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So, kids, about Santa...

The question was: Do you tell kids Santa doesn’t exist, or not?

I have three kids. The eldest was the first one to notice something wasn’t adding up in the stories she heard. She was maybe four.

Now personally I don’t care for Christmas. The thought of my sweet little princess having busted Santa all by herself made her dad a bit sad, but not me. I was proud of her. Way to doubt and question authority. She was thinking for herself and challenging received dogma. You bet I beamed.

You’re right, I told her. Santa is a story adults invent for little kids to explain the gifts and make them see the magic of the season (I lied there; I don’t see magic in Christmas one bit). You’re big enough to understand that, but let’s keep it to ourselves so we don’t ruin it for you baby sisters, alright?

The youngest daughter also got a whiff that something was not quite right in the storyline early, like five years old or thereabouts. She got the same treatment from me. Middle daughter, who at that point was probably around seven years old, decided to continue believing in Santa even though at that point she kind of knew, too. But she likes magic, that one, and why not. It’s not because I’m a grinch that everyone has to suffer because of that.

They are 12, 10 and 8 now and of course they all get it. Not only why there is no Santa, but why adults pretend there is for little kids - and sometimes for themselves, too. Which I think is the best attitude to have. It’s sure better than mine. Mistletoe gives me hives.

So. When your kids first start asking questions (How can Santa come down our chimney when we don’t have one?), string it along juuuuuust a little bit but don’t outright lie. Whatever you do, don’t make them feel bad or guilty for asking tough questions. Foster that independent spirit, please. Use your creativity. Make them feel like they might be onto something but don’t rush to burst the bubble. They’ll get there soon enough. And if you burst it too soon you run the risk of upsetting them.

When the bubble is gone, ask them to think of smaller children, who may need more magic, and keep this big-kid story to themselves and people older than them. At least until January. Then it will all be mercifully over.

Comment avoir "the talk" avec ses enfants

J’ai fait l’école à la maison pendant douze ans. J’ai trois filles, elles ont aujourd’hui 12, 10 et 8 ans. J’étais avec elles tous les jours pendant ces douze années à leur enseigner. Donc ce fut facile pour moi de trouver le bon moment: j’ai attendu qu’elles me posent des questions. Ce qu’elles ont commencé à faire vers l’âge de 4 ans. D’où viennent les bébés? Du ventre de maman. Comment sortent-ils? Soit du vagin (c’est près de l’endroit où tu fais pipi), soit les médecins ouvrent le ventre de la maman à l’aide d’instruments médicaux pour retirer le bébé et ensuite recoudre la maman. Comment le bébé arrive-t-il dans le ventre? Grâce à la semence du papa. D’où vient cette semence? De son corps, qu’il transmet à la maman par son pénis. Comment il fait ça? En mettant son pénis dans le vagin de la maman. (Beurk! se sont-elles exclamées.)

Ça leur a plus que suffi comme explication. Quand elles sont devenues plus grandes, je leur ai mis dans les mains des bouquins expliquant les hormones, la puberté, et le désir sexuel parce que bien peu d’enfants veulent parler de ça avec leurs parents.

Je leur ai toujours dit qu’elles pouvaient me poser des questions sans réserve. Je réponds toujours avec des faits, le vocabulaire exact, et la vérité. Ma plus vieille a voulu savoir à propos de #metoo. T’as déjà été aggressée, maman? Oui. Et je lui ai raconté l’histoire. Sans me cacher et surtout sans honte. Je lui ai dit qu’en tant que fille (et jolie de surcroît) elle allait devoir apprendre à dealer avec ça, le désir des hommes qu’elle ne désirerait peut-être pas. On en a discuté longtemps. Et elle sait qu’elle peut me parler de tout, que je ne la juge pas, que je ne critique pas sa curiosité et surtout que je ne la blâmerai pas si elle fait des erreurs.

So far, comme on dit, so good. Je ne leur ai jamais caché la vérité à ce sujet et elles savent que je suis toujours à l’écoute. La communication franche et ouverte est le meilleur moyen d’aborder des questions difficiles avec ses enfants. Et j’espère toujours pouvoir le faire de cette façon.

Exploiting my children

Yes, well, you'll have to excuse me. And you will once you realize what little gem my 9-year-old came up with last night...

It's not ideology, she said. It's idiotology.

(Yes, one day we'll discuss how the word ideology has been tortured out of its real context - a system of beliefs based on ideas - to the point where today it's mostly used to describe an unthinking inflexible moron, which is in itself a feat of some kind, but for now I'll just bask in her cleverness. Thank you for your understanding.)

Big changes happen... at their own speed, actually

I used to believe big changes happened slowly. Well, they do. But they also don't. Recent events in the life of Eldest have caused me to ponder this space-time continuum conundrum, including her recent well-researched and supremely-well-argued request to be allowed to go to regular school for a while.

This one hit me pretty hard. I swallowed even harder listening to her. Because there she was, making her case like a person much older than she is. She was prepared to make her case, and had her answers ready for the objections she knew I'd bring up.

I know going to school isn't what she really wants, and I said that to her. What she really wants is to spend a bit more time away from her family, with friends her age. That's a perfectly natural desire at her age, and as I explained to her it can be accommodated in a homeschooling context. But she seems pretty determined... (she's a bit stubborn, unlike some people we know).

I was both hurt and bursting with pride. And also amazed at the speed at which this tiny fragile helpless baby girl turned into a strong, eloquent young woman. In a way, it happened very suddenly. But of course, it didn't. She started turning into who she is today the day she was born - nay, conceived. Those big visible changes happen all at once, yes. But they also take a long time to evolve.

