It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Mary’s Talking Sex Again…

This time, with parents of teens. You can comment there, if you’re registered (which takes about 15 seconds), or you can comment here, but do let me know what you think!

July 30, 2007 Posted by | controversy, my kids, parenting, sex | 17 Comments

Interview Question Number 4: Societal Parenting Messages, Good and Bad

Question 4 in the Interview Meme, which follows questions 1, 2, and 3!

4. What does our society do well with respect to parenting? What does it do poorly? Phrased another way, which societal messages would parents do well to absorb, and which ones should they resist?

For me, the critical message to reject is the notion that children are fragile, that any parenting action could scar your child for life, that you, the parent, are 100% culpable for any negative emotional or relational circumstance your child may experience, either now or in his/her adulthood.

We put way, way, waaaaay too much burden upon ourselves by accepting this idea. Yes, we do our best for our children. Yes, we try to ensure they are capable of loving, mutually beneficial personal relationships, fulfilling career relationships, and general capability in life. But is all this really going to be threatened because we lost our temper one afternoon when they were three? Or decided to use CIO for three weeks when they were 8 months old? Or didn’t breastfeed? Or chose Preschool A over Preschool B – or didn’t send them to preschool at all? Or were impatient with the Terrible Twos or the Hysterical Thirteens? Or were, just, generally, slightly less than perfect?

(Hint: No.)

There are others: I have issues with messages that suggest that the multitude of changes you experience after the birth of a child are a) unnecessary and b) completely within your control if you “just” organized yourself better (and, thus c) merest self-indulgence).

I don’t like the way mothers are set against one another: working-for-pay vs. working-for-free. I certainly don’t like the way so many mothers are willing to choose a side and leap into the fray which only demeans all mothers. (The “Mommy Wars” manage to both bore me witless and enrage me beyond belief, all at the same time.)

I don’t like the way we set children as the fulcrum of the family. That they are the heart of it, I have no doubt. That is as it should be. But that everything should pivot on the child and his/her needs, with everyone else taking second place? And that to balance your child’s needs against your own – and sometimes let your child’s take second place – is somehow a parental failure? I completely reject this one.

Okay. I’ll stop here, and move on to the positive messages society provides us.
Well, there’s — but then again…
Okay, what about — well, perhaps, but then…
Well, then. I am rather surprised to realize how much difficulty I’m having with this one. What are useful societal messages for parents? Every possible positive I’ve come up with, I’ve immediately seen so many contradictory corollaries, I end up discarding it as a possibility.

Obviously, I need help with this question! Any takers? What do YOU think? What are some positive, useful messages our society gives us? What are the negative, unhelpful ones?

July 29, 2007 Posted by | controversy, memes and quizzes, parenting, peer pressure | 11 Comments

Black Days in July

Once again, for your entertainments and mine, we shall eavesdrop on the tots. What’s going on in their funny little minds innocent little worlds today?

George (he’s five now, remember): “It was a black day in July, Nigel.”
Nigel (two and a half): A black day!
George: Yes, and the people were afraid and they all stayed inside.
Nigel: Evee-buddy was afraid. Inside the house.
George: A black day in July.

Isn’t it fascinating when they do this? He’s got a piece of something, for sure, but only a tantalizing bit of it. Not enough to give a curious adult the necessary context. But “black day in July”? Has to be a line from a song or a poem. George may not be able to give me the context, but I”ll bet Mr. Google can. Clickety-tappity-tap. I commune with my laptop on the dining table.

George, meantime, has moved across the kitchen to the Sandra Boynton calendar hanging on the fridge.

(Ooo, got it! It is a song, a song which commemorates a particular historical event.)

“The first Black Day in July was on a Tuesday,” says George, “and the second was on another Tuesday, and then on a Sunday. Then there is one on a Friday and another Sunday.” Well done, George! He knows this is July, and clearly he can read the days on the calendar.

Nigel: How do you know?
George: The calendar says so.

My Sandra Boynton calendar? Sandra Boynton, reknowned for cute hippos and fuzzy kitties, has created a month littered with Black Days?

“And Nigel, you better be careful on the Black Days in July, because there was a riot. There was a riot and people were afraid to go out.”

“A riot.”

“Yes. Lots of fighting and throwing things and being bad and scared.”

