Raising Hermione, Episode 1
Transcript and excerpts
Brannan: All right, so today we are talking about Tiffany Aching from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I fell in love immediately with Wee Free Men, and I honestly have read it so slowly because it’s almost painfully relatable. This speaks to the child in me, and I’m going to hold onto it for a week and then I’ll come back and read a page.
Ash: Oh my God, yes. Because she starts off as a young girl. I think she’s like nine in Wee Free Men. She’s really super young, and at that point she’s not even a witch yet.
She’s just this super thoughtful, cerebral little girl with a competence complex.
B: And they have to go into town to get like lessons. They herd sheep.
A: They go into town to get classes because they don’t have formal education. And it’s kind of a traveling salesmen type class. It’s like a circus.
B: She’s super critical of them. Like, “You’re selling me spelling, and your thing is spelled wrong.” I was that kid. Like, “Oh, Brannan’s in my class. That’s awesome.” But you’re not really sure you want those people to teach you. They don’t seem competent enough.
I had a friend whose little kid went to kindergarten and she already knew how to read a little bit. She was really disappointed and came back like, “My teacher is so dumb.”
A: I love that you say “disappointed” too, because I think sometimes people have this misconception that kids who are being nitpicky or pedantic in a classroom are being arrogant, and they’re really not. They really want you to be smart. They’re so disappointed that you don’t know what you’re doing, because it feels like an inefficient waste of time for them. Like, “I came here and I thought you had the secrets to the universe, and it turns out you don’t know how to spell hippopotamus!”
B: “What is the point of you? Why are we here?”
So, a good example of that is [Tiffany] is looking for a zoology class because she finds this creature and she wants to know more about it. So she finds somebody who’s close. I’m reading the quote from Wee Free Men, and the teacher says:
“Zoology, that’s a big word, isn’t it?”
I can picture the hands on the hips…like, “Aw, cutie.” And she says,
“No. Actually it isn’t….Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”
First, I promise, I read this and like two days later, I heard my three-year-old in the other room saying “patronizing,” and my 12-year-old was like, “You don’t even know what that means.” And she’s like, “I bet if you asked mommy, she’ll know.” Totally getting it in context. Like her tone was dripping. So, oh, I have a little Tiffany in the other room.
A: Little Tiffanys develop a sense of sarcasm really young. I think it’s actually a coping mechanism for disappointment.
Like they really wanted to find the answers, and when they realize that they’re in a limited environment, they’re just like, “oh, why wasn’t I born on another planet? Where they have better books and people who know stuff?”
You could probably relate to that too though, because we grew up without the Internet. When we were very small, you couldn’t just go google things. So you had to ask someone, and if they didn’t really know the answer, you were just kind of like, “Who is raising me? Who is driving this bus?” I have one who’s kind of like that. She comes up and she’ll ask something, and I’ve just learned to be like, I remember what it was like to be that way. And if I don’t know, I just tell her, “I don’t know, let’s go find that out together. Let’s look it up.”
Because I could always tell someone who’s bullshitting me. It was the most insulting. I was like, “You’re giving me a crappy answer. And I’m going to have to stand here and pretend like that was fine. ‘Thank you very much for telling me that,’ and then go back to my room and deal with my disappointment.”
We Have So Many Questions
B: I was more introverted, so I would definitely hold that and deal with it. My little Tiffany is not. So, do you remember the scene in Wall-E? We’re going to have a little bit of a mix of Pixar and books, because that’s what life has been.
A: My brain is backtracking to see if I can remember all the way back to Wall-e…
B: Wall-e is the little robot left on earth to clean everything up. All of the humans have been in space for generations, and they discover what amounts to Siri. The captain of the ship discovers Siri and realizes that the Internet is still there. He’s like, “Computer, what is earth?” And then the computer tells him, and then he’s like, “What’s water?” And it keeps going and keeps going.
That’s every conversation with my youngest child. She’ll ask me, “What does that mean? Now, what does that mean?” I find myself describing the most detailed things, and then she’ll hang onto that context of those words, and they will pop up again later.
I admire her for being so willing to ask, and I want to nurture that in her.
[She’s] so willing to just ask the questions and expect an answer and trust me, that if I don’t know the answer, we’ll look it up and we’ll figure it out.
