lessons i’m learning in my toddler’s dance class, and a Claire Bear update


In this room full of toddlers in tutus, absolutely no one is worried about their rounded belly under purple spandex. No one has given a thought to her chubby thighs in pink tights. Not a one has looked in envy upon the body of her classmates. Instead, as a boombox plays an instrumental of “Beauty and the Beast,” they giggle and grin. They grab hands and twirl. They hug and spin. They are grace in action, even as they regularly fall down.

Even as I feel my own infrequently-exercised thighs burning as we march with high knees and pointed toes around the room, I’m learning powerful lessons too. And they have nothing to do with poise or pointe, and everything to do with grace. Grace for myself and my perfectly imperfect body. Grace and love for the women around me, that I may see them as hands to hold and partners to dance with, not competition or something to compare myself to. Grace, even, for my toddler when she refuses to participate with the rest of the class on a particularly bad morning.

Six weeks of dance classes with Etta Jane are drawing to a close, and I am happy to sign us up for the next six. My happiness is doubled because this time, I get to sign Claire Bear up too. After a year and a half in developmental preschool, Claire has made a lot of amazing progress. Enough, in fact, that we feel ready to back off on some of her therapies. She’s going to be staying home with Etta Jane and me, and we’ll be seeing her PT on an outpatient basis. I am thrilled to get more time with my girl before she has to start real preschool all too soon, and I know she’s going to love dance class as much as Etta Jane and I do. I talked to the teacher and made sure that it would be ok if she had to wear braces and sneakers instead of ballet shoes, and was assured that she is more than welcome to join the class. Grace abounds. There was a point where I didn’t think our girl would walk, and now she’s ready to DANCE.

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turn that frown upside down

Most mornings, after we drop Claire off at school, Etta and I meet up with our friends (my mom friends and their kids, her toddler bffs) to do something fun– zoo, story time, science class for preschoolers at the museum. We’re so used to this that any deviation from the fun-with-friends theme kind of feels like a letdown for both of us. Sometimes, though, a mama has to go to Target, and then one can only hope for the best.

The best is not what we got this morning. I thought she was on board with my “first we go to Target, then we go to the park” plan, but her whole body stiffened as we approached the red cart, and I knew I was about to have a fight on my hands. I attempted to fold Cardboard Etta into the seat and strapped her in. That’s when she deployed her favorite protest method: the high-pitched dental drill whine. I was determined not to bail– I had stuff to get so I could make Valentines for Claire’s classmates, teachers, and therapists, and we had also depleted our Goldfish stocks. (I needed to pick up my prescriptions, too, but I’m just now realizing I forgot those.) I gritted my teeth and planned to Just Get Through This.

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She continued to whine like a dental drill as I pushed her through the store. I pretended it wasn’t happening. At one point, a mama pushing a cart with a toddler and a baby caught my eye and we both just laughed and exchanged a “what can ya do?” look. SOLIDARITY, MAMAS. Somewhere in our rounds through the store, Etta decided to stop whining and enjoy tossing things into the cart for me. There is nothing she loves more than being a Big Helper, so if I hand her stuff and then let her put it in the basket, she feels like she’s helping. By the time we got to the always-ridiculously-understaffed checkouts, she was happy to put things on the conveyer belt for me and chat with the cashier. “Hi,” she said, “name Etta Jane.” She always makes me think of Tarzan with the stilted way she introduces herself to others.

Of course, right as my kid’s tantrum ended, an adult woman decided to throw one herself. Just behind us, I began to hear yelling and expletives. I have no idea what happened, but this lady was pissed, and she was yelling at one of the nicest cashiers at our Target, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume she was being a giant jerk for no reason. She had a toddler with her, and he was crying in fear as his mother screamed invectives at the nice people in red. “Baby sad,” Etta said. “That lady MAD.” I had to wheel past her yelling obscenities as we left the store. “That lady is throwing a tantrum, Etta. She’s being really rude. Even grownups throw fits in public sometimes, but it’s still not OK,” I said. I kind of hope the lady heard me. She jerked her crying kid by the hand and said they were “getting the f*** outta here.” I wish I could have scooped up her kid and taken him to the park with us. I felt my jaw clenched at her outburst as we drove away.

