Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Things that are put on the high shelf

  • All the Nerf guns, one by one, having been confiscated
  • The TV remote control, because you've had enough TV time for now
  • The craft project that I really don't want to bring down until you're old enough to read the instructions and do all by yourself
  • One notebook that was fought over
  • A packet of highlighter markers, because you have enough markers for now and those aren't even washable
  • The glockenspiel, until you can make music instead of just hitting each other with the mallets
  • The lighter for the grill
  • My tin whistle
  • The Ikea piggy bank you wouldn't let go of when you were two so I bought it, but then it became a dangerous projectile so it's been up there so long that we've forgotten it even exists
  • The TV digital antenna, because we're like in the dark ages, man

What's on your high shelf?

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Big enough

One thing I've noticed about parenting - and hang onto your hats here, because as epiphanies go, this one's a doozy - is that it takes a long time.

I know; rocket science is a breeze for me, right?

It's just, you start a family and you dream about all the things you'll do with your kids: take them to the movies, play board games together, go out to eat and have a happy family occasion... and you know it'll be a while, because a little baby can't do those things, but you think soon... some day soon, surely... maybe now they're old enough...

And you try far too soon and find that your two-year-old is terrified by the noise of the big screen, or is ready to jump up and run around just when the ads are done and the feature is starting because that's enough sitting still for one afternoon; or that your four-year-old really doesn't want to eat anything on the kids menu and once his chocolate milk is all gone, that's it for the restaurant outing; or that the only board games they want to play are the ones that you have to be able to read for, which they can't do yet, and then they eat the pieces and you fish them out of their hamster cheeks and put the whole thing back on the high shelf for another year or three...

So here we are with a five and a seven and we went to the movies last week (to see Frozen) and everyone liked it and nobody wet themselves (except me, because someone had apparently just dumped a giant coke all over the seat I chose) and we stayed for the whole thing, even though it was very loud and Dash was grumpy about watching princesses. And we loved it, dammit.

And today we took out the Risk and played a short game with three players (and one play-with-the-spare-soldiers-off-the-board-er) and it was almost, dare I say it, fun for all of us, and nobody threw a fit when I won, fair and square, because I'm better at rolling dice than anyone else. (That's probably because of the rocket-science, isn't it?)

And the restaurant thing, well, we're still working on that, but at least they can both play tic-tac-toe on the menu while we wait, and they can both eat some damn french fries and we usually don't actually have to evacuate the whole show mid-mouthful any more.

So, while it was only yesterday that I had a baby, and then I had another, and I swear I don't feel as old as I must be by now; on the other hand I feel as if I've been doing this for ever and shouting at these short people for a long time, and it's about time we got to do some of this stuff because we've all been waiting a while now. You know?

Children looking over a low wall at the sea

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Creative excuses

I never really thought about nurturing my children's creativity. If I want their imaginations to grow, I should encourage them to read books, right? But I don't see why I have to get out the paints or bring glitter (devil's scatterings! fie upon it!) into the house. They can be creative outside, in nature, where it won't make a mess.

(You'd think I was immensely houseproud, wouldn't you? I'm just immensely lazy, and don't want to do any more cleaning up than is strictly necessary.)

Every now and then I try. I let them do some painting outside.

Mabel painting outside

But then, even when I take away the paints because they're making me twitch, things like this happen.

Mabel with a green markered face

Even now, you'd be surprised how often I just have to dump her in the bath.

So creativity is not something I actively think about supporting. But maybe I'm just sneakily using reverse psychology, because then my kids find a stray toilet roll holder or two, and it's breakfast time and Dash is meant to be finishing his homework, and before you know it, someone's fashioning a telescope and someone else is making a kaleidoscope.

Dash making a cardboard telescope.

Mabel with a cardboard kaleidoscope

But then, there's this sort of creativity, which I am much happier to get behind.

                                               Dollhouse people in a rollerskate car.

This post was inspired by Dreaming Aloud's Carnival of Creative Mothers, which I'm not officially taking part in, because I thought I had nothing to say, being not what I would think of as a "creative type". But if you are, or even if you just wish you were, you should check out all the other posts, and very strongly consider buying Lucy's beautiful new book, which comes highly recommended by people in the know.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Don't call her cute

Don't call my daughter cute.

I don't mind. I think she's cute too, sometimes. But she'll have your guts for garters if she hears you.

A particularly chatty (and somewhat clueless) fellow customer in the supermarket made that mistake a week or so ago.

"You're just so cute," she said, in a cutesy-wutesy voice.

The five-year-old was unimpressed. "I'm not cute," she countered, with a steely gaze.

I asked her later why she doesn't like it - not because I disagreed with her stance, but just because I was interested in her reasoning.

"Cute means small. I'm not small. Babies are cute. I'm not a baby."

Fair enough. Much like Thumbelina, in her heart she's six feet tall. It's not her fault that grownups are all still bigger than her.

On Friday, the dentist's assistant tried to call her cute. Mabel was nervous about the visit, but I could tell this was galling her, so I came gallantly to her defense:

"She doesn't like to be called cute, actually."