A: Mmmhmm. I know it’s so taxing. I like asking why—I love asking why. And I love talking about theory. The other day [my six-year-old daughter and I] were in the car, and we somehow we got to like the origins of the universe and then we got into string theory, which I’m not that “up” on. That’s one of my goals from this year, is to read and try to understand the basics of like string theory for dummies.
But my husband understands it a little bit. So, I was like, okay, well ask your dad about string theory. And by that point, I think we’re in the grocery store, and somebody looked at us like, “Are you kidding me? What is wrong with you people?”
It makes for very interesting conversation.
But I could see how, if it was somebody like my grandma who had been asked this question, she would find that exhausting completely. I think the underlying motive for that is that kids like Tiffany need to know the truth about the universe and the truth about things in general. Let me know the facts.
There’s not necessarily a reason for it. It just is. It’s like this hungry hole inside of you.
The way that other people describe needing to be loved and needing connection; I experienced the need to know why.
I think one of the first times that I just had, like, a crisis of mortality was when I was little kid (and just started crying) is because I realized I could never go back in time and see the dinosaurs, and I would probably not be able to see certain components of space travel.
I was so disappointed that I was pinned to this little part of the timeline of the universe, and I wouldn’t get to see it.
I was like, “I’m going to die without knowing things. This is horrible…I’m never gonna get to see people clone dinosaurs.” And [my parents] were like, are you serious? Are we crying about this?
B: But it’s true. And that shows up later in life. Tiffany winds up realizing she’s a witch and becoming a witch and moving into that—because witches were kind of like the Jill of all trades.
I have had conversations with people who are really more focused on expertise and becoming the thing in their niche, and they can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to be perfect. But I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of committing myself to one thing for this one life that we have—one shot on this planet.
Why on earth would you only want to experience one lifetime? Right? I’m going to get as many life cycles as I can.
A: Well, because they care about performance, but knowledge trumps performance, right? So, if locking myself down to one specific niche means I don’t get to know other things, that’s just death. It feels like it’s terrible. It’s so frightening.
Give Them Wings
B: If we’re not understanding or at least trying to understand the Tiffanys in our lives, if we’re not paying attention to that, it gets pegged as flightiness. Not being able to commit or not being able to focus, which can go down a whole other rabbit trail.
Being misunderstood in that way and limiting them in that way is dangerous to your relationship to them, but it’s also dangerous to their future. Because if you internalize that and limit yourself, you’re going to be one of these people that finds themselves like 40 years old in this life that’s built for them and miserable.
That’s not what we want for our people—or any people.
I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs and that seems to be a common story—”I woke up one day and realized that this life that I built was not the life that I wanted, and it doesn’t make sense to me. It’s the life that I should have wanted and it’s the life that everyone tells me that I should want. All the markers of success here. It has all of the externals and it looks like it should be right.” And then you have layers of guilt for “Why don’t I?”
And that starts really young. “Why don’t I enjoy the other things the kids enjoy?” I remember being told so many times as a small child, “Why don’t you just be a child?”
What does that even… What do you think I am? I don’t have the powers that an adult has. You’re not giving me the autonomy. So what is it that I am if I’m not a child?
I’m sorry that I don’t want to, like, jump on a trampoline with your sweaty eight-year-old son. Right?
A: For you, play looks different than it looks for everybody else. Like, it’s cerebral. I think that you’re maybe even more of a Tiffany character. I think then I was as a kid, my experimentation was more external.
But yeah, honoring somebody’s version of play—why is it so hard? For some people it means sitting down and inventing a brand new language, or if there’s not the perfect word for a noise that you heard, making it up. Or cross-referencing.
What does this word mean in this language? What’s the nuance? Playing with fine details is play for a Tiffany child. To someone who’s expecting a super bubbly, unicorn chasing…if you have a specific ideal built up in your head already, the “ideal” of a healthy child, and then you look at your Tiffany kid, you’re going to think, “Oh God, I’m failing her.”
And you’re not.
Some of the Christmas videos of me as a kid, my cousins are like all playing with their toys, and I accomplished the toys in like 30 seconds. I was like, “Well I’ve mastered these, done with those. They’re not fun anymore.” Because play was never this joyous sensory experience necessarily for me, as much as it was about seeing if I could master it and understand how the parts worked, and then was done. I didn’t need to do it again.
