It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Food fight?

“What are we having for lunch, Mary?”


Not too surprising, that. We have it a couple of times most weeks. Today’s pasta is rotini, with a tomato-lentil sauce studded with small chopped vegetables. I don’t explain all that. “Pasta” will suffice. He likes pasta.

“I don’t like pasta.”

Huh. Shows you what I know. In fact, I do: The little wretch ate three bowls of the stuff the last time I served it. Late last week. But I know better than to argue food declarations.

“That’s okay. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it.” And he doesn’t. I follow the guidelines of Ellyn Satter: the adult decides what, when, and where the child eats; the child decides how much and whether he eats. Which sure simplifies matters.

“What will I have for lunch, then?”

I’m sure my face goes a bit blank in puzzlement. Why is he asking this? He’s been with me for two years. He knows the drill.

“We are having pasta for lunch, Nigel.”

“Yes, but I don’t like pasta.”

“So you said, but that’s what’s for lunch. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want, but that’s what we’re having.”

He blinks at me a few times, then wanders off, morose.

The food issue is simply not one an adult has to lose. Except in very rare (but medically valid) cases, a child will not allow themselves to starve. They might, however, choose to go hungry. And you, as their loving parent, will allow it.

You will allow it unless you truly desire a life of culinary servitude to a two-foot tyrant. A life of creating multiple entrees for each meal. A lifetime of begging, pleading, coaxing and raging against the implacable will of a child who knows that, eventually, you’ll cave. Or just a child who enjoys the power of being able to make you beg, plead, coax, and rage. A life fighting a three-times-a-day Power Struggle. And losing. Every time.

If you want calm and companionable meals, you’ll let your toddler choose to go hungry. That is natural consequences, yes, but it’s also more than that. Giving someone the right to choices, and allowing them to experiences the consequences of the choices in order to learn something is not humiliating or demeaning. It does not have to be punitive. It is simply respect.

Nigel understands his choices. He can eat lunch, and be full. He can not eat lunch and be hungry. It’s that simple. I will let him make whichever decision he prefers. But there are no other options. This is non-negotiable. Because I am not responsible for his hunger, I feel no guilt whatsoever when he experiences it. I think he knows that, too.

A few minutes later, I bring the tray with the brightly-coloured bowls to the table. I set them out.


“YAAAYYY!” Five sets of feet pound toward the table. Five children clamber onto the benches. Five spoons plunge into the pasta, and the children devour every last noodle in their bowls. Even Nigel.

When they know what their choices really, really are? They usually make good ones.

November 30, 2007 Posted by | food, Nigel, parenting, power struggle | 14 Comments

Maybe I am too squeamish for this job

Parents kissing their children on the mouth.

I have to admit, this skeeves me out. Lip-to-lip kissing, to my mind, is something shared between lovers. Period.

Now, I didn’t get this prejudice from my family of origin. I have very clear childhood memories of good-night kisses, me in my nightie, teeth brushed and ready for bed, doing the circle of adults in the living room. A kiss for Granny and Grandad, then mum would take me to bed, and another kiss for her before the lights went out. And all the kisses were the same: you puckered your lips, pushing them as far out from your face as possible. The other person did likewise and you sort of bounced them off each other, Pwuff! Nice and dry and soft. That is a kiss between adult and child.

And when we got older, adult-child lip-to-lip kisses ceased. I don’t really remember when, but they certainly weren’t happening when I was a teen. But when I was a little girl, it was just normal, and I liked the nightly good-night kiss tradition. It’s a happy childhood memory for me, so I’m not sure where my antipathy to adult-child kissing comes from.

Once, an uncle came to visit. I was about nine. He kissed me, and — his lips were kind of open! and they were wet!! I was completely grossed out. Too tactful, even at age nine, to scrub my lips in his presence, I scrubbed vigorously when I was out of the room. My mother was sympathetic to me and disapproving of her brother. “That’s not how you kiss a child,” she tutted. I never had to kiss him again.

(For the record: my uncle had no nasty tendencies re: his nieces. Nothing like that at all. He was just a sloppy kisser.)

But as for me? I’ve never kissed my children (or anyone else’s) on the lips. I recoil at the thought. When I see other parents kiss their children on the lips, I look away. Lip-to-lip kissing in intimate, too intimate for an audience. And between adult and child? It just doesn’t feel right. Yurgh.

Timmy is very affectionate with his mother, and she with him. These two adore each other. She takes such pleasure in him, it’s a delight to watch. When she comes in at the end of the day, their faces could light a room.

