It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Poppy Gets Brave


Poppy has not taken to New Baby. You would be justified in thinking that this is pretty standard behaviour for a two-year-old, suddenly deposed from the throne of Baby of the Household. Certainly that was my initial response, and it may indeed be a factor.

After a few days’ observation of the little so-and-so, though, I’m not sure that it is, and even if it is, it’s far from the main issue.

Anabels rightly remembered that Poppy is an empathy crier. This, too, is a factor, except that New Baby, as I described yesterday, does not cry a lot. If Poppy cried every time New Baby cried, she wouldn’t be crying much.

However, that the emotional attunedness that makes for empathy crying? I think it’s a co-symptom of what I think is the real issue. A co-symptom of, or perhaps it makes her more vulnerable to the real issue, which is …

Poppy is dealing with Huge Anxiety re: New Baby Girl.

It started with the crying, for sure. New Baby Girl (NBG from here on) arrived, and Poppy, ever cautious in new social challenges, hung back a bit. NBG burst into a shrieking storm of tears, and Poppy, ever the crying empath, broke into a similar storm of tears herself.

If it had stopped there, if Poppy simply cried when NBG cried, well, the problem would have solved itself by now, because today NBG did not cry once. But instead, I think the tears they shared stressed poor Poppy out, to the point where, in Poppy’s mind/psyche/emotional world, NBG is now associated with scary levels of tension, misery, anxiety. Additionally, my home is associated with NBG. Particularly, it seems, the front steps and entry, and the dining table.

Over the first few days of the first week, Poppy moved from her usual decisive enthusiasm — “Hi Mary! We saw a balloon today! A balloon in the sky!” — to a tentative, querulous mess. As she headed up the stairs, the tears would start, she’d be telling-begging her parents “I want to go a nap!” Even those days she was the first child here — no evil scary NBG in sight — she’d be demanding to “go a nap!” as she walked through the door. I was dishearteningly reminded of baby Lily, who’d started out so full of fun, but who reached such a state, that, after months of effort on her parents’ part and mine, I had to give them notice. Lily was not thriving with me.

That was hard, people. I’ve given one other family notice (and only one!), but never before have I felt that I’d failed with a child. I felt that I failed with Lily. I still do feel that way.

With Poppy, at least there was a clear precursor, but the symptoms were unsettlingly similar.

It must be the intervention of some kindly-disposed fates, then, that about a month ago I was asked if I would review Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety.

Just in time for my sweet little sunshine Poppy to turn all quivering and anxious. But this time, instead of spinning my wheels helplessly, I had IDEAS!

Growing Up Brave is not aimed at parents of toddlers. Its focus is school-age children and adolescents with genuine anxiety disorders. Poppy is two, her source of anxiety entirely age-appropriate, and the level of anxiety, while greater than the norm, is not to the point of a disorder. (Says me, the woman with an English degree and a B.Ed.)

However, I learned a lot of useful things from this book, have put them to practice and … spoiler alert! … it’s working!

The author, Dr. Donna Pincus, is director of an Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University. The book is an absolute pleasure to read, clear, factual and informative. Ideas and concepts are given practical illustration through non-identifying case examples.

I learned that some of my approaches were absolutely correct. You’ve heard me preach before that generally, knowing “why” a toddler does something isn’t necessary. Dr. Pincus says that, too! “Instead of worrying about what causes a child’s anxiety, we parents can better focus on what we can, normally, expect.” Ha! I feel so affirmed.

When Lily stated evidencing this behaviour, I first investigated her sleep patterns. Growing Up Brave devotes an entire chapter to “Managing Bedtime”.

The less satisfactory his sleep, the more anxious he becomes. The persistent inability to sleep well makes it harder for him to regulate his emotions and cope with stress during the day… [N]ew research confirms [that] helping a kid get a better night’s sleep, which doesn’t take long, can have an amazing effect in immediately reducing the severity of his anxiety.

My instincts here were sound.

