Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Making Lemonade

Zach loves his little airplanes. He brings one or two every day, from a collection that must number in the dozens. They are not big and fancy. Most are simple plastic types, many have the look of dollar store items. All have little plastic wheels, many of which do not actually roll. This is a problem, given that Zach loves, loves, loves to race his little airplanes along the long wall of my dining room. The dining room which is painted some sort of creamy country yellow. No idea of the shade: it's what was there when we moved in and I liked it enough to let it stay. From the living room to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, Zach zips and zooms those airplanes. Back and forth, forth and back. Bambambambambambambambam go the little feet. (Pitter-patter, my aunt fanny.) Creamy country yellow and tiny, immobile wheels do not get on well. Last week I took a critical look at that wall and realized it had a dingy grey swath along its length, about 50 cm wide, and a metre or so up off the floor. I tried to take a picture for you, but the flash had the flattering effect of making the dingy wall look clean and bright. Flattering, yet inaccurate. So, no "before" pictures. "Before", because there will be an "after" picture. Not because I am going to repaint the wall creamy country yellow, even though the last owners kindly left cans in the basement. Nothing so mundane happens around here! Besides, the threat continues. Zach still brings his little planes, and still loves to pound up and down that wall. I could forbid airplane-driving on the walls. It would even seem reasonable, I'm sure, and yet... This is a small house. It is a long, cold winter. They spend a lot more time indoors than they will in a couple more months. It might be reasonable, but it seems cruel to make him cease such a satisfactory activity. But what of the wall? Well, if your wall is being used as a road, why not make a road on the wall? And if you're going to make a road, why not, oh, a river, and maybe some mountains, and maybe a mountain forest? Especially if you have cans and cans left over from painting a certain door last August. Emma puts the finishing touches on the mountaintops. Stage one, complete. River at the bottom, the brown bit is both beach and road, a forest and majestic, snow-capped mountains. Tomorrow the tots will get a chance to cobble the road: sponges dipped in grey paint and applied to the top two-thirds of the brown band will produce cobblestones. The rest of the brown is beach. The next day, the road complete, we will blur the too-distinct line between blue river and brown beach with some sponged shrubbery and potato printed cat-tails. And we will, of course, paint an airplane in the sky.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Junior Ski Patrol

Take some blocks and a few strips of duct tape. Can't run a daycare without duct tape! A few minutes tearing and sticking, and you have...


They even have a little heel strap to help keep them from sliding forward off the foot... Here are the skiers coming... (Note the conscientious use of protective head gear.) And going... And yes, little Miss Mia is wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey. She's worn it every day for two weeks, says a very proud daddy. Go, Women!!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nuage de Mary P

Found this through Crayonz, who found it on Snapshirts. I like it!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Just a Normal Conversation...

Saturday morning at Mary’s house, kidful version. Last weekend was the kidfree version. Players are Mary, Big Stepson (Big) age 17; Little Stepson (Little), age 10; and the wonderful Q, partner of Mary and father to stepsons. Small background detail: BigSon his learner's permit (now called a G1, I think) which allows him to drive only if there is a licensed driver in the car in the passenger seat alongside him. Little: Daddy, do you have a big playing card, a regular sized one, and a small playing card? Q: You want three cards? Little: No, two. A big one - you know, like a regular sized one - and a small one. Q: Oh. No, I don’t. Big: What do you need the cards for? Little: I’m not telling. We don’t have ANY cards? M: We used to, but I have no idea where they are now. Big: That’s because people like YOU keep losing them. [He fixes his small brother with a meaningful - and friendly - stare.] Little: Meeeeeeee??? Talk moves to my plans for the day, and a possible need for a ride downtown for me. We have one vehicle, many children with many activities. The logistics need to be worked out carefully. Q: BigSon needs to get his license. If he had his license, he could drive you downtown.... Big: I could drive her downtown... Q: Well, yes you could, but then she’d have to come back with you, and.. Big and Q, together:... what would be the point of that? Bwah-hahahaha (Like father, like son.) Q: I guess I could drive you, if you want to go. Small: Drive me, daddy? Where? Q: No, not you. Mary. Big: Yes, you! We’re going to drive you downtown and leave you there. Q: Yes, and you can stop people on the street and ask them if they have a big playing card and a small playing card. M: Did we ever find out what he needs the playing cards for? Little: I forget. Big: And I have to go to work now, anyway. Little: I didn’t think you wanted to go today. Big: Not particularly, no. Little: Well, don’t go! Big: You can’t just not show up because you don’t feel like it that day. Q: Yeah. That’s why it’s called a “Rat trap”. M: You mean the “rat race.” Q: Yeah. Little: Don’t go! [Falls dramatically at Big's large feet, arms outstretched, pathos oozing from his every syllable and cell.] Big: Well, you could always come with me. Be the cute little kid and be bored for five hours. Little: Not me! I don’t want to be in the rat pack. Q: No, you just want some playing cards. Little: Yeah!

