Raising Baby T. Rex: How We Learn “Good” and “Bad”

There’s so much bad in the world. I’ve always known it. No, that isn’t true — I learned it. At some point, there was no external good or bad in my world, just my own individual perception of good and bad. Did I feel good? Did I feel bad? There didn’t need to be a carefully curated and readily defended rationale to understand what’s good and what’s bad.

Hungry? Bad.

Full belly? Good.

Feeling scared? Bad.

Feeling safe? Good.

Too cold? Bad.

Warm and cozy? Good.

I don’t want to unknow the complexity of the world. As early as I can remember, I was asking questions about everything around me. I want to be in the world, the gritty, scary world, not safe in someone else’s white-washed tower.

And yet. And yet. As a parent, I want to wrap Remi up in my arms and shield her from the world for as long as I can. She’s two and she’s just beginning to understand empathy for others. Everything in her world revolves around her and her experiences, coupled with two-year-old logic.

Don’t feel like wearing those pants? Bad.

Really wants to wear these pants? Good.

Can’t play with the cat because he’s terrified of me? Bad.

Going to the playground today? Good.

Spinach? Bad.

Strawberries? Good.

Her life is relatively simple, which is a marker of the privilege we have. She’s never experienced hunger that couldn’t be sated. She’s never been cold in the night or without shoes that fit or experienced anything truly hard. I want to keep it that way as long as possible.

I also know that the bad in the world will come for her eventually and I want her to be prepared, not so closed off from struggle that she’s ill-prepared to survive it. I know she’ll be safe in ways others are not and I want her to have an understanding of that, a sense of self that includes a sense of others without Othering difference.

I spend a lot of time thinking about who Remi will be, the infinite possibilities ahead of her. Her interests range from cars to horses to dolls to dinosaurs. She’s smart and loves to read and loves to dance and throw her balls and take on physical challenges. She could be so many things, choose so many futures.

I’ve started to think more about who I want Remi to be and when and how to have those conversations. For example, as she becomes more verbal, I want to be sure we’re talking more about different kinds of families. Having a “mommy” and a “daddy” has made her emerging family play more gendered and heteronormative than I’d really like. She’ll point to a character on TV and declare them “mommy,” “daddy,” or “baby.” She’s not quite old enough to understand the nuance, but I’ve been trying to talk about and show her more families with same-gender parents or to say that not all kids have a mommy and a daddy. I’m not sure how much she understands.

I was talking to our neighbor who babysits Remi on Thursdays at her home. Remi plays with her kid, who’s a year and a half older than Remi and is also assigned male and identifies as a boy and is white with white parents. Most of Remi’s “friends” which are actually our neighbors and friends with kids are white. The few friends I have who are Korean don’t have kids or have much older kids.

I was talking to our neighbor who babysits Remi and we were talking about policing practices in our city and we were talking about race. It all started as a conversation about Paw Patrol, a popular kids TV show about dogs who are emergency responders. (You read that right. Who pitches these shows?) One of them is a police dog. I was half-joking half-totally-serious sharing that Remi has a Paw Patrol toddler slide and I didn’t want Waffle to put the decorative stickers on it because I felt it was pro-police propaganda. Haha and also, really, though.

She was agreeing that the police in our neighborhood aren’t friendly and don’t care about the people who live here. I was saying I don’t want Remi to fear the police, but that I did want her to understand that Black and brown kids in the city have to fear them, that policing isn’t fair, that they’re not cute altruistic puppy dogs in practice. Then she said that she agreed, but didn’t think she had to talk to her kid (still a toddler) because it wouldn’t affect him. I said I think we do need to talk to white kids and Asian kids. We don’t need to have “the talk,” per se, but they need to understand that their relationship to law enforcement is very different than their peers. We need to talk to them so they know that calling the police on someone can be a life or death situation, so they don’t believe that police protect everyone equally, so they don’t turn into part of the problem.

I’ve been thinking about Danye Jones, the young Black man hanged in his own backyard. He was found by his mother, Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies, the fourth Black person who seems to have been targeted because of their activist work in Ferguson. (Police are investigating it as a suicide despite evidence to the contrary.) I’ve been thinking about the young girl who died from a respiratory illness she contracted in ICE custody soon after finally being reunited with her family, the other child who died in unsanitary conditions at an ICE detention center in Texas, the many kids who reported sexual and physical and emotional abuse, the children who are still lost in the system maybe forever. I’ve been thinking about the most recent study that shows, again, that suicide rates are highest among trans and non-binary youth.