We have these funny videos of my cousins roughhousing, and I’m in the foreground. I think I’m four years old, and I’m in this terribly uncomfortable dress with one of those little pens from the 1980s, where you press it on the word and it tells you what the letter is or it makes some god-awful noise. I loved the gadgetness of it, and I was like, “Oh my God, I can do this whole book myself!”
So I’m just sitting there with my nerdy self, and people were like, “Are you okay? Are you fine? Why are you upset?”
I wasn’t upset. I was happy. That was my happy place.
B: How can resting bitch face start at four?
A: But it totally does. It does. For me, it was resting out-to-lunch, eating my boogers face…
B: I’ve got resting conference call face. If I’m on a video conference call, I will invariably get pinged afterward with people being like, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I was listening!
A: Because your fun is not necessarily wrapped up in emotional process. Right? That emotional process isn’t for anyone else.
B: Right. If I’m doing something emotional for someone else, that’s not fun, that’s work. Right?
A: Exactly. Oh my God. And then people are like, did you have so much fun at that birthday party? I’m like, no, that was truly hard.
No One Told Her She Couldn’t
B: One of the first parts that happened in Wee Free Men is you find out that Tiffany has read all of the dictionary.
A: Yeah. That’s where she learned the word susurrus, which is a wonderful word.
B: I just adore Terry Pratchett so much, and I can’t bring myself to read about his later life stuff yet because he’s so relatable and that’s very painful.
A: He’s dear to my heart. Like he’s in my next tattoo plan.
B: So he actually says she read the dictionary because “nobody told her that she shouldn’t.”
The structure and the world that she lives in isn’t necessarily fully accommodating to her, but it does allow her that space.
Nobody’s telling her she shouldn’t read the dictionary.
So she becomes really resourceful.
A: Her family and her parents are very busy, and also, kind of to their credit, they were hands off. So Tiffany evolved herself as who she was. Nobody told her she shouldn’t.
B: I think that’s a recurring theme in a lot of the characters that we’re going to be talking about. They really do like to self-develop. That’s not to say that they don’t need to be supported, but their support doesn’t look like really close hand holding.
A: It looks like giving them a bubble of safety where they can explore and empowering them to do that.
The Confident Truth Teller
B: She becomes so aware of herself that when she goes into town and she talks to the looking for zoology, she finds a witch. Miss Tick. She can’t let anyone know she’s a witch because that’s outlawed. But Tiffany knows. And Tiffany knows that this woman is going to be able to give her the information that she needs. So she is really confident in her interactions with her. I’m going to say confident because I don’t like the negative words.
A: I’ll go ahead and say it just for context! I think sometimes in little children especially who don’t have any concept of giving people hierarchy or they don’t have a natural respect of hierarchy, which actually is not a bad thing—I think it’s actually a good thing sometimes. People who are committed to truth-telling, you can think of it as a child who says, “Mommy the Emperor’s naked.” She’s not respecting the title of Emperor.
She’s not afraid to approach him because he’s the Emperor.
She’s a truth teller in. In order to maintain any degree of severity within herself, she has to ignore hierarchy, right? Like she has to toss it out the window. So yeah, she, she just speaks with confidence. I think the reason that people like that can do that is because their most intimate relationship is with their own mind, right?
So they’re deeply confident in the same way that somebody else might be confident with her relationship with her best friend. The thing that she knows the most and the most intimately and the most thoroughly is her own mind. And what she’s capable of and what she understands. It’s not a question for her, ever.
B: So she can speak out of confidence. She winds up saying,
“Yes, I’m me! I’m careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! And when I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! And I’m good with cheese! And I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”
And it’s all exclamation points. She’s like, dammit, this is, this is me who I am and I don’t know how to be anybody else.
And quite honestly, I don’t want to be anybody else.
A: That is so powerful. Like, that’s what we’re, we’re seeing adult women who are just now trying so hard to come into that confidence, right? At the same time we still have our children who we’re trying to like stifle that in them. God, what a power industry, the self-help industry. Millions and millions of dollars are poured into that industry, right? To build up adults who don’t have that skill. But when people come across the little girl who is self-confident and doesn’t jump when you try to spook her, I think we have the kneejerk reaction to put her in her place.
