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Tragic Follow-Up to a Five-Year-Old’s Birthday

You know how everything old is new again? How marketers realized that all the kids of the 80s are having their own kids and will pay good money for things that make them go Aw man, I used to have one of those!!

Well, I didn’t, as it happens, have any of these particular items, although I wished I did. (And I think they’re from much earlier than the 80s, given the age of some of the Archie comics we had at home that contained this very ad.)

sea-monkeys-retro-ad
Image via mentalfloss.com

AB was given a Sea Monkey aquarium, along with a little sachet of eggs, some water purifier, and some powdery sea monkey food, for her birthday. It was just like this one, except blue. (Notice that the sea monkey family portrait has not changed.)

sea-monkeys-ocean-zoo

Both kids were pretty excited. We followed all the instructions to the letter, and sure enough, a few days after we’d put the eggs in, there were super-tiny creatures propelling themselves around the aquarium! So cute! They did not have head-crown-thingies that we could discern, and they were nowhere near as nonchalant as the ones in the ad, but still… Cool stuff!!

The big problem was that the instructions don’t go past the first feeding. You’re supposed to wait five days after you put the eggs in there before you feed them, and the instructions make it clear that if you overfeed them THEY WILL SUFFOCATE. But does that mean you feed them every five days subsequently? Or does the schedule change? I turned to the internet for advice, and determined that we should wait at least a few days between feedings. We did our best.

I don’t know what went wrong. Within a week or so, there were only a couple of moving sea monkeys we could find… and then, only one. And then… a still, still tank. There were pathetic moments like when the kids stirred them (like you’re supposed to) and said, “Look, they’re moving around!” or when there was absolutely no movement and she figured, “Let’s just feed them anyway in case they’re only sleeping.”

We were sad that they were dead. Eventually, AB reached the Acceptance stage. This is what she wrote, in tribute.

[That’s pronounced “Sea Monkey-zuh” like when you REALLY want someone to know that it’s plural.]

It was right around Halloween, hence the gravestone savvy. (Actually, there was a rough draft of this picture that had “RCR” on the gravestone – she couldn’t remember what it was supposed to say, and that was her best guess.)

This reads (in the intended order): “To Sea Monkeys. I love you. You died and I did a surprise.”

This picture itself is the “spris”. Surely the sea monkeys are somewhere in the heavenly ether, smiling at their happy likeness.

On a lighter note, you can see that AB has finally reached that stage where she wants to write stuff and isn’t afraid to spell words any which way. Which is AWESOME; I adore this stage. It’s like seeing them learn to talk all over again.

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P.S.: I meant to add this to the birthday post, but it segues nicely from sea monkeys. Ever since last spring, AB has been obsessed with the monkey bars. We are lucky at the school because they have lots of bars to climb on at different heights – the kind of structures that have been removed from most playgrounds for some reason. AB does all kinds of tricks on a set of parallel bars and I can just see her little muscles working hard.

And when she crosses the ladder-style monkey bars, which she finally learned to do near the end of JK, her determination is palpable. Her eyes get all steely with focus. And her hands, which are still sweet li’l five-year-old hands with dimply knuckles, have gotten all callused on the palms, as if she were moonlighting as a construction worker. It’s pretty awesome altogether.

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Dear Five-Year-Old: I sure love you, even when I don’t like you much.

e suitcase

Beloved E,

I started writing a blog post in your honour just over two weeks ago, when you turned five. Part of the reason it didn’t get done in a timely manner is because your birthday happened to fall between two disparate weeks of insanity.

The other reason is that I wanted to write something full of love, something oozing with your unique five-year-old cuteness, and – well… I was having trouble getting in the zone.

You are an adorable, lovely little guy. Except when you’re a whiny and/or insolent little turkey.

Most people are amazed if I share with them that we have difficulties when it comes to your behaviour. We do appreciate that you are so well-mannered in public most of the time. I’m pretty sure you’re nicely behaved at school, overall – at least, we’ve never been told otherwise. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to abort a shopping trip, or lecture you at a friend’s house, or peel you off the floor at Funmazing.