"Oh? Well, what would she prefer?"

I took the opportunity to put some words in her mouth, since she wasn't feeling quite as perky as she had been in the supermarket, and I suggested, "How about, I don't know, smart?"

The dental assistant took that on board, though it's not as easy to believably tell a child you just met and who won't meet your eye, never mind talk to you, that she's very smart.

But you know what, you wouldn't tell a stranger you'd never met that she was very pretty. (Unless you were in a bar and trying to score, and bolstered by alcohol, and even then she might not appreciate it.) So how about you stop making superficial remarks about children in front of them, and instead, wait for them to talk to you first? That way, if they want to tell you about their new shoes or the fact that you're buying their favourite snack because it's their birthday next week, or that their favourite animal is the proboscis monkey, then you can legitimately have a conversation, at the end of which you might just be able to remark with sincerity that they are, indeed, a smart kid.

And then I will try to help them learn to take a compliment graciously, with a smile and a Thank you.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Traveling by air with children: a quick checklist for the concerned parent

  • The day before you leave, give everyone a backpack and tell them to pack the toys they want to bring. After they've gone to bed, remove 65% of whatever they stuffed in there. Add a couple of very small new things to generate goodwill and distract from what's missing.
  • Everyone with a luggage allowance gets a rolly suitcase. This eliminates a lot of fighting over who gets to pull it; however, make sure you can fit the child one on top of an adult one for when they inevitably tire and have a hard time just carrying themselves.
  • If traveling with a stroller, remember that you'll have to empty and fold it to go through security, and again to get on the plane. Do not stuff every last thing in there as if it were the trunk of your car. It is, however, invaluable for holding coats and backpacks once you've checked in. Sometimes you may even opt to let a small child sit in it - but then you'll have to carry the coats.
  • Abandon hope of getting people to eat healthy snacks in the airport. Airports are for McDonalds opportunities. Burger King if you're pushing the boat out. If you must bring healthy snacks, save them for the plane when children are trapped and the options are fewer.
  • A new coloring book or sticker book for the plane is a nice idea, and might even keep a child occupied. If you give a child under five a sticker book, be prepared to spend much of your journey pushing up the stickers from behind the page so that they can lift them off. Don't forget a nice new pack of crayons or markers for the coloring book. The ones you already have at home will definitely not suffice. A brand-new pack of eight for each child will do nicely.
  • Being read aloud to is an option that many children are happy with. Choose a book you're comfortable reading in front of adults as well as children, because all your fellow passengers will be listening. (Alternatively, I believe audiobooks are a thing you can get. I'd look into it, but I think my husband secretly likes the attention.)
  • Bring a large backpack for your own carry-on. On the outward journey it should contain 1) Secret new presents, only to be produced at the gate or on the plane, 2) Clean under/outerwear for children and/or adults in a large ziplock bag. 3) Diapers and wipes as needed. More than you think could possibly be needed, just in case. 4) More wipes, in the most easily reached pocket, in case you can't find the other ones. 5) Adult emergency chocolate/granola bar. 6) Book, Kindle, or magazine, if you're an optimist and think you might get a chance to read something.
  • On the way back, most of this space will be filled with Christmas presents, birthday presents, large stuffed animals, baby dolls, new boots, or duty free alcohol. The children will manage just fine without extra new airplane presents at this point. Try to remember the baby wipes, though.
  • If all else fails, feign ignorance. Those children? No, they're not mine. Perfect your gaze into the middle distance and don't forget the earplugs.

Children pulling their luggage

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stick police

Things that go through your head when your kids start playing with someone else's kids at the playground:

Isn't that nice, they're all playing together.
My children are so well socialized, obviously.
They're playing a nice game of tag.
Wait, where did that stick come from?
Oh, that's okay, they all have sticks.
Wait now, that's not a stick, that's half a small tree.
Is the other parent here? He must be the man in the car. Where does he stand on the stick issue? Should I say something? Am I a helicopter parent if I wade in yelling "No sticks!" or am I a negligent parent if I don't? Is he judging me?
Okay, they're in teams. That's nice.
No, wait, you can't exclude the little one.
Uh oh. Here comes the little one to talk to her dad.


Maybe I'll just go have a word with them. Make sure they're all playing nicely together.

"Hi! What's your name?"
"Sarah, this is Mabel. Mabel's four. Are you four? Is that your brother? He's in second grade like Mabel's brother? That's nice. Now you can be friends. Be careful with the sticks. Maybe we should put the sticks down. Dash, how about playing tag with no sticks? Hmm? No, you don't have to defend yourself. Well, yes, I can see that the other boys have sticks ... Fine, just everyone play nicely, right?"


Well, that cleared everything right up.
Girls against boys?
No, but, the girls are four and the boys are seven or eight and that's three against two... oh good, she wants to be on his team...but now it's everyone against the little one again...
I should not be policing this.
But that father is sitting there in his car.
Judging me.


