It's Not Him, It's Me
Boys Boys Boys

The Tail of the Cat

I really struggled with yesterday's post. I almost abandoned it completely several times, thinking that maybe I should just publish some "before" photos from the party and keep my trap shut about the dropped bunny and turtle bit -- my big trap in which I keep my COPIOUS ANGST -- instead of putting that story out there. I didn't want to paint Noah as some kind of heartless monster, or make it sound like I thought he was, OR make it sound like I didn't get that his behavior was unacceptable and that petting zoo guy was SO WRONG about my preshus snowflake who is allowed drop-kick any animal he wants because: snowflake, my preshus

But honestly, I knew I wasn't going to stop obsessing about it until I wrote it out. So I did. Also related the story to his teachers after school, who could not have been more nonplussed about it. This just in: Four-year-olds are just impulsive little shits sometimes.

Jason, oddly, remained unconvinced and thoroughly concerned. 

"He's shouldn't have laughed," he said. "He should be able to empathize."

"Not until age six," I said.

Jason didn't respond, but waited for me to cite my sources.

"according to all my commenters on my blog okay?" I mumbled. "they all said kids don't truly empathize until around six years old and even after that some kids put frogs in lunch boxes and stepped on bugs and killed their fish and still grew up to be totally normal vegans and stuff."

Jason nodded. Then: "Wait. Back up to the frogs in lunch boxes part? What?"

Weirdly enough, though, neither of us had any personal memories to share about childhood "experiments" with animals -- pets or otherwise. I remember crying and tattling on my next-door neighbor when he stepped on anthills, and Jason swore he never so much as pulled his dog's tail. So perhaps that's why Noah's behavior struck as so foreign and OMG This Is A Terribly Big Deal. 


Later, the phone rang, right when we were finishing dinner. (Or, more accurately, as Jason and I finished up all the mashed sweet potatoes that our children refused to eat -- DELICIOUS mashed sweet potatoes, if I do say so myself, YOU UNGRATEFUL WEIRDOS -- and the boys sat on the couch and rocked their heads Night-at-the-Roxbury style to a Yo Gabba Gabba rap about bugs.) 

"I bet that's my mom," I said. "She read my post and wants to tell me to chill the fuck out."

(That's kind of her thing. Only she can get a point across without potty words. I didn't learn how to curse until I got a summer job at Sesame Place.)

She actually wanted to tell me a story. I was older than Noah when it happened -- probably more like five or six. I was playing in the backyard and she pushed the kitchen window curtain aside, about to call me inside for lunch, when she hesitated for a second. I was standing on our back patio with a strange look on my face. I was looking back and forth, like I was getting ready to cross the street. I didn't see her watching me.

And then I raised my foot. And then. STOMPBLAMSMASH, I brought it down as hard as I could on our cat's tail. 

I have absolutely no memory of this, even though the aftermath included PLENTY of yelling and scolding and go-to-your-rooming. 

My mom, of course, remembers it like it was yesterday

(Also the time my brother had his school portraits taken with visible teeth marks on his forehead, after he'd been bitten by my other brother. She told me this story after I had to pause the conversation to tell Noah to STOP SITTING ON YOUR BROTHER'S NECK. HE DOESN'T LIKE IT.)

Note to self: Call Jason's mother. I bet she's got the dirt. 




I think empathy is like a lot of things (running into the street, randomly removing items of clothing, whatever) where parents have to teach a child not to do something because Mommy Says So until they're old enough to understand for themselves why it's wrong to do it. Empathy, like risk-assessment and modesty, is something that has to develop in their little brains over time.


Animal handler violated the one basic rule of life; Don't Be a Dick.
Animal Handler is luck he didn't suffer a severe case of throat kicking.

Fuck em'

Also, laughing at seemingly inapproprate times is a defense mechanism.


I'm afraid you're going to spend the rest of Noah's childhood wondering if every random bad thing he does is A Sign, or if it's just Being A Kid. I know I would, if I were in your shoes. Cause I'm a worrier; that's what we do. I wonder if things would be different if Ezra had been born first? Anyway, I'm glad you're feeling better. Yesterday's post sounded really painful and made me hurt for you.

Now, how about your secret for great mashed sweet potatoes?


I think the real problem was that animal handler, who thinks his tortoise is a precious snowflake.

My mom once lit the family cat's tail on fire. I think she was eight years old. She's absolutely the sweetest, catches-flies-and-throws-them-outside-safely person on the planet.

At a petting zoo, my daughter was presented with a beautiful heirloom chicken to pet. She promptly yelled, "Can I EAT it?"

Trust, the kids are alright. Embarrassing as hell, but alright.

Leora Thompson

So, I recently had a smiliar experience, during which my four-year-old daughter, who is normally so sweet to animals and other kids that I'm convinced she's the next Mother Theresa. As it happens, we left my daughter with her grandma for the evening,so we could go watch a movie that was rated higher than PG. When we arrived home, we found our daughter sitting on chair, moping and whining. My mother-in-law then informed me that our daughter had tried to feed a piece of dog food to their Chow, BigBoy. When BigBoy was more interested in staring at her and licking her hand, my daughter smacked him across the face. I was horrified! After several conversations and much hand-wringing, she is now allowed to play with the pets again, and hasn't shown any interest in violence towards them since then.

