April Vacation – Day One

Look around you and you’ll see a collective look of terror in the eyes of mothers across the country. Millions of mothers woke this morning (hopefully) prepared to enter battle. Like finely tuned machines, the organized mothers planned a week full of fun activities and the mothers with extra loot in the bank booked a vacation to a destination full of sunshine and beaches. Hell, I imagine that millions of children will even be visiting Mickey Mouse this April vacation. I am not one of those mothers.

April Vacation.

Here in Maine, it’s not entirely warm yet. The ground is slightly mucky and there are still a few random piles of granular snow clinging to the earth. The sun is warm, but that breeze is actually bone-chilling for my tiny little Kate. It’s true. She’s thrilled to be outside and stretching those little legs, but the minute the air begins gusting at the top of our hill, our tiny little toddler emits a howl that rivals the wind.



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We’ve been outside doing a bit of post-Apocalypse restructuring. No, I’m sorry, that’s not true. I’m completely exaggerating. We’ve been outside performing a bit of spring clean up. You know…the standard fare when it comes to yard work – raking, dog poo search and destroy missions and perennial inspections. I cleaned up the children’s garden a bit, did some pruning and raked the wood chips into some semblance of order. 

  

 As I dug down into the cold brown soil, Kate sauntered over and squatted down next to me. “Dirt, Mama?” she wondered.

“Yes,” I answered. “See these tiny green leaves?”

“Weaves, Mama?”

“Uh, huh, those are our flowers beginning to grow again.”

Her eyes lit up with excitement. “Fwowers, Mama?”

She leaned in and performed an exaggerated toddler snort near the dead stalks of last fall’s coneflower then smiled as if she had whiffed magically fragrant rose. I snapped the old, grey stems and handed them off, providing her with her own skeleton bouquet.

I dug down into the cold dark earth and found a rather sluggish earthworm. Kate was terrified. For her, that worm’s pathetically slow writhing on my palm was akin to the sighting of a giant and hairy man-eating tarantula. Oh, the shrieking that ensued!

What do to…what to do…?

Let me just say this – having added graduate school to the already tight family budget, we’re not able to hang out with Mickey Mouse. To be honest we’re not really even able to go out to lunch without feeling the pinch, but Kate doesn’t “do” worms.

I feel guilty.

They’re watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on television. They’re playing educational games on pbskids.com and Super Mario Kart on the Wii. I printed out some springtime craft ideas which led to their current coloring of sparrow and bee shaped paper airplanes. They are honing their fine motor skills with their crayons and safety scissors.

The other moms are taking their girls to Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique.

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My little guy caught the cold that his sister had. He woke with a cough and an ear ache. We snuggled on the couch; we scheduled a game of Super Mario Kart for later so that I can take some time to do some required reading and writing.

I’m being selfish.

Our local library has events set up for vacation. Things like Robot Day and a wildlife rehabilitator will be visiting with his animals. We’re going to do those things. We’re going to spend time together and they’re going to like it. Mommy doesn’t do Disney.
 

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Cue the Crying

Dim the lights! Cue the princess music! Illuminate the castle and send Jasmine out! Is that woman in section T, row 15, seat 14 trying not to cry?

What? At least I’m man enough to admit it. The Disney species of princess make me cry. I don’t know why. Is it the music? The gowns? The castle? The last time I was exposed to the princesses en masse was March of 2006. Gwen was just a bun in the proverbial oven as I stood in front of Cinderella’s castle during some kind of Disney Princess extravaganza, sobbing. I was a weird 30-something pregnant woman blubbering at the vision of fake royalty waltzing with their princes on the grand staircase of the castle.

I remember pushing my little boy’s stroller toward the castle and hearing the grand announcement of Ariel and Prince Eric, followed by Snow White and Prince Whosey Whatsey and the guy who got hitched to Belle. Did we ever find out that guy’s name, or does she still refer to him as ‘Beast’? Maybe she really is a peculiar girl… Anyway, there I stood with my eyes glued to the girls and their princes waltzing around when I felt the overwhelming sting of tears working their way up the pipeline. I bit my lip, I took a deep breath, I looked away and shifted on my feet, but there was no stopping the flow. I let my freak flag fly under the guise of emotions run by pregnancy hormones, but the truth of the matter is that to this day, I have no friggin’ idea why the hell I was bawling.

Today I took Gwen to Princesses on Ice. The overture announcing the arrival of a princess boomed throughout the Civic Center, the lights twinkled and danced, then Jasmine skated into view. The ol’ pipeline started to trickle and threatened to spring a leak. Thankfully I was able to call myself a jackass and turn off the spigot. I was fine until the end of the show when those stinking princesses went and lined up on the stairs with their princes. Maybe it was the gowns, or the music. Mostly, I think it was the delight in my little girl’s sparkling eyes as she clapped and danced with excitement. I realized how quickly time has passed since my Disney World princess/pregnancy-induced outburst. Back then, my baby was just a bump. Four years has assigned the bump a sex, name and terrific personality. I’ve spent the past four years falling in love with a beautiful princess.

The waterworks flowed as those princesses stood on the steps waving and waltzing, but mostly my tears were tears of joy and wonder as I watched my girl’s face.

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Tangled

As a mother, there are some experiences that just aren’t cool. Children have habit of saying the worst things at the most inappropriate of times. For example, when sitting in a dark and quiet movie theater watching Tangled, don’t announce to the masses that the villainess’ rant “sounds just like you mommy!” Really? Let’s rewind the day, honey.