He wasn't judging me. He looked out his car window and we had a nice conversation about how you should let the children just play, but that it's always hard to know where another parent might draw a line that you don't. And then I decided that playing dodgeball with sticks was probably a good moment to draw a line, and announced that it was time to go home.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some days are better than others

Some days I am on top of the laundry, and some days the laundry is on top of me.

Some days a blog post comes to me fully formed in the shower. Some days I have to hiccup it out like a cat barfing.

Some days I go for a run or do a whole exercise video and then saute kale for lunch. Some days I stop after five minutes and have a muffin instead.

Some days my children climb trees and run outside and I show them how to make leaf rubbings, and feed them meals that have components from each of the food groups. Some days they sit in front of the TV for too long and get a waffle and five frozen peas for dinner.*

Some days I am fired up with efficiency, and the kitchen is clean and the dentist appointments are scheduled and the new season's clothes are sorted and I am superwoman.

Some days I'm not.

I think the key is not to give up after one - or many in a row - of the off days. Just keep swimming.

Autumn leaves on a page

*Obviously, I'm talking about Mabel here. For Dash, eating from all the food groups means a peanut-butter sandwich and a juice box.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

The homework debate

My second-grader is doing his homework. It's quick and easy and it doesn't take long. But I started reminding (/asking/exhorting) him to do it when he got home from school at 3.45. He finally began at 7.20pm, after some outside playtime, some TV time, dinner, dessert, some more outside time, and a glass of milk. I've come to accept that this is how it is with him, and for now it's working. He knows that ultimately he is responsible for his homework being done. I worry about how things will go next year, when they say the homework load really ramps up, and when if he starts at 7.30 he won't finish till long past bedtime. I suppose he'll live and learn. He's not one to stress over his homework; I'm lucky that he's a relaxed kid who loves school for its social aspects and has not yet been turned off learning for its own sake.

People used to think that we should show children it's a tough world from the outset. Some people still feel that way, on one matter or another. You shouldn't pick up your crying baby. You shouldn't tolerate tantrums. You shouldn't let that five-year-old sleep with the light on. They need to learn that life's hard, and people are mean, and they need to buckle down and do their work; and the sooner they figure that out the better.

I think we should be kind to our babies and love them while we can, because life is short - and childhood shorter - even more than it's hard; and because they will find out the rest soon enough.

And so I'm thinking about homework again. I'm not saying that people who expect children to do homework are cruel, Dickensian types, or that making a kindergardener come home from six hours of school and asking them to sit down and do homework is like forcing a three-month-old baby to cry it out - but then again, maybe one day in the future it will be seen that way.

I'm not big on research. I like to read the headlines and let other people do the heavy lifting. But I can tell you a few things I've seen recently that have stuck in my mind:
Homeschooling is a wonderful option for many people, but I am not one of those people. I like our local public school and I want to be part of it. My son loves school. I enjoy sending him to school every day and picking him up at the end of it. I don't enjoy bugging him to do his homework for an hour or more every day while he strings me along with promises of "Yes, yes, after this," and finally sits down to do it right when it's dinnertime, or maybe bedtime.

I really don't like the conversations I've had with other parents who have more intense children who burst into tears crying "I just want to play" when it's time for homework, or whose studious third- or fourth-graders won't hear of stopping after 45 minutes even when their mom says they'll write a note because that's long enough.

And on the whole, I know that my household has it easy right now. So far, the amount of homework he has had has been very reasonable, his teachers have been undemanding, and he's not the type to stress over schoolwork. Once he finally sits down to do it, it goes pretty quickly these nights. Additionally, our school has said that roughly ten minutes per grade is as much work as they should be doing - 25 minutes for my second-grader, then; under an hour for a fifth-grader. (Does that mean zero minutes for a kindergardener?)

Children are not miniature adults. They are not just university students in training. Their minds and bodies are still developing and they have more learning to do than can be taught in school. Childhood is not the time for them to learn how to buckle down and work for a further two hours (or even 45 minutes) when every fibre of their being tells them they should be running and jumping and climbing trees and playing soccer and organizing skipping games with the other kids on the street and finding out what it is they love to do. They've spent six hours clamping down on their wild sides - or having them clamped down for them - when they get home it's time to do the other thing.

I want there to be no homework. Not just less, but none, for the sake of our quality of life four nights a week, and my children's childhoods. And I'm almost fired up enough to do something about it.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Love is...

I love that we can ask Dash if he's a little concerned and he knows we're quoting The Princess Bride.

I love that Mabel just spelled the word "sad" all by herself, and said she knew it was an A in the middle because it's the same sound as in "cat", which is the only word she knows how to spell apart from her name.

I love that Dash is reading an honest-to-God chapter book for his nightly reading these days. A simple one, but a chapter book nonetheless. Before vision therapy, the idea of his reading that much text on a page was unthinkable. The words don't go blurry any more.

I love that Mabel keeps announcing things like "Mummy, three and three more is six!" The wonder of math, afresh.