We want to put her in her place. We want her to be afraid of us because it frightens us to be around a small child who is that confident in their own mind.
It goes back to your own insecurity, right? Nobody ever told us, if a child corrects you, it’s not the end of the world. Like if you get a fact wrong, you can actually back up and say, “You know what? That’s a great point. You’re right Kiddo. Let’s look that up together.” Or “Hey, why don’t you tell us about that?”
That’s great because then you tell them, because when you do that is the double thing of they feel more confident in the fact that you’re not going to bullshit them, so you instantly gain more rapport. You send that child the message, hey, guess what kid, it’s okay if you’re wrong.
If you’re wrong, you’re still lovable.
I love my self when I’m wrong and you can love yourself when you’re wrong too.
B: Which is kind of huge. That’s massive. We started with Hermione when we were talking about doing this podcast and starting these conversations was because however she was raised, which I feel like we don’t see enough of, it was that her ability to think. Truth telling was her bread and butter, and if that was broken then who was she? If we’re not modeling to our kids how to be wrong—the mystique that comes with being an adult that’s not broken and gone wrong—that gives them the freedom to explore even more, which is their superpower.
A; It totally is. And you can’t properly explore without the ability to be wrong and adjust and move forward.
Your superpower becomes corrupted. As soon as you double down and say, “Well, I have to protect my rightness,” you stop being a truth teller, right? If you’re committed to being right all the time, then, then you can’t question yourself. I’m trying to remember who said it. I think it may have been Richard Feinman, I think he’s talking about the subject of intellectual integrity. He says, well, the first rule is that, anyone can be fooled. (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember it verbatim.) And the easiest person to fool is yourself.
If you double down on being right at any point, you lose your ability to truth tell because that truth telling involves stepping outside of yourself and observing your own thought patterns and looking for like the corrupted pieces and saying, “Yeah, I’m wrong.” As you stop doing that, it’s like a man who is a bodybuilder and decides to say, “Well, I’ve arrived,” and then he sits down on the couch and starts eating cheetos. Is he a bodybuilder anymore? Because I don’t think he is. I think it’s the same for truth telling.
Better to Be Curious Than Right
B: Rightness is often currency. We’re proud of our children when they get good grades and really impressed with them when they have big knowledge. That becomes the currency that gets rewarded and the truth telling doesn’t. So that creates this like lopsided person, this lopsided adult. It would be much easier to develop the cleverness and the smarts later in life than it is to develop that truth telling again. It’s still part of you and it’s still there, right? It becomes this shadow function if you develop crooked.
A: And it’s just easier for us as adults to value the intellect than it is to develop the honesty. I was raised in a paradigm that required me to suppress a natural curiosity. And I’m actually asking, is this true? Is this not true? Does this make sense to my mind? Am I violating the fidelity of my own mind if I accept everything that I’m being told—hook, line and sinker? So I learned to compartmentalize that, really suppressing it.
How that played out for me is once I reached the age of, I think it was around 29 or 30, I felt safe enough that I could actually start to unpack that. And My mind is just like a bulldog, more like a bloodhound actually. Once it finds a piece of corrupt data or a bad stream of thought, it just goes down every rabbit trail of everything internally. This belief and that belief and how I’ve set up this and how I behave in this area.
Because my brain naturally has no chill and because the box that I had stuffed all this information in was artificial. It all came out at once.
I couldn’t parse it out slowly because it’s not in my nature to parse it out slowly.
I opened the lid and I dumped the whole thing over immediately. And it was like, it was like a whole layer of my soul just got ripped off and I was naked and really raw for awhile, right? Because I was dealing with like my own mortality and um, the fact that I had a lot of blind spots and I had a lot of like corrupted truth inside of myself and I hadn’t been honest with myself with a lot of things and actually went through a pretty big period of depression that coincided with postpartum hormones unfortunately. So that was fun.
So I think that sometimes if you don’t allow children to do that and don’t allow them to ask the questions that make you feel threatened, then it can put them in the unfortunate position of being really compromised as an adult when it all hits them at once.
They give themselves permission to open Pandora’s box and then everything explodes.
Pragmatic, Resourceful, and Amazing
B: We’re gonna we’re gonna split this up and dig into adult Tiffany later because she was able to nurture into that and still had massive hurdles to overcome. But the interesting thing about that is she did seek out a witch, and she had already known, she was there.