Andrea (@shutterbitch)

I was hoping the phone call was somehow the Dickhead Animal Handler who'd felt bad about his dramatic overreaction to a FOUR YEAR OLD experimenting with animals he's unfamiliar with, and the Dickhead Animal Handler got your number from the birthday kid's parents and called to apologize.

Because that's what SHOULD happen. In the meantime, I think you're reacting the way any parent would react and it's just going to take Noah (and Ezra later) some time to catch on to the empathy thing, like it does for all kids. Noah is a Good Star. And so are you, despite funky, shredded foil.


I know that incidents like Saturday make all of us moms think we are raising a future Jeffrey Dahmer or something, but you are doing a great job. Just remember, kids ARE little weirdos whose whole goal in life is to get their own way. All kids. Regardless of religious upbringing, economic advantages, involved parenting, etc. ALL KIDS. There have been times in the last 14 yrs when I have looked at my son or daughter and thought, "Who the heck are you? Where are your parents? Were you raised by wolves, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!" It happens to all of us at one time or another, in different versions of the same scenario. The key here is that you disciplined him for the inappropriate behavior and moved on. If there is a next time, and there probably will be because he's FOUR and not a fully mature adult, then discipline again, have the talk, and move on. It takes awhile for their little spongy brains to absorb this "OH THE WORLD IS NOT ENTIRELY ABOUT ME" stuff. (there are some adults I know who haven't gotten that yet.)

You are doing fine. Noah is fine. Noah is more than fine. NOAH IS NORMAL. End.Of.Disertation.

(but if he knocks over a 7-11 before he's out of first grade, I will totally deny this comment.) ;)


Thank you for this - because I've had to write my own blog post about how my kid stomped on a wounded bird, like a year or two ago. And this month he's squashed caterpillars. And I had no idea how upsetting it all would be. And wondered why he's not quite getting the "we protect all living things" messages. I feel so much better. Thank you.


I was one of those evil children who could get wildlife to come to me like a Disney movie, from basically the moment I could walk onward. And yet... scary alien animal empathy aside... I was also the same child who actually dressed the family tabby in too-small doll's clothes (and came out unscratched - that was one patient cat) and then shut it in a suitcase-like tea set affair I had been given, and LEFT HIM THERE. God only knows if he ever would have been released (I have a vague feeling of having forgotten about him) but his yowling got my mother's attention and, of course, I was punished until like, yesterday. (I'm 42.)

Meanwhile, I'm the biggest mush for cats and all critters you could ever find. So. Yeah. I'm beginning to think maybe tormenting small creatures is actually a developmental milestone no one wants to tell you about.


I really admire you for posting yesterday's story. Also I am expecting my first child and just said to my husband last night, "What if our baby is born without a conscience? Like Rhoda in the movie The Bad Seed?" Because sometimes when I'm tired of worrying about birth defects, I like to worry about other things. I don't know empathy statistics, but I know that to a four-year-old, the world must be a big and strange and weird place and the only way any of us figure things out is by making mistakes. Noah is just figuring things out. And judging from all your blog posts, you are doing all you can to help him.


Your mom is awesome and you're right: Jason's mom totally has the dirt. You'll look back on this and laugh someday when Noah can't believe his daughter left her goldfish on the radiator "just to get her warm" or ...something.

Life of a Doctor's Wife

I wish I had some stories to put your mind more at ease.

Parenting sounds really, really scary - for so many reasons that I haven't thought of. I love reading your blog because you put it all out there. Doesn't make it less scary, but makes it easier to face.

bethany actually

I read yesterday's post to my mom, and she said, "You know, your brother used to laugh when he was nervous. He still does it, and it still gets him into trouble sometimes because other people think he's not taking the situation seriously when in fact he's just letting off steam."

Just another two cents. :-)


You're an amazing writer. I mean, holy shit, you're good!

Sprite's Keeper

Makes me wonder why pets even have tails anymore. Considering they're the first things pulled, are they even necessary for housepets? Kind of like an appendix these days..


after commenting 'lil guy was watching me take our dog out. The pup got a pine cone and I proceeded to chase the dog to get it before he hurt himself (darn things are sharp) Drew opened the door and shouted, "Go Bailey, go!" laughing his ass off. Yes, 4 year-olds and nearly 4 year-olds are "impulsive little shits"!


I asked my mom about the crying at Little Women episode that I commented about yesterday and she said I was way older than Noah, so yeah, empathy is definitely an older kid thing.


my 4 year old stomped on a frog. I didn't witness it...but I had pointed the frog out to him and a little friend. The Little friend reportedly stomped on the frog first...after I had already told him to "not poke it with a stick. It might hurt it." The "Little (shit) friend" then stomped the poor little thing right in front of my boy...laughed and then MY "preshus little snowflake" stomped in like manner. I was devastated. I talked to him and talked to him and hopefully he now knows not to stomp on little animals. will laugh out of nervousness in odd and tense situations just like adults do.
(and just like 'bethany actually' said. )


Last week I took more than my normal amount of pain medication, which resulted in less pain AND the notion that punching cats in the head was hilarious. I didn't actually punch them, but the thought was enough to make me roflmao.


