It’s Not All Mary Poppins


It’s Friday!

It’s a lovely Friday, too, nicely cool, sunny, no humidity (thank GOD) to speak of.

I love Fridays.

I love Fridays because it’s the end of my work week, true. Even though I love all my little charges, they are indeed work, and the break at the end of the week is always welcome.

I love Fridays because I can get up exactly when I want the next morning. (Which, morning person that I am, is exactly the same time as I always get up, but somehow the feeling of freedom persists.)

I love Fridays because two of my part-time children don’t come, so it makes for a lighter workday at the end of a busy week.

I love Fridays because my Wonderful Husband always brings me a chiller at the end of the work day.

Those are all good reasons to love Friday (and that last is one of the very many I love my Wonderful Husband so much), but there is another reason I love Fridays.

See, this is a busy house during the week, and I am a woman of moderate energy levels. Some people have indicated they believe I spend my day in a vibrant whirlwind of singing and dancing and playing and clapping and jumping and just general all-round giddiness. Because that’s what good caregivers do, right? Nope. That’s what children do. Good caregivers encourage and supervise/monitor all that good stuff, but we partake when we feel like it, not out of obligation. Because play is the child’s work, not mine. Mine is more over-arching than that.

Besides, my energy levels, those admittedly moderate energy levels? Some weeks they are taxed to the max just being in the same room with all that singing and dancing and playing and clapping and jumping. Partaking, full-time partaking, is pretty much beyond me.

Which is fine.

On Monday I start out with tons of energy, fresh with ideas and enthusiasm. The ideas and enthusiasm usually carry me through — I genuinely love my job — but the energy? I start out sparking with the stuff (by my standards, anyway) on Monday, and then, as the week progresses, I go into conservation mode. It’s called “pacing yourself”.

And where does that show?

Not in the childcare. (Not usually, anyway. Maybe on the odd particularly bad week. A confluence of fretful children, behavioural challenges and some slight illness on my part, perhaps. Then I slack off. Yes, I do. And you know what? So long as that’s only an occasional thing, I don’t feel guilty about that. I am human. And even slacking off, even cutting a few corners, I am still tending to the children in a way that enables their parents to go to work without worry.)

It shows in the housework. I will never have a showpiece home. Better Homes and Gardens I ain’t, and that’s just fine with me. I grew up in a family culture in which being “house-proud” was an insult, not a compliment. It was used to describe people who valued the appearance and accoutrements of their home to a point which cause discomfort to its inhabitants. What was the point of a nice house if you were so busy cleaning it you could never enjoy it? If everyone in it is constantly being harangued: feet off the couch! don’t eat that here! don’t put that there! walk on the mat! put a coaster under that! If furnishing were chosen for appearance rather than comfort and usefulness. All that was ‘house-proud’ and all that was foolish.

There’s a balance, of course, a happy medium. The inhabitants are more important the the house they inhabit, but certain standards of cleanliness also contribute to comfort. While you may never be able to eat off my floors — which is not to say it doesn’t happen pretty much daily around here — you won’t stick to them, either. So it’s good. Or at least, good enough for me.

When my own children were young, it was the third child who pushed me over the housework brink. I managed just fine with two; three was the challenge. (Not that she was a difficult baby, anything but. It was simply the logistics.) That’s when the older two really got drawn into helping out (and at 7 and 4, it was none too soon – I could have, should have, started them earlier). With their help, it was good again. But with five? None of them older than four and a half? And me, I’m twenty years older (twenty years tireder) than I was when my own were that young.


I don’t like clutter. I don’t like things piled on things. I like it when light can bounce off surfaces. I feel claustrophobic when there are heaps of things here and there.

And every Friday, I start to feel that claustrophobia. Nah, I start to feel it Thursday. On a bad week, Wednesday afternoon.

Because I have only so much energy, see, and if I’m not conserving it with the children, the next most energy-consuming arena in my life is housework. That’s where I ease off. And so, as the week progresses, the clutter gradually, steadily, inexorably creeps in from the corners, and by Friday lunch, I find myself having to shift a pile of books from a high chair tray before I can put the child into it. Where does that pile go? Well, were it Monday, it would go on the bookshelf in the kitchen, of course! But by Friday, those few extra steps just seem too much work, and so the books are deposited on the floor under the high chair. “For now.” (“For now”, that self-defeating concept, the bane of people who yearn for ‘tidy’ … I know better, but by Friday I generally can’t do better.)

