It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Parenting Preparation Curriculum

Really. We have childbirth preparation classes. I found mine so useful that I eventually qualified to become a prenatal instructor, and did that happily for about ten years. Loved it! But are there Parenting Preparation classes out there? If not, there should be! A friend sent me this great curriculum outline this morning, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Lesson 1

1. Go to the grocery store.
2. Arrange to have 75% of your salary paid directly to their head office.
3. Go home.
4. Pick up the paper.
5. Read it for the last time.

Lesson 2

A really good way to discover how the nights might feel…
1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5PM to 10PM carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly. (Eat cold food with one hand for dinner)
2. At 10PM, put the bag gently down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.
3. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1AM.
4. Set the alarm for 3AM.
5. As you can’t get back to sleep, get up at 2AM and make a drink and watch an infomercial.
6. Go to bed at 2:45AM.
7. Get up at 3AM when the alarm goes off.
8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4AM.
9. Get up. Make breakfast. Get ready for work and go to work. (Work hard and be productive!)*

Repeat steps 1-9 each night. Keep this up for 4 – 7 months. Look cheerful and together.

Lesson 3

Can you stand the mess children make? To find out…
1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.
2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed and then rub them on the clean walls.
4. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc. Wreck it.
5. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?

Lesson 4

Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.
1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.
2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.

Time allowed for this – all morning.

Lesson 5

Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van. And don’t think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don’t look like that.

1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there.
2. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.
3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle Cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.
4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.

Lesson 6

Go to the local grocery store. Take with you the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice). If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat. Buy your week’s groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys. Until you can accomplish this easily, do not even contemplate having children.

Lesson 7

1. Hollow out a melon.
2. Make a small hole in the side.
3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.
4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by
pretending to be an airplane.
5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.
6. Tip half the remainder into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.

You are now ready to feed a nine-month-old baby.

Lesson 8

Learn the names of every character from Sesame Street , Barney, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon. Watch nothing else on TV but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years. (I know, you’re thinking What’s ‘Noggin’?) Exactly the point.**

Lesson 9

Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying ‘mommy’ repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each ‘mommy’; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is required). Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

Lesson 10

Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt- sleeve, or elbow while playing the ‘mommy’ tape made from Lesson 10 above. You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

*Doesn’t this one make you SO GRATEFUL for Canada’s full-year maternity leave? Can you even imagine going back to work when your child is four or six weeks old? Barbaric.

** Know what? I couldn’t do that, either. Why? We don’t watch television. Who has time?

January 31, 2011 Posted by | parenting | | 7 Comments

Planning Ahead

I have a ‘curriculum’ of sorts for the daycare. Each month has a theme. Crafts and activities all relate to the theme in some way. Each month is also supposed to have a colour, a letter or two, and a number as well, but I am not as consistent about these.

January’s theme was (surprise!) “Snow”. February’s will be “Love and My Family”. I don’t talk about it much here because it’s far from the most important thing I do with the children.

I homeschooled my three children for the first four or five years of elementary school (not including kindergarten) without much of a curriculum, either, and when they joined institutional school, they were all three in the top 10% of their class. Each of them had one subject where, at least for a year or so, they were top of the class. Learning is about much more than a column of skills on a checklist somewhere.

Still, a theme does keep my brain involved, it gives some form to my days, and some of the parents just Love It. These are good reasons for a ‘curriculum’ (though you’ll note that none of them really has anything to do with the children). At this age, what they need to learn are non-pedagogical. Colours, numbers, shapes, letters, reading? Not nearly as important as sharing, taking turns, saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ — all expressions of caring, consideration, and the dawning awareness that other people have needs too, and that those needs (shocking as this is to some people far older than two years of age) those needs are just as real, and matter just as much — sometimes MORE — than your own.

I know. Boggles the mind.

And that the best way to get your needs met is to communicate them respectfully. Not by shouting or hitting or biting or issuing threats. And yes, a two-year-old can be learning this. I routinely say to children under two, “You may be angry, but you may not [insert inappropriate behaviour].” They don’t get it right away, of course, because it’s a very difficult lesson. All the more reason to start it early!

But a person who knows how to treat others well, who knows how to manage conflict without resorting to threats, manipulation or violence (mental, physical, emotional), that person will succeed in life in a way that someone lacking these skills, no matter how high their IQ or long their list of academic accomplishments, will never manage.