Friday, February 24, 2006


We just had an earthquake. I'm quite sure of it. Anyone else? Where was the epicentre? Update: Yes, indeed. Epicentre 45 km NE of Ottawa, 4.0 on the Richter scale, according to the Edinburgh Earth Observatory, and 4.5 according to the Geological Survey of Canada here in Ottawa. (A three-times-a-day event for you Californians, I know, but a little more noteworthy in these parts.)

Great Book!

George brought this book today, and one read was all it took to convince me I must get this book! I must also check out any other children's book written by this man. The story is basic: a little girl loses her bear, and her family expects her to find it herself!!! She employs a few entertaining strategies, but come bedtime, though she's found any number of other lost items, the bear is still missing! A true crisis, as I'm sure you can appreciate. A few pictures to give you the flavour of the artistry: Here, small girl searches fruitlessly in The Great Blue Void that is her home. And here she approaches her older sister with all the tact and grace necessary to elicit the support of one's sibling: The pictures are terrific, the tale is lively, true-to-life and not at all patronizing. The kids loved the story, and I had my laugh-out-loud moments - though not in the exact same spots the kids were having their giggles. I can see myself happily reading this one over and over again. (Isn't it nice when you want to read the book again as much as your child does? How often does that happen??) I was so impressed, I had to find out more about the author. Turns out that Jules Feiffer is a Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist, playwrite, screenplay writer, as well as author of books. In addition to the Pulitzer, an Academy Award (for animated short), and a few more I don't recognize. Not, I'm sure, because they're obscure, but only because I'm not in the business. And he writes great kids' books, too.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mailman inTraining

They ALL love to do this, don't they?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Overheard in Passing

"Let's go down and hug Baby Nigel and then go back upstairs!" "If you take your brain out, you're dead." "I will come to here tomorrow so my mummy can be Spiderman."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Little Unnerving

Sam is a dangerous kid. Sam, remember him, my funny little after-school boy? Sam, upon seeing me pat a toddler's diapered butt on the way by, says, "Why do you hit the kids all the time?" Sam, being an only child who, though he attends school, has never been in child care before this year, says, "Why don't you pay any attention to me, ever?" Sam, seeing me kiss a little belly button while doing a diaper change, says, "Why do you kiss them there when you take their diapers off?" I spoke to his mother about the hitting one, the first of these to arise. She laughed and said, "I promise not to believe what he tells me about you if you promise not to believe what he tells you about me." Which makes me feel better. Kinda.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tissue Trauma

There are only three children here today. (Only three children! Practically a day off!) Two of said children are playing happily on the other love seat in the living room, a game that involves much giggling and manoeuvring of small blocks in and around the seat cushions while I fire off a two-paragraph email, quick-quick. Nigel, however, is at loose ends, and the laptop which so engrosses me must be interesting! Oh, and look! Buttons! Lots and lots of lovely buttons! My right hand flicks his hand gently away at ever-decreasing intervals. (Flick.) I could - and should! - just focus (flick) on the boy for a sec and redirect him (flick), but I just want to get this one (flick) thing (flick) done (flick). Now, Nigel isn't often at loose ends. Nigel is a lovely, lively 12-month-old, busy, quiet, happy. He spends much of his day toddling here and there, picking up first one item and then the next, putting them in his mouth, drooling, gagging, and throwing the now sodden item to the floor before moving on to the next edible treat. My home is littered with soggy bits of this and that. Once every couple of hours I go through with a shovel and a mop, and we're good to go. But this morning, with less mayhem to amuse and, now that I've removed the box of kleenex and the cup of water that someone (not me!) left on the FLOOR, nothing edible or splashable in immediate range, he's toodled over to the laptop. It's not splashable yet, but given a few minutes drool time, he can rectify that. A dimpled finger reaches for the button. "No, Nigel. Not for babies." Flick. He knows I'm not to be taken seriously, not as distracted as I am. Back comes the little finger, hovering damply over the keyboard. Flick. "Not for babies, Nigel. Just a sec." Fli--then I catch sight of his nose. It's been a little damp all morning, requiring occasional wipes. What I see now is not longer "a little" anything. The cold has ramped up production: two thick yellow ribbons curl over his upper lip. Eew. "Bring me that nose, little boy," I instruct, reaching for one of the crumpled but clean (and miraculously dry!) rescued tissues. Being a normal one-year-old, he goes into evade mode. Duck and run, baby! Duck and run! I am far too practiced to be so easily evaded, and the kleenex has swiped over his shoulder and wrapped round his seeping nose before he's taken a full pace, much too quickly for him even to utter the wail of protest he'd so richly inhaled for. Well, poop. The trauma decisively over, he returns to the laptop. His little face peeps past the monitor. I reach for the kleenex. He eyes the kleenex, held ready and warningly in my hand, his finger hesistates in the air. His eyes flick from the keyboard to the tissue, temptation and trauma, back and forth, back...and... Nope. Not worth the bother. A moment or two later, I'm done with the laptop, but Nigel doesn't care: he's dropping tiny toys in the potty. Who needs a laptop with a tissue threat when potty mayhem awaits?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

No Idea Why...

