It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Let’s rehearse reality

During an interview recently, a parent asked about my “curriculum”. When I launched into a description of play and activities, she sort of waved me off. She wasn’t interested in hearing about just play. She wanted to know what they were learning. She was, it became clear, interested in knowing about the books I read (which I do, of course!), how I teach them about letters, numbers, shapes, colours.

Hmmm. Unless I can make some headway into her educational priorities, I doubt we’d be a good match, this mother and I. Worksheets and drills? At one and two years old?

Just play,” she says.

“You can be Wally, and I’ll be Fred.”
“And this,” Nigel hands Malli a block, “is your hammer.”
“Okay. I will hammer here!”

“Play is a child’s work”. Whether you attribute this quote to Adler, Montessori, Weininger, or someone else, it remains true. Everything a small child needs to learn, he learns through play. Even when we become adults, for that matter, the most effortless learning happens when we’re playing with the ideas, making a game of it. For a smallchild, it’s never “just” playing.

“Hey, Wally. Wally? Bring that piece of wall over here, okay?”
“This piece?”
“I’m brinn-inn it.”
“Now you don’t have a bathroom any more. Now there is no wall, and there is no bathroom, so you’ll have to go live somewhere else, far, far away from your house.”

When they’re playing, they practice problem-solving, they rehearse social situations, they deal with emotions.

“I’m not living in my house?”
“No, you have to live in a new house, and Wally and Fred will fix your old house. You live in a new house, with a new bedroom and no garden and no playing soccer in the back yard.”

They confront anxieties.

“Why can’t I play soccer?”
“Because the new house has nice grass and too much chairs and tables and a big umbrella, and the soccer ball might break the grass and make the chairs dirty.”
“I have a hammer!”
“Yeah. Let’s build the wall. We can build the wall, and make the bathroom again.”
“I’m building a toilet!”
“A toilet to poo in!”
“Uh-huh. You build the bathtub.”

Sounds of industrious hammering, as they construct a toilet and tub out of blocks and blankets. In play, they sort out confusing aspects of their lives.

“Build, build, build!”
“Are we done, Nigel?”
“I’m not Nigel, I’m Fred.”
“Are we done, Fred?”
“Almost. The bathroom is almost done, and the new bedroom is almost done, and the big family room is almost done. The house is much bigger.”
“We are buildinn a new, big house.”
“Not a new house, just a bigger old house. It will be my old house, just with another bathroom and another bedroom and more playing room.”

They deal with stress. They practice reality.
Sounds of hammering. Block pounds into block. Towers clatter.

“Are we done, Fred?”
“We are done! It is a beautiful new old house! Now I can come back!”
“Yeah! I will have a beautiful new old house, and I will go back soon.”

“Just” play? I don’t think so.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 15 Comments

One word meme

From Florinda, my reliable source of fun and easy memes for those brain-dead days… All you do is answer the questions with one word. Can’t get simpler than that. You’re supposed to tag four people. but I don’t tag. If you want to do it, just leave a note in the comments — and link back to here as your souce, as I linked to Florinda!

1. Where is your cell phone? Charger
2. Your significant other? Stephen
3. Your hair? Brown
4. Your mother? Slim!
5. Your father? deceased
6. Your favorite thing? Stephen
7. Your dream last night? zzzzzzz
8. Your favorite drink? Chiller
9. Your dream/goal? Writing
10. The room you’re in? Livingroom
11.Your hobby? Blogging
12. Your fear? Dependency
13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Retired (HA!)
14. What you’re not? Patient (surprise!)
15. Muffins? ummm…
16. One of your wish list items? pillow
17. Where you grew up? Angus
18. The last thing you did? sushi
19. What are you wearing? dress
20. Favorite gadget? laptop
21. Your pets? deceased
22. Your computer? compaq
23. Your mood? stable
24. Missing someone? Yes
25. Your car? none
26. Something you’re not wearing? Socks
27. Favorite store? Dilemme (but it’s gone out of business! Boooo…)
28. Like someone? Yes
29. Your favorite color? Green
30. When is the last time you laughed? 5 minutes ago
31. Last time you cried? Friday

July 11, 2008 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 5 Comments

Toddlers take on the world

“It’s okay, Timmy.” Little Emily is patting Timmy’s shoulder, peering into his face, speaking with gentle reassurance. “You don’t need to cry. I was not hurting you, I was hurting Anna.”

Anna bellows out in ‘song’.
E- I – E – I – YORE!

“Don’t touch those rocks! Those are dog-pee rocks!”
(He’s right: they are.)


We spy one of our favourite neighbourhood attractions, the large metal toad in a neighbour’s garden. We stop and visit with friend toad for a while, then must move on.