Well. That was one enormous tangent. I sat down intending to talk about my craft plans for next month. But you know what? I hear Lily* stirring, so I need to go soon, and if I don’t post something now, I won’t post anything. So you’re stuck with a dribs-and-drabs, unfocussed post! Some days that’s all that’s possible! 🙂 Maybe I’ll get around to a Valentine-love-family craft-y post on Monday…

(*Yes! Only Lily today! Rory spent last night throwing up, Grace doesn’t come on Fridays, Emily and Tyler have pink-eye, and New Baby is staying home with mommy today. So once Lily is awake, we are GOING OUT! Only one baby? It’s a veritable day off!!! Whee!)

January 28, 2011 Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, socializing | , , , | 5 Comments

First Words

“No, I think it’s more ‘Oreo-eo-eo’.”
“Or maybe ‘Oh-yo-yo-yo-yo’?”

“Yeah, that’s it. ‘Oh-yo-yo’.”


Rory, man of few words, has learned to say “Romeo”.

Sort of.

January 27, 2011 Posted by | Rory, the dog, the things they say! | | 1 Comment

Cause and effect

House-training continues.

For Romeo, that is. Right now no human child is potty training in my house. Tyler is done, and no one else is ready to start. A small breather.

We had hit a bit of a wall in the puppy version. See, while Romeo certainly seems to have grasped that we DO want him to pee outside, he did not at all understand that we did NOT want him peeing inside. We’d been keeping the house relatively puddle-free by dint of hourly pee-breaks, but Romeo? Was not with the program. It is safe to say that he was totally oblivious that a program existed.

What to do? Consult my all-knowing internet dog guru, of course! “Introduce treats to the training!” she said. If the consequence of a pee in the house is a startling “NO” and being whisked outside, while the consequence of peeing outside is delirious joy and a TREAT… well, it won’t take him too long to make the distinction.

Makes sense to me!

Romeo likes this new twist. Very much. Now, having peed outside, he will sit and look up at you expectantly. “See? I’m a GOOD BOY! Aren’t I a GOOD BOY??? Treat, treat, treat, treat!!!” all the while his wee tail going a mile a minute.

We’ve seen progress, too. Indoor accidents have dropped by 50%. YAY!!

Which is why I was a little flabbergasted the other day, as I stood in the kitchen, chopping stuff, to look down and see Romeo, PEEING AT MY FEET!


And then, when he was done, he sat down, his wee tail going a mile a minute. As if he’d done something GOOD. As if he expected to be praised. As if he were about to get a…


The chopping board holds a small pile of dog treats. Dog treats which I was chopping into teeny, Romeo-bite-sized morsels, suitable for use as Motivating Rewards.

Rewards for what?

Well, peeing.


January 26, 2011 Posted by | my kids, potty tales | , , , , | 5 Comments

On Asking Questions

Asking questions of your toddler is a delicate art. There are times when it’s a good thing: “Would you like your red shirt, or your blue one?” “Shall we go to the library today, or should we invite Suzie over to play?” Giving your child some control over a largely arbitrary world is a good thing. Teaching him to make simple decisions — and to stick to them! — is also good. (“No, you decided to go to the library today. We can invite Suzie over another day.”) All good.

There are, however, some questions you shouldn’t ask: “Do you want to put your boots on?” when it’s twenty below. That’s not optional. Why present it as if it is?

The worst manifestation of this pattern: You have something you want them to do, but you present it as a question. “Do you want to come with mommy to the store? No? Well, you can’t stay here by yourself!!”

If “no” wasn’t an option, then why ask?

The latter two are foolish and self-defeating. If your child is two, the answer to almost any question is sure to be a negative. Having presented the opportunity to say no, you’re now stuck with it. Instead of just getting the boots on, or heading to the store, you now have to negotiate (good luck with that) or override the child’s stated preferences. Which you just asked for, remember? Who wouldn’t be indignant?

Those habitual, reflexive questions! A bad parental habit, and we need to get out of it!

It’s a habit based in good intentions, of course. Issuing orders seems so arbitrary. Rude. Dictatorial, even.

But really, if you want to see ‘dictatorial’ in action, just let your two-year-old have free rein with the day’s plans and activities. Not a good thing.

It is okay to issue orders and directives. More than that, it’s required. You are the parent. That is part of the job. Far too many parents out there feel apologetic for being the boss. Well, it’s either you or the two-year-old.

Of course, you do it respectfully. Which is where many parents stumble, assuming that ‘respect’ looks the same when applied to toddlers as to adults. It doesn’t.

