Understanding Parenting: Toddler Talk

We LOVE Rudolph! I mean, it is an absolute classic and a necessity to kick off Christmas! Clarabelle especially loves the movie because of the name of Rudolph’s girlfriend (Clarice) as this is also her “princess” name. However, she has a serious issue with the way that the other reindeer behave.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she says as she provides her wisdom, “why are the kids so mean and why don’t the mommies and daddies tell them to stop?”

“Well,” I struggled, “they have never seen a red nose before so they don’t understand.”

“But even the grown-ups are being mean! I am not mean to different people. You and mommy aren’t mean either.”

“You are right. That’s because we know that being different is a good thing.”

“Yep, you told me that!” she stated proudly, “Different is special!”

 

Who knew that Rudolph was so profound? There is a growing trend for more detailed children’s shows to teach inclusion and diversity. Adults go through specialized cultural competence training to learn how to not be mean. Shouldn’t we have all learned this from the Christmas classic? Simply put, “different is special.”

Of course, it is easy to see that the young reindeer learn this lesson and that, as children, we all felt sorry for poor little Rudolph. However, I never really caught one point that Clarabelle brought up….the parents!

Why are parents not teaching their children to be nice? Why are they not teaching them that different is a good thing? Why are they depending on the television to teach them and then being horrified at what is being taught?  Do they not realize that the children are listening when they are speaking out against this group or that individual and then mimicking these behaviors?

Why are we not all shocked that the adult reindeers not only allowed but also participated in this behavior?

Perhaps, it is because we, as a society, are still doing this! We don’t need specialized training to be decent human beings! We just need to be nice!

 

Niceness is a classic, too!

“Gigi”

 

Take a Bite but DO NOT Bite: Ways we Confuse Toddlers

Have you ever experienced the shocking pain of someone so cute and dear to your heart closing their teeth firmly on your arm? OUCH!!! With four toddlers running around the house, obviously, we have all felt the cringing pain more than once. I remember discussing this with other parents when my own children were little and the answer was always something along the lines of “they are just figuring it out” or “this is just something children do!”

Okay, maybe if it is only adults who are falling prey to this “rite of passage” so to speak, then maybe I could accept those answers. However, again, with four toddlers we have ALL (children included) experienced this pain at one point or another as the four take turns transforming from sweet little children to the spawn of Dracula!

Usually, Clarabelle alerts us as to the culprit shouting “Elliott bit Gloria,” or “Braxton bit Elliott!” I mean, they are quick with it. One minute they are all sitting around with blocks and we think it is safe to refill cups and the next minute there is a shriek and an announcement of the bite!

As most parents and grandparents have done, I searched the internet for methods to stop this and these methods all lead to some form of punishment for the action and align the “fault” with either the child or simply development. To understand why I disagreed with these methods, you have to understand two things about our situation.

  1. These are my grandchildren so I simply cannot see “fault” in them (smiley Gigi face icon not available!)
  2. Seconly, one of my grandchildren was the victim of child abuse as an infant and one has Down syndrome. Punishment takes special circumstances because of these situations and we try to be fair regarding all four children.

With that said, punishment occurs in the form of timeout or standing against the wall but it is hard to assign punishment based on the words of a three-year-old (no matter how verbal and advanced Clarabelle is.) So, if we do not see it happen, it is really hard to punish over biting.

Besides, I got to thinking, there has to be a significant reason why most children at this age think biting is okay. I mean, I tell them one time on most things such as “the trash is dirty do not touch,” or “do not hit” and they generally comprehend what I am saying and refrain from these behaviors. But biting, for some reason, is different. It is like they forget following each incident that biting is wrong and that being bitten hurts.

During my whole thought process, I found myself snacking on some cookies. (Hey, it is the holidays so no judging)!!! As the children passed, I asked them if they wanted a bite….

Let me say that again. As the children passed, I asked them if they wanted a bite!!!

Wait, a minute ago, a bite was bad but now bite means cookie?

We work with children on context clues, vocabulary, synonyms, phonics, etc. but not before the age of 2. Maybe, just maybe, if we could use more specific words for specific actions, then they would understand the context clearer.

Granted, I realize that this offers little to no advice for all of us who are struggling with the toddler teeth situation, but I hope it offers a different way of thinking about a child’s behaviors. Sometimes, we expect that they should just know things. If that was the case, what are we here for?

 

If we do not teach then they will never know,

“Gigi”

Smile! The Sun made another Spin!