...but this strikes me, the eternal optimist, whose glass is almost always half FULL, as very funny.

(And yes, you can actually get yourself one of these things here.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

It's Your Child, It's My Life, part 2 (updated with picture)

"How was his day?" Laughing Mommy asks. I like this woman. She's cheerful, upbeat, sensible. She loves her children, but doesn't idolize them, nor has she made herself their servant. A few weeks back we discussed a neighbourhood school whose parents, every year, line up from mid-afternoon the day before to register their children for kindergarten. Laughing Mommy's little boy will be starting Jr. Kindergarten in the fall, and they're considering which of the neighbourhood school to send him to. So, there's this school five blocks away, and it's supposed to be a good one; in fact, it's so very good, that all the Earnest and Anal Mommies and Daddies, who want to make sure their wee ones are solidly on the Ivy League track when they're three, line up OVERNIGHT to get first dibs on the spots. Let me explain that this is a public school. If you live in the cachment area, your child WILL get in. Guaranteed. If they have to hire another teacher, that's what they do, but they don't turn kids away. But these aggressive, intense parents line up, nonetheless. Overnight - 18, 22, 26 hours. In FEBRUARY, people! February in Ottawa, it gets COLD overnight. All this just to make sure their precious baby gets into MORNING kindergarten, and, better yet, MORNING kindergarten with the RIGHT teacher, oh, and maybe in FRENCH IMMERSION. I have always thought these people were nuts, but my parents, tending to be an Earnest bunch all in all, don't necessarily see it quite like that. "I wouldn't do it," they say, "but you can see why some people do." Um, no. We're talking KINDERGARTEN here, and JUNIOR KINDERGARTEN. It will not make a life-long different. It really won't. (And I did, briefly, teach kindergarten, so this isn't disrespect. Just facts.) Laughing Mommy, though, said, "Those people are NUTS! Like it can make that much difference. As I was saying to HirsuteDad last night, 'I really don't think they have any axe-murderers on staff'." Well, exactly. A happy, sensible momma. Relaxed. Grounded. So when I answer her by saying, among other things, that I'd had my final physiotherapist appointment that afternoon, and that an adult friend had sat with the kids during nap/quiet time for an hour and a half, I had no idea I was dropping a bomb. That night I get a phone call. She wanted to let me know that she was concerned that I'd done that. She didn't feel comfortable with anyone but me caring for the children. I reminded her that this option is in the contract. She'd forgotten. I informed her that I've done this before. She was surprised. (I don't always mention it to the parents when I've been out - it's not something their child did, and often I don't think of it during the buzz of hometime, which is more focussed on how Junior ate and slept and diapered, and whether she's bitten anyone again, and how the potty training is going, and how good he's getting at sharing, and all the new words she's learning... That kind of stuff.) Still, her son has been with me close to three years. I've popped out during that time, and I must have told her at least a couple of times. "Well, I'm okay with you leaving someone else for a short time." Oh, phew. I was beginning to worry a bit. This sounds more like the sensible mom I know and love. "Like if your husband watches them while you take out the garbage." Hello? Do YOU hire a sitter to take out the garbage if YOUR husband isn't home? Oh, dear. Perhaps not as sensible and grounded as I'd thought. However, professionalism doesn't allow me to snort at something a client says, and her feelings are real and sincere. It is not for me to mock her. (To her face, anyway. I ask you, Internet, do you hire a sitter when you're alone and need to take out the garbage? Remembering that we are city folk, and it's probably a 30-foot round trip.) We resolve this issue with a compromise. She allows me my right to arrange suitable back-up when necessary; I agree that I will let her know in advance so that she has the option of keeping him home at that time. She's happy with this. I'm all right with it, too. I'm surprised that it was an issue for this mother in particular, but we've come to an agreement that accommodates her needs and doesn't discommode me. Ten days later, my son is home during exams. There are only three children here, and they're all napping. "I'm going to pop out and get myself a coffee," I tell Adam, almost 17, and, what with having grown up living in a daycare, a boy with more baby experience than most first-time parents. "You mind keeping an ear open for the kids? I'll be back in twenty minutes." And out I go. Mine is an isolating job. You know how much effort it can be to get out with one child. Imagine how much more constrained you'd be with five. My parents can all have one or two coffee breaks a day - coffee breaks where they can leave their office and stretch their legs, and get a bit of fresh air. I'm lucky - very lucky - to do this once a month. I don't think I've ever done it twice in one month. (Without the kids, I mean. I take the kids to coffee shops all the time...) So here I have an opportunity to take my once-in-four-to-six weeks coffee break! Wahoo!! Halfway to the coffee shop, I realize, "I'm out of the house, and I didn't call Laughing Mom!" Damn! Thank God she works in a suburb way to the west. But now I'm all tense and nervous. Jumpy. "What if she calls while I'm out? What if one of her friends sees me?" This was supposed to be a little treat! Now it's a subversive venture, fraught with peril. I then realize, "This alerting her to my every absence is a pain in the butt!" This is why it's in the contract. From time to time, I will have necessity, or simply, as in this case, opportunity, to be out of the house during daycare hours. I put it in the contract that I may arrange substitute for myself at my discretion so that it can be done easily. Yes, they hired me, and trust me to care for their child. They did not hire anyone else. But, I reply, they hired me and trust me. This could - should?? - reasonably include trusting my judgment as to appropriate back-up, trusting me not to endanger their child. If I allow them input, then I will be stuck wrangling who is appropriate, and for how long, and how much notice do they need, and can Mary sneak out for a coffee during naptime... This would be running my business by committee, and you know, you just know, that in every bunch of parents, there's going to be one neurotic, over-protective parent who would have me chained to their child, interacting, stimulating, soothing, educating, at all times. Even though I, the queen of benign neglect, believe that's actively bad for a child. I've never much liked committees. This is one of the many reasons I'm self-employed. So now I'm in a bit of a bind. Do I go back to Laughing Mommy and renegotiate (or perhaps it's only "clarify") the terms of our agreement, or do I say, "Nuts to this!" and pop out for a coffee when I have opportunity? If she were going to be with me for another year, I'd talk to her for sure. However, she's only going to be with me for another three and a half months. So we're talking, at most, three coffee breaks. I'm not sure it's worth potentially upsetting her. Do we have the conversation, and risk upsetting her? (It's only three months.) Do I say nothing and just go? (It's only three months.) Do I pretend I thought our agreement only meant longer outings? (Because I'm not entirely sure about this. But no. The woman who thinks I should have back-up for a trip to the curb with the garbage probably hasn't even considered a quick trip to the coffee shop - even with a sitter.) Course, if I go and I'm caught, that will definitely upset her. These are the horns of my dilemma.

