It’s Not All Mary Poppins


Katie’s father stands on my porch at the end of the day, talking. He does that a lot. He’s a raging extrovert, Katie’s dad. An extrovert who believes that nothing fills the air better than the sound of his own voice. He hears very little of anything anyone says to him, doesn’t often even look at them directly, interrupts incessantly, but he loves to be with people, he loves interaction – essentially, he loves an audience. His wife, equally extroverted, is much more socially skilled; she listens as much as she talks, asking questions and – unlike her husband – actually waiting for the answers (!), and leavens it all with lots of eye contact and an engaging giggle.

I break into his monologue to tell him a story about his daughter – a topic more likely than most to actually engage his attention (though not to prevent him interrupting). Katie, at 20 months, has excellent people skills. She is not at all shy, she relishes contact with others, and that day, she had done some particularly noteworthy bit of social manoeuvring.

“Well, yeah. She does that because we’ve always surrounded her with lots of people. She’s had friends and neighbours, she’s had babysitters, new faces, practically from days one. We think it’s important that she know how to get along with people, so we’ve always made sure she’s had lots of people around her. We’ve seen to it that she likes people and isn’t the least bit shy.”

He believes his child is developing in a certain way as a direct result of parental decisions, that his daughter’s social skill is directly attributable to their manipulation of her environment. He’s wrong, of course.

Take a kid chock-full of extroverted genes, throw her in with a bunch of new faces every day, and you get a kid who rises to the stimulation, giggling and interacting, smiling and playing. She thrives on it.

“A-ha!” say proud parents. “Our strategy is working! Look at our outgoing, socially competent child!” They believe it’s their manipulation of her environment, their training, which has produced this social prodigy.

Nope. Katie is a socially skilled extrovert because she is awash in extroverted genes. The training had little to do with her skill level. What they’ve done is given her opportunity to express what’s innate. Had they put her in a closet for the first two years of her life, it would probably take her a while to develop her current level of social finesse, (say, a week or so), but develop it she will, because it’s part of who she is.

Not convinced? Picture the other side of the coin. Take a kid chock-full of introverted genes, throw her in with a bunch of new faces every day, and do you get a socially skilled kid who thrives on lots of interaction? No, you get a kid who is overwhelmed, nervous, clingy, unhappy, even terrified. The constant barrage of social stimulation is too much for her. Why? Because she’s not an extrovert.

This is not to disparage the significance of parents. For those first years, you are the single most important relationship in your child’s life. Even as they gain independence and autonomy, parents are still very important to their children. But we’re not omnipotent. There is a limit to parental impact, influence, significance.

You can give children skills, and you can hope they learn to apply them, but those skills are always superimposed upon their base character. Bottom line: no matter what your parenting skills, you cannot turn a child into something they’re not.

© 2006, Mary P

October 30, 2006 Posted by | individuality, parenting, parents, socializing, Uncategorized | 26 Comments


I haven’t felt much like blogging lately. Neither writing posts nor reading others’. I no intention of quitting, but this week I haven’t had the usual “Oh! I have to write about that!” impulse.

Instead of writing, I’ve been reading. Not blogs, but books. Oh, how I’ve been reading. This afternoon I suddenly became aware that the usual stack of books on the end table behind the couch are all finished. In the last ten days, I have devoured:

The Bad Mother’s Handbook
by Kate Long

Tread Softly
by Wendy Perriam

Astonishing Splashes of Colour
by Clare Morrell

The Virgin Blue
by Tracy Chevalier

Man and Boy
by Tony Parsons

I skimmed through
Canuck Chicks and Maple Leaf Mamas
by Ann Douglas

I dipped into an old book once again:
Birthday Letters
by Ted Hughes

And I finally finished a book begun a month ago:
The Nurture Assumption
by Judith Rich Harris

A productive few days! Well, productive if these things are judged by internals, as I think they ought to be more often than they are. Only gradually has it come to my consciousness that I’m seeking some input to my well of words, in order to balance out my near-daily output. Input of ideas, perspectives, words. So I’ll just revel in the book-wallowing, and we’ll see what comes of it in another week or so!