I think that, frequently, kids feel very powerless and attempt to exert power over anything weaker than they, which often happens to be a pet or animal (or younger sibling!). I certainly don't think that it automatically makes them sociopaths- it takes a lot more for that.

My little sister once accidentally killed a kitten because she and another little girl were fighting over who could hold it and it turned into a tug-of-war. She also dropped my cats into the pond to see if they could swim, and she trapped them both inside a covered sandbox in the middle of a hot California summer day. Today, she is the sweetest, kindest, bleeding-heart-est person you'd ever meet. No one who didn't grow up with her would ever guess that she was a little... rough... with the animals as a kid.


Well, I wouldn't worry about this at all.

Apparently, when I was about three or four, and thank God I have no recollection of this, I stabbed a yellow parakeet to death through the bars of its cage with a sharpened pencil point.

I am not a serial killer. In fact, I grew up so empathetic that when my stupid family members retell this story (and of course they do) I feel unbearable guilt and cry for the little bird. I have pets and love animals. I'm kind to all animals now.

I think kids just sorta don't always get things and they like to experiment with their surroundings (which are sometimes alive) and that in social situations sometimes kids get nervous and strange.

And in this case, no real harm was done to any animal, like in my case where a bird was actually murdered! Oh my God, I can't believe I did that. I think I might cry again.


So, I'm going to write this comment, but I'm also going to clarify that I'm not disagreeing with the main point that four year olds (and two year olds) are little shits, and that one (or two dozen) incident(s) does not a serial killer make.

HOWEVER, I really, REALLY need to dispute the fact that kids don't have empathy until they're six. Almost any parent, for example, knows the "magic trick" of handing off the screaming newborn to the calm parent and watching in amazement (and often resentment) as the child instantly calms down, because the child knew that the first person holding him was tense, upset, agitated, what have you, and that bothers the child. The child recognizes the emotion and it bothers them. Primitive empathy.

Many parents can also relate stories about their 1- and 2-year-old bringing a favorite toy or blankie to someone that is crying, to comfort them. Recognizing the emotion, identifying what works for the 2 year old, and presenting that solution to the cry-er.

Also, I wanted to relate a story. I was three - not sure if it was at the newly-three or nearly-four end. I had a crush on "that pretty blond boy" at my church. He was 14.

Showing an incredible degree of un-self-absorbed-ness of his own, for his age, this boy went on a missions trip overseas, AND BROUGHT ME BACK SOME GIFTS. Seriously, a 14 year old knew a 3 year old thought he was the shiz, and thought of me while he was in Asia. ?! Anyhow moving on.

I was really outgoing, but blushing shy around this kid. When he tried to offer his gifts to me, as my mom held me in her arms, I was struck mute. I was extremely grateful for the presents, but could not bring myself to take them from his hand and asked my mom to take them for me.

Mom told me that if I wanted them, I needed to take them politely, myself, and say thank you. I remember crying out of desperation because I just could NOT bring myself to do it, while he stood there patiently, and the following went through my head:

"He is going to see me crying, and not know that I'm crying because I'm too shy to take this gift and speak to him, and think I don't want it. And then maybe he'll be mad at me, or sad that I don't want his presents, and not like me any more." Which made me cry more, because I just COULDN'T... but I finally, with Mom's help, got myself under control, and took the gifts. (Which incidentally were a barbie-type doll in asian dress, sitting on my desk as I type this, and a mandarin collar outfit with embroidery on it which I wore as pajamas.)

This comment is too long already, so I'll just summarize that this is something I remembered on my own because it was so emotionally charged; I told my mom about it later in life (not the other way around; she did not prompt my memories, they were all my own) and hearing me describe it, she verified that it did happen that way.

So, it is not necessarily true that empathy can't happen until school age. Unless maybe I'm some kind of empathic wunderkind, like the people who teach themselves to read at age three ... much less likely than the simple truth that little kids, babies even, CAN feel empathy.

Again, I don't want to be treated like a troll, I'm not arguing that all children should be paragons of loveyness to human and nonhumans alike all throughout their childhood. I just want to dispute that 6 year old statistic.


Oh, AMY. Honey. I just read both of these posts. When we talk about cruelty to animals being a red flag we're not talking about dropped bunnies or squashed cat tails. We're talking about multiple dead pet-type animals--dogs and cats. (Or a pattern of "lost" pets in a neighborhood.) We're talking about dismemberment, and signs of repeated deliberate burning or torture. THOSE are bad signs.

My source is a BA in psych from Georgetown, including a class called "Psychology of the Criminal Mind." I'm about to start a grad program in social work.

