Don’t Bite You: A Lesson in Personal Pronouns and Tough Kids

*all names have been changed to protect the innocent*

Jane walked through the door yesterday and held out her arm.

“Joey bite you,” she stated.

I looked at her arm and the big red puffed up mark where Joey’s teeth obviously clamped down on my baby girl  like a plump piece of ham.

“Joey bit you?” I asked.

She nodded, “Joey bite you.”

This has been happening often. Too often for my comfort.

I will say that her daycare is very vigilant, and they always send notes home explaining the situation, what they did, whether or not she cried. They always make us aware, and they always hold her and put ice on it and kiss the boo boo’s. They take every step possible to prevent biting. But hey, biting happens. It’s still an excellent daycare. That’s not what worries me.

A few weeks ago her teacher told us that Jane is the sweet one. She said when Jane gets her toys taken away or she gets hit, she never hits back. This didn’t sit well with me.

“We have to teach her to stick up for herself. But I don’t want to make her aggressive,” I thought to myself.

At this particular juncture I noticed her laying on the floor, splayed out beside the dog, pursing her lips and whispering, “Mabel kiss? Mabel kiss?”

Mabel leaned in and licked Jane’s lips and I realized there was zero danger of that kid becoming too aggressive.

I sat her down and began our talk.

“Jane, when someone bites you, you push them away and say ‘NO! Don’t bite me!”

She stared at me like I had two heads.

I said, “See, if Joey bites you, push him away and say, ‘NO! Don’t bite me!”

Jane pondered this for a moment.

“Joey bite you.”

“That’s right, and if someone bites you, you push them away and say, “NO! Don’t bite me!” I demonstrated again.

“NO! Joey don’t bite you!” Jane yelled gleefully.

“That’s right! But say, “Don’t bite me!” I said.

“Don’t bite YOU!” she yelled back.

“No, Jane…”

But then I realized that personal pronouns aren’t her thing right now and we can worry about that later.

Jane eyed the bright red teeth marks on her arm and sighed, “Joey bite you. Joey fwend.”

Tears sprung into my eyes and I took a deep breath. They weren’t sad tears. They were Hulk smash tears.

“He’s your friend but he cannot bite you. You push him away and tell him no.”

She crawled into my lap, “Joey fwend.”

At this point I had a vision. I walked into the daycare, pointed my finger at all the children and said, “The next person who bites my kid is gonna get it. I don’t know what it is. But I’ll think of something. And it will be awful. So DON’T BITE MY KID.” Then the teachers looked nervous, and security came in, and then came a restraining order. The vision began better than it ended and helped me realize that this is not a viable option.

Our society really embraces the boy culture. “Aw, he’s such a boy,” we say to each other as the little fellas run around breaking things, pushing each other, and drawing pictures on the walls with crayons (not all little fellas, some are calm and sweet and gentle). But somehow, we don’t give that freedom to little girls. Little girls are supposed to be sweet and say please and thank you and never fight. Little girls are supposed to play with dolls and speak softly. Little girls are supposed to sit still and behave.

To this I say BOLOGNA.

I’m so thankful for Jane’s sweet, gentle heart. But I also know that in this life a girl has to be tough sometimes. And in order to be tough, girls need parents who give them permission to be tough.

My sisters, on the other hand, were rare ducks. They were born into this world with an invisible “don’t tread on me” tattoo stamped on their arms. Once, when I was around 8 and Rebecca was Jane’s age, a little neighborhood boy punched me. He hit me right in the stomach and it took the wind completely out of my lungs. In those moments of shock I slumped to the ground and in the corner of my eye I saw Rebecca spring to her feet.

We’d been playing in the sprinkler, and she was wearing nothing but a water logged diaper. She grabbed a big stick off the ground and charged the boy like a deranged kamikaze pilot, stick flailing, stocky feet running at full force.

“DON’T HIT WIZ!” she screamed.

I remember distinctly that the boy ran from her. I mean, he should have, because she fully intended to beat him to the best of her abilities.

But what I realized yesterday while talking with Jane is that she doesn’t have that. She doesn’t have the innate, “pick on me or mine and I’ll filet you with this stick” reaction to violence or mistreatment. She just makes peace because someone is her “fwend.”

So we’ll work on it. Slowly but surely. She’ll always be sweet and gentle. I just want her to feel fully justified in saying no. And pushing back. And maybe, on occasion, waving a big stick around in the air.

I may not be able to teach her about personal pronouns for a while, but I want her to know it’s ok to be tough.


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