Related posts: It's Your Child, It's My Life; Holiday Hassles, Boundary Disputes.

Friday, February 17, 2006

You Know You've Been in the Biz too long when...

...you're frantically pounding out Boggle words (love that game) and argue when you're told "gots" isn't a word.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Happy My Birthday - to the Woman who Deserves the Credit

February is birthday month in my family. When we were very young, my mother used to throw one birthday party for the three of us in the middle of the month, to which we could invite two friends each. Good strategy, mum! Now that I, too, am a parent - of three, even - I look back on the young woman my mother was with a mixture of awe and astonishment. Imagine, if you will. You are twenty-one years old, pregnant. You give birth in February. Then you do some mommying. Mommy, mommy, mommy. You are a good mommy, too. Mommy, mommy, mommy. You must do some wifing in there somewhere, though, because by May, you're pregnant again! Woo-hoo! And you have baby number two the following February, eight days after your oldest's first birthday. And now you do lots and lots of mommying. Double-duty mommying. Mommymommy, mommymommy, wifemommymommy. Oops! How'd you let that slip in there? How'd you have the time? Too tired to argue, I'm thinking, and now it's May, and you're pregnant AGAIN!! And the next February, along comes baby number three, ten days before your oldest's second birthday and 18 days before your second's first birthday. Four months before you turn twenty-five, you are the mother of THREE children, the oldest of whom is TWO!!! You know, I'm thinking never mind the birthday card for ME. I'm thinking that in about the middle of February, my brother, sister and I should get our mother something. Like a medal. Or a certificate of gratitude that she didn't lose/throttle/forget/maim one of us in the blur that must have been those early years. So, for my birthday, Mum? Thanks!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Daycare Pajama Party

Proving that I am, indeed, the caregiver you all dream of having, even if my rates are highish, my late fees exorbitant and strictly enforced, and my holidays generous... Okay, so maybe that all combines to "uppity nightmare" in your minds, I don't know. This post, however, should redeem me a bit: proving that I'm pretty all right, I celebrated Valentine's Day, the Most Romantic day of the year, by throwing a pajama party for the daycare!! Yes, indeedy, on this night of all nights, I voluntarily surrounded myself with the same tots who fill my days with love, laughter, mayhem and snot, UNTIL EIGHT O'CLOCK IN THE EVENING! So that their parents could have a few hours quality couple time. It wasn't so bad, all in all, except that little Nigel, normally a pretty happy guy, decided, starting at 9:30 this morning, to morph into the screaming baby from hell. Oh. My. He hated me all day. Hated, hated, hated me. Happy Valentine's Day, Mary P, you b*tch. Except when I was holding him. Holding was good. Mary was nice, daycare was nice, the other kids were nice, the sun was shining, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world when Mary held him. But when she put him down, the other children turned potential baby-killers, Mary had moved to the dark side, and life was not worth living any more. When I picked him up, I was rewarded with silence. Blissful, blissful silence. Or I think I was. It was hard to tell, what with all the ringing in my ears. It was good that he could take comfort when it was offered. And take comfort was what he did. Seems when he's astride a woman's hip and is feeling a little agitated, it brings him peace to clutch the surface nearest his pudgy little talon-tipped fingers and dig his claws in. And twist. I had to check, but my left nipple is still attached. It was a near thing, though. So, while holding Nigel on one hip - down-filled vests offer soft and fluffy protection from nipple abuse - I cooked dinner (put frozen lasagna into the oven) and helped everyone into their jammies. Then I wrestled him into a high chair and held his head still while I popped in that first mouthful over his heart-felt protestations. "No! No! Don't make me eat tha--gulp." And then? Then the sun came out and the angels sang, and Nigel was happy once more as he scarfed down that meal in 3 minutes flat. (And no, all the fussing was NOT because he was hungry. The boy had been eating - lots! - then refusing to eat, then eating - lots! - all day long. No, he was just playing with my head. They do that, you know.) Here, Nigel does a victory dance, having successfully divested the chair of its seat cushion. The papers you see on the floor are his doing, also. But he was HAPPY, people, HAPPY, so we just let it go. We made valentines for the mommies and daddies. We danced. We read stories. We took pictures of ourselves and looked at them in the camera. We made cinnamon buns. We did all that in the 40 minutes Nigel was happy and both Mary's arms were free. Then Nigel started to holler again. And then the mommies came - early! Yay for mommies who come early! And the mommies gave me presents! Yay for mommies who give presents! Chocolates! Swiss chocolate! Belgian chocolate! Milk chocolate truffles and candied orange slices dipped in dark chocolate! And now all the children are gone (yay!) and I'm going to bed. As soon as I eat some of this yummy chocolate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Adventures of Nigel, first canto

