All of you went through phases of being dogs, monkeys, strippers or cussing parrots. Usually not more than one phase at a time, but nonetheless, it was a very interesting time in our family life.
Most of the teachers were nice about it and offered good suggestions. One of the kindergarten teachers patted me on the shoulder and told me not to worry. “There’s always a dog in my class,” she said.
Not all of the teachers were reassuring, though. More than one of them actually said things like, “I have never seen anything like your child in my twenty years of teaching.” They were talking about episodes like the protest that one of you did in a pre-school day care, sitting completely still for two hours when you were not-quite two years old. Another one of you hid for an entire afternoon from the staff, who didn’t think it noteworthy enough to call me to report you were missing.
You were such a peculiar problem for them, but honestly, those comments made me feel tremendous pride. None of you were naturals at standing in line and coloring “correctly.”
Many, many people told me that I was too accepting of your animal episodes. Maybe I was, but the longer I was a mom, the harder it was for you to embarrass me. It made no difference to me if you ran around on all fours or both legs as long as you were safe.
Maybe things would have been different if I cared what the neighbors thought, but I don’t think things would have necessarily been different or better. The neighbors had some pretty colorful issues of their own and generally made me feel clever by comparison. Sure, you were monkeys and dogs, but their kids had bugs and scars and mean streaks.
That’s not to say you never did dangerous things, but somehow it was never while you were small enough to be playing feral dinosaur games. The dangerous stuff was usually when you were puffed full of human ideas, like I can get there from here, which didn’t really get going until about age 6.
When limits were needed, we put them to you as consequences of your choices, like “Dogs can’t have chocolates. Too bad you want to be a puppy right now,” or “Monkeys can’t go to the movies with Grandma, ya know,” or “If you take off all your clothes, you’ll be really cold on the ride home,” or “I can’t understand you when you squeal. I don’t speak crazy bird.”
Real logical understanding takes a lot of time and development, but you could reason pretty well when it came to immediate gratification, even as preschoolers.
Later on, we could put things to you in more abstract terms, “If you cut your hair it will stay cut for a long time,” or “If you break your sister’s neck you will have to spoon feed her forever,” or “What will happen tomorrow if we eat all the cookies right now?” Some of you really struggled with that idea, but plenty of adults still do.
Mostly, it was important to let you express yourselves as long as it didn’t interfere with anyone else. I might say things like, “If you need screaming time, go upstairs. Nobody else wants to listen to that.” After a couple hundred iterations of stuff like that, most kids get the point, and you did too.
We all have seen so many parents all twisted up about controlling their kids and fixing things for them. It’s an incredibly tempting path. Control and responsibility go hand-in hand, but being a human shield all the time doesn’t help kids learn to screw up.
They have to learn how to screw up effectively. Everybody screws up, every day.
If the worst thing you did all day was to kick yourself in the ear and blame imaginary fleas, it wasn’t a terrible day, just a dog day.