It's magical and baffling all at once.

The perils of free-range parenting

It had to happen sooner or later. That's why I'd prepared my kids for that possibility, by explaining that adults were so unused to seeing kids allowed to be competent by themselves that they might call the cops on them. I can't control what other people do, but I can give my kids guidelines (to random stranger: don't give your name, but say firmly that your mother knows where you are and walk away; to uniformed police officer: give your name/age if asked, give my name and phone number, explain politely but firmly that your mother knows where you are and that you have permission to be there). Yesterday those guidelines were put to good use when someone pushed the panic button because they saw one of my kids on the street, alone.

I dropped off Middle Daughter (age 9) near the library around 11:45 and went to the dojo for class. She was going there to return books, browse and pick up new ones. Then she was to walk down to the dojo and read there with her big sister.

Eldest, who is now 11, has been walking to the library and back to the dojo by herself (a distance of maybe 600 metres) for some time now, and Middle Daughter has often been with her. But when she turned 9, I thought it was time to let MD try it by herself. It's a perfectly safe neighbourhood, but the street is fairly busy and you need to be careful. She knows how to do it, not that it stopped me from repeating it 400 times.

Anyway. She's done it by herself a couple of times now, and I'm confident she knows what she's doing. I dropped her off at a convenient spot, about a block from the library, and drove off. Almost right away a woman accosted her, demanding to know how old she was, why she wasn't in school, and where her parents were. She explained she was nine, homeschooled, and yes indeed her mother knew where she was, thank you very much. I don't mean to boast when I say this, but all three of my daughters are exceptionally well-spoken, especially for their respective ages. They are used to dealing with adults, and they can talk their way out of a tied-up paper bag. I have no doubt she explained everything clearly and concisely to that woman. But apparently that wasn't enough...

Half of me appreciates the concern. You see a kid by herself on the street during school hours, and you wonder what she's doing there and whether she's in trouble or not. My daughter walked away from that woman and entered the library. When she came out of there, her backpack heavy with books for herself and her two sisters, a policeman was waiting for her.

He asked her the same questions, and she gave the same answers. Evidently she did a good job of it because he left her with his card to give me, and coupons for a free drink at the nearby convenience store.

When I got out of my karate class and went to see how my two eldest daughters were doing (Youngest was with her dad), they were all weird. Eldest blurted out that someone had called the cops on her sister, who immediately tried to hide inside her shoulders, convinced she was about to get in trouble with me. I made her explain the story from beginning to end, then gave her a big hug. She did everything the way she was supposed to, and it wasn't her fault the woman who approached her overreacted. 

We did call the number on the policeman's card, and left a message thanking him for dealing with the matter sensibly. Obviously once a concerned citizen calls the cops fearing a child might be in trouble, they have to come check it out. But he was evidently convinced there was nothing to worry about in my daughter's situation, because he let her go on her merry way without undue fuss.

It's a sad world when adults think it's so wrong to see a kid walking by herself on a safe street in broad daylight that it's a matter for law enforcement. I encourage my daughters to be independent and street-smart, because those are very useful skills to have. But I'm not blind or stupid; my feisty 7-year-old is not allowed to walk to the library without an adult. But she's allowed to walk with her sisters to the local playground because there are no busy streets to cross. I know my kids and I make judgement calls all the time about what I think they can and cannot do. You see stories of parents being arrested for letting their kids roam freeishly - in the United States as well as in Canada. I'm aware that this is a risk of free-range parenting. But I refuse to have my kids grow up thinking their mother didn't trust them to walk 600 metres by themselves.

Well, now, which lifestyle you want?

This morning the quote (which I hope you'll find inspiring rather than just annoying) is from me. We've been in Florida since Saturday, for a karate world tournament, and already I've had to say "no" six hundred million times to sweet treats and/or unsuitable snacks. My daughter, a remarkably fit and healthy 11-year-old, who is in town competing at a tournament that could make her world karate champion, has trouble focusing on the prize in the face of all those very clever ads for "food" items that would make her unhealthy in no time flat.

She's a smart, focused and disciplined kid (at least, when she wants to be), but those ads, and that sugar, are hard to resist. She knows all this. She understands why she can't have much of the sort of food other people seem to ingest without thinking twice (or once, even). But it's tempting her. And I'm not exactly the person with the most patience in the world for this sort of thing...

This morning while waiting for our breakfast ("leave the bread, eat the eggs and meat") she saw an ad for some creamy luscious milkshake and said she was tempted by those. Not in a "BUT I WANT IT" tone of voice, rather in a matter-of-fact kind of way, just a child telling her mom what was going through her head.

That's the moment when I flubbed Bonding With Your Child 101, because I almost exploded.

Do you want the lifestyle that goes with those shakes, or do you want the gold-medal lifestyle?!?

She knew it, of course. But every now and then I feel like she needs to hear me nearly explode to really get it. Well, that's done now, and maybe I'll get an easier week from here on out, junk-food-wise.

The episode also gave me another opportunity to mention to her that discipline is one of those things that do become easier with practice. Treat it like a muscle. Every time she's tempted by something she knows she shouldn't have and refuses to let herself have it, it's like her mind is doing 10 pushups. After a while, that mind will get very strong. Stronger than the milkshake ads.

And then there is nothing in the world she won't be able to do. Because in the end, whether you practice any sport at all, you want the gold-medal lifestyle, not the other stuff.