George’s face lights up. He has inspired himself. He picks up a block from the bin in the kitchen. (The calendar is littered with Black Days; my home is littered with toys. Are we surprised?)

“Hey, Nigel!! Want to play riot?!?!??”

Eek. Let’s just nip that Very Bad Idea in the bud, shall we? I stroll into the kitchen. Oh, so casually. George leaps away from Nigel, drops the block and takes a car from the parking garage. (Which is also in the kitchen. On the other side as the blocks, beside the craft cabinet.)

“Want to play cars, Nigel?” The very picture of innocence. (Didn’t I tell you he was smart?)

Mary, meantime, is perusing the calendar – and what do you know! There are “black days” in July. Seven of them, in fact!

Wanna see???
Just like he said: Sunday, Friday, and Sunday.

July 27, 2007 Posted by | commemoration, George, socializing, the things they say! | 3 Comments

Thank you!

I won! How about that? Apart from a couple of door prizes along the way, I can’t recall ever, in my life, having won a contest. And all because of you.
Big hugs to all.
Thank you!

(And tomorrow I will post what I was planning for today, but didn’t get finished. Promise.)

July 26, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Caught your attention? And it’s not just a gimmick! I really HAVE written an article about sex, only not here.

Work it, Mom! hosted an essay contest on the topic of keeping the spark in your marriage, and I submitted a response. Moreover, there’s the possibility of a PRIZE for me!! If I win, of course.

And how do I win? By having lots and lots and lots of YOU GUYS go over there and VOTE FOR ME.

So please, follow this link, read, (laugh, I hope), and then vote, vote, vote.

July 25, 2007 Posted by | sex | 3 Comments

Boys will be Boys. Darn it.

“Mary? Mary, the toy-yet is broken.”

These are not words to lift a caregiver’s heart. “Broken? What do you mean, broken?” But of course, I’m already on my way, fearing the worse. Optimist that I am, I’m doing a mental silver lining check as I pound up the stairs*: I don’t hear running water. I haven’t heard a crash or a thud, either. Both good. But broken?

The girl has been upstairs rather longer than usual. Could she have done something? But she’s a fine-boned three-year-old and it’s a hulking, thirty-year-old toilet. They built things to LAST back then. (Which is unfortunate, given that it’s robin’s-egg-blue…) Can’t see it, somehow.

I arrive in the bathroom to see the “broken” toilet. Ah.

When Malli uses the toilet, she puts a small padded toilet ring, a cushy, brightly-patterned mini-seat atop the full-size seat. This gives her a little added security, lets her relax enough for anything to happen, and ensures that cute little tush doesn’t get an unexpected baptism.

Malli has attempted to place the toilet ring over the bowl, but it sits oddly askew. Thank the lord she hasn’t tried to sit on that thing, for it and she would surely have ended up in the water. The problem?

The seat is up. I know the culprit: 5-year-old George, a Big Boy. Surely he’s standing to pee these days, and just as surely has absorbed the Big Boy Bad Habit of leaving the seat up.


“See? It broken.”

“It’s not broken, lovie. The seat just isn’t where it should be.” I lift the seat down, place the ring in place, and…

Now I hear water running.

“I did a peepee.”

She surely did. She stands in an ever-increasing puddle, her Snow White panties in a sodden knot at her knees, her frilly pink socks wilting badly. Thankfully her gorgeous dress (Queen of the Beautiful Summer Playdress is Malli) is unpiddled. It is the work of moments to clean her, mop the floor. A quick trip down and back up again** with fresh panties and socks, a quick trip to the basement*** to toss the wet ones into the laundry that’s currently chugging away. (Yes, I do sometimes launder the kids clothes. Because I’m a Very Nice Caregiver.)

The wonder is, that with two brothers and a father in her house, Malli has not seen this before… Could they be better socialized than George? (Knowing what I do of the juvenile male populations of both households, I don’t believe this for a second.) Perhaps the females in Malli’s house have their own bathroom? That’s more believable. A matter of survival…

Downstairs, I explain to George.

“When you finish peeing, you must put the seat down.”

He looks baffled (true male that he is) so I explain. “When you poop, you need to sit. When girls pee and poop, they need to sit. So, most of the time, the seat needs to be down. Please remember to put it down, okay?”

He nods. Generally, when presented with the rationale for a request, George is amenable. He’s also very smart, and conscientious to boot, and so rarely needs a reminder. Which is why I’m surprised later that afternoon when Malli calls from upstairs.

