The Possibility of Polite Preschoolers

Recently my husband and I took our kids, ages 2 and 3, to lunch at a friend’s house. My children sat politely at the table, asked for what they wanted, thanked the host and hostess, and asked to be excused when they were finished. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not always like that. Sometimes they are holy terrors and I wonder what kind of precocious imps I’m raising, but on this occasion, as on many such, they behaved almost exactly the way I expected them to. 
People are frequently surprised at how polite my preschoolers are, and frankly, I’m surprised at their surprise. It really isn’t difficult to raise polite kids, it just takes a lot of determination. So here are my top tips for raising polite preschoolers:

#1: Let them know what’s expected

Kids need to know what you expect of them. Knowing their boundaries makes kids feel secure and loved. Pushing those boundaries is their way of asking how much you love them, and giving them the structure that they crave is one of the best things a parent can do. Make sure the rules are clear and simple, and the consequences of breaking them are the same each time. 

Johnny, you know that we don’t throw food on the floor. You also know that the consequence for throwing food is leaving the table, so you may be excused, now. 

(Remember, if they leave hungry once, they will probably remember it and decide it’s not worth it, next time.)

#2: Be consistent

Just as they need to know what is expected, they need to know that it is always expected. My kids, even at their young ages, know that it is always expected that they ask to be excused before leaving the table. They also know that if they don’t, I will always make them come all the way back and sit correctly in their chair and ask politely before excusing them, whether we are at home or not. 

#3: Insist they be polite and respectful

This used to be a no-brainer. Children spoke politely and respectfully to adults, and ideally, to each other. When my children are spoken to by an adult, any adult, if I’m with them they are required to answer. (Yes, we have had the ‘stranger danger’ talk, and they know that is a different situation.) We do not permit our children to hide or ignore adults when they are asked a question. I once watched a child ignore a (very resonable) request by an adult caregiver and hide her face in Mom’s leg, and to my shock, Mom excused the behavior instead of correcting it. Unfortunately, in this situation, Mom just set herself and this caregiver up to fail, because now the child thinks she can get away with rudeness and disobedience to adults and Mom doesn’t care. 
When we walk into church or the grocery store and our children are asked, “How are you, today?” they know they are supposed to answer, “Fine, thank you” if they can’t think of anything else. If they utterly refuse to be polite, they are removed from the situation, receive a reprimand or a time-out, and then are returned to the adult to try again. Don’t ever, ever let it slide.

I know that all these things are exhausting. I know that there are going to be times when we Just. Don’t. Feel. Like. It. But we’re raising little humans and it is so worth it to make them polite, productive members of society, and it absolutely must start when they are tiny, malleable humans instead of stubborn, teenage humans. 


Hungry for Salad

You can’t make this stuff up.

Since our kids have a lot of food sensitivities, we have really drilled into them what they can and can’t eat. They know they are allergic to apples, strawberries, peaches, and a lot of other things. They also don’t cheat because they know how yucky those foods make them feel, especially Brother, age 3, who is also diabetic. So even though we went to my grandma’s for the long weekend, I wasn’t too worried about them eating things they shouldn’t. 

Then one night, I woke up because the dog was crying, and I mean freaking out, downstairs. I got out of bed, only to realize that Brother was up and playing with cars in the hallway. “Mommy, I have a dirty diaper.” He was soaked from his chest to his knees. I double-checked my phone, 3:30am, and woke up Hubby.
“I have to clean up Brother, I need you to go make the dog be quiet.” So he stumbled down the stairs in the pre-morning light. Meanwhile, I cleaned, dried, and re-diapered, re-dressed Brother, and replaced him in his bed. Then Hubby came back up the stairs. I knew immediately something was wrong, because his eyes were as big as saucers. 
“What did he eat?”
“The dog? Did he have an accident? I asked Gram not to give him treats…”
“Honey, go look at the kitchen. Now.” 

I don’t even remember going down the stairs, I must have flown. When I opened the kitchen door, I nearly fainted. This is what I saw:

Two paper plates full of spinach, and two blenders from a handmixer, sitting on the table.
Chicken broth all over the floor.
Banana peels everywhere, including the dog’s kennel.
Avacado peel and pit by the sink.
A lemon, stuffed into my Nalgene.
The diabetes kit, with multiple syringes, uncapped and bent.
Bottles of insulin laying on the counter.
An empty milk carton on the floor.
Baking soda everywhere.
An open box of organic bunny crackers.
Two very small pans on the stove.
Paper towels, like someone started to clean up.
One very sad and confused puppy.