© 2006, Mary P

October 25, 2006 Posted by | books | 17 Comments


I was thinking of taking the tots to the museum this morning. Only the two of them, after all.

But it’s raining. Still. It’s rained almost every day this month. Moreover, it’s three degrees (celcius – right around freezing). Rain at three degrees is cold. It stings when it hits. It makes the leaves on the sidewalk slick, slippery, semi-frozen deathtraps.

This month has been just like the last month of pregnancy. You know, the month where if it’s not your back it’s your bladder or maybe those damned false labour contractions, and you Just.Can’t.Sleep, and all your oh-so-helpful friends and relations say, “Oh, ho,ho! This is just getting you ready for those sleepless nights after the baby’s born!” (And isn’t it amazing, all things considered, that those friends and relations still live?)

How is THAT supposed to help anyone? I always thought it was the perfect way to get that poor mother to start looking for a bridge to leap from. If there was any justice, you’d sleep like a – HA! As if. If there was any justice, you’d sleep long and well for the six weeks prior to delivery, so as to have some reserves stored up. That would be justice.

But there isn’t any. Justice. Not in last-trimester sleep, nor in pre-winter rain. No justice, nor sleep, nor outings.

I guess I could say this month’s incessant frigid drizzle has been getting me ready for the long, dark, housebound days of winter.

I could. But that would just be depressing.

© 2006, Mary P

October 24, 2006 Posted by | the dark side | 18 Comments

The Perils of Peri-Toddlerhood

It’s the end of a long day at Mary’s house. Timmy sports a bruise above his right eye. Anna has two: one above her left eye, and one dead centre in her forehead.

They’re at that tumble-prone stage: just leaving the cruising behind, and just starting with those very first steps. When they fall, they lead with their heads, poor mites, just as you would if your head weighed forty or so pounds. (Which it would if we maintained the same proportions to adulthood.)

I’m self-conscious when I take them out, apparent twins with their twinned bruised and battered heads. Thank goodness I can say in perfect accuracy these three essential truths:

“No, they’re not mine.”

“No, they’re not twins.”

And most importantly,

“They got the bumps at home.”


© 2006, Mary P

October 23, 2006 Posted by | outings, the dark side | 8 Comments

Wistful and Wonderful

I’ve been a fan of Lynn Johnston’s comic, For Better or For Worse for twenty years. I’ve watched the children (Michael, Elizabeth, and April) grow up, the parents (Ellie and John) mature from young adulthood to middle age (just like me!). They now have grandchildren. (NOT like me! Because Haley is too young – and old enough to know it. Heh.)

One of many things I love about Lynn Johnson’s work is that it isn’t always funny. Real life happens on this strip, and readers have experienced disappointment, injustice, prejudice, and grief along with the characters. Recently, Ellie’s elderly father has had a stroke, and the family reels to adjust and accommodate and accept. In this strip, the doctor is talking to Ellie’s dad’s wife, Iris. Have a kleenex on hand? If not, go get one.

Sniff. See what I mean? Want to see the rest of the series? The strip above is a link to its original on the website, and you can follow the ‘previous’ links to get to the beginning.

And now, here’s Saturday’s strip (yes, it’s colour; we run colour strips on Saturdays up here):


I love the way Lynn allows these elderly lovers their grace and dignity – and their love. I hope, when I am old, I have someone with me to love me as Iris and Jim love each other. I also hope I have family as caring as the one that supports these people.

Updated to add: At least one reader worried about copyright violation in my reproduction of Lynn’s strips. No worries! I checked out the website, and as long as you provide a link to the FBOFW site and send an email to them with the URL, you’re allowed! No copyright violating on this site. 🙂
© 2006, Mary P

October 22, 2006 Posted by | individuality, random and odd | 17 Comments

Mary P is Not Amused

A lot of you think I’m some sort of paragon of patience who never loses her temper. Any of my family reading this are falling all over themselves laughing. (Stop it, you lot, I can hear you from here!)

