It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Gathering up that loose end

A couple of you recently asked “whatever happened to that difficult baby?” and only this morning I stumbled across a partial post in the draft files addressing that very question. Karma. For those of you who weren’t around (or just don’t remember — it was a while back!), I have a very challenging child a while back. I started out hopeful. After all, I’ve been doing this for sixteen years. I have a wealth of experience, lots of confidence, and, if not patience, the perspective that comes with experience. We could work this out! I was sure. Never doubted it for a moment.

But, when the situation dragged on for months without improvement, the hope receded. What follows is a post from my draft file, written in some month ago, and a good six months after the situation began.

Unhappy baby: I’m not so hopeful any more. She is still whiny and needy, she continues to demand far more time and attention than I can give her and still be at all present for the other children. She arrives wailing… but it’s not sincere, heart-felt unhappiness. It’s a habit. It’s just what she does when she comes up my front steps.

And I just. can’t. shake her from it. It’s a habit, but it appears to be 100% intractable. I can’t break it, I can’t distract her, I can’t provide alternate patterns. Crying is what she does. That’s it, that’s all.

She arrives, wailing. Every day, wailing. We go for an outing. She wails as we get ready to go, but calms as we proceed down the street. By the time we’ve passed a few blocks, she’s cheerful and chattering. A normal child having a normal, happy day. And when we return to the house? The wailing starts again. The second she sees the front steps, the wails commence. It’s positively Pavolvian.

Everything I’ve tried? Nothing. Or, it will work for a day or two, or even a week or two, but only that long. For a while, we used a book of nursery songs. She’d arrive, wailing, I’d put her on my knee to sing songs to her. By the time I’d sung three or four songs in the book, she was happy, ready to slide off my knee and play. After a couple of days, she’d enter, wailing, but crying for her “songbook! songbook!”

Well, that’s a good sign, right? She recognizes the tool which helps ease her into daycare. It gives her security, stability, consistency, to help her weather the transition. This has got to be good.

You’d think that. You’d be wrong.

After a few days, she would not just wail for the songbook, but she’d wail the entire way through it. Another couple of days, and she’d burst into tears whenever she saw the damned thing lying around. Instead of positive associations, it was now associated with her anxiety. Instead of reassuring her, it freaked her out.

I hid the book.

And so it went with each transitional strategy I tried: a few days of success, then decreasing success, and then, oh the bitter irony, the new strategy would become a source of anxiety. And without that transitional activity, the entire day — the entire day — was one long, long, long, long, long, long round of whining, wails, clutching, and tears. All hers, but I will tell you that at the end of a week of days full of this, some of them are mine. After hours, when I release it all to my ever-patient, wonderfully supportive husband. It’s hard.

I am at a loss. I am also, and this is more immediately worrying, out of patience. I can’t work with a child I am not liking, and I am finding it increasingly difficult to find much to like here. I feel badly for her, I ache for her misery and wish I could do something to make it right for her. But I am not liking being with her.

I am not behaving badly: no tantrums, no shouting, no freaking the kids out. I haven’t, and I won’t. But each workday is becoming more and more of a strain, I am more and more often weary to the bone at the end of my day, my work environment becomes less and less satisfying, as each and every thing I try seems to be working, and then… fails.

I have had challenging children before. I have had truly obnoxious parents more often. On one notable occasion — the only occasion on which I gave a family notice — I gave them a scant week’s notice. In this case, however, though the child was a challenge, it was the parents who were the problem, bullying me when things didn’t go their way. Despite his challenges, I didn’t feel like I couldn’t help their child. It was the parents I refused to work with.

But in this case, I love the child and quite like the parents. They are lovely people. But their child is not happy with me.

I am meeting with the parents early next week. Barring a miracle between now and then, I will be giving them notice. This is the first time in close to sixteen years of childcare that I have reached that point with a child. I am not happy about it.

That’s the end of the draft. What happened was that I met with the parents (this would have been at least our third private, after-hours meeting), and gave them notice. They were disappointed, but I think we all knew we’d reached the end of our road together. Lily was not happy with me. And I, increasingly, was not happy with her. (Though I didn’t say that last part to the parents. With them, the focus is on their child’s needs.)