Can we talk about the skillet?
A: So this creature is Jenny Greenteeth, which if you’re not familiar, it’s like a character from like, I guess I’m like European mythology and it’s like this scary creature with really pointy green teeth that lives in ponds and pulls people into them.
She uses her little brother as bait.
Because she realizes Jenny Greenteeth is attracted to small children and she’s not a small child. She brings her younger brother Wensleydale down and ties a string to him so she can pull him back out. If she fails and the monster actually eats him. Highly pragmatic, if no empathy. And, and her weapon of choice is what she has on hand—a skillet. It’s pragmatic.
She’s not romantic about it at all.
She doesn’t pull any Anne of Green Gables, “I will go and get the shining sword of…” I dunno, I can’t even talk like that. But you know what I mean. She’s just like, nope, I’ve got a skillet. That’s all.
B: So the witch is seeing all of this play out and going, “But it’s impossible. She shouldn’t have been able to happen…” Her environment is not a nurturing environment for witches. They don’t usually come out of “the chalk.” But there she is, using her baby brother as bait. And she’s doing all this by herself because her parents are off working somewhere.
A: It’s her resourcefulness that pings the radar. She’s not like the other children. She’s something else. There’s something else in store for her.
Of Monsters and Empathy
A: I love this because obviously even in this magical world, there are still questions of pretty low level of empathy. That actually comes up for Tiffany throughout the book. She questions herself. Because eventually the queen of fairies steals her brother, and she goes after him. And throughout the book she’s asking herself, am I doing this because I know it’s the right thing to do, or am I doing it because I actually care about him?
She has a tough time accessing a lot of feely-feeling emotions for her little annoying snot-nosed, trailing-after-her, demanding-candy little brother.
B: I think deep down she knows she cares about him, but she’s not a nurturer. Other people are questioning her empathy and the ways that she knows she’s supposed to display empathy and care—those messages burrow into your brain. Even if you have a string tied to him because you don’t want to lose him. And you’re going to chase after him because you don’t want someone else to take him.
You’re doing the things that are caring and are empathetic. But if you’re fed the message that you’re not doing it right, you start to wonder. Okay, am I really not doing it right? Is there actually something wrong with me?
A: I remember, when I was a kid, I had a great grandfather that I saw sometimes but not super often. And they felt like connected to him, but I felt connected to him by proxy because I knew he meant a lot to my parents. But I didn’t have a super strong emotional connection with them and that’s fine. When he passed away, my mom was really upset with me because I didn’t cry. A day later I saw a daddy long legs. I had an alarm reaction. My Dad reached back and smushed it, and I felt responsible.
I cried and I cried.
I was like, “I caused that life to go out in the world.”
My mom was like, I think she had a tough time understanding. But in my thinking, I was thinking logically. I was like, “Well, that was the natural end of his life. He was old and it was his time to die and I couldn’t stop him from dying anyway—but I caused this.” I felt a greater sense of responsibility even though it’s just a fricking bug.
B: So my kids are kind of paired off, and I have a couple that are really extroverted and kind of feelings-driven. One is very aware of her body and the most coordinated out of all of us in the house. And then the other two are just in their heads, you know. Poor things got all of me in them. So my son is 10 now, and we had a lot of family deaths recently. They were kind of disconnected from him, very similar types of situations.
And he actually said the words one day: “People have a really strong reaction to death.” Like a scientist. “Like, oh, here’s this finding…” But then yesterday we were walking and he saw a baby snake that had gotten run over dried up in the sun. And he was like, that was an early untimely death.
Was it really untimely, if it’s nature? Animals die all the time. But he felt the loss of potential versus these elderly people in our family. It’s not that he doesn’t miss them or didn’t care, but he was like, this is a really strong reaction to something that we were expecting. And then the unexpected happens and he’s like, oh, there’s a loss there.
A: And I think it’s fair to, to observe that in all these cases these kids are pretty young, like at the age of like Tiffany in the story when she’s feeling kind of guilty about not having feelings about Wensleydale. Her younger brother, she’s nine. That’s really young. So for someone who is born with a super strong mind, it stands to reason that we’re all born with strengths and then part of ourselves that we have to develop on purpose.
