Someone Else’s Eyes

There are many words to describe life with a boisterous two year old. On good days it’s wonderful, joyous, the best. On tough days it’s challenging, exhausting, infuriating. Sometimes I feel like it’s only my two year old that doesn’t sit still for a second. Only my two year old who could find something to climb onto and jump off of in a padded cell. Only my two year old who could exit that padded cell mysteriously covered in dirt. When we’re out and about I sometimes imagine what all the other parents must be thinking about Pickles, and about me as the mother of “that kid”. Sometimes I just need a fresh perspective.

This morning when we got to playgroup there was a new little boy, a few months younger than Pickles, sitting with his mum. Pickles ran straight over to the playgroup teacher who was sitting nearby and gave her a big hug. She told me that she’d seen the new family at the park and told them to come along. The little boy was quite shy and at home was learning Mandarin as a first language. She introduced him to Pickles, who had been listening intently to what she had been saying. And then it was on. Pickles ran across the playground to the back corner of the yard to show him the best hiding spot behind the shed. He took him into the cubby house and taught him how to drag the chairs to the window to climb up on and look out. Then he raced over to the sandpit and showed him how to dig up the sand.

By this stage I was a bit mortified. I thought the little boy’s mother must be horrified that Pickles had been chosen as the one to show her son around. She was probably looking at the other children colouring, or playing with dolls, or rolling play dough and wondering why it had to be the kid who would teach him all the most dirty and dangerous things to do. The little boy went over to his mother, said something, and pointed at Pickles. Then the mother came over to me. I steeled myself. She smiled and said “He called your son …” I missed the word. I thought he’d just gotten his name wrong so I half-laughed but she shook her head. “It means big brother in Mandarin. He called your son big brother.” Suddenly, through someone else’s eyes, it was clear why the teacher would choose him to help. She had made an excellent choice and he had done her proud. I just wished I’d seen it straight away.

So I have a new resolution to ensure that it doesn’t take someone else to show me the best in my kids. That’s my job and I’ll look for it every day. Especially the tough days.

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Pearls at Kindergym: An Ode to Grandparents

This week marked a recommencement of school term, and with it our activity schedule. I spent my years before children mostly unaware of this vibrant subculture. Just like other subcultures it has its own interests, its own music, and its own style. The people that inhabit this world come from all walks of life. There are the children of course, and their mums and dads. There are also early childhood professionals, aunts and uncles and friends. And then there are the jewel in the subcultural crown – the grandparents.

Today was our first day back at kindergym and there, as always, was an immaculately dressed grandmother, with her equally well turned out grandson. She in skirt and matching blazer, beautifully coiffed hair, pearls on her ears, neck and wrist. The little boy in crisp collared shirt under navy woollen jumper, trousers pressed and clean. Should royalty ever happen to stop in at our kindergym, these two would be ready to sit down to tea and scones. I look at them and self-consciously move Pords from one hip to the other side to hide the mashed banana smear that didn’t look so bad when I noticed it rushing out the door. Suddenly I think I should have changed Pickles out of the tracksuit pants he was wearing this morning when he was digging a hole in the back garden (so that we were prepared in case any bunnies wanted to come and live with us!). It is time for the toddlers to dance their choreographed warm up routine. The grandmother watches approvingly as her grandson performs every step perfectly in time. She counts him in and shadows his movements. They have been practising. Pickles casts a glance at the other children dancing and runs off to climb a ladder. Sigh. Maybe I would have more authority if I was wearing pearls.

At many of our activities grandparents either equal or outnumber parents. Last term one of the teachers at our local playgroup said to a grandmother who brings her two little grandchildren every week that it was so good of her to do it. She looked slightly confused by this, thought about it, and then replied: “I don’t see it that way. I feel privileged that my son and daughter-in-law allow me to spend so much time with them.” I was blown away. What a special gift those words must be for her children dropping their children off in the morning to go to work. To know that they are being left with someone who so treasures their time together. You can see it in the faces of many of the other grandparents that they share this sentiment. The joy as they watch their grandchild try something new, or run to tell them something they have done, is a beautiful thing.