“In another situation,” I said, “without the triggers and associations that she’s developed here, she will probably start afresh and do very well.” I said that as much because I wanted to believe it than because I really believed it. It was plausible, at any rate. At this point, the parents needed some hope. It was the best I could do.

She was with me for a further few weeks as her parents looked for other care. Eventually, they put her in a large-group daycare. And my hoped-for, semi-wishful-thinking outcome… happened! It’s been six months or more, and Lily is thriving in her new large-group daycare.

Why didn’t she thrive here? Damned if I know. Wish I did. I wracked my brains for months trying to sort that out, and never did come to any confident conclusions. Still, I’m happy for her… and, truth be known, relieved. Those last few months, she was hard work, that girl. It’s not the ending I’d have chosen. I wanted the original, sunny, so-delightful Lily back! But in the end, it’s a happy ending for Lily, and that’s what matters.

And am I enjoying my two new babies, who are the very picture of mellow, low-need, happy, go-with-the-flow children?

Damned straight I am. 🙂

September 30, 2011 Posted by | daycare, individuality, Lily, the dark side, whining | , , | 5 Comments

Toys that Play Themselves

Have you heard about The Breast Milk Baby doll yet?

When I heard about it, I snorted a bit.

Not because of that whole ridiculous “sexualizing of children” concern. I’ll write a post on that later.

Not because I have any reservations about kids, girls and boys, practicing breast-feeding. While I believe that each woman has the right to choose how to feed their infant, I give particular encouragement and practical support any and all woman I know who choose to breastfeed.

Why particular support to these women? Because getting started with breastfeeding is more complicated than bottle feeding. It just is. Moreover, these new mothers were mostly bottle-fed as babies, meaning that their mothers can’t offer practical support or advice.

In fact, too many offer discouragement, old wives tales, rumours, and just plain old bad advice. My mother-in-law, who was very supportive of me and my ways, kept offering to give my newborn baby a bottle “to give you a rest”. That’s fine when the baby’s a couple of months old, but it is NOT fine in the first month, when the milk supply is being established. She honestly thought she was being helpful, though, and it was hard to turn her down without feeling ungracious. I did turn her down, and we both thought I was being ungracious. Sigh. But the breast-feeding went REALLY WELL, thanks!!!

Thus breastfeeding mothers have a few more hurdles to overcome at the start — though once everything’s established, it is SO MUCH more convenient than bottle-feeding!

I breastfed my three children for over a year each, and I loved it. Because they saw their siblings breast-fed, my older two “nursed” their dollies. My daughter AND my son. All small children who see younger siblings being nursed will nurse their bolls. ALL of them.

One day, little Adam, then about three years old, sat on the couch with his sister’s beloved Cabbage Patch Baby (known to the children as “Baby Cabbage”) shoved under his shirt, its head nestled well into Adam’s armpit. His daddy entered the room.

“I’m feeding my baby!” Adam announced, very proud.
Dad gives a wry grin. “You’re in for a BIG disappointment, son,” was his only comment, and as children do when adults say inexplicable things, Adam ignored him. A moment or two later, he yoinked baby out, flipped it over his shoulder, burped it, and then shoved it into the other armpit. Because kids, they copy what they see.

And that’s the thing that makes me snort. Both Adam and Haley nursed their dollies. Their rag dolls, their plastic dolls. The most expensive was that Cabbage Patch baby, a Christmas gift from grandparents.

This nursing doll retails for about a hundred dollars. We need to spend a hundred dollars on a doll that will make sucking noises and burp, when a $25 rag doll will do the job just as well, without the internal mechanism? Heck, a plastic baby from the Dollar Store will do the trick. But no, we must purchase an expensive doll (complete with a very silly two-flower bra thingy) so that the doll will make the noises that any child is perfectly capable of imagining?

I’ve always been leery of toys equipped with technology to do what a child’s imagination does just as well. Spend more money on a toy which attempts to replace a child’s imagination?