But, just so you know I do lose my temper once in a while, go check out today’s Partners in Parenting.

© 2006, Mary P

October 20, 2006 Posted by | parenting, Partners in Parenting | 5 Comments

And Here I Thought I Was the One Raising the Bar

“Come to the table, Malli! Lunchtime!”


Well, I was kind of expecting that. Prior to this, I’ve not made an issue of food. Malli will eat if the food is placed in an accessible spot and she is ignored. Makes me feel a bit like the trainer of a wild and skittish animal. But that’s fine. Until she had gained a level of comfort with me and my home, I was letting her manage her food in whatever way worked. It was a protest, for sure, but a silent one that affected no one but herself. She’s entitled to express her feelings. However, the last few times she’s been here, she’s been perfectly cheerful and relaxed. The time had come to raise the bar.

“You don’t have to eat if you don’t want to. You can just come and keep us company.” I’m not coaxing, I’m stating, but even so, you raise the bar one notch at a time, not ten.


But it is going up the one notch. “Yes, please, Malli.” I take her hand without speaking further, and she comes quietly to the table. She’s somber, but she’s at the table. I place a bowl in front of each child.

“No eat.”

“You don’t have to eat. You can just keep us company.” One notch. Just that one. All I want to do is normalize sitting at the table during meals. If she’s at the table while the rest of us eat, I’m happy. If her no-eating-in-company resolution wavers as a result, I’m even happier, but for today all I’m after is Butt on Bench.

I chat with the children as I help Anna and Timmy with their peas and carrots and chicken. Malli watches us in silence. The aroma of our lunches wafts under her nose. I know she’s hungry; I know she’s being tempted.

“Get down now.” This is Malli of the Iron Will. She may be hungry, she may be tempted, but she’s not giving in without a struggle!

“Not yet, sweetie. We’re not done yet. You’re keeping us company. Tell you what. You can get down when Anna is finished.” From that moment, Malli’s gaze does not waver from Anna. The baby is Malli’s chain to the table. I’m well pleased. Malli doesn’t want to be at the table, but she is sitting quietly without protest, waiting for Anna to set her free. This is the one notch up I was asking. Perfectly acceptable.

Anna finishes the last pea from her bowl.

“All right, Malli. Anna is done. You can get down now.”


(No?? I was fully expecting her to slide down off that bench and take off. ‘No’? Hmmm…. Hope rises within me. Let’s see if I can just manoeuvre this a bit…)

“No? That’s too bad. I wanted to give Anna what’s in your bowl. Can I give Anna some from your bowl?” (Wicked, manipulating me.)

“No. I eat it.” (Ha! Did I call that, or what?)

And she does. All of it. She’s raised that bar two notches!

Four minutes later, she’s eating seconds. (Three notches.)

And then thirds. (Four, five, six.)

And then, because there are no more peas, carrots, or chicken, me not having anticipated a child needing FOUR servings, she has a slice of bread and butter! (Eight, nine, ten.) All at the table. (Eleven, twelve!)

Ladies and gentlemen, Malli has gone for gold! She’s cleared the high bar!! I believe the meal-time sit-out protest is no more.

What a kid. 🙂

© 2006, Mary P

October 19, 2006 Posted by | food, individuality, manners, Mischief, parenting, power struggle | 16 Comments

More than one Way to Skin that Cat

…which is a horrible expression, BTW…

Problem: Darcy consistently gets pee on his underwear when he uses the toilet. I can’t go upstairs with every child every time they need to pee. I’ve taught him how to manage himself, obviously, but to no avail. What to do?

– Take his underwear off before he goes upstairs!

Problem: three children with runny noses require three sets of tissues. I have only two pockets.