Of course, this re-engagement with the lives of little children is not for every grandparent. They have done it all before and there should be no expectation that they want to do it again. They might not have the time, or the inclination, to do so. Not to mention looking after young children is exhausting. Grandparents can have a special connection with just occasional visits. When grandparents are coerced into a caring role it may even have a negative impact on the relationship. I once overheard someone saying that they dropped their kids off at grandma’s on their way to work for eight hours of jelly and telly. After more than a few days, that’s probably not good for anyone!

I grew up with just one grandparent. My dad’s mum passed away before I was born, as did both my grandpas while I was very young. From time to time, I considered how this impacted on my life. I wondered whether I would have gotten along especially well with them, or if one of them might have shared my temperament or interests. I imagined my paternal grandmother as my guardian angel and, given that this was a source of comfort during times of childhood worry, believing made it so. By and large though, my Nan was more than enough. For many years, she was a big part of my daily life. Her kind and generous heart, quick wit, and sweet tooth made for the perfect combination of grandmotherly attributes.

What I didn’t give much thought to as a child was the impact that this had on my parents’ lives. The fact that they both grieved for their fathers whilst caring for young children of their own. The limitation of their available support, advice, and assistance is something that I think about now. I frequently drop in on my parents with Pickles and Pords during the week just to catch up and to have some downtime. When I have some errand to run during the day, they are happy for me to leave the babies there. If it wasn’t for my parents I don’t really know what I’d do. I am doubly fortunate too because my parents-in-law also help out with regular babysitting. Already Pickles has a special relationship with each of his grandparents and he talks about them all daily. If he is building a house with his blocks, he considers whether there will be space for each of them to have a room. If he is picking fruit in the garden, he puts some in separate buckets for them. Somewhere in the squiggles and dots and lines on the paper are pictures of them. He asks to see one, and then if I say not today, he pauses only briefly before asking to see another. And when I say yes, his whole little being lights up: “Yipee!”

So here’s to grandparents: the pearls, the sugar highs, and the immeasurable, intangible goodness that they bring to the lives of their special little people.

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7 Reasons To Share Music With Your Child

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If you are a parent, you probably share music with your child everyday without thinking about it. You might sing the wheels on the bus with your toddler, or sing along to the radio in the car on the way to school. Like adults, some kids are more into music than others, but there are plenty of good reasons to encourage their musical interests.

Music in the morning

This morning we woke to strange sounds coming from Pickles’ bedroom. Mysterious creaking and crashing. Purposeful, but worrying nonetheless. I went in to have a look. As soon as the door opened I heard a furious “Shoo! Shoo!” He was ok, just frantically going through his instrument box, so I withdrew.

Then, seconds later, I heard some shuffling, some frustrated mumbling and then: “Help! Help!” So I rushed back in. He was still in his sleeping bag and had only made it halfway across the room with what he’d been looking for before tripping over.

I could see that he was cross that he needed help, it had spoiled the element of surprise in his plan, but as kids tend to do he accepted the revised situation and decided to persevere. “Up please.” I picked him up. “Mummy’s room please.” I carried him in. “Mummy sleep please.” Again, I obeyed. My husband was watching him warily. “Daddy sleep please.” He sighed and closed his eyes knowing full well that this wasn’t an invitation for a Sunday morning sleep-in. A full second of glorious sleep before the cymbals crashed. A peal of gleeful giggles. The day had begun.

It may not have ever been the dream to have our mornings started with cymbals ringing in our ears, but if it had these would probably have been part of it. They are less like the cymbals you might find in an orchestra and more like those carried by an organ grinder’s monkey.

Tiny little musical instruments

The cymbals are a particularly cute recent addition to an amazing array of musical instruments made for tiny hands. He has, among many others, a triangle, a two-tone wood block, a wave drum, a slide whistle, maracas, bells, a couple of tambourines, and a xylophone. All of these things have been purchased for, at most, a few dollars and are definitely worth the investment.