So, no. I won’t be buying the Breast Milk Baby doll. Which is a shame, because I’d like to, you see. I’d like to support the company which has been so beleaguered by legions of silly, squeamish prudes who kicked up such a fuss about it. I’d like to stick it in the eye of the sex-obsessed prudes, I really would. Too bad I have all these inexpensive (some even home-made!) rag dollies which do the job just as well for so much less.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Little Miss Echo

Rory, little Rory, is not so little any more. From being a solemn watcher from the sidelines, he has become far more engaged. Not that he can’t play happily alone for long stretches, but he now knows how to interact — and he enjoys it. His language has taken a ginormous leap forward, too, which undoubtedly assists (or perhaps originates) his social efforts. He has turned from my wide-eyed Silent Boy into Word Boy. He chatters, chatters, chatters. Not a steady, unceasing narration of his life (which, I tell you now, in the hands of the right child, can drive you INSANE), but a cheerful conversation whenever he has your attention. He’s not just talking to make noise, he’s actually seeking the answers.

And, since he has a curious mind, he asks a LOT of questions. I don’t mind. I like answering the questions of a genuinely curious child.

“Mary, where are we going today?”
“We’re going to the park.”

“Is there snack at play group?”
“No. Some playgroups give you snacks, but not this one. That is why I am making a snack for us to bring.”

“Does Daniel have a green jacket?”
“Today Daniel has a black jacket, but you’re right. Yesterday, he had a green jacket, didn’t he?”

It’s not quite incessant, but Rory’s questions provide a steady thread through my day. And as I say, I don’t mind. This week, however, Grace has joined in, and Grace…

now, I want you to understand that I love Grace dearly. She is gentle, she is sweet, she has a nice disposition, and she is growing into a very pretty girl, to boot. (This despite the constant drizzle of drool suspended from her lower lip, even.) But — and I realize it’s early to make this judgment, and I’ve been wrong before (though not often) — but with all those caveats and cautions acknowledged, my gut feeling is that Grace…

isn’t the brightest crayon in the box.

And we can’t all be, can we? In fact, most of us aren’t the brightest.

Besides, I’ve been wrong before! I recall one young man who I was convinced was just a little sluggish, mentally. His dad agreed. Not that we spoke of it directly, but one day, dad was watching his son do something or other, shook his head and ruefully commented with a loving smile, “You’ll never be a rocket scientist, son.”

And you know what? He’s about eleven now, and he’s BRILLIANT. So there. What he isn’t, is verbal. To this day, he’s a quiet child to whom words come slowly. Give him numbers, give him science, give him engineering, and just step back for the brilliance. He’s very, very, very, very bright. He could feasibly be a rocket scientist, this boy. But he’s not brilliant with the words, and so much of our evaluation of very small children is, whether we’re aware of it or not, a judgment of their verbal skill.

So, when I begin to suspect a child isn’t too bright, I keep it to myself for any number of very good reasons, not the least of which is that I could very well be wrong.

But you guys don’t know me, and you guys don’t know Grace, and to you, my little collection of nameless, faceless friendly internet strangers, I will confess my suspicion that Grace is not going to burn up the road intellectually.

And that’s okay. We can’t all be rocket scientists, and the world only needs so many brain surgeons. Even if my gut is right on this one, she’ll have a happy, productive, fulfilled life, doing whatever suits her best.

If she lives that long.

Because lately, when Rory asks his question, Grace will wait quietly and politely — because Grace is generally a quiet and polite girl — she will wait, I say, until Rory has asked, and I have fully answered the question, and then…

she will ask it again. Word for word. Every.Single.Time.

Rory: Where are the muffins, Mary?
Mary: They’re still in the oven. We can take them out when the timer goes “beep!”
Grace: Where are the muffins, Mary?

Rory: Are we going to the park?
Mary: Yes, we are.
Grace: Are we going to the park?

Rory: Daniel is coming today?
Mary: No, he will be here tomorrow. Today his gramma and grampa are visiting.
Grace: Daniel is coming today?

All. Day. Long… Every. Single. Question.

For a while I was answering her, too, thinking she just hadn’t heard, but too often she was right beside Rory when I answered, so that couldn’t be it. Now I’ve taken to saying, “You know whether he’s coming, Grace. I just told Rory. Is Daniel coming today?”

