It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Why I Love Spring

I think the absolute best thing about living in a place that has seasons is the delight that comes with the changes. Spring is particularly wonderful, leaving the constraints of winter behind and moving into sunshine, colours, and warmth.

And dandelions.

May 16, 2012 Posted by | Canada, outings | , , | 2 Comments

Let them play!

She was sitting under the play structure, busily playing with and directing the play of the small boy beside her. “Is that ice cream? Yum! I love ice cream! Do you like ice cream? What flavour is it? Should we put some chocolate chips on our ice cream? These little rocks, they can be the chocolate chips!”

The small boy was happily involved in the deliciously imaginative play. They made pies and soup, then back to ice cream. They stirred and built, ‘tasted’ and cooked. And all the time her words swirled round and round.

He was probably two. She was probably 32.

Three of my four children eventually joined her. They formed a circle of delight around this adult, who bathed them all with the loving beam of her full attention.

So why was I so damned annoyed?

At first I scolded myself. She’s not doing anything wrong. She’s enjoying herself, they’re enjoying themselves. The negativity, the (yes, I confess my darker side here) the outright hostility I was feeling was unworthy. It was pure ego.

I felt uncomfortable. She was making me feel like I should be doing something. But, wait. She was “making” me? Really? She wasn’t doing anything she hand’t been doing before I arrived. In her heart of hearts, was she judging me for my lack of interaction? Was she feeling superior to me, and pitying my poor, neglected charges? Why would I make that assumption?

Even if you figure the answer is “Hell yes, she was”, the fact of the matter was that she wasn’t doing or saying anything to or about me whatsoever. Any assumptions I’m making about her motivations are just that — assumptions.

I get tired of people projecting assumptions and motivations on other people, and then reacting negatively to their own projections. This happens all the time. A mother talks with pride of her child’s particular accomplishment, and the mother beside her, whose child has yet to do whatever it is, reacts with angry defensiveness. “She thinks her child is so superior. God, I hate this damned parental competitiveness!” Um, who’s being competitive here? Really?

People who get all offended over imagined affronts annoy the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be one of the people whose real problem is their own thin skin. If my annoyance was nothing other than ego, I just needed to get over it. Let it go, get over myself. So I didn’t intervene to pull my kids away.

Mind you, I didn’t let any implicit pressure provoke me to go over there and start playing with them, either. Because, really, once in a while I like playing with them, but I’m surely not going to do it all.morning.long, and I sure as hell am not going to start because I think someone I’ve never met before might be judging me for not playing with them. That would be adolescent silly. I don’t do peer pressure any more.

But, goodness, I was annoyed. So, in the spirit of all those mindfulness books I’ve been reading, I noted the annoyance without trying to do anything with it. And then the wheels start turning.

I usually find playing with the children boring. I know that, and I’m fine with that, because I also believe play is the child’s work, not mine.

Ah. And now, as my children continued to stand in an enthralled ring around the young mother, it started to come together for me.

My children had been happily playing a game, several games, all morning. They’d been running hither and yon, up ladders and down slides, happily occupied with each other the the opportunities of the play structure. Now they were standing still and talking. Nothing wrong with that. They often play that way, too.

But now they were playing a game of someone else’s devising. Nothing wrong with that, either. It’s good for them to learn the social give and take of initiating, then following, throwing ideas out, cooperating with someone else’s ideas.

Except there’s a power imbalance when one of the players is an adult. This was not a game amongst peers. This was five children vying for the attention and approval of a single adult. Now, she was managing the play well … but make no mistakes, she was managing it.

And that’s okay for a while. That’s good, as an occasional enrichment/enhancement of the children’s typical level of play.

But all the time? For the entire 90 minutes I was there, her little boy was not allowed to play by himself for one single minute. Until my children joined him, his only company was his mother. When my children joined in, they were not joining him, anyway, they were joining his mother. She was the attraction, not him, and not the game he was playing.

How will this boy learn to manage the playground? To manage social interactions without a protective, buffering, facilitating adult?

Furthermore, the play was all of one type: imaginative and verbal. They sat in one spot and played one game for an hour and a half. Perfectly good form of play, and one all children need to master, but what of charging around like mad, noisy fiends? What of learning to climb ladders and climbing walls, to scramble onto, and jump off, a rock?

When will this child learn to see a task through, from beginning to end, without constant input, probing, encouragement, and praise? He’ll accomplish his mommy-led tasks well, no doubt, but what of autonomy? Of pride in a job well done, with only the reward of the job done well

Involving yourself with a child’s play to achieve a specific goal, to help them over a particular social or emotional bump, to enrich things a little … that’s good parenting. But to play with them every waking minute? Contrary to popular opinion, that’s not good parenting. And in the long run, it’s bad for the children.