Hubby brought Brother downstairs and I asked him, “How many bananas did you eat?”
“Five or six,” he says. “I was hungry, so I made me a salad!” Now my mind is racing because if he ate that many, and he obviously tried to give himself a shot, what if he broke a needle in himself, or what if he succeeded and gave himself too much? What if he gave the dog a shot? I checked his blood sugar, he had obviously not given himself an injection. I checked him and the dog everywhere for lumps or needle marks and didn’t find any.
“I tried to have a shot, but it kept bending.” Thank you, Lord.
Hubby and Gram cleaned up the mess while I called the doctor and counted bananas and administered insulin. I can only imagine the note in the file for that phone call.

Irresponsible mother lets diabetic preschooler wander the house at night, eat whatever he wants to. She called, virtually in hysterics.

 I slept in the doorway to his room until I was sure he was asleep. The next night we propped a book against the door and put a cowbell on top of it. When he opened the door, I knew immediately. 

Here’s what I learned from this adventure: 

He knows exactly what he can and can’t eat. 
He is way too smart for his own good.
He knows that when he eats, he has to get a shot.
I need to invest in a good motion detector for his bedroom door. 
I also need to impress on him the importance of waking up Mom when he needs something. 
I may feel like a failure, but apparently I have taught him to eat well, since he got up and made a salad instead of eating the cookies on the counter.

Camping with Preschoolers

I have exceedingly fond memories of camping with my parents when my sisters and I were very small. We hiked Burney Falls when I was seven, and camped on Pebble beach when I was six. Once we saw the California Redwoods. So when my husband suggested that we should take our 2- and 3-year-old camping on his friend’s ranch next to the Molalla River, I was all for it.
I packed and I organized, I planned and I prepped. I bought those awesome baby food squeeze tubes that my kids think are smoothies, and I went to every grocery store in town trying to find all-natural hot dogs without cherry powder or paprika in them. (Never did find any, ended up with chicken bratwurst from Safeway) I gathered everything one family could possibly need for one night in a tent, and brought it all home

When Hubby got home from work, I had everything stuffed into the back of the truck and the kids and I were waiting by the door with bated breath for our epic outdoor adventure. 

Yeah, not so much. 

I did have everything in the back of the truck, except the cooler which I couldn’t lift, but unfortunately, he almost patiently pointed out that the moment we got over 35 mph, the tent, lawn chairs, and sleeping mats were going to scatter along the road like a trail of breadcrumbs.
So he unpacked it all and put it back. 

After that rough start, and a small argument about the state of the house, (Hey! I was getting ready for this adventure! Who has time to fold laundry?) we were on our way. 

“Mommy, are we there, yet?”

“Mommy! He touch mine blanky!”

“Mommy, I’m hungry.”

“Mommy, can we go home, now?”

We were meeting some friends at the campsite for dinner, so as soon as we got there we started unpacking. Of course, the first thing the kids wanted to do was go in the water. Hubby started the barbeque. Then he set up the tent. Then he unloaded the truck. I stood there, feeling a little foolish, with absolutely no idea what to do or what order to do it in. Suddenly, my Mommy skills were called into play:

“Mommy! Sister has to go POTTY!” (She has her very own narrator)

“Ok, ok! Let’s go! Wanna go potty in the trees over here?”


Note to self: When taking preschoolers to the “bathroom” in the woods, a) always have wipes on you, and b) always ask them to specify what they need to do. Leaves are not very comfortable.

Somehow, dinner got made and eaten. Somehow, the kids got changed and strapped into their life vests. Somehow I got into my shorts and flip-flops and made it down to the river with them without anyone eating dirt, literally or figuratively. 

“What’s that?”

“That’s a crawdad. You want Mommy to catch it?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Here it is, be careful and don’t let it pinch you. You want to touch it?”


Somehow we all survived the river. Somehow we all made it back up the bank. Somehow we wrangled the kids into their pajamas and into their sleeping bags. Though Baby Girl kept calling it a ‘suitcase’, so hopefully she doesn’t tell anyone that Mommy and Daddy made her sleep in a suitcase and zipped it up. 


That was probably one of the longest nights of my life. Every time one kid would start to doze off, the other would wake him/her up. They fought bedtime from 8 o’clock until 10:30, at which point, frustrated and exhausted beyond the bounds of reason, Hubby and I each took a kid to opposite sides of the tent and cuddled and shushed them until they fell asleep. 