I get the long, steady stare from those beautiful blue eyes, the drop of drool pooling on that pretty pink lower lip.

“Can you tell me? Is Daniel coming today, Grace?”


“Is Daniel coming today, Rory?”
“No, he’s wif his gramma and grampa.”
“That’s right. He’s at home, visiting gramma and grampa. Is Daniel coming today, Grace?”


“He’s at…” I prompt.

Blink. “He’s at…”

Mary: “hooome, visiting…”

Grace: “hooome, visiting…

Mary: Waits.

Grace: Stares.

Mary: Waits.

Grace: Stares.

Mary: Waits.

Grace: Stares. Blinks. “At home, visiting… gramma and grampa!”

Mary: That’s right! Daniel is at home today, visiting gramma and grampa, just like I told Rory.


And that is why sometimes, when Grace mindlessly echoes Rory’s question, instead of getting her to focus on the answer that was given, instead of going through that long, drawn-out process of winkling from her mind the information that’s ALREADY THERE… I totally ignore her. La la la, I didn’t hear that! And now I think I need to be in another room, right now!!

For his part, Rory also totally ignores her. He doesn’t seem to register the echo, not in the slightest. Until…

Rory: Where is my yellow loader truck?
Mary: It is in the bucket of the stroller, so we can take it to the park this morning.
Grace: Where is my yellow loader truck?
Grace: Stare. Stare. Stare. Drool.
Grace: [face crumpling]
Grace: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!


September 28, 2011 Posted by | Grace, individuality, Peeve me, Rory, the things they say! | , , | 10 Comments

Parental Blindness?

Some children are pretty criers. Their enormous round eyes well up with tears, the lower lip pops out and sweetly trembles. Without being clutching and clinging, they are the very picture of pathos, and you just want to scoop right up and make it all better. Okay, me being me, depending on the reason for the tears, I might laugh at them instead, but you get the drift. Some kids are just so damned appealing when they cry.

And some kid? Some kids, there is no way around it, are not pretty criers. Their eyes go red, their face goes blotchy, their mouth goes square, and the snot and drool flow as liberally as the tears. Snot and drool which get smeared on your clothing as they cling and scratch, scrambling up your body. Of course I respond to their tears, just as I would to the Gerber baby’s tears, but appealing? Not so much.

As far as I can make out, their parents are oblivious. To them, their child’s tears are sweetly adorable. But who knows? If you were to watch me with the less-than-adorable child, you wouldn’t know that, deep down inside, part of me is going, “Ew. Can you just swallow all that drool, please??” So maybe the parents are having a layered response, doing the right parenting thing even as they think less worthy thoughts.

I dunno. How would I find out? Can you picture that conversation? “So, your kid’s really pretty gross when she cries, isn’t she? How do you deal with that?”



My own kids? They were all pretty criers.

Sez me.

But now I wonder. I don’t have any videos of them crying. Maybe they were all horribly unappealing criers. Maybe they grossed people out left, right, and centre. Maybe they were blotchy and whiny and snotty and drooly and just overall ‘bleah, ew, step back from my shirt, kid’ … to anyone else but their besotted mummy. Maybe mother love protects our children, and prevents us from seeing what is obvious to the rest of the world.

I think I’m pretty objective about my kids, all in all… but of course, you can’t be 100% objective.

When my eldest was a mere day or two old, I was presented with a passport-sized photo of my new baby girl. It was the practice of that hospital to take a picture of the babies, so that the parents could put them in birth announcements if they liked.

I looked at the picture in dismay. “They can’t be serious!” I thought. “Put THAT in a birth announcement?” When I described it to the grandparents a week or so later, I said, “They made her look like a slug with eyeballs!” And we all leaned over the cradle and agreed that our preshush sweetums did NOT look like a slug with eyeballs, oh no, she didn’t!!!

But now I wonder… It’s just possible that, 24 hours after her birth, she was not the beautiful girl she grew to be. Maybe, 24 hours after her birth, that picture was an accurate representation of my sweet daughter. Maybe, 24 hours after birth, the picture made her look like a slug with eyeballs… because she looked like a slug with eyeballs.