So this morning I let the children stand and chat with the mother for a few minutes, and then I called them away. We wandered to another play area, and there they resumed their former style of playing: running, climbing, calling to each other, sometimes stopping to chat and pretend, sometimes tearing around for the sheer joy of being physical.

All this without a single instruction, piece of encouragement, question or direction from me.

Imagine.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | parenting, Peeve me | , , , | 14 Comments

Black Bean Couscous Salad

Salad:
Toss all together in large bowl:
1 cup prepared couscous
2 cups corn niblets (I use the frozen kind, run them under cold water for a minute to thaw, and drain thoroughly.)
2 cups black beans
1 cup chopped plum tomatoes
1/4 cup red onion

Dressing:
Whirl all in blender:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice (or 1 of each)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Pour dressing over salad, and toss.
2. Refrigerate at least two hours.

Can be served cold or at room temperatures. (Toddlers tend to prefer room temperature for everything, so that’s usually what I do.)

May 14, 2012 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , , | 1 Comment

Basil Chicken Curry

This is not a quick recipe, but it’s soooo good. No, I don’t spend all morning cooking. The children usually eat for lunch what my family had for dinner the night before, so I just prepare enough to feed everyone. It’s much simpler!

First, make the spice rub:
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper
1/4 teaspoon each: turmeric and chili.

(This is enough to coat 500g/1 pound of chicken. I make 3 ounces/100g of meat per person, so in my home, a pound of boneless chicken feeds my family, with a bit left over. I need more than that for the daycare, so I just coat the extra chicken a little more lightly to make the rub stretch that far. It works!)

Coat the chicken with the rub and refrigerate an hour or two. (Or overnight. Whatever works with your schedule.)

The rest:
1 cup chopped onion
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 Tablespoons basli leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced

1. Saute onion and pepper for three minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Remove from pan.
2. Brown chicken in same pan. Remove.
3. Heat coconut milk in same pan. In cup, whisk 2 teaspoons of cornstarch to 2 tablespoons coconut milk, then use to thicken the coconut milk in the pan. It’ll be the consistency of cream when you’re done.
4. Add everything else and heat till chicken is cooked through.

Very savoury. Can be served over rice or with naan. I like to serve this with a side of cucumber raita, though sometimes I just serve cucumber slices with a dollop of yogurt on top. (Close enough!)

May 14, 2012 Posted by | food | , | 1 Comment

Black bean soup

3 cups cooked black beans
2 cups vegetable stock
325 mL tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon each: thyme, cumin, oregano
freshly ground pepper to taste
12 drops hot sauce
(2 teaspoons lemon juice)

1. Dump everything except lemon juice in medium-large pot. Bring to boil over medium heat.

2. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

3. Discard bay leaf, and stir in lemon juice. Puree with immersion blender.

Done.

Optional: garnish each bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt and a thin slice of lemon.

May 14, 2012 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , , | 5 Comments

Menu Monday

Monday: Veggie-cheese pie

(This one started off as a ‘galette’, has been downgraded to ‘pie’. Heh. Same thing happened to spanakopita: same dish in pie shell instead of phyllo, sooo much easier to prepare! And way fewer calories. (The kids don’t care about that last one, but I do!))

Tuesday: Veggie burgers, salad.

(The salad is arugula with strawberries, walnuts and balsamic vinegar. Very simply, truly delicious, but I suspect the arugula won’t be an immediate hit. Tip: NEVER let a presupposition like this prevent you from serving something to small children! There are two reasons for this: 1) They might surprise you and love it. You never know! 2) In time, with repeated exposures, children will accept food they previously rejected. Really! Low-key, matter-of-fact persistence pays off.)

Wednesday: Chicken basil coconut curry, black bean-couscous salad

(This is a mild coconut curry. They’ve loved it in the past, I expect they’ll love it this week. Soooo good.)

Thursday: Black bean soup, cornbread, salad

Friday: Char sui pork, lentil-beet salad

As always, any recipes available upon request.

May 14, 2012 Posted by | food | , | 2 Comments

Mother’s Day Card-Hug

When you’re working with toddlers, this will probably take two adults. Toddlers are wriggly, and they keep trying to sit up so as to see what you’re doing over there!! But with a bit of restraint cooperation and another set of hands, you can whip up a card that will bring a warm rush to whichever much-loved person receives it. Mothers, today, but the dads will be getting one next month for Father’s Day. We’ll probably make some for grandparents somewhere along the line…

A hand-crafted tin of home-made cookies, wrapped in a hug. Does it get any better?