Wish we’d have thought of THAT sooner…

We did have fun, though, we went on a short walk the next morning. The kids tried to skip rocks on the slow-moving water like Daddy, and the dog ran circles around the campsite trying his best to keep everyone in his field of vision. Big Brother was pretty excited that Daddy let him poke the campfire with a long stick, and Baby Girl tried to throw every rock she could reach into the river… and even some she couldn’t.

I realized this weekend that it’s been 20 years since I went camping. I also realized that neither camping nor preschoolers are for the faint of heart, and both at the same time may very well be certifiable. 

Maybe we’ll try again in 4 or 5 years. 

What I Did Today- Continued

I have an old blog that I occasionally reread to remind myself why we won’t be having any more kids. It’s called “What I Did Today”, and it is the hour-by-hour account of life with an infant. I got pretty good feedback on it, too, so I thought that since it’s been three years, one more kid, four different teenage/twenty-something housemates, and a puppy later, I might do another. Toddler-style.

What I Did Today

Clean up puppy poop, wash dogbed. Lie awake wondering just how much I would be judged for giving away Puppy. 
Fall back asleep
Retrieve blanky from behind toddler bed, quiet toddler.
Fall back asleep. 
Turn off alarm
Roll out of bed, put dog out
Open bedroom doors (aka, release the Krakens)
“No, you may not have Quesadillas for breakfast. Or Taquitos. Or burritos. Or grilled cheese.”
Change toddler’s diaper, put underwear on preschooler.
Start making Paula Dean’s Stuffed French Toast
Break up fight #1. Bring dog back inside.
Go back to Paula Dean
Break up fight #2. Get dog out of garbage can.
Glare at Paula Dean and consider Cheerios.
Line all three, dog and children, up along the cabinet so I can see them all and they can’t reach each other or anything else. “Stay!”
Blood sugar check
Put soggy french toast and cold syrup on plates, cut into dime-size pieces, serve. Inhale own breakfast.
Give 2 injections to screaming preschooler, put ointment in the eye of screaming toddler.
Make coffee. Realize that preschooler has just knocked on the bedroom door and woke up Daddy. 
Decide that since Daddy is awake anyway, it’s time for a shower. 
Realize that Housemate has just gotten into the shower.
Pour a cup of coffee.
Disentangle toddler from still-buttoned dress that is stuck around her forehead. Notice that Preschooler has on a tank top with more stain than shirt. Contemplate whether this is a battle to fight. 
Fight the battle. Win by the skin of teeth.
Read 4 library books aloud. One of them has to be sung. Who writes this drivel, anyway? Refrain from commenting on the likely outcome if a goose were to try to befriend a bear in real life. 
Take first drink of now-tepid coffee. Make Husband’s breakfast. 
Break up fight #3. Wonder where Puppy is. 
Put Daddy on Duty, race to the shower. 
Tepid shower. 
Discover that Daddy has turned on cartoons, thereby relieving me of the guilt of doing it myself. Wash dishes leftover from dinner last night.
Break up fight #4. Confiscate toy sword. Whose bright idea was THAT?
“Your sister does not have to obey you. She has to obey ME.”
“I can’t hear what you’re saying, but it sounds like your tattling voice.”
“If you want to go outside, you must wear clothes.”
“You must wear your OWN clothes.”
“If you want to go outside you must be wearing your OWN shirt AND pants AND TWO of your OWN shoes.” 
“No, we are playing in the grass, not the dirt.”
“You may not dig in the dirt. You may play in the grass.”
“Please don’t feed the Puppy dandelions.”
“Get out of the dirt, NOW. I KNOW Mommy is in the dirt, Mommy is weeding the garden. No, you are NOT weeding the garden.” 
Announce that it’s time to go in for lunch.
Catch toddler and puppy and carry them inside, kicking and screaming.
Scrub grubby little fingers. Wash own hands. Despair of ever having nice nails again.
Scrub dirt off toddler’s face. Change diaper, wonder how in the world so much dirt got into it. 
Contemplate lunch. 
Decide that boiled soybeans are as good as it’s going to get today. 
Accidentally pour sugar in boiling water. Dump water and sugar down drain.
Reboil water, add SALT and soybeans. 
Blood sugar check
Serve soybeans with jerky and cheese sticks. 
“No, no! Don’t eat the outside, just the inside!”
Announce that it is naptime. 
Catch both children, put pullup on preschooler.
Deposit each child in their respective bed. 
Replace toddler in bed.
Decide between finishing dishes and writing.