“Mary, the toy-yet won’t work!”

Up I race again.**** Once again Malli stands at the ready, Sesame Street undergarments at her knees, toilet ring once more sitting askew atop — the lid of the toilet.

I told you he was conscientious.

I told him “put the seat down”, he put the seat down. AND the lid. For good measure? Just to be sure? Because he doesn’t know the vocabulary?

I put the lid up, the seat down, the toilet ring in place…

and I hear water running.

*Trip #1, 15 steps
** Trips 2 and 3, 30 steps
***Trips 4, 15 steps to main level, and 5, 36 steps to basement and back to main level
****Trip 6, 15 steps.
This does not include the 15 other trips I make upstairs and back in a day. It is sheerest injustice that my thighs and backside are anything less than iron-hard and wobble-free. It truly is.

July 24, 2007 Posted by | Malli, potty tales, socializing | 14 Comments

Interview Question Number 3: Mary’s Parenting Mistakes

The third installment of the Interview Meme. You can find the previous two questions here (#1), and here (#2).

3. Most people who read your blog end up, like me, very impressed by your parenting (caregiving) skills. But ‘fess up, it ain’t all Mary Poppins! Share one of your mistakes with us! When you first started parenting, what were you doing that causes the more experienced, wiser version of MaryP to shake her head disapprovingly and mutter “tsk tsk”?

I do, you know. “Tsk, tsk” my younger self. Which is not to say I think I did a bad job. I rather think I did a great job, and my kids bear that out. However, back in the early days, I was…
I was…

I was an Earnest Mommy.

Yes, indeed. Nowadays I mock them, gently. Once, I was one.

Let me first say that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being an Earnest Mommy. Most first-time mothers are Earnest Mommies, and they do, for all their over-analysis, angst, and intensity, a fine job. (YES, of course you do!) However, Earnest Mommy-ing does lend itself to certain parental weaknesses…

Now, I wasn’t an out-of-control Earnest Mommy. My children were never allowed to treat me with disrespect, scream in my face or hit me, dictate their own bedtimes, or misbehave in coffee shops.


See this fridge magnet? Which I now have on my fridge because it makes me grin, every time?


Back in the early days, I would not have understood this. It would only have confused, or perhaps annoyed, me. It would have been inexplicable. Aren’t mothers supposed to do all they can for their children? Isn’t it right and appropriate that a child can know s/he can rely on their parents?

Now I know better. Yes, I do my best, but I am not the beginning and end of my child’s world. Their every twitch and rustle does not take its root in me. Their decisions are their own, not mine.

In the early days, I made it my responsibility to see that my children were happy.

So, when my first came home from school upset at a certain social interaction or dynamic, I would work with her, sorting it out, analysing it, considering the best possible response(s). I might – though not often, even then – meet with the teacher or even phone the parents of the other children. But mostly, when working it through with my daughter, I would not leave off until she was happy. If I put forth several possible solutions, and she, in her disgruntlement, dismissed each and every one, I’d keep going, brain-storming, encouraging, persisting, probably, now that I consider it from this distance, essentially badgering her (in the kindest and best-of-intentioned ways), until she would accept one of the ideas (or, unlikely as it might be in a mindset of dismissal, suggest an idea of her own) and work with me.

The result? I became responsible, not only to be a resource to her in these situations, but for her happiness.


When you make yourself responsible for your child’s happiness, you take this responsibility from your child. Now when the child is upset or disgruntled, it’s up to you, the parent, to fix it. It becomes your fault. An impossible situation, really, because no one, no matter how much they love, cherish, respect, admire – whatever – another person, no one can make another person happy.

As a result of my Earnest Mommy refusing-to-release till she was content, when she was unhappy, I became the source of that feeling. Of course, I wasn’t (well, not generally!), but we both worked on the assumption that until Haley was happy, my work wasn’t finished. It made for a lot of dissatisfaction, resentfulness, and, ironically, unhappiness. (Well. Let me clarify: Haley’s childhood was essentially happy, and the conflicts we had in her adolescence would have made me the envy of many of her peer’s parents – but the principle holds. This assumption of ours reduced her experience happiness/satisfaction rather than enhanced it.)

