It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Easter crafts for Nail-Polish Excess

I own far more nail polish than I can reasonably use. I own nail polish colours I have worn once then forgotten about. I own nail polish that’s gone goopy in the jar (and yes, I know how to remedy that, but for now? goopy).

There does come a point when even the most acquisitive nail-polish lover realizes she really does need to let some go. So when I stumbled across an Easter craft involving eggs and nail polish, I was ready. We’d been blowing eggs for three weeks or so — every time I needed an egg or two for a recipe, it was blown rather than cracked, so we had a goodly stash of eggs. And goodness knows I have a goodly stash of nail polish.

I asked the children their favourite colours. Pink, purple, and blue, it turns out. I brought down an array in various hues.


This is not a tutorial post, so I didn’t take pictures as we went, but the method is simple: put a centimetre or two of water in the bottom of a small dish. Drop, drip, or spatter the nail polish onto the surface of the water. (Some beaded into balls and sank. I lifted them to the surface with a pin.) The polish spreads over the surface, forming a skin. Roll your eggs, one at a time, on the surface of the water. Ours, being blown, floated. I would think that if you’re using hard-boiled, you’d need to hold them at the ends and roll it on the surface, but who knows? Maybe if they sank, the polish would still adhere all over. I dunno.

Then let them dry.


Aren’t they pretty?

These are 100% fresh: you can see the beads of water still on them. After they’d had a few minutes for the polish to dry a bit, I patted them carefully to remove the water. No rubbing! The polish was not set, and would have smeared.

In an hour or so, when everything is well dried, we’re going to hot-glue ribbons to them, and then tie them to the pretty branches we painted yesterday.

Easter trees!


April 16, 2014 Posted by | crafts, holidays | , , , | 2 Comments

What they lack is logical follow-through

“Dis yooks yike a ditar pit.”

Oh, sorry. You don’t speak Daniel. I’ll translate. Daniel is holding up a plastic button from our lacing box. I’ve always seen it as oval, but it is more pointed at one end than the other.

D: This looks like a guitar pick.
M: Heh. You’re right, it does. Does someone you know play guitar?
D: No.
M: You don’t know anyone who plays a guitar?
D: No. I don’t.
M: Then how do you know what a guitar pick is?
D: Because my daddy has one. He keeps it with his guitar, so sometimes he hits the strings with it to make the music come out.
M: ….

April 15, 2014 Posted by | Daniel, the things they say! | , , | 3 Comments

Everyone’s a Winner!!!

“I want to be in the MIDDLE!!!” Rosie’s shout is indignant.

It’s also pointless.

Three children, Daniel, Poppy and Rosie, are running in circles through my home. Living room, dining room, front hall, living room, dining room … Over and over and over again. It’s been -25C to -30C (-13 to -22F) for a week now, you see. Very cold and windy, which pulls the temperature down a further ten (Celcius) degrees. We’ve barely been outside, for the better part of a week. I have pulled out all my indoor rowdy games, and when I want a cup of tea, I let them run. Run and run.

Today, it’s a mere -15C (5F), and we could be out in that glorious sun and those Christmas-card heaps of fresh, puffy snow. We could, except that Poppy’s baby sister (6 months old) is with us. Baby Sister is sleeping. And Baby Sister? She does not take her napping lightly. Two hours, three hours, are standard. (The dear, sweet, wonderful child.)

But that Olympic-calibre napping does mean we’re stuck inside for the duration. So I let them run. And run and run and run. Around and around.

“I want to be in the MIDDLE!!!” Rosie works on the assumption that if she was ignored the first time, it was merely a matter of volume.

“Rosie, my love?” She pauses and looks up at me. “Rosie, you are in the middle. Look: Daniel is ahead of you, and Poppy is behind you. You are in the middle of Daniel and Poppy.”

“Rosie is not in the middle!” Daniel is clear. “I am in the middle!!” Daniel didn’t care one whit about “in the middle” before. Daniel is much more an “I’m first” kind of guy. But if being in the middle is important, if someone else really wants to be there, well then, middle is better. And he’d better be it!!

“Well, my love, guess what? YOU are in the middle, too! Look! Poppy is ahead of you, and Rosie is behind you. YOU are in the middle of Rosie and Poppy!”

(Because, hello, you’re running in circles. Everyone is in the middle. And at the front. And behind. Because, CIRCLES.)

“NO! I am in the middle!!” Rosie is indignant.

“Yes, you are. And Daniel is in the middle, too.”

