It’s Not All Mary Poppins

The Survey Says…

Thanks to everyone who responded to my quick survey the other day.

Okay, now that the results are in, I can let you know why I was asking…

I am reading a fascinating book by Susan Maushart called The Mask of Motherhood. Its subtitle is telling: “How becoming a Mother changes Everything and Why We Pretend It Doesn’t”. (We do?)

I am enjoying this book enormously. I am not, not by a long chalk, agreeing with everything she writes. In fact, at page 130 of 247, I have disagreed with far more than I’ve agreed with. But is in interesting? Oh, lordy, yes! My brain cells are just buzzing with ideas and responses.

In chapter three, “Labouring Under Delusions”, she discusses – surprise! – labour. She seems to feel that when women speak to other women of labour, they are almost uniformly positive about it. They soft-pedal the pain, they whitewash the worry, they seek to soothe and reassure – all at the cost of leaving women hugely unprepared for the reality.

Labour, she claims, is horrific. That is Reality. “The reality was this: childbirth was torment–not because my mind or body was doing it wrong, but because it was doing it right.” Though she admits that there are women out there who have positive labours, she seems to admit these mostly as a theoretical possibility, and even then, a tremendous abberation from the norm. Additionally, she seems to believe that if a labour is painful, it is by definition negative; that a positive experience of labour requires a largely pain-free labour.

I disagree with all that. Even where I don’t totally disagree, I’m tossing corrolaries up all over.

However, it did get me thinking. Now, my experience of pregnancy was positive, all three pregnancies. Apart from those long, weary last five weeks or so, I loved being pregnant. I loved the changes that overtook my body, I loved the movements inside, I loved knowing that I was making a whole other human being inside me. Awe-inspiring. I’m sure I was boring as hell when I was pregnant, I was so taken up with the whole thing…

But the stories other women told me! They were awful! Maybe there were some positive ones in there, but they were few and far between. I heard tales of 3 day-labours, of 4th-degree lacerations (the tears that go right through from vagina to anus), of babies whose lives were in the balance, of pain and fear and blood and tears.

However, our woman Susan, who had truly rotten pregnancies, heard nothing but tales of sunshine and fluffy bunnies. What gives?

Perhaps, I thought, it’s to do with the woman’s mindset. Perhaps, because I felt so generally positive about my experience, I only took note of the negative labour tales, because they jarred me. Perhaps Susan was doing the same – hearing only the positive stories, because they jarred so with her pregnancy experience.

So, off to you with my two questions, and I discovered…

no such correlation.

Oh, well!

Of the 50-odd of you who replied to both questions, the breakdown was thus:

A. Positive Pregnancy, Negative Tales: 18
B. Negative Pregnancy, Positive Tales: 7
C. Positive Pregnancy, Positive Tales: 14
D. Negative Pregnancy, Negative Tales: 8

(The half-dozen or so of you who heard no labour tales were not included in the tally.)

If my hypothesis had been proven right, A and B would have had the most votes. C and D would have had least. Clearly that isn’t the case.

(I do note, though, that women who generally liked their pregnancies reported more labour stories than women who didn’t – positive and negative. Kind of suggestive, I think.)

I realized when I read your comments that “horror stories” was distracting. I should have stopped at “generally positive” and “generally negative”. Your comments also indicated a nuance – an important one – that my simple questions missed: a tale focussed on doctors and hospital procedures, and how to manage that minefield is not exactly a tale of labour, in that it isn’t focussed on the woman’s bodily experience, but on externals. This information is not what I was after, but I hadn’t thought to make that distinction.

This is so interesting!

I have been reading this book for over a month. Every weekday morning I’m spending at least a half-hour at it, and I’m a little over half through. Why such a snail’s pace for this voracious reader?

Because I rarely get through a single paragraph without jotting something down, without copying out a quote or writing a response to an idea.

I may not agree with all (or even much) – but I am loving the reading.

Think, think, thinkety, think….

July 16, 2007 Posted by | books, individuality, parenting, pregnancy and delivery | 14 Comments

Interview Question Number 2: Interactions as Opportunities

Ages ago, I was tagged for an Interview Meme. I answered the first question, and then promised you all to answer the next four questions, one a week on Saturdays. Well. Time does fly, huh? Here’s installment two, a mere five weeks later!

