It’s Not All Mary Poppins

The Contrarian and Peer Pressure and I have NO IDEA what this was all about

Vegetarian stir-fry for lunch today: tofu, onions, garlic, celery, snow peas. Everyone is enjoying, no sound round the table but diligent chewing.

And chewing.

And chewing.

“Malli?” I address the girl who has been chewing without swallowing for at least four minutes. “Do you like this?”

“Yes.” And she probably does. She’s eaten about half her portion.

“Are you sure? Are you maybe all done?”

“No.” A little drool escapes from the packed mashed tofu in her mouth.

“Shall I take your bowl away?”


“Are you ready to go play?”

“No. I eating.”

All right, then. Clearly she adores this meal, and is merely savouring the flavour. Nigel begins to slide off the bench. His bowl is empty, but he and I both know he’s not quite free to go yet.

“Nigel, is your mouth empty?”

He doesn’t risk speaking, merely nods. Uh-huh. “Open up. Let me have a look.” Mashed tofu and celery greet my gaze. “Nope, you’re not done.” Now, Nigel knows the drill, but I decide to elucidate for Malli’s benefit. Maybe a little vicarious learning will occur! “Swallow that down into your tummy. When your mouth is empty, you can go play!!!” The last two words are said with great enthusiasm.

He proceeds with some cheerful chewing, swallows with gusto, opens his mouth. “All gone!” he chortles, and hops off the bench. Oh, what a good role model!

“Yes, indeed, away you go.” Big smile and a hug for Nigel. Any vicarious learning, or even vicarious motivating happening yet??

Nope. Malli’s taken this all in. She watched, listened, even smiled a tofu-filled smile when Nigel smiled. But. She’s still got that mouth of mash. I’m not quite sure what’s going on here. She’s not evidencing distaste, she’s not upset. She’s just not.swallowing. I’m not going to force her to eat more than she wishes, but she may not leave the table with a mouth full of food. Not that she wants to leave the table, mind you…

A few minutes later, Nigel calls to her from the living room floor.

“Go pway bwox, Mawwi?”

“No, Nydle, I eating.”


She nods and opens her mouth. Yup, it’s still there, all right. Nigel has an agenda, though, and he’s pursuing it.

“You follow you eating, come pway bwox.” (tran: You swallow your food, come play blocks)

“Okay, Nydle.”

There is an audible gulp, she gapes her open – EMPTY!! – mouth in my direction, and scampers off to play blocks.

All’s well that ends well, I guess.

January 19, 2007 Posted by | Mischief, the things they say! | 9 Comments

This ‘n’ that

– Some of you asked what method Anna’s parents used. Turns out “The Ring Cycle” method is modified CIO. They’d go in to soothe, but not pick her up. Last night (day 5) she slept from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. This from six nights ago, in which she woke every ten minutes for hours at a stretch.

– Winter has arrived! After weeks of surreal-ly warm temperatures and no snow, it is currently -25C, with mounds of snow along the sidewalks. All this happened in one big dump o’snow a few days back.

– Nigel (age 23 months) keeps telling me when he’s pooping. Time to start toilet training? Early for a boy, but he’s showing the signs, so I may give it a go. Given the dynamic that exists between him and his parents – the same one that exists with older brother and parents – I think I’ll start the process here first. (With older brother, after much parental struggling, we decided they’d just put him in diapers at home while I continued with the training. When he’d come far enough along that he was competant, and proud of his competancy, they could start at home. By then he’d be out of the Potty Power Struggle, and be wanting to show off his skills at home, we figured. We were right.) I may try Nigel next week, see if there’s any likelihood of success.

– Books! I’ve forgotten all about books! For days! Okay, here’s a favourite, from when Haley was a tot. It’s by Deborah King.

The illustrations are gorgeous, done in watercolour and pencil crayon. The text is sparse and evocative. The whole book is luscious. I’ve read it countless times; I’ll read it countless more. Just lovely!