I believe that upon awakening, you dined on a breakfast of French toast with strawberries and crème fraiche. Yes, that’s right. I whipped up a batch of crème fraiche for the ungrateful little b…. ummm, girl.

If I recall correctly, we then played “Beauty Salon” in my bathroom. It wasn’t especially fun or easy to paint each of your teeny, tiny fingernails and toes that appalling shade of green, but I did it anyway. Because I love you. I let you slap the hideous black nail polish over the entire end of each of my fingers. Exactly when, by the way, did skin and knuckles become part of a manicure? Perhaps you picked black because you find that color fitting for a crazy, selfish villainess like me?

We then retired to your bedroom where I was forced to sit through a painfully long and indecisive viewing of each of your tacky princess gowns. Let me tell you something, sister…a few of them are looking a little rough around the edges. You’d put Cinderella to shame in some of those rags you call gowns. Alas, we settled on the (busted) pink one. You know, the one with all the holes? You looked simply stunning.

We bid the rest of the family a fond farewell and lunched at that establishment of fine cuisine known as “Bumblebees”. For those of you who aren’t as smart and beautiful as the Princess, that’s Applebee’s-but don’t try to correct her or all hell will break loose. (Not really, but a theme seems to have developed here.)

Of course, we ordered your favorite, chicken nuggets and French fries. Far be it from me to criticize your developing palate, but really…aren’t you getting at all tired of processed chicken parts? I’m sorry the French fries were covered with bwack fings (black things). That’s called pepper and no, I don’t know why they put bwack fings on the fwies at Bumblebees.

I hope you understand that your loud comparison of me to the evil woman in Tangled was both humiliating and, well…funny. I have no idea why you got embarrassed and bent out of shape when the entire upper portion of the theater laughed for a painfully long amount of time in the wake of your declaration. Once the theater patrons stopped laughing at us, I was cool. The amused looks and statements of “ha ha, that was the funniest thing I ever heard,” from the audience when the lights came up was awesome. Truly awesome.

Mostly, it was just a good day with my funny little four year old girl.

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Reinforcing Good Behavior: Making the Princess Movie Work For You.

You know those days when you’re out and about and you cross paths with “that” kid? Come on…you know the kid that I’m talking about. She can be found wreaking havoc in any number of public places. Usually, the lucky soul accompanying the little angel is either feigning cluelessness or wanting to melt into the earth from the embarrassment of it all. Please, don’t tell me you haven’t lingered to watch from the corner of your eye while smugly saying to yourself, “Self, thank GOD you don’t have a kid”, or “Self, thank GOD that isn’t your kid!”

Is it horrible that I’ve been known exploit another kid’s crappy behavior for my own gain? I’ve seen my own wide-eyed children absorbing the offending kid’s mannerisms and watching for the parental response. Believe me, they’re processing the situation and rationalizing future use of the bad behavior in question.

Friends, this is a golden opportunity! You should jump on the chance to use some other mommy’s moment of public shame for your own benefit. This is the time to reiterate that bad behavior is socially unacceptable. For example, if the mother in question appears close to tears, don’t offer her kind words of support. Instead you should quietly say, “Look at what that girl is doing! She’s making her mommy cry.” Throw in a bit of hand wringing and say, “Oh dear, that poor mommy is sooooo sad.” While you’re saying this, don’t be afraid to paste an overly dramatic, wistfully sad expression on your face. One that shows empathy for the mom. Shortly, you’ll notice that your princess loving preschooler can’t help but feel involved and somewhat conspiratorial. After all, her own mommy is suddenly adopting facial expressions normally used by her favorite princess. By the way, peppering your sentences with princess-style language can’t hurt either. Interjecting expressions like, “Oh, my!” or “The poor dear…” can only serve to underscore your princess-ish persona.



The “Sad Princess” Expression



Overly dramatic resonates with the preschool set. Remember, they’re accustomed to watching the painfully sad expression of the Disney Princess as she experiences death/destruction/abandonment/neglect/abuse. Plus, your child is still looking to you for behavioral cues. So by adopting the “Sad Princess” facial expression, your child is likely to mimic your sorrow and, if you’re lucky, might even look at you and say, “That little girl is being bad, right mommy?” Now, this is the important part…while you have her attention, let out a big sigh, sadly shake your head and slowly tear your eyes away from the Mom-In-Hell. Make eye contact with your child and with lightening speed, change your expression to one of sheer joy and say, “I’m sooooo glad that you are such a well behaved girl! You would NEVER do that your mommy.” Give her a kiss, lovingly stroke her hair and then adopt a thoughtful look of surprise. (One that you might see in cartoon character whose brilliant idea inexplicably causes a light bulb to appear over his head.)
The “I have a Great Idea” Expression
Yes, it is at this moment that you should employ the most powerful tool in your blatant exploitation of bad behavior. You might say, “Oh my! I have a WONDERFUL idea! You’ve been such a lovely girl, why don’t we get you a treat?” BAM!! You can’t beat it. I’ve just served up an incredible method for reinforcing appropriate social behavior. Simply make the tantrum throwing kid the villain and the mommy automatically becomes the helpless Princess. It works like a charm.
The “Super Happy, You’re Such a Good Girl” Expression
So, next time the kids ask to watch Mulan/Princess and the Frog/Beauty and the Beast, don’t think of it such simple terms as the 127th viewing. Approach it as research and study the mannerisms of those princesses. Practice them in the mirror and store them in your arsenal. Now…if only I could figure out a way to have little birdies and woodland creatures follow me around…
-Toddler Discipline: Effective and Appropriate Tactics (webmd.com)

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