Conversations About Death

How do I set the tone for this post?


While everyone else is writing about determination and resolutions, or anti-resolutions and sending images to remind you of hope and happiness in the new year, I want desperately to tell you my story.  Because as much as the new year is about what’s to come, it is also tied to thoughts of the past.


Today is the 30th anniversary of my brother’s death. Anniversary seems like a stupid word for something so sad, but it is an accurate enough one.


Earlier today, I was driving away from the park and drove right past a cemetery. Instantly, I decided that today I would take the girls with me to visit my brother’s cemetery.


I can’t really explain what reason I have for visiting the cemetery, which is probably why I don’t do it that often. It’s sad when I go.  Seeing how all the surrounding stones have birth dates from the early 1900s while my brother’s is from the 1980s is hard. Those people had long years and most likely full lives.  It’s hard.


The girls have been to the cemetery with me before and with my mom as well. At three and four years old, there are many experiences the girls have had, but a year later it’s like it’s the first time again.


Greysen (4 years) remembered the place and the general circumstances, as well as the routine of our visits. Moon (3yrs) did not. She had very specific questions.  With the same bounce in her step as she had at the park, Moon wanted to look around. She wanted to talk about the flowers, trinkets, and photos that decorate the grave sites.


Moon wanted to know about how my brother died.  Also not uncommon of many 3 year olds, she wanted to ask me the same questions over and over.


Several variations of the same story later, the husband asked, “Are you OK or should I shut her down?” – his playful way of supporting me and letting me know that he would let them know I could answer the questions later.


I instantly replied, let them ask. Let them know.


They were curious and wanted to hear the simple truths of what had happened. Children need honesty from us. It’s something we can overlook or easily avoid by telling ourselves that they are too young or that the truth is too sad.


The simple truth is that children deal with sadness all the time. We may not feel that their reactions are always proportionate to the offense, but there are many days when children feel hurt, disappointed, and sad at some loss that is very personal to them.


Talking to them about my memory of that sad day was a start. My explanations to them may have been an outline of the greater story I will one day share with them, but it was a whole story nonetheless.


Like most varied book collections, the girls have books about death. I bought them Tough Boris and Sophie by Mem Fox before they were born.  The girls talk about death and things dying the way most young children do, with a basic understanding but also with a few specific inaccuracies.


While books and story lines (theater, movies) makes the idea of death accessible, it doesn’t really help make the subject meaningful at this point in their lives.  Books were something I made a point of buying, but eventually I expect that it is our conversations that will really be the resource for my children when they one day have to cope with sadness from their own losses.


So, I guess in the end this was a post about hope after all. Hope that all we do in our honest efforts as parents will one day be something for our kids to hold onto – that our conversations will become reference points for navigating their own paths through the sad times.


The Relationships of Childhood


When I look back through the blog, I notice how much my early posts focused on the girls’ individual experiences – what they did and how they did it. Now that they are older, I can more easily see how their world has grown. Their relationships now extend beyond our immediate family.


The relationship between the girls and me.





Their relationship to each other.



Their relationship to friends.




Their relationship to the natural world.



Their relationship to their world.





These relationships have simple roots but such deep potential.


The Distress of the Dress

play clothes

play clothes


It is so easy to say I don’t care about my daughters’ clothes when their preferences match my ideas of what is important.


Unfettered play, climbing trees, and canals built in the sand or mud is how I dreamt of my children playing. And they do. They do play that way, I just never imagined Greysen would prefer to do it in dresses.


Dresses?!? Dresses and fancy shoes. Not the running through the grass barefoot, holes in the her jeans kiddo I had imagined.


After really watching her play, I came to see that clothing did not impact her play in any way. She plays and is just as focused and unconcerned about her clothing as she ever has been – as long as she is wearing a dress.


So, if it doesn’t hamper her play then why does it matter that she wants to wear a dress? I’d prefer that she didn’t care about her clothing. I wish she didn’t insist on wearing a dress every day, especially since she only has a couple.


More watching, more conversations led to more understanding. I’m learning that her preference for dresses is not exactly a reflection of her values. Nor does it seem to define how she defines beauty which was a concern because she had once cried out that she wasn’t beautiful if she wasn’t wearing a dress.


Allowing my daughter to be whom she wants to be and like what she wants to like when it in opposition to things I value has been difficult for me to support.



Ultimately, if I really don’t care about her clothing then I shouldn’t care that she does. This disparity between our appreciation for clothing feels like the first  significant difference in our priorities and I think will be a landmark in her becoming her own person. Thus, I will learn to embrace the dress because most importantly I want to embrace my daughter.