“I am a little grey cat called Cloudy.

I am the colour of thunder and rain.”


Aren’t they pretty? My pictures aren’t the best, but I hope they give the impression.


Yes, I know only the third thumbnail pops up to full-size. This is Mary getting used to WordPress. I could also fix it, but this is Mary being lazy.

January 17, 2007 Posted by | books, random and odd | 9 Comments


Hello, and welcome!

I moved here over the weekend, and I’m still a little disorganized. There’s the blogroll to do, I haven’t even begun with the categories, and I’m not sure that I like the colour scheme, but all in good time.  I think I’ll like it here, though – hope you do, too!


January 15, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 27 Comments

Beginning of a Happy Ending

Anna’s parents were at their wits’ end. Sweet and smiley Anna, the chubby, chuckly baby? She does. not. sleep. Which means that during the day, sweet and smiley Anna has a dual personality: chuckly right after a nap, and then a steady deterioration into a cranky, thin-skinned grump. Well, that’s what I see during the days. In the evenings and all night long, all her poor parents get is the Demon Child version.

We’d had several conversations about it, with me doing a lot of listening and making a suggestion or an observation here and there. I’ve suggested books that seemed to be in keeping with the parents’ gentle approach, but instead of getting better, it was getting worse. From four or five wakings a night, they were entering phases where she would lay down, then stand and cry every ten minutes, for a couple of hours at a stretch. When I asked how they were faring with the books I’d suggested, mom just sort of wilted.

“I’m too tired to read an entire book. Could you just make me some kind of cheat sheet?”

So I did. Four books – Weissbluth, Pantley, Ferber, and Karp – condensed into six pages. I gave it to her last week. Took them a week to get through those six pages, because they really are REALLY tired, but on Friday mom declared,

“Okay. Tonight we start the Sleep Project. Wish us luck!” I did, sincerely. I thought about them at intervals all weekend – particularly since I wasn’t sure which method they’d opted for! Curiosity was mixed in equal parts with empathy. I almost called at a couple of points, but didn’t.

This morning, dad drops off the girl.

“We just wanted to thank you for those pages,” he says. “She had a fabulous night last night.”

“So it worked?” I asked.

“Yes, indeed. It was like Wagner’s Ring Cycle on Friday and Saturday, though.”

“Long and loud?”

“Long and loud, with very few intermissions.” He chuckles his laid-back, west-coast chortle.

“And last night?”

“And last night, she only woke once – at three, and only briefly.” The chuckle is replaced by a grin.

“Well done! Sounds like you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Today, Anna did not need a morning nap. She always needs a morning nap! She’s sleeping now (the afternoon) after snuggling down into her bed with a sigh of contentment. She’s on her way!

The Ring Cycle. Heh.

January 15, 2007 Posted by | parenting, sleep | 9 Comments

Cleanliness is Next to… Of neat freaks and casual mommas…

I am not very concerned with externals. I listen to other mommies… “I left the child with dad, and when I came back, she was wearing odd socks… “Can you believe he took him out in a plaid shirt and striped pants??… “It never fails. If I let dad take her to school, she’ll be wearing the same shirt from yesterday!” (Note how it’s almost always dads who get skewered.) I listen and I just can’t imagine spending all the energy worrying about this stuff. Um, unless it’s a wedding or great-gramma’s 90th birthday, does it really matter?

A while back, when I told a mother that I’d given her son a bath, responded with “Well, if you thought he needed a bath, he must’ve been filthy!”

So, I’m at the casual end of this spectrum. Most moms fall in the middle – they fret a little about tidiness and matching socks and colour-coordination, but they don’t go nuts with it. Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum, the Manic Mommies, the Queens of Clean…

Some years ago, I supervised a program for 4 to 6 year-olds, and typical for the age, the kids were exuberant, good-tempered, loud — and often grubby. Except for two children. Little Sofia was the picture of sweet, pink-and-white girlhood. She always wore a dress, always made of some pale and gauzy fabric. Always the white tights. Always the shiny black mary janes.