Dr. Pincus explains — which I understood — that anxiety itself isn’t the problem. Anxiety, in fact, is adaptive, keeping us from making all sorts of rash and dangerous decisions. The person who feels no fear at all, ever, is not going to live very long. Anxiety keeps you from walking in front of a bus, from leaping into a fire, from having unprotected sex. Being brave does not mean you never feel fear. It means you see “difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather as threats to be avoided.” (p. 13, quoting Albert Bandura)

Ah. Avoidance. I had a thing or two to learn about avoidance. Obviously, avoidance is not helpful. If your primary strategy for dealing with something that makes you nervous is to avoid it entirely, you’ll never learn how to cope with it. You’ll never learn that you can cope with it. Avoidance not only robs you of the opportunity to deal with your problem, but it reinforces the belief that you’re incapable of dealing with it. I didn’t need to be told any of that. I just wasn’t recognizing avoidance behaviours in Poppy and Lily, even when they were biting me right in the behind.

The nap request? Avoidance. My confusion arose because I had been seeing this behaviour as useful and effective … yet it wasn’t helping at all. In fact, it seemed only to make things worse. Once I realized what I was looking at — thank you, Dr. Pincus! — I was better equipped to develop a more effective response.

My confusion arose because this kind of retreat is not that unusual, and it’s not always, or even usually, avoidance. A child comes in fretful, but after 15 or 20 minutes alone in a quiet room is ready to join the fray. I’ve seen it regularly enough to have given it a label: I call it a “transitional strategy”. Introverted me totally gets that, and respects it. Used in that manner, retreat is indeed a reasonable transitional strategy. But the child who cries to be alone, cries with fear and trembling, and NEVER WANTS TO COME BACK EVER, EVER,EVER!?!? That’s not “transitional”, it’s just “avoidance”. Ooooohhhh…

The opposite of avoidance, I learned, is exposure. Rather than flee what’s provoking the anxiety, you approach it. But not all at once. I’m not required to fling poor Poppy bodily off the dock and into the depths of her fear. Rather, we’ll approach it incrementally, with what Dr. Pincus terms a “Bravery Ladder”. First Poppy will dip in one big toe, and get lots of praise for the courage that requires, and then one foot. She’ll be swimming those seas eventually, but we’ll let her do it a baby step at a time.

The book suggests that the child works with you to identify a goal, and then to break it down into achievable steps. Poppy is only two. If I suggest to her that the goal is to be in the room all day with NBG and be happy about it … I think the poor child would have a nervous breakdown on the spot. She does not yet see her anxiety as a handicap; she’s not mature enough to see time spent with NBG as a desirable goal. NBG makes her feel shaky, nervous, scared. NBG makes her heart race and her tummy clench. Why on earth would she ever want to spend a whole day with her????

So I’m not consulting Poppy about this. I’m devising the Bravery Ladder myself. I considered a number of factors:
– Poppy has been using a nap as an avoidance tactic. She needs to stop doing that, but we’re going to wean her off it gradually.
– Poppy has been avoiding contact with NBG. We need to encourage contact gradually, and do our very best to see that it’s positive.
– Poppy hates, hates, hates, hates it when NBG cries. Poppy needs to learn that even though she finds the tears distressing, she doesn’t need to cry, too. Even though the tears make her nervous, she can stay in the same room and be functional. Eventually — the long-term goal — I want Poppy to be able to shift her attention from her own reaction to NBG’s tears to concern for NBG. Instead of fleeing the tears, I want her to move in to comfort.
– The sight and sound of NBG a trigger for anxiety, obviously, but so is my front porch and entry, and also the dining table. In other venues, particularly out of the house, she’s quite relaxed. So I can use the other venues as places she can experience NBG’s presence with less anxiety, gradually desensitizing her in a fairly passive way. I can focus efforts on active re-training in the entry and dining room.

So. Toward the end of last week, I greeted Poppy with a carefully measured dose of calm and confident cheer. Warmly welcoming, but not over-the-top.