George and Darcy are sitting on the piano bench, "reading" the music on the stand. George runs his finger along the staff, following along as they sing. The tune is a fairly high-pitched monotone, the rhythm very avant garde, the key signature variable, the song wends along for page after page and minute after minute...and the lyrics? "...Baby Nigel's mummy and daddy came back, oh, they came back, they came back and they taked baby Nigel home...And Baby Nigel was pooing at the market, and he got a present, he got a present, and then he had to go to the hospital because he brained himself with the present and it was some ABC puzzles...and they said at the hospital and Nigel's mummy and daddy said to the nurse 'Nigel brained himself right on his head with the ABC puzzle'...And the sun came out..."

Bilingual Blove

"I can speak French!" declares George, who has hitherto displayed absolutely no bilingual propensity. "You can!" declares Mary, ever supportive. "What can you say?" George's eyes flicker. "When my mummy teaches me, I will." "Can you say anything now?" His eyes fall. His voice lowers. "Je t'aime." "Oh, George! What a nice thing to say. Je t'aime, aussi, George." "What was that? What did you say?" Arthur can't bear to know there are words happening, and he's on the outside. I explain 'Je t'aime'. Great approval all round. "Je t'aime, George." "Je t'aime, Arthur." "Je t'aime, Darcy!" "T'aime, Dah-see!" "Je t'aime, Zach!" The boys aimer all over. I love my job.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Time for a Bath for these Babies...

"I've been using my red mittens a lot," says Arthur. "You can tell because they're getting darker." I look at the red mittens, exactly the same make and style as Darcy's. Not too long ago, they were the same colour as Darcy's too, but now they are, undeniably "darker". Dark with grime, dingy with use, oddly crinkly as well. "And those dried bits?" Arthur waves the blackened mittens under my nose. "That's my old snot." You know, I'm thinking Arthur's parents need to invest in a washing machine...

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I love this time of year! Go downtown, and the sidewalks, particularly in the area close to the canal are unusually crowded. People wander by with skates strung over ther shoulders, family groups, and sports teams in their matching jackets wander by. Lots of tourists, identifiable by the cameras, huddle over their maps and brochures in inconvenient spots. But we natives are indulgent: they're discovering a lovely city that we have the privilege of living in! Why the hubbub on the streets? Because it's Winterlude. What do you do if you live in one of the coldest capitals in the world, buried under heaps of snow for months on end? You clear the snow off the canal, you make snow sculptures, you have an ice-carving competition, you create huge ice slides for the kids (check out the slide show and the video clip on that page) - in short, you make lemonade from all those lemons - you have a festival in the snow! Ottawa makes a big deal of the Rideau Canal (pronounced Ree-doe, accent lightly on the first syllable): "The World's Largest Skating Rink", according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (If you click that link, you'll be taken on a "virtual tour" of the canal: you'll see a sketch map of the canal with little skater icons along it. Click on each of the skater icons, and you'll see a different bit of the canal. This is a ten-minute walk from my house, folks. I am so lucky!) Every year, I make a point of going down to Confederation Park to see the ice sculptures. This weekend, the weather is perfect for Winterlude: -7 and gloriously sunny during the days; - 15 or so at night. Perfect! Last weekend, the weekend of the judging of the sculptures, wasn't so good. Several degrees above freezing, the poor artists were in a race not only against the clock (the competition has a time limit), but against the forces of nature. I think the forces of nature won...This sad specimen is the First Prize Winner in the Single Block Competition, a mere 18 hours after it was carved... You have to feel for the artists, don't you? (The single block entries are all carved from a block of ice that would fit neatly on top of the average coffee table.) Just to show you what's possible, this is an entry from a previous year's Single Block Competition:Gorgeous, isn't it? Here are a couple from this year. The human figure is not finished yet: you can see the shapes of the blocks from which it's being carved. The boat is finished. See how dull it is, the lines of the blocks obvious, and the ice milky white? That's because it was too warm. The teams worked like banshees on these pieces, trying to complete them in the time allowed by the competition, and before they melted away. Lyrical, ethereal sculpting was precluded by the mild temperatures. Anything that survived had a leaden, earth-bound quality to it. Too Bad! Again, just to give you an idea of what's possible when the weather co-operates, are entries from previous competitions: astonishing what they do, isn't it? And my absolute favourite:


Saturday, February 11, 2006

When Silence Isn't Golden

"Hey, everybody! Dinnertime!" Silence, except for the thunder of racing feet. "Cover your mouth when you cough, please." Silence. "In this house, we do not say 'Shut Up'." Silence. "Do not run inside! Walk in the house, please." Silence. "What a nice day it is out there!" Silence. "Girls! Will you please stop shouting?" Silence. "It's time to do the dishes." Silence. "Hello! Welcome home!" Silence. A fundamental of good manners, which can be started as soon as the child can lisp out "mama" and "dada" and "carcar", is acknowledgement. A wise older woman once advised me to insist that when I'd spoken to my child, they acknowledge me. Even if they were silently complying with whatever I'd said, the verbal acknowledgement, she said, is simple good manners. My two children were four and 15 months at the time. I sat down and explained that from now on, when mummy said something to them, they were to say, "yes, mummy". The fifteen-month-old wasn't really talking yet, but that didn't stop me. He understood what I was saying. In time he could follow his big sister's example. Of course, it should be reciprocal. Respect and good manners are best taught by example, after all. When they spoke to me, I needed to acknowledge them, too. Never fear: One does not need to be held hostage to an endlessly verbose three-year-old! A simple "I hear what you're saying, but right now mummy's busy. I won't be answering any more questions now," followed by completely ignoring the child not only falls within good parenting manners, but is also an essential teaching tool. Acknowledgement: "Okay." "Yes, momma." It doesn't have to be fancy. It's just good manners.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Here Be Dragons

We've been reading "The Egg", by M.P. Robertson, a nice little story, beautifully illustrated, about a small boy who finds an egg in his mother's chicken coop (shades of "The Enormous Egg"), and does his little-boy best to raise

the dragon that hatches from it.
It's a favourite, needing to be read at least daily, very often more. We've had dragon chases inspired by this book, and done lots of hatching, flying, and roaring, too. So when I discovered a pile of green foam sheets left over from Christmas crafts, I had the perfect use for them. Add some glitter, some star-shaped confetti, some fingerpaints and pipe cleaners... And voila! Five ferocious, fire-breathing (see the red pipe cleaners at the mouths) dragons!


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Being Prepared

Arthur is prone to nosebleeds. One is currently threatening to erupt, evidenced by the pink-tinged snot appearing from one nostril. Thus Arthur is currently sitting in a small armchair, "being quiet for a few minutes" until the threat seems to have receded. We will make no cynical observations as to just how long Mary might consider it necessary that the boy "be quiet". It's for his health and nasal security, after all. So. Arthur sits in the small armchair with a book and a soft toy. "I think," he suggests, veteran nose-bleeder that he is, "I might need a couple of kleenexses." Which are duly provided. "And a helmet."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

So Why do I have to Sweep so Often?

Darcy and George hover round the dining table where Sam, an after-school nine-year-old, is eating his snack. "George, Sam is eating his snack," Darcy observes. Children are very observant. I'm sure you've noticed. Darcy and George have already finished vast quantities of their snack, sesame bread sticks dipped in baba ghanouj, with a side of honeydew melon chunks. Yum! Sam, however, doesn't eat the snack I provide. He brings one from home: today it's Oreo cookies, pretzels, a fruit roll-up, and a cheese stick, among other nutritionally suspect but attractive delights. Every day the boy brings a snack like this. George and Darcy hover round him like a pair of vultures waiting for the corpse to stop twitching. "George! George, he's dropping crumbs!" Vulture number one is taut, eager, anticipatory. Vulture number two hones in on the action. "George?" Darcy's tone is casual. "George, let's go under the table." If Darcy could whistle, he'd be doing it now. We're just going to play under the table, we are. La, la, la... The vulture twins disappear from sight. Their voices arise from beneath. George has found something. "Hey! This is a soccowa cwumb!" Darcy is confused but willing. "Yeah! A soccer crumb!" Hey, you don't have to understand your friends to be supportive.
"No, not a soccer cwumb. A soccowit cwumb." "Let me see." A brief rustling. "Oh, a chocolate crumb!" "Mmm. It's good, huh?" More rustling. "Mmm, yeah. This one, too."