“I wouldn’t like to be told what to wear, how to play, to have every movement monitored and directed.” True. But then, you’re not likely to choose to wear your swimsuit outdoors in sub-zero temperatures, try to shove raisins up the dog’s nose, or bite people who disagree with you. (Tempting though that latter may be, some days…)

For peace in the home, eradicate habitual “Would you like” and “Do you want to” from your vocabulary. Say them when you mean them, sure. Say them when you really do want to give your child a choice. But for heaven’s sakes don’t say them when “no” isn’t an option.

Instead, substitute the cheerful directive. “Let’s get those mittens on you!” “Time for your bath!” “Let’s get ready to go to the store!” “Up in the highchair, little man!”

You will spare yourself a world of conflict, side-step a mountain of power struggles. Peace in the home is within your grasp. Really.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | 10 Comments

Going Outside

Not that we are today. Going outside, that is. It’s -29C out there right now, windchill taking it down to a biting -34C. Wind like that hurts. Also, we’ll take 25 minutes to get dressed to go out, and be back inside five minutes later. If they could manage fifteen, it would be worth it. Five? Meh.

But how do I do it, you ask? Well, as I said to Natalie, for starters, you allow enough time and you encourage independence. The three- and the five-year-old can both get into their own snowsuits, needing help only with zippers, mittens and boots.

The two’s? (There are four of them these days.)

Four snowsuits are tossed onto the floor.


The first snowsuit is laid, empty, in my lap as I kneel on the floor, and the first child lifted into my lap to sit on the snowsuit. One leg, two legs, are stuck into the suit. One mitten, two mittens, onto the hands, and then the hands pushed through the arms, me pulling the sleeve toward myself, the child’s elbow braced against my chest. Pop! Goes the mittened fist through the sleeve. One zip (or two) and that child’s done.


Then the hats.
Then the boots.

At no time — pay attention, girls and boys, this part is IMPORTANT — at NO time do I ask, “Do you want to…?” “Could you please…?” “Would you like to…?” Ask questions of a two-year-old? Do I look crazy? What is a two-year-old’s answer to ANY question? Why would I invite that?

Nope, it’s all cheery directives. “Rory! Come get your snowsuit on!” And if Rory races the other way, I scoop him up and pop him onto my lap. “Come on, silly boy! Time to go OUTSIDE!!” Big smile, lilting voice. That usually does it.

Why? Because if he complains or cries, I don’t stop. I don’t even slow down. And the whole time I’m shoving his body into the suit, I’m narrating. “We’re going outside! You LIKE to go outside! One foot. There you go! Other foot! And you can’t go without the snowsuit. You would FRRRREEEEZE! One arm! Pushpushpushpush — pop! Good man! Two arms…” Any struggles against the suit are ignored. Ignored as if they aren’t happening at all. When the child is dressed, I smile into their face (even if it’s a red and furious face), clap, and celebrate the fact that we’re just about ready to go OUTSIDE!! Whee.

Yes, I do acknowledge their feelings. “I know, you don’t like to put on your snowsuit. You have to sit still, you can’t run around. Snowsuits are stupid, aren’t they? Boo, snowsuit! But it will be nice to be warm outside, won’t it? It sure will!” Note, though, that I don’t wait until I have their agreement before proceeding. All the while I’m noting what a pain snowsuits are, I’m getting her into it.

This has happened enough in earlier weeks that by now no one bothers much with complaining. Snowsuits are inevitable. We don’t give them much thought any more, we just do it. I don’t coax or convince, because winter gear is a non-negotiable. Some things are negotiable. Mittens might be — I’ve been known to let a child go out without mittens so that they can discover why we wear mittens. Some things are non-negotiable. Snowsuits and boots are non-negotiable.

With that as our understanding, there’s some fun to be had. An older child who is pushing their own mittened hand through the sleeve is encouraged to push hard when I put my face in range of the end of the sleeve and say, “Push, push! Poke me in the nose! Go on, you can do it!!” And then the mitten pops out the sleeve, I might just roll back and make much of having been popped in the nose.

It’s very fun.

For them, at any rate. This is not to say I enjoy putting five or six kids into snowsuits. I can’t say I really do, no. It’s tedious, it’s repetitious. It’s boring, frankly. What it’s not, happily, is a power struggle.

And the reward? Going outside for a flounder in the snow!


Only not today. Brr.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Canada, daycare | 6 Comments

Tired but hopeful

Lily is going through a rough patch.

Consequently, so am I.