Poppy chimes in, delighted. “And I’m in the middle, too! I’m in the middle of you and Daniel!!” The penny has dropped for one of them, at any rate. And she’s happy about it.

Rosie is less impressed.

“NO! I am in the middle!!!”

“Yes, you are. You are in the middle.”

“Not Daniel and Poppy in the middle.”

“Sorry, schnookums. They’re in the middle, too. And that’s okay! They’re in the middle, and You are, too! EVERYONE is in the middle of some other people! EVERYONE’S a winner, kiddo!! Isn’t that good?”

“No. I am in the middle.”

Everyone’s a winner? Pfft. Toddlers are not down with that egalitarian shit.

January 27, 2014 Posted by | Daniel, Poppy, Rosie | , | 1 Comment

Poppy the Chipper

This kid is the happiest tot I’ve had in care for a long time. She has her moments, sure. She struggles a little with anxiety, though much less than before. She can pout and whine — she’s three after all. But all in all, the most consistently upbeat little human it’s my pleasure to know.

She’s also verbal. (She’s three.) Very verbal. Ceaselessly verbal. A steady stream of chatter flows from this girl, but because it’s 99.9% happy chatter, it’s utterly charming. Yes, my ears do get tired, but my heart? Never. (And does Mary feel a little goofy for expressing herself with such sentimental cheesiness as ‘heart’? Yes. But it’s true, nonetheless.)

The children are wrestling with some Big Problem. How to move a chair around the dining table so they can all sit on the same side, I think, and one chair leg had gotten snagged on a table leg. Daniel is frustrated, and Rosie is shouting at the chair.

“It’s okay, guys!” says Poppy, full of confident positivity. “We can fix it! We are the Solution Gang!”

Adorable, I tell you.

December 11, 2013 Posted by | individuality, Poppy, the things they say! | , | 3 Comments

Intimations of Maturity

Grace to Jazz: I know you want very much to do that, but it will make Poppy sad, so you just can’t, understand?”

Her tone of voice is gently encouraging, but firm. I hear her mother — and myself — in her small voice.

But really? Is that not SO IMPRESSIVE?? I’m impressed. (Also, aaawwww, the sweetness.)

Honesty compels me to note, mind you, that she is less adept at making this distinction when the sad-making thing is something she wants to do…

But it’s progress, and I am proud.


August 14, 2013 Posted by | Grace, socializing, the cuteness! | , | 1 Comment

Introverts, Extroverts, and Manipulators

“I want to be alone!”

I know some caregivers who just don’t allow that. It’s seen as unfriendly, anti-social, inappropriate, and just plain weird. What is wrong with that kid?? “Don’t be like that, Simon. Suzie is your friend! Now come here and help her build her bridge with the lego.”

I am an introvert. I totally get the need to be alone. (We can talk about how the introvert copes with a day spent with in-your-face toddlers some other time.)

So when a child expresses a genuine need to be alone, I respect that. They get to be alone. They do not have to mingle, mingle, mingle, interact every living second of the live-long day. They just don’t. And the extroverts in the group can back off for a bit.

Now, they have to ask politely. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to respect the social niceties. A howl of outrage, a shove and a scream, are not how you get your time away. “If you want to play alone, you ask nicely.”

It puts the caregiver in a bit of a bind, though. You can’t pop them on the Quiet Stair for shoving another child, as you might otherwise do, because in this case the Quiet Stair would be a reward , wouldn’t it? You’ll only train the desperate introvert into bad behaviour. “I need some space!! I know! I’ll just deck little Josh over there!”

What to do? I offer them what they want, in exchange for what I want. “You can play alone at the puzzle table, if you ask politely.” Then I give them the words. Or if they’ve been acting badly to get their quiet, I will require them to play with the others, nicely, for five minutes first. Then they can have as much time as they like, alone.

Because the request to be alone? It can be a real and genuine thing, and you should no more deny it than you’d deny the extrovert his social time. “You want to play with the other kids?? Now, Simon, don’t be pushy! Do this puzzle quietly, there’s a good boy!”

However. There is the desire to be alone experienced by the kid who is feeling overwhelmed and drained, and needs time and space to recharge. That’s genuine and valid, a legitimate need. And then …

Child A flings himself over the pile of blocks. “You go ‘way! I want to play alone!!”

That one’s easy, a clear example of a child who just doesn’t feel like sharing. “Playing alone” is code for “having ALL THE TOYS!!!” It’s not too hard to determine need to be alone from want to have all the toys: Offer the child half the huge pile o’blocks in a private corner. The child who needs to be alone will accept it. The one who just wants ALL THE THINGS will not.