"Mmm... They're all good, aren't they?" "Mmmmmmm..."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sleep Logs

I mentioned in my previous post about how I was going to suggest to some parents that they keep a sleep log for a few weeks. This is something I have used regularly down through the years. A log - of whatever the behaviour in question - can give you so much good information. You think you know what you've been seeing, but when you start writing it down, you realize you've been making assumptions that don't bear a whole lot of resemblance to reality. And this is why I use them so much. The parents quoted in the last post hadn't a clue what their child's patterns were, and contradicted each other at every turn. Generally, though, parents present a much more united front. They know what they've been doing, they're clear on what the problem behaviour is, and they know just what to do to solve it: Get Mary to keep the kid awake more during the day. Which Mary is quite prepared to do. If it's necessary. Generally, however, it isn't. So Mary smiles and says, "Well, what I usually do in this situation is suggest we keep a baseline for three weeks to make sure we're clear on what's happening. I write down his naps during the day, you write down his sleep patterns at home on evenings and weekends, and at the end of three weeks we meet again to evaluate the data." I present them with a neat chart, that will enable us all to be clear on when he sleeps, how long it takes to fall asleep, what preceded sleep, how many night wakings, what rituals/patterns are involved - the whole shebang. And you know what? In over ten years of doing this, only three of these occasions have ever even gotten as far as the second meeting. Why? Because the parents are almost always surprised by what they discover. The couple who swore to me that his bedtime is very consistent discover that their exceptions outnumber their "normal" bedtime. The couple who said she was "always" up till ten discover that happens only one or two nights in five, and is generally associated with company at dinner. Patterns emerge that aren't as bad as had been perceived. Correlations appear that reassure. And in the end, the majority come to me at the end of three weeks and say, "We've figured out what the problem was." Most often, the routines are not as consistent as the parents thought they were. Sure, they adjusted baby's bedtime once in a while, but generally their patterns are consistent. Because they thought of each occasion as "unusual", they hadn't realized that all those "one-offs" were in fact the norm - their child had no real pattern. So. I love sleep logs. At the end of three weeks, we generally discover that it had nothing to do with Mary's schedule at all. See me smiling graciously once more. Once in a while, there are those occasions where there really is an issue that requires some daytime changes, too. With all that lovely data in the log sheets, we have something tangible to work with. The log sheets also provide a baseline, against which the changes we make can be measured. I love them. So tangible, so concrete. Unlike so much of parenting!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sleeping Trials

This post was written in early December, and finally I pull it from the files for your entertainment and edification... Baby Nigel started with me two weeks ago. Baby Nigel is a sleep champion. Baby Nigel is popped into his crib - he liked to be swaddled - and that's it. He sleeps for two or three hours. I can go into the room, he doesn't wake. I've even gone in, and partly unwrapped him before realizing that wasn't him I'd heard but the child in the next room (things like this happen sometimes at daycare...) - AND HE DIDN'T WAKE UP!!!

I love this child!
He didn't do this from day one. On day one, I popped him into his crib when he was drowsy, said "Sleep tight, baby boy!" and left. Nigel roared. And roared. And roared some more. Took him an hour that first day. On day two, it took twenty minutes. On day three, less than five. After that, any fussing has been seconds long, low-key and entirely for show. Like I said - the boy's a Sleep Champion. Baby Nigel's parents have been asking, "Does he sleep a lot here?" I know what this means. They're having trouble with his evening or night sleeps. They want me to make accommodations to help them out. If it's necessary, I will, but an eleven-month old who sleeps 2 to 3 hours during the day is only within normal parameters, so I ask some diagnostic, fact-finding questions, to which I get these answers: "He goes to sleep for the night between 9 and 10." "He goes to sleep for the night between 11 and midnight." "He's up at six." "He's up at seven." "He never naps in the evening." "He naps a couple of evenings a week." "He's a restless sleeper." "He sleeps well once he's down except when he's ill." "He goes to sleep on his own." "One of us lays down with him several times a week." All righty then. That clarifies a lot. (I might explain that, generally, dad drops them off and mom picks them up. Which is a great situation for a caregiver who wants information from each parent unfiltered through the other parent's perceptions.) It does clarify one thing for me: these two haven't a clue what they're talking about. Is this child getting six or ten hours of sleep a night? Who knows? Until they have a better handle on what they're doing at home, I will not be messing with what I'm doing here. So, beginning after the upheaval of routine that the next three weeks will bring (explanation: Christmas), we will be creating a baseline. They will be charting for me their child's sleep and wake patterns. They will do this for three weeks. Only then will we have the information we need to determine how best to help him structure his sleep. Oh, and just wait till they realize I sleep train...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Point Would Be...?

