A Generous Heart

Sometimes life with toddlers can be beyond frustrating. Then, sometimes, they can do something that makes all of the frustration melt away.

Pickles came into the kitchen where I was feeding Pords. He was dragging a sleeping bag overflowing with an assortment of items.

And he was looking exceptionally pleased with himself.

“What have you got in there, Mr Pickles?” I asked, trying not to sound too concerned.

“Things that I don’t play with anymore.” He replied. “To give away to people who don’t have lots of stuff.”

I was astonished. When I had suggested this activity a few weeks ago, he had been rather vehemently opposed. He’d obviously been mulling it over.

“That’s a wonderful idea. I’m very proud of you.” I told him. “Let’s see what you’ve got in there.”

He emptied the contents onto the kitchen floor. I was mildly alarmed to see some of his very favourite toys. I wondered if his newfound generosity was indeed this self-sacrificing, or if he didn’t quite understand the concept. Then he started talking about each item.

“This is for Pords because she likes it. This one is for Nanny. She likes green” And on it went, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, acquaintances. None of the recipients could be considered in the category of “people who don’t have lots of stuff.” Nonetheless, he had clearly put a lot of thought into it and his heart was in the right place.

Then he held out Blueberry Muffin, his favourite teddy bear since birth. “BBM is for you Mummy, because you’ve been sick.”

He could have asked for anything then and it would have been his. If only he could find some way of bottling up that moment, his teenage self could have secured his first car.*

I’m recording it here so that I remember, despite all of the frustrations to come, that this little person has a big, beautiful, generous heart.

*If this post still exists when Pickles is of blog reading age, this in no way entitles him to a car. Gorgeousness of the moment notwithstanding.

Happy Diaries
Little Hearts, Big Love
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A Partly Eaten Pear

A partly eaten pear,
Lies wasting on the floor.
I wonder what distracted you
And stopped you eating more

Did you suddenly remember
Your ball out in the sun?
Eating fruit’s delicious,
But football’s much more fun.

Was your sister crying?
Did you want to check on her?
We could always come and join you
While you eat if you’d prefer.

Perhaps you heard me coming
And thought I’d catch you out.
But eating healthy food
Is what mummy’s all about!

If you’re ever hungry
You know the bowl’s in reach.
You can always eat an apple,
A banana, or a peach.

You can even eat a lemon,
Since I know you like the taste.
The problem’s not the eating,
The problem is the waste.

Many things don’t faze me,
But some I just can’t bear.
Like the sight of yet another
Partly eaten pear.

Prose for Thought
http://www.reflectionsfromme.com



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Playground trolls

I think I got trolled at the playground.

I was sitting in the middle of the playground with baby Pords. Pickles was running around with some friends. Climbing, sliding, swinging, spinning, and running. And running. And running. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t keep up with him while I had Pords with me.

But I didn’t want to keep up with him. He was having fun. My eyes were on him the whole time, the playground was one of those newly designed numbers, with all soft fall surfaces fully enclosed inside a fence, and I knew he was able to use all of the equipment unassisted; he’d been here plenty of times before.

Two women stood near me and started talking very loudly about Pickles. That he was very small. What was his mother thinking letting him play by himself? Anything could happen. Much too small. Needs his mother. Dangerous.

Now, as it happens, I’ve been reading quite a lot of academic articles about toddlers and risk taking lately. When I’ve read a bit more I’ll write a proper post about it. So far I’ve learnt that while risk taking can lead to trips to the emergency room when the carer has not properly assessed and managed the risks beforehand (and many times even when they have), it is also linked to gross motor development, as well as other social and cognitive development, such as the ability to independently assess risk and make decisions.

I know that a big part of the reason that Pickles is a good climber is because we have let him climb. I also know that, in letting him climb things from a young age, we have run the risk that he would fall.

I think so far we’ve tread a pretty good line on this one, but when I heard the women talking I immediately questioned every parenting decision I’d ever made. I quickly picked Pords up and rushed over to Pickles. “Are you ok? Do you need help?” He looked mortified and gave me a little push on the leg. “Shoo mummy!”

Still I hovered. Nervous. Eyes darting back to my judges.

Now that they had smoked me out, one of them strode straight over. “He’s very brave for someone so little isn’t he?” Her insincerity was sickly sweet. I wondered what pearls of wisdom from her own brilliant parenting career she was about to bestow. “Now, I personally would never have children of my own. There’s too much sadness in the world. But you’ve got to be careful. Anything could happen.”

What. The. Actual. Bazoolies.

Now I don’t object to people without kids having an opinion on parenting in general, or even on my parenting specifically. But just like online comment, there is a time and a place and a tone.

