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On Re-Nicknaming My Children

December 1, 2013
Presenting...Crazy Eights and Checkers!

Presenting…Crazy Eights and Checkers!

As I near the end of one year with A Child Grows, I’ve been rereading some of my early posts. My first post in fact, the one in which I introduced my daughters Stringbean and Butterbean, had one comment that I’ve frequently thought about since I read it in January:

…please rethink your daughters’ blog names! … Not fair to saddle them with such descriptors. As a mom with a girl please trust me that you don’t want to cast labels on their physical bodies. They will run into enough judgement and horrible messages everyday …

I’ll admit, my first response to this comment was slight indignation. Stringbean is actually a nickname that goes back generations in my family—I in fact am still Stringbean to a few family members, and occasionally to my wife. And Butterbean, in all honesty, is probably a fair enough descriptor of most babies.

But the more I thought about it, the more introspective I got. And the more I read about body issues in developing young girls—like Meg Meeker’s chapters in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters about how thoroughly girls internalize early signals they get from their fathers on how men see them, Lisa Bloom’s piece in the Huffington Post about other compliments to give little girls besides how pretty they are, even Amanda King’s blog post from last year titled “I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful”—the more I realized that I don’t want to saddle either of my young girls with body-type nicknames. I want my four-year old’s Princess Thing to be a phase and not a way of life, and I want my 18-month-old to retain her assertiveness and spunk without being saddled with the “tomboy” label.

Also, little Butterbean started walking this summer, and is now racing her little self full throttle in laps around our apartment and even the indoor track at the Y. She’s hardly a butterbean anymore.

So then, what to nickname them? My wife Christine, who writes the “Keeping Your Kids Appy” column for A Child Grows, utilizes a simple approach, utilizing the online discussion board staple DD1 and DD2, so perhaps I could have just taken those in the name of uniformity. But my mind is just not uniform, and I also need to use nicknames that cloak a story of some sort, something that reminds me of the things I like about person I’ve nicknamed. I tried and tried over the past couple of months to find the names that would imply the wonderful things about my girls I see in them everyday. I finally discovered them one night while reading to them before bed.Generally, we read three books each night—one of Stringbean’s choice, one of Butterbean’s choice, and one of my choice (or Christine’s, if she’s doing the reading). I almost always choose either one of the Skippyjon Jones books, Sandra Boynton’s Snuggle Puppy (hey, it’s really fun to sing along!), or one of the books illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Of the Munsinger books, my two favorites are Don’t Need Friends and Wanted: Best Friend. My most primal reason for liking both of them is probably that the characters’ voices are just so fun to read, but I also like the general premise of both that 1) friends are important, 2) we are all unique, with special qualities that only certain people will recognize, and 3) we need to respect and embrace our friends’ unique qualities if we are going to call ourselves their friends.

On this particular night we were reading Wanted: Best Friend, a story about a cat and a mouse who play checkers every day. That is, until the mouse lets the cat know he’d rather play Crazy Eights. The cat is averse to this because “You take forever to decide which card to play.” But, in the mouse’s words, “When we play Crazy Eights, I win sometimes.”

That’s just the first two pages of the book, and I totally recommend you read the rest, but I’m going to stop there because this was the moment when a vision set upon me, even as I was reading the words to my little bean sprouts. This cat and this mouse are my children! Now that they are co-playing, most of their playtime consists of making, amending, and discarding rules of the game. The oldest wants to play games where her own superior skill puts her at an advantage, and the youngest just wants to be in the game.

So, with this in mind I hereby dub my oldest daughter Checkers, for she possess great skills (sorry, had to get in that American Ninja reference),and the youngest Crazy Eights, which actually fits her personality as well as her developing skill set. I imagine these will take us through at least the next year, as they continue to rotate between harmony and conflict in negotiating the rules of engagement.