When is the right time for my child to do…anything?

girl walking away

photo credit: pixabay.com

When I was a kid, the nearest playground was a little more than a quarter-mile away. To get there, I had to walk three long blocks and cross a three-lanes-in-each-direction road that didn’t have cross-walks ANYWHERE NEARBY. Somehow, we were allowed to go there without much incident. In recent days, my decision to let dd and a fellow third-grade playmate go unsupervised to the playground nearest us (well within a quarter-mile radius and not even requiring a street crossing) was, shall we say, highly challenged by a parent of the child that went with her. Granted, every parent is entitled to their own limits and I get that, but I appreciate that future meet-ups will have supervision rules discussed up front so that everybody is on the same page.

The incident got me thinking about just how little we know when it comes to when the right time is for…anything our kids might want to do. All those hard-and-fast rules aren’t so hard or fast when every household is different, and it always, ALWAYS depends on the child(ren) in question.

We had run into this larger issue of readiness a few months back, when dd first started to pester us in earnest about earrings. Over dinner with friends, we discussed the conundrum at length: Is a third grader responsible enough to take care of her ears so they don’t get infected? What IS the right age for a child to get their ears pierced? (DH blanched from one couple’s story of their niece’s lackluster approach to earring care leading to multiple infections and at least one re-piercing.)

Of course, there are people who have their kids’ ears pierced at very early ages, in which case the issue is pretty moot; initial care is handled by a parent/caregiver, and the child grows up just knowing “I’ve pretty much always had my ears pierced.” I didn’t get my ears pierced until around age twelve, possibly because my parents waited until they thought I was responsible enough to take care of them on my own.

We had originally set the same requirement for dd, until she really kept coming at us OVER AND OVER AGAIN–begging, pleading, and generally bugging the crap out of us to get her ears pierced. Finally, one night as we cuddled at her bedtime, she ‘fessed up: “All the cool third-grade girls have their ears pierced,” she whined plaintively. Ohhhh. Okay.

I told dh about this, to which he (so New Englandly) responded, “Well, that’s a perfect reason NOT to get them pierced!”

I didn’t even blink before I shot back, “You don’t understand girls.


Amy Poehler in Mean Girls

photo credit: observer.com


And no, I’m not pretending to be Amy Poehler’s character from “Mean Girls”, the super-cool mom who’s totes okay with aaaannnnnyyyything. I’m just saying that I have not-so-vague memories of what it was like being a third grade girl who didn’t fit in because she wasn’t thin or pretty enough, and it sucked. A lot. And really, if dd has already announced her desire to get her ears pierced, does she need to wait three more years?

I brokered a sort of détente: dd would have an eight-week chart of responsibilities involving personal care in one manner or another (e.g. brushing teeth, brushing her hair, showering, etc.), and she had limited room for misses. If she didn’t meet all the requirements for a given day, and that happened more than twice in a week, a penalty week would be added. As it happened, we had to invoke that rule only once–and it ended up being rescinded just as quickly due to a well-timed critical show of responsibility. She pulled a massive save on a night when dh was out and I got sick; completely un-prodded, she took over clearing the dinner table and getting both herself and her brother ready for bed while I was recovering from my ailment.


DD's responsibility chart

A partial view of a much larger chart


And so it was that she got her ears pierced earlier this month, picking out earrings that were close to but slightly more colorful than the ones chosen by one of her BFFs from school. She complained mightily for a few hours about how much it hurt to have them done, and she’s not always keeping on top of cleaning them without being reminded, but otherwise she’s got it under control and she’s clearly doing well enough that I have high hopes for her making it through without infected lobes.




The thing is, the age of twelve that we initially set as a target was somewhat arbitrary; it was picked because that’s when I foggily remembered getting my ears pierced, and who knows how long I similarly bugged the crap out of MY parents leading up to that day. No matter what day or what year dh and I picked, we could always be wrong.

You’re not supposed to introduce babies to solid foods before six months old, yet there are people who have done it for centuries (or millennia), and the children still lived. Guidelines for kids’ sleep requirements and bedtimes vary depending upon the source, with general ranges being as close to a rule as you’ll find. What we know about when it’s safe or okay for a child to do so many things is often subjective, and I’m glad that I listened to my gut instinct about the earrings and let her have the opportunity to prove herself.

Giving my children the freedom to fail is scary, but it’s time to do more of that with dd. I shouldn’t always do for her anymore what she must do for herself, and I just need to be available to support her or comfort her if she stumbles or falls. I don’t know which one of us is more ready for this shift, but it’s clear we’re already finding out…together.

Scar tissue, aka “I wish I could take the pain away, kiddo”

I don’t often look at the scar on my abdomen. I have a line across my lower belly, a narrow-lipped grimace, the remnant of 8″ incisions cut into me twice over for the births of my two children. I don’t regret the c-sections that gave me that scar, nor do I particularly care whether or not it ever fades completely from view. I doubt it could and, even if it did, a phantom of it would still remain in my mind because of how it connects me to two of the most important people in my life.

My dd will likely now have a scar, although at the tender age of eight and three-quarters years old, hers is from a decidedly less miraculous reason than the birth of a child. In her case, it was just a freak accident.

At camp yesterday, her group was playing a game where they tossed a partially-filled sport drink bottle from kid to kid. If a kid failed to catch it, they were “out”. Apparently, one of the kiddos didn’t catch the bottle and was flagged as “out”. This kiddo’s reaction was to hurl the bottle angrily at top speed–and I guess dd’s forehead was right in the path of the projectile. There’s no indication that it was anything other than an accident; it was an eight year old kid acting out because she was ticked off over getting booted from a game. Even so, it made for quite the day.