We also have a large number of homemade drums and shakers; generally old containers filled with rice and expertly decorated with fluffy pom poms, beads, pipe cleaners, and anything else we happened to have found at the local discount store.

Let the music move you

My husband once told me that one of the reasons he had never much liked musical theatre was that it didn’t make sense that the characters would be singing instead of talking, or just burst into song mid-sentence. After 14 years of being around me though he kind of gets it now.

Growing up, my mum liked to sing along to any song that happened to be playing even (and sometimes especially) when she didn’t know the words. She also had a song for every occasion. She was kind of like Mary Poppins, but with less of the magic umbrellas and more of the penchant for keeping things tidy. This is definitely something that she has passed on to me (the singing that is, not the tidiness).

I have a song for every household task, from doing the dishes to hanging the clothes out, from getting dressed to sweeping the floor. When I want Pickles to tidy up after an activity, I sing a song about it. A spoonful of musical sugar really does help the medicine go down. And when we’re not doing chores, we’re often engaged in musical activity, whether it be playing instruments, singing, dancing, or just listening to music.

It will be normal for my kids, as it was for me. For those who didn’t grow up in a world of constant song, I can imagine it can get extremely irritating. But even if you don’t take it to the extreme, it’s a great idea to share music with your kids as often as possible. Below is a list of seven reasons why you should. There are no doubt countless others and I’d love to hear yours. In my list I have relied on a survey of the academic literature on the relationship between music and development by Susan Hallam as well as my own observations and experience. The Hallam article is an interesting read and I have included the full reference below if you want to have a look at it for yourself.

The list: 7 reasons to share music with your child

1. It’s cheap and easy. You don’t need to buy anything to start singing or banging on pots and pans at home. If you need musical inspiration local libraries and children’s centres often have free or low cost music sessions for babies and young children.

2. You can use it to mark transitions. It can be tough for little people to stop doing something fun and move onto something else. I noticed early on that when I took my kids to different classes and activities, the instructors would often mark the end of the game or the session with a song. So, they would sing about packing things away before moving onto the next thing, or they would sing a goodbye to mark that we were done for the day. Another mother I met shared with me that she when her son had been having trouble with separation when she dropped him at child care in the mornings, she started using this technique in that situation. So she would sing goodbye to him, and he would sing goodbye back. She said the effect that such a small change had on what had previously been something that they both harboured such anxiety about was immediate and stark. My husband uses it to mark the end of Pickles’ bath time. He would happily splash around all night, but when he hears the song about putting the bath toys away, he knows it’s time to get out.

3. It can make boring tasks more appealing. If you’ve got a toddler and fewer house keepers than you might like, odds are your little person is going to have to spend some time toddling after you as you do household chores. If you have a toddler like mine, they might actually look forward to this part of the day so they can “help” (and by help of course I mean create a series of hindrances, but with the very best of intentions). Other times, they might just want you to come and play. Usually I’d say, forget the housework and play! But I also find that if I incorporate music, Pickles is usually happy to join in. So, for example, he loves to help with the washing up so he can sing “Wash the dishes, dry the dishes, turn the dishes oh-ver!”  Snap, the job’s a game.

4. It can improve kids’ creativity. It is one of my absolute favourite things to stand outside a room when Pickles doesn’t know I’m there and listen to him singing to himself. He often does it when I’ve put him down for a nap in the afternoon, singing lullabies to his teddy bears. His capacity for musical improv is already impressive. At the music class that he goes to, they have to choose an action each week as part of their hello song. His have moved on from his initial favourites of stomping hello or spinning hello every week, to ever more elaborate hellos. The last week of last term he chose elephant trumpet hello, one arm raised into the air. It was a hit. As he grows in confidence through this class, I can see his imagination blossoming.

