It’s Not All Mary Poppins

We knows ALL ABOUT Civility and Gracious Conversation around here.

Picture two sweet elderly ladies, of the generation that values good manners and gentle civility. They speak in soft tones, they interact with gracious warmth. Their questions are rich with interest; they listen patiently to each other’s answers.

Got the picture? Feel the ambience?

Transfer that feeling, if you will, to the following conversation betwixt one Emily, seated on the potty, and Timmy, who crouches in front of her.

“You goin’ onna potty?”
“Yes. Yes, I am sitting on the potty.”
“You havin’ a poo?”
“No, I am not having a poo. I am doing a pee.”
“Maybe you will do a poo inna minnit.”
“No, I don’t think so. I think I will have a poo another time. This time I only need a pee.”
“Yeah. Sometimes you onny hasta do one. I needa poo.”
“You do? Then I will hurry up, and when I’m all done my pee, you can do a poo on top of my pee!”
“Oh, good idea! Thanks, Emmayee.”
“Your wekkum, Timmy.”

The whole conversation positively drips with Gracious Civility. That, and a little bit of pee.

October 21, 2008 Posted by | eeewww, Emily, manners, potty tales, socializing, the things they say!, Timmy | , , , | 5 Comments

Infertility Awareness Week: Guest Post

It might seem odd to highlight infertility on a blog that focusses on toddlers and parenting. However, who among us doesn’t know someone who has had difficulty conceiving, or who has even been told they will probably never bear a child? When a friend shares their sad news, it can be hard to know how to respond. One of my readers, Amy, writes poignantly of her struggles on her blog, Finding My New Normal. When she mentioned that this week is Infertility Awareness Week, I asked her if she would guest post.

Here’s what she has to say.

This week (October 19-25, 2008) is National Infertility Awareness Week®, a movement to raise awareness about the disease of infertility which affects 7.3 million Americans including me and my husband Bob. We have been trying to get pregnant for nearly 7 years. Our efforts include 5 tries involving medical intervention with an intrauterine insemination. We never got pregnant. We’ve never been pregnant.

There is no real medical reason for us not to get pregnant. I’ve had procedures to remove endometriosis and non-cancerous polyps. After each procedure we were told we would probably get pregnant now. We didn’t. When we started trying I was 33 years old and Bob was 39. Next week Bob will be 47 and I will turn 41 in December. Needless to say, as we age, our chances of conceiving become lower and lower.

As we age and our married life continues on without children, I find myself getting more and more desperate and more and more despondent. This isn’t what we imagined our married life to be. One of the things we found attractive in each other when we were dating was our mutual love of children. We even agreed on how many kids we wanted to raise and on our first daughter’s name (Grace). Our first years as a married couple were difficult due to an unrelated disability of my husband’s but we tempered the difficulties with dreams of raising a family. We talked of how we would teach and discipline our kids and what fun we would have during the holidays.

As it became apparent with each passing year that we wouldn’t get to spend our holidays with our own kids or travel with them, we began to find ways of coping. We joined RESOLVE, an infertility support group, and we tried surrounding ourselves with friends and family who would encourage us, spend time with us, and occasionally lend us their kids. Still, there are times when nothing really helps stem the tide of hurt that comes from being infertile. One of the most difficult times happened just recently when one of my best friends had an unplanned/surprise pregnancy and felt it best not to tell me right away. We worked through it and as happy as I am for her and her family, I can’t help but feel twinges of jealousy and wish it was me instead. This is common in women who can’t conceive.

Our story does not yet have a happy ending but that doesn’t mean things aren’t happily resolved for the other 7.3 million people struggling with infertility. We are finding our way and as we grope our way through this pain, we are finding things that help.

One of the things that helps is our RESOLVE infertility support group. Once a month we meet with others who are as familiar with our struggle as we are with theirs. We also share email addresses and phone numbers so we have contact the other 29-30 days of the month.