If you spit venom anonymously online just to get a stir, people might label you an internet troll.

And if you hang out inside an enclosed children’s play area without children of your own, just to criticise other people’s parenting, I might just label you a playground troll.

So what do you think? Were they just playground trolls or were their criticisms legitimate? How do you manage risks with your kids?

The Dad Network
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Worst. Parents. Ever.

You asked for one and I said: “Fine,”
“One but then no more.”
But then you smiled so sweetly
And said you’d rather four.

I said “No. You don’t need more,
That one will more than do.
Try these carrot sticks instead,
Or a strawberry or two.”

You shook your head and stomped your feet
And said I was the worst.
Your little face went bright red,
You looked like you would burst.

But I was standing firm this time,
Mummy can be tough.
I let you have that one,
And that one was quite enough.

So you tried a different trick
And called out for your dad.
Maybe he would give in
If your eyes looked extra sad

But sorry pal, Daddy’s not
As soft as he might seem.
He and Mummy made a vow
To do this as a team.

So now the both of us
Are vapid, mean and shallow.
All because I let you have
One fluffy white marshmallow.

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Toddler dinnertime: Resolution in Rhyme

I really don’t love cooking,
But I really do love you.
For you I would do anything,
Even learn to cook a stew.

In my head I keep a list
Of foods that you prefer.
I know you like to help,
So I always let you stir.

I cook for health and taste,
Put a rainbow on your plate.
I time it oh so carefully,
Not too early, not too late.

Finally the moment comes
To call you to your chair.
We start the meal with such high hopes
But soon there comes despair.

It makes your mama sad
To see salmon on the floor;
Mashed potato on the walls,
Peas rolling out the door.

I know that before bedtime
You just want to have more fun.
But you haven’t even had one bite,
When I hear you shout “All done!”

So I’ve decided in the future,
I’m going to save my time.
You can have a sandwich.
Mummy’s having wine.

Prose for Thought
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Fighting fires: Toddler discipline

Firestarter

When I was a kid there was a public service announcement that used to run on tv about what to do if your house was on fire. I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember Ronald McDonald telling me to: “Get down low and go, go, go!” I’m sure it was good advice for getting out while avoiding as much smoke as possible, but I wonder how many kids had nightmares about crazed clowns starting grease fires in their bedrooms. Just me? Thought so.

Fast forward to today and there’s a new fire starter in my house. He’s not a junk peddling clown but a feisty two year old. I hasten to say that he hasn’t actually started any actual fires yet (although when I am tied up feeding or changing the baby, I do sometimes wonder if the noise is him lighting small ones in the next room).

Hunger and tiredness, however, are two sticks rubbing together. It only takes the tiniest spark for the fire to ignite. Maybe I’ll say that ice cream is not a breakfast food. Maybe he’ll notice that one of his pictures has been moved from the fridge. Maybe I’ll tell him that he has to wear pants to the library.

And then… Kaboom! The fire has started.

The fire burns in an unpredictable manner. Often, all that needs to happen to douse it is some food, or a nap, or a hug. Usually we know the warning signs well enough to have avoided public places. Don’t take a hungry or tired toddler to a supermarket. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

But then there are the other times. When the fire spreads out of control. How do you douse the raging flames of cranky, crazy defiance?

There are several schools of thought on toddler discipline. And I have been reading the books, as is my wont. As with all parenting advice, there are some pieces of information that just don’t fit right for me or our family. There are other things that I have taken on board to adapt and implement. I’m sure our methods for discipline and setting boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour will need to change over time.

In amongst it all, there is one piece of advice that has stood out for me and that has had an almost immediate impact; when you want to change the way your toddler is behaving you need to physically get down to their level.

Sometimes my toddler drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to yell. But this doesn’t get us anywhere. I feel myself looming over him. My voice is thunder. The power imbalance is enormous. It is intimidating and unfair. It also tends to only add extra fuel to the fire.

When I get down on his level he sees me. He hears me. He listens.

When I get down on his level I see him. I hear him. I listen.

When we are face to face I can’t be angry. I realise that the world is still big and new and scary. I remember that when I’m hungry I get “hangry”. I remember that when I haven’t had enough sleep little upsets are devastation. I remember that he’s small and I’m big and it’s my job to help him through this tough business of growing up and learning about the world as best I can.

So now when I see the toddler fire starting to burn, I remember Ronald McDonald, that wise old sage. I get down low, and I go, go, go. And we can usually escape unharmed.