I love that B is reading The Hobbit to Dash at bedtime these days. I thought it might be a bit ambitious, but so far it's going well.

I love that when Dash criticized Mabel's drawing of a dinosaur, she replied, "When you say that, it makes me feel as if I'm not important." He apologized. I high-fived myself in the kitchen.

I love that Dash is finally old enough to make his own damn cardboard swords instead of bugging us to do it.

I love that Mabel can brush her teeth all by herself.

I love that we can take public transport into the city, walk around, do a museum, and get home again WITHOUT A STROLLER. Escalators and steps are so much easier than finding the hidden elevator every time.

Children running

I do love babies, but I love having big kids too.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Free-range parents v. the Lorax

One of my favourite things about our neighbourhood is the Sunday morning farmers' market. We show up some time after ten, the kids get chocolate croissants, we get coffee, we sit on the grass, friends appear, kids run around, we chat, it's nice. I buy some vegetables, usually.

The children all like to climb two trees nearby - one in particular is sturdy and child-friendly, branches low enough to the ground for a tall five-year-old to boost themself up, spread wide enough to hold four or more at once. They play monkeys, and baby birds, and jungle animals, and every now and then a parent is called over to put up or take down a smaller child and be drawn into the game.

Yesterday morning was just the same.
"Where's Dash?" B asked me.
"In the tree," I said, waving vaguely in that direction, where I could see a flash of blue Superman t-shirt between the green leaves.

A few minutes later Dash and his friend came back to us. The friend was looking upset and as she sat on her mother's lap and began to cry, I asked Dash what had happened, afraid she'd hurt herself.

"She's a bit unhappy because a lady told us to get out of the tree," he told me.
"What lady?"
"The lady over there."
"Why? Were you doing something wrong?"
"No, we were just in the tree."

My friend (also a mom of tree-climbers) and I went over to see what was what. The children all came with us, six of them, all a little unsure and wondering what was going to happen. We told them that they were allowed climb in the tree, because all their parents said they could. We told them it wasn't against the law. We put those who wanted to climb back up in the tree.

The elderly lady approached us, looking disapproving. We thanked her for her concern. We said that we allowed our children to climb the tree, that they were doing it no harm, that they played here every week.

She told us they shouldn't, that they were damaging the tree. We said they weren't. They all know not to put their weight on branches that are too slim to bear it. It was a face-off, it really was.

"Make them come down, or I'll... I'll call the police," she wavered, beginning to rummage in her fanny pack for a phone.
"Okay, " we said. "Call them."

We stood there putting one child and another up and down according to their whims, as she ambled away and then back, and then took up sentry duty sitting on a nearby rock. She glowered. The children were a little worried and kept telling us she was still there. "That's okay," we said. "You're allowed be in the tree."

A few minutes later, when most of the kids had tired of the tree and run off to play hide and seek, a police car rolled up and came to a halt in that corner of the parking lot. The lady began to talk to the officer. As I approached from the other side, I heard him say "'s not illegal..."
He looked over at me enquiringly.

"Thank you," I said. "We just wanted to confirm that it's not illegal for children to climb trees."
"It's not," he said, and I gave him a little thumbs up and a smile.

There was just one four-year-old still in the tree at the time. Then the officer leaned out of his window and asked his mother to take him down, because of "citizen complaints." So she did, because we are all good law-abiding citizens who do what the police tell us, even when we were abiding by the laws the whole time.

We were pretty disappointed in that. The policeman probably took the path of least resistance, and decided that appeasing a cantankerous old lady by removing a child from a tree was the easiest thing to do.

But it leaves us in limbo and with unanswered questions from our children. If it's not illegal, why should they have to stop doing it? Why should the cantankerous old lady win? Should we just take our children to a purpose-built playground structure if they want to climb so badly? But what if we want to enjoy the market at the same time?

And I feel bad for the old lady, who may be many years away from remembering how much fun it is to climb a tree, or even how it's nice to watch your children climb trees instead of playing computer games; who might feel that a tree like that, in a public place, is a treasure that must be protected from little limbs and weighing-down torsos, from children who are little more than vandals and their parents who are jumped-up rebellious teenagers in her eyes.

And I admit that there was a little thrill there, in standing up to an old lady. We tried to be as respectful as we could while letting her know we disagreed and felt she was overstepping the line. We tried to model - what? good rebellion? - for our children. We tried to show our children that we were the grownups who knew the right thing to do, that they could always trust us to be their moral compasses even when others who saw themselves as authority figures might have different messages.

Climbing trees is more complicated than you might think.


To be clear, I don't want to make the old lady the villain of the piece. She has her opinions, and one of them is that our children shouldn't be climbing that tree. Like the Lorax, she speaks for the trees. And I don't blame the policeman, really, for asking us to get the kids down. His job is to keep the peace, and he probably knows that old ladies with nothing much else to do all day are more likely to disturb his peace than busy families who can just head on elsewhere.

It's just a funny story, really, about the day the police came to tell the children not to climb a tree.

That said, we'll all be back there next weekend, I think, and if the kids want to climb the tree, we'll be letting them.

