Care and Feeding

How Can I Model Less Rudeness Toward Bees?

I’m terrified of bees and wasps! How do I keep from passing that phobia on to my kids?

Mom looking at bee, afraid.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Allergies are real. I know this! I also know that after watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, my son now responds to being offered any food he’s not excited about with a flat, “I’m allergic to [that.] It gives me itchy red bumps on my face!”

Please take my word for it: He isn’t, and it doesn’t. Do you have any idea how awkward it is in public to try to get my son to eat something and have him loudly claim that he is allergic to it and it will give him itchy red bumps? People stare at me! I get irritated notes from play-date hosts about how I should have warned them about his allergies. How should I fix this?

—I Hate That Tiger

Dear IHTT,

Well, this is indeed a new twist on “I think someone else is making up their allergies,” which is an advice columnist’s bread and butter. Thank you for that.

Let’s go after the low-hanging fruit first: When you drop him off somewhere, calmly tell the host that your kid isn’t allergic to anything (that you know of!) but is currently under the psychological control of Daniel Tiger in this respect, and that unless they see itchy red bumps appearing with their own eyes, he’s fine. It’s not their job to parent your weird kid, so prepping them to say a variant on, “It’s best to just say, ‘No, thank you’ if you don’t want to eat something, Little Billy” is honestly the most you can ask for.

On your own time, I would make sure that your kid is actually allowed to say, “No, thank you” to an individual food and have that respected. If he is, then your kid is just being silly and will eventually move on. (He’ll move on more quickly the less you react, almost universally.) If he isn’t, then he has probably found a decent workaround, and you may need to relax a bit at mealtimes.

I could absolutely take this question more seriously and have you monologue to your kid about crying wolf and how some kids really do have allergies and so on and so forth, but I am really quite confident that you will not have this same problem in two months’ time, and since you do seem more worried about social embarrassment right now, this has “Don’t get worked up about this” written all over it.

Going forward, I suggest switching out Daniel Tiger for a show that will encourage him to cultivate a bit more personal culinary resilience. Bear Grylls, perhaps.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a clinical-strength phobia of bees and wasps and stinging insects, which has not faded or lessened any with time. It’s not great! My personal low point involved rolling out of a moving car when I saw a wasp hovering near the glove compartment, and I’ve mostly coped with it by avoiding gardens or outdoor seating at restaurants as an adult. The thing is, I have a baby now, and I want her to develop a “normal” relationship to bees. Objectively, I know that bees are benign and important to the ecosystem, and I can tell that to my children (current and future), but it’s not going to do any good if they see me crawl under a picnic table to avoid a harmless bumblebee 10 feet away.

How can I spare the next generation?

—Can’t Even Look at Ant-Man and the Wasp Posters

Dear CELaAMatWP,

You have reminded me of one of my favorite headlines of all time: “ ‘Bees Are Good,’ Obama Says as Children Scream.” This is not important; it’s just funny.

I too do not love bees, nor do I acknowledge there to be a genuine distinction between Harmless Bumblebees and Vicious Wasps—that’s some nonsense from the Stinging Insect Lobby. My lizard brain goes into autopilot the minute I hear their little wings. My children, however, have managed to develop a healthier appreciation for nature’s pollinators, thankfully, and I credit this to a two-pronged approach: Faking It to Make It and the Beauty of the Internet. The latter is to fill your mind with supportive bee-themed factoids that you can spit out instead of speaking your own emotional truth:

Child: “Look, Mommy, a bee! He makes us honey!”

Mommy (internally): “He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him ’round the Moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

Mommy (out loud): “Did you know the worker bees do little full-body dances to tell the other bees where the best flowers are?”

Unfortunately, this (effective!) strategy only works if you are actually at an emotional and psychological place where you can fake it until you make it. Phobias are no joke! I don’t want to presume that you haven’t sought professional assistance with yours, but if your coping strategies are devoted exclusively to avoiding bees, it’s probably time to talk to someone about that next level of work: getting a system in place for when you do have to encounter one that doesn’t involve the ol’ tuck and roll. Do you think you’d still roll out of a moving car to avoid a wasp if your small children were still in said car? That’s something you need to run up the flagpole, and way above my personal paygrade.

Happily, since you currently have just a baby, time is on your side. I applaud you for wanting to spare your daughter from something that has brought such difficulty to your life. Find a therapist who works with phobias, be honest with them, and do your best. It’s unlikely you’ll become fond of bees, but it’s certainly not out of the question that you might be able to eventually close your eyes and breathe deeply and tell your daughter, “Honeybees can beat their wings 200 times per second.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I think our 12-year-old son needs a bedtime. My husband thinks he’s too old for a bedtime. I know it’s summer and he’s almost a teenager, but he’s so cranky during the day if he stays up late! Which of us is right?

—Go to Bed!

Dear GtB,

You are.

Even if 12 was too old for a bedtime (it isn’t), children’s bedtimes are as much for the benefit of you, the adults, as they are for the children themselves. Not everything has to be about their betterment 24/7! (As it happens, however, sleep deprivation is a real problem for young people and it will be for his own good.)

I encourage you to arrive (communally, perhaps) at some hour after which his lights must be out and his devices must be off, and then hold the line. If he wants to sneakily read books with a flashlight past that point, then I think he has displayed sufficient commitment to have his autonomy respected, and it would be best to pretend you do not notice.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mom and grandma make fun of me all the time because my 2-year-old son still isn’t 100 percent potty trained. (I’m a SAHM. They’re not stuck changing any of his diapers.) My pediatrician isn’t worried, and my son is stubborn about pretty much everything (he’ll go in the potty, but if he’d rather keep playing, forget it), but I’m starting to wonder if it’s really totally ridiculous like they say. Should I get tougher on him?

—He’s Going to Be in Diapers Forever

Dear HGtBiDF,

Finding a 2-year-old boy who’s a bit stubborn about potty training is like finding a damn seagull on the beach. It sounds like he’s got the gist of the whole concept but doesn’t have a real sense of urgency around it. Boys also tend to be a little slower to potty train, in general, but there’s nothing “a little slower” about 2. If you want to push the process a little bit, you can do the canonical “Buy Disney underwear, talk about what a big boy he is now, explain that we don’t pee on Mickey” maneuver, but mostly potty training is about committing to spend the time actively watching him like a hawk and handing out M&M’s for successful potty use. If he were 3 and not 2, I would definitely recommend the Potty Training in Three Days book, but he’s not. You could do it now, or you could wait. What I don’t want is for you to bring the “This is ridiculous!” energy your family is giving off to the process of training your son. He’ll know, and it’ll be a (literal) mess.

In general, kids are potty training later than they used to, and a lot of that is that diaper technology is on lock now. He’s very comfortable! This is why kids in cloth diapers* usually potty train a bit faster (they feel it more acutely when they’re wet) and why people recommend moving to underwear right at the beginning of the training experience. Does it matter that kids potty train a bit later now? No. It gives your mom (and her mom) something to feel vaguely superior about, bless their hearts.

The only firm words I wish to provide here (to readers) are as follows: If you wind up sending a non–potty trained kid to preschool, and that preschool expects him to be potty trained, and you say, “He is indeed potty trained, but of course the transition to preschool might result in a few accidents,” they will know you are lying. They will probably wind up potty training him instead of kicking him out, but you have not fooled anyone. Other than that? Take your sweet time; he’ll be ready when he’s ready. If for whatever reason he makes it to 4 and STILL isn’t feeling it, and your pediatrician is still very blasé, get a referral to a developmental pediatrician. It can’t do any harm.

*I cloth diapered my oldest child. It was … fine.