She has always kissed him — on the lips — when she greets him. One kiss, during which I tend to another child, or look at the back of his head, or scratch my foot, or something. Lately, Timmy has taken to kissing her back. Which she greets with adoring laughter. Or he initiates the kiss. The affection is wondrous to behold. Every parent loves their child; every child loves their parents, but these two take a degree of delight in their exchanges you don’t always see.

But they kiss on the lips.

And Timmy, when he kisses, he doesn’t pucker. At all. No, he opens his mouth, he flares his lips. His kiss encompasses both her upper and lower lips. Sometimes his upper lip grazes her nose before setting in to devour her mouth.

It is gross. And it goes on and on. Not just one kiss, but kiss after kiss after kiss. Open-mouthed kissing. Mother-son necking in my front hall.

I am skeeved out on a nightly basis. I try not to be, but I am. Urgh.

November 29, 2007 Posted by | eeewww, quirks and quirkiness | 20 Comments

Power struggles and cookie crumbs

We are in a coffeeshop. (Of course we are!) Where else do I ever take these children? Because it’s for their socialization, it’s for their betterment. It’s very important that children learn to sit in one spot for 20 minutes, to observe without touching, to talk without shouting.

It’s also very important that Mary get out in adult environments at least once a week. The coffee is secondary.

So we have two complimentary agendas happening here. That’s okay. What is NOT okay, of course, is an adult who puts their own need — to have an near-adult experience — above the comfort of the other patrons (who also desire the same thing) when the child(ren) accompanying them are in no way ready to sit calmly for the required 20 minutes. That’s just selfish. And rude. If your child is being disruptive, you peel out of there as quickly and graciously as humanly possible.

So there.

This does not mean you’ll have to keep out of coffeeshops until said child is school age. A child of any age can manage this — not every day, and the younger they are the more you have to pick your moment — but it’s eminently do-able. And I aim for 20 minutes. Thirty, tops. That’s reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect a toddler to rein in their energy for a solid hour. (If you have one that will do that, count your lucky stars. You are blessed.)

So, anyway. Insufferable lecture over. Coffee shop. Sitting, talking at normal conversational volumes, eating (with mouths closed about 25% of the time; acceptable).

Malli, who does not have a huge sweet tooth, puts a good-sized chunk of her cookie back on the plate in the centre of the table.

“Are you done?”
“Are you sure? You don’t want any more cookie?”
“No. I don’t want it.”
“You really don’t want it? You’re all done?”
“Okay. I’m going to give it to Anna, then, because she dropped her cookie.”

She did, and she was very good about it, too, but she’s long done the tiny bit that remained, and has been chatting while watching the other children finish theirs. Now, I know Malli has said she does’t want it. She’s been very clear about that. But I start the mental countdown anyway. Three … two … one … wait for it …

“Hey! That’s MINE! She got MINE!”

(Was this predictable? Hoo, yeah. But does she really want it? No. I know this girl. She doesn’t want resolution, she doesn’t want the cookie. She wants a conflict. She wants a conflict because, even though she didn’t want that cookie, she feels a proprietary interest in it, and she’s pissed that she gave it up. She wants a conflict so she can express her outrage. Resolution? Cookie? Not on the agenda. Just you watch.)

“Oh, you want some? You can have a piece.” I smile, because I know, I just know …

NO.” The glower could freeze water at ten paces. Good thing my coffee’s nice and hot.

“Okay. You don’t want any more cookie. That’s fine.” I smile again. I take an unholy glee in pissing off control-freak kids. I really do. I probably shouldn’t enjoy it quite so much, but it gives my smile that much extra voltage, knowing that she doesn’t want me to smile. I’m supposed to be coaxing her to be happy. “Oh, come on, honey. You know you didn’t want it.” But I don’t enter into Power Struggles unless essential, even when issued a gold-plated invitation.

Refused an overt Power Struggle, she settles back with the Glower of Ice. At least it’s quiet. I turn my attention to more deserving behaviours, chatting with the other children, being particularly warm and inviting, hoping that Malli will be drawn in despite herself. If often works.

And when I turn back? She’s leaning towards Anna, delicately and thoroughly gleaning cookie crumbs off her sweater. And eating them.

WHAT a kid.

November 28, 2007 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Malli, Mischief, outings, power struggle | 14 Comments

I knows what I knows

Nigel stomps into the house, a toy hyena held tight in his mittened hands. Yes, a hyena. Fluffy bunnies and darling little teddies are passe. What we have here is a scale-model representation of a slavering hyena.