Now that Mikey has landed safely in Japan, Clarabelle has noticed that Mommy says “good night” and “good morning” at weird times. She thought her mommy was being silly or that Mikey needed a nap. So, we reminded her about our discussions of the map. For instance, she knows we go up to West Virginia and down to Florida. She knows that California (where Mikey was stationed) is way across the map and she knows that Japan is across the water. (Pretty good grasp for a 3-year-old). But, we had never really thought to cover time zones. I mean, seriously, she is THREE!

Of course, she is a very inquisitive three-year-old and was not letting this go. So I found this video on youtube and we began to work through her questions. About 4 minutes into the video, she asked if we could switch to music. I asked her if she understood about the times and, as usual, she simplified it just right. “The earth spins around because we are supposed to share the sun. When we have night, it is Mikey’s turn for the sunshine.”

So, we switched to the music and went on about our evening. Isn’t it just amazing how simple life really is? If we could wake up each morning and realize that the other half of the world is sharing with us, then maybe we would be a little quicker to share with others.

So, this morning, as you sip your coffee and plan out your day, pencil in some kindness and enjoy the gift of sunshine!

May you all have a beautiful day!

“Gigi”

Understanding the Military: Toddler Talk

There are some things that we wish children would never have to understand. Death. Distance. Alienation. War. Danger. Just to name a few. But the fact remains, that these things do occur and this is the world that we are passing off to our children and grandchildren. Hell, this is the world that was passed on to each of us.

Today, Clarabelle and Elliott’s stepfather will be boarding a plane Washington state where he, along with other members of the United States Marine Corps, will check in to prepare for their flight to Okinawa, Japan. The following is our exchange this morning about his departure:

Clarabelle: Mikey is leaving today. Mommy looks a little sad. I feel a little sad too.

Gigi: Well, it is okay to be sad that you are going to miss someone but remember, he can call you a lot and he will be home before you know it.

Clarabelle: What if it is a long time? It is a long job to keep us safe. (This is how we had described his work…keeping everyone safe).

Gigi: Yes, well, when his time is up keeping us safe, someone else will take his place so he can come home.

Clarabelle: Maybe no one will have to leave their family to keep us safe. That would be good, huh?

Gigi: That sure would be good, baby. That sure would be good.

 

Isn’t it amazing that a toddler understands how wrong it is that families have to be torn apart because grown-ups cannot get along? A three-year-old should be dreaming of ponies and princess castles instead of world peace and safety. But this is her world. This is all of our world. And this is what we have made it.

It makes me sad that she is so aware but so proud of her awareness at the same time. Perhaps, one day, she can simply dream a little girl’s dreams.

Today, let’s remember the families torn apart and pray that one day, we can see the world through a toddler’s eyes!

“Gigi”

Understanding Sharing: Toddler Talk

So, mom and I were heading out town to do a little light shopping. Clarabelle opted to journey out with us rather than to take a nap (who can blame her?)!!! When we asked her where she wanted to go, her answer was “to get a sucker snack.” Simple enough, while we were out, we would grab some suckers and be considered the greatest Gigi and Nanny ever!

After a few stops, we ended up at the Dollar Tree where Clarabelle will typically pick up a four pack of ring pops to share with her brother and cousins. I mean, four ring pops for a dollar equals four happy toddlers for under a buck!!!

Today, however, Clarabelle saw a bag that had around 25 regular stick suckers in it. She took her time looking through the little plastic window of the packaging and said, “I could share with everybody!!!”

I told her to pick whichever one she wanted and she galloped proudly through the store to show Nanny her “find.” Nanny teased and said, “but I wanted ring pops!”

“Nanny,” Clarabelle said so matter of factly, “don’t you get it. These are still suckers! There’s some for everybody. Even you and my cousins!”

Nanny looked at the package and smiled saying, “wow, you are right!”

Clarabelle proudly placed her bag of suckers on the counter and has since been giving one to everyone that she sees! Granted, with each one she gives, she enjoys one with the person for herself!!!!

As adults, we preach to the children that we should share. We tell them that it is wrong to keep all the toys or crayons to themselves if other children do not have anything to play with. Of course, we typically only say this through words rather than actions. When is the last time that you put back something and opted for a similar, less expensive item so that the difference could be placed in a donation jar or given to a total stranger holding up their sign on the street? When is the last time you have paid for someone else’s gas rather than buying that overpriced bag of chips and soda at the gas station? How can we expect our children and grandchildren to truly learn to share when we are oblivious to the needs of others and blindly concern ourselves with our wants?

The holidays are coming and so many people are more anxious about what they won’t have rather than excited about hanging the star on the tree. Perhaps we could all opt for the bigger bag of suckers and spread the sweetness around a bit. After all, it is only a dollar!