2. Allow me to introduce this question with an anecdote. I had the privilege of watching you homeschool your children. I had no biases about homeschooling, pro or con, but I was amazed by the method you used. After a month or two had passed, I asked, “But when do you school them?” I was expecting formal instruction of some kind and it wasn’t happening — not that I ever saw. But your method (what method?!) worked: when your children entered the school system in grade four or five, they were equal to or ahead of their peers academically.

The answer to my amazement is found in your philosophy of care. It states, “Every interaction is a learning opportunity.” I know from observing you how subtle the principle is in practice! Please explain so that others can apply it.

Ugh. Wouldn’t it be simpler if you all just took turns hiding behind the couch and watching?

Where to start?

You all know I’m not a big supporter of constant and earnest parental hovering over children, but I am uneasily aware that what I am about to describe will sound like just exactly that.


Let’s start with a caveat: Making the most of every interaction does not mean that you have to involve yourself in every second of your child’s days. It may very well mean leaving your child alone, and pretending not to see that they’re struggling with something, in order to give them the opportunity to either figure it out on their own, improvise an alternative, or give it up and try for something more within their capabilities. I believe children need and deserve space and quiet times – even when they might not realize it. I believe children need and deserve time alone to learn how to amuse themselves, to learn how resilient and creative they are, to learn that they can control a certain range of their time and activities.


There are many times in every day when you will involve yourself. When you do opt to get involved, you do it in such as way as to allow the child(ren) to develop themselves, expand their understanding, enrich their experience.

I think the key to “Interactions as Opportunities” is to have a set of principles by which you parent. Then, when a situation arises, you will be able to respond in a way commensurate with your principles. It means you have to have thought your principles through thoroughly, of course, and that you will constantly be evaluating how this or that event reflects a principle, or can be used to underline one.

When I was homeschooling, my two directing principles were:
1. Children are natural learners who don’t need to be coaxed or manipulated into learning.
2. My role is facilitator of this natural drive, not enforcer of information absorption.

Thus, my days with my kids involved me following their natural curiosity. I would suggest activities that would include aspects of learning they mightn’t get to on their own, or to enrich their inclinations, but it was always their curiosity and desire that led us – and they had lots! EVERY child does.

If my principles had included children need to learn structure and adherence to routine in order to prepare them for the Real World, I’d probably have established set times for lessons and required submissions of completed worksheets at regular intervals. However, I don’t think this, so I didn’t do it that way. (If you do think that, you would homeschool differently, and our children would probably be just as well educated!)

It’s also occurring to me as I struggle to answer this in a tidy, directed way, that Stephen has asked me two questions here, not one. First, he asks about homeschooling, and then he asks about my principle that “All Interactions are Opportunities”. No wonder I’m having trouble pulling it together without charging off on tangents in every direction! (You all have no idea how much I’ve written then dumped, trying to write something concise and coherent.)

There is a joining thread between the two ideas, though. I have always believed that education is not discrete from life. One thing that homeschooling taught me in a very tangible way is that education is something children (or anyone!) do/does for themselves. It is not, as so many kids in school settings believe, something that is done to them. (Which they must resist.)

Education is life; life is education. Yes, there are certain facts and figures it would do well to absorb, but if they’re necessary and meaningful, they will get absorbed.

With toddlers, it is the same. Lessons are learned through living and experiencing, only with babies and toddlers, the lessons are social/relational, not so much cognitive. (Yes, of course there are many cognitive things going on – object permanence, conservation of mass, learning how to use simple tools (crayons, spoons, blocks) – but the primary and foundational lessons are social, relational, behavioural.)

In fact, I would go so far as to say that until these foundational lessons are learned there is little point in trying to instill cognitive (in the sense of academic) information. A child who doesn’t trust, and who is still in full Power Struggle mode is not going to be a willing partner in learning colours, shapes and the letters of the alphabet.

So, given that the primary lessons of infancy and toddlerhood are social/relational in scope, how else could they be learned but by doing? Yes, there are lots of board books out there that deal with behavioural and emotional issues – biting, the death of a pet, sibling struggles, remarriage, you name it – but these serve only as adjuncts to the real lessons that are learned from the curriculum of living.

This hasn’t gotten into specifics, I know. But that’s because my principles may or may not be yours. My values, my structures, my priorities may or may not be of any relevance to yours and your family at all.

Know your principles, and apply them one tiny incident, one little interaction at a time. Parenting (thank goodness) is done in baby steps. Thus, it really (really!) doesn’t matter if you mess up one interaction, or even if you have a whole rotten day of them. What matters is the cumulative effect of thousands of day-in, day-out interactions of attentiveness, respect, high expectations, encouragement, challenge, and love.