The handler was a dick. You give a 4 year old a bunny and there's a good chance it'll end up on the floor. Thats's why you are rightthere to catch it. And he laughed because he got EVERYONE's attention, and because the bunny probably flailed a bit and looked funny and he just hasn't yet developed the ability to comprehend that the bunny has feelings too. The key word here is "yet." He will. You're doing everything just fine.


I'm glad you're feeling better, and that many people have similar stories and grew up to be normal, empathetic, functioning members of society. Either that or all your readers are psychopaths in disguise. I KID.


I was going to comment yesterday but had a toothache and couldn't talk. Now I have a mouth full of bloody gauze, but I can speak, so excuse the mumbling here - but I was going to say what Martha above me said. Sometimes in a nervous or terrifying situation humans have a tendency to laugh nervously or hysterically. We know Noah would not have hurt the baby rabbit. But it's hard for little kids to get it straight. Maybe they have empathy - but the coyote always gets back up just fine after the roadrunner lures him off the cliff. Kids have trouble separating what they see in cartoons and movies from reality. They just don't think far enough ahead to realize that this is an actual animal and that their actions just might harm it.

The handler, though, is another story. He's an adult and should not have been letting the kids handle the animals in the first place. When my girls were preschoolers, we lived in St. Louis, which has a fabulous zoo and a wonderful petting zoo within it. But the kids can only actually interact with sturdier animals like goats and -- um, all I can think of is goats. Maybe an occasional baby elephant. Anything more fragile is ALWAYS held by the handler and the children are allowed to come up and see it closely and perhaps pet it. That makes a lot more sense.

But he did let the kids handle them. And when things went bad, as they were bound to - if not Noah, probably some other kid - he did not behave in an appropriate manner at all. Fucker.


I totally remember playing "vet" with the cat and dog. Of course I did not intend for it to be mean but looking back I am quite certain my pets hated me. I used to try to tie our cat's VERY long whiskers in a bow as one of my "treatments". They got slapped up on top of the piano bench AKA the exam table. I adored those pets without reckless abandon but I also wanted to be in charge, in control of something, I wanted to see how they worked and tell them what to do.

As I said yesterday Noah is a-okay!!


Ok, so only my husband knows this story. NO ONE ELSE. Am sharing it on your blog out of total empathy and love.

I killed a kitten.

Today, I am the biggest animal lover. I have a totally alive and much-loved, well-looked after, overly-snuggled adult cat who I've had since he was thiiiiiis big.

But when I was about three or four, I lived on a farm, and there were lots of stray cats who we sort of ended up adopting and fed and stuff, and they had lots of kittens. There were always kittens.

And of course, I had heard that cats ALWAYS land on their feet. ALWAYS, man. No matter what. Y'know, in a four-year-old's mind, which is often lacking in shades of gray.

So, standing on the concrete path by the house one day, I cornered a kitten and tossed it up in the air.

It landed on its head.

I am still so horribly ashamed and guilty about this tale that only my husband (and now loads of anonymous internet blog-readers) have ever heard it.

But now, I am more or less normal, and my pets are totally alive. (Except -- and given your recent posts, you probably won't like this -- my pet mouse, but he lived a long full mousey life and just got old and is now buried in the rose garden at the in-laws.)


Don't get too worked up about it. LOL. I took my kid to see a therapist after she told me she had a "thought" about hurting the cat. The therapist met with her but promptly released her from therapy and said clearly the issue was with me, and my anxiety over my kid's behavior, my kid was normal. As it turns out, mean thoughts or impulsive actions by kids this young don't predict their future after all. That's what I was told, anyway.


My dad and his sister (both were older than 4) wanted to see if cats always land on their feet. So dropped the cat from ever increasing heights up a ladder. Its true, even from the top of a ladder, they always land on their feet.


Although I am only 10 months into my first parenting adventure, I am also the older sister to four of the most compassionate, animal-loving adults. All of whom had Noah-like moments with animals/living things (and myself included). It's your basic Boundary Testing/ Run Of The Mill, Plain Old "What Will Happen If I..." Curiosity.

The same way kids don't understand the concept of "That macaroni is hot, you'll burn yourself" until they actually take a bite and learn what hot means, they also don't understand another person/animal's pain until they can relate it to themselves. (i.e. Hit your brother, he cried, which was funny until...he hit you and you cried, because that HURT, dude!)
It's so universal. And I'm glad you feel better about it. I have to say that when I read it, I found myslef nodding my head, because it struck me as exactly what a four-year-old would do.
Good luck, and seriously, you guys ARE great parents.


Also, I forgot to say: Animal Handler = Total Jackass. I probably would have smacked him, and told him I would be contacting his superiors pronto. Kudos for your self-control.


I have a mix of laughing and foil star story to share. It still makes me cringe to think of it. When I was probably ten (or thirteen, hell, I don't remember) I accidentally spiked a volleyball into my little brother's face (He's three years younger). He started to cry and I had no idea what to do and I started smiling. And my Dad dressed me down for smiling at his pain. I still remember thinking that I had no idea what to do and that I didn't want to be in trouble and I didn't want my brother to be hurt, so I was smiling when I went forward to comfort him, kind of like I wanted him to emulate what I was doing. Of course he didn't and I felt awful but I was still smiling.