When Young Children Don’t Want to Wear Costumes


Involving our children in holiday traditions is arguably one of the most anticipated things about having children. Ornaments painted with endearing sayings about our “Baby’s First Christmas,” and bibs with witty holiday related sayings are a way to share what we know to be the memory making moments of our lives.


There can be as much anticipation and excitement around Halloween as any of the other major holidays. Trying to decide on a funny or cute costume for our children is a big part of the Halloween fun but sometimes, despite our thoughtful choices and prepping, young children may be unwilling to wear their costumes.


Disappointment in missed photos and perceived fun can lead some parents to try to get their children to dress up. Parents can make promises of enjoyment and bribes of candy that may get a child into a costume, but for whose sake?


What if instead of making a child wear a costume parents . . . just didn’t.



No Costume, No Problem
For several years now, my friend Kimmy’s son has been uninterested in wearing a costume, but it never seems to hinder his or their family’s enjoyment of the holiday and surrounding Halloween parties.


Kimmy is always prepared with a costume, bringing one along just in case. And while all the other children are costumed, her family contentedly joins in the fun without any attempt to coerce and sneak part of the costume on, not even for a photo.


I have admired her respectful approach for some years now and so I asked my friend Kimmy to share her experiences and thoughts about her 4 year old son’s reluctance to wear a costume.



How did you feel when C did not want to wear his costume?

Kimmy: “When C didn’t wear his costume in previous years, I felt that it was probably uncomfortable for him (physically, and perhaps something new emotionally, causing discomfort) and that perhaps he just wasn’t ready for it yet. In his time, he would be. Last year was the first year we trick or treated. He was ready for it, but we didn’t try before that because he wasn’t interested yet. Last year was the first year he wore his costume as well.

This year he is more excited and even though he didn’t wear his costume for long at a party, he was excited to help make it with Daddy, and wears it for short periods. I noticed that the boys were the only ones who took off their costumes at the party. I wasn’t bothered by it because I felt like they were more comfortable without it on and they weren’t bothered by not wearing it.”



Why did you not ask C to wear the costume anyway?

Kimmy: I didn’t push him to wear it because I put myself in his shoes. Would I be comfortable wearing it? Maybe not. If he doesn’t want to wear it that is fine. I want him to enjoy the celebrations in his own time and in his own way.

How did you help him stay included in the Halloween festivities without a costume?

Kimmy: To stay included in the festivities this past Sunday, we asked him if he wanted to participate in, for example, pin the nose on the pumpkin, the crafts, the piñata, and the parade. He only chose to participate in the piñata. I was happy for him that he enjoyed the piñata. Even though he chose not to participate in any of the other activities I knew that he wasn’t bothered by it. I was glad he tried one when he was ready for it.


I think the main thing is that I want the boys to feel comfortable and to explore what they are comfortable exploring. They were really interested in the train table at the party and eventually after about an hour, C felt comfortable enough to try a Halloween activity.


Last year, when we trick or treated, C had a friend who he was comfortable with and they went up to the doors together. My husband started out helping him walk to the door, but by the end of the night C was able to go alone with his friend while we waited. C didn’t say trick or treat at the start of the night, but he did say it quietly at the end.


I am all about celebrating little moments and small victories, especially with C. No small victory is ever really small in our book. Because many situations are more challenging for him and cause him to be more uncomfortable to start, we try and do it all in baby steps. We start slow and offer a lot of support and encouragement, and he gradually comes around.


I also reflect back on my childhood and things that I was or wasn’t comfortable with. Many of these things are similar to what C encounters, and so I really try and put myself in his shoes as I remember how hard certain things were for me, and that helps me to better understand what he is going through and how I can best support him in that.



Thanks to Kimmy for sharing her perspective and experiences with us. Hope you have a Happy Halloween with or without a costume!

Why I Didn’t Step In When Kids Told My Daughter to Go Away


Children pick and choose play partners. Their willingness to meet and play with other kids is not necessarily hampered by whether they know these kids.  Play groups form naturally whereever play occurs. From school yards to playgrounds, children’s play is critical for practicing how to get along with others, how to make friends, and really just how to keep on keepin’ on.


A Girl Rejected. This weekend while at a birthday party, my three year old daughter, eager to play with kids as usual, climbed up a small backyard slide with a deck and stood politely among three older children (between the ages of 5 and 9). I was sitting alone at a table nearby for the purpose of keeping an eye on her. Though I was about 15 feet away, I could tell by her solemn face and stiff body that they were not having a friendly interaction. As the older kids shooed her away, Greysen stood wide-eyed and unsure, but steady.