So I wonder about the generous blindness mother nature gives parents (and grandparents).

What do you think? Do you know any kids who are just, well, kind of ugly criers? And do their parents know it?

September 27, 2011 Posted by | eeewww, parents | , , , , | 14 Comments

Watching your kids grow

Sentimentality. A little sentiment can be a sweet addition to your life: the ability to conjure up the whole lovely vacation when you look at a single pretty pebble picked up from a hiking trail; a fond remembrance, a wave of affection, a wisp of nostalgia. Nothing wrong with any of that, in fact, an enrichment to a contented life.

If you can’t find your dressing table because of the trinkets, if your kitchen is buried under kid art, if your dining room a mere tunnel through stacks of treasured mementos… You have a problem.

It’s about balance and perspective.

It’s September, and with it the wave of back-to-school posts. Among them, the “my baby just went to school for the first time” posts. And among them, among the sweet posts filled with anticipation, excitement, and a little wistfulness, were the FULL-ON PANIC posts.

“My baybeeeee! My baby is leeeeeeaving me! My baby is — heaven forbid! — GROWING UP.”

Goodness, ladies. Get a grip.

Wistfulness is understandable. It’s a rite of passage, a demarcation of the end of one thing and the beginning of the next. So you pack their lunch with special care, you dress them carefully, and maybe even take a few pictures. Wistfulness and possibly some fear. You watch them pass through the doors of the school (or the school bus), and hope that the institution that is swallowing them is kind, that their time there is happy. Not everyone has a happy time there. So yes, wistfulness and some level of anxiety and protectiveness, certainly.

But full-on panic? Reams of words deploring the child’s absence, wondering how mum is going to cope, and mostly, always, consistently, ruing, decrying, resisting, mourning the fact that their baby is growing up.

Um. Growing up. Well, yes. Isn’t that the point? The idea of having a baby my whole life long fills me with horror (and also immense respect for parents of handicapped children, for whom that may be their practical life reality.) Do you really want to be the parent of a baby for the rest of your life?

School is an obvious example right now, but you see this all the time, mothers (have yet to see a dad write one of these posts) writing about all sorts of stages in their children’s lives, and every time the reaction is fear, resistance, regret, and denial that their baby could be growing up, changing. (And ultimately leaving them? Is that the root fear?)

Wistfulness is fine. A little sentimental nostalgia, recalling that moment you held their sticky body for the first time… knowing that is gone, never to return. Who wouldn’t sigh a little sigh for that? There is nothing as soft as a baby’s skin, nothing as delightful as the bubbling river of baby giggles. The fat little thighs! The dimples instead of knuckles on pudgy fists! Awwwww… So sure, a little gentle wistfulness for the speed of life. But why choose to get stuck there?

So, savour the wistfulness… and also, here’s a thought… how about excitement? Anticipation? Optimism? Sure, with each stage there are things you leave behind. (Not always a bad thing, say I, as not-so-wistful memories of a screaming colicky baby and months of bleary-eyed exhaustion swim through my head.)

But along with the things you leave behind, there are things you’re gaining. Always. With every stage come new things to treasure and savour. The Panic Moms seem oblivious to that. All the phases and stages, all the passages… they’re just bad. Bad, points of regret and sorrow and grieving.

And really, if that’s how you see it, if your child’s growth is one long chain of points of mourning for the things lost… why on earth did you have a child?

Thing about kids, see, is that they GROW.

They grow up, they learn to do stuff, they move on. It never stops. One thing after another. One accomplishment after another. One new discovery, another broadening of their capabilities, an enrichment of their worlds. It never stops.

Another, and another, and another thing…
to marvel in.
To take pride in.

You mourning mummies? I suggest a paradigm shift. You, and possibly your children, will be much happier for it.

September 26, 2011 Posted by | Developmental stuff, parenting | , , , , , | 11 Comments

Fall Craft: Seed Coasters

It’s fall! All sorts of fun things happen in the fall: the leaves change colour and fall off the trees so we can jump in them; the squirrels run around like mad, and yet somehow get fat; we start wearing jackets and sweaters, and stop wearing shorts; and there are seeds, seeds and berries everywhere.

