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What Not To Say

not to say Forgive me, but I have conversation on the brain. It's not a crime. But it might be an obsession.

While we were away in South Carolina for the holiday weekend, I had a little chat with Toddler that I can't seem to get out of my mind. It was a tiny exchange, a sweet little Mommy-Daughter Moment. Looking back at it, that moment seems less simple than it did while I was experiencing it. That moment has me asking questions. (Shocker.)

Enough of the setup. Here's what happened. Toddler and I were in our bedroom getting cleaned up for dinner. I got her dressed. She hung out as I got dressed. And then I asked her to be patient while I did a few things in the bathroom. She came in with me and stood by my side as I spritzed some perfume and brushed my hair. And then, because she is three, she grew a bit restless.

"Mommy, let's go!"

"In one minute, babe," I said. "Mommy just wants to put on a little eyeliner."

"How do you do that?" she asked.

"See this pencil thing?"

"Yeah."

"Well you draw lines outside of your eyes," I said. "Isn't that silly?"

"Yeah."

Frankly, she wasn't very interested in the art of eyeliner application. She was more interested in getting me to stop primping and embark on some adventure with her. But, for whatever reason, I continued to engage her in this discussion. I put on eyeliner around one eye and then I ducked down to her level.

"See how Mommy's eyes are now different?"

"Wow," she said. "Yeah."

I could have stopped there. It would have amounted to a cute little lesson on comparison, an old school one of these things is not like the other. But no.

"Which eye looks better?" I asked her.

And, surprisingly or not surprisingly, she pointed to my outlined eye. And I didn't dwell too much on this. Just smiled. Put eyeliner on my other eye and off we went.

Told you it was a small little sliver of conversation.

But. Here I am, days later, thinking about this. Wondering if it was somehow inappropriate or unfortunate for me to talk to my young daughter about makeup. Wondering if she took from our little moment some message about beauty, about artificiality over naturalness. Wondering why she thinks a smoky eye looks better than a plain old eye at age three?

Now I will be the very first to admit that I am likely over-thinking this. Over-thinking things is one of my favorite hobbies and I am quite good at it. That aside, there appears to me to be some important questions buried in this itty-bitty anecdote.

Are there topics which are objectively inappropriate to discuss with our little ones? Is it prudential and proper to steer clear of certain subject matters - beauty, sex, anxiety, diets, death, destruction, etc. If so, when does it become appropriate - or important - to talk about these things? Or, is the more critical question how we talk to our kids? Is any topic fair game at any juncture given that we handle it in an age-appropriate way? Are there instances when we should hide emotions or behaviors from our kids? Are there times when we should lie or divert if pinned with a question that is about something sensitive or sophisticated?

I don't know. What I do know is that, for me, conversing with my children is a huge component of my parenting. Though my girls are very young, we talk about a lot of things. Some things prompted by them. And some by me. As a person and as a writer, I believe, and deeply, in the power of words and the ideas formed by them. As a person and as a writer, I am a lover of dialogue, of education and evolution through the exchange of sentences.

But as a mom, I'm at a bit of a loss. And I imagine this is part and parcel of parenthood - the feeling of flailing. As a mom of two little girls who are growing more verbal and curious by the day, I feel implored to figure this out. To determine what to say. And what not to.

I know there are no answers. I know there is no guide book. (If there was, I would buy it and promptly declare it ridiculous.) But these questions? They matter. To me at least. And so I ask them. Indeed there is a power in the asking.

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Do you have strong opinions on conversational subject matters that are appropriate and inappropriate for kids? Are you careful about what you say to your kids and what you say in front of them? Were your parents conversationally cautious while raising you? Do you think that the answers to these question depend, in part, on the particular children involved? Are there conversations, little or big, that you look back upon and worry about? Do you think Toddler will be wearing eyeliner by Kindergarten?

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*I can't get this blog post out of my head. Leave it to my cyber colleague Danielle LaPorte to get us all thinking about life's candy-coated and shame-soaked concepts. Thanks always for your wild and wise words, D.

*Crave an old school jolt of inspiration? Yes? Then click here and read Amy's incredible post on life's crooked roads and not-so-tiny tugs. Not sure why I have such a soft spot for this blogger. Maybe because she also lost her father while pregnant with her little girl. Maybe because she also turned to blogging to excavate her unfurling grief. Maybe because she is pursuing her dream. Maybe because she is an exquisite writer. Definitely all of the above.

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