I had to decide right there, should I come closer or stay out of it? Having intervened with this group of children at a previous birthday party in July, I was familiar with their routine of “get away kid, you’re bothering me.” The other thing I kept in mind was that while they were older than my daughter, they were children too.


The last time they asked her to leave, my daughter stood alongside her cousin, and together they played through the group of older children, not taking much notice of their dismissive ways. By my moving in closer, the children quieted, and my daughter and her cousin naturally moved away.


This time was different. My daughter stood alone and was acutely aware of their feelings.


As the children continued to speak, my daughter turned to me. I nodded and said, you can tell them, “No, I’m playing here.” Perhaps there were savvier words that I could have suggested, but that’s what I went with.  Fueled by my encouragement, she turned to them and said so confidently. The kids regrouped and talked some more. She stood waiting to get access to the slide, but now she was gripping the side of the structure. She looked at me while they spoke. Her face didn’t seem alarmed or hurt, but rather unsure. I stayed where I was, focused and available should she seem to need me. She looked back to the children and continued to wait. Within moments they spoke to her again and she responded to them again, this time with more determination -“NO.”


She wasn’t looking to me to be rescued, but rather for reassurance. So, despite the ache I was feeling for my daughter who was being told to leave, I stayed put waiting for her to indicate she needed more from me than she was getting.


The children spoke some more amongst themselves before one moved positions, climbing down. This spurred movement amongst all the children, and my daughter took this opportunity to slide down the slide.


She jaunted over to see me. I sat and waited, swallowing my urge to ask whether she was ok, and what did they say, etc.


As she twisted her leg to free her foot from her boot, she had three things to tell me:

1. Those kids were telling me to go away.
2. I’m going to play in the jumphouse now.
3. Can I have a red sugar candy?




I leaned down for a hug and held her for just the briefest moment, in which I felt a sting of the idea that there will be a time where I will not be there when she faces rejection. She may not have me, but she will have had this experience.


Had I walked over to intervene, I could have spared Greysen two more instances of confrontation. I could have even possibility facilitated some play. There was a remote chance that I could have even helped her gain entry into their play.


Had I intervened, I could have taken over all those children’s play. I could have taken Greysen’s opportunity to stand up for herself, to bolster her tenacity, to negotiate, and to really listen to when she needs help and when she doesn’t.


The idea to not ask my child the 50 questions I had read was inspired by this post by Robin Whitcore and a response of approval (when I shared this post) by Lisa Sunbury.


The need to process and analyze may not be their need, but ours. At that moment, I chose to trust my daughter and our relationship. I gave her permission to take the lead of her emotional development since it was a manageable instance, and to not ask her to placate me with details.


What purpose would those questions have served other than to reassure me? When she has questions, she asks them. When she is upset, she cries. If she needed to talk, she would have.


That was that for her. Thus, that was that for me.



Thinking About Girlhood


At a Kid’s Health and Fitness Fair in our town this weekend, Greysen was literally stopped in her tracks by a trio of young female dancers that offered her an information card about their dance company. She stood after they left commenting on their dresses. Interest piqued, we watched their performance.



As we headed home, another group of dancers crossed our path and Greysen asked to stay and watch them. While we waited, 10 or so girls on roller skates and tween punkish attire rolled around together -the local girls roller derby team. We watched them until the ballet folklorico performers started.


I couldn’t help but wonder what Greysen was thinking and learning about girlhood while she watched. I started to think about my own daughters. Just  fleeting thoughts of the I-wonder-what-she-will-be-like kind.


I also thought about the girls we watched. Are the roller derby girls tough? Do the ballerinas have a useful knowledge of classical music? Each group was so different in dress and style I couldn’t help but focus on their differences and if those differences carried over into other parts of their lives.


After the last group had finished, I was struck by the commonality of the audiences during each performance. The people were different but the prideful parents grinning behind focused cameras were the same.


I’m not sure what Greysen was thinking as she watched these groups of girls but as I watched my daughters twirl and skip to the music in their own way and time, I felt connected to these strangers. We shared a love and admiration for our daughters. Whether they were dressed in classic tutus, ripped shorts, traditional/cultural dress or mismatched toddler play clothes was glaringly irrelevant. What I really care about has nothing to do with music knowledge or dance skills but rather with their sense of self. I hope they continue on as confident as they are now in whatever they chose to wear and in whatever ways they choose to be participants.

Small but Helpful Hands



Knowing that Greysen is in the “why?” stage, I did a quick search on the farm that we would be visiting with friends. I quickly learned the names of the animals we would see, and memorized a few key facts, so that I could carry on a conversation with her should she be interested.