Another thing that helps is having friends who care. None of my closest friends have struggled with infertility but all of them have had some other kind of life pain and know how to offer a shoulder to cry on. They all offer prayers on my behalf, and if they don’t know what to say, they just say that. Sometimes all I need is someone to listen to me and give me a hug. Sometimes it even helps to hear my friends say they don’t know why we have to bear this burden and it just doesn’t seem fair. They are echoing my own sentiments and it makes them seem more normal to hear others give voice to them as well.

Something else that helps is having friends and family call us to watch their kids or to spend time with them during family friendly times such as holidays, birthdays, etc. Bob and I like to got to pumpkin patches, apple orchards, theme parks, zoos and the like but sometimes we are looked upon as odd because we are in family-centric areas without children. (Adults without kids are eyed suspiciously when they are spending time around a lot of children.) So we jump at the chance to take our friend’s and family’s children to the zoo, library, mall, etc. This gives us fun time with kids we love as well as giving our friends and family much needed time alone together.

So, please take some time this week to consider those around you who may be struggling with infertility. Consider calling them and asking them over for dinner to spend time with your family. Consider asking if they would ever be open to watching your kids. Consider asking them to spend time with you during the holidays. Consider just asking them how they are coping and if there is anything you can say or do to help. They may say no today, but just by acknowledging their struggle, you will have given them the greatest gifts…care, concern, and friendship.

If you’re interested in more information, Amy suggested the RESOLVE website, which lists “Specific ways to help/not help infertiles.” You can also check in throughout this week at Finding My New Normal for resources available to infertiles and those who love them.

Thank you, Amy.

October 20, 2008 Posted by | commemoration, parents, the dark side | , , | 5 Comments

Why I love my job, reason #563,143,654

Anna makes her leaf belt. Don’t you just want to squeeze her all to goodness?

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Anna, crafts, outings | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Word to the Wise Parent

A request from your childcare provider.

When you are preparing to leave for daycare at the beginning of the day, you will probably chat with your child. You will talk about what you’re eating for breakfast, which clothes you will wear. You’ll maybe speculate on the friends s/he will play with, and the activities s/he might enjoy during his/her day.

All perfectly sweet. All developmentally and emotionally appropriate.

Do not, however, lead your child to believe that these speculations are, in fact, plans. Do not encourage this notion by saying to your child “Go to the library? What a good idea! Let’s tell Caregiver what you would like to do today!”

And then, when you arrive at daycare, do not prompt your child, “What did you want to tell Caregiver today?” (“Tell” Caregiver. Not, oh… “ask”. Hmmm…)

And when the child CAN’T REMEMBER, do not REMIND him/her.

“Remember, honey? You said you wanted to go tooooo…”

“The lie-berry?”

“That’s right, honey! You wanted to go to the library!”

“Lie-berry! YAY!!”

Do not then look at the caregiver and say, “I hope it’s okay, but s/he really wanted to get out another CURIOUS GEORGE BOOK (right honey? you wanted a Curious George book!!)”


Do not do this, because:

1. Your caregiver might have made other plans for the day. It’s not that she can’t redirect your child (easily, once you and your expectations have gone), it’s that she shouldn’t have to.

2. Your caregiver, regardless of whether she’s made plans for the day, might prefer to be consulted about her workday’s agenda.

3. Your caregiver might have philosophical concerns about confirming a two-year-old’s notion that s/he is The Boss of the Universe.

4. Your caregiver might take offense at the implication that she does not take Precious to the library often enough.

5. Your caregiver might be annoyed that you assume that Precious’s wants should take precedence over any or all other children in her care.

6. She might further be annoyed that you seem to have less awareness than Precious that there are other children in the daycare with their own wants and needs. Kids, who, perhaps, enjoy, oh, the park as much as Precious enjoys the library.

In short, it will Piss Your Caregiver Off.

Don’t do it.