“I want to go a naaaaaap!” Poppy is whining, tears on her face, her voice a creaky trembling whinge. Before this, mom or I would try to get her engaged with some other idea or activity without overtly refusing the request. It was not a successful strategy. Poppy would rail and scream, flail and fuss. Mom would peel Poppy off her body, hand her over and flee.

Whee, fun.

Today, though the ultimate goal is to be rid of this nap tactic altogether, I start small. Rather than refuse the nap outright, I’m going to let her earn a brief nap … by controlling the expression of her anxiety.

“You want to have a nap?”

“Yeeeeeees. I want to go a naaaaap!”

“If you ask me in a calm voice, you can have a short nap. If you cry, you will stay downstairs with the rest of us.” (Including, of course, scary scary NBG.) All this said in tones of matter-of-fact cheer. Poppy pauses and takes a breath. She stops wailing.

“May I go a nap, p’eas?” The tone is still pretty creaky and whiny, but the form is polite. She’s not crying, she’s talking. It will do for a start. Even though she’s experiencing anxiety, she’s controlling its expression. That’s pretty damned good for two years old. It’s a first step, and a small one, but it’s a step. Her toe is in that water!

“Nice asking! You used your polite words. Thank you! Yes, you may have a nap for a few minutes.”

Up she went, and stayed there for the 20 minutes it took to get everyone ready for our morning outing. When the stroller was packed with diapers, sand toys, snacks and the other children, I raced upstairs and brought Poppy down. Once we were heading to the park — a low-stress venue — she morphed back into her usual cheerful, engaging, declarative self.

I ensured that she played close to NBG for some of the time we were at the park. I pointed out the times that NBG smiled at Poppy. I had Poppy give NBG toys, and noted that NBG enjoyed them. I also let Poppy wander away and play by herself for some of the time, too. NBG is stressful for Poppy. Small doses are sufficient.

And when we approached my front porch on our return from the park? Whiny, creaky, pathetic request to “go a nap”.

Sigh… But that’s okay! Baby steps. Baby steps!

Whew. You know what? This is turning into a short novel. I’ll stop here and finish tomorrow.

September 14, 2012 Posted by | behavioural stuff, books, health and safety, Poppy, socializing | , , , , , | 10 Comments

Read it again!!!

Parenting (stop me if you’ve heard this) is not one long sunny journey of laughter-filled days. Though of course it has its joys, and of course, creating a happy, functional adult is the ultimate reward, there are lots of exhausted bits, frustrating bits, and stretches of tedium.

One of those, books, comes early. We know books are good for kids. We all probably genuinely enjoy reading. So you take your precious bundle into your lap just about as soon as they can hold their head up, and you start reading to them. Mommy or Daddy’s voice, a warm lap, the comfort of your arms around them. Reading a book is like a great big hug! OF COURSE they will learn to love reading!!

But at first, of course, they can’t read. At first, they have to be read to. (And you may certainly continue that long past the time they can read on their own. I have many warm memories of chapter books read to school-age children, the whole family a cuddling lump of happiness.)

When they are teeny infants, you choose the book, you read the words, you talk about the pictures. You laugh as an excited, dimpled hand swats the pages. Then you choose another book.

Then they become toddlers, and they still love to be read to. So you choose a book … and they loudly object. “Not that book! THIS one!!!” and hand you “Snoofy and Bumpus Learn to Wipe their Bums”. You do not want to read Snoofy and Bumpus. You have read Snoofy and Bumpus every damned day for the past three months. You have even read Snoofy and Bumpus more than once each day. In fact, you know that were it not for a few tantrums (yours) you would have read Snoofy and Bumpus fifteen times back-to-back every day for three months.

You hate Snoofy and Bumpus. You are also harboring serious doubts about your child’s sanity, or at least her intelligence. You have no doubts at all about her literary taste: It stinks.

We can talk some other time about ways to deal with this Common Parenting Challenge, but today we’re going to try to take a more positive approach. Today we are going to list books that we honestly don’t mind reading many times.