Children climbing a tree

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spidey Sense

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

One day during the summer, I took the kids to a playground in a part of town I hadn't been to before. The venue had been suggested for a meetup with some other friends, but it was clear before I left the house that nobody else was likely to make it. Never mind, I thought, we'll check out somewhere new. It'll be an adventure, I said.

The route was straightforward and we were there in about fifteen minutes. There was plenty of space to park, a lovely new-looking pirate-ship shaped playground structure, clean bathrooms, and a river view. There were some other children at the playground and everyone had a good time for a while, until we got hungry.

We took our lunches over to the picnic tables. I noticed some people sitting at the tables were older men, smoking, not seeming to have anything to do with the children at the playground. Not to put too fine a point on it, they looked somewhat homeless. We sat at a further away table without making any avoidance too obvious - it was reasonable to want a clean table in the shade. My kids and I had a little discussion about smoking. Apparently they lead a sheltered existence, because they don't see it very often so they always feel the need to comment, and then I have to agree that smoking is bad for you but that it's often hard to stop once you're in the habit, in case those people are listening and taking umbrage.

A group of summer-camp kids and their supervisors came along and started unpacking lunches at the tables beside us. This was obviously a perfectly safe area. But I was starting to feel a little uneasy, nevertheless.

A little further along the waterfront I could see another playground - one of those red and yellow plastic ones you can see for a long way. It looked cheerful and I suggested we check it out rather than going back to the pirate ship, since our friends were clearly not coming and the other children playing there seemed to have gone home. My son wanted to walk the fairly short distance, but I insisted on going back to get the car and driving down to the parking lot beside the other playground. I said it was because we had to put our lunch things back in the car anyway, but the truth, which I was still only half admitting to myself, was that I wanted to know I had a quick exit strategy, just in case the other playground turned out to be not so child-friendly.

I drove the scant quarter mile along the road, with the seven-year-old laying the blame for global warming squarely at my feet all the while. As we turned into the second parking lot, I took in a few details. The building beside the playground seemed to be derelict, but a young man was standing on the steps. Loitering, you might almost say. There was a truck with a worker loading or unloading something park-related and official around the side. As we approached the playground, I registered the following:
  1. The swings and slides were in some disrepair.
  2. There were no children to be seen.
  3. The only other cars in the parking lot were two parked beside each other with open doors and one person in each, conversing, or exchanging illegal substances for money, or something. 
Now, I'm not the most noticing of people, and I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but something about fact number three there just screamed "drug deal" to me. I swung all the way around the parking lot and smoothly back out again and announced that we were going home, actually. The four-year-old in the back (who had fed all her lunch to the geese) exploded with misery, and the seven-year-old wasn't far behind. Being driven slowly past an enticing new playground and then whisked away was high on their list of atrocities, but I just didn't feel comfortable and no amount of wailing was going to induce me to stay.

As we drove away and the indignant cries died down, as I - incidentally - missed the on-ramp I needed and started to get lost in an unfamiliar part of town that I was noticing looked more and more sketchy, I took the opportunity to explain to my kids the importance of listening to your Spidey Sense.

My invoking the webbed wonder made them stop and pay attention. Your Spidey Sense, I told them, lets you know when things aren't right. Listen to it. If you feel uncomfortable in a place, or with a person, even if it's a grown up who's supposed to be in charge of you, that's your Spidey Sense telling you to leave. Even if you can't see anything wrong, if you know there's no logical reason to feel that way, just go.

So I explained the things that had made me uncomfortable in that place - the possibly homeless men, the derelict building, the absence of other children at the unmaintained playground - and I told them that I felt it wasn't a safe place for us to be, and that was why we'd left. (I didn't mention the drug deal. It might have been a perfectly innocent job interview. Or something.) They listened, they took it in, and they stopped calling me the worst mother ever for leaving a set of swings unswung in.

Two children on a tyre swing at a playground
Not the playground in question

I haven't read The Gift of Fear, but I know that listening to your Spidey Sense, or however the author may term it, is a vital message of the book. And, though I've been lucky enough never to have found myself in a situation I couldn't get out of, the older I get, the more credit I give to my gut feelings. It's never too early to teach your children to trust their instincts. It might just keep them safe.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of "strangers" and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids' best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can't Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it's not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she'll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child's safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don't Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of "No" and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she's not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase "be careful!"

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Perfect moment

As I put Mabel to bed tonight, she looked up at me and announced, "Mummy, you are very beautiful."

"Thank you," I said, doing my best to practice taking a compliment graciously. "So are you."

"Some day I'll be a very beautiful lady," she said.

"Yes, you will."

All I have to do is not mess with that perfect confidence.

Mabel in a hat

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Love of Blog

I heard someone say today that she doesn't read mom blogs. "Because they're all do this and do that, and I think when you're a new parent the last thing you need is more people telling you what you should do."

Valid point. But I think maybe she's seen the wrong blogs.

I would hate anyone to think my blog is telling people what they should do. I really hate to think that I might ever come across as sanctimonious or superior or smug.