“Bye, toad!”
“Bye, toad!”
“Bye, toad!”
“Have a good weekend!”


“Why does Emily not got a penis?”
“You know why. Because she’s a girl. She has a vulva instead.”
“When she grows up, she will have a hairy penis.”
“No, she won’t. When she grows up, she will have hair there, but no penis.”
“Yes, she will. My mummy has a penis.”
(I can hardly wait to tell mummy this one…)
“No, lovie, she doesn’t. Daddy has a penis, mummy has a vulva and a vagina.”
“Mummy does, too, have a penis! It’s just hiding in the hair.”
(Oh, I think I’ll just let mummy take it from here…)

July 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Craft resource!

I like messing about with stuff, making one thing from another, putting this with that and seeing what happens. Creativity is something we’re all blessed with, though some, undoubtedly, are particularly gifted. At its heart, creativity is play. Unselfconscious experimentations, curiosity, and a willingness to mess about with stuff.

Creativity does not mean that you can paint a canvas that will one day hang in the National Gallery, nor compose a sonata played by orchestras around the world. Creativity just means messing about with stuff. Putting this with that, attaching this to that, seeing if we can make this from that. Mess about enough, and something fun, interesting — creative — will emerge. Because you’ve let it. Because you haven’t seen anything you did as a “mistake”.

An “uncreative” person sees her little craft disintegrate. “It’s fallen apart! God, I’m so hopeless at this crap. I’m so uncreative!” And she walks away, confirmed in her uncreativity.

The creative person, instead, sees the disintegration as part of the process. “Hmm. That glue won’t hold fabric. Maybe if I used a twist-tie?” The glue wasn’t a mistake. It just didn’t get you where you wanted to be. And the more messing about you do, the better you get at it.

The difference between the creative and the ‘uncreative’ person in my made-up example is primarily one of mindset, not ability.

When it comes to crafts, I mostly make it up as I go along. However, I’m not about to dismiss a great craft resource when it pokes me in the eye, or shows up in my inbox once a week.

Isn’t this cute? A pig! Made from a sock and a lid, some stuffing and a few clothespegs and bulk clips. Love it!

If you’d like a little more craftiness in your life, but aren’t so good at making it up as you go along, you might consider subscribing to this site. We’ve had fun with it!

July 8, 2008 Posted by | crafts | , | 2 Comments

Indoor play on rainy days

We have had a lot of rain this summer. A LOT, lot, lot of rain. Days and days of drizzle, downpour, and damp. We discovered last week that there’s a leak in the attic. The roof repair that we’d hoped to put off till next year has probably become this year’s project.


Since it’s inevitable that there is at least one child in the crew who is not appropriately attired for puddle-jumping, we end up spending a lot of time indoors on deluge days. Indoor time means more circle time, more organized play, and more crafts.

I do not generally ‘do’ organized play. To my mind, ‘organized’ and ‘play’ are, when in the control of an adult, antonyms. Opposites. Child-directed play has, I assume, some sort of inner order, an organic flow that makes sense to its participants. It may confuse/amuse the heck out of any adult watching, but then, it’s not for/about the adults, is it?

Children play. Adults play, too, but not like children. And I will be entirely honest with you, here. Those of you who imagine Mary’s day to be one long happy round of skipping, playing, dancing, playing, laughing, playing, singing, playing, holding hands, playing …


The kids play. I laugh, sing, feed, clean, change, organize, nurture, discipline, negotiate, explain, guide, direct, scold, smile, redirect, tease (kindly), observe, analyze, strategize … lather, rinse, repeat.

I do not play, because (brace yourselves) … Playing? All day every day? I’d go out of my mind with boredom. Out of my mind.

But on rainy days, on continuous long streams of rainy days, I do organize the play. This is sheerest self-defense. Toddlers caged indoor for hours at a stretch, never mind entire days, become restive. Their endless, boundless, ceaseless, ever-ready energy is constrained, restrained, oppressed by the four walls, by the furniture, by the other bodies in the same space.

Quick! Must defuse the five ticking time-bombs in my home!

So, that odd, adult oxymoron, “organized play”.

I have games that involve lots of physical movement. We jump, we slither, we fly like birds and like butterflies and like planes. We are popcorn, we are fire engines, we are sleeping bunnies and roaring tigers. We make obstacle courses, under the bench, along the bench, jump off the padded footstool. We crank the music and dance.

This is, of course, the Royal We. Mary does not do this stuff. Mary is no longer 24. Nor even 34. Nor even … well, you take my point. Suffice it to say: Mary organizes and facilitates. The children do the leaping and crawling and slithering. Mary does dance and sing, though.