Poor Sofia typically sat out through most of activities, her huge brown eyes wistful but resigned. She could read, do puzzles, colour, and sing. She knew better than risk a drop of paint on her dress. Were this to occur, Outraged Mother would appear, shooting flame, the next day.

“Do you know how much that dress cost?” she would roar. When it was suggested that perhaps such valuable items shouldn’t be worn for play, she merely snorted. We were to Keep The Child Clean.

This pattern was well-established when I arrived. Apparently, artist smocks had been attempted, but they were not up to the job of keeping Sofia clean in the sandbox. Previous supervisors had caved to the furor of the Mother. My solution was simple: a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Sofia was changed the moment she arrived in our program, and changed back again ten minutes before Mother was due. We were never caught out – strange how we all assumed Mother would disapprove – and I can only assume Sofia was canny enough not to mention it at home.

The other child was a boy. He arrived sensibly attired in jeans and t-shirt. He was allowed to play, but he was expected to be Clean when his mother appeared. We did our best: washed his hands and face, brushed his hair before Immaculate Momma appeared. Appeared and Inspected. She would stand back a couple of steps before the boy was allowed to approach. No spontaneous hugs allowed here! She would scan him from top to toe. Generally our efforts passed muster, and she would open her arms to him. Occasionally, she would feel compelled to brush his hair or rub a speck of something from his cheek or tuck his shirt into his pants before doling out the Maternal Affection.

Then there was the day when the head-to-toe scan went well, the hair and clothes check passed, the face was all right, but, but… Her eyes narrowed.

“His nose needs wiping!” she declared, glaring at his primary worker. The worker was justifiably baffled.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see anything.”

Immaculate Momma took her son’s chin in her hand and tipped the boy’s head back. “There! Can’t you SEE it?”

The poor girl! Astonishment struggled with fury, and fury won.

“Mrs. Immaculate.” The words spat out from between clenched teeth. “If I can’t see it from the front, it’s not my problem. I do not get paid NEARLY enough to start picking your son’s nose for you.”

Takes all kinds…
© 2006, Mary P

January 12, 2007 Posted by | parenting, parents, the dark side | 18 Comments

Keystone Kids

Out with The Stroller again. Malli has walked the mile to the mall, and now gets to ride in the front seat of the stroller, while Nigel walks alongside. We create our usual stir. This time we pass through a crowd of seniors which includes a couple of class clowns.

“You sure you got them all?” one calls.

“One-two-three-four! Yup. All accounted for!” I grin at the gents, and slow the stroller so they can see the tots. Encouraged, one bustles around to the front of the stroller and makes as if to sit.

“Five!” he calls.

“Careful,” I warn. “That one in front? She bites.”

He makes a big deal of leaping forward, clasping his hands to his bottom. All his buddies on the bench chortle. At almost three, Malli understands slapstick, and shrieks with laughter at the grampa and his look of mock-terror. The babies in behind don’t get the joke, but respond to her merriment, and soon the air is filled with toddler shrieks, baby giggles and the husky chortles of old men.

Good times.

© 2006, Mary P

January 11, 2007 Posted by | Mischief, our adoring public, socializing | 6 Comments

All Creatures Great and Small

Too cold for the park today; we’ve been to the library already this week, so it’s the coffee shop! One baby on my lap, two in high chairs, Nigel in a big-people chair all by himself, because he is a Big Boy. One latte, four waters, three bananas, and 25 minutes later, we leave. The woman at the next table, a rather severe woman in a very tailored suit, who had greeted our arrival with a dubious stare over the screen of her laptop, was smiling and cooing at the babies by the time we left. When I began stuffing small hands into mittens, she gave a coo of disappointment.

“Oh, are you leaving so soon?”

A good morning’s outing.