Some of us have to develop logic on purpose. I think I’ve met more than one person like that, and folks that don’t know it yet. Some people who will possibly never realize that they needed to develop their logic. And that’s fine.
There are parts of ourselves that will be a lifelong project.
I will spend the entirety of my life trying to learn how to schedule myself. I was not born with this ability. I still have not mastered this ability. I’ll probably go to my grave still working on it. It will just be a lifelong project for me. So it stands to reason that for somebody who’s so in her head and so logical and so noticing of the nuance of the way the world works, that probably empathy is going to be a developed thing.
I think the fact that she’s concerned about it, she is not, in fact going to grow up to be like some kind of, I don’t know, Silence of the Lambs guy. Like she’ll be fine. She’s not going to go around throwing babies into ponds. She’ll probably end up being fine. But I think that sometimes parents can wonder about that too, if they see a lack of emotional response in their child.
I’ve heard more than one parent say, “Oh my God, I think they’re a psychopath.” Probably not. Probably not. Especially if the child comes to you and says, “Hey, I’m worried that I don’t have feelings about that.” Like the response is maybe just, “Hey, that’s okay. Feelings just are.”
B: The best thing that we ever did for my kid was the Headspace app for meditation. And that visualization, he’s just now starting to parrot it back. Like, “You’ve told me you can’t just state a need and expect it to be met. You have to ask for it.” It’s starting to come back.
So the “you are the sky” type of meditation, where the feelings can come and go like storms and clouds. With my daughter, the feelings and thoughts and emotions don’t have to be big. Sometimes thoughts are bigger than you. Sometimes your emotions are big and you don’t know what to do with them because you’re not used to them being there.
I think for that type of child and adult, it’s our thoughts that are clouds that are just regularly floating and coming by. Emotions are more like the occasional hurricane, Sharknado. It feels like an intrusion. My thoughts are very much that I can observe them and step back from them.
Thoughts feel like more of an intrinsic part of me than emotions.
A: I remember when my grandmother died, I was expecting to have a lot of feelings, and I just didn’t. And then I walked into her house and for some reason the combination of smells and the squeak of her bed springs like reminded me of taking a nap with her when I was a lot younger. Being sensory in the moment, it just triggered a feeling.
And then I sobbed for two hours and it felt like a thing had taken hold of my body.
It felt very foreign. And fortunately, my husband is more like me than he’s not like me. And he was kind of like, “I’m going to make you a sandwich, you poor thing.” Whereas I have friends who are more feeling-oriented, and they get very concerned for me when I’m not having my feelings. “Like, oh no, you’re not letting yourself have your feelings!” Like I’m not letting myself a piece of cake. And I’m like, that’s good for me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
They’ll come up when they want to come up and I will feel almost violated by them, and then I will process them and get through them. But I’m not going to go chase them. Number one, it doesn’t work for me to go chase my feelings. It leaves me feeling like maybe there was something wrong with me, like Tiffany, right?
Or I incapacitate myself and then am a sobbing ball on the bottom of the shower and I can’t function at all. It’s not cathartic for me. It’s not a good learning experience. It’s more violating.
They’re connected. They’re your body. The things that happen in your body and the sensory type experiences and emotions and feeling type experiences are both in their own little siloed off part of our brains.
Then sometimes they show up. And when they show up, they’re together.
It really is this whole body experience. You get hung over, and it’s really difficult and you cannot fabricate that. So if I’m a child, especially when I was a child, I can’t fabricate for you those body emotions. I can’t show you on my face.
B: I can’t show you in my body or in my posture and the things that I’m doing because my body and my emotions are connected and I’m a truth teller. I’m not going to be an authentic in that and I am a horrible actor. It’s not going to be what you want. So if we can just let our kids have that bubble of space to be themselves and be looking for those cues like Miss Tick was looking for, to see this kid needs something different than what I might expect.
When our babies were little, this is how you and I met on the Internet. Desperately seeking some kind of connection, like-minded people, while very, very young and raising babies. I think “range of normal” was the best thing I ever learned from that community.
There is a range of normal, and that doesn’t go away when you’re done counting poopy diapers and wondering what that rash is.
A: You’re always looking at your child not as, okay, now there’s this stage of life and we can expect these exact things. There’s a wide range of human experience. There’s not an optimal human. That’s like saying, well which dog is the best dog? They’re all good boys.
