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Challenge: Keeping Your Cool

Mama! I don't like chicken! I don't like broccoli! I don't like tomatoes! I have to pee! And I want to watch Peppa Pig!

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“Ma. Ma. Ma. Mama mama mama mama mama.”

"Yes, Mama, that's me! I'm your Mama."

That single word, repeated over and over, was every dream I ever had of having a daughter coming true before my eyes. From that moment on, every word she learned would be one step closer to all the mother and daughter talks about love, life, the stars, sports, hair, clothes, tea, and everything else that we would have.

I had given birth to my best friend. I talked to her and sung to her every day, and now, well… soon, she was finally going to be able to talk back. My heart grew with each repetition of that beautiful word: Mama. She knew me, she loved me, and she knew I was hers.

Her Mama.

Our conversations built slowly. At first, we talked about simple things we saw around the neighborhood. My sweet girl would point, name what she saw, and squeal with delight when I understood her. She loved our new way of communicating as much as I did. I loved her funny ways of pronouncing words; blueberries were "booberies," frogs were "fwaggies," and my favorite was at Halloween when she would point out every "bitch” that adorned houses on our block. She had just begun, but she loved to talk and was learning quickly.

Lily was speaking in full sentences by the time she was fifteen months old. By the time she was two, anyone who met her would tell you that every new word or phrase she learned came with more wit and appropriately-used sarcasm than is typical for a child her age. Our conversations quickly turned from:

"I love you to the moon and back, my love."

"I love YOU to the moon and back, my mama!"


"Mama! I don't like chicken! I don't like broccoli! I don't like tomatoes! I have to pee! And I want to watch Peppa Pig!"

"Ok. Can you ask me nicely, please?"

"May I please pee?"

My sweet, chubby-cheeked tot was replaced by a cranky teenager stuck in a toddler's body. She still had those adorable lispy "S's," rounded "R's," and double-U-sounding "L's," but they were tainted with some serious 'tude. With her desire to speak came her desire to be understood and when she wasn't, I was the problem.

"Where are my chuzes?" Lily asked as she searched under the sofa cushions.

Chuzes? I took a guess - "Your shoes?" I asked as I walked to the entryway closet, where she tossed her shoes after playing outside each day. My girl looked up at me like I could not have been more disappointing to her.

"No! My chuuuuuzes. Ugh!" she enunciated, adding the "ugh" for extra emphasis. I was the idiot for not understanding her.

"Your juice?" I suggested keeping my voice upbeat. Nope. Wrong again.

"No, Mama! I said my CHUZES!"

At this point, I was out of ideas, so I threw out "Your Jews?" just for fun.

"Ugh! Never mind! I find it!" She was not having any of my playing around and stomped off. To this day, I still have no idea what "chuzes" are.

I got used to my child's way with words and worldly observations. I always spoke to her like a normal person and explained things age-appropriately yet honestly. The few times I spoke baby talk to her, she asked me if something was wrong with my mouth.

As she was approaching four and started "big kid" school, she came home with many "big kid" questions about life and the world.

"Why don't any of the characters on TV have mommas?"

"What does kill mean?"

"What happens when someone dies?"

Oof…I could have used a few more years for some of these questions, but my still very young girl wanted answers. I did my best and used each opportunity to help her learn a bit more about these topics without terrifying her. At this stage, I found that admitting that I don't know or have all the answers about life was sometimes enough for her. I told her that kill means that something or someone makes it so that someone or something doesn't live anymore (no need for more detail there) I explained that this was usually what happened to the mommas in the Disney movies she watched, but it's part of the "backstory," and they don't show it in the movie because that would be too sad. I admitted that I have no idea what happens when we die. Nobody does, really, but there are many different ideas and beliefs, and we get to choose which one we want to believe in. I hadn't damaged her for life with my answers; I survived this round of questioning and began preparing myself for more to come.

One gorgeous afternoon, she and I sat sunning ourselves through the window at my mom's house. We listened to all the sounds that accompanied spring and talked about each as we noticed them; the wind blowing gently through the large leaves on the loquat tree, dogs down the hill playing outside, bees buzzing around the lavender plants just outside the window, a fly bouncing on the window screen in front of us.

Lily was worried about the fly trapped inside the house, so I opened the door a few feet away and told her it would eventually find its way out. As I walked back over to her by the window, I saw she was staring down.

"What did you find, chick?"

She glared at the windowsill, focused. "A fly. What's it doing?"

The fly lay there, lifeless.

My girl looked up at me with her ocean blue eyes and asked, "Is it sleeping?"

She had asked about death each time we watched a Disney movie. Someone always dies in a Disney movie, but this was to be her first time dealing with it in real life. She had no attachments to this fly, but I wanted to tread lightly.

"Remember in the Lion King how Simba's papa falls, and his soul can no longer use his body, so his soul goes back to its spirit self, and his body goes into the ground?"

Lily looked at me in disgust for belittling her intelligence. "It's dead!"


And then she asked every toddler's favorite question. "Why?"

"I don't know, baby. Maybe he got stuck in the window."

And again, "Why?"

"Well, he could have flown too high and—"

"He died because he didn't listen to his momma!"

She said this so matter-of-factly, it stopped my thoughts, and my mind went blank. Before I knew what was happening, I heard myself say, "Yup, that's exactly right."

I have no idea where Lily got the idea that not listening to me could have such severe consequences, but I confirmed the idea that not listening to your mother could result in death. I was horrified with myself for about five seconds… and then declared it a parenting win.

My darling girl is now six and has become more of a kid with only a few teenager-like outbursts here and there. Our relationship is changing as she grows; with communication comes disagreements, and big blow-out fights occasionally. I worry that someday she'll stop talking to me altogether if I don't get things "right" while she is still young. I've already felt her pull away a bit since she started Kindergarten. She has her own life now and doesn't always want to share it with me, and I am no longer the only person she turns to for answers to her questions.

Her new favorite way of communicating with me is by leaving notes. She has learned how to state her thesis and defend it, so I have received many letters telling me that ice cream is an excellent choice for dinner with three compelling reasons why, and concluded with "And that is why ice cream is a healthy choice for dinner." With clever attempts at changing the dinner menu, I have also received love notes. I find them taped to the fridge, placed on my pillow/leaned on my face for me to find when I wake up in the morning. Reading the words "To Mama, I love you" for the first time hit me as hard as hearing her first "mama." It reminded me that no matter how our relationship changes, even if she does eventually stop talking to me, she knows me, she loves me, I am hers, and she is mine.

"Every day, I lose my mind and my keys. I know my keys will show eventually…"

~ Bianca LeRoux


Read wonderful essays written by other bad-ass mamas in The Unofficial Guidebook to Surviving Life With Toddlers.

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