I think not!

Happy early Mother’s Day!

May 11, 2012 Posted by | crafts | , , , | 2 Comments

Out, Damned Spots!!!

“JAZZ IS IN MY SPOT!!!”

“GRACE WON’T GIVE ME MY SPOT!!!”

“THAT’S MY SPOT!”

I never used to have Spots in my home. Now, suddenly, I seem to be rife with them. And they are all VERY IMPORTANT spots. Vitally so. So very precious, that one person can stake a claim on one which will last IN PERPETUITY. Like gold mines or some damned thing.

There is a particular chair in the living room. It, in fact, has two Spots on it, which is a problem given how often the child in possession of said chair positions her tiny butt so as to cover BOTH! OF! THEM!

Outrageous! Insupportable! Untenable!

I say “her” tiny butt because only Jazz and Grace are inany way concerned with Spots. I pray to whichever gods oversee such things that none of the other tots are infected with Spots, because they are a damnable nuisance.

I never know quite where a Spot is going to manifest. There is the grey chair in the living room. It’s consistent. (Strangely, the chair across the room from it contains no Spots, possibly because it usually contains a dog, and dogs do not concern themselves one whit with the pleadings of small girls re: Spots.)

Apart from the grey chair, Spots seem to shift. So far, we have had Spot sightings on both of the benches in the living room, on the chairs at the dining room table, and particularly those at the ends of the table, for some reason. There’s a small end table that is a Spot. This despite the fact that they are not to sit on that table. Because it is a table, not a chair. Matters not. It harbours a Spot.

There is a Spot on both of the chairs that accompany the New Toddler Table (VERY EXCITING!!! HIGHLY PRIZED!!!). Not too surprising, those. Rather more surprisingly, the Quiet Stair has on at least one occasion been a Spot. A sleeping cot, a blanket, a particular corner: they have all been Spots.

How do I recognize a Spot? Well, to be honest, I can’t tell a Spot from any other, perfectly innocuous, part of my home.

Grace and Jazz, though? THEY KNOW SPOTS!!! And, from what I can make out, a Spot is always, always, AL-F8#@ing-WAYS inhabited by SOMEONE ELSE. Someone else WHO MUST BE EJECTED from that Spot.

What makes a spot a Spot, far as I can make out, is that YOU DON’T OCCUPY IT. If someone else is in that spot? It is a Spot. And you MUST HAVE IT! At all costs! Accompanied by great squawking, squabbling, shoving and indignation!!!! EVERY! DAMNED! TIME!

For EVERY! SINGLE! SPOT!!!

Spots, if I can be so blunt, are a royal pain in the arse. I am thinking of making a new rule: There are NO SPOTS at Mary’s house. Corollary to that rule: If you see a Spot, you will spent the REST OF THE DAY on the Quiet Stair.

Because, really?

Out, OUT damned Spots!!!

May 10, 2012 Posted by | Grace, Jazz, Peeve me | , , | 4 Comments

Happiness Resolutions Follow-up: My surprise

A while back I shared my Happiness Resolutions for my work.

I’ve been implementing them with a respectable degree of consistency ever since. And the results?

It works! I’m feeling much happier at work. Fulfilling my Happiness Resolutions, Work Version, make me feel productive and professional. Those boring, motivation-sucking lulls are less frequent. For example:

— Getting out routinely means more exposure to sunshine (at the very least, daylight). That lifts my spirits in an immediate and positively tangible way. Really. I walk out onto the front porch, I feel a lift to my spirits, immediately.

— When I am happier and laughing more, the kids are happier and laughing more. Happy children are more fun to be around, which makes me happier. This is a virtuous circle, and we have one going most days now.

— Keeping busy means less down-time, less time for the dreaded doldrums to creep in.

And you know? None of that was really a surprise. I could have predicted all that. I pretty much did. There was one surprise on that list, though.

Hugs. I said I would hug each and every child once per hour. Frankly, I was unsure about that one. I mean, I knew it would be good for the children. They have a never-ending need to be physical… to a degree I find claustrophobic, frankly. There are caregivers out there who revel in having children climbing all over them all the time.

I am not one of them. I hug them, sure, pat their little bottoms, ruffle their hair, drop kisses on pudgy little bodies. But a hug an hour… that’s 9 hours times 5 children… 45 hugs a day. I confess I cringed a bit. It would be good for the children. It would make me feel more professional, like I was doing my Nurturing Duty. But, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it much. I feared that for my own tolerances, it would be a bit over the top.

Guess what?

Of all the resolutions I made, this one, Hug Every Child Once An Hour, has been, without qualification, the MOST FUN of the entire list. The absolute highlight. Because of those hugs, my whole day sparkles with joy.