October 16, 2008 Posted by | daycare, manners, parents, power struggle, the dark side | , | 16 Comments

Making lemonade

Not too long, one of my parents gave me this:

She’s a research scientist. This book was no longer of use to her, and rather than just toss it in the black box, she wondered if the kids might make use of it in some way. The cover is not what one might term “promising”, is it? I flipped through its pages. Most of them looked like this:

While others looked like this:

Oh, yeah. Just leaps right up screaming “OH! FUN TIMES!!!”, doesn’t it? There were some pages with a little pizzazz something recognizable to look at, as Mom pointed out: pencil drawings of snakes and amphibians, black-and-white photos of fish.

But the ideas, they were not a-flowing. I had NO IDEA what I’ll do with this thing. Short of tossing it in MY black box and keeping Mom’s environmental conscience pure…

Which is exactly what, when I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and tucked the book onto a shelf, I thought I’d be doing with the thing. But, see, while I am not always 100% convinced of the necessity of honesty, I am a kind person. Dammit. Which meant that while I am perfectly capable of tossing it and telling her that I’d lost it, I couldn’t bring myself to ignore the kindliness of her impulse. To sneer at her generosity, no matter how uninspiring its manifestation, would be unkind. And ungrateful. And that, I just couldn’t manage.

That means I couldn’t throw the thing away without at least trying to do something with it.

And, whadday know? We did it!

Creativity doesn’t require huge amounts of intelligence, or even artistic talent. It’s just a matter of looking at things in a playful way…


October 15, 2008 Posted by | crafts, holidays | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The play’s the thing — especially when it does the dishes

Remember how I was saying that for small children, everything is play?

Some very clever people have come up with a way to extend that to older children. Called Chore Wars, the site is based on the notions that work can be fun, even drudgework like household chores, if it’s a game. Your family is a team, each with their own character, working to complete tasks for rewards and points. You might even have to battle the occasional troll or paper golem along the way. (I found a “tentacle” while cleaning the bathroom this morning! AND defeated it!)

Add a little competition within the team, and you might just have the key to getting those damned beds made without a fuss!

October 14, 2008 Posted by | parenting, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am not working today.

I have rearranged the clothing shelves in my room, after I had a brilliant moment of clarity re: effective use of small shelves and mesh baskets. (It look SO MUCH better. And will be SO MUCH easier to keep tidy. I am BRILLIANT!)
I took the dog for her pre-breakfast walk. (One hour. We did some “loose-leash” and “recall” practice while we were at it.)
I took a long walk, and had a leisurely coffee with my sweetie.
I will be planting 75 tulip and daffodil bulbs in my front yard. As soon as I clear out the leaves.
I will pull the laundry in off the line and put it away as soon.
I will begin cooking Thanksgiving dinner for seven tonight (seven people, not seven p.m.). After I plant the bulbs. In two hours from now.

Somewhere in there I will have a shower.

But I am not working, not me!

So, no daycare stories today. If you want to read about some woman’s weird-but-wonderful teen, you might follow that link.

October 13, 2008 Posted by | Canada, holidays | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Junk food, maternal compromise, the essential skill of basking

The very smart Mir was discussing the easy Mommy points available when the otherwise nutritionally hard-assed mother slips the occasional bottle of wine cookie into her children’s lunch boxes. Said kids will be delirious with glee — and overwhelmed with gratitude for this sugar-sweetened evidence of Motherlove, natch.

When my kids were little (before the dawn of HFCS awareness and when trans-fats were just an oily smear on the horizon), I routinely passed off fruit as dessert, refused to allow pop into the house, and kept junk to the occasional (once or twice a month) treat. Breakfast was French toast or hot cereal with fruit, scrambled eggs, and, sometimes, homemade soup. Why not?