Blogs, if you find the right ones, bring your village to your living room. They validate your parenting decisions, they back you up, they open up the world. They give you a sense of perspective, they give you feedback; they are a pillow to scream into and a friend to vent to and someone else who's been there before. Or someone to assure you that nobody has ever been there before because nobody else has your child. Blogs are your teabreak and your water cooler; your snarky friend, your hilariously foulmouthed friend, your beautiful friend, your brave friend, the friend who makes you snort coffee out of your nose.

I could not have made it through the first seven years of parenting without blogs. And I wouldn't try to make it through the rest without them either.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013


I would like to excise the words "fat" and "thin" from the English language.

Flashback: As we drove home with my tiny newborn daughter pinkly in the back seat, I allowed myself a few moments of fear about raising a girl: body image and self esteem were right there at the top of the list. But then I got over it and enjoyed my beautiful tiny snuggly baby.

Last night, my daughter - my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter - pulled me close to her and asked me in the whisper she uses when she's being very serious, if she was a little bit too thin. She wanted to know if thin was good or fat was good.

My heart broke a tiny bit. Maybe more than a tiny bit.

"You are exactly perfect and beautiful," I told her, perhaps a bit too fiercely. "Remember that always. Exactly perfect."

And I told her that thin and fat are not bad and good things. Good is fresh air and exercise and being strong and healthy. Bad is, well, nothing, so long as you don't overdo it. At least, I tried to tell her, but she probably went off at a tangent about something else entirely before I'd said even a quarter of all the important things I have to say - that it's my duty as her mother and a woman who was a girl - to tell her.

I just have to keep telling her, don't I?

Legitimately a little chubby, perhaps.

*She learned the word "chubby" from the movie Tangled. I wish she hadn't.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Finding the good

Last night, while Mabel failed to even try to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, I was filling in her forms for next year at nursery school. (She turns five in November, so she won't go to elementary school until she's nearly six.) It was, perhaps, not the most fortuitous timing. By the time I got to

What are your child's strengths? 

I wrote

She will win every argument and never back down. We just have to harness her power for good, not evil.

Reading back over it this morning, I think I need to print out that page again and frame my thoughts in a more positive light. Next year's teachers know her already; I don't need to make her sound like the preschooler from the Black Lagoon. (Besides which, sometimes these answers reveal more about the parent than the child.)

This morning she's painting calmly and delightfully while her brother plays at a friend's house, and I am more inclined to find the good in her. I've been thinking lately that this year, for the first time, she looks outwardly much the same as she did last summer: she's reached the age where she's not changing and progressing by leaps and bounds any more, and I have to look a bit harder for the advances. But if I put a little thought into it, she has grown up a lot in the past year:
  • Last summer she was still nursing to sleep and several times a night, and would only go back to sleep for me and a boob. She would wake up two hours after she went to sleep, like clockwork, which was not good for my social life. Now, she only nurses first thing in the morning, and often sleeps all night. Even if she does wake up, she goes back to sleep easily with no nursing. We can let a babysitter put her to bed. This is HUGE.
  • Last summer she was still biting people. She doesn't quite have a handle on her temper just yet, but at least she confines herself to hitting, which is a lot more socially acceptable.
  • She's not picking the flowers out of other people's gardens this summer, which means I can leave the house without sneaking past the neighbours.
Green marker, 3.5-year-old face.
And she hasn't drawn on her face for at least a week.
Honestly, four-and-a-half was such a low point for her brother (in a different way), and he came out of it so well, that I do have faith in her. I think it's an age where they're starting to see themselves from the outside, to understand that others look at them and form opinions - and that they can influence those opinions. Sometimes they run away from that - as Dash did, by becoming overwhelmingly shy for a few months - and sometimes they fight it, as Mabel does now with defiant and rude behavior.

But trying to condense your child's personality into a few lines that will help her teachers in three months' time? This child is an enigma to me, and I should know her best. She's a bundle of contradictions, and anything I say has to be immediately qualified by its opposite.

I think I'll just let the teachers find her out for themselves.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Star charts, episode umpty: A new hope

Sometimes I wonder when having kids became this intricate tango of bribery that you can't call bribery and reward systems and star charts and calculated praise and natural consequences and parenting strategies and whatever else it is we do to try to outwit or outmaneuver these small people. I'm sure when I was a child - ah, when I were a lass - my parents just said "It's time for bed," and off I trotted like a good little girl. (Actually, my dad gave me a piggyback upstairs and read me my stories, but then I turned over and went to sleep and that was that.)

I did not have star charts, I did not have rewards or punishments or a naughty step or time outs. I was spanked a couple of times, but mostly the threat of parental disapproval was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. (I did have a penny taken off my 20p pocket money every time I said "Yeah" instead of "Yes" for a while, and I admit I went into negative equity pretty quickly on that one.)