Nowadays, I will listen, I will help the child sort it out, examine the dynamic, analyze what’s happening. Because, hey, I’ve been alive for 24/28/32 more years than you, kid, thus I have more general life experience, and a perspective you may lack. I provide a different outlook, and suggest myself as a resource. I will try to help the child evolve responses. But should the child resist…

“All right, then. I’ll leave it with you, then. You can let me know if you want to talk about this later.” (Sometimes, I confess, if the resistance has been expressed with sufficient snark, I will say this in a rather snarky tone of voice myself. Because I am human, and the older they get, the more one expects an adult-level response from them.) But I don’t respond with snark often, because most of the time, unless they’ve been offensive, I’m not offended. I’ve just know these days, that, bottom line, this is my child’s problem. If they wish my assistance, they can treat me and my ideas with respect. If they don’t wish my assistance – or, if they’re responding to it with resistance, hostility and/or disrespect – I don’t give it. Simple.

(I’m talking more about teens than toddlers here, but even with toddlers, you can – I certainly do – say “You may be angry, but you may not scream/hit/kick/bite. When you can use your calm voice/stop hitting, I can help you some more.”)

And thus they learn that a) I trust them to solve their problems/make their own decisions, b) I think they’ve capable of doing this without me, and c) their happiness is their responsibility. I will probably follow up in a day or two – “How did it go?” – but I don’t feel I must be part of the process through to its completion.

Emma appeared part-way through the writing of this. Sat on the porch railing and stared at me as I tried to compose my next pithy sentence. When I finally deigned to look at her, she came out with the completely predictable, “I’m bored.” I lifted my chin, grinned at her, and said, “Not my responsibility.” “Ooooo”, she says, pointing a finger at me and made a hissing sound, grins, and vanishes inside the house. Two minutes later, she’s on her way to a friend’s. Perfect!

She’s happy. I’m happy.

July 21, 2007 Posted by | memes and quizzes, parenting | 11 Comments

The solution is within you[r hand]

“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”

We are in a coffee shop. Emma has a blueberry Italian soda, I have a calorie-rich chiller, and the tots are sharing a couple of enormous oatmeal raisin cookies between them.

“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”

Anna wants a cookie. She is not loud, but she is, er, focussed. Emma, who is sitting beside her, responds.

“Anna, you have a cookie.” Sure enough, clenched in one chubby fist is a chubby-fist-sized chunk of squashed cookie. The other hand points with increasing desperation at the plate with the cookies in the centre of the table.

“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”

“Anna, baby, look in your hand.” Anna scarcely hears, and certainly doesn’t register. She doesn’t need to look in her HAND. Look at that PLATE! Look at those COOKIECOOKIECOOKIESCOOKIES!!!

“Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”

“Anna. Anna – Look. In. Your. Hand.” Emma taps Anna’s fist. Anna drops her gaze from the plate of cookies to…

Oh! Well, would you look at that?! There’s a cookie in my hand!!!

Silence descends.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | food, outings, the cuteness! | 3 Comments

Optimism for Sale

One of the perks of blogging – apart from you, all my wonderful readers and commenters – is the attention you sometimes garner from publishing types. Publishing types who then send you books. Free books!!

(For some reason, most of the books I’ve been offered have been self-help books. Should I be concerned? Is the Universe trying to tell me something? If it is, I’ve read enough of these books to know the proper response: be open to the Guidance of the Universe.)

Thus, this semi-regular influx of Improving Literature has helped me create a highly satisfactory morning routine. Each day, in the quiet space I preserve for myself by getting up an hour or two before everyone else in the house, I zip through my morning housework routine then make myself a cup of tea and retreat to the front porch with a notebook, pen, and a book, often a self-help book.

Now, you may be of the percentage of the population that holds the whole self-help industry in some suspicion, giving it a long, lean, dubious look before passing on. That’s okay. Some days I’m in that camp, too, but, for reasons I’d never before stopped to consider, I’ve always found the idea of self-help books appealing. Now that I have them arriving in my mailbox, little surprise packages of how-to and you-can-do-it, I’ve grown to understand their appeal – their appeal to me, at any rate.

Self-help books, you see, trade in optimism. In hope. Sure, your life may not be all you desire right now, but look what you could have! See? It’s all possible!