Why not USE some of those seeds?

Well, mostly because gathering seeds in a city is a little difficult. We’ve found lots of dandelion seeds and maple keys, and we’ve seen lots of berries in gardens, but as for gathering buckets full of seeds — or even fistfuls — that’s a little harder. So: off to Bulk Barn we go!!!

And come back with a decent assortment. We have beans, lentils, barley, rice and peppercorns. (Peppercorns are second from the right. Are peppercorns seeds?) I got them because I wanted the colour.

Not that boring white, though. I wanted red! I was inspired by the red peppercorns at Bulk Barn, but I was not inspired by the $7.40/100g price. Yeesh. But really, if you want red peppercorns, that’s not so very hard to achieve. You buy the cheap white ones, drop in a few drops of food colouring, stir…

and ta-dah! Red peppercorns! Easy-peasy. And cheap. My favourite.

Skipped a couple of steps here. Make yourself a batch of salt dough. (There are recipes on the internet EVERYWHERE.) Roll it out a cm thick on a piece of waxed paper. Cut it with a large cookie cutter.

It’s thick, but not even. I knew I’d have to be rolling them flat after the children were done, so I wasn’t too fussy. After I was done, I realized that it wouldn’t have hurt to be a little more fussy at this stage… Live and learn.

Place the seeds of your choice in the arrangement of your choice, pressing them gently — gently! gently! — into the dough, being very careful NOT to grind them into the table and TOTALLY BURY THEM. Not. NOT! Oops.

(This part was trickier than you might think…)

Nearly done! After they’d put in the seeds, I rolled them lightly to smooth out the surface. These are supposed to be coasters, after all.

After making a couple, I discovered that you got better shapes if you left the cookie cutter in place, and removed it after they were done placing the seeds.

Bake them at 200F for… a loooooong time. They’re pretty thick! I think ours were in there for a good ten hours all told. You might consider leaving them in overnight. Don’t raise the temperature: it makes the dough go brown.

When they’ve cooled, give them several coats of an acrylic spray on all sides.

I wouldn’t trust my fine stemware on them, but they work just fine with sippy cups and bottles!!

September 19, 2011 Posted by | crafts | , , , , | 3 Comments

… and Arrival (Updated with Picture!)

The baby was born, a little girl, seven pounds even.
Everyone is happy.
The Wonderful Husband is there right now, being a Doting Grampa. Awwww…

Some of you asked, so here you go:

(Yup, that’s a newborn, all right… Complete with the squinched-up “Goodness, but it’s BRIGHT out here” eyes. Isn’t she beeeyoutifull?)

September 14, 2011 Posted by | commemoration, my kids | 11 Comments


No post today.

My stepdaughter-in-law
(stepson’s wife, husband’s DIL)
is currently,
right now,
working very hard
having her baby…

September 13, 2011 Posted by | parenting | 6 Comments

Play, learn, play

Rory has a baby sister!

Is he excited? Is he thrilled? Is he jealous?

I have no idea. He has yet to mention her. (Rory has come every day since the birth, and will for a few more weeks as mum recovers from the Cesarean, when he will come part-time.)

His parents tell me that at home he is curious and affectionate, giving her gentle kisses and delicate pats on the head.

But here? She may as well not exist. Not a whisper of the baby passes his lips. Had I not seen the pregnancy progressing day by day, and gotten the news last week, I’d know nothing. Nor has his behaviour changed in the slightest. No anger, no outbursts, no anxiety, no withdrawal. Just normal, everyday Rory.

I find it a little extraordinary, this full radio silence, but it’s not at all unusual. I think it’s a combination of things.
– Toddlers tend to live in the moment, and though you do get stories of things that have happened to them elsewhere, mostly they deal with and talk about what’s right in front of them.
– I suspect that Baby Sister isn’t quite real to him yet. Give him a week or two more and we’ll see.
– It doesn’t occur to toddlers that you don’t know something they do. He doesn’t need to tell me about something so obvious as BABY SISTER.
– Baby Sister isn’t part of the world here. Here, she’s irrelevant.