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It was sunny and 50 degrees at the park. We had the whole place to ourselves. My girl’s hair shone in the winter sunlight, and I watched her little curls flying as I pushed her on the swings. “Swing higher, Mommy!” We didn’t talk much; we just soaked up the sun together. I love that she chose a “baby swing” for herself, just like when I ask her if she’s big or little, she tells me she’s a “widdle gurl.” Darling, you can stay my little girl forever. She played in the sand and made me a “castle.” She braved the big slide, the one with two humps. Then we did some more swinging and came home for lunch. I let her watch some Elmo to wind down before nap, and she snuggled in my lap while I breathed in her coconut-scented hair and kissed her sweet cheeks.

Sometimes, when my teeth are gritted and I’m pushing that cart through Target with the squealing kid everyone is staring at, it’s hard to see beyond that moment. And when I feel trapped in such a moment, sometimes I wish I could throw a tantrum too. But this whole parenting thing has been like a nonstop class on both the zen of being in the moment when the moments are lovely and the zen of knowing that even the crappy moments are just a moment too, and they will pass.

As I scooped her up and carried her down the hall for her nap, she asked, “happy, Mommy?” Indeed, little one. So very happy. So happy I’m willing to forget all about that dental drill sound you sometimes like to make because most of my time with you is oh so sweet and oh so fleeting, something to soak up like a rare warm day in February, something to bask in like winter sun, something to breathe deep like sweet coconut-scented baby curls, so I will breathe it in until bursting.

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the bufflogals’ holiday gift guide

Thanksgiving is upon us and the holiday season is officially underway. I thought I’d share what Etta and Claire are getting/wishing for/into this holiday season to help out any of you who might be shopping for toddlers/preschoolers this time of year. Last year their toys mostly focused on kitchen and food play, baby dolls, and bath toys, and you can check out that gift guide if you’re shopping for younger toddlers in the one to two year old range. Much of it is stuff they still love, and would make excellent gifts for any toddlers in your life. This guide is probably most suitable for ages 2 and up.

One category of play they are really starting to be into is dress-up and pretend play. We have bought and stashed some clearance Halloween costumes, and they have received some wings and hand me down hats, and capes and tutus remain very popular. Their big gift this year will likely be a small wardrobe to hold all the dress up items for easy kid access.

Dress Up Play

 

Etta remains really into wooden puzzles and blocks, and both girls seem to enjoy tool benches when we go to the Wonder Place or homes that have them. I’m considering a tool bench as another big gift option. Toys that encourage fine motor skills, like lacing, latching, zipping, and buckling are all really fun for this age group, as are color matching and shape sorting. These gifts fit that bill:

Learning Toys

 

We go to a weekly music and movement class that basically consists of playing kids’ CDs while introducing various props. It’s an experience that’s pretty easy to recreate at home, and our girls love to play with their various musical instruments. I’m thinking of attempting to DIY some ribbon sticks or wristbands, as they are always a favorite part of the class, and I think some juggling silks would also be pretty fun:

Music and Movement toys

 

Other categories of toys to consider when shopping for toddlers: books, bath toys, and art/craft supplies. A pack of washable crayons and a jumbo coloring book will definitely appear in both girls’ Christmas stockings, and I’m thinking maybe some bath tub paints or something will be fun too and solve my problem of hating to paint with them because it’s such a giant mess.

Note: this post is not sponsored and these are not affiliate links. Everything in this post is something I either have bought or am considering buying for my kids.

little talks

This girl knows how to stay positive.
This girl knows how to stay positive.

Most days, as I drive her to preschool, I hear Claire’s sweet little voice giving herself a pep talk in the back seat. It goes something like this:

“Claire Bear be OK. Mommy come right back. Daddy come right back. Etta come right back. Claire Bear be OK. Claire Bear see friends. Claire Bear see Miss Freddie. Claire Bear eat snacks. Claire Bear go outside. Mommy come right back. Claire Bear go outside. Mommy come right back. Mommy always come right back.”

By the time we get to school, she’s psyched up like a player for the big game. She waves bye bye to her sister and me. She walks happily into her classroom, where she will see her friends and beloved teachers, eat snacks, play with toys, sing songs, read books, work hard with her therapists, and then, at the end of the day, where her mommy will come right back to her.  Continue reading “little talks”