“Who’s a pretty bird?” How Cookie the penguin helps me be a better parent

If you are the parent or caregiver of a small child, you may have noticed that your pint-size charge has a somewhat unique relationship to time. Your being in a hurry only seems to make them slow down even more. Indeed, I jokingly tell my parenting clients that, to preserve your sanity, you should budget an extra 10 minutes for each transition you and your tiny human must make. I mean every transition: home to car, car to carseat, carseat to parking lot, parking lot to the store…you get the picture.

I try to anticipate and budget “child time” in my outings with my kiddo; if I’m not willing to treat this trip to CVS like an excursion to the top of mount Everest, then I should probably forego it.

And yet, as we say in Yiddish, “People make plans and God laughs.”

I’d like to append that idiom to read, “People caring for small children make plans and God grabs a jumbo tub of popcorn.”

“People caring for small children make plans and God grabs a jumbo tub of popcorn.”

Enter Cookie the little penguin, the unofficial mascot of the Cincinnati Zoo. If you haven’t seen this video or shared it with your little one, I highly recommend you take the next 2 minutes to do so. It’s time well spent. I’ll meet up with you on the other side, where I’ll explain what a small marine bird has to do with helping a child with a Dali-esque sense of time navigate the world.

My daughter loves this video. LOVES. IT. She loves Cookie too – she named an old penguin stuffed animal after the little guy.

She has this clip memorized. She quotes lines from it like she’s at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It took me a while to realize she was doing this, but now we pretty much do the dialogue back and forth on a regular basis. People probably think we’re nuts.

“Come on Cookie! Come on Cook! Who’s da Cook?”

“Who’s a pretty bird?”

“Is that it? Is that all we do today?”

And then, of course, the coup de grâce: the penguin tickle, accompanied by squeals of delight.

At a recent trip to the store, we were taking our sweet time, looking at every little thing, each of us carrying our own basket (this is the new normal around here). But even in my conceding that our trip would take a while, it was taking a bit TOO MUCH of a while for me, and we really needed to get home! Meanwhile, my child was resolute on going at her own pace, and I was starting to run out of patience and ideas.

Suddenly, inspiration and desperation kicked in, and I trotted out in front of my child in the middle of the store, gestured for her to come, and started calling to her:

“Come on Cookie! Come on Cook! Who’s a pretty bird? Is that it? Is that all we do today? Come on Cookie! You can do it! Come on!”

My moment of desperation worked! My space cadet of a child turned her wide eyes off the treasure-laden shelves and locked onto mine. She smiled and started waddling toward me, playing along. I coaxed my little Cookie all the way around the perimeter of the store and up to the register, encouraging and cajoling my little bird the whole way.

And of course, I rewarded her with a tickle.


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REBEKKA_MONEY1_FIN.min-minRebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track.

Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!

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