Lily had a rough transition to daycare initially. It wasn’t drawn out, it took the fairly standard three weeks, but it was loud. No, it was GLASS-SHATTERING, eardrum-piercing PAINFUL. Not for the entire three weeks. By the end of the third week, she was fine. But while she was in transition? Ugh.

When she’d finished the transition? She was delightful. There was no more delightful child than Lily. Cute, cuddly, her default was glee. She took ‘adorable’ to a whole new level. Catching her eye in mid-grin always made you laugh. Always.

Note how all that is in the past tense?

Eight months later, she regressed. No more happy drop-offs. No more cheery waves. Now she entered wailing. And, for the most part, she stayed wailing. Well, whining or fragile. All day. Ugh.

What caused it initially? The theories abound… a change in the routine at home, a new kid in daycare, an ear infection, gramma visiting… all possible, but who knows? After a few weeks, whatever started it was no longer relevant, anyway.

I tried all the standard things. A new entry routine, more cuddling, ignoring the tears, being positive, tweaking her naptimes…


I talked to the parents about sleep patterns, because I certainly noticed it was worst on Mondays. Mom says they could be more consistent; Dad says they are. Hm.

So I provided them a sleep log. I charted daytime hours, they charted evenings and weekends. Separate charts. After three weeks, I collated them, and we discussed the results over tea in their dining room one evening.

Mom was right. (I thought she was.) Bedtimes varied by up to 90 minutes. Nap-times on weekends were essentially non-existent. Moreover, total sleep in twenty-four hours varied by 4 hours, anywhere from 12 to 16 hours. My nap-times were not consistent enough, either. Drop-offs varied by as much as two and a half hours. We all had some work to do.

Dad is still saying “It’s not so bad.” Mom points out the 90-minute bedtime variation, which he shrugs off until I say, “In order to be considered ‘consistent’, her bedtime should vary by no more than 15 minutes. Twenty at the very most.”

“Oh.” They both look startled at that.

I suggest that for a child experiencing transitional difficulties, consistency is very important. Predictability and routine are good, they provide a sense of stability. They give her certainty which she appears to very much need.

We leave the table with some strategies. They will choose a drop-off time and stick with it. Similarly bed-times. I will give her no more than 40 minutes nap after drop-off, and ensure that her afternoon nap starts at precisely the same time each day. I will employ a strategy they’ve use with good results, of giving her a positive word to strive for. Instead of “Calm and quiet”, I will try “Let’s giggle, Lily!” (It’s been working, not to make her instantly happy, but to shake her from the Misery Groove when she gets stuck, so you can shift her in a more positive direction.) We will continue with the charting.

And, after a week of our new regime?

I can see progress. She still comes in wailing, but it’s low-level. In fact, I’d call this morning’s entry more ‘whining’ than ‘crying’. Her mornings are still unsettled, but after lunch and nap, her afternoons are much better.

And yesterday? Yesterday afternoon I saw the Old Lily! The cheery, smiley, how-can-you-not-squooze-the-child happy Lily.

I am so relieved. Because really, I was beginning to think this was one of those children for whom daycare is not the best option. “It could be that Lily would be best off with a nanny at home,” I had told them, a thought which they said hadn’t yet crossed their minds. After a week of consistent improvement, I’m not thinking that any more.

But, lordy, I’m tired. My mornings are intense. Lily is always in my mind. I’m constantly monitoring her emotional state, ready to divert, to intervene, to distract. I am pouring out a steady stream of cheerful narration of our activities and doings.

And I’m seeing results. A concrete example: Mary needs to pee.

On Monday, I took her to the bathroom with me. On Tuesday, I told her I was going to go up to pee, and when the lower lip started trembling, I told her I would only be a minute! And then we would read a book!!! Which worked, if I was very quick. On Wednesday, I didn’t have to be so manically quick. On Thursday, I could tell her (and all the children), “I’m going upstairs for a sec,” and there wasn’t even a quiver to the lip. Progress.

But, goodness, I’m tired.

See, all week I have been upbeat! and happy! soooo happy!! ALL. THE. TIME!!! And you know? I am not that kind of person. I am a quiet sort. Low-key. Calm, not perky. Cheerful enough, but not bubbly. My forte is peace. And all this pouring out and pouring out and pouring out of positive energy, though it is rewarding in that it is moving the girl from her funk to a more positive state of mind, is exhausting.

I won’t do it long-term. I can’t do it long-term. I am seeing enough improvement already that I don’t think I’ll have to.