Do “for now” ten times in a day, and you can see where I end up: a pile of books on a high chair tray, a pile of mail on the mantel, a pile of miscellania on the front hall table, a pile of clean cutlery on the shelf by the sink, a pile of fruit (washed, but not stored) tumbling around the other counter, a pile of laundry sitting on the bottom step, waiting to be taken to the bedrooms upstairs, a pile of glasses on my bedside table.

You can also see that not a great deal of this is daycare-related. Because, as I say, I don’t tend to slack with the daycare, and cleaning up after ourselves is one of the things we learn in daycare. Except I’m usually too involved with helping the tots clean up after themselves to do such a good job of it, myself.


But, though that modelling would probably be a good thing, there’s only so much one woman can do, I know that, I accept that, I don’t beat myself up over it. But I do say,


Because it means I get to CLEAN HOUSE!

Really. This makes me happy, honestly and sincerely happy.

Knowing that after the children leave I will have a whole weekend to use my energy differently… well, that gives me an energy rush. I can focus on my household and not the kid-clutter! Fifteen minutes after they leave, I will set my timer and fly through the house, sorting, organizing, storing… and in less than an hour, the house will be clutter-free once more.

I get all inspired, just thinking about it. 🙂 I’m less than ten hours away from a tidy, de-cluttered home.


July 30, 2010 Posted by | daycare | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Woman of Substance

Carol at If By Yes has awarded me a “Blog of Substance” award. (Though perhaps really the Redundancy Award would be more apt.) Thank you! “Substance”. It’s a compliment worth receiving.

The Rules:
•Thank the blogger who awarded it to you (check)
•Sum up your blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience using five words
•Pass it on to 10 other blogs which you feel have real substance

Five words?

Ummm… “five toddlers and still sane”?

“five toddlers and questionably sane”?

“five toddlers and purportedly sane”?

“dog and toddlers: kindred spirits” (That’s for you, Carol!)

How about I do what Carol did and use a list of words, rather than try to create a meaningful phrase?

Respect Give it to the child: expect nothing less in return!

Backbone It’s a term from Barbara Coloroso, whom I respect immensely to describe a style of parenting I’ve always tried to maintain — and to teach to ‘my’ parents.

Creativity Not just crafts and games, fun as they are, but an attitude to this whole parenting schtick. There is no one right way to parent; you have to/get to wing it a lot, so enjoy the experience, be a little irreverent, and remember if you mess up once in a while, take heart: It is just not that easy to permanently screw up a child.

Laughter Every day. Every day there is some reason to laugh at with your child. If you’re not seeing it, take some time to yourself — a weekend away on your own (a girl can dream!), a walk, a shower, at the very least, put on your headphones and drown the little wretches out — you need the breather.

Expectations I find parents tend to have way too high expectations of themselves and way too low of their kids. Every parental mis-step is an EPIC FAIL, putting their child’s life-long emotional well-being in perilous jeopardy. (Note: No, it’s not. Give your kid some credit here; also, lower your expectations of yourself a smidge.) But those coffee shops which expect you to keep your child seated and non-disruptive? They’re just UNREASONABLE!!! (Note: No, they’re not. Give your kid some credit here; your expectations of your child are too low.)

There. I think that will do. Thanks again, Carol, for the compliment!

As for listing blog? I don’t read many blogs these days, and these days I’m drawn to blogs which are IN NO WAY even attempting to be substantial. So I don’t have ten. Not even close. Still, here are three of my favourites. I don’t expect anyone to take part in the meme. I just want to share some of my favourites with anyone reading here.

1. Mir at WouldaCouldaShoulda
2. Janet, From the Planet of Janet
3. Sarah, at A Piece of Sanity


July 29, 2010 Posted by | memes and quizzes, parenting | 1 Comment


Having made our solar-powered oven, it was time to make the food. Once again, I shamelessly steal Valerie’s idea, because… PIZZA!! Simple, decently nutritious, and shouldn’t take days and days to cook. I hoped. I had considered smores, but I had the fixings for pizza on hand, and smores? Not nutritious.

