Impostor Syndrome in Parents

If you are a parent, do you ever look at your kids and wonder how they got to be so awesome? It can’t be nature, because you’re not all that. It can’t be nurture, because you’re not doing that great a job. Must be sheer luck.

Impostor Syndrome

I teach at a university law school. Every time I start a semester with a new group of students I give them the same speech. Students often find it daunting to participate in group discussions in class, even when they have valuable contributions to make.

There are a few different reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that they suffer from impostor syndrome. They are afraid that any minute now someone is going to find out that there has been some huge mistake, that they’re not actually smart enough to be at law school, that they don’t deserve it. If they open their mouths in class someone is definitely going to realise it, report them, and they are going to be frog marched straight out of there. I tell them that this is ridiculous. Getting into law school requires brains and hard work. Staying in law school requires commitment and more hard work. If you’re in my class, you’ve earned your right to be there. No phonies here.

Except maybe me. I’m terrified that I’ll be found out. I might have graduated law school, completed a Masters degree and a PhD, worked in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, and taught in a number of universities, but I certainly don’t belong up here at the front of the class.

Such is the nature of impostor syndrome. No matter what you have achieved or how hard you have worked to get where you are, you still somehow think you have fluked your way through life and ended up somewhere you really don’t belong.

Do you ever feel like an impostor?

Consider this. If someone says to you something along the lines of: “Your kids seem really happy, relaxed and friendly, you must be doing a great job.” Do you, a) accept the compliment and acknowledge your role in your kids undisputed greatness, or b) downplay either your role, or your kids undisputed greatness, or both? Things that have come out of my mouth in such situations include: “Yeah, they’re awesome kids but I don’t know how that happened. We must just be lucky” and “They’re not so sweet when they’re screaming in the middle of the night.” If I don’t make it clear that it’s not perfect, it’s going to be pretty obvious I’m just a massive phoney. The fraud squad will be hauling me away.

The thing is, when I make any sort of disparaging remark about my children I immediately regret it. After all, they are in actual fact indisputably great. But on the other hand I rarely regret downplaying my own role in their formation. I don’t want to claim too big a hand in their greatness. What if this woman at the park finds out that I let them watch tv, or eat foods containing sugar, or sometimes even watch tv while eating foods containing sugar. (Not the baby, obviously. But she’ll no doubt get there one day). Never mind the hours and hours spent playing with them, preparing their meals, talking to them, reading to them, and laughing with them every single day. Never mind the countless nights spent up consoling them, reassuring them, being there for them. Those bits don’t count.

Except of course, they do. All of these things are the things that make your little people who they are. Whether it’s agonising over a care provider for when you are at work. Or the hug you save up especially for them at pick up time. Or pushing them on the swing at the park. Or the special story at bedtime. The big and little things that you do every day. Just being you. In this scenario it’s not possible you’re an impostor. Don’t worry what the world thinks. Don’t worry what “they” might find out. To a certain little someone you are indisputably the absolute greatest.

Now if only I could take my own advice.

My Random Musings
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The Quiet Corner

This is my space, my quiet space,
Where I can come to breathe.
I don’t need noise, and I don’t need toys,
All I need is me.

I rest my feet and I’m grateful,
For the places they’ve helped me to go.
But now is a time for stillness,
Now is a time for slow.

I rest my legs and I’m grateful,
That they’ve helped me to walk so far.
But now is no time for movement,
Now is a time for calm.

I rest my arms and I’m grateful,
For all the balls they’ve thrown.
But now is no time for games with friends,
Now is just time for alone.

I rest my hands and I’m grateful,
For all that they’ve helped me to make.
But now I feel them nice and still,
Now is their time for a break.

I rest my eyes and I’m grateful,
For all that they’ve helped me to see.
But now is no time for the big, wide world,
Now is just time for me.

Prose for Thought
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Top 7 Dads from Children’s Books

In my part of the world, tomorrow is Father’s Day. In honour of that occasion, I have created my list of the top 7 dads from children’s books. Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments! Who is your favourite father from a kids’ book? Have I missed out on a great dad from children’s literature?

7. Father William (from the poem recited by Alice in her adventures in Wonderland)

He may have been old, but that didn’t mean he lacked wit:

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
– You Are Old, Father William – Lewis Carroll

6. The Gruffalo (from the book of the same name, and the gripping sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child)

That’s right, it turns out that the big, bad Gruffalo is a pretty good dad. He’s protective, but he’s still raising a kid who is adventurous and brave. He’s also a sweet reminder that sometimes the sound of daddy’s snores is the safest sound in the world:

The footprints led to the Gruffalo cave where the Gruffalo’s child was a bit less brave. The Gruffalo’s child was a bit less bored. And the Gruffalo snored… And snored, and snored.
– The Gruffalo’s Child

5. Mr Darling (father of Wendy, John and Michael of Peter Pan fame)

The book may have been about flying away to a magical land where there were no parents to deal with at all, but Mr Darling certainly loved his family:

Mrs Darling: There are many different kinds of bravery. There’s the bravery of thinking of others before one’s self. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.
Michael: Where did he put them?
Mrs Darling: He put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer… He does. And that is why he is brave.
– Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

4. Baloo the Bear (the loveable bear father-figure from The Jungle Book, you may remember him from the Disney adaptation)

