“Up. Up. Up. UP. UP. UUUUUUUUUUP.” This is her morning greeting and my daily alarm clock. With the exception of an 18-month sleep regression that almost killed us all, Kick has always been a championship sleeper. She has never once, however, climbed out of her crib. She stays in there, yelling in increasing volume, until she’s fetched from it, and as much as sometimes I would love for her to just get up and get dressed and make her own damn breakfast for once, most days I get out of bed smiling at the steady increase in volume and exasperation.
“That doesn’t sound right.” This is an all-purpose phrase for declining anything she doesn’t want to do, from putting her toys away to eating her dinner to getting out of the bath. It has the effect of making me laugh, whereas her previous go-to, a loud NO followed by screaming, got her a time-out and a discussion about what exactly deserves to be made a federal case in this house. While I’m laughing at the airy detachment with which she interrogates even the most mundane request, she gets to keep playing, so it’s an effective temporary tactic if not a permanent one.
“Come on, guys.” This is always either directed at her plastic animals and dinosaurs when they are being recalcitrant, or at the football players on the TV to whom Dad has just said something very rude.
“I’m going to work.” She gets up sometimes, from playing, and puts on her sunglasses and picks up a Hello Kitty bucket in which she shoves some random collection of plastic toys, and bids me adieu as she saunters down the hall. Working mom guilt is bullshit, but it is real bullshit, and that she sees it as normal for her tiny little female self to have a job assuages some of it.
“I want to be alone right now.” I suggested she say this as a polite alternative after she told me to “go away” while she played with her toys. Kick has always needed her space. Even as a newborn, she would get overstimulated and only calm down when put down in her bassinet by the window, where she could watch the birds and catch her breath. She hugs and cuddles on her terms, for a few moments, and then is off again, completely at home in her skin.
“Whose streets? Our streets!” She picked that one up at the Women’s March last weekend in Chicago. Kick’s an easygoing child, and generally willing to be dragged along on whatever trip Mom and Dad were taking anyway. She’s spent a lot of time in the car driving to various relatives’ and friends’, she loves street festivals and anything outdoors and loud, so seeing the weather was balmy we determined to all go protest as a family.
Someone asked us at a party once what our “parenting philosophy” was, and I said something like, “we are hoping to keep her from electrocuting herself until we can send her to college.” An only slightly expanded version is this: We will do stuff on the assumption that she can handle it, and preserve an escape route in case she can’t. An acquaintance, seeing her picture as she reveled in the experience, wondered if she “really” understood what the march was about or what was happening.
Of course she didn’t.
A good friend, while I was publicly fretting about one of Kick’s feral, stabby phases, described parenting preschoolers as “creating norms” and I’ve been relaxed ever since she said it, like the job is not to control their behavior but to show them what normal behavior is. At this age, you are building muscle memory. They are saying please and thank you because it gets them what they want and makes you happy, not because they understand the network of underlying social conventions that make up humanity. They refrain from hitting or biting not out of profound empathy but because the last time they did that you subjected them to a severe talking-to and took away a stuffy.
And normal behavior when confronted with injustice has to be to confront it right back. Nothing weakens you like thinking you are powerless, and she will never be powerless. She can be whatever she wants, except that.
The older she gets, the more aware I am of the ways in which the world is designed to hurt her. When she was tiny and fragile, it was cold and sickness I feared. As she grew, it was sidewalks and slides and jungle gyms and anything else that would bruise or scrape her. Now, now that she walks with confidence and runs with joyous abandon and plays with curiosity and focus, I turn my attention to all the discouraging things people say.
The things people say when you’re a girl: “Get your shotgun, Dad.” All the things people say when you’re young.”The teenage years are going to be tough!”All the worries and the drags and the “oh, she’s not doing this yet?” I turn my attention to those things because the other day at dinner Mr. A and I were discussing something to do with her preschool and she turned to us and said, “Are you talking about me?”
We used to be able to have whole conversations, even arguments, about her without her ever catching on. Now she notices and she knows, and she says it right back.