Sun-dried tomato and pesto tortillas to start, because we are nothing if not high-class (and nutritious!!) eaters in this joint, tomato sauce …

a sprinkling of cheese, which Emily had veeeery carefully grated…

pop it into our oven on the bright, sunny porch, and wait. We did this just before naptime, so that when we awoke, we’d have our snack all cooked and ready to eat!!! Brilliant, no?

The children went off to their beds with visions of pizza dancing in their heads, and when they awoke, we all raced out to see…

and discovered that yes, the cheese was indeed starting to melt. The sun had shifted, and I’d forgotten to shift the oven, darnit, otherwise it would have been totally cooked, I’m sure.

The cheese had started to melt, though, and though the pizza wasn’t entirely cooked…

that fly sure was.

Eeewwww… See him? No, not the one on the foil at upper left, though he was indisputably dead. No, I mean the one RIGHT IN THE CHEESE. Fly au gratin. A variation of the nasty-child fly-and-magnifying glass trick. Eeew. I do feel sorta sorry for those poor things, and would feel more, except — who invited you to sample our pizza anyway, rotten verminous insects? And because of your disease-ridden carcasses in there, we don’t get to eat it at all. At least you got a taste before you got your just desserts.

Poor things.

(Yes, I really am conflicted about a few stupid flies. Sad, isn’t it?)

Next time — and there will be a next time! — we will:
1) use a smaller box. I think it might have cooked more quickly if there’d been less space to heat;
2) make sure to check it periodically to ensure it gets full sun all the time;

and, most importantly

3) SEAL that sucker. “A few pieces of tape” were NOT sufficient to withstand the insatiable flies. (In fact, there were more than two dead flies in there. There were two more UNDER the pizza. Ugh.)

But really, if I were hunting for a Life Lesson re: the Importance of Sunscreen … I think I’ve found it.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | crafts, eeewww, food, health and safety | , , , | 4 Comments

Sun Power!

Our theme for the month is Summer. We are currently talking about the sun, and so when I found that Valerie had made a solar-powered oven with her girls, I decided that we would do the very same thing.

(Not only does it fit in with our theme, but how better to demonstrate the need for sunscreen than by watching the sun actually, physically cook something?! No, I don’t plan on scaring the tots… but maybe for a reluctant 8-year-old?)

We found a box in the recycling bin, a nice sturdy one with a removable lid, and we lined it with tin foil.

We found a lid from a plastic container in the adjacent recycling bin (one for plastics and glass, one for paper!), cut a hole in the lid of our study box — on three sides only! you’ll need that flap! — inserted the plastic for our window.

A few pieces of tape at the corners to secure the window in place…

cover your flap with foil so it can reflect sunlight down into the box…

and ta-dah! Your very own solar-powered oven!! Next up: PIZZA!!!

July 27, 2010 Posted by | crafts | , , , | 4 Comments

Sleeping like a baby…

I’ve always found that to be a cruel, cruel expression, btw. They sure look cute when they sleep, but… when it’s your child sleeping, and that child is, oh, less than three or four months old, the parental thought process can be a tad fraught. How long will it last? How sound it is? I need to get some stuff done… but I’m so tired! Should I nap first, or get stuff done? Could I maybe do BOTH??? (HA!) I’m so tired! He went down late… should I get him up early so he’ll fall asleep at a decent hour tonight? (HA!) Tired, so tired! Will the neighbour’s damnable yapping dog wake the baby? She’s been sleeping a long time… should I wake her? But I’m just sooooo tired….

If you’re of a sufficiently creative turn of mind (and, I suspect, if you’re sufficiently sleep-deprived), you might even use some of the baby’s nap-time to play fun games with baby and a camera.

I love it… even though I know that when my babies were that age, there is nooooo way I’d have risked my baby’s sweet, precious, desperately-longed-for moments of slumber by messing around, setting up the scene around him/her.

I wouldn’t have… but I’m glad this woman does!

Aren’t these hysterical?