I closed up what I could from work as fast as I could (a testament to my AMAZING co-workers that I was able to delegate a few must-do’s to others), and then I raced at top speed to pick her up from camp. Bearing in mind that when camp called, they told me that they thought she needed stitches. Here’s me figuring that they’re possibly exaggerating. Maybe it’s just a big scratch or something.

Yeah, I was dead wrong.

The gash on dd’s forehead was a little less than an inch long but incredibly deep. It reminded me of the lash marks on the faces of characters from the battle between the Sentinels and residents of Zion in the last “Matrix” movie. NOT. GOOD. She was in decent enough spirits for a kid with an open wound on her head, though, so we went home to change her into clean clothes and headed off to get to the Urgent Care center as they opened. (Our doctor’s office can’t put in stitches, and the copay for the co-located Urgent Care is the same as a doctor’s office visit copay, as opposed to the ER copay–which is 4x as much and boasts at least the same waiting time, if not more.)

Everyone at Urgent Care was very sweet, and it was only when the triage nurse needed to irrigate the wound to clean it when dd howled, cried, and tensed her legs in obvious pain. Even so, her struggling was minimal and she squeezed my hand almost as hard as I squeezed hers, both of us so completely frustrated by my inability to wave a magic wand and make it all not be so.

The nurse practitioner was fantastic, as was the pediatric nurse; they numbed her up with a topical mixture heavy on lidocaine that made the injectable lidocaine (which was, unfortunately, still necessary) that much easier for her to handle. Five stitches and a total of two-and-a-half hours later, we emerged into the sunlight, ready to continue our afternoon.

We’ve been given strict limitations on her physical activity for the next 7-10 days (or as long as it takes for the wound to close up), and there are further instructions to keep her from scarring too much. We need to apply sunscreen daily to the site for at least 1-2 years. We need to apply Vitamin E oil daily to the site for at least 1 year. And all of this should (hopefully) preserve dd’s previously pristine face.

And yet I know this is possibly fruitless. She may end up with some kind of scar, due to some other eight year old girl’s dumbass temper tantrum.

I don’t mind that I have a scar. I earned mine at 33 (and again at 36), and I did so knowingly, going in with the understanding that my surgeries would result in a scar. I just wish I could protect dd (and ds) from the scars that are yet to come. Let this be the worst one she ever has to bear. Let this be the toughest visible reminder she has of the fact that other people, sometimes, are just assholes. Because yes, even eight year olds–especially ones that apparently only grudgingly gave half-hearted apologies for opening up another’s forehead–can be assholes. Let’s just call a spade a spade.

I wish it could be not so for her. And that is one of the toughest things that any parent has to bear, how little we can do sometimes to remove burdens from our kids. So I hope that if she does have a scar, her primary memory of it is not the angry, tantrum-throwing brat who hurled that bottle at her. I hope that her main memory is of how badass she was as she took five stitches to the head without so much as a whimper. She’s so strong. She’s so amazing. And she’s more than any scar she’ll ever carry.

The hard truth: some children are just jerks

mean people suck

Recently, dd came to us nearly in tears over something mean that one of her “friends” from school said to her. My first response (out loud) was something to the tune of, “Well, anyone who’s that mean isn’t worth having as a friend”, but (inside my head) I was thinking “That little piece of…”

Part of the trouble here is that I can’t protect dd from everything–which is every parent’s biggest fear–but part of the trouble is that nothing ever really changes. Kids, not knowing social norms and not having the “filter” that prevents us from simply shouting out all the lovely things we often wish we could say to one another, tend to blurt out mean things simply due to an ignorance of what’s okay to say. Furthermore, kids don’t always have the vocabulary or the emotional strength to know how to express their feelings, so they may channel their own feelings of frustration, hurt, or anger into words that (intentionally or otherwise) frustrate, hurt, or anger others.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. And boy, do I wish this were one that we could cure with a quick round of penicillin.

I remember what my own childhood was like: I was the veritable ugly duckling. I had a horrific bowl haircut (thanks, 1970’s!), and I was somewhat shy, but I was a generally smart kiddo who managed to get moved up a grade halfway through Kindergarten. When I made it up to 2nd grade, in a “Gifted & Talented” program across county, almost none of the other kids wanted to be friends. They saw a shy, chubby girl and figured that I was easy pickings. (I was.)

Only one girl wanted to be my friend in 2nd grade, and our best friendship would last all the way through our senior year of high school. She was my rock, the one reliable person that I knew I could count on to be nice. The majority of the rest: well, let’s just say that I learned pretty early on how rude kids could be. Jokes about my weight. Jokes about my appearance. Naturally, the very same kids that would tease me relentlessly were also the ones who wanted to copy off my papers; having the only partially formed self-esteem of a young kid, I didn’t yet have the spine to tell them exactly where they could shove their own homework.

As the years passed, I figured out what I was worth–what I deserved and didn’t deserve. It took me YEARS to get to the point where I understood that when people are mean, it often says more about them than it does about the people who they’re being mean to.

I guess the years have passed for the others, as well. There have been various noises from members of my senior class around trying to get everybody together for a 25th year high school reunion. The voices have smoothed out a lot, as time and experience have aged us past the crap we all put each other through lo those many years ago. When I look back at the people who said nice things or who “liked” my post to the reunion page, I see the names of people who were both friends and foes. We’ve all aged out of the awfulness, I hope.

And so I sit, wishing I could speed things up for dd or at least protect her from the awfulness that I know she’ll have to go through over the next few years. She’s many things that I wasn’t at that age. She’s gorgeous. She’s popular. She’s athletic. And she’s so blissfully unaware of how incredibly cool she is.

So I can’t protect her from all that’s out there, but I can still give her hugs and kisses and try to comfort her when the wolves come out to play on her psyche. I guess that’s as much as a mom can do, and it’ll just have to be enough for now.