The thing about playing with children (this most particularly if you have more than one) is that they play together. Me? I only have to do the bits I enjoy. I like dancing, I like singing, so I dance and sing. Jumping? Not so much. The tots have never seen Mary jump, and this is a Good Thing. (If Mary did not write such a family-friendly blog, Mary would be making decidedly earthy comments about the relationship between jumping, gravity, larger-cup bras and certain body parts.)

Problem with all these lively games is that they are also LOUD. Though we have negotiated this drizzly season with the walls of the house still upright and no broken furniture or even children, my ears, they are not so happy. The children get clautrophobic because of the lack of open space for running. I get claustrophobic because of the omnipresent, oppressive, inescapable noise, noise, noise, noise.

Bring on the sun!

July 7, 2008 Posted by | health and safety, the dark side | , | 10 Comments

So near, and yet so far… (Updated with Irony)

It’s not a holiday here, of course. Ours was on Tuesday.


Two of the tots are travelling this week.
That brings me to three.
One is staying home with her dad.
And one phoned THIS MORNING to let me know they’re heading off for the weekend.
I have only one child coming today.

I sweep the kitchen floor and hope…
I pop a load of laundry with my fingers crossed…
I put together a snack that could, if need be, be used on Monday instead…
I glance at the phone, praying for the call…

Until I hear their footsteps on the porch.


I greeted him with the warmest of smiles, of course. He is a sweetie, I love him from his pigeon-toes to his goofy little face, and, hey, it is my job!



Parent entered, took in the preternaturally quiet home.


I explain.

Parent said, “Gee. I feel guilty now. I’m taking the day off to get those things done at home that you just can’t get done with a two-year-old underfoot.”

Parent hugged child and left.

Guilty, but not quite guilty enough…


July 4, 2008 Posted by | holidays, the dark side | 12 Comments

Banned books meme

The idea of this meme is to see which of a list of books which have, at some time and place, been banned. We have no idea who did the banning, how extensive it was, nor the reasons for the banning, but here, taken from Florinda, who got it from Literary Feline, is the list.

I have bolded (it’s a word because it’s useful) the ones I’ve read, and italicized the ones I own but have not read/did not finish.

#1 The Bible
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (in abridged translation) – couldn’t finish
#4 The Koran – unfinished
#5 Arabian Nights
– unfinished
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
#7 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
#9 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

#16 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne – ongoing project. I dip in every now and then.
#21 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – saw the movie. Guess that doesn’t count, huh?
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon – Has anyone read this cover to cover to cover to cover? There are, what four reeeaaalllly thick volumes to this, aren’t there?
#23 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce – pretended to read it for a course in university. Faked it well enough to get an A-…
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

#29 Candide by Voltaire
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – didn’t finish
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
– HUGELY boring. Did not finish.
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal
#36 Das Capital by Karl Marx
#37 Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
#38 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I think I’ve read them all.)
#39 Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys
– I read this when I was 14. What was bannable about this? Must re-read…
#48 The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – unfinished
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
#58 The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – did I ever finish? I read it when I was 15 or so and found the protagonist unbelievably tedious.
#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Deisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck (multiple times – this is an all-time favorite)
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

#73 An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 A Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Émile by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Émile Zola
#104 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburn Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

July 3, 2008 Posted by | books, memes and quizzes | 6 Comments

The Myth of Better for Others than Parents

At the library this morning, where the following little vignette occurred:

I am herding my tots through the security gate (which will “BEEP!” if you take an unchecked book through it. SO exciting.). Another tot, about the same age, attracted by the children her age, is sort of being swept along with us.

Her mother calls her.

“Sadie! Come back to mama, sweetie.”
Sadie doesn’t appear to hear. Mama repeats herself. “Sadie, honey. Come back here to mama, please.”
Now Sadie pauses.
“Sadie? Come back to mama, sweetie.”
Sadie looks back at mama, smiles, and then turns toward me once more. Mama calls after her.
Sadie walks through the security gate to me and my tots. Mama calls to her receding back.
“Sadie, silly girl. Come back to mama!”
I smile at Sadie, put my hands on her shoulders and say, “Hello, Sadie. You know what? You need to go back to mama. She’s calling you.” Then I gently turn her around and then let her go. She races back to mama, bubbling over with (very loud) tears.

“Thanks!” says mama, then turns to Sadie. “Now why will you come to mama when that lady says, but not when mama calls?” Mama turns to me. “They always behave better for someone else, don’t they?”

I simply smile at her as I gather my tots to leave. I can’t give her a direct question because, you know what? Popular as that sentiment is, I don’t believe it for a minute. It’s nonsense.