(And I hope she is sufficiently grateful — which is to say, down on her knees, thanking the universe through tears of amazement grateful — for a child who sleeps that soundly!)

July 26, 2010 Posted by | Mischief | , , | 6 Comments

I have mentioned my degree was in English, right?

I talk to the children while I change their diapers. Of course. Who doesn’t? It is pretty much the definition of “captive audience”, and besides, we often need distraction from the goopiness of the task at hand. Although, given that the tendency is to talk about the task at hand, I’m not sure that it’s really that much of a distraction.

Given, also, that the child is very often pre-verbal, you are mostly chattering for your own amusement. Well, yes, you’re interacting with the child, but you’re perfectly aware it’s a one-sided conversation. You’re not expecting conversation in return.

I kneel on the floor, I chatter. And because the child is more audience than fellow-conversant, I play with the words for my own amusement. Ya takes yer entertainment where ya finds it…
“Lily! Another poo? Goodness, child. That’s three this morning! You’re making scatalogical history, my dear. You do know that you’re supposed to consolidate your output, right? One poo, three times the size is what we’re after, not three poos one-third the volume. Three poops? A poo in triplicate! A poo trifecta.”

(Lily and I share a delighted grin, me with my silliness, she with my pleasure in my silliness.)

“It’s a flagrant waste, my love. A waste of waste, even. Consolidate your solids, baby girl. Consolidate when you eliminate. That’s the preferred method, sweetness. Not that you are particularly sweet at the moment, noisome child. Gracious, what a stench… [and suddenly I hear what I’ve just said] a noisome stench, in fact! With which you’ll drive me from my home.”

This is why the children in my care develop good vocabularies… and mayhap pick up a little Shakespeare while they’re at it. Can’t make any guarantees re: their sanity, however…

July 23, 2010 Posted by | eeewww, Mischief, potty tales | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Science made simple

We made chocolate chip peanut butter cookies this morning.

“Why are you putting the peanut butter in the water, Mary?”

“It’s the best way to measure it. I need one cup of peanut butter. Problem is, peanut butter is very thick. If I were to push the peanut butter into the measuring cup, I wouldn’t know if there was an air bubble in there, right? I wouldn’t know that I was getting exactly one cup of peanut butter.”

“Why are you putting the peanut butter in the water, Mary?”

“Well, let’s start over.” I dump the water out, and set the peanut butter on a plate. “We’ll put one cup of water in the measuring cup. See? Right up to that line.”

“The line with the number one?”

“Good for you, Emily. Yes. Now how much water is in there?”

“One cup.”

“That’s right. Now watch what happens when we put in the peanut butter.” I let each child take turns dropping in a spoonful of peanut butter, and we watch the water level rise. “Okay, now where is the water?”

“At the two!” It’s a good thing one of them can read her numbers…

“So now the water has moved up, from one to two…” and suddenly I am faced with the realization that these kids do not yet have any concept of conservation of mass or volume. If you fill a tall skinny glass and a short fat glass with the exact same amount of water, water which they saw you measure, they will swear up and down the tall skinny glass has more in it. And will fight to drink from it.

Some — but not all — of them understand the concepts of “more than” and “less than” but even those who get that much have only the vaguest of notions that “two” is “one more than” one. This is sophisticated stuff.

Ummmm… Four pairs of eyes gaze at me and stare at our peanut butter, still in its bath. I’m stalled. What I need is a total change of approach. Off goes Normal, Soft-Spoken Mary, and in comes Bright and Cheesy Mary.

“You know what?? This is called ‘Archimedes’ Principle’!!! Can you say ‘Archimedes’?”

“Ar-ka-mee-deez!” They like this game. They’re not sure who Bright and Cheesy Mary is, but she’s sure is entertaining!

“That’s right! Archimedes is someone’s name. He was a man who lived a long, long time ago. He was a very smart man. A very smart man who discovered that you could measure peanut butter by dropping it in water!!”


“That’s right. Let’s all say it again!”

And we do. And then we mix the peanut butter with the butter and beat in some sugar and eggs, and get on with the business of making cookies. Which is really what we came to do, anyway.