One of the studies reviewed by Hallam found that 3 and 4 year olds involved in “singing and musical play twice weekly for three years… scored higher than controls on creativity, had higher levels of abstraction, and showed greater creativity in improvised puppet play. They also demonstrated better motor development.” (Hallam, p. 277)

5. It’s great for language and literacy development. When Pickles was a newborn someone told me that a great way for babies to start to understand language is by hearing a word and simultaneously feeling what that means. A good example is the word “stop”, which is a handy one to teach them early! So, there is a musical game in which you are holding your baby and a steady beat is playing and you walk and you walk and you walk and you stop. Or you stomp and you stomp and you stomp and you stop. Or you slide and you slide and you slide and you stop. You say the words and do the action at the same time so when you say stop and you stand still, your baby gets to understand what that means. I used to do this with Pickles whenever we were just going from one room to another at home. It was unsurprising then that one of his first words was “stop”.

Hallam says that: “Overall, the evidence suggests that engagement with music plays a major role in developing perceptual processing systems which facilitate the encoding and identification of speech sounds and patterns: the earlier the exposure to active music participation and the greater the length of participation, the greater the impact. Transfer of these skills is automatic and contributes not only to language development but also to literacy.” (Hallam, p. 272)

6. It can help them with maths down the track. Skills such as learning to keep a steady beat, and recognise patterns in music can help with numeracy and maths. These are skills that you can easily develop at home by banging spoons on pots and encouraging your child to stomp in time to the beat. Or playing clapping games where your child has to follow and remember a pattern. Hallam suggests that: “Music also seems to improve spatial reasoning, one aspect of general intelligence which is related to some of the skills required in mathematics.” (Hallam, p. 281)

7. It’s fun! If your child loves a song, you can get stuck listening to that same song over and over until you start calculating how you can drop the cd as you’re getting out of the car in such a way as to create maximum damage the next time you back out. But if you start experimenting with your own music at home it can be a great way to spend quality time with your kids that is enjoyable for everyone. Already, at not even six months, Pords lights up when I give her a maraca to shake, bells to ring, or something to bang on.

Laying a strong foundation for a lifelong love of music is surely enough of a reason in itself. For so many people I know, music is pivotal in maintaining emotional and mental well-being and happiness, in being able to reduce stress, and in creating and maintaining strong social connections. For some, music is inextricably linked with the very core of the identity. As an added bonus, if you make music a shared experience you might have a sneaky influence on their tastes later on. If you can help them appreciate the light and shade in Dingle Dangle Scarecrow, the world is truly their oyster.

Source

Hallam S (2010) The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social and Personal Development of Children and Young People International Journal of Music Education 28(3) 269-289.

You Baby Me Mummy
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Just Dance: Surprising Things I’ll Miss About Having a Toddler and a Baby

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Every night for the last week or so Pords has woken for a feed every couple of hours. When Pickles was a baby, frequent night wakings were the norm so we established a routine of sorts and just got on with it. Pords, on the other hand, has been a fairly good sleeper from the get go and had settled into fairly long stretches overnight as well as having great day naps. So, on top of the recent bouts of flu, it has come of a bit of a shock to the system to be so sleep deprived. Of course, it is our choice to respond to her at night. Plenty of people would advise to let her cry it out to help her learn to sleep through. Given that we have made the conscious decision to be responsive to night wakings, I know that these periods of sleep deprivation are something that we have to accept. It’s easier this time around because we know it doesn’t last forever. After we got up to him like clockwork every three hours for the best part of a year Pickles is now, other than the odd lapse, a terrific sleeper. Twelve hours through the night and two or three hours during the day. Knowing that doesn’t always help when I have to get up again to Pords at 3am. The thing is, and don’t tell this to my cranky 3am self, I also know that I’ll miss getting up to her.