(And if it’s both? He wants ALL THE THINGS, alone? Tough. Half the toys, alone, or none of them.)

And then there’s this:

Child A is in a bit of a snit. Has been all morning. Contrary and prickly, nothing quite right for Her Most Precious Princess. Child A, the Snit Child, plays with the lacing cards in a desultory way. Child B sits down companionably and picks up one of the cards. Snit Child turns her back on Child B with a whine of outrage.

“Noooo! I want to be aloooone!”

Child B, a mellow little thing, gives Snit Child a puzzled look before wandering off with no comment.

Now, if that were the end of it, it could well be that Snit Child has reached the end of her introverted rope, and just needs some solo downtime. But that’s not what’s been happening at Mary’s the past three weeks or so. Just watch what happens next:

Mellow Child B is soon happily involved in some other activity. Snit Girl approaches sidelong, ostentatiously holding one of the Magic Dollar-Store Sparkly Princess Wands. Snit Girl waves it about just within Mellow Child’s line of vision. Predictably, Mellow Child is attracted to the sparkle, and wanders closer.

Snit Child roars her outrage: “Nooooo! You can’t play with me! I want to be aloooone!”

Uh-huh. That’s why you deliberately provoked the attention, because you wanted to be alone. Yeah.

That? That is not valid. That is sheerest manipulation. Snit Child was looking for a conflict, and, when Mellow Child didn’t deliver the first time, she deliberately provoked the attention she wanted to reject.

Now “being alone” is code word for “I’m rejecting you”, or “I control you by not giving you what you want.” It’s really devious. This child has a lot of social savvy. Too bad she’s working it on The Dark Side.

So now poor manipulated Mellow Child really, really wants to play with Snit Child. SC, having achieved her goal of enticing the attention she wishes to reject, redoubles her protests. “No! Go away! I want to be alone!!”

What do I do? I pretend to believe it’s genuine. I pretend Snit Girl has a real and genuine need to be alone. Because, you know, there is nothing wrong with needing to be alone.

“You want to be alone? No, Mellow, if Snit wants to be alone, we will let her be alone.” And then I get Snit Girl all comfy in an armchair, with a blanket and a book and a toy … and then I take Mellow Child a distance away, in the next room but still in view, and snuggle her into my lap for a story. Or take her to the table to colour. Or play clapping games with her.

If Snit Girl genuinely needed time out, this will be fine with her. She’ll stick with her quiet activities, and happily recharge her batteries.

But if she was playing mean girl head games, this will not please her. Mellow Child getting MARY’S attention?? Mellow Child and not her? She will wriggle out of the chair and trot over.

“I don’t want to be alone any more.”

At this point, I can play it either way. “Sure, sweetie. You come sit with us.” The snit has passed, and she’s willing to share time and attention. Good for all of us!

But if she’s been really rotten to Mellow Child, or if I think she needs to be more rigorously deterred from this particular behaviour pattern, I’ll twist the knife just a bit more.

“Oh, no, sweetie. You said you wanted to be alone, and I think you were right. I think you really do need to be alone. Away you go back to your comfy chair. You be alone for a little longer, and when I’m done reading this story to Mellow Girl, maybe it will be time for you go get up. Away you go!” All said in my best, most cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice. (You don’t have a cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice? Find it and practice. It’s an invaluable parenting tool.)

April 16, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, individuality, power struggle, socializing | , , , | 4 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

Dealing with the Attention-Hog

Hodgepodge asked what I do with the pushy-needy-demanding prima donna kids, those kids who feel their place is always the center of any adult’s attention, and just hate sharing it. I find these kids pretty tiring, frankly! A day of being the focus of the ongoing power struggle — you must love ME MOST!!! — can get pretty tedious pretty fast. You begin to feel like the stuffed toy on the cusp of being torn to bits between two determined toddlers, each gripping a leg and screaming “MINE!!! I got it FIRST!!!”

Like Hodgepodge, I insist they all share and wait their turn. There are consequences for refusal to do so. When we read stories, they each get to choose a book from the book bin, and each child sits in my lap when I’m reading the book they chose. My lap is prized real estate, and they all love having their turn.

