I promise, this post was in development even before the American presidential election yesterday! I know lots of us are having tough conversations with our kids about the election results. I am thankful that A.J. is not at that age where she has heard about the election (and its candidates) at places like school or from friends and has fear or anxiety about some of the issues raised… But on to my original post!
As A.J. gets older and older, I realize how much fun this stage of life is. She’s an inquisitive, playful and imaginative little girl and yet she is still so much my baby. She loves to talk and is quite articulate, and the conversations we are able to have are so much fun.
And yet… It’s the age where the questions start coming. The toddler/preschooler age of constant “why”s and questioning. It’s the age of embarrassing statements, proclamations and questions in public. She’s learning and expanding her worldview. It’s fun. It’s exhausting. And it’s often difficult.
One of her favourite snacks are Crispy Mini crackers, in particular ketchup flavoured (for my American friends, yes we have ketchup flavoured crackers and chips – my favourite!). Often after a snack, I tell her I need to wash her “ketchupy” hands and “ketchupy” face. We were at a Starbucks a few months ago and as we approached the counter, A.J. stated loud enough for me to hear (but not loud enough for anyone else I think) “mommy, she has a ketchupy face!” It was then I noticed that the barista had severe acne on her face. I was mortified at the thought of embarrassing the young woman, and yet A.J. didn’t say it to be shameful, taunting or to embarrass. She was just taking in the world around her and reflecting on her own experiences and knowledge. I didn’t know how to handle it – do I ignore what she said and not address it with her because no one else had heard? How do I talk to a 2 year old about bodies, body image, and things about our bodies (acne, weight, and other body features) that shouldn’t be shameful but most definitely are in our society? I quickly hushed her (confusing her in the process…), ordered our drinks (fervently hoping she wouldn’t ask again!) and brought her to our table. I can’t exactly what words I used, but I brought up to her what she had said. I’m fairly certain I projected shame and embarrassment onto her, because she seemed embarrassed at what she said but I could tell she didn’t understand why. I told her that the woman didn’t have a “ketchupy” face from crackers, but that sometimes boys and girls, men and women have really red skin. I told her that I had red skin when I was a little girl. But I also asked that she not point it out. She seemed really embarrassed, so I tried to assure her. Then I asked her,”doesn’t that girl have such a beautiful smile?” and she agreed. I asked her “wasn’t she so kind to make us our drinks!” and she agreed. And that was that. I had no idea what to do, and I’m not even certain I handled it right. But how else do you handle toddler proclamations but on the fly?
In the last couple of months, we’ve had to address some tough family topics. We have conversations with A.J. about our desire to have a “baby sister” or “baby brother” for her. I think she somewhat understands the concept of siblings because her baby cousin was just born this past spring and is the “baby brother” of A.J.’s older female cousin. But despite having conversations with her about topics like siblings, adoption, family structures, etc. she certainly doesn’t understand the nitty gritty of everything… More specifically, procreation! In my last post, I mentioned how she had exclaimed at the family dinner table that she wanted a baby brother. These random exclamations have occurred more since then. After a while of trying (unsuccessfully) to grow our family, Mark and I have decided to pursue fertility testing to determine what some of our infertility issues might be. It’s been a tiresome (physically and emotionally) couple of weeks of various tests and appointments. During one particular appointment last week, I left A.J. and Mark at home. Later he shared with me that A.J. had passed the “future baby’s” room and proclaimed that I was bringing home her baby brother. Not only was I going to be bringing home a baby, but I was going to be bringing one home “today!” According to Mark, A.J. had quite the meltdown when he told her she wouldn’t be getting a baby brother that day. She just doesn’t understand – she doesn’t understand what having a sibling really means, she doesn’t understand that it might not be as easy for us to give her a sibling as it may be for other couples, she doesn’t understand that we want to be able to give her a sibling more than she actually wants one. But in the meantime, we continue to have honest conversations about our desire to grow our family. Yesterday she had to come with me to an appointment because we were going to be running errands right afterwards and then meeting with Mark to see Trolls (loved it, btw!). She wanted to know which doctor we were going to (she had been to the optometrist and our family doctor for an ear infection the week prior). I told her it was a doctor she had never met before and that this doctor was helping us have another baby so she could have a baby brother or baby sister. She was silent for a moment and then said “mommy, I love you so much.” I swear, I could feel my heart melt into a pool.
Other tough conversations we’ve been forced to have is about death. Last year, we put our cat down and also had our rooster slaughtered. Our indoor cat – she never asks about. Our rooster who was only with us for about 4 months, she still asks where he went… But them aside, we have avoided having conversations about death. When she watches The Lion King and asks what’s wrong with Simba’s daddy, we’ve often (admittedly) just avoided the conversation. But my grandfather (A.J.’s great grandfather) has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Upon hearing the news and realizing that sooner than later we would have to talk to A.J. about death and dying, I did what I do best – find books. After searching for ideas online, it was difficult to find books in our library system that were age appropriate and weren’t completely overwhelming or complex. I found the following to be the most helpful, some with minor improvisations:
Rabbityness by Jo Empson
This book doesn’t really talk about the process of dying and death, but it is a story about a rabbit who “disappears” and how the remaining rabbits cope with sadness and loss.
When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown.
I really had to do a lot of improvisation for this book. It’s a great starting point and talks about the death of someone who is aged or sick, coping with loss, and life after loss. But it also briefly talks about war, murder, and suicide – topics I am just not ready (or have the need) to talk about with my 2 year old… The bonus of using books as a learning tool with a kid who can’t read yet – you can “read” whatever you want and they won’t know the difference.
I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas
I liked this book for A.J.’s age. I tweaked some words just for her understanding, but not too many.
The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
Oh, how I love Todd Parr. His ability to talk to kids about tough issues, and yet not be heavy or overwhelming. His colourful illustrations. His lovely message at the end of each book complete with his signature “Love, Todd.” (The other day, A.J. was “reading” a note on the counter – i.e. making up words. After rambling about whatever it was she believed the note said, she finished with “Love, Todd.” You know you read a lot of Todd Parr books when…). This book isn’t necessarily about death – it’s about saying goodbye to someone or something you love and the associated loss and grief. I love this book for any kids who suffer loss. It helps them identify some of the feelings they may be having and validating them.
What are some of the tough conversations you’ve had lately? What are some of the most useful books you’ve used?