If it turns out, though, that when I return to my normal, low-key peaceful self (instead of the Manic-Peppy EverReady Bunny I’ve been this week) that she goes all Mr. Hyde on me again? Then it will be time for her parents to seek other care. Because if that’s what she truly needs, well, I can’t deliver.

Sometimes that happens. I will regret it, because Lily at her best is way beyond delightful! But I won’t feel guilty or inadequate, because I’ll know that we all gave it our absolute best, and, bottom line, we want what is best for Lily.

At this point, I still think that’s here with me. I’m hopeful this will work out.

We’ll see, won’t we?

January 14, 2011 Posted by | Lily, sleep | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Crate Mates?

People have been asking us how the old dog is adjusting to the new dog. The first 48 – 72 hours were a bit growly and snarly and occasionally even snappy when Romeo was toooo persistent. Given that Indie outweighs Romeo by about 1200%, I was a tad nervous about this.

What does a new mommy (gramma?) do when she’s nervous about her baby? She consults experts on the Internet, of course!!!! (That’s why you’re all here, right? Mwah-ha.) Carol assured me that dogs in a low-stress situation don’t hurt each other. Big dog needed to be allowed to put little dog in his place, and the noise was just that, noise. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Carol, for the peace of mind!)

There has been essentially no growling since those early couple of days. Well, there was that one time Romeo tried to take Indie’s brand-new bone away from her*, which got suddenly, loudly fierce… for about 2 seconds. (*Because Romeo is a puppy, and he’s kind of stupid that way…)

They have sorted things out, and Romeo pretty much knows and accepts his place in the order of things. His place…

which seems to be…

in Indie’s crate…

cuddled up next to her…

So when people ask how they’re getting along?

I think I can safely say they’re doing pretty well.


January 13, 2011 Posted by | the dog | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Orange-box Doll bed

This was supposed to be a Christmas gift for one of the tots who has a much-beloved dolly. I finished it yesterday… She’s still going to get it — she’s too young to care that it was late!

I’m far from the first person to do this, but something doesn’t have to be original to be worth doing!Take one clementine box. Sand it down thoroughly, prime it, and paint it. I chose a glossy white in part because it’s clean and scrub-able, but also because that’s what I had left over from painting the kitchen cupboards a year or two ago. It took three coats of paint (in addition to the primer!) to entirely cover the logos stamped into the wood.

After several attempts over a couple of days, I determined I was never going to make the bottom of the box sufficiently splinter-free, so I opted to coat it with bright blue duct tape. It goes nicely with the white, no?

Add a mattress, a pillow, and some bedding, all made with stuff I had on hand…

and you get a pretty cute dolly bed!

The kitty-cat print was originally a flannelette sheet, purchased a good ten years ago or more. It’s been many things since then, and there’s not much left, but it worked nicely for this!

The pillow and mattress are made of yellow broadcloth and stuffed with … well, stuffing. The stuff you use to make dolls. You know, stuffing stuff. I made a pillowcase to cover the pillow and match the comforter, but the mattress is uncovered.

Though it looks cute, the flannelette didn’t drape the way I wanted it to, but sort of stuck out at stiff angles from the bed, so I backed it with a stretchy knit fabric. The knit has a really nice drape to it, and is heavy enough to give the flannelette a little drape that it lacked. The odd combination of fabrics may well mean that this thing can’t be machine washed, or will require cold wash on delicate. Not such a hardship!

Since I had everything lying around the house, this thing cost me precisely nothing. Except the time, which I thoroughly enjoyed! I’m very pleased, and I’m sure Grace will be, too.

January 11, 2011 Posted by | crafts | , , , | 6 Comments

We’ll call it ‘communication’

…for lack of a better term…

“Ah da-graffoo,” Rory comments to Grace. They’re about a foot apart, standing facing each other.

“Yafiwwa,” Grace answers.

“Ga fwu fwu gai,” Rory notes, reaching toward the hairband in Grace’s hand.

“Fai ya oomble.” She pulls the hairband out of his reach.

“Ga fwoo gai ah bahn ya,” he smiles and reaches again.

“A woo bow bow booowoo,” she removes it again, and smiles at him.

“Ooo buh wuh-ooo mmm ahh.” He returns her smile.

Her smile broadens, and she gives him a firm and friendly ‘mission accomplished’ sort of nod. If they were older, she’d have offered a firm handshake, I’m sure.

Well satisfied, they part company, Rory to the kitchen, Grace to the living room.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Developmental stuff, Grace, Rory, the things they say! | , , , | 1 Comment