All sorts of things can be used as triggers/reminders for a hug. I change the children on the floor, as you know. So when Daniel or Poppy have had their diapers changed, I pull them upright and then give them a hearty hug before sending them on their way. Arrival and departure are obvious times for hello and goodbye hugs. (Freebie Bonus: The parents love it. Of course. And it’s not that it never happened before, just that now it ALWAYS happens.) When we tidy a room, we get hugs. When we sing a fun song, we get hugs.

We’ve developed variations. There’s the regular hug, a quick squeeze. There’s the Squooshy Hug, an extra-long, extra-tight hug. There’s the Sandwich Hug: me, a tot in the middle, another tot on the outside. (The middle is the prime spot. Everyone takes turns being in the middle.)

If I’m approaching the end of an hour and realize I’ve forgotten and have some quick catching up to do, I’ll kneel on the floor, fling my arms out wide and call out “GROUP HUG!” Small bodies will hurtle from every direction, and fling themselves onto me, onto the kid on top of me, onto the kid on top of the kid on top of me. And everyone giggles into everyone else’s face, a writhing, wriggling, squirming heap of glee.

It is WONDERFUL.

My Happiness Resolutions, all seven of them, have been really effective at increasing my enjoyment of my work day, and as a result, making me happier. But nothing sent the happiness skyrocketing past mere happiness and solidly into JOY the way all these hugs have done.

I didn’t expect it. It’s a gift, absolutely a gift. I’m loving it.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | books, health and safety | , , , | 5 Comments

Weird vs Weird

Playgroup. I take the children there so they can run around on a day when we can’t get to the park, when it’s too cold or rainy or mucky to even let them charge around my yard. A day when they’d normally be stuck indoors. They love it, of course. New toys, lots of space, lots of other kids.

But me? Generally, I’m not so fond of playgroup. Once in a while, I go there for me, but usually, I’m going strictly for the kids. Playgroup is crowded; I’m claustrophobic. Playgroup is LOUD; I’m noise-phobic. Not a happy experience for Mary. I do have a particular friend whose company I enjoy when I’m there … but I’d far, far rather meet her at the park or the coffee shop!!

As a caregiver, playgroup is also advertising. I am quite, quite aware that I am on display. When I walk in with my five small charges, I am immediately identifiable as Not a Mummy. I am a caregiver, a paid professional, and as such my talents, skills, attitude, nurturing capacity are visible for all the Real Mummies to evaluate. I am exposed. Fair enough. It works both ways. I will deliberately frequent playgroups more often when I know I have an upcoming space opening, hoping to impress one of those Mummies enough to get a new client. It does, however, mean I have to be “on” the whole time, and makes the event a little more tiring than it might otherwise be.

So, yeah. Pretty ambivalent about playgroup, all in all. However, with all the people and personalities gathered in that large room, sometimes interesting things happen. Sometimes weird things happen. Last week, something interesting and weird happened!

I was hoping to see a friend, but, sadly, she is not at playgroup today. (I really should get proactive about these things and, you know, phone her. I tend to be a bit vague, socially…) Even more sadly, really annoying caregiver is there. Gah. Happily, she has a friend with her, so I can sit a small distance away and not be drawn into conversation.

A Mummy approaches. She is young, late twenties, early thirties. Her long blond hair falls midway down the back of her tidy black dress, under which she is wearing black tights and black shoes. Her eyebrows are black, too, and are currently set in a firm, straight line across her face, mirroring the firm, tight line of her lips.

This is an Earnest Mommy, and she is Worried. Very, very worried. She approaches Very Annoying Caregiver’s friend. The caregiver friend is in her mid to late fifties, I’d say, with shoulder-length straggling grey hair, parted in the middle, falling alongside her face. She’s dressed casually, loose slacks in a nondescript colour, beige t-shirt. If she’s wearing a bra (and I think she is), it’s not up to the job… Caregiver is as loose, pale, and unfettered as the Earnest Mummy is tight, taut and tense.

“That baby over there,” she says, indicating a little boy some distance off, about ten months old, I’d say. “Is he with you?”

Other Caregiver acknowledges that yes, he is.

“Well, he has a runny nose.” Caregiver looks at Worried Mommy. Worried Mommy looks at caregiver. As the silence lengthens a bit past the norm, Worried Mommy actually wrings her hands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that before. You read about it, you never see it. Now I’ve seen it. After letting the pause last a moment longer than natural, Caregiver responds.

“Yes, I know. He has a cold. His nose runs.” Her tone is polite and factual. She knows what the unspoken request is, and she’s not budging.