Archimedes can wait, just a bit…

July 22, 2010 Posted by | random and odd | , , , | 8 Comments

Sunshine-ing Craft

Our theme for the month is Summer, and the sub-theme for the week (no, I am not always so organized) is SUNSHINE. No, I am not always so organized, though I honestly don’t know why I don’t do it more often, since I LOVE THE FEELING so. I truly do.

So. This week. Summer sun. And to that end, Sunshine Suncatchers. Because in my house, it’s not ‘redundancy’, it’s ‘repetition’. It’s not ‘boring’, it’s ‘comforting’. As in, if The Bellybutton Book is good the first time we read it, it’s every bit as wonderful the 175th time we read it. Especially if we read it 175 times IN ONE DAY!!!! Because, when you are two years old, there is NO SUCH THING as “too much of a good thing”. No such thing at all.

Summer sunshine suncatchers. Sunny suncatchers. As simple as tissue paper, wax paper, and podgy. You will not that the bottle of glue says ‘podgy’ on it in hand lettering. That is because I make my own. You take regular old white school glue — this bottle came from the dollar store — and you water it down by a third or half. In this case, since it was of mediocre quality initially (see, above, “dollar store”), I only watered it down by a third. If you started out with good quality glue, you could probably water it down by half.

Please also note that I am throwing around these fractions with far, far more assurance than is warranted. It is not as if I, you know, measured anything. You want podgy, you take your white glue and add water a little at a time, stirring constantly, until it looks like podgy. And then you stop.

The wax paper will be the base of your coloured paper. You could just cut yourself a sunshine shape out of wax paper, but though it might appear at first glance to be more work this way, it is FAR easier to cut one circle and a bunch of triangles — one curve, a bunch of straight cuts — than it is to cut a bunch of triangles ranged around a circle. (In and out and in and out and round and in and… Trust me on this one…) And though I truly love crafts, I have my limits. Cutting out four or six full-formed sunshines just screamed BORED TO TEARS.

Tear the tissue into smallish bits. Yes, that is my adult hand there. Though toddlers demonstrate remarkable tearing skill when they are ripping pages from your library books, tearing is in fact a rather challenging task for them. Some (the minority) of them can manage it, and some (everyone else) only produce scrunched-up wads of stretched paper. And if you don’t think paper can stretch, you’ve never seen a two-year-old try to tear tissue. It’s quite entertaining. If pointless.

Cover your surface with podgy…

and cover the podgy with tissue.

As far as the kids were concerned, THIS was the fun part. They stayed at it for quite a while.

Set your wet pieces someplace safe to dry for a while. (This is my front hall floor, most definitely NOT a ‘safe place’, but it did have the advantage of lots of natural light for my light-hungry camera. I wanted you to be able to see the nice shine that develops as it dries.)

I could have taken an intermediary picture or two here, but we got excited and impatient, but I think you can figure the missing steps out: cut the rectangles into triangles, then tape the triangles to the circles. Hang it up in a window, and let the sun shine in!

Were I to do this one again, I’d go for shades of yellow instead of the red. I was hoping to see orange emerge where the red and yellow were layered on top of each other, but the red was too opaque, or maybe the kids just put on too many layers. Whatever the reason, next time I’d tweak that one thing.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | crafts | , , , , | 4 Comments

My daughter the party-pooper

At seventeen, my youngest child Emma has grown up with and in a daycare. She knows toddlers inside and out, is a highly skilled an in-demand babysitter, and genuinely enjoys those little people. So much so that the other day when she needed to run an errand downtown, she asked if she could take one along with her. Knowing that Emily’s parents love it when Emily gets special treats with Emma, I offered Emily. At four and a half, Emily no longer needs a daily nap. (That she needs one at all is a bit unusual, given her early bedtime. She just needs more sleep than the average bear.)

So off they went, Emma and Emily together, two Big Girls on an excursion. They return three hours later, or so, hot but in good spirits.

“Hey, there. Did you have a good time?”

Emily answers while Emma nods along.

“We took the bus downtown and I could kneel on the seat and look out, and I remembered to keep my shoes off the seat. And Emma gave her papers to the lady in her school, and the lady thought she was my MOMMY!!!”

