On Ratatouille and Vocation

Dear Munchkin,

I made a simple ratatouille for dinner. As it grew close to serving time, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: we could watch Disney’s Ratatouille as a family while eating its namesake! You’ve seen other Disney movies already, and you even watched Frozen in the movie theater earlier this year. We know you’re sensitive, but both Daddy and I thought Ratatouille was pretty innocuous. And in the past, when you’ve been frightened or nervous, you’ve covered your eyes or simply left the viewing area.

We were completely unprepared for your reaction.

You started getting antsy early on, when Remy and Emil were in the farmhouse kitchen. Then during the chase sequence, you completely broke down into hysterical tears, nearly hyperventilating. But you didn’t stop watching! Daddy and I were both trying to soothe you and keep you calm, but we wound up having to stop the movie to let you recover.

We thought we were done for the night, but a few minutes later, you asked if we could turn the movie back on. We agreed to give it another shot, but it wasn’t long before you were getting worked up again. Although we eventually made it through the whole movie, it was with multiple stops and starts, and continuous efforts on our part to help you deal with the storyline.

Munchkin, you have such empathy for others, be they friends, family or fictional characters. Though it may cause you a great deal of pain and heartache, it can also bring you a great deal of joy. I imagine you in some kind of compassionate vocation, using your sensitivity to minister to the suffering. When you were 3, you told your preschool teacher you wanted to be a nurse. Now you say you want to be a Princess Rescue Girl, which, as far as we can make out, is some kind of cross between a police officer, firefighter, and super hero. You have the determination to be great at whatever you set out to do. I’m looking forward to seeing what path you choose.

In the meantime, we learned a lesson: at least for a while yet, we need to read the book adaptations and discuss movies before you watch them.


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A Banner Day

Dear Munchkin and Peanut,

It’s been more than three months since my last letter. There were many times I’d think of something I wanted to memorialize for you, but then I’d get distracted by the demands of life with two little kids.

Daddy’s national convention is this week. He leaves each day before you wake up and comes home long after you’re asleep. You miss him terribly. I do, too, but I soldier on in the life of a single parent. Honestly, I don’t know how people do it indefinitely. It’s exhausting.

But a couple days ago, one of Daddy’s compositions was being performed in front of the entire convention gathering, and the publisher singled him out for acknowledgement. It was the first time Daddy had been recognized as a composer on the national scale, so it was a pretty big deal for him. Given the sacrifices you and I make to support him, it was a big deal for us, too. Daddy and I felt we should all be there to witness this milestone.

With the help of our beloved nanny, I packed our gear and took you to the Metro station to ride the train downtown — an adventure in itself. We found Daddy playing a piano in the lobby of the convention center and had a few precious minutes to reconnect before he had to take care of some of his planning committee responsibilities. We had a leisurely lunch, then went on a mini-scavenger hunt to see some sights before returning to the big hall for the publishing company’s showcase at 1:30.

By that time, though, Peanut was visibly tired. He climbed into my lap and snuggled close, his not-so-little body melting into me. Shortly after, he fell asleep, his face turned up to mine. He’s nearly three years old now; I know these experiences will grow more and more infrequent. Though my arms ached, I cradled him for nearly an hour, unwilling to let go of my baby just yet.

When it was time for Daddy’s song, I tried to rouse Peanut, but he barely opened his eyes. Munchkin was fully aware, though, noting that Daddy used to sing it to her as a lullaby. What a beautiful memory for her!

Peanut began waking up as the showcase ended, and we had one last chance to spend a few minutes with Daddy before the journey home.

It was a day full of blessings.


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Timing is everything

Dear Peanut,

It was one of those rare times we actually made it to church a little early. Munchkin led us all the way up to the front row, in the direct line of sight of our senior pastor. He’s a good man, if a little aloof, and I respect him. To be honest, I’m also a little intimidated by him.

You were feeling kind of crabby, but were still behaving about as well as a 2.5-year-old can. You forgot to use your quiet voice a few times, but nothing so distracting that we would need to exit the sanctuary. However, you did repeatedly ask when it would be over.

I gave you some minor correction during the sermon, to which you responded with a cranky pout. It was then that the guest preacher asked the congregation, “Do you want to be close to God?” Without missing a beat, you emphatically cried out “No!”

Did I mention we were right in front of the senior pastor? Gulp. Well… he has kids, too. They’re grown now, but he remembers, right?

At least everyone knows you were paying attention…


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For the record

Dear Peanut,

Last night, as soon as we finished dinner, you excitedly asked Daddy, “can we do the dishes?”