One baby step at a time.

July 14, 2007 Posted by | aggression, behavioural stuff, health and safety, manners, memes and quizzes, parenting, power struggle, socializing | 11 Comments

Quick Question for you – updated

I’ve been reading a book – won’t tell you which one yet – and it’s provoked a thought in my head, which I am about to test out on you, my little guinea pigs.

If you want to help me out, please answer the following questions.

1. When you were pregnant, did you enjoy being pregnant, overall?
a. Yes
b. No

2. When you were pregnant, did you find that other women were
a. full of horror stories about labour? (generally negative about it)
b. full of encouraging tales about labour? (generally positive about it)

That’s it. If you could just leave the number and letter answers in your comments, that would be very helpful. It might even make its way into an upcoming post. (If you’ve never been pregnant, you can still answer question 2: if you’ve heard any labour stories, do you find them to be a) generally negative, or b) generally positive?)

(It’s a fascinating book, utterly fascinating! I will be telling you about it, I promise.)

UPDATE: 29 comments! And it’s only 4:30 Friday afternoon. This is great! Keep them coming, and I’ll tell you what this is all about on Tuesday. Or maybe even Monday. But the more I get, the more meaningful the cumulative information will be. Thanks, all.

July 13, 2007 Posted by | controversy, pregnancy and delivery, random and odd | 61 Comments

Just an Everyday Outing

What a lovely day!! After yesterday’s ferocious 31-degree temperatures plus melt-you-in-your-sandals humidity, which was followed by a mid-afternoon thunderstorm of such ferocity that poor Ki-woon woke shrieking in his bed, today’s 21 degrees with no humidity at all is nothing short of bliss.

Bliss, I tell you. And, since today is Emma’s birthday (FOURTEEN! My baby is fourteen. Though at 5’7 1/2 – and still growing – and as shapely as I didn’t achieve till I was seventeen, ‘baby’ is not the word. Unless, I suppose, it’s being uttered by a 15-year-old boy, but she knows enough to steer clear of males who call females ‘baby’. I hope.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Emma’s birthday necessitates a trip to the local greengrocer because Emma has requested a “fancy salad” with her birthday dinner. “Fancy” salad requires the addition of “raisins, sunflower seeds, crumbled feta cheese and that pretty curly red lettuce.” (Am I proud to have a child who sees salad as a potential birthday treat? Ooooh, yeah.)

(Of course, she’s taking it as a given that there will be cake. But still!)

So off to the Fresh Fruit Company which has the dual virtues of being close, about a km or km and a half, and having a good selection of organic produce.

I have four children with me: five-year-old George, 2.5-year-old Nigel, and two clocking in at 23ish months, Timmy and Emily. I have a four-seater stroller, a two-seater, and a small umbrella stroller. The four-seater is convenient, but it doesn’t fit through the store’s awkward front entry. The two-seater got soaked in yesterday’s rain because the tarp slipped its moorings and took off for parts unknown. So it’s down to the umbrella stroller. Four children, three of them under three, and one seat? Today will be an experiment, a walk on the wild side. Nigel, Timmy and Emily can take turns riding, their two buddies as outriggers.

They all do really well, and it’s such a grin to see them trotting along on their chubby little legs. Timmy, it turns out, loves walking. He loves to hang on, he loves to trot beside the stroller, and he especially loves waving his free hand in the wind, his fingers spread, soaking up sensation.

We toodle to the store. (“Timmy, please don’t touch that car. It’s not ours. If something isn’t ours, we don’t touch it.”) We toodle through the store. (“Timmy, those bananas aren’t ours. If it’s not ours, we don’t touch it.”) We buy our produce, plus some Swiss Cheese, and some yoghurt-covered raisins as further birthday treats. (“Timmy, put your hand down, please! The magazines are for other people. If it’s not ours, we don’t. touch. it.”) We toodle up Bank Street towards home. (“Ugh, Timmy. Don’t touch the fire hydrant.” George, with relish, “Yeah, Timmy, don’t touch tha-aat! Dogs do pee-pee all over fire hydrants!” True, but a little less glee would be in order.)

We pass the Tim Hortons on the corner. No True Canadian passes a Timmy’s without pausing…

Oh, why not? A little rest for their short and well-walked legs, and if they split a small box of Timbits, a little sugar kick for the walk home. No Timbits for Mary, who is watching the waistline. No caffeine kick for Mary, either: large decaf, two cream, no sugar. Can you stand the virtue?