Perhaps not many times in a row. Adults, we all know by now, are sorely lacking in attention span, at least when compared to their obsessive-compulsive toddler. But a book you don’t mind reading daily. There are such books!

… Or maybe I’ve just been hanging around toddlers so long they’re starting to rub off on me. Possible. But I do have a few books that I have read literally hundreds of times down the years, and I still enjoy reading them. Seriously.


Are You My Mother? Lots of opportunity for a dramatic read in this one, and though some of your more delicate flowers might find it a bit fraught if you pour on the emoting too convincingly, it’s a great read.

Hippos Go Beserk! I love the rowdy rhythm of this book. Just love it.

In fact, Sandra Boynton makes it to my list more than once, with

Blue Hat, Green Hat
But Not the Hippopotamus (Real opportunity to teach empathy and talk about social exclusion, in very simple terms)
The Belly Button Book
The Going to Bed Book
Moo, Baa, LaLaLa
Barnyard Dance.

From Head to Toe, by Eric Carle (So fun to see a bunch of toddlers try to wiggle their hips. Because of course you do the actions as the book is read!)

Something from Nothing. There are two stories going on at once in this beautifully illustrated book, one of the boy and his wonderful blanket/coat/vest/handerchief… and one of the mice who live under the floor at his grandparent’s home. Lovely story, lovely to look at. Beautiful book.

I’m sure there are more. I have not been reading the same handful of books for decades, but those will do for a start. How about you? What book(s) can you read repeatedly without pain? Share, please! Every parent needs a bunch of these!

September 11, 2012 Posted by | books | , , , , | 19 Comments

Food, Meals, Food Culture

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to eat with the daycare children.

Well, a long time until two weeks ago. For the past two weeks, I’ve sat down every day. Eaten with them, corrected manners, modelled my own, chatted about the day’s events and Important Things in their small lives. Now, it wasn’t that I was ignoring them before. I did a lot of this even when I wasn’t eating with them. But, though I’d started off eating with the daycare tots, years ago when I began a home daycare, I had drifted out of the habit.

Gradually, I started doing chores as they sat around the table. Chores that I could do while supervising them, in a fairly casual, in-and-out-of-the-room sort of way. I’d start the dishes. I’d sweep the dining room floor. I’d get out the craft supplies (many of which are stored in a cupboard in the kitchen) for the afternoon activity. I could refill bowls as required, wipe spills, help a wee one load peas into a spoon … but I wasn’t sharing their meal.

Why the change? I’ve been reading Jeannie Marshall‘s “Outside the Box“, a book about food culture. She was in Ottawa not too long ago, and I recommended to my parents that they go hear her speak. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go, but one of my Lovely Clients bought the book for me! (I am so lucky. Yes, I know it.) I’ve been reading it slowly, rather than my usual break-neck speed, so that I can absorb the ideas. The ideas in the book include the difference between “food” and “food products”, something I’m familiar with from Michael Pollan‘s excellent “In Defense of Food“, and, come to that, from my very own mother.

(Was it from her I first heard, “If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I don’t want to eat them?” It may have been. She was — and remains — far from a health nut. Back then, she was a pack-a-day smoker, though she quit many years ago now. Her favourite treat was crunchy pork rinds (remember those? packaged like potato chips? god knows what was in them) but she knew, we all knew, they were damned unhealthy. For eating once in a while, not for every day. Vegetables, fruit, protein, grains — those were for everyday.)

So I’m familiar with the ‘food/food product’ distinction, and (not to put indulge in any false modesty here) I do a kick-ass job of providing food, real food, to the daycare. These tykes essentially never get food products when at my home. Essentially no packaged foods, no ready-made stuff, very little fake-food-masquerading-as-healthy, like storebought granola bars. We made our own cheese crackers last week. (NOM!)

I cook with the children, but I admit that until a couple of weeks ago, that was pretty much limited to muffins and cookies (read: treats). Crackers are still borderline treats, but at least they’re not sweet! I’ve brought chopping board and a heap of vegetables to the dining room table (so they could sit around and watch) to make a big batch of gazpacho. We talked about the vegetables, they nibbled bits of this and that, they smelled the garlic and the onion, and cheered when I slammed the garlic to get the skin off. And when it was done? They were falling all over themselves to have a taste.