B: But unfortunately we’re going up against a structure that says there is a default human. I feel like there’s a lot of work globally moving toward breaking down those systems, but we have a long way to go. They’re buried in our brains and we expect there to be a default human.
A: And it plays on anxiety because we feel like our children are little expressions of ego. They’re expressions of our DNA, but we also see them as ego children of ourselves. So we feel like if they’re not acting in the way that we have somehow internalized is the optimal way for a child to act, then we’re failing them. We’re a bad parent. There’s something wrong with us. It’s reflecting badly on us and maybe we’re not good people.
A: So it’s hard to check your own insecurity, but I think the best thing to do is to keep your insecurity with you, like one of those little ugly lapdogs, right? Like okay, well you’re here. You’re a thing that exists.
Never, never put her on the shelf, because then you’ll forget about it. It’ll bite you in the ass every single time.
A: Do you mind if I circle back around to the whole like appropriate emotional reaction? Yes. I think that maybe my kid won’t cry as much. But this applies to positive emotion too.
If you give your child the perfect gift and they don’t have that big reaction, it is not an insult necessarily. If you give your child a good piece of news like, “Oh, we’re going to Disney World,” if they don’t have that jumping up and down documentable viral Internet reaction, that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that they’re not happy.
You have to ask yourself, am I having a performance that walks on two legs that I can share with the world and say this is proof positive of my good parenting—or do I personally care about the wellbeing of this specific child?
Maybe their reaction is like, “Cool.” But maybe it’s the biggest cool for them.
Recently I got a huge piece of information, like huge. I can’t tell you, like I’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into this project. I’ve devoted literally probably the past two and a half to three years of my life to this project. It’s been culminating for really long time. I’ve moved everything around in my life to prioritize this.
So when I got this big piece of information, which is the confirmation that the goal had been met, I can’t dredge up the reaction that I thought was appropriate. I’ve seen other people cry and scream and get really happy, and I couldn’t make it happen. You’re always hyper aware that the other person’s going to be disappointed with your lack of enthusiasm. But my brain was just like, “Okay, so what’s my next set of goals?”
And it wasn’t that I wasn’t giving myself space to be happy. This applies for little kids too. Maybe they’re not the most happy when they say, “Guess what, you’re getting twin baby sisters!” They may actually legitimately be happy and they may say, “Hey, that’s cool, but you, you might not get anything more than that.”
B: If we’re honoring the fact that our kids are truth tellers, you know real early on. Maybe you have to look back because you’ve suppressed it or whatever, but it probably won’t be a revelation podcast for you. You’ve known, “Oh yeah, that’s my kid.”
The one that announced stuff in grocery stores. That’s your child.
But if you honor that and respect it, then that means you trust them. And believe them when they say, “Cool, thank you.” You don’t have to see a performance from them to get more out of them because you trust that what they’re saying is the truth.
A: If you want to turn them into a dishonest creature, double down on getting that big reaction. But if you want to keep that trust rapport…
Doing the Work
B: I love it—when you honor it, you get the sweetest, most bizarre, nerdy compliments from them. My little one, she’s always like saying the most ridiculous things and I’m so ready for her to grow up and be bigger, because my 10 year old now will say things like, he gave my sister-in-law a hug and said, “Thank you for creating my cousin.”
Same child, we had the baby and we were a complete family. And he was like, “Hey, I’m so glad we were all fertilized.” And you’re like, wow, that is literally what happened. Yeah, let’s. Can we stop there and not talk about…? But they’re very sweet and authentic.
A: It’s hard to parent because they can also gives like the worst backhanded compliments. My gosh, because knowing other people’s, they would want you to be completely honest at all times…
Oh my God, I have this memory of being like eight years old, and I had a friend who was self-deprecating. I didn’t understand the concept of self-deprecation at that point. I use it now sometimes like as a social tool, but at that point I didn’t understand self-deprecation. And that’s what she was doing. She was kind of sensitive. And she goes, “Yeah, I have the worst handwriting ever. Just ignore that inside your birthday card.”
So we opened it up and I thought, “Well, we connected on the point of truth. Let’s do it more, louder, with enthusiasm!” So in front of God and everybody—like, I don’t know, eight different families—I was like, “Oh my God, Jennifer, your handwriting does look like crap.”