We set out to the farm, thinking that I was fully prepared to respond to potential questions.




Unexpectedly, the questions never came.




What Greysen wanted was not answers, but connection.


She and her sister spent their time on the farm feeding the animals, gathering hay from the bales, and bravely holding carrots up to the horses. They didn’t learn anything about fainting goats or Navajo-Churro sheep that day, but maybe they learned something about themselves.


I was reminded that anyone, including little ones, is capable of helping others, some much larger than themselves.



Supporting Morning Farewells


Like so many things in our lives, our daily “Have a good, fun, day!” routines with Mike have changed as the girls do.


Young children may be ready to say good-bye one day and may hold on tight to you the next.  Even within healthy attachments and positive environments, children may feel ready to play and see you later or want you to read one more book before you go.  Not only are you saying good-bye to your child, but often there is a change in their context which may contribute to how they feel about saying good-bye.


As infants, I would hold the girls if they were upset to say good-bye to Mike. Now, as a toddler, Moon is capable of moving the child-sized furniture around. She regularly moves one of the chairs over to the window to climb up and watch him leave. Mike waves good-bye to the girls from his car before he drives away every morning, regardless of whether we are waiting there or not  . . . just in case.


Moon likes to linger a bit after he drives off. She’ll call out things she sees, typically dogs and birds, but may comment on other exciting things that happen outside our front door. She hasn’t shown signs of distress or unhappiness, but I  began to wonder if she needed support since her ques are usually subtle.


Support for Transitions. By support, I don’t mean guidance or a lot of explanation. She understands this process and seems to be getting along well. Maybe I was just beginning to question my own busyness in the morning, and wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing anything.


  • Be Present. On the days she stays at the window after Mike has left, I spend a minute or so standing by her.  I may comment that I will miss dad for the day, or I may not. Mostly, I just want to share a moment with her and follow her lead. Sometimes my presence goes unnoticed, and sometimes she reaches for me – I would not have known that she sometimes needs a hug had I not taken just those few minutes to check in with her.


  • Representational Toys. I added these recently gifted gnomes and one of our wooden peg people to the window sill to give her an opportunity to process any feelings she may have about saying goodbye. She uses them most days, “walking” them along the sill, leaning them into each other for a quick kiss. I can’t be certain that they represent her feelings about Mike leaving, but the toys are there should she want them for that purpose.



In the Reggio Emilia tradition, I’ve been trying to think of additional ways that the environment can support this transition. Something simple, something portable. Perhaps a photograph of Mike and the girls on the shelf next to this window?








My Child is No Longer Welcome at Her School



We can’t do this parenting thing on our own. My husband and I have come to rely on family, friends, medical professionals, educators and my moms club, as people to turn to for advice, answers, and sometimes just comfort.


I didn’t realize the extent to which I relied on each group until today, when one was taken away from me. Actually, it chose to not be a part of our lives, for now.


One detail of our lives I have kept off the blog is my daughter’s aggressive behaviors. I have chosen not to blog about this before because really the blog has become my refuge, my place to imagine the possibilities of things I can do with my children and to reflect on both their growth and mine as a parent. I needed this place to be free of that one reality.  It is a harsh and difficult reality.


My passionate, kind, intense, inquisitive two year old daughter . . . bites.


Without providing you the detailed history of this long and excruciating challenge, I will say Greysen’s aggressive behaviors started long, long ago. Fast forward to this September after over a year of us reading anything and trying everything, Mike and I were advised that Greysen should participate in a school program – a place where she could have positive experiences with peers, play with interesting things, and be herself without the every watchful eye of  . . . well . . . me. With full disclosure about her biting, Greysen started to attend a Waldorf-inspired preschool twice a week for four hours each day.


To say she loves her school is an understatement. She loves herself more for the person she has become, in part because of what she has learned at school. She calls herself a “good helper” when she assists anyone and pretends to be a  “teacher” with genuine pride.


This morning, we were asked to leave this sanctuary of play due to Greysen’s biting, without warning. I was crushed. CRUSHED.


What does this mean? Does this community not want my 2 year-old in the company of the other children? Do they not believe she will, with assistance and caring guidance, develop the inhibition and skills necessary to communicate frustration in a different way?


I was angry. This school made a commitment to educate the head, hands, and heart – not just the head, hands and heart of those who do not struggle. I believed they were genuine advocates for all children.


Finally, I felt just plain old rotten. I can imagine how the other parents feel. My heart bottoms out when Moon is the object of intense displays of anger. I have had every emotion possible, from anger to helplessness, and do not blame the parents for their instinct to protect their child.


