My daughter thinks she has a boyfriend.

We were driving home from getting her cast removed. Emery’s stick-figure arm looked even more scrawny without the hunk of purple fiberglass that we’d grown so accustomed to seeing – and smelling. It was approaching lunch time so I asked her if she wanted to just skip school that day or if she wanted to try and go in for the afternoon. She insisted that I drop her off at school. And then it happened.

“Hey mama, sometimes – at school – we pretend that (so-and-so) is my boyfriend. Isn’t that just crazy?”

By the goofy smile I spotted in my rearview mirror, I could tell she didn’t think it was crazy. She thought it was pretty awesome.

I’m gripping the steering wheel as my child waiting expectantly for my answer. She still cares about my responses – not just my words but my level of excitement.

I really wanted a pause button so I could Google, “Biblical, supportive, female-empowering response for when you’re 5 year old tells you she has a boyfriend.”

Note: surprise, Google doesn’t have a good result for this query. 

Instead, I smiled and said, “Really? Wow, honey. That’s neat. Is he a nice boy?”

She nodded, smiled and went back to fidgeting with her newly freed arm.

My daughter has a boyfriend.

No.

My daughter thinks she has a boyfriend.

Emery is 5 and also thinks that unicorns are real and have chocolate syrup coursing through their veins. So, she isn’t exactly up on what’s what. But they sit together at lunch and hold hands in the hallway. He brings her gifts of apples and presented her with a camouflaged-printed woven bracelet. Look mama, it even has a clip. 

He’s a nice boy, I’m sure.

This isn’t just about stealing playground kisses (which she has been clearly instructed not to do) or setting perimeters around hand holding (it’s flu season, you know). As a mother to daughters, I worry more about the way she views herself in relation to how others – especially boys – perceive her.

My daughter is beautiful and hilarious and a free spirit. She has no concept of negative body talk or feeling insecure about her appearance. She can’t fully grasp the weight of words from the opposite sex. Because she’s 5 and she shouldn’t.

This boy may be a nice kid. But he doesn’t know just how awesome my daughter is. I don’t care who he is – he simply isn’t good enough for her. No one will be. But soon enough, she’ll be 16 and wanting to ride in cars with boys. And then she’ll be heading off to college with thousands of boys who will want to be her study partner. In her 20s, some well-intentioned, God-fearing boy will want to marry her.

I’ll want to say no every time but won’t because she will be experiencing these things in life for the first time. And parenting is about celebrating those things which give our children joy and nursing their crushed spirits back to life when they experience sorrow.

So I tread lightly. We discuss romantic relationships and their importance for adults. I tell her that her body is her own and that she is beautiful and valued as she is, regardless of what attention she receives. I remind her that it’s her daddy’s job to keep her safe and protected. And I look wide-eyed and impressed at her new piece of fabric jewelry.

Little girl, stop growing up. This mama doesn’t have all the answers yet.

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Words with Kids.

Emery loves words. She loves saying them, hearing them, dissecting them, rhyming them, teasing them and shouting them.

But mostly, she loves repeating them.

Again and again. She is never, ever silent. We can’t go anywhere without her engaging absolute strangers in deep conversation.

Hi! What your name is? (we’re working on that) I’m Emery. (To which they say, ‘Emily?’) Em-er-y. Do you have any kids? What there name is? (again, at least she’s consistent) How old are you? I’m 3. This is my sister, Blair. (as the little one is trying to climb out of the shopping cart or run into traffic) She’s 2. It was really nice talking to you!

You could say she’s a talker. Once upon a time, before children, I also loved to converse. Now I appreciate the silence that comes with the written word. Which is probably directly correlated to having a child who loves to talk.

At nearly 4, it isn’t often that she hears an unfamiliar word. So when she does, she savors that sweet nugget under tongue and waits for the right chance to use it. And more often than not, her ignorance to these words was rather intentional.

I’m pretty careful about what the girls watch and hear because you know it’s coming back out of her sweet little lips. And kids just know when a word is one not meant for repeating. This draw to forbidden words was kicked up a notch when she started preschool last fall. Suddenly “poopy,” “dirty underwear” and “stinky” became her favorite words.

It bothers me. It’s crude. It’s unnecessary. But they’re kids. I don’t want to be that mom who expects her kids to be perfect and always proper. They should be polite but they’re learning the power of words – both positively and negatively. So we talk about words and their meanings and the right and wrong way to use them.

So I ask her not to say “poop” unless it’s referring to actual defecation and she obliges. Until it sneaks out while she’s sing-songing in the backseat and I shoot her a glance in the rearview mirror. She giggles and squeaks a “Sorry, Ma!” and proceeds to tease me with every word (real and imagined) that rhymes with that four-letter word without actually saying that word again. She’s being silly and as much as it makes me cringe, I roll with it. Mostly.

But I draw the line at name calling and hate. Those aren’t allowed in our home. Name calling is unproductive and unnecessarily hurtful. And hate is an ugly word with a meaning that kids shouldn’t be capable of understanding. So they shouldn’t use it.

So It really surprises me how many times this comes up in television shows and movies targeting preschoolers. Dummy, stupid and other crude names are tossed around frequently. Em called me in this afternoon, confused because the fairies in her Tinkerbell movie said they hated another fairy. I’m sure we were exposed to this as kids, too, and it wasn’t an issue. So maybe I’m being oversensitive. But is it really necessary?