Wait. You’re probably all having a WHAT THE FUCK? moment. I know I was. I mean, WHO REFUSES TO WIPE A CHILD’S RUNNY NOSE? That is just bizarre.

But if you want to understand someone, the best way is to try to get into their thinking, see it from their perspective. So, okay. I’m a caregiver. I can do this. Even though I am a caregiver who wouldn’t hesitate for a second before wiping the child’s nose. Who would, in fact, thank the mummy before heading off with my kleenex.

Although, truth be told, I’d also be a bit annoyed with said mummy. Hm. Let me dig around a bit. Why would I be annoyed?

Well, first, because she had to hunt me down. She didn’t know which adult was with that child. So, rather than doing a quick scan for a likely adult, she’s been asking around, getting people to point fingers. (Yes, yes, I know. I shouldn’t have been that far away from a crawling baby, but we’re working at getting into the perspective of the caregiver here.)

Second, she chose to hunt me down rather than do something radical like, oh, I dunno … wipe the offending nose herself? If it really is so gosh-darn offensive?

Third, because, come on, people, it’s a runny nose. There’s no blood. There’s no immanent danger of physical harm. It’s snot, is all. And wait! As I run through those objections, I see my description of tattling. Oh, now I get it. This mummy has just tattled on me. Tattled on me to me, but still. Tattling is tattling. And caregivers? We haaaaaaaate tattling. Hate it, hate it, hate it. And what do you do with tattling?

Well, you don’t reward it, that’s for damned sure!

Okay. I get it now. I still think it’s weird and stupid (because, hello, bad advertising!, and hello! inconsiderate to smear snot at playgroup, ewww), but I get it.

So now there’s a pause. Worried Mommy is flummoxed, you can see that. But she’s not going away. This is unacceptable !! Totally unacceptable!

“But his nose is running!” Her voice rises slightly with anxiety.

“Yes. He has a cold. His nose runs.” Calm, level, matter-of-fact.

Well, now. I’d say their positions are well-established. Worried Mommy takes another run at it.

“Well, my son accidentally touched your baby’s face, and now he’s going to catch that cold!”

Wait. What? All right, the snot is unsightly. And the caregiver really should get up off her annoyed and defensive ass and deal with it, despite her desperate urge to smack this woman. But does this mummy honestly think that it takes direct contact with snot to spread a cold? Anything that child has touched is now seething with cold viruses. And what of the other dozen or so children out there with colds whose noses are scrupulously wiped? You don’t know which ones they are, because their more conscientious adults are hiding the evidence keeping them clean, but you know they’re out there. You know they’re there, and every time they wipe their own nose with the back of their hand and then touch something, every time they cough or sneeze and don’t cover properly — or at all — those germs are being wantonly disseminated everywhere.

This particular snotty baby is unsightly, but only marginally more verminous than any other germ-ridden child in the joint. So that’s just silly. And weird.

In the weirdness stakes, these two are in a dead heat.

They have another exchange or two which I don’t hear because I’m off tracking down Grace, who seems to have vanished. I find her lying on the floor behind the play kitchen. Eesh. I sure will be glad when hiding behind things loses its appeal. I chat with Grace for a moment, give Rory and Jazz a quick pat on my way by, manage not to be tripped by a commando hug from Daniel.

As I return to my seat, I see the Very Casual Caregiver walk over to her baby and give his nose a wipe with a largish square of brown paper towel, the kind that you find in public washrooms. Guess Worried Mommy won that round.

But wait. A brown paper towel? Oh, how rough and uncomfortable for the poor baby. Why does this woman have no tissue? I know. I take absent-minded to entirely new heights (or is that depths?) of muddle-headedness. I cannot claim never to have left home without kleenex for a snotty child. It’s happened. But still, you put this unpreparedness together with her initial refusal to deal with The Nose, and … it just doesn’t look good, you know?

Worried Mommy heads out the door with a slender, blond two-year-old, heading for the bathroom where, presumably, the boy shall be thoroughly scrubbed.

Wait! She was THAT WORRIED about her child’s health, yet she chose to duke it out with the caregiver before disinfecting washing his hands (face, entire body)??? One begins to wonder whether it was concern for her son or simply self-righteousness that prompted the tattling. Hm.

And that was that. Caregiver retreated to her bench to chat with her annoying friend. Worried Mommy returned with her scoured child, retreating to the far side of the room.

My weird-quota filled for the day, I gathered my children and headed off to Starbucks. Where happily caffeinated people slurp coffee and look at laptops, and worry not about snot.

May 8, 2012 Posted by | health and safety, outings, parents, quirks and quirkiness | , , , , , | 8 Comments