When I have a prima donna (PD from now on) in the group, I make sure that child doesn’t always go first. If they try to insist that their story be first, or insist that they be in my lap for all the stories, or resist leaving my lap when I’ve read their story, I will sit them on the quiet stair. They can hear the story from there, but they don’t get a lap at all. (I usually warn them in advance that this will be the consequence of not sharing my lap during story time. Usually, but not always. Depends on the awareness level of the child. And of course I always explain why they’re going to the quiet stair: “If you can’t share my lap with the other children, you don’t get it at all.”)

There are any number of examples of this sort of interaction I could cite, where sharing my attention is the expectation, and the consequences of refusing to meet the expectation (or even of complaining too much about it) are well-explained and followed through. The idea is to eliminate the behaviour by ensuring it doesn’t work for the child. It’s a good approach.

But, when I’m feeling calm and clear-headed about it all, as opposed to TIRED TO DEATH OF IT, I can certainly see that from the child’s perspective, there’s not a lot of positive in standing aside and waiting.

At the younger end of the spectrum, the other childrens’ needs don’t much factor in to PD’s thinking, but as they get older, the sad fact is that knowing that they have what another child wants only adds to its appeal. So, from their perspective, there are no downsides to the behaviour, and much to be lost from giving it up.

But of course, they are losing out by persisting with the attention-hogging. They’re losing out on a key concept of friendship (and human relations in general): taking pleasure in someone else’s pleasure. Someone else’s happiness makes you happier. And one step beyond that, empathy, whereby your pleasure is reduced if you know it causes someone else unhappiness.

These are pretty airy-fairy concepts to the concrete-minded toddler, though. So how do you turn this around? How to teach the concrete-minded toddler that sharing attention is a good thing, not a loss?

One method I use is the group hug. I am hugging another child, and I see PD bearing down upon me, and I know PD’s aiming to nudge the other child out and claim the premium territory, or, at the very least, ensure that the other child doesn’t get all the attention. I call out “Group Hug!!” Suddenly I don’t just have PD running at me, I have ALL of them. And we ALL share a scrambling, giggling, multi-kissing hug. When it’s done, I can smile at ALL of them, and say with utmost sincerity, “Hugs are so much fun when there’s a bunch of us sharing it!!!”

I organize games specifically designed so that another child is key to a satisfying experience.

“Row, row, row your boat” is a nice, simple one. The children are seated in pairs on the floor, soles of feet touching, legs forming a diamond on the floor. They reach across and grasp their partner’s hands (bending the knees is fine) and rock back and forth as they sing. If I have a particularly PDish PD in the mix, I don’t play with them, so they’re not competing to be my partner. I just supervise (and provide the bulk of the rhythm and melody, ahem).

For older children (they have to be able to jump!), ‘sticky popcorn’ is a good one. The children all start squatting on the ground, arms wrapped around knees, making themselves as small as possible. They’re being popcorn kernels. They we all chant together,

“You put the oil in the POT
and you let it get HOT!
You put the popcorn in
and you start to grin! [Maniac grins all round.]
Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle [everyone starts wriggling while still staying scrunched up]
sizzle, sizzle, sizzle,
sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, sizzle…….
POP!” [at POP, they all start jumping up and down]
POP! POP! POP! [they keep jumping]

Normally, the game stops here. I call out, “AAAAAAAAND… STOP!” as I hold my arms out then drop my arms and body to the floor, their signal to all go back to being kernels on the floor. Over and over again. It’s a Very Fun Game.

In the “it’s more fun with your friends” version, once I get them jumping, I’ll wait a few seconds and then say, “STIRRING IN THE CARMEL” making appropriate big, sweeping motions for a second or two before calling out, “You’re getting sticky! STICKY POPCORN1 STICKY POPCORN!!!”

Meantime, they keep on jumping, only now, whenever they touch someone they have to ‘stick’ to them (hold hands, or try to jump while staying in contact) until everyone is a big blob. Or until I decide I’d better stop it now before the bounding ball implodes and one piece of popcorn jumps right on another popcorn’s head…

Anything you can think of that would be more fun with a friend… Crafts are another great vehicle for this lesson. So is cooking. And of course, when I see that we’re all having fun during these activities, I Preach It, Preach It, Preach It. “Some things are just more FUN with a FRIEND!!” “Isn’t it nice that our FRIENDS can help us?” “We wouldn’t be able to do this fun thing if we didn’t all WORK TOGETHER!!” “I just love working with you guys! It’s such fun!” etc., etc., etc. (Do I bore them? Dunno. Nice thing about little kids, you don’t have to be subtle…)

The PD often enjoys being Helpful. Exploit this!!! We know that they want to do this for less-noble reasons (to keep your attention fixed on them). That is irrelevant. What matters is that it is usually not too difficult to shift the emphasis from “I’m helping so you NOTICE ME, ME, ME!!!” to “I feel good about myself when I help others.” I like to give the child a job that benefits another child, not me. So, they don’t take their dishes to the sink, they go to the kitchen with the little one who can’t reach the sink, and put both their dishes in. Then I can praise them for being kind to the other child, and point out when the other child now sees PD as a friend and a resource. “See how Zoe is smiling, PD? That’s because she knows that because of you, she will be able to play that game she just can’t manage on her own.”