So, what? Children these days, eh? Parents these days, more like, being one of them myself. I blame some amount of my good behaviour on my lack of siblings, having seen for myself how much better behaved my kids are one at a time rather than both together, when they egg each other on and rile each other up and kick each other and love each other simultaneously in ways I, a sibling-deficient only, could never even begin to fathom.

But I do keep thinking it should be less complicated. We should just tell them what they have to do, and they should just do it. I'm sure I'm not remembering it wrong. I'm sure my parents had it easy.


And so the summer vacation begins and I haul out a new star chart, a new System, a new set of bribes and routines and things to aim for and fun in return for no fun (also known as cooperation). I am suffused with hope, shot through with organization, filled with plans, inspired by lists.

It'll probably all fall apart in a couple of weeks, assuming it even gets off the ground. My goals won't be SMART enough, or my menus won't be planned enough, and I'll be winging it daily and we'll all be yelling at each other and then there'll be another reset when we're on vacation, and for camp, and for the second half of the summer.

But we have to start somewhere, right? We can be shiny with optimism and glowing in the delight of our no-failure-yet for a little while longer.

Clothes-pegs on cups reward system for star chart

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why on earth did I not try this before?

Scene: Yesterday, getting into the car to go to school. I open the passenger door to put something on the seat. Mabel takes her chance to jump in the "wrong" way.

Me: Don't... oh, okay, fine, just don't squash my stuff in the bag there.

Mabel notices the bag and purposely smushes a fist down on top of the carefully ironed and folded clothes I'm bringing to the consignment store.

Me: Sigh.

Mabel switches direction and heads for the driver's seat instead of her own.

Me: [lightbulb moment] Mabel, don't sit in your seat.

Mabel looks at me, confused.

Me, more clearly: Mabel, whatever you do, you're not allowed to sit in your carseat. Don't come over here.

Mabel gives me a tiny grin and clambers very purposefully towards her seat. She sits down beautifully.

Me, doing up her straps: Don't sit here. You'd better not sit here.


We get to school and Mabel shows signs of reluctance.

Me, wondering if it can possibly keep working: You're not to go to school today. You'll be in big trouble if you go into that classroom.

She gets out of the car, eager to break a rule, and heads for the building, and down the corridor, having the time of her life as I call after her.

Me: Don't go inside. You'd better not go through that door...

And so on. Her courage failed her when it was time for me to leave, and I did have to read a story and then have her teacher peel her off me and distract her with snacktime plans (muffins!), but it worked amazingly well. 

Just something to keep in my arsenal and pull out only ocassionally, I think, in the hopes that it might save us all a meltdown some other day.


(I can't find a video clip, but here's the audio for exactly what this calls to mind, just to save anyone from having to go and look for it.)

Homer Simpson

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Friday, April 19, 2013

I heard the news today, oh boy

When I would come downstairs in the morning, the radio would be on in the kitchen, with my Dad listening to RTE 1. My mum would probably be listening to the same thing on her little "wireless" (yes, they still say that word in my house, and it has nothing to do with the Internet) in the bedroom. On the hour, Dad would approach the radio and stand right beside it, listening intently to the headlines, and anything I happened to say would be summarily shushed.

At nine o'clock every evening the news had to be watched, no matter what else happened to be on telly that might have pushed through that hour. In fact, we didn't tune into programmes that started at odd times like 8.50 on Channel 4 or 8.15 on BBC 2, becuase we'd just miss the end when it came to 9.00 and it was time to turn over to RTE 1 for the nationwide news.

I'm not there any more, but nothing else has changed. I can guarantee you that my Dad was standing by the big radio in the kitchen listening to the news this morning, and will be tuning in again at 1pm (lunchtime news) and watching the TV at nine this evening.

As a child, I didn't really understand this compulsion to find out what was going on. It was only ever boring news (a redundancy of terms, I thought) about another person killed in Northern Ireland - which might as well have been on the other side of the world as far as I was concerned, insulated in South County Dublin - or budget cuts or politicians talking about whatever it was they talked about. Now and then an earthquake or a hijacking to keep it interesting, but nothing that was relevant to me. Certainly nothing that worried me. The only times I remember being affected by headlines are when a family would die in a house fire. I would lie in bed plotting my fire escape route, planning to leap from my bedroom window to the flat roof of next-door's extension.

In this house, where I am the parent, we don't listen to the radio and we don't watch news on TV, unless there's a tornado watch and I have the weather channel on. We get our news from the Internet, at whatever time is convenient, and the children are none the wiser. They barely know what an actual newspaper looks like, so infrequently does one appear in our house.

It wasn't a conscious decision, more a change inspired by lifestyle long before there were children. When I moved here from Ireland I was dazzled by the news channels that either seemed too parochial or bombarded me with constant non-news. I trusted The Irish Times online more than any American news source; though I learned to listen to NPR in the car, and became quite attached to Morning Edition on the way to work each day when we lived in Texas, the unpronouncable names of their announcers, the global reach of their reports, and the warm, comforting voice of Frank Deford, whose amusing takes on sports managed to interest even know-nothing me.