My eldest once made me Very Proud, when, at the age of three and confronted with a potluck dessert table filled with ooey-gooey sugary goodness, opted for an apple. Her choice, not mine. (Once in a while a kid will do something like that, something totally virtuous, and they’ll do it IN PUBLIC!! Don’t be all modest and self-deprecating. Don’t say “Oh my God, that NEVER happens at home!!!” Grab your moments of glory when they come to you. BASK in it woman, BASK! Because you know it’s only a matter of time until they’re caught picking their nose and eating it during storytime at the library.)

So, apples for dessert, yes, but my kids were also drawn to those magical, mystical super-sweetened glow-in-the-dark, marshmallow-studded breakfast “cereals”. Pointed at their gaudy boxes and gave me puppy-dog-eyes in the breakfast food aisle. Not that they’d ever eaten any of it, of course. This was the mother whose children didn’t eat candy of any sort before their third birthday, and certainly not for breakfast. It was just the IDEA of such ooey-gooey decadence. For BREAKFAST!

I was unmoved by puppy-dog eyes.

“That is NOT food.” And I really believe that. It is not food, no matter how many vitamins and minerals they sprinkle on the cardboard, styrofoam, sugar and chemicals after the fact. Send my kids off to school … well, okay, I was homeschooling then … Send my kids off to the livingroom with THAT in their bellies and expect them to think, never mind stay awake until lunch? I think not.

More puppy-dog-eyes. “Sorry, guys. It’s not food. That stuff is nothing but junk.” Which gave me my semi-brilliant idea. We were, after all, comfortably past the no-candy, fine-tune-their-palate years. We were into the sensible-choices-for-life training. Junk food was allowed, in moderation. The children were learning to monitor and evaluate their own intake. They were beginning to grasp the difference between junk and real food, the purposes of each.

Junk food, junk cereal… Hmmm…

“Okay, guys. Which box would you like?”

Three sets of eyeballs almost, but not quite, landed on the floor of Aisle Five. There was a lively debate before a box of Lucky Charms ended up in the cart. Three kids were beside themselves with anticipation of the gustatory bliss that awaited.

Here was the deal: one box of “junk cereal” was purchased each month, which we had (are you ready for this?) in lieu of candy!

I know. Deviously brilliant, huh?

I figure even CocoPuffs have less sugar and more fiber than, say, a Caramilk bar, and less fat than potato chips. The added vitamins and mineral in the drek, put there to convince the gullible that this is a food with actual nutrient value, give it more nutritional merit than you’d be getting in yer average package of Twizzlers. A handful of Lucky Charms eaten as finger food instead of Fuzzy Peaches. Struck me as a reasonable compromise. The point of monitoring is not to refuse yourself these nutritionally-void goodies entirely, but to ensure that they are occasional treats in an otherwise healthy diet.

Over the years they worked their way through a wide range of boxes that would never otherwise be given shelf space in my home. They got their sugar-coated ick, but they learned its appropriate place in the nutritional scheme of things. And now that they’re teens and beyond, not one of them ingests the stuff. (Yes, they eat junk, just not this junk.) The most popular breakfast around here in summer is non-fat plain yoghurt with fresh fruit stirred into it, and in winter it’s oatmeal.

And they make it themselves.

Hm? What? Sorry, can’t year you … I’m basking.

October 10, 2008 Posted by | food, health and safety, my kids | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Non-toy playthings

When my eldest was three, she had a “doctor box”. I’m not quite sure how it earned that name, but that’s what it was.

The doctor box was in fact a shoe box, filled with … oh, this and that. A lot of it came from the kitchen: plastic measuring cups and spoons, a funnel or two, a mesh strainer. There was often a (carefully washed) pill-bottle or two in there. (Maybe that’s where the name came from?) Fabric scraps, a belt buckle, a handful of jigsaw puzzle pieces, a couple of polished rocks, a feather. You get the idea. It was just a collection of interesting stuff. Interesting to a three-year-old, at any rate.

The contents of the box were not static. Some things were returned to their orginal spots, or used in crafts, or just lost somewhere. Other things were put in.