Sometimes Arthur, that champion of verbosity, is a bit incoherent. "Mar. Wee. My pic. chr. My, my, my ic. chu. Ic. Chr. Pic. ic. chr. Onna cowwwn. Turr." You have to understand that this is not stuttering. There is no strain in his throat and jaw, there is no tension, there is no distress in his face. The words are comiing out slowly. Where I've written a period, there is a pause of about a second's duration. A comma is about a half-second's pause. Try it: Say those syllables out loud, giving the pauses indicated, musingly, consideringly, in an almost completely flat monotone with a ever-so-slight cheerful inflection. You're just sharing information. "Your picture is on the counter?" "Yeah. Inna kit. Chn. The one wiv da, da, da..." Pause while he plays with his hands, shifts from one foot to the other, looks skyward. "My pic.ic.pic...chr. The one wiv da, da, da cull. urr. wiv da cull. ur. wiv da cull.ur. pay. pa. pay. prz. on. it." I have the upper hand on you folks. I have the context. What I'm quickly losing is patience. "The picture you made by gluing scraps of coloured papers?" I have part of the context, at any rate; let's see if we can hasten this to its destination. "Yeah." "It's on the kitchen counter?" Now that we've established this, I'm waiting for the next installment. His collage is on the kitchen counter. And...? And he'd like to make another? And it has water spilled on it? And he'd like me to get it down for him? "Yeah. It's on... it's on..." More shifting. More gazing skyward. "On. On. On. The. Cowwwwn. On. The. Cown. Tr." "Your picture is on the counter. Yes, I know this, Arthur. We put it there." "Wiv da. Cull. urd. Pay. pay. pay. prz. On. It." "Your picture with the coloured papers on it is on the kitchen counter." I'm being warm, I'm being kind. "Yes, sweetie, I understand." I understand, I understand, I understand, already!! It's on the counter. It's in the kitchen! It's made with coloured papers! Yes, yes, all right already! Cut to the chase, boy! Since he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get to the point, I press the issue. "Why are you telling me this, Arthur?" He looks at me blankly. Apparently the question surprises him. "I dunno." Proving my absolute professionalism, I ignore my fingers' involuntary twitching and do not shake the boy, I do not scream, I don't even let him see me roll my eyes. I turn my back. Emma giggles as she gets full value of the strain in my twisted face and sees my hands clutch the air as I let out a silent "Aaaaaaagh!" Emma's been playing a fair bit of Sims2 which her stepsisters got for Christmas. She has an interpretation. "You know what? He's like one of those really outgoing Sims. His social bar is dropping and he needs to talk to fill it up. It doesn't matter what he says, it doesn't matter if the other guy is listening, he just needs to talk." It makes good sense, really.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Wee Mystery

We've returned from our outing, and while the big boys play on the "mountain" that is my front yard, poor wee Nigel has fallen sound asleep! Look at that baby, collapsed on the toboggan! Oh, wait. No, he's awake! Guess the cold toboggan on those chubby cheeks woke him. Hold on, now. He's asleep again. No, he's awake! Asleep... Awake... What's up with the boy? A close look solves the mystery of the bobbing baby boy: Bar codes.... Yummmmm.... Gotta get me some paper now...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Emma Plays with the Boys

The boys cluster round the baby gate at the top of the basement stairs, peering into the darkness in the depths. This is an extremely solid, hand-crafted gate. It does not bend, bulge, or wobble. Perfect for a gate closing off a steep set of handrail-free steps ended on a bare concrete floor. Comforting to know when three three-year-olds are peering over it. "There's a MONSTER down there!" Darcy notes, devilment in his voice. The others huddle tighter, giggling, thrilled by the horror of it all. "Yeah!! A MONster!!" "A BIG monster!" Arthur expands. More giggling. Much pointing and oohing and whispering. "Excuse me, guys!" Emma bustles them to one side so she may go downstairs. "Emma! You can't go down those stairs!" George pronounces, a quiver of genuine worry tickling his voice. "There's a monster down there!" Then he giggles. He's kidding, and he knows it. Does he know it? Yes! Yes, he's kidding. Ho, ho, ho. Is she really going down there? Emma gets to the bottom of the stairs, disappears from view. The boys peer down the stairs, nudging and giggling. "Emma's gone to to the monster!" "Yeah! Emma gots to be careful of the monster!" A roar comes up the stairs. The boys step back from the gate. A monster just roared! But there is no monster. But the monster just roared! The boys' giggles are tinged with uncertainty. All except Arthur, who is positively giddy with the excitement of it all. Emma reappears!! All is well! She was just getting something from the dryer. Emma was just teasing. Silly Emma! The boys dance and laugh. See? It was just a pretend monster! WE knew that. Emma turns to the basement stairs, and waves her fingers at the darkness below. "Byeeee!!" "Who are you saying 'bye' to, Emma?" The boys are curious, a little alarmed, smiling. "The monster!" Emma smiles warmly at the boys. Emma will make a great mother some day.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mother Love

Once again I'm sending you over to Simply Put. There's a very sweet post over there that all you kid-friendly parent types will enjoy.

A Dilemma

My nicest, most supportive parent is also the most lackadaisical about my rules and regs. The parent who says "Of COURSE you need to take time off to heal that back." The parent who then phones you over the weekend to say, "If you need to take more, don't worry about it - I have lots of sick days saved up that I can use." The parent who is respectful of your expertise and asks your input on parenting issues - and then implements it! This same parent is the parent most often late to pick up, most likely to send a sick child, and the one who forgets to pay the late fees. Argh.