I struggled all morning with whether or not I should tell Greysen what happened. On one hand, I see her as a 2 (and ¾) year-old who is too young to cope with this type of rejection and will not understand the difference between the behavior and the person. On the other hand, I see her as a 2 year-old, nearly 3, who may learn something from this significant change in her life. Children cope with things differently than adults and aren’t devastated by loss (friends that move, teachers that leave) in the same way adults are.


Torn, I decided to tell her the truth as gently as I could.


As I blinked back tears and with swollen eyes – from the tears I could not hold back all morning – I explained to my Greysen that the school that she loves, the children she calls sisters, and the teachers she admire, are no longer going to be a part of her life. I explained that her biting made others feel worried and that her teachers wanted the other children to not get hurt, so that until she was able to only use words and stop biting that she was not going to school. Greysen responded by saying, “ I won’t bite anymore.” I explained that we still needed to wait a while. With the all the innocence of a two year-old she said, “When I’m older I can go to  school.”


And with that, she smiled at me and asked to play. Was it too much to explain? I’m not sure. I am reassured by her confidence that she will stop biting and the hope that seeps from her very being.


Even though I lost this support, my other systems went into overdrive. I spoke to a dozen or so friends who are either moms or educators, and who gave me insight and compassion.


Here she is on her first day at school back in September.



Part of me wants to walk away with a “never let your guard down” kind of attitude. Luckily, I was nudged back over to the hopeful side by understanding and encouraging comments from friends, including many of you who reminded me that


  •                        “not make the issue the center of everything” – Laura Herndon Ling
  •                        “progress, not perfection” – Christi Dean


In the end, I’m the one who chose this school. I chose it for the place it is and the educators within it. While I think there many things that could have been done differently, I also realize that I can not bend the school to meet our needs. I will continue to speak with the director, hope for understanding and work towards partnership. We are welcome to re-evaluate the situation in May.


I’m also sharing my story here, even though it may affect relationships with people within my community, because even though my child may act aggressively, she is part of a family – one that is trying to do what is best for her and one that relies on the expertise and companionship of other families.


I’m not sure when or even if Greysen will start school again. For now, I’m thankful that she can be home where she is surrounded by people who believe that the kind of passion she has has the potential to change the world.

The Beauty of the Earliest Friendships


Most every gesture of children’s first friendships are, as my sister says, “adorable.”  Such moments often elicit oohs and awws from nearby adults.  We fawn over children who hold hands, however, it’s easy to overlook the importance of such candid expressions of early friendships.


It is harder to pin down what constitutes friendship between young children than with older ones. Friendships is defined for young children as a mutual preference for just hanging out or playing collaboratively, and by showing their happiness from being around one another (Howes).




The Function. Early friendships are developmentally important in that they give children a chance to practice all those burgeoning social skills like practicing turn-taking, negotiation, and empathy. Toddlers benefit from peer relationships and can be inspired to venture out or play in creative ways.




When children are friends, their interactions may be brief, and their interest in a common game or task fleeting, and yet those commonly valued factors alone do not reveal how important those relationships can be to our children.


The Beauty. Feelings of connectedness start with shared moments. Very often, children seek comfort and find hilarity in one another that an adult interaction can not match. There is something affective about connecting to another person who faces the world from the same position.  Young friendships are raw and can be appear subtle, yet feel intense.


Early friendships are so captivating, in part because the interactions are generous. Young children generally do not yet hold back. They may offer to hold hands, kiss, hug, follow one another, and laugh inexplicably at one another.


Don’t Walk on the Grass. Sometimes, these genuine, heartfelt displays of interest and affection between young children can become amusing to adults. Instead of prompting such instances or inserting ourselves into young children’s interactions with adoring commentaries of “how cute,” I try to refrain from interrupting the beginnings of a relationship.  Just like a freshly seeded lawn that needs to be left alone to grow, children deserve our restraint to let their friendships happen in time.


Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, . . .It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival.

–  C.S. Lewis



While endearing, moments like these are so much more than a photo op. They are indicative of the kind of relationships that children are eager to develop and sustain even in the early years.  When we watch young friends play, we are witness to people uniquely connected by time, their enthusiasm for life, their grandiose ideas, and their delight in the “ordinary.”  Peer relationships can be tremendous. It is within their capacity to develop feelings of belonging and understanding, to combat a time in life when powerlessness can be a recurring struggle.


What do you think when you see very young children playing together?


Howes, C. (1983). Patterns of Friendship. Child Development V (54) No. 4. pp. 1041-1053.