People melt all over when Mary and the Mob toodle anywhere. The matching hats, the little faces, the chirpy voices, the toodling… People hold doors, people pull chairs aside, people smile and coo. Today, people also jump as we pass. A visible start, then a quick glance downward. First a grandfatherly type, who starts, then grins. Then a teenage boy, who jumps -“what the fu…?” – (quietly), then snorts. Finally a woman, who gives a gasp as she jumps, then giggles when she glances down.

Timmy the Hand is summarily strapped into the stroller.

George is gleeful once more. “Yeah, Timmy. If it’s not yours, you don’t touch it. Those were not your bums!” His titillated sniggering prurient snorting merry peal of innocent laughter carries us out the door.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | George, Mischief, my kids, Ottawa, our adoring public, outings, Timmy | 11 Comments

Parenting takes backbone

Overheard in the park. Two mothers, each with a kindergarten-age child and an almost-year-old baby:

Mother number one: “My four-year-old has taken to screaming – just SCREAMING! – in the night. It’s not nightmares, she’s not sick. She’s just mad. She’s doing it night after night, she’s waking up the baby, no one’s sleeping, and I just don’t know what to doooo.”

Mother number two: “Mine tried that last week. I took her downstairs and threw her onto the couch in the family room. Told her if she was going to scream, she could do it in here.”

“You left her ALONE?”

“Why not? I leave her alone in her bedroom. There’s nothing in the family room that can hurt her. And I’m sick of being woken up. She hasn’t done it since, she’s back in her own bed, and everyone is happy.”

Heh. I love mother number two.

Mother number one followed up with “I could never do tha-at“, as if by letting the four-year-old bear the consequence of her behaviour and make a different, more healthy and considerate choice, mother number two had somehow abused the child.

But in mother number two’s home, everyone is sleeping.

July 10, 2007 Posted by | behavioural stuff, parenting, sleep | 12 Comments



And about time, too!

(For Better or For Worse, my absolute all-time favourite comic for at least twenty years, can be found here.)

July 6, 2007 Posted by | Canada, random and odd | 8 Comments

Word Games and Social Subversion

“Yes, there’s water there, Timmy. That’s the river. River. See the water in the river?”
“Good job. River. That water is a river.”
“Ribbuh. Wawa ribbuh.”
“Such a smart boy! That’s a river. All that water makes a river. See the river?”

(Ever notice how when you write a word a bunch of times, it starts to look weird? River, river, river… Now it looks like a French verb, or a job description. “River: one who rives.”)

(Ha! It is a French verb: 1 river Verb, transitive (a) to rivet; (Infml) ~ son clou à qn to shut sb up; être rivé à la télé to be glued to the TV. Heh. I’m so smart.)

(It is NOT a job description, however. In any language.)

When you’re out on a glorious day, with no agenda but to soak up the sun, the warmth and the sheer pleasure of moving unfettered by pounds of winter gear, conversation passes the time nicely.

“Bubble! Bubble! Bubble! Bubble! Bubble! Bubble!” (You may have noticed that Anna never says anything once when she can say it half a dozen times. You’d be right.)

“I don’t think those are bubbles you see, lovie. I think those are sparkles. Sparkles. The sun is shining on the water. The river is full of sparkles. Sparkles. Lovely sparkles.”

Undeflected by the possibility of alternate vocabulary, Anna bubbles on. “Bubble! Bubble! Bubble! Bubble! Bubble! Bu….”


“Well done, Timmy. Sparkles!”

Conversation passes time. So do silly word games. Emma has started a round of “Mountain from Molehill” with Lina, her (exceedingly bright) ten-year-old friend. In the game, an initial, and very mundane proposition is set forth: “I broke a nail”; “I lost my keys”; “I stubbed my toe.” Participants take turns proffering an ‘if-then’ sentence, turn by turn, each worse than the one before. The follow-up sentences careen wildly from mild inconvenience to major disaster, and, almost every time the game ends with someone’s death.

Fun, huh???

Today’s started with “I was changing a poopy diaper.” Auspicious beginning, that. “If I changed a poopy diaper, I might have to wear a gas mask.” “If I wear a gas mask, I might frighten the baby.” “If I frighten the baby, she might kick the poopy diaper.”

Within ten minutes and thirty or so exchanges, we had poop all over the house, shit-smeared toddlers, a broken leg, a wild dog, a house fire, a flood, and, inevitably, the demise of the poor person who started it all.

“Eeewwww!” Emma and Lina are chortling gaily at the noisome and tragic outcome.