When children become the example, adults should pay close attention!

“Gigi”

An Addiction to Festivals: How a Toddler Decides what to Remember

It was a long week. There is no need to elaborate other than to say that we had to take some time to reassure Clarabelle that everything in her little was is okay. She is a thinker which is probably how she gives me so much material for the blog! But anyway, there was a moment that upset her and all she kept saying to get through it was that she wanted to go to a Blackberry Festival.

Yes, we went to a Blackberry Festival this year. In fact, it was shortly after the children were returned to their mother. Now, in case you don’t know, the Blackberry Festival is a small town gathering that is literally all about Blackberries to include little girls being crowned the Blackberry Queen and vendors selling everything made with blackberries. There is something similar in every small town movie or country song that you can imagine and, if you have never crashed a small town festival, you are definitely missing out!There was a man on stilts making

Anyway, there was a man on stilts making balloon animals and he scared Clarabelle to the point of hiding behind my legs. It was unnatural, this insanely tall man looking down at her and trying to get her to smile! She was having nothing of him and only accepted the balloon poodle after it had passed from him, to her mother, and then to me. But this was a happy day. Her uncle and cousins came along and solidified this as the first major family outing after our reunion. Forever in her mind, her safe place will be the Blackberry Festival.

On Friday, when the situation was resolved and she was able to finally calm down, she and I were chatting about finding a Blackberry Festival. She said, ” I really mean it. I want to go there!”

As with all festivals based on seasonal vegetation, the Blackberry Festival is a once a year event. Uhoh! I began scanning websites, search engines, and local Facebook groups to find something that would do the trick. Ultimately, I came across the Experience Asia festival in Tallahassee, Florida on the following day. I explained to her that she could see things that her stepdad will see when he heads out to Japan next week with the Marines.

She was sold. With only one little detail left. “Can we call it a Blackberry Festival?”

So, ladies and gentlemen, on Saturday, we attended the “Asian Blackberry Festival” and she felt safe again.

Whatever it takes. Wherever we must go. She will feel safe and for that, I am forever grateful!

When a grandchild says jump, a Gigi says how high!

“Gigi”

 

Understanding Needs: Toddler Talk

While sitting at my computer, I can anticipate Clarabelle needing to use “Gigi’s bathroom” at least 3 times per hour so that she may enter the room and say “sooooo, what’s up?” I smile and ask what’s up with her and she toddles off to the bathroom only to repeat the conversation as she finishes and exits the room. It’s a thing we do.

So, anyway, today she enters, does her little exchange, and goes into the bathroom. I hear “Gigi, I need you.”

I jump up from my computer and open the bathroom door. She seems just fine. She is adjusting her pants as she pulls them up and so I asked, “what do you need?”

“You,” she responded.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Nothing,” she smiled, hugged me, and said, “sooooo, what’s up?” She then toddled off to the living room.

I stood there for a minute and reflected on this odd exchange. She did not need me to do anything. She just needed me. What an amazing concept!

 

During the year that the children were in foster care, I remember going to eat at Cracker Barrell with my son, Zach, one Sunday afternoon. Across the room from us, I looked up and saw them! My heart dropped. I wanted so badly to go to them but I was afraid. I didn’t know the rules about these things. I did not know how the foster parents would act. I did not know if it would cause a scene. The ache of being so close and yet unable to reach them was unbearable! It was like drowning just below the surface of the water where you can see the way out but you are held down so as to not be able to gasp in the air that is just above you.

 

Before we left, I took a deep breath and approached the table. I spoke cordially to the foster parents and their family and then turned my attention to the children. I was happy to see them. I wanted to stay in that moment. But I knew I had to be brief. As I leaned down to tell them by, Clarabelle stated, in the same matter of fact tone that she had in the bathroom today, “But, Gigi, I need you and Elliott needs you, too.” I held back the tears. I wanted to meet that need. I wanted to be with them every moment of every day to help teach them and guide them through life. I wanted to tell her that I was trying so hard to bring them home. I wanted to take them from their high chairs and run as far away from the nightmare that we were living as possible. But, instead, I looked in her sweet face and said, “I know, baby, Gigi needs you and your brother, too. But I have to go now so I can keep working to bring you home.”

After a few more times of her stating that she needed me, I turned and the tears fell.

It was a terrible feeling to know that I could not give her what she needed. But, in the same breath, it was a beautiful thing to know that she did then and still now knows that our needs are essential to our wellbeing and those needs include being with one another.

A child does not need a fancy home or an abundance of “things.” They need love, time, and attention.