But still, I didn’t eat with them. And the more I read Marshall’s book, the more I realized how critical that is to instilling in children the idea of how to deal with food. I was good at providing healthy, real food, and getting them to eat it, but I wasn’t putting it in context.

A quote from my then 11-year-old daughter springs to mind, something she said during her first term in school, having been homeschooled to that point: “It’s like they [the other kids] see learning as some sort of bad-tasting medicine. It’s good for them, but they don’t have to like it.” Was I giving the same sort of message to the tots, regarding food?

So I’ve been sitting down and eating with them, and (another idea from Marshall) not hurrying them through the meal. A meal is not a hiccup in our day, something to be rushed through so we can get on to our next Important Learning Activity (or, I wryly confess, naptime, blessed, blessed naptime). No, a meal is an important activity. It’s not just a nutritional pit stop, a filling of the gas tank as quickly as possible so you can roar back into the race of life.

It’s nice, you know? Our lunches now take close to half an hour, instead of ten or twelve minutes. They don’t eat any more than they ever did. They just spend more time chatting. And — wahoo! — less time pouting about what might be in their bowls. (Well, except Jazz. Jazz is just not a food-oriented kid, and this is not a miracle cure. But who knows what the results of relaxed, social meals will be, even for food-indifferent Jazz, long-term?)

Last week, they tried roasted asparagus and mushrooms (even Jazz!), because I was sitting at the table, eating with them. We’re having fun, we’re enjoying our food and each other’s company.

And I haven’t even finished the book yet! Who knows what we’ll discover next??

June 7, 2012 Posted by | books, food, health and safety | , , , , , | 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.


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

Grown-ups laugh at the weirdest things…

Our theme for the month is fairy tales. I’ve read lots of books and told lots of stories this month. Some have luscious language, some have luscious illustrations. Since I don’t stick to board books, or even the preschool section of the library, many were too wordy for this wriggly crew, and had to be shortened as we went, me telling the story that fit the picture and pretty much ignoring the text altogether.

THIS was one book I didn’t have to edit down. At all.

I loved it. The joke extends through the entire book, with the desperate dad making the stories shorter and shorter in an effort to get past “the end” to SLEEP! as quickly as possible. The joke is, of course, entirely lost on my crew, but I’d say children from about six on up will get the joke, as well as enjoy the stories.

I love the hints scattered through the text. At the end of “Small Girl, Red Hood”, the woodsman looks at the small girl and says, “Wow, I’m really tired, how about you?”

“Princess Pea” ends with this: “And so she married the prince. Is there a pea under your bed? Then what’s your excuse? Go to sleep.”

I think my all-time favourite is “The Old Lady’s Shoe”, quoted here in its entirety. (Which will take me roughly 63 seconds to type, I’m sure.)

There was an old lady
Who lived in a shoe.
She had so many kids.
She didn’t know what to do.
Stories were read
Until her face turned blue

When kids wouldn’t go to bed,
She sold them to the zoo.

(Wrong! 34 seconds!)

You know what this book is? It’s the precursor to Go the F**k to Sleep, without the all the f**k-ing. It’s more subtle (and thus, cleverer), and, unlike “Go the F**k”, it really is something you can share with your chidren.

Once Upon a Time, the End. Read it! You’ll love it.

(Your kids may not. Who cares?)

January 25, 2012 Posted by | books | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mystery Solved … by SCIENCE!

We were reading Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day yesterday. Absolute classic children’s story about a little boy exploring the snow. We will be trying out some of Peter’s ideas in the coming days.

We’ll walk with our toes pointed out, we’ll walk with our toes pointed in. We’ll drag our feet to make tracks, and make tracks with stick. We might even try snowballs!