– – – – – – – – –

For some light-hearted reading, one of my long-time favourites is James Herriot, author of a series of wonderful, semi-autobiographical books about his life as a veterinarian in the north of England in the thirties and forties. Mostly laugh out loud stories, some that will raise a lump in your throat, I’ve read and reread these books countless times – and then read them to my children. The chapters make great bedtime reading for children six and up, I find. Great stuff!

© 2007 Mary P

January 10, 2007 Posted by | books, our adoring public, socializing | 9 Comments

Rock On!

“You need to go potty? Yay, let’s go potty!”

Justin is my grand-nephew (I think that’s it) – my sister’s grandchild. He’s interested in and reasonably co-operative with the potty venture, but what he lacks is Staying Power.

“Potty!” he’ll yodel, and plonk his butt down. Six wriggly seconds later, he’s up again. There’s no convincing him that he needs to sit still and reeelaaaax in order for anything to happen.

He sits, he pops up, he looks in.

“No in potty!”

“Well, no, hon. You have to wait a little. You have to give it time to come out.” My sister is encouraging and patient.

He sits, he pops up, he looks in. She’s encouraging and patient and completely ineffective. What to do?

“Let’s read a book, Justy.”

“Okay!” Justy hauls up his britches and heads for the couch. What? You want me to sit there and read? Everyone knows you read while snuggled on the couch or in bed. You do NOT read with your bare butt hanging over a hole!

My sister bemoans this over the phone. “There’s no point in using candies. It’ll take him three seconds to eat a Smartie, and then he’ll be up again. If he knows there’s a Smartie possibility, he can’t sit still, so I can’t even use it to brib – er, motivate.”

Two days later, Justin’s teenage aunt, who had received an iPod for Christmas, comes giggling into the kitchen.

“Look, mom!” she giggles. “Justin likes to listen to my music!”

Sure enough, there’s the little man head bopping, hands clapping to music only he can hear. Head bopping, hands clapping, and… sitting down.

Gramma pops across the kitchen, pops out an ear bud.

“You listening to music, baby?”

“Yeah! Singin’!”

“You want to listen to more music?”

“Yeah! Singin’!”

“Well. Tell you what. Whenever you want to sit on the potty, you can listen to music!!”

“So that’s that.” My sister chortles over the phone. “Now he’ll sit for as long as it takes, as long as he can have the iPod. Rock on, Potty Boy!”

Some days, parenting can be a breeze: you just have to keep your eyes open to the possibilities.

© 2006, Mary P

January 9, 2007 Posted by | parenting, potty tales | 14 Comments

Five Minutes of Conversation on A Single Second’s Worth of Vocabulary: the Babies Begin the Odyssey of Speech


“Oh, Emily, that’s not your book. That’s Timmy’s book. Here, you can have a book of your own. Here’s your book.”

Anna looks up. “Buh!”

“Book! Good for you, Anna! Emily and Timmy have a book. Book. Does Anna want a book?”


“All right. Here’s your book.”

Timmy looks over with interest. “Buh!”

“Book! Atta boy! Yes, Now Anna has a book, too.”

Anna waves hers perilously close to Emily’s head. “Buh!”

“How about that! You can all say ‘book’! Book!” We share delighted smiles. (Though really, should I be surprised that this is one of their first words at Mary’s house?) Emily laughs out loud. The babies are quivering with the joy of being able to say a word and be understood. There are few thrills like it. Me, I’m awash in the cuteness of my little “buh” triplets. We share a moment of joyfulness.

“Anna has a book. Timmy has a book.”

Not to be left out, Emily adds her two cents. “Buh!”

“Yes, Emily has a book, too. There are three books now. One, two, three.”


Heh, three babies, one word. “Look at all the books. A blue book, another blue book, and a yellow book.”


“Are you all reading your books?”


“Lots of lovely books.”


Well, I think I’ve milked this for all its conversation potential. Until their vocabularies expand a bit, this will be what passes for small talk at Mary’s.