“What have you got there, Nigel?” Because Mary is nothing if not polite, and there is no such thing as squeamishness in the pursuit of science. We like spiders around here, too. And bugs. And snakes. We talk a lot about snot and pee and farts and spit and poop, too, though perhaps with less overt enthusiasm. Well, mine is less overt, anyway, though I do confess to the occasional awed and morbid fascination. “My LORD, that’s the greenest poo I’ve ever SEEN.”

“It’s a leopard.”

“Well, no, Nigel, it’s not. A leopard is more like a cat, and a hyena is more like a dog. They both have spots, but a leopard is longer and hunts its own food. A hyena is smaller and mostly eats stuff that’s already dead.” Nigel looks at me, deadpan. His face radiates complete lack of interest. Clearly the boy is just waiting for me to shut the $%# up. I change tactics.

“Well, thank you for bringing it to share with us. What’s its name?”

“Its name is Leopard.”

November 27, 2007 Posted by | individuality, Nigel, quirks and quirkiness | 3 Comments

Kids are so sophisticated these days

They need such fancy toys. They are not satisfied with simple things, like we were. Which is why, when you head out with your baby, you need a diaper bag the size of a small car, which means you need to drive a car the size of a small country.

Which is why, when I take four tots to the coffee shop, I break my back carrying stuff to entertain and keep them quiet for the 20 minutes we will stay and absorb the ambience.

Ha. I kill myself. I take a small canvas bag (6 inches by 6 inches by 10 inches tall), which contains: 3 diapers, a ziploc bag with a dozen wipes, and four water boxes.

But how do I entertain them in the coffee shop?

Well, for starters, I feed them. An eighth of a muffin at a time. (Really. The top is divided in four, the bottom likewise.) And for each piece, they say “Please” and “thank you”. And they take small bites, and they swallow before they take another (SMALL!) bite. And they try very, very hard to keep their lips together when they chew. Because practice is a Good Thing. (And auditory and visual close-ups of mastication are not.)

And when the muffin is gone, but Mary’s coffee is not? (Because Mary has been so busy TALKING while the children eat?)

I bring out the Big Guns. My left hand. (Because I am left-handed.)

The first two fingers of my left hand march across the table toward a tot.

“What’s that?” tot asks.

“It’s a man. He’s marching. See? March, march, march — BING!!” The “man” reaches the edge of the table in front of the tot, leaps up and BINGS him on the nose. Great hilarity ensues.

The man marches, he skips, he skates. The children discover THEY have men, too, and the mans run and skip and march and stumble all over the table. Which means that Mary can put her man away, drink some more coffee, and enjoy the fun. Because those mans? They are having LOTS OF FUN!!! They are having so much fun, all those mans, that they don’t notice the GIANT SPIDER coming towards them.

The GIANT SPIDER with only five legs … It creeps, creeps, creeps toward the frolicking mans, and then “SQUOOSH!!” it flattens one. Then the spider has to flatten all the other mans, who run, slide, and take fantastic leaps out of its way, giggling, giggling, giggling.

When all the hilarity threatens to become intrusive to the other patrons (who are few and thus far, smiling) and — hey, what a coincidence! — Mary has finished her coffee, we head out. The mans dance and sing along the stroller, along the other childrens’ heads, they fly through the air. All the way home.

It is only when lunch appears on the table that the mans revert to fingers.

Yes. Children these days need SO MUCH sophisticated paraphernalia to keep them happy. Yes, indeed. It’s sad, really.

November 26, 2007 Posted by | manners, outings, parenting | 9 Comments

Helpful bakers

1:41 a.m. I lie in bed and tried to relax for 40 minutes, but every time I started to drift – bing! – the brain would jolt awake again. I came downstairs with my pillow, thinking maybe a change of venue would help. It sometimes does; our couch is very comfortable. Drift …bing! … drift… bing! At three, I gave it up.

Since three this morning, I have tidied the kitchen, swabbed out the bathroom, thrown a load of laundry into the dryer, swept the front porch clear of snow, read a chapter in an Improving Book (and took notes on it!), read a couple of chapters in a very unimproving book, tried unsuccessfully to upload some pictures (TWO sets of batteries crapped out. TWO!), and written a lengthy, chatty email.

Such productivity! And all before DAWN!! (Which, given that dawn is happening an hour later than it was last month, is not SUCH an achievement, but still.)

Of course, I’m going to be ready for bed by, oh, eleven this morning, but still! Productivity!


In contemplating my likely energy level three hours hence, I think you’re better off with a story from yesterday … (to prove that yes! I DO THINGS with the children! Besides laugh at with them.)

Yesterday we made muffins, me and the tots. Morning glory muffins, which, while absolutely delish, are fiddly to make. All that grating. (No, I don’t have a food processor.) I make a double batch, so that’s four cups of carrots and two of apples. And grating is boring. So very, very boring.