May we always Meet the Needs of Children

“Gigi”

Why didn’t they have to go? Questions from a former foster child

As you know, my granddaughter and grandson were removed from our home for just shy of a year due to a CPS investigation that was later dismissed. The children were returned home as if the case never happened and we began to put our lives back together. As the family had purchased property in Florida prior to the case and had intended to relocate, my son had made this move during the year of CPS involvement in order to get my other two grandchildren settled and allow Gloria to access better options for therapy related to DS.

For this reason, I was away from all four of my grandbabies for the majority of that year which also meant that they were away from their cousins. This was heartbreaking but we worked tirelessly to make sure that they were aware of one another. We taught Clarabelle and Elliott sign language just as Gloria’s therapists in Florida were teaching her and her brother. We knew that, eventually, they would all be together again and, now they are!

It never dawned on me that the distance between her home in West Virginia and the home of her foster parents was processed in the same way as the distance from our home in West Virginia to Florida. But, apparently, Clarabelle believed that her cousins had somehow been physically closer to me during that period and was holding some form of resentment that manifested last week.

You see, we had tried to encourage positive memories of that year and gradually replace any bad memories with new happy ones with her family. We never elaborated on the context of the case, we held back our tears during visits, and we did not allow the children to hear any negative words about the people involved in the case.

Even in my post, I try to not reflect negatively because, although I do harbor many negative emotions about that year and the events that took place, I do not believe that negative outbursts will not help anyone to heal. We did not start the blog to add to the negativity of these cases but rather to bring hope in light of so many negative emotions that people encounter in life. I also know that these children will mirror my actions, my emotions, and my beliefs. I have a responsibility to them and I refuse to let them down.

So, instead of talking about our time apart, we discuss our visits and the fun things that we did. Each week when we go to the library, we talk about how we have always went to the library. This replaces the notion of the “visits at the library” with a sense of normalcy that foster care strips away from children. When we do crafts, we talk about crafts that we did during that year. When we play with playdough, we talk about how we went to the store to buy shoes for our playdough statues that we had made. It is our hope that this is what they will remember from that year as we place moments in the context of her normal life.

With that stated, the ugly side of that year came out when I spoke to her about the possibility of seeing her former foster parents. Now, for many reasons I will not elaborate on the response in a public forum nor will I go into details as to why I made the inquiry. This post is not about that. Instead, it is about the perception of time and space that children use to form their emotions and reactions to situations.

Shortly after our discussion, I put the girls in the bathtub. Now, Clarabelle and Gloria typically laugh and play together all day. Bathtime becomes a field of splashing and dumping water on each other followed by giggles. On this night, however, I notice that Clarabelle is not playing and when Gloria dumps the first cup of water, Clarabelle shoves her away.

Hmmmm. This was odd but I had not put it together yet. I assumed she was tired and went ahead with the business of bathing the girls. The next day, Clarabelle sat on her uncle’s lap and wet herself. She then did the same to her stepdad. This beat all I had ever seen. I could not fathom what was going on. So, I did what we are known to do. I grabbed a cup of coffee and we went outside to chat about the world a bit.

“You know that you are the big girl here, right?”

“Yeah, but I want to be a baby.”

“Why? Babies don’t get to drink coffee!” (before you judge she gets cooled down hot chocolate for coffee time)

“I know. But babies get their Gigi all the time.”

Ahhhh…the lightbulb was starting to flicker but had not quite switched on!

If you recall, Gloria is a work in progress on potty training because of DS and the boys both find humor in peeing on the floor on their way to the potty (yes, this occurs more than I would care to state. Thank God for my Swiffer!). However, Clarabelle has been fully potty trained for quite some time.

“You get lots of Gigi time because you are a big girl.”

“But Gloria Ann and Braxton got more time. Why didn’t they have to go away?”

“Gloria and Braxton were in Florida, Clarabelle. You know they did not stay at Gigi’s house, right?”

“They didn’t? When I was with (FM) and (FF)? You did not keep them either?”

“No baby, Gigi used all of her time to bring you home because I love you.”

“Me too, Gigi!”

 

You see, the events that happen are experienced in the perception of the individual. Not everyone remembers or reflects on something in the same way. I wonder how long she has thought that I had chosen her cousins over her. Maybe the idea just popped in her head because I only asked her the question and not them. Maybe the reminder of the events sent her little mind into a state of fear and uncertainty.  Hell, it did the same to me. But regardless, we will continue to answer her questions and pray that she will be allowed to fully heal from these events.

 

To understand an experience, one must see it through the eyes of others.