And I think once in preschool or daycare one of our assistant teacher's friends died and she told a group of us and some of the girls were very sympathetic and I started laughing. And she got mad at me and told me not to laugh because it wasn't funny. Looking back I'm sure that I laughed because I'd never dealt with death before, I had no idea what to do, and laughing was a defense. But God, I still remember the shame from being yelled at from doing the "wrong" thing.


I just read both your posts and felt compelled to comment.

When my preshus snowflake was four years old he tossed our kitten over a baby gate and down a flight of stairs. I was standing RIGHTTHERE when it happened, but was not quick enough to catch it. And guess what I learned? Cats do NOT always land on their feet! Thankfully the cat was fine, though my motherly pride was very injured as it happened in front of my father in law. And just as Noah did, my snowflake LAUGHED. Father in law STILL tells this story. Jay is nine now and wouldn't hurt a fly...not even his sisters when they are driving him up a wall.

Oh, and when I gave The Talk of Epic Proportions to Jay when he was younger, (anywhere between the ages of 3 and 6) I felt like he NEVER got what I was saying. He could repeat it back to me, but I felt like he was totally unconcerned with what was bothering me so much. And when I would ask him "Why??" he would respond with "Yeah". Just to drive me INSANE. This has changed drastically as he has gotten older. Now I have to be careful to NOT drive a point home over and over because it makes him feel just terrible. I never thought we'd have THAT problem.

Hang in're a fantastic mom! I wouldn't be such a faithful reader if you weren't!

Kristin J

Thank goodness for Grandmas! They have the best insights and wisdom.

Amy in StL

LOL; she totally has the dirt! This is exactly why all moms should journal or blog or something; so that when we have kids there's something to look at that reminds us of our childhood.


school portrait with visible teeth marks in forehead... awesome.

crap like that happens in the best of families, and even with the most diligent, overprotective parents. :)


Della, I don't dispute that young children can to a certain degree empathize with people, especially babies and other young children. I've seen my three year old give his five year old brother a kiss and tell him, "It's okay, I like you" when his older brother is upset.

However, I've also seen said three year old try to bash his older brother over the head with a toy, or sit on his face. They're not consistent with their empathy.

And I think they're more likely to recognize PEOPLE as "like them" than they are pets. With the popularity of stuffed animals as toys, is it any wonder that little kids may see a fluffy animal as just something to play with? We're more likely to empathize with those who are like us or resemble us, because we're wired that way. Kids especially.


Oh, and Amy, I grew up absolutely convinced that I had smashed the tail of a lovely white cat we had when I was around three or four. I had a distinct memory of the cat, with a bloody tail, and the heavy screen door on our house, the one that was hard to keep from slamming shut.

So for years I harbored this secret guilt that I had hurt that poor cat, name of Bobbie. One day I brought up the subject (I was probably 20 years old) and my mom said, no, Bobbie had been bitten by an animal and I was letting her into the house. Imagine that, I had this guilt all those years and it was completely unfounded.

But I do remember, and it's been confirmed, that I dressed up our poor elderly cat in my doll's clothes when I was a kid. I'd put the dresses on her and watch her try to crawl away, and I remember thinking at the time that a) it was hilarious and b) why doesn't she like the pretty dress?


I read yesterday's post and thought, "Meh. Four year olds may have moments of empathy but they're too young to expect them to demonstrate that quality even remotely consistently." But before I could comment, the dog saw someone walk near our yard, flipped out as though SWAT was descending and woke the baby, so... I didn't get around to writing that down. But yeah - we all have sordid stories from our early childhoods.

And I don't do well when yelled at in public either. I tend to perceive mild chastising as yelling/outright scolding which makes me super embarrassed and also fighting mad. The combination tends to render me speechless and red-faced, so on top of being schooled, I look like a total knob throughout it all. Good times.


Don't many have said, there are plenty of very animal-loving people who have been...less then that as kids. On a side note, be happy he doesn't have an older sister who will torture HIM with the memories of his accidental cruelty -

My sister *accidentally* (read: while playing FAR too roughly, as I had complained to my mother repeatedly) killed a kitten when we were little, and I nicknamed her Elmira (the mean kid from Tiny Tunes) still comes up from time to time.

You definitely did better than I would have in that situation. And ps. note to ALL parents who think a petting zoo is a good idea: You SUCK. Don't do it! The animals are traumatized, often tranquilized and always miserable! Cute does NOT equal happy!


First of all: I hear you about the mashed sweet potatoes that are delicious and apparently shunned by anyone under the age of, oh, 30. Same experience here with Little Miss Kickboxer. DELICIOUS! I say. She says "pbbbbbbbbbbbbbt."