When I feel that PD is now taking genuine satisfaction in helping the other children, even if their motivation is still primarily that I like it, I move us up a notch. The next step comes when I am able to shift PD’s focus from me to someone else, from getting to giving. “Zoe is looking a bit droopy. I think her cold is making her tired. Can you ‘read’ this book to her? You know how she loves it when you spend time with her.”

The goal is to open the child’s mind so that having an adult’s attention is a good thing, of course, but it’s not the only good thing. That while it’s nice to have the grown-up’s attention, it’s also nice to interact/play with other children, to help, to give love, warmth, and attention.

Anyone else have any other suggestions for simple activities that can get his message across?

August 9, 2011 Posted by | daycare, manners, power struggle, socializing | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments


The kids love silly play. I love that the kids love it. And together, we often get silly. With words, that is. I tend to discourage silly physical play, because you can pretty near guarantee someone will get hurt. But silliness with words? No one gets hurt with word silliness!!!

Lunch is ready. The little ones are in their high chairs, the big ones are scrambling into their chairs, I am placing the food on the table. When I go to place my butt on my chair, however, it’s occupied. (The chair, obviously.) With Tyler’s butt.

“Hey, you! You’re in my chair!”
“Yeah, Tyler!” Big sister Emily chimes in. “Do you think you’re Mary?”
“That’s it! For a minute he forgot, and he thinks he’s me. Does that mean I’m Tyler?”
“Yeah! You’re Tyler and he’s Mary!”

Tyler, who to this moment has been limiting his participation in the conversation to one of his full-voltage grins, shakes his head.

“I can’t be Mary! I have the wrong skin!”
“The wrong skin? What does that mean?” I’m genuinely puzzled.
Emily doesn’t quite “tsk”, but you can hear it in her voice.
“YOUR skin is old, Mary!”


“Yeah, and it gots lines on it.” Tyler pokes my face beside my eyes.
“Those are called laugh lines. That’s because I’ve laughed a lot in my life.”
“And you’re laughing now!” Tyler is pleased. “So I can see them even more!!!”

Yeah. That’d be correct. But better than frown lines, right??? In truth, rather like my laugh lines. I figure I’ve earned them, and they say something of how I’ve leaned into my life. No ‘ouch’ there.

Emily, however, is a stickler for accuracy. “”Those are wrinkles, Tyler. She has lines on her hands.”

I do? Tyler and I look at the hands which are currently doling out their lunch. “Those blue bumpy lines?” he asks.

Oh. Ouch. Veins. Veins which, I might add, have been visible since I was sixteen or so, a result of playing the piano since I was seven. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The fact that they are now visible even when I’m not playing the piano is… is… is reality, dammit.) Laugh lines are pretty. Veins? Not so much.

Time to grab hold of this conversation before it becomes too totally demoralizing.

“Tyler does not have my skin, so he’d better shift out of my chair, or I’ll sit on him!” I make threatening motions with my butt. “Look out, little boy! Move that little bum of yours!”

“Yeah, Tyler! Look out or she will squash you with her big bum!!!”


August 3, 2011 Posted by | Emily, the things they say!, Tyler | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gotta keep your eyes peeled around here

“Mary, Rory has the sparkly flowers!”

“Mary, Rory is going to take the scissors!”

“Hey, little man. The glue is not for eating. Here, use the brush.”

“Rory, that is my crown. You have your own.”

“Rory, the beads do not go inside the pasta, or we can’t make it into a necklace.”

Emily looks at me as she shakes her wise, five-year-old head and smiles fondly. “That Rory. He gets into EVERYTHING!”

“Yes, he does. It means he’s smart, you know. A smart brain is interested in everything. Smart babies like to explore. That’s how they learn.”

Emily nods, pleased with my perspicacity. “Babies. It’s those smart ones you really have to keep your eye on.”

I nod and smile. I keep my eye on Emily.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | crafts, Emily, Rory | , , , | 1 Comment