Whatever its contents, the doctor box was the favourite plaything for months and months. I could take it on car trips or trips to the doctor (maybe that explains the name?) or anywhere there’d be an otherwise boring downtime, knowing that the wonders of the doctor box would keep her happily occupied for as long as necessary.

Sometimes she was a doctor (name?), sometimes she was a chef, sometimes she was a fireman. (Not “fighter”. She was a fireman.) Sometimes the items in the box had personas and characters: they tended to squabble amongst themselves a lot, the strainers and the feather and the rocks. A lot of chatter, a lot of imagination, a lot of very happy hours were passed with the doctor box.

It was the best money I never spent.

I take a similar approach to the daycare. People often assume that, as a daycare home, I must be overrun with toys. It’s true, I have more toys stored in my dining room than the average mother of teens and a twenty-something! But I’m quite, quite sure I have far fewer toys kicking around than many (most?) homes with only one toddler. In part, that’s simply practicality: I have a small house. I do not want piles of multi-coloured clutter toys littering my home. I do not want them, but, even more to the point, children do not need them.

Children do not need great mounds of toys. I am convinced that children with shelves and closets and cupboards full of toys are poorer at amusing themselves, and more in need of distraction, than children accustomed to fewer toys. Just because they have fewer toys does not mean they play less! They just play differently. One might argue, more creatively, using more imagination.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s discovered the glories of the non-toy. I know I’m not because the writers and commenters over at Unclutterer have come up with a lovely long list of toy alternatives. Don’t stop with the post. The commenters have a ton of good ideas!

One might note that a significant number of these non-toy playthings look to the adult eyes like work: sorting socks, making cookies, straightening the fringe on the carpet. Not to the child! With these kinds of activities, the children’s play is not something remote and unconnected with the Real Life of the household, but is, instead, part of it. This sort of children’s play models adult behaviour, helps children feel part of the family, gives them real, productive tasks in which to take pride. It builds self-esteem.

It is we adults who have decided that “play” is by definition frivolous, with no agenda but the activity itself. For children, play is how they make sense of the world around them. Everything and anything is play fodder: colouring, singing, sorting socks, putting dirty dishes in the sink (non-breakable, at this age!), blocks, puzzles, washing the car, counting to ten, sweeping up the dried leaves that fell off their leaf belts. Play is not frivolous, it is practicing life.

Life. Work, recreation, even conflict. It’s all fodder for play.

My, I’ve wandered from my original idea… All right, given that we needn’t feel guilty for “only” baking with our kids and “only” letting them help with chores, rather than playing with them; given that you can choose not to spend a heap of money on a mound of toys… Given all that, how does this manifest in your home? What are some non-toy playthings or activities that your child particularly enjoys?

October 9, 2008 Posted by | crafts, daycare, Developmental stuff, socializing | , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Autumn crafts, again: Leaf belts and seeking more

Here we have our masking-tape belts, all turned into tapestries. The one on the far right is baby Noah’s. He was more interested in crumpling the tape than sticking things to it. The few leaves on it were placed there by the other children, who noted that if they stuck stuff to his back, he couldn’t rip it off. Clever little things, aren’t they?

The belts were not quite so lushly decorated when they were removed from the children, but once displayed on the dining room wall they became much more interesting. The leaf stash in the stroller — there is always a leaf stash in the stroller these days — the stash was raided, and slammed onto the tapes on the wall. Whapping leaves onto the wall was way fun.

Ta-dah! Thanks for the tip, JWG. (JWG’s comment is number three.)

It striked me that with fall here (or on its way for some of you), the time is right for leaf crafts. We’ve done a couple here. I have more, but I’m sure I’m not the only one with ideas!! Let’s open the floor: How about you out there? Any crafts you like to do with the fall leaves?

October 8, 2008 Posted by | Canada, crafts | , , , , , | 8 Comments