As to the whole animal issue--the handler was probably just as shocked and scared that any of his preshiuses would be hurt as you were about his reaction. And I agree with the other folks that kids under 10 shouldn't be left alone with fragile animals. One of the things I teach Little Miss Kickboxer is to pet things and say "ei" when she does that (it's a German thing). So, we go around her crib and her room and pet and hug each stuffed animal. Whenever she decides to throw one of them, she does get a stern "no throwing; let's be kind" and I make her pick them up and set them into the place where she wants them more gingerly. Or as gingerly as you can expect a 17-month-old to be. That whole Jeffrey Dahmer thing's gotta be one of my worst anxieties ...

Of course, our cats are scared sh*tless of her. Exhibit A:

Bill McNutt

I gotta disagree on one point: the Animal Handler was doing his job, and doing it right.

As parents, you are supposed to be On Your Child's Side.

It's the Animal Handler's job to be the protector and advocate for his animals, just like it's yours to do so for your child.

Noah had demonstrated a pattern of lack of empathy and it's his job to minimize risk to the animals.

And I have absolutely NO DOUBT that he deals with a constant parade of mothers whose preshus snowflakes can do no wrong, and has had to learn to be firm up front to keep his animals from being harmed.


For those of you worried that your kid doesn't know why hurting animals is wrong, it's natural that they may not at this age. "The Golden Rule," or whatever you want to call it, is fairly advanced, morally. It's normal for kids to think things are wrong because mom and dad say so. Look up Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning if you're interested.

Della: Yes, kids can sense emotions and mimic our behaviors. They can be empathic. But it's not a constant. They might be wonderfully empathic kids while still stomping on their cat's tail to see what happens. And, as plenty of people have noted, many of these accidents are born out of innocent curiosity. I remember stomping ant hills as a child, and then watching the ants scurry around and realizing that I'd destroyed their home and trapped their family inside. It's a learning process.

Bill: Yeah, the handler had a right to protect his animals. He had no right to be rude. I also doubt his judgment giving small kids fragile animals to hold (instead of letting them pet while he holds) and then letting them swarm a tortoise without being right there to control the situation. The instant he said "Don't touch its head" at least half the kids became focused on the creature's head.


I for one am glad you were so mortified and stern with him because animal cruelty is no laughing matter. Too many people are too casual about the state of their own pets and animals in general and viewpoints and behavior habits regarding animals starts young. I think you guys handled it really well.


I just wanted to let you know when I read your previous post yesterday, I literally hurt for you. As a parent I think its normal to worry so much and second guess your children's motives when they do things out of the ordinary. I can totally imagine the angst, embarrassment, and concern you were feeling.

I can't tell you why Noah reacted the way he did and I certainly wouldn't try and brush it off with a story of my own, but I did want to tell you that I can totally commiserate with you as a parent and thank you for your honesty. It is settling to know there are others who worry like I do.


Stories from Grandmas are pretty great. You should definitely get some dirt on Jason. ;) I'm glad you were so honest about your fears, and very glad that so many others have stories to share that hopefully make you feel better!


Dude, when I was oh, probably 4 or 5, we had a cat (well, we had a few cats, we're cat people in my family). We also had an inflatable pool. That cat was my sidekick. And for some inexplicable reason, I picked it up by its tail, swung it over my head, and threw it in the pool. Never saw that cat again. Oh, and I quit throwing cats in pools too just FYI.


And this is why you DO write about the things that freak you out. Because everyone can relate. And this is what makes you such a freakin' fantastic writer - along with the funny and the well written (swear intensive) sentences and the wrap up paragraphs at the end that regularly surprise me.


So the other day my husband had an incident wherein I ended up smashing his balls between two chairs. Hard. He was running away with the moaning and the yelling and the MOANING. And Amy, i was ... laughing. Just like I did last week when I shut the car trunk on his head. Just like I did at his grandfather's funeral.

I have a TERRIBLE nervous laughter problem. TERRIBLE. And he's all, IS IT FUNNY TO YOU WHEN PEOPLE GET HURT? And really, it isn't, I just don't know how to handle it. And Amy, I'll be 35 in December.

And oh my God, I just remembered that when I was four, I threw my aunt's dog Winston down the stairs. I HAD TOTALLY FORGOTTEN THAT UNTIL THIS MOMENT. I vaguely remember DOING it, too. And my cousin telling on me and ... oh my God. OMG. So yeah, I threw a dog down the stairs. Oops. Poor Winston.

I'm not a serial killer. Or a crazy person. I have a dog now, even! Who's curled up on my lap! And a baby who I've TOTALLY kept alive and loved on and stuff, and would give my life for.

He's four. Your mom is right. Much love to you.


Oh my, I'm reacting to both posts at once. I have no special knowledge of children, just the conviction that even the sweetest ones are amoral little animals until we civilize them. Which you're doing, with incredible patience and understanding. Like everyone says, kids aren't great with impulse control even when they're mostly well-intended. I remember once throwing a tantrum at Disneyland over a stupid Dumbo stuffed toy and feeling mortified about it twenty years later.

But it'll take a while to shake off yesterday, and I'm so, so sorry. But you handled it well. Good for you for addressing Noah privately. Too bad the trainer didn't have the same courtesy.