© 2006, Mary P

January 8, 2007 Posted by | books, the things they say! | 5 Comments

SaBloBoMo, my not-quite-daily book of the day continues: the mother tongue

I love Bill Bryson.

This will undoubtedly come as a surprise to him, but he strikes me as the kind of man who could manage the shock.

I’ve read a bunch of his books, starting with my still-favourite, “Notes from a Small Island”, a book which had me crying with laughter at points, and which started my mild Bryson addiction. Today’s book, the mother tongue, english and how it got that way, is a book I have read so many times that my sweetie (Stephen, not Bill) finally buckled down and bought it for me at Christmas. (On a budget as snug as ours, one does not buy books willy-nilly.)

My own copy! That I can write in!!

This book is so full of tidbits that’s it’s impossible to write a brief summary. Reading it of an evening turns me into that most annoying of spouses, the one who, when all are quietly immersed in their books, suddenly ruptures the peaceful air with raucous cackles and demands, “Oh! Listen to THIS!”

The blurb in the back cover actually says it well:

With…wit and…insight, bestselling author Bill Bryson…explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience, and sheer fun of the Englsh language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can’t) to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world’s largest growth industries.

Turns out a lot of the oddities of our complex and idiosyncratic language aren’t random – they have a reason.

Our weird spelling? Blame the printing press. With its advent into England, spelling, which had prior to that been entirely a matter of personal choice, became much more standardized. “Unluckily for us,” Bryson notes, this occurred

just at the time when the language was undergoing one of those great phonetic seizures that periodically unsettle any tongue. The result is that we have today in English a body of spellings that, for the most part, faithfully reflect the pronunciations of people living 400 years ago. In Chaucer’s day, the k was still pronounced in words like knee and know. Knight would have sounded (more or less) like “kuh-nee-guh-tuh”, with every letter enunciated.

(My Middle English prof., speaker of some seven languages and reader of even more, gave us a more Germanic pronunciation – “kuh-nicht”, with the “ch” in there being pronounced as the Germans do, an abrasive sound well back in the throat. The sound some of my son’s less desirable agemates make when preparing to befoul city sidewalks…)

Hey, listen to this. Did you know that the letter cluster ough can be pronounced eight ways?* (Though three of them are largely irrelevant to North Americans, there are still officially eight in the language.)

Oh, and have you heard of the lost word “ugsome” – isn’t it great? Yes, it means horrible. What else could it mean? (But you can’t use it to describe the contents of your baby’s diapers – we have a word for that: noisesome, which, oddly, has nothing to do with sound. Bet Bill knows why!)

Did you know that English is the only language that has enough synonyms to warrant a Thesaurus? (Wait, now I can’t find it in the book. I’m sure it’s in here. Where did I read that?)

Oh, and that the OED spells “Shakespeare” as “Shakspere”, though it “grudgingly acknowledges that the commonest spelling “‘is perh. Shakespeare.’ (To which we might add, it cert. is.)”

What do the surnames Ferrier, Ferraro, Herrero, Kovacs, and Kuznetov have in common?**

Oh, listen to this!!

It is a strange and little-noted idiosyncrasy of our tongue [which I have noted, as it happens] that when we wish to express extreme fury we entreat the object of our rage to undertake an anatimical impossibility or, stranger still, to engage in the one activity that is bound to give him more pleasure than almost anything else. Can there be, when you think about it, a more improbably sentiment than, “Get fucked!” We might as well snarl, “Make a lot of money!”

Ha! How about this — what? Oh, okay. I’ll stop now.

But really, it’s a great read. Bound to educate and entertain you while irritating all within radius of your snickering and exclaiming. Great fun!

*though, through, thought, tough, thorough; additionally hiccough (hiccup, over here), plough (mostly plow), and lough (“an Irish-English word for lake or loch, pronounced roughly as the latter”).

**they all mean Smith. (I didn’t include the German Schmidt – that would’ve made it too easy!)
© 2006, Mary P

January 7, 2007 Posted by | books, memes and quizzes | 10 Comments