This kid is a sponge. I suppose I just want to make sure what she’s absorbing is clean.

How do you handle “bad” words? Are you strict with your kids words or should “kids be kids”?

The gift of a 3-year-old.

“Here, Mommy. I picked a flower for you because I love you and you should have nice things,” sang E in her sweet little 3-year-old voice.

SONY DSC

And my heart melted into a sloppy, messy puddle.

When I spotted it sitting on my kitchen table this afternoon, I almost forgot about our morning trip to Kroger when E dropped a pint of blueberries, squished them on the floor and then tried to eat them. Grocery shopping with kids is awesome.

It’s this flower and the unbelievably kind and unexpected actions that she pulls from thin air that get me through the really, really not fun times.

This simple gift of a flower snipped from the neighbor’s bush (shhh!) may seem, well, simple but to me it’s monumental. It is the fruit of three years of prayer and patience.

For my sweet E to show me love, unrequested. To know that not only does she love me, but actually likes me.

She has always been a daddy’s girl. From just a few hours old, she has always preferred J and his jungle gym body and afternoons of adventures. When E is fighting against me with every fiber of her being, J can get her to obey without incident. She counts down the time until he comes home in the evening. I’m certain she only naps because she knows it means daddy will be home sooner. I’ve always felt like the caregiver she tolerates but would never select.

Earlier this month, she informed me that she’d prefer if I went back to work so that Daddy could stay home and play all day. Ouch.

With the new year, I decided to make strides towards becoming a better mother. With that goal in mind, I’ve been listening to E and letting her speak. She can make decisions. She has more responsibilities and in turn, more rewards. While she is still very much a little girl, I’m treating her how I’d want to be treated if I were a 3 years old. Within reason, of course. She still can’t have any of my nutella.

And if my little gift is any indication, I think it’s working.

Do your children prefer one parent over the other?

That Vegetarian Thing; Part Un

I’ve been sort of dreading writing my recap of our 30 days as vegetarians.

Not because it didn’t go well but because I knew it was going to take a lot of time and energy to recap such a changing experience. I learned so much over the course of the month, I have a lot to say so I think it’ll be best if I break it into a few different posts. I suppose I’ll talk first on the social aspect of being a vegetarian.

As I mentioned in my initial postabout our little 30-day test drive, our main motivations were money and health. Those haven’t changed but I now know there are huge economical, environmental and ethical reasons, also.

I’m really, really glad that we abstained from eating meat while taking the time to really educate ourselves. Yes, I suppose I could have educated myself without becoming a vegetarian. But there is something to be said for drastically changing your lifestyle so you can step back and study it objectively. I spent many evenings reading, skimming and pouring over information about the animals we eat, how those animals are raised and killed, the repercussions of eating meat and how others have made it work.

J being a smartypants vegetarian.

The hardest part – and I think J would agree – is the social aspect of being a vegetarian. It was really easy to be vegetarians in our home. But when our meals included non-vegetarians, things got tricky.

Pretty early in, neighbors kindly invited us to dinner and I had to have the awkward, “Uh, so we’re kind of vegetarians now. Oh, and my daughter can’t eat dairy, either. So we’re sort of vegans, actually. But, we eat eggs. But only ones that are local and farm-raised. So,  good luck finding something to make us for dinner. Thanks for the invite!”

That’s not exactly how the conversation went, but I still felt awkward. They were incredibly understanding and kind and made us a delicious meal.

But some people can be really sensitive about their eating habits. Communal dining is a huge part of relationships in every culture. Celebrations, first dates – even funerals – typically revolve around getting together and breaking bread. By telling people I’m a vegetarian, it sometimes feels like I’m breaking the sense of camaraderie and a lot of people become defensive about their own eating habits. As if my informed decision not to eat meat means I think they are cruel and barbaric in their decision to. Not entirely the case. If you have researched and educated yourself on where your food comes from, I can’t pass judgement on your decisions. But more on that later.

When we decided to go meat-free for July, we didn’t really think about J’s family coming for a 9-day visit. While we miss our families terribly, we are spoiled to live so far away when it comes to our lifestyle choices. Our families support our decisions but we don’t have to spend much time considering if our decisions are compatible with theirs. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to sustain a vegetarian lifestyle when sharing a table with others. J’s family are pretty conscious omnivores and were respectful of our decisions. But it’s hard to feed 9 people (4 of whom were kids) all with different dining styles and preferences without using meat. Most of our meals were vegetarian but a few nights, we had dinners made with beef from a local farm. As a family, you have to make compromises and this was one I was comfortable with, given the situation.

But, generally speaking, is it worth the social awkwardness worth being vegetarian? Absolutely.

Girls are waking up from their (very short) afternoon naps, so I’ll continue this later.

We’re going to visit family next week and I’m unsure how we’re going to handle the 13 hour drive north. If it were just J and I, we would just pack food instead of stopping at restaurants to eat. But the girls will need to get out of their seats occasionally and there aren’t any fast food restaurants I’m comfortable eating at. The route we take doesn’t have any real rest areas, either. Any ideas?