Digital Parents

 

Happy Mama Happy Baby



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I’m Hiding From My Hand

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see? – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Some days, especially those on which I have limited interaction with other adults of the species, take on a peculiarly dreamlike quality. In part, of course, this is due to a lack of sleep. I exist in that state where time takes on a different character and the air can feel somehow heavier, as if the room (or your mind) is filled with fog. But there is also another factor at play. The Toddler.

I have always had a soft spot for surreal humour. My Dad read me some of the work of Edward Lear as a child, and later introduced me to Monty Python. Who would have thought that the cultivation of an appreciation of nonsense would be such excellent training for life with a toddler. Without this, the madness of everyday life might be appreciably more maddening.

Even still, I sometimes wish that a giant foot would just descend from the heavens to mark the end of scene. But not today. Today, there was a little piece of madness that was nothing but joy.

Pickles came running into the room with his hand behind his back. He ran round and around in circles screaming with laughter. The whole time he kept his hand behind his back. When I asked what he was doing he replied that his hand was chasing him.

Of course.

I asked if he thought it would catch him. “No,” he replied matter-of-factly, “Running too fast.” I was impressed. It is surely no mean feat to outrun one’s own hand. He ran out again. I could hear him running up and down the hall. Finally he returned, much quieter now than before. He didn’t say a word, but slid open his cupboard door, climbed inside and then closed it behind him.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked. “Hiding!” Came a loud whisper. “Who are you hiding from?” “Quiet mummy! Hiding from hand!” “Oh.” I imagined his hand as Thing from The Addams Family, scuttling around, wondering where oh where he could possibly have got to. I imagined him imagining it. It made my heart smile.

And that’s it. Just a short one today. It was only a little slice of a day (although he did hide from his hand for a remarkably long time). But, in the words of Willy Wonka, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

Little Hearts, Big Love
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Always Choose Sleep

About a month ago I mentioned to my husband that I was thinking of buying a whiteboard for our kitchen. I could write to-do lists, keep a record of activities, write up list of meals that we’d be having that week, plus have exercise and blogging schedules. I was going to be organised. I didn’t get the whiteboard and the moment passed. A couple of weeks later I had this great idea to buy a tin of blackboard paint and paint an entire wall of our kitchen with it. Same idea as the whiteboard but it would, I imagined, have more of a funky cafe vibe if I could write all over the wall with chalk. My husband nodded with all the feigned enthusiasm of someone who knows that this idea too shall pass. But, just in case, that same afternoon he went out and bought a small whiteboard and attached it to the kitchen wall. Point taken on the funky cafe vibe idea.

The two qualities that I think are most valuable in someone raising young children are kindness and patience. Unfortunately for Pickles and Pords their mother does not naturally possess either of these. I don’t say this to be hard on myself. I think I have other useful attributes for parenting, not least of which is the self-awareness to know my limitations and try and work on them. So every time I find myself losing patience (hourly), or starting to respond in a way that is less than optimally kind, I make a new resolution. Today I will choose patience and kindness. As I organised the new whiteboard with different headings and space for lists I just knew that from this would flow a new me. I would be organised and therefore never be flustered. I would be the mother of my resolutions; always kind, always patient.

Unfortunately, this week the babies were sick and my resolve to be kind and patient was severely tested. It was conjunctivitis, so we were in quarantine. Pickles spent the days roaming around the house and I would follow him with my disinfectant. Towels, bedding, clothes were all washed in hot water immediately after use. He picked up the routine quite quickly, and on Tuesday afternoon I found him staring into the washing machine, which was running with one face washer inside. Future (kind, patient, well-rested, mother-of-the-year) me is going to have to deal with the fact that he has worked out how to operate the washing machine on his own. In that moment, I was just glad that he’d got the fact that in the world of the sickness lockdown, hygiene was paramount. It wasn’t fun, but we got by with books and blocks and too much tv.

Then it would start. At about 4pm each day, Pickles reached the end of his tether. He hated being inside all day, he hated being sick, and so he would let me know about it with a low, continuous whine. The sound was the perfect expression of what it’s like to feel sick. Others might say: “I don’t know, I just feel ‘blerg’.” Pickles said “errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh  errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “What should we have for dinner?” “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “Shall we read some books?” “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.”Silence from me. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “Maybe we all need to have a little lie down.” “No! No lie down! Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” And so it went. I imagined my husband in his IT workspace, probably laughing at videos of cats playing piano, emailing someone on the other side of the room rather than having to talk, and going out for a little walk to clear his head when it got a bit much. I cursed his name. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.”