I’ve done all that before with small children. Yesterday, though, I stumbled across something new. When Peter goes in for the evening, he puts a snowball in his pocket for the next day. When he checks on his snowball before bed … it’s gone!

“Where did it go?” I asked the children. Because of course you chat about your books as you read. “Where did Peter’s snowball go?


Three pairs of eyes gaze back at me. Full of blankness. No inspiration there, at all, at all.

I point to the suspicious spot on the outside of his coat. “It sure looks like his coat is wet. Why would his pocket be wet like that?” Hint, hint…

Nope. More blankness. They truly don’t know.

Well, now. This calls for some investigation! So out we go to the front porch. Well, in the interests of efficiency, out I go. Scoop up a small bowl of snow, and bring it in. We peer into the depths and make our observations.

We discover that the snow is white, and cold, and a bit prickly under our fingers. (I think the “prickly” was their way of describing the ice crystals in there, or maybe just the intense cold on a warm fingertip.)

We put the bowl on the table and went away. Every few minutes we’d come back and have another look. And damned if the snow wasn’t getting smaller! And now there was water in the bowl, too! And maybe, maybe the snow isn’t as white as it was?

A few minutes later, we’re sure. No, the snow isn’t so white. In fact, it’s getting clearer. And there’s even more water in there!

Any ideas why?



It’s a mystery! Isn’t that exciting?!?

When the bowl is largely a small collection of watery slush, I give them each a tiny dollop of snow in their palms.

“Just hold it, guys. Hold your hands still and watch that snow. Tell me what happens to it.”

It’s a matter of seconds before each small pink palm holds nothing more than an even smaller puddle. They peer into their hands. They look at me.

“Well. Where’s the snow?”

Rory knows. “It’s GONE!”

“It certainly is! Where did it go?”


“You had snow in your hands. Now you have water. What happened to the snow?”

A light goes on in Grace’s face.

“Water!! At water! The snow is gone at water!”

And lo, there is much rejoicing, for verily, Grace is right. The snow is gone at water! I toss around some more words, including “frozen”, “warm”, and “melting”, but we have got the gist of it.

The snow is gone at water.

Toddler science is so fun.


January 5, 2012 Posted by | books, Developmental stuff, Grace | , , , , | 8 Comments

Dirty Little Secrets

I’m reading “I was a Really Good Mom before I had kids“.

It’s an entertaining read, and I have lots and lots of responses to it, none of which you’ve heard about. That’s because I’ve been too busy reading, see. Reading and scribbling down responses. The problem with blogging is that it fits in the same time spot as reading. So, very often, I can do one or the other, but not both. Certainly I can’t do a LOT of one thing and still do the other.

Lately, I’ve been reading. A lot. And it’s been wonderful. Not so good for the blogging, but wonderful for me. Sorry about that. (Well, not really all that sorry. As I say, it’s been wonderful. But here I am back! Aren’t you glad?)

However, “I Was a Really Good Mom” is a good book, and certainly good fodder for this site. (I do worry about all these neurotic, over-achiever moms with the astonishingly low self-esteem, though. Are they really that prevalent? Or is this book marketed to a particularly fragile niche of the mommy world?)

With that caveat in place, it’s an interesting, thought-provoking read. One of the features of the book is a recurring green sidebar titled “Dirty Little Secrets”, and in each is a confession of some small mommy misdemeanour.

Here’s a sampling:

My girlfriends and I decided that 4 p.m. is the “new 5” when it comes to pouring that first glass of wine every day.

(To which I respond: Is there some rule you can’t drink before 5 p.m.? Who knew?)

Some of them are silly. This one made me laugh out loud:

Sometimes I think, “I can’t believe I gave up nine months of drinking for this.”

Been there! I suspect we all have. (Except my Quebecois friends, who tell me that the French advice books allow one glass a day after the first trimester. How about that?)

Some of them made me sad:

I’m continually running away from my children. I love them, but they just drain me. There’s a poof of smoke at 2:30 p.m. when my help arrives and I fly out the door.