How do you cook with three two-year-olds and a three-year-old? Well, you let them help, of course, and you are very, very creative and generous in your definition of that word.

“Helping” means they can wash the carrots! In a bowl of water you set on the kitchen floor! And then, when they are done washing the carrots, you “rinse them off a bit” in the sink.

“Helping” means they also wash the apples! In a bowl of water set on the kitchen floor! Which you then peel anyway, so no secondary rinsing required. (Yes, I peeled the carrots, too, but peeling with a paring knife seems so much more … protective … than peeling with a carrot peeler.)

And then they “helped” by keeping me company when I sat on the kitchen floor and grated, grated, grated into the bowl. Which really is helpful, because they are so cute and funny, and grating is, as aforementioned, so very boring.

They also “helped” by eating any enthusiastic carrot bits which launched themselves from the grater. (Yes, my floors ARE clean enough to eat off! We — well, they — do it all the time! Haven’t lost one yet!)

I put the grated bits into a measuring cup. They poured it into the bowl. Four kids, four cups of carrots. Perfect! But what about the apples, you ask? There were only two cups of apples. Four kids, four HALF-cups. Kitchen math, anyone?

They poured in the sugar, and the flour, and the raisins and the crushed walnuts. They helped beat the half-dozen eggs. I poured in the oil. (Ever cleaned up two cups of oil off your kitchen floor? I have.) They poured in the orange juice. I poured in the eggs? (Ever cleaned up half-a-dozen beaten eggs off your kitchen floor? Me neither, and I aim to keep it that way.)

Then we mix it all together. Yes, we are still gathered round the giant bowl in the middle of the kitchen floor. The batter now weighs about 12 pounds in that giant bowl, so they’re each good for 1/2 rotation of the spoon. I finish up. They are impressed. “You are very strong, Mary!” (It’s from years of toting toddlers, one on each hip.)

They are each given one paper muffin cup liner. They each drop it into one of the muffin cups. One EACH. Anna led the way. Seems she also found the premium muffin cup real estate.

“Not there, Timmy. Anna’s is there. You can put yours in this hole. Good! Not there, Nigel. Anna’s is there. You can put yours in this other hole. Great! Not there, Malli. Anna’s is there. You can put yours in this other, other hole. Thank you!

Then they each get another muffin cup liner, and we do it all again. In fact, we have so much fun, we do it ELEVEN more times, until all the muffin cups are filled.

I fill the cups with batter. They lick the spoons. (Yes, yes, raw eggs. I know. I have their parents’ permission. Haven’t lost one yet!)

And, at the end of the day? The house is saturated with the sweet scent of baking. Each parent takes a long, deep breath, and goes home with enough muffins for their family. Because their kids helped make them!

November 22, 2007 Posted by | crafts, food | | 8 Comments

Beauty is only skin deep

The sun streams in through the living room window, illuminating Nigel. His blond curls glow a halo round his head. Once again I notice: this is one very good-looking little boy. His eyebrows are delicate arches over his clear blue eyes, his soft skin glows with good health. Suddenly his well-formed nose twitches, his blue eyes close, and the lashes (thick! long! black!) rest on his pink cheeks, his head tips back … a sneeze rips through the air.

Air which is suddenly filled – filled! – with a delicate mist, a mist shot from nose and mouth, clearly visible in the streaming sunlight, drifting gently through the air, settling on surfaces as it floats slowly earthward.

A pretty lad, but wetly toxic.


November 20, 2007 Posted by | eeewww, health and safety, Nigel | 3 Comments


Babygirl was fried this morning. Completely, utterly, absolutely fried. Her brown eyes were underscored with blue, her normally sunny disposition cloud-covered and drizzly. Every little thing set her off into a blur of tears. After three soggy outbursts in her first five minutes through the door, I looked into her sorrowful face.

“Babygirl, lovie, you are one tired little cookie. You need a sleep.”

“No! No want to sleep!”

“Come on, love.” I scoop her into my arms. “Time for a lie-down.”


We walk up the stairs, and I speak soothingly into the baby curls. “You’ll lie down, and you’ll have a snooze, and you’ll feel so much better! So much better.”

She’s still whimpering a little when we get to the bedroom, but we’ve been through this enough times over the past year and a half that she knows the inevitable when she sees it. When I lay her down in the bed, she’s quiet. A hug, a kiss on the forehead, her soos, and I’m gone.