But there are days when I fervently ask myself, “Did I really raise this kid? How did I?”

It’s the apparent sense of entitlement, along with a rude attitude, that shocks me every time. Particularly in contrast with the sweet version of you. I try to tell myself it’s just a phase, normal development and all that… but some of it must be avoidable, right?

We try not to spoil you (well… Daddy forgets sometimes, but mostly we don’t spoil you). We make sure you know that you can’t always have your way, and there are reasons why. We express our love in all kinds of ways, especially words and cuddles. We have taught you the socially-accepted manners that will help you along in the world. We feed you good food, limit your screen time, and make sure you get ample (opportunity for) sleep.

e sleeping
How beautiful the sleeping child.

And somehow, most days, you are quick to complain and quick to anger. This morning, you got up to the breakfast table and said, your voice seething with annoyance as if you were barely tolerating my incompetence, “Mummy. WHY did you put my lunch bag HERE??”

I have noticed a new trend where you fly off the handle about something and start yelling, and when I remain silent or respond calmly, you say, “STOP YELLING AT ME, MUMMY!! YOU ALWAYS YELL!!”

Out of the blue, I am accused. Like, every day. Multiple times a day.

Yesterday, I was dropping you off at school when one of your sunny-faced little classmates skipped by and said joyfully, “Hi! It’s Playday today!” You did not smile back. You said, “I KNOW!”, complete with irritated hand motion, as if she were insulting your intelligence. I was appalled. I hope this was just because your irritating Mummy was present, and not because that’s your M.O. at school. I know older kids whose default mode is nasty like that, and trust me: nobody wants to play with those kids.

This sentiment of “The world and especially my parents are determined to abuse me!” does seem to be your default mode right now. Most of the time, simply taking things in stride is a non-option. You use your highly-offended (and offensive) tone of voice on a regular basis.

Small injuries make you screech. The tiniest irregularity in your food leads to deadlock. You (like your daddy) are so used to doing things well that you have a fit of pique when you don’t master new skills instantly.

Unfortunately, Daddy and I easily get fed up with of all this. That means we’re not as patient with you as we should be. We raise our voices at you more often than we mean to. We’ve been known to plunk you in your room and close the door, just because we can’t listen to any more shrieks. And now, you’ve taken to running to your room yourself and slamming the door (sometimes twice or more) when you’re mad.

It’s not a good sign that, lately, I’m letting your words and sounds get to me. Since I have a job in which I work hard to achieve a listening audience, repeat instructions ad nauseam, and spend time amid noise levels beyond what I’m naturally built for, sometimes I get home and I don’t have enough energy and composure left for you. I know what kind of reaction I should have to your unappealing behaviour, but I can’t summon it.

You suddenly scream because your sister pinched you, and even though it’s not about me, all I can think is, “OMG I cannot listen to any more screaming.”

Or you cry histrionically, “You are only ever MEAN TO ME, Mummy!!” or even, occasionally, “I HATE YOU!” and I’m unable to laugh it off. I think about all I do for you every day, and just feel tired and defeated.

Or you challenge the limits we set for you, as is your job at this age, and instead of taking advantage of the teachable moments, I just want to shut you down.

I’m sorry. It’s not fair to you.

I know I need to listen more.

I know I need to think more about the underlying stresses that might cause your temper to flare.

I know I need to be the mature one, modelling things like compassion and apology and patience.

School is almost over for the year. This summer, I’m going to work hard to rediscover my calm and put love back in the forefront. I’m going to put in the time figuring out what will work for us, so that Sweet E can be your default mode again.

Because Sweet E is still there. You’re still the boy who loves hugs and kisses, who sits raptly for stories, who draws amazing pictures, who says adorable and enigmatic things when we least expect it, who adores your little sister, who dances like a twinkletoes, whose smile illuminates my heart, and who, five years ago, was born the most incredible blessing in my life to that date.

e and ab hand in hand

You are awesome, darling five-year-old, in so many ways. I love you all the time, always, more than you’ll ever know – and even when you can’t tell.

You deserve my best. Here’s to us, and to finding my best, together.

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