Domesticated Gal

My kid is 5mo old - and impulsively hits Everything. Himself, me, himself. And since he's SO much bigger than every other 5mo old (seriously - 22lbs LAST month), there's a lot more force behind it. And already? I find myself obsessing about how to teach him non-violence and respect and FUCK, OUCH, THAT HURTS, DAMNIT!

You know, without the (almost)(?) cursing...


Amy I heartily second calling Jason's mom for the dirt on him!

Brooke: I love that you brought up The Bad Seed! That is the wildest movie! I gave it to my Mom for mother's day this year, so what does that say about me? lol!


When I was around 8 or so our cat died. My brother (who was 12) and I dug up the remains of that cat up twice just to see what was happening to the skeleton.

I am happy to say we are both quite nice grown ups with nary a homicidal tendency.

Kids are just weird sometimes.

Genevieve @ Adventures in Suburbia

Ditto everyone else. Hell I used to throw my hamster way up in the air and then catch it on the way back down, when I was about 5. (I missed a few times, but we won't go there)

And I am an honest-to-God animal lover. I promise.

Glad to hear you stomped the cat's tail and turned out okay... although that was an interesting thing to do, eh?

Plano Mom

Brother. Milk Jugs. Frogs. Ten of them - one impaled on each finger. Nuff said.


Both my brother & i are huge animal lovers. We have never lived without pets who we totally adore. But one summer we went through a toad killing phase. We would just smash them on the sidewalk, it was a huge game, who could get the most. Eventually my dad caught us told us to stop. Sadly it still took a few more scoldings before we actually stopped the toad smashing. I promise we are normal well accomplished adults these days, and i am particularly careful to be nice to Toads.

Also - speaking of b-day parties for special needs. My mom once had a small party for my brother and invited all other special needs too. For entertainment she hired a Magician. She worked with him ahead of time to make sure it wouldn't scare the kids etc. Sadly she didn't know one kid a horrible fear of knifes/sharp objects. he went to cut something and the kid started shrieking at the top of his lungs and trying to hide behind the couch. Best part - not a single one of the other kids even noticed.


Chill out crazy lady. The police came to my house one day. re: deep fried rodents at the river. (that's my title). Do you know what this means the police asked? Serial killers, that's what's next.

Apparently there was a dead rodent near the stream that my son and his friends decided to put in a frying pan on their fire to see what would happen.

Sounds like "normal" (whatever the hell that is) boy stuff to me!


Your mom's a good woman. And Noah sounds pretty normal to me, believe it or not. But when we have a kid with special needs, every aspect of their personality gets analyzed and dissected and pondered over, "Is this a sign? A sign of something horrible that shouldn't be named?!?" It's unfortunate because actually? Being a little mean to animals and brothers and other kids is just a part of growing up. A crappy part - but a human part.

Chin up.

From Belgium

I told this story to my mother which resulted in a story (mothers are like that) of how I once poured sand (yes SAND) into our dogs ears. So yes call his mother and find out.


I just wanted to comment to say that I love your honesty. I have a sone the same age as Noah and haven't had this issue (yet?) but I still really relate to those moments when your child does something you don't necessarily understand or like. There are so many unexpected moments in parenting and so many new fears and emotions we have to grapple with, often out of the blue. I appreciate the humour in your blog (a lot!) but I also love these honest accounts of the times when you don't have all the answers or a pithy resolution. These moments are the truth of life as a parent and I always find these posts of yours are the ones that are the most meaningful to me. Thank you (and Noah is gorgeous)


Is it bad that I was laughing at Noah laughing? I read your post to my husband, almost crying from the laughter through the words. We have that kid too. We turn down party invites all the time. Too much for the SPD kid. We would do a play date. And you know what, my daughter has friends who don't have SPD who are outright mean and masty. Don't sweat it.


It's also extremely normal for a kid to laugh because he's nervous/he knows he just messed up/people are watching and he doesn't know what to do. I was that way as a kid, laughing at very not-funny things because I was so nervous.


Please let's stop calling the animal handler a dick. He was protecting his animals from children who might just kick them. And he's probably been down this road many times before. Imagine what he's written on his blog. And in his blog comments, do you think folks are calling mothers a bunch of dicks? I thought this was all about the importance of empathy...

Cheryl S.

DEFINITELY call Jason's mom. Second, laughing is a nervous response. When I was a kid, I used to laugh when people got hurt, not because it was funny, but because it was either that or start crying and I KNEW I'd get made fun of if I cried. And I was older than Noah. Third, he'll be fine. {{{HUGS}}}


I forgot to mention on your other post that I used to pour salt on slugs POST-AGE 8 (I know this b/c it was after we moved) so they would whither up and die. I only stopped after my mom told me that it hurt them. Despite loving animals, it had never occurred to me. Oopsie.



I think you can thank asshole Rodney Spencer for that. fucking asshole.