It’s likely there will come a time when you grumble and try to get out of this particular chore, but it’s your special task now. It’s one-on-one time with Daddy, but more than that, you love feeling capable. You even wanted to help do the dishes after dinner at a friend’s house last week. We’ve so often praised and thanked you for being a good helper that, at times, you confidently say “yow wehcome” before we can fully verbalize the sentiment.

Last night, you tried to climb over the handle of the kitchen stool to reach some of the dishes in the sink. Daddy had just turned to put something in the dishwasher when you fell about 3 feet to the floor. You exploded into tears, of course, but appeared more frightened than hurt. I rushed to pick you up and comfort you, and got an ice pack for the spot on your hip that seemed to hurt the most. As you burrowed into my neck, your sobs began to subside.

“I did it mysewf.”
“What did you do?”
“I feww.”
“You fell by yourself?”
“Do you know why you fell? Did you climb over the stool?”
“Uh huh.”
“Well, we learned something from this, didn’t we? The next time you can’t reach something, you can ask Daddy to move the stool for you. You need to keep both feet on the step to stay safe.”
“Daddy, can you move the stooww pwease?”

You love doing the dishes so much, you wanted to get right back up on the horse after only a few minutes of cuddling and soothing.

I want to remember that in about 10 years.


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Not tonight

Dear Munchkin and Peanut,

We’ve known for quite a while that Munchkin typically craves touch — hugs, kisses, snuggles, full-body tackles — but only on her own terms. Through experience, we learned that asking if she wanted a hug or kiss, then respecting her space if she said no, could avert tantrums in response to unwanted touch.

When I read this article, nearly a year ago, I was really struck by the description of adults who often “fake pout” when a child says “no,” which is a form of coercion. Or parents who feel awkward and cajole or push their child into contact with another family member when the child doesn’t want to. I had done the fake pout thing. I had cajoled and pushed.

At bedtime, we typically ask “can I please have a hug and kiss?” For a month or so, Peanut has been trying on a new form of independence, but in the most adorable way possible: a shake of his head and decisive “not to-night.”

The first time he said it, I felt a little hurt. I was able to compose myself fairly quickly, though, for a respectful “OK. I love you anyway,” which is the same response I offer when Munchkin declines. Sometimes one of you says “no” with a twinkle in your eye. My acceptance of your decision is just as momentous when you’re testing me as it is when you really don’t feel like being hugged or kissed. Last night, Peanut even asked, teasingly, “it not make you sad, Mama?” To which I replied, “yes, it does make me sad, but you have the right to say ‘no.’ And I love you anyway.”

Lately, Peanut has wanted lots of holding and snuggling during the day, sometimes hugging me so fiercely I can’t breathe. It more than makes up for the nights he refuses a bedtime kiss or hug. And Munchkin usually wants hugs and kisses and cuddles both throughout the day and at night, too, so there’s no shortage of physical affection in our family.

We consistently work on manners with both of you, too: asking if a friend wants a hug, asking — and waiting for — permission before touching something that doesn’t belong to you, and obeying the “no’s” of others. In all these experiences, the goal is to teach you respect for others.

But each time one of you refuses my touch, I am reminded how important it is to honor your right to say “no.” It teaches you to feel in control of your own body, which I hope will increase your chances of refusal and safe retreat if someone ever tries to touch you in a way you don’t want.

It teaches you to value your own body and your own rights. When I respect you, you not only learn to respect others, you learn to respect yourself.


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Protected: Peanut’s Penis Song

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Beginning chores

Dear Munchkin,

Last night, I asked you to clear the art supplies and other detritus of the day off of the kitchen table while I finished cooking dinner. You started putting away crayons and paper, but after a couple minutes, you began complaining.

(Heavy sighs.) “My legs are getting tired.”

“I’ve noticed your legs only get tired when I ask you to do a chore. You’ll be fine. You’re making progress but you’re not quite done yet. Please keep working.”

A few minutes later, you were dawdling again. I pointed out some remaining art supplies and a few dirty dishes from snack time a couple hours earlier.

“Those aren’t mine.”

“OK, but I’m still asking you to clear them off the table.”

“Why do I have to do EVERYthing?”

“You have to do everything? Well . . . who does the cooking?”


“And who does the dishes?”


“And who buys your clothes and takes you to school and dance class?”

“You and Daddy.”

“And who works to earn the money for all those things?”

“You and Daddy.”

“So . . . do you have to do EVERYthing?”


“Nnnnoooo . . .”

“That’s right. But this is one thing you can do to help our family, and as you grow, you’ll be able to do more and more. We’re a family, and we all help each other.”


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