I am not thinking “What a terrible mother!” She says she loves her children and I believe her. We all know what a drain our children can be on our energy, our emotions, our selves. But for most of us, the feeling of being depleted is temporary and occasional. We all feel that urgency to flee … once in a while. How sad for her that this seems to be her everyday response to them. However, given that this is her experience, how sane and sensible for her to arrange some mother respite, so she can enjoy them when she’s with them, and also have a daily breather. (And how fortunate she is that she can afford it.)

Some had me nodding along, some I just couldn’t relate to AT ALL. But they’re all honest expressions of other women’s anxieties and “failures”, and as such, valid.

[Total Tangent About to Begin: And then there was the bizarre one. I don’t know what it’s doing in this book at all, because it has nothing to do with mothering. It does make you wonder whether she’s an incredibly (even pathologically) loyal wife, or if she’s an incredibly (even pathologically) repressed one, because she’s got to be one or the other. (One hopes for her husband’s sake she’s not both…)

I have a very vivid, very sexual dream about my contractor. So I fired him.

To which I say, WTF? He loses a contract because your subconscious was lusting after him? Where’s the justice in that? And what’s wrong with lusty dreams? And why on earth, if you find him that attractive, didn’t you just pour yourself that 4 p.m. glass of wine and inconspicuously enjoy the scenery?

That was by far the weirdest one by me. And I still don’t know what it’s doing in this book.

End of Tangent.]

We all have these dirty little secrets. I posted about one of mine here. That was one I really had trouble confessing to. THAT one made me feel like a poor mother at the time, no doubt about it. And, even years later, I feared the judgement of others… because part of me felt it would be warranted. Pretty near everyone has experienced a few of those, I’m sure.

Another, smaller and less significant DLS, formatted to the size of a sidebar, is this:

One day I didn’t strap the two-year-old into his stroller, and when I bumped up over a curb, he flew forward onto the sidewalk. I bent over him and pretended to make sure he was okay (which he was), but really? I was using him as a blind to look around and see if anyone had noticed.

If I were a nervous, low-self-esteem sort, I’d be convinced my response said all sorts of reprehensible things about my priorities as a mother, my ability to love the child, my appalling selfishness. Never mind the first failure of cavalierly endangering my child’s safety by not buckling him in! Which is BAD ENOUGH!!! But then I compound is with total lack of compassion, lack of guilt and sheerest ego???? SURELY I should be worried about the CHILD, not the potential embarrassment to ME!!! What kind of a mother am I???

But I have sturdy self-esteem. I’m a good mother. I didn’t feel like a failure, I felt like a doofus, and I didn’t want anyone to see me being a doofus, thanks so much. But yes, 1) I didn’t buckle him in, 2) I managed to eject him onto the sidewalk, and 3) I was more worried about public embarrassment than my failings as a mother. Ooooooooo….

Okay, now it’s your turn. What are your dirty little secrets?

November 17, 2011 Posted by | books, parenting | , , | 4 Comments

Our New Favourite Book

I have a neighbour, other side of the street, one door east, who is a teacher. Elementary school. Every so often she changes classrooms or changes grades (or, less often, changes schools), requiring a significant purge-and-declutter of stuff. Does any profession accumulate “stuff” like an elementary school teacher? Oh, probably, bit it’s one I’m more familiar with.

And in this case, benefit from, for whenever the lovely Marianne does a purge, a box and a bag and a bucket of stuff come my way. And Marianne’s cast-offs are worth having!!! I have gotten the most amazing stuff from her.

And then there’s this. I’m not sure how it slipped through her filters, but this book is a pedagogical fail.

It is also OUR VERY MOST FAVOURITE BOOK!!!! Why? Let me explain…

It starts out blandly enough. (Oh, and in M’s defense, I should add that it started out in good condition. Those roughed-up corners? Daisy. I’m telling you now (because if I didn’t, how would you ever guess?) puppies are MURDER on board books.) So, a book, a little kitschy in that it’s a licensed product, but Beatrix Potter is pretty benign as far as licensing goes. Way better than, say, Dora the Explorer or (gag me) Sponge Bob…

Great literature it’s not, but the point of the book is clear and simple. (The text of this picture less so. My new camera is cheap and focus-challenged. Sorry about that. Now all you twenty- and thirty-something young’uns can get a teaser of what you’ll be seeing when you’re a fifty-something without your reading glasses… Just squint a bit. It’ll come right into focus!!)