There is something peculiarly magical about it just being you and your baby awake in a sleeping world. The closeness, the cuddles, the quiet. The tough part is the waking itself, and boy can it be tough, but once you’re over that hurdle and just admiring this small bundle of perfection, it’s such a special time. During the day there is always something else pulling you this way or that. Especially when you have a toddler to think about too, there are so many things you could be doing, or should be doing, that just sitting in total silence with your baby can be a luxury. Sometimes I want to go in to see Pickles and have those midnight cuddles with him too. At the time it can seem like you’ll never get a decent sleep again, but you will and then you might wonder why you didn’t appreciate all those beautiful moments.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not totally deluded. I spend more time than I care to admit considering whether to book a night in a motel and head straight there as soon as my husband steps in the door at night without so much as a by your leave. When you’ve been up all night with a baby, it can be hard to match a toddler’s energy during the day. Pickles travels everywhere at high speeds and is highly adventurous. When we go to the park he enjoys exploring every inch of the surrounding trees, bushes, creek beds, and generally anything other than the specifically safety designed play equipment that has been so painstakingly constructed to attract and stimulate a child’s interest. He brings a whole new meaning to the expression to leave no stone unturned. He literally picks up every stone and tries to sell them to other kids, or to me. The going rate seems to be two dollars. He’ll travel far and wide for his wares too. When I’m chasing after him while carrying Pords, back aching, I sometimes fantasise about life with one of those fabled sit-still-toddlers. What if he spent his time at the park going up and down the slide? What if, when we were at home, he sat and watched a dvd the whole way through? Then I get a glimpse of that cheeky grin, that mischievous twinkle of the eye before he dashes off to the next thing, and I banish the thought.

There is nothing like a toddler for making you feel incredibly old, and then in an instant incredibly young. Often if he sees me sitting down spaced out, Pickles will grab my hands and yell “Dance!” No matter how tired I am, it makes my heart sing so I get up. Then he adopts this furiously intense face and stomps his feet as fast as he can. If I don’t follow suit immediately again he’ll shout “Dance! Mummy, dance!” and continue the fervent stomping. They really should get this kid into offices as a remedy to sedentary workplaces. Jones at work station two hasn’t been out of his seat all morning and is starting to feel sluggish, send in Pickles: “Dance, Jones, dance!” A million tiny stomps later and Jones will be re-energised for the day. There are so many times where running after him has left me feeling like I’ve got nothing left to give, but when someone that adorable takes your hands, looks you in the eye with an explosion of eagerness and insists you dance, there is nothing for it but to just dance. One day I’ll miss it like crazy.

Let's Talk Mommy
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Views From The Sick Bed

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been sick for three weeks now. Miserable flu. Sore throat, achey, and a cough that makes it close to impossible to get a proper rest. I’m so, so exhausted. It’s been quite horrible really, but there have also been moments of reflection and insight. In particular, I have read two articles shared on Facebook that irritated me in the way that only someone who hasn’t had enough sleep can be irritated by a blog. I wonder if this is where internet trolls come from – they’re really just sick, sleep-deprived parents who are prone to unreasonable agitation.

The one that said your phone is ruining your child

My first problem with this one was the implication that anything could be ruining my child. Ruining! Machu Picchu, the Greek economy, and kids who watch tv on their parents’ phones. My second problem was that this person was writing about how she was totally horrified when she’d seen some kids at the library watching something on an iPhone. Now, obviously it’s not ideal. It would be better if the kids were reading books, or if an engaged parent or carer was reading books to them. But the bigger problem for me than the kids eschewing the books for some screen time, was that this other parent made a judgement without seeking any context. Sure, it’s great that she was there playing with her toddler. But there are plenty of reasons why a parent might use the one thing they know will get their kids to sit quietly for ten minutes at the library. Maybe they needed to ask the librarian about a particular book, or look something up, or use a computer, or fax a form. Maybe they’d been playing with their kids all day long and just needed a few minutes of peace and the library was a safe, quiet place where they could have a time out. Whatever it was, the chances of the children being ruined by this experience seem quite low.

I have mixed feelings about screen time. I am aware of the recommendations, although I would like to look a bit more closely at the research to see if there is much difference in the ramifications of passively vs. actively watching. Pickles enjoys some television shows, but most of the time he needs someone there to be talking about what is happening (or watching him act out what is happening) otherwise he gets bored quickly and wanders off. Today I woke up feeling so sick that I said to him, “We might need to sit quietly on the couch and watch some tv today buddy”, he started bouncing around and saying “No tv day! No tv day!” So that was that. Luckily he seemed to take my sickness into account and spent the day preparing me cups of tea and soups in his play kitchen and being much more engaged by quiet craft activities than he usually is.