I’ve been thinking about the bad in the world and, as a parent, it breaks me in a new and more intimate way. I’ve been thinking about who Remi will be. I want to protect my little dino from all the bad that might hurt her individually. Our class privilege and passing privilege with a mostly-white family will protect her. Like my mother didn’t have to, I won’t have to worry about Remi being profiled by police while walking down our street or standing in our backyard. I won’t have to worry about Remi being dragged down into the school-to-prison pipeline because of some small (or even large) dumb kid-logic decision she made.

But I don’t want to protect Remi completely. I want her to know what’s going on outside of her individual experience of the world. I don’t want her to grow up thinking “we’re all the same human race,” or “all lives matter.” I need to talk to Remi about so many things as she grows up. Silence is not an option.

We need to talk to our kids, especially those of us with light or white skin, especially those with class privilege and cis privilege and straight privilege. We need to talk to our kids, especially those who could become part of the problem, especially those who will grow up thinking their experience of “good” and “bad” is a universal experience. They’ll learn about the good and bad of the world on their own, eventually, but we’re responsible for shaping where they see themselves and how they see their role in making a better future.

Trauma? Bad.

Healing? Good.

Taking advantage of? Bad.

Taking action? Good.

Ignoring injustice? Bad.

Fighting for equality? Good. Good. Good.


5 Random Parenting Feelings I’m Currently Over-Processing

1. ECHOLOCATION!

Remi is obsessed with Finding Dory right now and one of her new skills is echolocation. Thanks, Bailey the beluga whale! She’s been doing this for a few weeks, often first thing when she wakes up (and then we wake up) in the morning.

“Echo! …Rainbow! OooooOoooo! OooooOoooo!”

I couldn’t find the clips from the movie on YouTube, so if you don’t know the reference, you’re just going to have to watch the movie. It’s become a family favorite, though I’m perpetually Team Gerald and I DON’T KNOW WHY THEY MADE GERALD THE BUTT OF BULLYING JOKES WHEN LITERALLY THE REST OF THE MOVIE IS ABOUT DIFFERENT ABILITIES BEING A STRENGTH BUT OK. JUST A DISCLAIMER.


2. The Terrible Twos

They’re here. Get used to it! In all honesty, the twos haven’t been the worst, but she’s definitely in her feelings about things. There’s a lot of brain development and self-actualization around this age which results in Remi being like, “TODAY I SHALL NOT WEAR ANY PANTS UNLESS THOSE PANTS HAVE CATS ON THEM!” or “NO, I DO NOT WANT YOU TO READ THAT BOOK. THAT BOOK MAKES ME ANGRY.” or “WHY CAN’T I PET THE CAT INSTEAD OF YOU ATTEMPTING TO CHANGE MY DIAPER? WHY DO YOU HATE ME? WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME? WAAAAAAAAAh!”


3. Grown-Ups Only Halloween

We always say it’ll be our last, but we left our kiddo once again for an adults-only Halloween with friends in NYC.

Remi does not care. She is having a BLAST at Gramma’s house. We did buy her a costume. She loved it in the store, but hated it on her actual body. Like, she screamed and cried when we tried to put it on her… twice… then we gave up. We took the tags off already, so not she has a half-limp horse face pillow that she drags around the house.

We did do a family fall weekend a couple weekends ago during which we went pumpkin picking, got cider and donuts, visited a family farm with a petting zoo, and rode on a historic train!

So we’re not the actual worst parents for leaving her behind on Halloween, right? RIGHT?!


4. Sad Sick World

It’s fall. The pumpkin spice is fragrant. The leaves in NY are crunchy and colorful. The air is crisp AF. And the non-stop cold season is upon us. We’ve shared two family colds in the last two weeks, the most recent of which went back-to-back with the first one for Remi.

I’m recovering from the second one. Waffle is just starting to get it. Remi is running around totally wild with her non-stop runny nose and seemed very nonplussed by the whole situation.


5. The Jeter Situation

Some of you have asked for deets on the Remi + cat situation. Jeter is still very annoyed by her, but he’s recently begun coming into the same room as her for periods of time. Waffle instituted a treat for the cat as part of Remi’s bedtime routine, which has helped build their relationship a little, too.

I’ll be honest that I thought we’d be at a better pace two years and two months into Jeter and Remi’s relationship, so I hope he’ll be around long enough to actually accept her very loud offers of friendship once she’s old enough to chill out a little. I really hope so! I have dreams of cat and baby snuggles at the same time!

KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 190 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. LoveLoveLove

    Love you sharing how you’re diving into meaning and how we construct society. Love you sharing how you’re navigating love for Remi in the context of a shared wider world. Love the Remi / Jeter dynamics update ?…haha good luck with that!

  2. This was beautiful. I think about these issues a lot, even though I don’t have or particularly want kids. Shaping their little worlds and how they see the others that live in them is such a big responsibility! I’m kind of glad that it’s not on me, but am so, so glad for the people who are doing it thoughtfully.

    And, unrelated, I am not a cat person, but Jeter is GORGEOUS.

  3. i’m so glad baby t-rex is making a triumphant return to autostraddle! i work with kids, and my class is right at her age, so everything tracks really well. academically i know that the world is suddenly much larger and more confusing than ever before! it’s overwhelming! lots to process and think about! but in reality sometimes the endless strings of no and the constant stream of why can wear on you

  4. Oh I just went to a workshop today about how to talk to kids about race. I work with 3s and it’s something I think about all the time because we have a diverse class. It’s sometimes awkward but always necessary.

  5. I am not sure if this anecdote from my own childhood will HELP but as a kiddo I was also VERY enthusiastic about my mom’s Burmese cat who was getting on in age and never was the healthiest. My parents like to say that I learned to crawl to chase the cat…and then I learned to walk to chase the cat FASTER. But by the time I was four and a half and was not LOUDLY CHASING THE CAT, she did sit in my lap for like…a whole half hour once! It was great! Tiny me was very thrilled about this. It literally only happened once, but by that time that cat was fine with my existence, if…not always thrilled, so…there’s hope for co-existence and maybe even cuddles?

    (Shortly after that we adopted a cat and were then adopted by/rescued several cats but kept 2 out of those 6 that adopted us, and the other cats who were not elderly, medically frail, tiny Burmese cats were WAY more chill about a small human being VERY ENTHUSIASTICALLY LOUD about their love of cats and 2 out of those 3 were my best buds growing up. 1/3 was a kitten that was semi-feral at rescue and didn’t take to socialization super well so was more a “I will sit over here with the other cats and you stay on the other side of the room and it’ll be fine but also I’ll do a complete disappearing act if there are strangers around” cat but was a good cat bud in that way.)

  6. Kaelyn, this article speaks to me and my life right now so much. My twins are almost 2 and I think every day about the good and the bad in this world. It’s funny, pre-kid you knew it was there but you could handle it. After-kids, it’s like overwhelming how much bad there really is. I just keep telling myself that I’ve made it through so far, so hopefully we will raise them to be ok too.

    Also, we are almost at the terrible 2s too. Lots of no’s, lots of not sharing with each other, but darn-it if they aren’t the cutest people in the world!

    Lastly, little Remi is adorable 🙂

  7. I love these updates, thank you for sharing! I think for every part that gets harder as they get older, there is something that gets more amazing.

    I have no idea how to talk to kids about bad things. There’s not a whole lot they understand in context until several years down the road and you have to figure out how to talk at their level… but I’m kind of lost on how to do that besides thoughtfully answering questions as they arise.

  8. By the way, so much sympathy on the family illness thing. It’s just the worst, and I don’t understand how they get three things back to back like that but they do. A few mild illnesses have made their rounds here in the last several weeks. I about passed out from jealousy when a friend told me she slept the whole day due to a sinus infection, when I had pushed through a sinus headache that felt like someone kicking my head (prescription strength ibuprofen wouldn’t touch it) just a few days prior, parenting through the noise and brightness. Yet still the good outweighs the bad by far.

  9. I feel so much of this! Our 4-year-old was given a Police raincoat which is actually a very nice coat and excellent for the PNW but I just can’t bring myself to let him wear it.

    We are also fortunate to have lots of queer community so his friends having two moms or two dads is just no big deal. But this area is so white that I struggle to talk to him about race. We have a Black Lives Matter sign and we’ve talked about that and we go to marches and answer all of his questions honestly, but it just feels like not enough. And it probably isn’t enough.

    All that is to say you are doing great! Two is hard and I thought 3 was harder but 4 got really fun and almost 5 has been awesome. Thank you for this and I can’t wait for the next installment!

  10. Jeter!!! I love Jeter. He looks just like my cat, Gandalf (we talked about this before, Kaelyn, maybe you remember?). Hopefully as Remi gets older and less LOUD Jeter will come around! I’m sure they will be best buds soon<3

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