It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Thoughttus Interruptus

I don’t really get a nap time any more. Daniel and Poppy nap, but Grace and Jazz don’t, generally. Still, we do have a Quiet Time, during which the big girls lay on cots, one in living room, one in kitchen. They don’t have to sleep, but they do have to Stay On The Cot … along with a pile of books, a dolly, a few puzzles, a container of blocks.

Really, what they’re getting is an hour of free play. They may not play together, mind you, because then they get loud. But they may play, with — bonus! — no tedious interruptions from me about tidying, putting things away, taking out only one book at a time. None of that stuff. In return for which, I also expect no interruptions from them of my precious quiet time.

They are allowed to use the potty, but it’s carefully placed so as not to allow interaction between the two girls, and to be as boring as possible. No faking out Mary by asking to go to the potty when really you just want to whoop it up with the other gal, or to have a change of scene.

I expect an hour. I get an hour.


Today …

12:45 Quiet Time starts. Both girls on their cots, with their heaps o’entertainment mounded around them. I sit at computer to type long-overdue email.

12:48 Grace asks to pee. I don’t even look up. I’m looking for a word, it’s not quite coming, and this is a no-brainer. “No. You peed not four minutes ago.” I keep typing, leaving PUMPKIN in bold block caps where the missing word needs to go. It’ll come to me if I forget about it for a bit.

(This is a variant of a strategy I learned in teacher’s college for helping young readers develop fluency. Rather than stumble and stutter over each unrecognized word, have the child insert “pumpkin” and keep going. If the sentence still makes sense, you didn’t need that word. If it doesn’t make sense, you’ll have to stop and figure it out … but a lot of the time, you won’t need it! It’s great for reducing frustration and increasing success.)

My slightly different application is enormously helpful for the aphasic tendencies of the forgetful 50-something brain. Never mind that word! Just keep going, and get the thought down. Because we know, we tip-of-the-tonguers, we know that if we stop and stumble over the one particular word, we’ll forget what the rest of the sentence was supposed to be. This is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario, which the PUMPKIN technique very cleverly sidesteps. Mwah-ha. Me so smart. (Forgetful, but smart.)

12:51 Aha! The word comes to me. I knew it would. I seek out my marker PUMPKIN. There it is! Just as I’m about to drop the correct word in, Jazz’s tower of blocks falls with a resounding crash, scaring the bejeezus out of me. I suggest that from here on she build walls, not towers.

That word? Is gone again. Damn.

12:59 Emma returns from class, chats for a few minutes.

1:12 I return to my email, still with its PUMPKIN poking out of the text. I manage another sentence before the dogs suddenly leap up from the depths of slumber and roar to the back of the house, Daisy barking, Indie yodelling, both tails wagging madly. (Indie’s part husky; she doesn’t often bark, but she does ululate. Most endearingly. And distractingly.) Something wonderful this way comes, evidently.

1:14 The dogs were right! Wonderful Husband enters the house, having cycled to the dentist and then downtown for a chiller. He hands me mine. Aaahhh… And of course, I have to at least talk to the man who brought me an unasked-for treat.

1:22 Grace asks to pee again. This time I give her the nod. I begin another sentence. The last one still has a PUMPKIN in it.

1:23:04 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”
1:23:15 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”
1:23:42 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”
1:24:03 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”

1:24:05 I go look at the dining room table. Wonderful Husband has left his fanny pack there. Which contains, as it always does, a small handful of dogs treats. I put them where they belong.

1:25 Jazz needs to pee.
1:27 Jazz has done enormous poo. I wipe her bottom, empty and rinse the potty, wash my hands. I return to my email. Reread and delete the prior sentence.

1:29 Put that sentence back in. Change three words.

1:31 The phone rings. I check the call display and ignore the telemarketer. Erase those last three words.

1:37 I have written three more sentences!!!

1:39 A knock at the door. Neighbour child has set up lemonade stand. I promise to bring the tots when they’ve woken from their naps. “Right now it’s Quiet Time,” I lie say, delusionally tell her hopeful face.

1:42 I delete half the previous sentence, replace it. Like that much better.

1:45 Quiet Time is over. I am out of time for this email, and it’ll do. I hit send.

“Okay girls, you can get up. Let’s put your toys away, and then we’ll go paint on the porch.”

“Yay! Painting!” As they scramble off their cots and start putting books away, I give the sent email one more read-through.


But of course…

July 5, 2012 - Posted by | the dark side | , ,


  1. On the way my writing brain is at the moment I’d end up with a sentence that read “PUMPKIN PUMPKIN, in 1881 PUMPKIN” only probably less grammatical. Useful trick tho! Hopefully tomorrow will be quieter!

    Comment by anabels | July 5, 2012 | Reply

  2. Just reading this gave me the twitches. With summer vacation here my precious naptime quiet is gone… once the Toddler Brigade are in bed, I’m on deck to spend Quality Time (TM) with my almost 7yo. It’s nice to have that time, but I also miss my peaceful cup of tea in the afternoons.

    Comment by Hannah | July 5, 2012 | Reply

  3. LOL. Did you know that studies have found that when you try to think of one word but hit a different one by mistake (like, you are trying to think of the word “torturous” but come up with “tortoises” instead” your brain sends out a signal to dampen the pathways to other words, including the one you are actually looking for? In other words, every time you say “tortoises. Damn, No!” to yourself, you are further reducing the chance of ever actually thinking the word “torturous” instead. This is the mind’s way of helping you spotlight the words you actually want – normally your mind shines a light on “torturous” and tortoises and the like fade into the background – but when it backfires, it REALLY backfires.

    So your pumpkin plan sounds good. It’s a word that isn’t what you’re trying to think of, and it’s not too similar, so it won’t dampen the pathway to the right word.

    All of which I am sure is VERY comforting to you right now ” :-p

    /random biopsychology lecture

    Comment by IfByYes | July 6, 2012 | Reply

  4. I enjoyed reading this post a few days ago. Then in the early hours of this morning it found its way back into my thinking and I found myself wondering if your sentence was still understandable with the word PUMPKIN in it. So I have to ask: was the word necessary after all?

    Comment by Ali | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  5. I’m totally trying the “pumpkin” technique. I need that. And now I know why, when I’m looking for the word application and get stuck on appeals, I get so stuck on the wrong word. So frustrating — but at least somewhat explained now 🙂

    Comment by Cindy | July 9, 2012 | Reply

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