Wahoo! Anna’s all over that. This is her very favourite word. Her very favourite. “Eeewww!”

Not to be left out of the hilarity, Timmy joins in. “Eeeeewww!” “EEEEEeewwwww!” And adds a variation. “Phphphbht!” (That’s a raspberry. Now you know how to spell one.) A very juicy raspberry. Spit sprays everywhere. Good thing the back of the seat in front of him protects Emily’s little head because her very pretty hat is not suitable for rainy days…

Four tots in four seats erupt into raspberries, squeals of disgust, and giggles.
Squeal, giggle, shriek, bounce.

A grandmotherly type strolls towards us.

“Oh, just look at all those happy little faces! Aren’t they sweet?”

Four sweet faces beam up at her and erupt together: “EEEEEeeewwww! PHPHPHBHBHBTTTT!” Spit sprays everywhere. (See how good I am at my job? Gracious socialization happens every day at Mary’s house. Every day.)

Grandma’s eyes widen for a startled second.

And then she blows a raspberry back. (This is just the kind of gramma I want to be when I grow up. Subversive.) Four tots scream with delight.

Gracious socialization? Good luck to me. These kids are a threat to the civilized world as we know it.

July 5, 2007 Posted by | eeewww, manners, Mischief, our adoring public, outings, the things they say! | 7 Comments


Summertime! Funny how those rhythms from school days carry over into adult life. Even though it’s been years decades since I’ve had a summer off, now that we’re into July, it feels like Holiday Time to me!!

Holiday Time, with its air of freedom, of unfettered days, of possibility and expansiveness.

Which is why I have a sobbing two-year-old on my lap even now. A sobbing, snotting two-year-old. This child produces a yard of snot before the first sob leaves his throat. Yes, indeedy. Do I know how to holiday, or what?

(And why am I blogging while he sobs? Because I’ve tried cuddling and swinging and shushing and “I know”-ing, and reading, and singing, and offering snacks. Short of tossing him into a crib upstairs and letting him sort himself out – and it may well come to that – what’s left? Why not blogging? I’ll be amused and who knows? Maybe the movement of the cursor will prove soothing…)

Still, sobbing and snotting notwithstanding, today does have a bit of a holiday flavour. The routines are different: Remember Ki-woon from last summer? He’s back for the summer! And every bit as adorable as last year! (He’s the sob-and-snotter. We hope that doesn’t last the month.) Anna is off on holiday for the next three weeks, but George is here for the month. Nigel loves having his big brother around.

(Ha! The blogging is working! He’s subsided from a full-throated wail to those pathetic little body-shakes that follow sobs. Oh, and now he’s yawning. I think the storm is just about over. Poor wee mite. Must be the cursor. Either that, or I’ve bored him into submission…)

It’s sunny. We just had a holiday weekend, so this is a short week. The stepkids are here for the next two weeks. All pretty holiday-ish.

More holiday delights: We spent this morning at the park. (Ki-woon managed that all right. He didn’t exactly join in with a crow of delight, but he did manage to stand quietly at the edge of things, clutching the clover and the pine cone I’d given him earlier.)

I know it’s common wisdom that being with small children is constraining and demanding, but… But who else gets to spend half their working day outdoors? Who else can sip a chilly drink (iced coffee, people) on a bench in the dappled shade at the edge of a park, and call it ‘working’? I’m part of the neighbourhood in a way many office types aren’t. Everybody knows “the daycare lady”; I get nods and waves every outing. It’s not all sobbing and snotting.

On the way back from the park, I notice a bit of dead skin on the ball of one thumb, and idly nip it off between my teeth. Except… now it’s wet, the texture’s wrong, and it tastes… now, this is an old, old, ooooold gustatory memory, you understand, back from preschool days… but it tastes…

like booger.

Oh. My. God.

Mary leaps to the grassy verge, spitting with a gusto previously only seen in vulgar drunken teens. (Mary, you understand, never spits in public. Never. Mary once curtailed a friendship due, in no small measure, to the other party’s predilection for public spitting. Spitting? UGH.)

But watch Mary spit! Spit, Mary, Spit! Who knew she had it in her? (Or out of her, now.)

You know what that was on my thumb, don’t you? Not dead skin!

NOT dead skin, and NOT mine.


“It’s not all sobbing and snotting,” says she. No, some days it’s the Three S’s: sobbing, snotting and SPITTING.

Disinfectant, please!

July 3, 2007 Posted by | eeewww, holidays, outings | 12 Comments