlet Tree, shooting the breeze over a beer, shortly before she left town. I remember her demeanor, a really calm lesbian chick, just starting to grow her hair out after shaving it for several years. Good listener, good instincts. A friend to anyone who approached her.

Off she moves to Los Angeles and her life ends. It was one year and a few days ago today.

A good number of people mourned and gathered to remember her, and a few tried really hard to keep her memory alive. It was a tumultuous time, and Lucy heard about Claudia frequently.

The issue with Lucy, 5, is that she mentions Claudia in the middle of conversations completely unrelated to Claudia, and only with Megan. She doesn't realize the darkness she casts when mentioning the dead, and she'll do it when her mom is laughing and having a good time.

Maybe she feels safer mentioning it during those happy times, like she's less likely to get the negative reaction she usually gets when mentioning Claudia. Maybe she just really wants to understand death, and needs her parents to explain it to her. Maybe she gets that death is something we react strongly to and she wants to wrap her head around it. Maybe she's annoyed when her mom is happy and wants to spread her annoyance back to mom by talking about mom's dead friend, not seeing how deep it cuts mom, or maybe seeing it clearly.

I know my Lucy's smart, but it's hard how smart. Maybe I give her too much credit, maybe not. I'm that close to her and I just don't know.

I can hear Lucy's voice in my head now, and see Megan and her talking. Megan says something and laughs, and Lucy, as a non-sequitur, replies, "Oh, like Claudia?"

I get really hot under the collar when it happens. I feel like she tries to ruin positive vibes, which are hard to come by. Mama and I are pretty good at leading by example, but it's tough to keep up a great attitude when the day is so full of work, outside the house and in.

And you remember being a kid, right? Do you remember your parents being all happy and loud and forgetting their usual restraints and just letting go? It's different, and it can be annoying. You find yourself wishing they would go back to normal. Lucy seems to know just how to interrupt that. Maybe she just wants to talk about death and that's how she brings it up. I don't know why she does it. And it happens more than I see, according to Megan.

Once, thinking it was not the best approach but going ahead with it anyway, I went into the room and lifted her chin, raising her face to look at me, and I said, "I don't want you talking about Claudia anymore. Do you understand? Don't talk about Claudia."

Confusion filled her frowning face. She did not like this direct, prolonged eye contact with mad dad. It was immediately apparent that she was baffled and did not know how to respond.

My approach was heavy handed. I wanted to nip the problem in the bud, but my angle was to throw up a brick wall of "No." That doesn't work with kids, you feel me, fellow kid-deal-with-ers?

And where I fail is where Megan excels—finding different angles, alternative ways to explain things to Lucy. I lose patience and have to tamper anger trying to chest-burst from my mouth. In these moments I feel unable to do much but say the same things over and over again, and I get frustrated when it doesn't work. I have a hard time working my way around a problem sometimes.

Here's an example:
A few weeks ago, I was helping Lucy with her homework. She had to write the word 'him' 6 times and then write a short sentence containing the word 'sit.' She had written 'him' very well, having learned much since the beginning of school a few months ago about how to write words on the 3-line thing, you know what I'm talking about. The top of the hoop of the lower-case 'h' comes up to the dotted middle line, yeah? Solid lines on the top and bottom.

So she's right at the end, and I'm trying to get her to spell and say the words in the sentence she has to copy right below, without telling her what they are. Megan had had much success with this the night before, so I gave it a go.

'Sit' was the second or third word in. I can't recall the exact wording, but I remember 'sit' wasn't pluralized, so it was a straight 3 letter word.

She would say, "Uuummm," and then she would make the sounds of the individual letters, first slowly and with spaces between, then removing the spaces and doing it just a hair less smoothly than actually saying the word 'sit.'

And I would say, keeping my tone at a level I thought low and friendly, "Now does that sound like a word you know? What word it that? What word sounds like that, like 's,' 'i,' and 't?'

The more Lucy didn't get it, or some combination of that and fear of an angry dad reaction—the more she looks at me like a deer in headlights and waits for me to give her the answer—the more frustrated I get.

You know, I can remember my dad being the same way with me and math homework, way back when. One thing he said to me helped, though: think about the numbers in groups. I still remember that, what it looked like, everything. Maybe something I say to Lucy will be an epiphany like that sometime soon; maybe it's good to think of creative advice for kids; stuff that works for you personally, if not for the kid to outright copy, than to see that finding one's own way of doing things is okay and even really positive if it helps one do said thing.

So back to me a few weeks ago doing homework with Lucy. I found myself repeating myself: 'Look at the word; look at the letters; say the sounds they make; good, now say them more smoothly, try to say them without spaces between the sounds (here came me trying to describe what I meant by the word 'space'); now what word does that sound like? Is there some kind of word that sounds like that? Hmm, now let's think.'

It wasn't working. We'd hit a wall.

Megan probably heard most of this, we've got hard wood floors and an echoey apartment. She walks over. Sees the picture on the paper we're poring over. The picture's been there the whole time, northeast of the sentence. It's a hand drawing of two students sitting next to one another at a table.

I can't believe this never occurred to me.

Megan says, "Lucy, what are these two doing in this picture?"


"Yes! What else?"

"They're at their desks."

"Yeah, and what else are they doing?"

This went on for minute.


Megan saw that Lucy and I were having trouble, came right over, and smoothed things out.

It's really good to have a mama around to show hard ass dad the softer side of things. She's even thinking of writing for this very blog, something I want very much. It would add such a great dimension to this blog, the very-needed other side of the coin. We've only got one computer in the house, so it's hard. Someone want to donate a sweet-or-used computer on which we might process words? It would encourage my wife to write. Just sayin.'

Damn, a coin would be cool. One side my face, other side Megan's. Smith/English family currency.

Anyway! Eichel's article on Sesame Street, combined with Sesame Street itself, in all its greatness, got me thinking about how children process death, and gave me a few great ideas on how I can parent more effectively. So thank you, Eichel.

It all lead pretty smoothly into this Lucy-Claudia issue, and I think the answer is to do what Megan did. Talk about it. Be real.

Megan's already way ahead of the ball on this one already. Now I await the next time Lucy and do homework, and the next time I happen to be around when she mentions Claudia. I'll react perfectly, I assure you.