He’s an active, imaginative, sociable kid, but he watched tv before he turned two and, sometimes when he watches it now, Pords is in the room too so we’ve already ruined her. They don’t watch tv on my phone, mainly because I don’t think my phone has that capability. I think the fact that their mother is somewhat of a luddite probably has the potential to be more damaging than allowing some screen time. Luckily, my husband is a digital expert. They’re too young for devices or computers yet, but when they’re learning to write, they’ll also be learning to code computers. My husband rightly points out that we’re in a digital age and learning coding languages is likely to be just as useful as learning any other language or new skill. We’ve talked about developing coding lessons for young children. I might add some to this site if we get further with that. But, I digress. It seems probable to me without a further look at the research that there is screen time and screen time and either alternative would have to be very extreme to lead to the fall of Rome.

The one that said if we were honest we’d all say parenting sucks

When Pickles was a few months old, the nursing service in our area organised a mothers group. At the first session, twelve bleary eyed new mothers sat around in a circle and the nurse went around asking how motherhood differed from what we were expecting. She clucked sympathetically as people spoke about sleep deprivation and feeling a loss of independence. Then when she got to me I said that although I had experienced those things, I had also expected those things. I had known plenty of people who had become mothers and heard war stories about the early months. I said that given these expectations, the thing that differed from what I was expecting was just how indescribably wonderful it was. Certainly wonderful enough to make up for the lack of sleep and the fact that it suddenly took a lot longer to leave the house. There were plenty of nods and smiles from the group, but the nurse looked disapproving. “Yes, but it’s very hard.” It seemed that only a particular bent of honesty was welcome in the sharing circle.

This article took me right back there. There are moments and days when I feel fed up and frustrated, and sometimes even irrationally angry. But if I’m having a bad day, I can get irrationally angry walking down the street if there’s someone in front of me walking at what I deem to be an unacceptably slow pace. I absolutely loved the job I had before Pickles was born, but there were some days when the afternoons dragged and I thought “If I make a cup of tea, it will be quarter to four, and then there will only be fifteen minutes until there’s only an hour til 5 o’clock.” Doesn’t mean the job “sucked”. Doesn’t mean walking down the street “sucks”. (Although, let’s face it, when you’re dealing with slow walkers sometimes it kind of does).

Last week I caught up with a friend at a cafe. I had chosen a kid-friendly cafe with plenty of books and toys designed to keep little people entertained and for some reason I thought that this consideration on my part would make Pickles sit still and quietly amuse himself while I had a cup of tea and a chat. He played with the toys by himself for a few minutes and then tried to get my attention to come and play with him. When I refused and continued chatting to my friend, he started exploring. Luckily there weren’t many others in the cafe, but he must have sat on every chair, tried every door, touched everything he could reach. No matter how many times I got up to retrieve him, how many times I asked him just to sit and play for a little while longer, how exciting I made our afternoon sound if he just let me finish my tea, he wouldn’t sit still. Of course he wouldn’t, he’s two and grown ups  chatting over a cup of tea are boring. At the time I was so cross with him, but reflecting later that day it was pretty clear that what I was frustrated by this reminder that I can’t just go out to a cafe and have a quiet chat with a friend. Even when I’m exhausted and want nothing more than just to sit down and drink my tea in peace. But that also led me to reflect on the reason for that. I have a gorgeously happy, bouncing baby and a funny, independent, curious toddler, and I get the privilege of spending a big portion of my time watching them learn and discover and grow. They want constant attention (day and night!) but it doesn’t “suck”.

Postscript: My husband came home from work early today so that I could rest. He told his work that he was going home to look after his family and he got lots of pats of the back. He also acknowledged that if a woman had said that she was going home to look after her family there would have been sneers and snide remarks about the unreliability of working mothers, and that being a white, middle-class male has plenty of perks. So, I think this calls for an acknowledgement on my part that it is much easier to not think the job sucks when your partner is the best. I stand by my irritation though. Don’t tell me that I should admit something sucks when I don’t think it does.

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