And you know what? I think they’re on to something. Now, stop being cynical. I’m not talking about the millions that are made from selling these books and seminars and DVDs and workshops and, and, and…

Can we all, every one of us, be slim, healthy and long-lived, be in perfect relationships and have beautiful, obedient children, our dream home, and the perfect job? Oh, and rich beyond the dreams of avarice, of course. All of us? You know, something tells me that it just may not be feasible for the every person on our weary old planet to achieve such heights.

And yet…

Just because we all can’t have it all (and we can’t), doesn’t mean we can’t each improve our lot in meaningful, permanent ways. And why shouldn’t we try? In fact, I’d turn that around: we should try. I think it’s a basic human drive. We need to try. Consider how much depression and/or dissatisfaction with life stems from the feeling that we’re not improving, that we’re stuck in a rut, that nothing will change. Consider how much satisfaction comes from tweaking your life, from identifying goals and striving towards them.

No two people will have the same sets of goals. For me, relationships, home and career feature high in my pantheon of desires; great wealth is low on the list, and fame doesn’t even feature. Someone else’s will be quite different, may include things I’ve never considered. Whatever our goals and desire, we all have them, and we’ve all felt frustrated by things that just don’t change.

Self-help books? They offer a leg-up out of that rut, the possibility of change, the hope of a brighter, more fulfilling future.

The books can’t change you, of course. You do that for yourself. Or not. But they can offer guidance, a fresh perspective, ideas, a goal, a plan of attack, or a strategy, a little encouragement, and maybe even a hint of inspiration.

Not so shabby for $19.95.

July 19, 2007 Posted by | books, health and safety | 4 Comments

Three Minutes of Malli, Or, Why I love Three-year-olds

(A little prior information is necessary here. Malli is the much-doted-upon youngest child of three. She has two older siblings, about 7 and 10 years old. Both of them brothers.)

Malli: Mike [a neighbour] is the boss.

Mary: Who is, lovey?

Malli: Mike. He’s the boss.

Mary: Well, maybe he’s the boss at his house. [Though I think his wife might have a word or two on the subject..] Who’s the boss here?

Malli: You are.

[Heh. Good answer, kiddo! She’s so smart.]

Malli: My sister has a nice house.

Mary: [Rule of thumb with random proclamations in total defiance of all known reality: Don’t Quibble. You find out more by going with the flow.] She does?

Malli: Uh-huh. A nice house that’s big enough for me. It’s a big enough house. It’s a little house. I have a sister now. Her house is under a bridge. I live in down the bridge with my sister. I do. I do. I do. I do, Mary, I do. (All this repetition is more in the order of a meditative chant than anything else.)

And you know? I did give my sister that new house today. I did. My sister has a pink house. But it’s not too big, it’s nice and smaller.

Mary: [okay, I have to break in and probe for details.] When did you get your sister?

Malli: I got my sister at my doctors, to my mommy. I taked her to the doctors. I took my sister to the doctors. We go to a walk, but we… and we go to the doctors. And I will going to take care of her. She has a nice house, a small house under the bridge, and we live in the house together, today. Today. Today. Today.

My sister have a band-aid at her house. My sister’s name is Inna. She is name is Inna. [ Or is it Enna? I’m not sure.] And I take her to the doctors, then the mommy says, “Okay. You can gonna take care of her.” And I am gonna take care of her. I – you and me – hold her hand like walking like that. No holding no hands walking by herself, that is not safe. We like to hold hands.

And we have a nice house. A little house. A pink house. It is across the street. An easy-builder house across the street.

And my sister soon make too much noise and crying and I just heared that noise and I just must shoot her.

Mary: [Rule of thumb flies out the window with the shock.] Shoot her?!?

Malli: Yes, like Anna. I must just shoot her for her to stop crying.

Mary: [weak with relief] Oh! She needs a soother like Anna?

Malli: Yes, just a shoot her. It’s a silly one, but a silly sister might need a shoot her for her to be happy and quiet– Mary, I think Samantha is awake.

Mary: Samantha? Who’s Samantha?

Malli: Yes, Samantha inna bedroom by when I go to the baffroom.

Mary: That’s not Samantha. That’s Ki-woon.

Malli: Ki-woon, yes.

Mary: I guess I should put the computer away now, huh?

Malli: Yes, you should close the ‘puter and go help Ki-woon come downstairs. He is talking to you and needs to see you and talk to you.

Mary: All right, lovey. Let’s get Ki-woon.

July 17, 2007 Posted by | individuality, Malli, the things they say! | 7 Comments