And then she cried and ran out of the birthday room at the bowling alley.
It took me a really long time to reel that out. It was like an equation that I couldn’t figure out. I was like, “I missed a piece and I’m not sure what it was, but I told the truth and she told the truth and then I told the truth, but when I did it, she cried.”
B: It’s so much, so much work. My very physical child was a lot of work as a toddler. There was a lot of chasing. He misunderstood tag as tackle, at like twice the size of the other kids. There was that kind of thing that happened. But as they all get bigger, the conversations—like the Wall-e conversation with the little one—they’re exhausting.
My 10 year old made a comment on mommy’s big belly. So I actually took a breath, took the time to have the conversation, and now he knows all about cortisol.
A: Exactly. ‘Let’s have a conversation about moms and stress.’
B: So there was a conversation about commenting on people’s bodies. It doesn’t matter even if it’s. If you think it’s a compliment or a negative, people don’t like their bodies commented on without express permission or invitation. Then having a biology lesson and talking about how mommy hasn’t been sleeping. We get to talk about biology and consent and that’s a great day.
It takes a lot of time to have these conversations, but the growth that comes from that is exponential.
B: It helps for me because I relate to them. Those are like crack for my brain when we have those conversations.
A: But it’s still hard to take that time. We aren’t the traveling witch—we don’t get the option of tapping out when they can be obnoxious and also feed their brothers to Jenny Greenteeth. There’s a house full of them for some of us, and it’s a lot of work, but that’s kind of what we signed up for.
And then sometimes it’s really difficult to navigate watching your truth teller child be brutally honest to a child who has a different set of abilities and strengths. When that’s crushed them and they weren’t ready to grapple with it yet. Trying to navigate between them or knowing when to step back and letting them navigate it. It can be really tricky.
B: Let’s talk about parents who don’t relate to their truth-telling children. If you’re the sort of person who values accomplishment or cherishes your view of yourself as a nurturer or a performer or someone who creates beauty, to have a child come up and be brutally honest… If you have a child like that and you’re a little bit more idealistic or you’ve thrived on positive feedback, it can be painful.
I think you have to be super aggressive about your own self-care and connecting them with resources and a community. Because especially for the introverted versions, you’re not going to pursue that kind of community on your own, especially if the community that you’ve been exposed to doesn’t relate to you.
B: It’s really to gravitate toward people who are like minded with you, not likeminded with your child. So you have to be able create that community for them and connect them with resources. With the Internet, now you have all of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips, so not only teaching them how to Google right and how to gather that information, but also connecting them with groups that they can have those conversations with and building that sense of trust around them, and also being vulnerable.
As a nurturer, you should be able to access that part of yourself for them.
A: I think that we think that caretaking involves being superior in some sense. That’s not true. I think people take on that mentality that “I must be right all the time.” That’s not true for a truth-telling child because they will know when you’re wrong.
They will know when you’re BSing and they will not love it when you double down.
Like my daughter, I have one who tends to have that really strong “is it right? Is it wrong? Are you being truthful?” personality, and she has a teacher who just cannot apologize. She cannot admit when she’s done something wrong. And she often jumps to conclusions in the classroom, unfortunately.
So somebody will do something, and she’ll blame the wrong person. And then even once everyone tells her that’s not who did it, she cannot bring herself to circle back around and say, “I made a mistake, let’s back up and try to parse this out.” She just doubles down. And I think that she believes that she’s being a strong leader, but my daughter has no respect for her. I mean she has basic human respect for her, but she thinks she’s a truly stupid. I don’t totally disagree with her sometimes.
It’s truly unsettling to a child who craves truth, and that’s a point of security for them to be with an adult who doubles down on something that’s clearly wrong, just to save their pride. It is deeply anxiety producing.
B: This is, this is blending right into the conversation about Matilda. So I’m going to stop because it’s a whole other one on its own, and then we’ve still got grownup Tiffany to talk about too. So I wish all of you could see us surrounded by books right now. If you could be in this space…I would probably love that for about an hour and then I’d be out.
A: I would talk to you for days on end.
B: Thank you for spending the time with us on this one. Hang on and we will have another conversation and another and another because this is a never ending pool of conversations that need to happen.