– Put a couple of tissues in each of their hoods. (Hoods are useful for any number of storage needs: extra mittens, teeny bags of fruit, dry socks.)

Problem: Timmy will not eat from his own tray. Although each child has the identical array on their tray, food is much better off Anna’s. Period. I place their trays far enough apart that he can’t reach, and he manages to hitch, hitch, hitch his chair closer to hers! So…

– put his food on one end of Anna’s tray!

Problem: Now Anna’s eating from Timmy’s food that sits on her tray!!

– This is a problem? This is not a problem. This is justice.

October 18, 2006 Posted by | food, individuality, Mischief, parenting | 16 Comments

Plagiarism on an Astonishing Scale

No cute kid stories today. Today we take a stand, and make a call for action!

By now most of you have probably heard of Bitacle, a website that has been plagiarizing bloggers wholesale for I have no idea how long. They take your post – no, usually they take ALL your posts – and put them up surrounded by AdSense ads. Someone is making money off MY work – and I’M not. There is something badly wrong with this.

One blog I read said some 14,000 blogs were affected. (I’ve forgotten where I found that information, or I’d link it.) Kittenpie, Mir, Her Bad Mother, Susan, and a tonne of others have all been robbed. At first I couldn’t find any of my writing there, but I accidentally stumbled over one of my recent posts there this weekend. (Are you there? Go poke around a bit ( – no links for them from me!) and see. I tried searching under the ‘aggregates’ tab, but didn’t find me there, either the URL or the blog name. When I clicked on the ‘blogs’ tab while my blog title was still in the search box, there was my most recent post!) Dorks.

Various people have taken steps to stop Bitacle. This post, for example, is clear, helpful, and informative, and has lots of great STOP STEALING MY STUFF badges you can put on your blog, so people will know when they’re reading stolen words. You can also set your feed to show only a snippet of your blog instead of the whole thing, thus forcing people to come to you if they want to read the rest. Mir is obviously up to something, judging by her most recent “please ignore, testing AntiLeech” post (a temporary post which will probably be gone by the time you read this). AntiLeech, hmm?

The site that gave me the clearest idea of a) the problem and b) how to address it is Plagiarism Today. (Who is also, ironically, being plagiarized by Bitacle.)

Here are two posts which give a clear idea of one way to shut Bitacle down. Because even if there are ways to keep B’s greedy claws out of my posts, they’ll just keep doing it to other unsuspecting bloggers. They have to be put out of commission.

A Plan of Action
Plan of Action, part 2

If you wish to write your own letter, a template for the acceptable format can be found here.

And if you have the skills, here’s a terrific, creative response that I just love to bits. You can indulge in a little revenge while you do your part to shoot down Bitacle. One of us isn’t much, but bloggers by their thousands? We’re a force to be reckoned with.

© 2006, Mary P

October 17, 2006 Posted by | random and odd | 23 Comments

Emma shows her Grit

There’s a new post up at PiP, featuring my youngest, Emma. I think you’ll find it entertaining. It’s part of our “True Grit” series.

True Grit, you ask??

True Grit posts are tales from the parenting frontier, stories featuring non-PC, creative, unconventional, and effective parenting techniques. Probably they’re techniques you wouldn’t openly discuss at Mom’s Group for fear of outraged gasps and disapproving looks. But they are techniques that worked for you and your child.

Do you have such a tale? We want to hear it! (If you’re curious, you can find a couple of True Grit examples here and here.)

[Of course, techniques considered abusive will NOT be included. Stories of spanking or any other form of hitting (though it is generally considered non-PC these days) will also not be included because spanking is very conventional, and strikingly lacking in creativity – been used since the dawn of time, don’t you know…]

So, please, email us at partners_in_parenting at yahoo dot com if you have a tale to tell!

© 2006, Mary P

October 16, 2006 Posted by | parenting, Partners in Parenting, power struggle | 1 Comment