Calming us down

Transitions bring such uncertainty for L. I sometimes forget that she doesn’t have the coping skills of a much older kiddo since she sometimes thinks like a much older kiddo.

This week, she started attending a micro-school that I’m heavily involved with. In fact, as a major part of my service and scholarship work in my teacher education world, I’ll be teaching at the school two days a week. We’ve been very busy this back-to-school season, getting handsome husband ready to go back to his middle grades classroom while he takes on earning an additional teacher certification this year, me preparing my work at the university, me working to set up the micro-school environment, and L preparing to enter a school-type environment. Whew! No wonder we’ve had takeout for dinner a few times recently.

In any case, L has BIG FEELINGS. She always has them, but they really build up in times of transition. These days, she’s really capable when it comes to using her words to express them – 9 times out of 10. The tenth time is around a transition and she uses her body to express her feelings. Huge sobbing screams, stomping, slamming things, slamming her door, etc. The storm is fierce, but as soon as it’s past (usually within an hour), she dries her tears, climbs up for a snuggle, and is ready to move on with her day.

Those storms happened more when she was younger, though, and I often found myself reminding myself that my work during those storms was simply to be there. It wasn’t time to have a conversation (my default mode) or try to fix things. It’s was just to be there. And when the storm passed, I have, for four years now, grabbed this book and read it to her.

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When she was 2, we happened upon this book at a local bookstore. I remember my children’s literature professor telling us that as we were building our classroom libraries, if we ever saw anything by Mem Fox, we should grab it. Well, this was by Mem Fox, and I had a coupon!

I didn’t even skim it at the store. I simply grabbed it, paid for it with our other items, and when we happened to grab it as a bedtime story, read it.

The story is simple: Harriet is the girl in the story, and she doesn’t mean to be a pesky child. She just is. She drips jam everywhere, gets paint on the rug, pulls the tablecloth off because she’s sitting upside down at the table, etc. All morning, her mother greets her various “misdeeds” with love, commenting that she doesn’t like to yell and adding a line each time until her refrain is

Harriet, my darling child

Harriet, you’ll drive me wild

Harriet sweetheart, what are we to do?

Harriet Harris, I’m talking to you

And then at naptime, Harriet’s mother breaks. Harriet and the dog make a terrible mess and Harriet’s mom finally yells. Harriet cries. Harriet’s mother regains her composure, apologizes to Harriet for yelling, and the two of them make peace.

Um, hello? Did the universe know I needed this book or what????

We have literally snuggled and read this book hundreds of times. Sometimes just because and lots of times because I needed L to know that all kiddos can be “pesky” sometimes and their mothers still love them. Because I needed to remind myself that yelling once doesn’t make me a bad mom and that L’s behavior is exactly what it should be: a child’s.

In short, if you don’t have this book yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. We’ve had to pull it back out again this past few weeks.

And when I found a copy of it for the micro-school classroom, you can imagine how much joy it brought me!

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Bonus picture of L in her natural environment as a reward to those who made it to the bottom of the post =)

A sensitive plant

We moved this past spring, so we spent the summer exploring the parks our new neighborhood had to offer. The closest one to us has two beautiful ponds, home to some turtles and fish, visiting place to many birds, and with enough squirrels to delight my little naturalist. We have spent some quality time at this park.

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Picturesque little girl

Incidentally, the park also has a great playground. Multilevel play structures, swings, a digger, a spinner, a tire swing. Heaven, right? See, I sometimes still don’t anticipate my own kid.

We spent the summer bringing plastic grocery bags to the park. Why? Why, so L could clean up garbage, of course. The first time, I thought it was cute. Really, really cute.

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Her loot the first time

I thought it was charming that she spent her own time retrieving garbage. She got as close to the ponds as she could. She scoured the grass. She used a long stick to retrieve stuff from the middle of the pond. She decided after cleaning up for an hour and a half, she was ready to go home. After all, cleaning up garbage was fun. Wow. What an empathetic child I’m raising. I self-righteously thought. I must be a great mom.

Well, I am a great mom. But that’s not what was happening here.

L has a deep sense of concern about the planet. She worries about pollution and habitat destruction and extinction. She wonders aloud about the best way to get to the museum – to drive more slowly and thus use less fuel per minute but more fuel overall, or to drive more quickly and thus decrease the number of minutes on the road while increasingly the amount of fuel per minute.

She wonders aloud about why more people don’t recycle. Why people throw so many things away. Why more people don’t compost. Why more people don’t drive an electric car. And let’s be clear: I am not a shining star here. I recycle and compost. I drive a Chevy Volt. But I am definitely also a member of the consumeristic, thing-driven culture!

And more worrisome to me that her myriad of questions, none of which have real answers (Um, because they’re too busy worrying about paying their bills? Because compost can be stinky??) is the sentiment underlying them: judgment.

After that first day of garbage pick-up, she refused to play at the playground. Instead, she brought a plastic grocery bag or two with her and picked up garbage. And stared at the kids on the playground, asking me accusingly, “Why are they just over there playing? Don’t they see there’s pollution over here? Don’t they care about planet Earth?”

It’s great that she cares so deeply. I love that she wants to devote herself to helping. But she can’t decide that everyone who DOESN’T make the same choices is somehow negligent!

I stumbled through that conversation, mumbling something about most 5 year olds doing some to help but also enjoying just being 5. She clearly didn’t buy it. And the questions continued.

One day, it dawned on me.

A sensitive plant.

I asked L if she remembered what a sensitive plant was. She said she did. I asked her if she remembered what happened when something bumped up against it. She said she did; that it reacted strongly to whatever bumped up against it. I asked her if other plants reacted the same way. She said they did not.

That’s the analogy!

The next time she asked me about “other people,” I reminded her of the sensitive plant.

“L. Your brain is like a sensitive plant. When an idea bumps up against it, it reacts very strongly. That’s just the way your brain works. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. You are like a sensitive plant. Most people’s brains are like other plants. When ideas bump up against them, they notice them, but their brains do not react very strongly. They don’t ‘move out of the way.’ Their brains are not good. Their brains are not bad. They are just not sensitive plants. Sensitive plants are not better than other plants and other plants are not better than sensitive plants. They’re just different types of plants.”

She looked at me for a minute. I was concerned. It made sense in my head, but maybe out loud, it was crazy.

Then she grinned her goofy grin. With her bouncy little body and still-babyish voice, she told me, “Yeah! And planet Earth needs all different types of plants on it! We can’t only have sensitive plants! And we can’t have no sensitive plants, either!”

Away she went, happy with the analogy.

It’s been about six months. We still circle back to that one. “Mommy, why do other people not… ?” I breathe deeply and ask, “What do we know about sensitive plants?” Almost instantly, the tension melts away and we are able to move on with our day.

We still clean up at the park, though.