“Gigi”

Understanding ‘Hangry’: Toddler Talk

 

Okay, so it has been a while since I have shared one of my deep conversations with the little princess, Clarabelle, but this one was too good not to share today. After we took her brother, Elliott, to get his first haircut, we decided that we would head to Olive Garden for a bite to eat. We pulled into the parking lot and Clarabelle immediately begins to shout because this place has both stickers and salad! I mean, this is damn near as good as it gets!

Anyway, we get to our seat, the rounded booth in the corner, and Clarabelle slides in the middle to begin to strategically place her stickers while we order our drinks and begin to look at the menus. As soon as the menus open, as most toddlers, there was an immediate need for a potty run. Of course, the restrooms are on the opposite side of the restaurant so I prepare for a mad dash.

However, Clarabelle is not in a hurry at all. She looks and smiles at each table that we pass. She takes just a second to observe each guest with their plates. Finally, after she has collected enough data, she looks up at me and says, “everyone is eating. They are mad.”

I kinda chuckled and said, “people do like food, don’t they?”

Clarabelle, not shaken by my jovial response continued to elaborate. “I get mad when I am hungry. I get a little grumpy while we are waiting for our food.”

Now, I am sure that she has heard one of us say this at some point, but it kinda took me by surprise that she was able to recognize the difference between the expressions of those who were eating and those who were still waiting. I realized that we often forget our own expressions and may appear to be grumpy or mad when really we are just focused on being hungry.

Then, I considered the difference between being hungry and wanting food. After all, we were not standing in line waiting on rations. We were not hoping that we would get fed. It had not even been that long since the last snack time of the day. We were not hungry, but we were ready to eat.

How often do we get angry because our wants are not met as quickly as we would like? How often do we confuse our wants with needs? Obviously, we must eat, but are we so incapable of waiting, are our wants really that urgent, that we cannot manage a smile while we wait? Can we really not tell the difference?

My first job was as a server at a Pizza Inn in Pigeon Forge, TN when I was 14 years old. My parents had divorced and I spent the summers with my mother. I remember the rapid pace of the buffet-style restaurant and thinking that all of these vacationers did not seem to be very relaxed. Most of my job experience until I finished my degree consisted of restaurant work from serving to managing. People always seemed happier at the end of the meal than when they arrived and I always believed that I had something to do with their improved mood. However, when looking at it now, the fulfillment of a want is only a temporary improvement and, as long as we are unable to differentiate between wants and needs, we will never have anything more permanent.

We all get ‘hangry.’ We all want something immediately and, at times, we even have immediate needs. But, for the most part, we are just in such a hurry that we stay mad more often than happy. We complain more than we are satisfied. We want more than we need.

 

To want is not to need,

“Gigi”

 

Yes, You Will Always be a Princess! Happy Birthday, Clarabelle!

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First and foremost, guys, isn’t she beautiful?

I mean, yes, she is physically the epitome of beauty (perhaps a little biased here) but, if you have read any of our “Toddler Talks”  then you know she is beautiful from somewhere within. She has the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child as well as the eyes of someone who could easily have been shattered by the adult world but chose to not let this smudge on her life define her. She is the inspiration that I hope everyone takes from the CPS stories that we tell because, yes, they stole her, tried to remove her concept of family, and tried to teach her that the world is an ugly place, but she refuses to hold on to those lessons. She turned three on 9/13/2017 but, today, since we had been evacuated for Hurricane Irma, we celebrated her birthday at home with family. Today, we celebrated the ability to do so!

You see, last year, we celebrated at the local bowling alley under the watchful eye of her foster parents. Granted, we were there. We brought the cake and the food. Her mom, Ashley, had carefully ironed on the patch of the number 2 onto her birthday outfit. We brought gifts. We brought love. We brought a birthday to remember (but we try to forget). Her face looked a bit sadder than usual. Her demeanor, by this point, was slowly slipping away. Her awareness of what was going on in her world was taking over her innocence.

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Of course, she is home now. She is no longer monitored for her actions. We are no longer monitored in our ability to love her. She can now smile! AND SHE DOES!!!!!happy.jpg

Clarice Isabelle (AKA her “Princess Name”) was born on 9/13/2014 with eyes wide open and ready to take on the world. In her three short years, she has endured more than most people will in a lifetime. And yet, she lights up the room with a love for life that we could all stand to learn from. Just as royalty, she may be a little spoiled (oops) but she sees the world for what it is….a place that needs more love and laughter. And, just like a true princess, she does her part to make this a reality. So, yes, Clarabelle, you will always be a princess. You will always have the wisdom that comes from hardships and the heart to make a difference. You will always be Clarabelle!

Happy Birthday, my sweet girl.

May you always be strong but never again have to prove it!

“Gigi”