Once Dash was born, though, and went through that inevitable car-hating phase that seems to last for ever, the last thing I wanted was more noise in the car. I started tuning into the classical music station in the hopes that Mozart might calm him down, or at least increase his brain power while he was turning himself red in the face and waving his arms hysterically, breaking the heart of his baby-wearing, co-sleeping mama, trapped a million miles away and trying to keep her blood pressure under control in the driver's seat.

Seven years, two babies, three moves, and one car later, the radio is still mostly stuck on classical NPR, though in the brief moments when I might be driving alone, I'll switch over to the news channel and try to increase my IQ a tiny bit by listening to sensible adults discussing far-reaching things. The last time we heard the news in the car, probably looking for a weather update or something, two minutes of broadcast led to the six-year-old asking, "What's gang rape?" So we won't be doing that again any time soon. (We didn't tell him. I'm all for answering children truthfully, but some things... Just no.)

So my children don't know about the Newtown shootings or the Boston marathon explosions. When B and I want to discuss breaking events, we resort to our pathetic store of Irish vocabulary, or silently motion towards the laptop screen. To be honest, thinking about my own reactions to horrific news - the Enniskillen bombing, for instance, happened when I was 14; Lockerbie, when an aeroplane fell out of the sky onto Scottish people in their beds, a year later - it might all seem distant enough to shrug off. On the other hand, it might terrorize them (mostly Dash, given age and personality), or just gnaw away at them in the dark, like those house fires did to me. The facts that Dash is a first-grader, that we have been to the Boston marathon, might make it seem scarily close, just as they do to me. I don't really know what their reactions would be, but I don't feel the need to find out.

What can we do to lessen the grip of fear from terrorism? Switch off. (Cartoon)
This. So much this.
Will my children be less interested in current events because they don't hear the news every day? I certainly had no interest, and no amount of hearing the news could inspire any, apparently. Should we be discussing the news at the dinner table? At what point will they start hearing the news - when they start reading news websites for themselves? When they have Twitter accounts? I suppose at some point they'll have a Civics class that encourages them to find out more about what's going on, and maybe then we'll finally have to tune in the radio.

How does it work in your house? Do the kids see the news, or do you talk about it? Do you think an interest in current events and/or politics is inborn or cultivated? Did exposure to news events when you were a child go over your head or give you nightmares?

Would we all be better off with less information? Sometimes it certainly feels that way.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013


Mabel got into a little bit of trouble at school yesterday. It was an unfortunate snowballing of incidents that led to her being brought inside from the classroom and culminated in her "writing" a note of apology to the (not very) injured party. (I think the teacher did the writing and Mabel signed her name, which she's very good at doing.)

I was pleased when I heard about the note, actually, because I know that asking Mabel, or ordering Mabel, to say sorry when something has gone wrong, is hardly ever going to end well. Once she's mad, she just gets madder and madder and more intransigent and more upset. Writing her Sorry sounds like it was a good way to redirect and refocus, give her a chance to cool down and save face, and enable her to say something that quite likely through heaving sobs she literally wasn't able to do otherwise.

But that's not my point.

The point of this long and winding story, the punchline, shall we say, is what she told me this morning when we were talking about it a little more and I was extolling the virtue that is forgiveness, because she was holding a grudge that was the main reason she wouldn't apologize. She told me, slightly sheepishly,

- Well, also, I didn't say sorry for a while because Miss B's lap was nice and warm and I liked sitting there.
- Even though she was being angry with you?
She shrugs.
- Ya-hah.

Right. Well. I see.

I don't know where to go from here. I was never that child. Any hint of disapproval from an adult and I'd be all over the saying sorry. I need people to think I'm good. I need them to think I'm nice. Maybe it's a failing, but I've always been that way. My daughter, not so much.

She doesn't care what people think of her. That's an amazing quality to have, so long as we can harness it for good. She does what suits her, and bends us all to her will, and as I watched the other children ask her what they should do this morning in the game of dolls that she was playing at school, I thought that she'll make one heck of a managing director.

Parenting, huh? We have to be their biggest cheerleaders and their harshest critics, and sometimes I'm just not sure which one I'm supposed to be doing when.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Talk

What is this "Talk" they speak of? There are so many talks you can (should? might? are forced to) have with your kids.

For instance
  • How babies are made
and don't think you've got away without covering
  • How babies get out of there
and of course, the quite tricky
  • Why people would ever want to do that
and also
  • No they don't do it at the wedding, they wait a few hours and do it in private; and they've usually done it already by then
Then then there's the whole road down which you might not want to travel that begins with
  • What's a bad word?
  • Why I won't give you any examples of bad words
  • Why I think you'll probably know what I mean when you hear one
And finally (for this non-exhaustive list) there's the bathtime-inspired selection of Talks:
  • Girls don't have penises
  • I promise, that's not a penis
  • Why you shouldn't let your sister touch your penis
  • Why you definitely shouldn't encourage your sister to touch your penis
  • Why I don't care that you don't mean it and won't actually let her grab it
  • Enough already this bath is over get out right now

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