And you know what? I have a policy of not asking. If, for a few hours in his/her day, a toddler wants to leave baby and all the associated upheaval behind, I let them. Let them make their adjustment in their own time. Let this place be normal, untouched, unchanged.

In time, he’ll start to talk about her. In time, she’ll be a natural, normal, unexceptional part of his world.

All this cooperative silence on my part is not neglect, though. I’ve given him a week of silence, but this weekend I brought out the baby dolls. The baby dolls and their dolly beds, onesies, sleepers and blankets. (No bottles; mum is breastfeeding.) In the play, Rory can (and almost certainly will) act out any worries, consolidate new information, explore the new reality. In his own terms, in his own time. As he plays, the conversation will arise, conversation I can participate in, and, when necessary, guide, answer questions, give information, reassure. Whatever seems to be necessary. Or maybe just hold the doll while he wrangles the sleeper onto it.

I’m looking forward to it!

September 12, 2011 Posted by | Rory | , , , , | 7 Comments

Craft: Autumn Tree

Traditions. Traditions are a good thing. They root you, give you a sense of history and place. They mark events, times, places in a particular way. Toddlers understand tradition, in fact, they can be positively compulsive about them. Things have to be done in THE RIGHT WAY EVERY TIME, or… the world as we know it will fall apart, or some damn thing. I don’t know.

Still, I like traditions. I like creating them with the kids. One tradition we have — which none of them know about because either A) they were just about not born a year ago or B) they do not remember a year ago — is the Giant Tree on the Wall.

Every fall I make a tree. We make a tree. Until this year, the trunk and branches of the tree have simply been brown construction paper. Serviceable, unremarkable, effective. But this year I was INSPIRED!!!

The inspiration came, oddly, from that giant stash of toilet paper tubes in the craft room. What possibly connection could there be between toilet rolls and mural trees, you wonder?

First, you take a large sheet of fingerpaint paper. Blurp on a generous few dollops of brown and white tempera paint. And then — this is where Mary gets SERIOUSLY INVENTIVE — then you sprinkle on black tempera powder. Over the paint, over the bare paper. Doesn’t have to be even. Can be a bit blotchy. (Wish I’d thought to take a picture of this, but my hands were seriously gunked up at this point. Perhaps I will insert one later today.)

Then, with the help of your handy-dandy two-year-olds, you smear the paint and powder all over the page. You’ll get a very realistic bark tone, browner in some spots, greyer in others. Because you’ll have used lots of liquid paint, and because you’ve thickened it further with powder, you get DEPTH and TEXTURE.

But it still won’t look like bark. It will just be bark-coloured, slightly lumpy paint gooped on the paper. What you need to make it look bark-like is a toilet roll!!


A toilet roll around which you have very cleverly wrapped a bit of thickish string or yarn. (In my case, yarn, because that’s what I had.) Lightly roll the tube up and down the paper, until you get something that looks quite satisfactorily barkish.

Pre-rolled paint with tube, Ready for Action:

And, ta-dah! Post-rolled paint. This is, obviously, still wet.

Here it is, dried. (I don’t think this is the same page as the previous picture, but you get the idea.) The colour and texture will change somewhat as it dries, but if you’ve started with a thick, gloppy layer of paint, the texture will hold as it dries.

Trunk with branch attached. You can see the different colour variations. It works!

Entire tree — with son. Oops. How’d he get in there?

Entire tree, sans son. Isn’t it cool??? I cut that lowest sheet of paper on a curved slant only so that I could remove some paper that didn’t get paint on it. Now that I’ve assembled the tree, I think the curved edge makes the joint of the paper look much more natural. I may change the other, straight and very artificial-looking edges later.

This entire tree took five sheets of fingerpaint paper. Today we’ll be adding finger-painted pages of green, cut into puffy cloud-shapes to give the impression of leaves, because right now, the trees are still mostly green! And as the weeks progress, we’ll add more and more coloured leaves.

Fall officially arrives in a couple of weeks. Thanks to our Tree Tradition, we are READY!

September 8, 2011 Posted by | crafts, my kids | , , , , , , | 3 Comments