Emma grins. “My anthropology teacher probably decided that the reason I knew so much about the parenting/child development section of the curriculum was that I had one of my own. But then she found out how old Emily was. I’d have been, what? Twelve?”

“Yeah, and I told the lady that MY mommy is THIRTY-FIVE.” Emily clearly believes this is an ENORMOUS age, thick with antiquity.

“Ms. J thought Emily was pretty cute.” The three of us agree that Ms. J is a smart woman.

“Then we went to the coffee shop and I had a muffin and Emma had a cold coffee. I think cold coffee is yucky, so I had lemonade instead. And then we decided that we would walk home.”

I shoot Emma a surprised look. Emily is not a bad walker, but not one of my best, and it’s a good three kilometres back — though the last stretch along the canal is pretty and pleasant. But the first km or so, down a hot and busy city street would not be the most pleasant.

“The bus wasn’t coming for another 23 minutes, so I decided we’d walk till we got tired, and we ended up walking the whole way. That first stretch is kind of boring, though, so we played a game –”

Emily interrupts. “We played a game, only Emma wouldn’t let me finish.” She gives Emma a reproving glare. It’s clear that, despite the fun and the treats, Emma is not quite forgiven.

“Our game was that we tried to find something interesting in the store windows we passed.” As I recall that stretch of street, this game would have required determination and keen observational skills: there are a smattering of restaurants and coffee shops with no particular display, an appliance repair place, an office supply shop, a photocopy place… none of which are exactly rich with creative potential.

Oh, but then… Oh, yes…

And Emily found it.

this wonderful place! Wonderful! Bright colours, pretty items, and rainbows! All sorts of rainbows! A rainbow mug, rainbow jewellry, and, most wonderful of all, a rainbow of sparkling, glittery metallic ribbons attached to a fan so that they arched across the entire storefront in a shimmering, ever-moving river of colour.

“OH, EMMA! LOOK!!!!” And there Emily parked herself, mesmerized.

Emma rolled her eyes, telling me. “Great, mum. Wouldn’t you know that the one store that would have the VERY BEST display for a four-year-old, the one that would draw her like a magnet in those whole five boring blocks, would be the …” she glances at Emily and drops her voice to a near-inaudible whisper … “gay porn store???”

In fact, that term does the place an injustice. Though it sells some small non-literary items, the place is primarily a GBLT bookstore. It did just so happen, though, that the books open in the front window had pictures…

“And they were pretty explicit, mum. But that didn’t really matter; she wouldn’t understand what she was seeing. Besides, with that amazing sparkling rainbow in the top half of the window, she didn’t even notice the books. I wasn’t worried about Emily, I was worried about anyone else, watching us.” Emma throws a quaking hand against her fevered brow, mimicking potentially horrified onlookers. “Just LOOK at that AWFUL woman, making her little girl stare into THAT window!!!”

So there she was, dragging the poor child away from the only GOOD window in five blocks of a boring street. What kind of a babysitter is she, anyway?

“Emma didn’t want me to see the rainbow, Mary!”

Disgraceful, that’s what.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Emily, my kids, Ottawa, outings | , , | 3 Comments

La, la, la… oops

My iPod is in the dock, Bruce Cockburn singing softly in the background. I love this dock. It’ll take any iPod or iPhone, and it plays CDs as well, all in a tidy black package, its two neat speakers putting out as much sound as I’ll ever require of it.

Sounds, I suddenly notice as I kneel on the floor changing little Rory’s diaper, that I wasn’t expecting. We’ve moved past Bruce Cockburn and on to… Oh, how sweet. My ever-thoughtful husband remembered that I’d mentioned needing to mix up the songs on my iPod, and has added a bunch more tunes. Elton John wouldn’t be my first choice, mind you, but some of his stuff I quite like. Besides, it’s the thought that counts. 🙂

Rory smiles up at me as I sing mindlessly along with Elton’s happy fluff. “You love music, don’t you, sweetie?” Pausing to speak breaks into my mindlessness, and suddenly I hear what I’ve been singing for the past minute.

If the boy’s first word is “bitch“, you’ll know who to blame.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Rory | , , , | 2 Comments