I can hear gasps even among my regular readers. You didn’t know I dissed that myth, did you?

See, here’s how it is. Even as I watched her interact with her child, I saw that woman make a critical error. If she makes that error routinely, as she probably does, this would pretty much entirely explain why her child doesn’t ‘come here’ when mama says “come here”.

Then there is me, The Stranger. I actually put hands on the child — very gently, of course — and directed her mildly back to mama, and that was enough to set her to wailing and racing back to mama.

This would not have happened were I mama, of course. The response I got was qualitatively different than mama would have received for the exact same action. And it is from this discrepancy that the Myth of “Better for Others than Parents” arises.

And that myth extends not just to strangers, but to caregivers, too. What I do is somehow magical. The child will behave better for me, simply because I am not mama. Even when I am no longer a stranger, the child will behave better for me, because of my not-mama-ness. This is the Myth of Better for Others than Parents.

At first, the “Better for Others” myth is in fact grounded in fact. A stranger is often unsettling to a child, unnerving, perhaps even intimidating. Rather than interact with a stranger who gets a bit directive, the toddler will very often head back to the security of the parent, even if that means (sigh) doing what they were told. That works — but only so long as the other adult is still a stranger.

There’s a transitional period during which a child in my care gets used to me, when I go from Stranger to familiar. It generally takes about three weeks, sometimes as long as five. But I can guarantee you that, after no more than six weeks, if I had been consistently responding to the child as mama does, that the child would be ignoring me just as she ignored mama.

Conversely, if mama, for about three to six weeks, responded as I would in that situation, her child would be responding to her directions the same as she would to me.

There is nothing magical about what I do vs. what mama does. We’re just doing different stuff.

Okay. This will be your quiz, your chance to analyze and evaluate. What did that mother do wrong? What action did she take, or not take, that pretty much ensured that her child would igore her instructions? Why did the child feel secure to ignore her?

July 2, 2008 Posted by | outings, parenting, power struggle | | 24 Comments

Craft for Canada Day! (which would work for the Fourth, come to that)

It’s Canada Day, celebrating the one hundredth and … um… 2008 less 1867 is … 141, yeah, that’s it! One hundred forthy-one years of Confederation. When I am NOT, in fact, working. The tots are safe home with their parents, doing whatever it is parents of toddlers do when they’re at home with them.

The post you are reading now was written yesterday, after the children got back from the beach, 17 minutes before the clouds rolled furiously in and 23 minutes before it began to rain. Timing, or what? AND after the children had all been popped efficiently into bed, where they collapsed into smiling little bundles of damp disheveled cuteness, from whence they would pop in a couple of hours leaving a momento dusting of grit in their wake. This is one of the many reasons why they sleep ON rather than IN my family’s beds, with their own, personal bedding.

So, while they snooze, I peruse. Scan the craft cabinet, seeking inspiration. We could do the tried-and-true handprint flag, which already graces the front door of many of my neighbours’ homes. We do them most years, and that’s all right. It’s not like they remember, and even if they did it last year their hand has changed size so enormously their parents will love to compare.

But, no. Mary wants something different, something original, something not-paint. So she peruses the drawers before her, waiting for inspiration.

And it hits! Yes! Because what does everyone* in Ottawa do on Canada Day? Ha.

So here we have the raw materials:

Tin foil, pipe cleaners, star-shaped beads, and pink ribbon. I will cut the pipe cleaners in half, and cut the ribbon into, oh, 30- or 45-cm lengths. Then I will twist the pipe cleaners together in the centre, cut some sparkly shapes out of the tin foil… slide on some beads … attach the ribbons and curl them …twist and curl the pipe cleaners a bit … and …

TA-DAH!!! Imagine a child bouncing this around at the end of his/her arm.
Know what you’re looking at?
(Besides all the DUST on Mary’s desk? Good LORD who knew that was there? Damned flash.)
Still no idea? Have a peek from a different angle:

…from which angle you now also get to see the greasy fingerprints. Which are NOT mine. However, I will ignore that for now, and you can, too. I will get out the all-purpose spray cleanser later.

Still no idea?

Hint: On Canada Day (and Victoria Day, and, for those of you to the south, the Fourth of July), what does everybody* do, everybody* go see?

Fireworks, of course!

Those are fireworks! Red and white Canada Day fireworks, sparkling and sproinging right there in your hand!

The kids will LOVE them. And if they don’t, I’ll keep theirs, too. Because I think these are adorable.

*Everybody except me. Are you kidding me? They don’t even start until ten p.m! Every year, I hear them, boom, buh-boom, boom, in the distance. They generally wake me up.

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Canada, crafts, holidays | , , | 7 Comments