There never were longer hours than those between 4 and 6. Then, suddenly, they’d be over. Dinner, bath, bed. Day shift done. Relief and peace for approximately 30 seconds. Then it was Pords’ turn. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” She was congested and it hurt to lie down. So she wanted to be held. All night. By me. If I left the room to brush my teeth, she would recommence: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Now, my rational mind got that they were very little people who weren’t feeling well. But the tireder I got, and the more times I heard an errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh or an aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, the less patient and kind I felt. In a brief moment of respite I stood looking at my beautifully organised new whiteboard and the blank columns where I had planned to schedule time for exercise or blogging. I shook my head, took the red marker, and wrote “ALWAYS CHOOSE SLEEP!!!” My husband smiled: “That seems like a very good plan.”

Yet, here I am not sleeping. It’s a Saturday morning and I asked for an hour to write a blog. I’ve been interrupted approximately once every three minutes. I am sorry to say I have not always responded with patience and kindness. And no doubt it’s incoherent mostly rambling. I should have trusted in the wisdom of the whiteboard.

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First grief

On Sunday morning we were searching the front yard for our cat, Louis. Pickles was perplexed because in the waking hours Louis was always close by him. Louis would follow him around the garden, or sit and watch him playing. If we were inside and he was out, he would be at the window. If he couldn’t find us he would wait by the door.

Before Pickles, Louis had never really advanced from the noisy, playfully aggressive kitten that we’d picked from the litter of foundlings at our local vet. He had never been around other cats and so assumed he was human. He mostly wanted to eat what and when and where we ate. He wanted to sleep tucked up under the covers with his head on the pillow. He liked all of our favourite television shows. When someone arrived who he didn’t know or trust, he would rush headlong into the defence of the home. A little streak of terrific madness.

When Pickles was born Louis became a different cat. He had always been affectionate and protective, but now he was also unspeakably gentle and tolerant. As Pickles grew, he pulled Louis’ tail and fur, lay on top of him, and on several occasions even tried to ride him around the house. Louis took it all. He was ever patient, ever loving. Just before Pords was born, we moved house and Pickles was a little more fragile than usual. He had dissolved into tears at something or other, and Louis came over and started licking his face. He licked and licked until Pickles was laughing. They were best mates.

So, on Sunday morning when Louis wasn’t around, Pickles came up with all sorts of theories as we searched. He settled on the one in which Louis was on holidays – probably the beach, but maybe Nana’s house because she has fish. Suddenly, my husband said: “I see him.” He pointed to the side of the road. I knew from the tone that it was not good.

I bundled Pickles and Pords into the car and left my poor husband to deal with it on his own, not wanting the kids to see. As we drove, Pickles kept his eyes peeled: “Looking, looking, looking” He sang. “What are you looking at?” I asked. “Looking for Lou Lou” He replied. My heart sank. I pointed out a bus, hoping to distract him. “Bus looking for Lou Lou.” In that moment I decided to play along. “Yes. Or maybe Lou Lou took the bus to the beach.” He looked satisfied; that was probably it. Ok phew, I don’t have to deal with this right now. As soon as we got home though: “Lou Lou back? Lou Lou back?” Of course Lou Lou was not back. “Nope, still on holidays. He might not come back.”

I saw some friends that afternoon and talked it through with them. I also read some articles about toddlers and grief. There was a general consensus that simplicity and honesty were the best policies. So that night I pulled Pickles onto my lap and said: “You know what happened to Louis? He’s dead. That means he can’t ever come back. But he was a special part of our family. He was a funny old cat wasn’t he?” Pickles’ face furrowed in deep concentration as he grappled with the philosophical ramifications of this new word: dead. I wondered if I had done the wrong thing.

I asked if he wanted to hear the story of when his dad and I had first met Louis. He smiled. “Yes please!” So I told him the story. And again. Probably twenty times before he would go to sleep. In the end he was telling it with me. “This one!” he’d yell when I got to the part where we decided that Louis was the cat for us. Then finally he slept and my husband and I could talk through our own sorrow.

The next morning the first thing Pickles wanted to do was to make a play dough sculpture of Louis. Later, his cousin brought him a picture she had drawn of Louis and he rushed to proudly display it on the fridge. It was the first thing he showed his dad when he walked in the door that evening. “Lou Lou!”

He is gone, but Pickles has already found ways of remembering him. Inevitably one day he will have much bigger griefs to deal with, and perhaps this experience will have helped in some way to prepare him for those to come.  I used to think it was callous when people said that having pets was a good way of teaching children about grief and loss but I can see the point. I hope that when he next faces grief, he is able to hold on to some of this ability to find joy in remembering. And I will try to remember how being able to share in that joy with him has helped me this time too.

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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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