Mondays are often tough on the tots. A busy weekend filled with visits and errands and activity, different than the Monday through Friday routine. In BG’s case, all this busy-ness is accompanied by too little sleep. She often needs a longer nap on Mondays. She doesn’t generally go down within five minutes of arrival, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, it’s getting more common, not less. Lately her parents have not been putting her down for naps on the weekend. (“She won’t sleep anyway. Why fight it?”) Coupled with her tendency to get up before five in the mornings, and weekend schedules that have her up to 8:30 or later in the evenings, this little miss is going on far less sleep than she needs.

I listen outside the door. Silence. She sleeps for four and a half hours.

She wakes at 12:45, just as the other children head up for their naps. She is a new child.

Sunny, sunny, sunny. Spontaneous bursts of laughter bubble from her, apropos of nothing, far as I can make out. She plays as I do dishes, she plays as I put away craft supplies, she plays as I sweep the floors, she plays as I catch up on my emails. I am busy, she is busy. She plays and chatters and chortles away, a steady stream of toddler chirpiness. She is so relaxed and just plain happy, and I am overwhelmed with affection … and exasperation and sadness.

She could be like this All.The.Time. All that is holding her back is inadequate sleep. All she needs is to get her afternoon nap, and get to bed at a reasonable hour, every day of the week. And it isn’t happening for her, and she is suffering.

It makes me sad.

She’s a strong-willed, feisty little thing. At this point, there is almost no way her parents are going to get her into regular sleep patterns without a struggle. It’ll mean crying. She’s over two, and has entrenched patterns which need to be changed. Her parents can’t bear the crying — and so she suffers. Not short-term, not for a few hours over a few weeks, but long-term. For months, for years.

(And yes, I’ve spoken with the parents, on several occasions, at length and in detail. There comes a time when to continue is to nag and alienate.)

Poor, weary baby.

November 19, 2007 Posted by | parenting, sleep | 15 Comments

The City Beckons

Emily will not be in today. She doesn’t come on Fridays. Nigel will not be in today. He’s going to Toronto to see Uncle Dave (as per Babble post). Malli will not be in today. There will be a parent at home.

Which leaves me with Anna and Timmy! Only two two-year-olds!! That’s, like, PRACTICALLY A DAY OFF!!!

What will I do with them? The mind boggles with the potentials. The Museum of Nature? The Art Gallery? The Museum of Science and Technology? A double-decker tour of the city? The Museum of Civilization? (Which includes The Childrens’ Museum?) The bank???

Oooo … only two kids … good day ahead …

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Canada, Ottawa, outings | 6 Comments

Crazy Eights — er, fours

Red Pen Mama has tagged me with a meme. Because I think I’ve done this one before, I’m going to be lazy and do four instead of the required eight from each category.

1. Four things I am passionate about:

My husband: His honesty, his kindness, his brilliant mind, his generosity of spirit, his unceasing devotion to me. I am a very lucky woman.

My children: Seeing them grow into considerate, productive, giving adults with a strong sense of self brings more richness to my life than I can express.

Communication/conversation: Clear, honest, respectful, meaningful, deep. Love it, need it, demand it of my closest relationships. Obviously, my husband feels the same way!

Writing: Love it, need it, am working to include more of it in my life.

2. Four things I want to do before I die:

Make a living from writing

Travel a lot more than I have these last ten years.

Have grandchildren. Which is not precisely something I do, I know. (And HA! It’s a new one. See? I’m still growing up. Corollary: when my kids are ready for it — which is NOT now. But when they are? I will be a Most Excellent Grandma.)

Write a book. Which I sort of am working on right now, but at the pace I’m going, I’d better hope I live to be 110 …

3. Four things I say often:
“I love you.”
“WALK in the house. WALK.”
“Do you have your cell phone with you?”
“Hands are for hugging.”

4. Four books I’ve read recently:
Away, by Jane Urquhart (this one is Literature, and very good)
I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson (Short essays; some VERY funny, all entertaining)
Piece of Work, Laura Zigman (not Literature, but I enjoyed it)
Accidental Florist, Jill Churchill (this is a ghastly book — but entertaining in its awfulness)

5. Four songs I could listen to over and over:
Charmed Life, Diana Krall (Check out the link! It’s YouTube — see her do the song.)
I won’t back down, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Everybody be yorself, Chick Street Man (It’s off the soundtrack to Northern Exposure disk.)
Only then will your house be blessed, Harry Manx

6. Four things that attract me to my best friends:
Good conversation (cf. #1)
Irreverence. Not in its sacred sense, but in general: a certain willingness to bawdiness, a tendency to irony, a quirked-eyebrow (but NOT cynical) take on the world.
Sense of humour.

November 15, 2007 Posted by | books, memes and quizzes, music, my kids, quirks and quirkiness, random and odd | 4 Comments