Thanks for sharing that - I'm sure it was tough to write & left you feeling more than a little vulnerable, especially given all you've went through with Noah this past year or so. I think all kids do this kind of thing, mostly when they're too young to remember. How many memories do you have of being 4? 5? 6? If you're like me, not too many. But there are photos of me at 3 or 4 grinning, holding a kitten in each hand by their necks. There are more photos & some of this I can remmber of me dressing kittens & puppies in my doll's clothes. I don't remember hurting animals either but I'm sure it happened. Kids that young with baby animals really should have one-on-one supervision b/c you never know what's going to happen. What if the bunny had peed in a kids hand? Any kid would probably drop it like a hot potato.


I know you're probably sick to death of the "it's okay" comments. (At least I'm hoping people have been writing that - I'm too sick to read all the comments.) But (I love buts, don't you?) I wanted to tell you what I try to tell myself when my kid is "that kid". It's not about what your 4 year-old does at a party (where impulses rum amok and sugar is to be had and just general excitment can cause odd behavior) it's what the parent does in response. It could be a simple matter of Noah having something on his mind or just not thinking. Sometimes even the gentlest, most loving child exhibits behavior that makes us think an alien switched him in the night. Kids are kids...and as such, we, as parents need to make sure we discipline appropriately. I have seen kids misbehaving and the parents doing NOTHING to stop them or correct them. Those are the parents I have a hard time with. The ones who lovingly, but sternly remind children that we don't x y or z...and use timeouts...those parents get props. You can only do so much, but kids have wills of their own. Please go easy on's obvious to anyone who knows you or reads your blog that you try REALLY hard.


Someone who took her fish for a walk when she was 4ish. Without water. He died. I'm not a serial killer.

Bill McNutt

I don't remember killing anything when I was young, and my folks have died, so I can't ask.

I do remember deliberately yanking a cat's tail, mostly because I had been repeatedly told not to, and wanted to know what would happen.

Oddly, the cat did not give me the clawing I deserved. But that's the only animal cruelty I can remember.

Dad did tell a story of my first hunting expedition where I utterly melted down when they shot a rabbit, but I don't remember that.



We went to a book launch last night at which there were lots of kids and...I shit you not...a turtle for petting. I have to say, the handler was really uptight about kids getting too close to the turtle's head.


I think it takes time. Definitely four is still way early.

At four? My oldest shut her two year old sister in the door. Most likely on purpose. At five my brother threw our cat in the pool. To see what would happen. Ha, our cat liked it. But still. My oldest kid is a sweetie. My brother? Is the biggest animal lover in the world. He saves pit bulls for peets sake.

Noah will be fine. Promise.

anonymous vocab nazi

nonplussed = speechless


Hi. My mom absolutely loves re-tell this story in grade school when we were asked to recall our summer. We had many fun activities as a family that summer yet I chose to write about how two kittens crawled up in our car's radiator for warmth and died when we started the car. I am in no way a person who finds joy in harming animals or anything. This was a one time thing and I think I wrote about it, not because of the gore- but because it was fascinating in some way. Out of the ordinary and certainly not a story anyone else in my class was going to have. I love how the two of you recovered from your day scouring through your DVD's and shopping for new books. I also love quinn's comments to you today. I hope you feel tons better about everything-


Empathy starts to develop around 4. It follows a cognitive developmental milestone called "theory of mind" (ToM) which is the ability to realize that other people (or, um, turtles) have thoughts, beliefs and intentions different than yours. A ToM deficit is one of the hallmarks of autism.

Of course, there is variability in when it develops - some kids get it early, some late, just like walking. But "empathy doesn't come until age six" just isn't true. It's possible Noah was having a bad, four year old day. It's possible he is late in ToM and thus, empathy. It is possible he is on the autistic spectrum. And, it's possible that he's kind of a little shit.


This video is great to watch, discusses moral judgements and at what ages we are able to make them

Apron Strings (Christina)

Yeah, I agree on all counts. I am an overly compassionate person-esp. to animals-and I am aghast and too ashamed to even say what my brother and I did to some frogs and our cat on occasion. When we were well over six. So, he's likely going to be just fine.


I don't have kids, so whenever I read a parenting story I inevitably relate it to my dog. As I was reading your last entry, I immediately thought of Annie...I have the sweetest, most adorable puppy with big brown eyes. The kind of dog that everyone just wants to reach out and cuddle. Especially all of the little kids we pass on our walks. And she HATES children. I have no idea why. She's a rescue dog, so obviously it was something that happened before I got her. She's never bitten a kid or anything like that, but if they come near here she'll bark and growl. I feel SOOO guilty when this happens. I generally avoid kids, like, I'll cross the street if I see them coming. But sometimes it's impossible, and the kid's like "Dogggeeee!" and my dog is like "Grrrrrruffruffruff!!". And then the mom looks at me like I'm some terrible person, training my dog to hate kids. I don't want my dog to hate kids! I feel so bad about it. But I don't know what to's not like anyone is going to sacrifice a couple of like, ugly children, for me to train her on. Anyway, don't feel bad about Noah being not-so-nice to animals...because here in Chicago, there's an animal who would probably be not-so-nice to him if she had the chance!


I didn't read all the comments, but I am just constantly entertained, touched, moved to really think, when reading your blog. I will say today, though, I was thoroughly suprised. I had NO IDEA you have brothers!

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