On ensuing pages, we learn that Benjamin Bunny’s jacket is brown, and Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit has a purple dress. And then we come to this:

Peter Rabbit eats red radishes. Red… radishes… Let’s have a closer look shall we?

Now, it may very well be true that Peter Rabbit does indeed eat red radishes. Lord only knows he’s a bunny, and they do love their veggies!

But unless Peter has in his thieving hands a bunch of mutant radishes, I’d say those are carrots.

Orange carrots.

The kids? Do they have a problem with this? Does it offend and bemuse them? Are their little minds a-twist with confusion? No. Not at all. Not for a second.

No, they think this is hysterical. This is not “Benjamin Bunny’s colours” to them, this is “The Silly Carrot Book.” We read it a LOT for the sheer joy of falling all over ourselves laughing at this very page. I pick up this book, and you can see the two-year-olds priming themselves for hysteria.

“AAAHHH! Mary’s going to read the book with the page with the WRONG COLOUR!!! And the WRONG VEGETABLE!!!”

Cue mad display of feverish laughter. IT IS SO FUN!!!! A grown-up has somehow made a mistake, and they know it’s wrong!!!! Does it get any better?


This, my friends, is Toddler Humour at its peak.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | books | , , , , , | 8 Comments

What I did on my summer holidays, 2

Week two of my summer holiday is almost over. I didn’t get much further on my week one to-do list, but I’ve forged gamely ahead with my primary objective for week two: READ LOTS.

My hours of diligent sitting on the porch, and consumption of many fortifying mugs of tea have paid off. I’ve managed about a book a day. (Last night’s three hours of insomnia helped enormously with yesterday’s book!!!) As you can see, Daisy does what she can to offer moral support. Practical support, too: any ants that come too close are summarily consumed.

If you’re curious, the list is as follows:

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, by Faiza Guene (Okay. Not great, but okay.)
Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk (Didn’t finish; found it tedious and characters thoroughly unlikeable)
Future Babble, Dan Gardner (Great!)
The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, Chris Ewan (Fun read; denouement chapters dragged a bit, but I’ll look for other books by this author.)
The Epicure’s Lament, Kate Christensen (Very good. Protagonist is an AWFUL man, but a really good book.)

Currently reading:
Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert K. Massie
Lavinia, Ursula LeGuin

Sunny late summer/early autumn days spent sipping drinks and imbibing books, with a pathetically adorable cone-head puppy companion. It doesn’t get much better.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | books, holidays | , | 1 Comment

She’s her mother’s daughter

Emma is reading The Hare and the Tortoise to the children. We own a version illustrated by Brian Wildsmith, and it’s quite lovely.

She reads slowly, and lets the children chatter about each page. It’s a British imprint, which becomes obvious at the start of the race.

“What’s a ‘cock’, Emma?”

Showing remarkable aplomb for an almost-eighteen-year-old, Emma answers the question simply. Nary a snicker to be heard.

“It’s the rooster, sweetie. In some places, they call a rooster a ‘cock’. See him standing there? The rooster is going to start the race.”

She continues with the story. A line later, she stops.

“You know, it’s pretty hard to read this and not hear something entirely different.”

I haven’t been paying attention. “Read what?”

Emma clears her throat and repeats the line with Import and Drama.

“The cockswelled upready… to give the signal.”

Not nearly as aplombish as my daughter, I snicker. May even have sniggered like a nine-year-old schoolboy.

“You, young lady, have a filthy mind.”

Aplomb gone to the wind, she snickers right back.

“Uh-huh. And where did I get that from?”


June 7, 2011 Posted by | books, my kids, sex | | 2 Comments