Baloo the Bear helps a pack of wolves to raise Mowgli, a human boy, and teaches him the law of the jungle. He is a reminder that being a good father isn’t all about biology. One of his maxims says:

Oppress not the cubs of the stranger, but hail them as Sister and Brother,
For though they are little and fubsy, it may be the bear is their mother.
– The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling

3. Big Nutbrown Hare (from Guess How Much I Love You)

My husband actually thinks Big Nutbrown Hare is a bit of a jerk because he always has to one-up his son. I love this competitiveness because it reminds me of my own Dad and it’s clear that even though he always has to win, he has a great big heart of gold:

Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him good night. Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, “I love you right up to the moon – and back.”
– Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney

2. Caractacus Pott (Jeremy and Jemima’s father, inventor of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)

Aside from being a pretty awesome inventor, anyone who gives the following advice to his children has got to be an excellent dad:

Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.
– Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Ian Fleming

1. William (Father of Danny the Champion of the World)

Through the eyes of Danny, William is “the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had.” Roald Dahl has crafted a truly special dad:

I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.
– Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl

Happy Father’s Day!

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7 Reasons To Share Music With Your Child

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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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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Sensory Play Day

I’ve got a terrible secret. When Pickles was a newborn I never went to a carpet store and secured their off-cuts so that he could do tummy time on a range of different fabrics. I never plunged his tiny fists into jars of dried lentils. I never filled his bath with edible homemade glow-in-the-dark slime. Is it any wonder that he’s already two and still hasn’t composed a symphony? Some would say he was just born lazy. The internet would say his parents never enriched his infancy with sufficient sensory experiences.

The second time around things were going to be different. But since Pords was three weeks old I’ve been teaching a class at university. I’ve only had to actually go in there two mornings a week, but it’s also involved a mountain of reading, marking, and prep work which have meant that I’ve had even less sleep than can usually be expected with a newborn and a toddler in the house.

I won’t lie, most of the time I’ve enjoyed it – stretching the brain in different ways and interacting with people who can generally speak in fully formed sentences – but there has certainly been guilt associated with the fact that I may not have been bringing my A game to mothering 100 percent of the time.

Last week was the last week of semester. There will be exams to mark soon but this week has been work-free. Phew. Time to let some stillness in, or more likely sit back and just enjoy all the magical chaos that make up a day with Pickles and Pords. But I am ridiculous and, remembering my secret shame from Pickles’ infancy, Monday was declared “Sensory Play Day”.

rice-191930_1280
A veritable playground

Sensory Play Day was never going to be a thing

I got up early and made three colours of Play Dough. I set up a tray with kinetic sand. Then it was time for the piece de resistance – the worms in mud. This one had it all – the smell and taste of the chocolatey mud, the touch and sound of the squelching through little fingers, the sight of what would look just like worms in mud. There was no way it was going to be anything other than totally amazing.

I got Pickles to help me mix up some “mud” (cocoa, flour, sugar and water) in a box. Unfortunately, I’d made the fatal error of preparing things in the wrong order and, while I was cooking the spaghetti “worms” to go in, he found a spoon and was happily gorging on my precious play mud. By the time the worms went in he was well and truly over it and calling for a cloth. In the post I’d read about this activity online, the poster mummy’s children were wide eyed with excitement when their mother had told them they were allowed to squish their hands in the mud and dig around for worms. Pickles just wanted to clean up. I dunked Pords’ feet in there and let her squidge around for a bit. She seemed quite pleased by it. But that 30 seconds of baby joy before Pickles insisted we discontinue the activity probably wasn’t worth the effort. Sensory Play Day Fail #1.

Next we moved onto the Play Dough. One blue, one green, and one pink ball sat proudly on the table in their freshly made glory. Surely this would be a winner. Pickles loved rolling and cutting and Pords picked some up in her tiny fist and had a little lick. So many senses engaged. Winner! Then, after what seemed like two minutes, Pickles rolled all the balls into one. For a moment there was a beautiful rainbow swirl. Pickles said “Wow!” Then the three parts made a decision on what colour they would be come. Spew green. It’s currently sitting proudly cling-wrapped in my fridge. A reminder of the spew of days gone by, and of days to come, and of Sensory Play Day Fail #2.

Finally we had the kinetic sand in a tray. If you are not familiar with kinetic sand it is actually a really cool concept. It clumps together so you can build things with it and then falls apart again when you give it a tap. It’s great for sand play when you’re inside because it cleans up relatively well. The thing is, it’s pretty expensive so you never really have enough of it to be able to properly dig around in it. I think it’s probably great for older kids. Pickles again moved on quickly, taking sand on his hand, clothes and shoes all through the house. So much for easy to clean up. Sensory Play Day Fail #3. I sighed and tidied everything away. I looked at the clock. It was 9:37am.

What did I learn from Sensory Play Day?

Look, there were definitely moments of fun in all the activities. Maybe their brains now have millions of new neural connections or something. But the best thing about Sensory Play Day is that I learned that the whole thing is a bit of a farce. The part that the author of the worms in mud post had left out after she wrote that her kids were super excited to be allowed to put their hands in, was that after it was done she put the kids back in their boxes on the shelf.

I’m kind of glad Pickles wasn’t excited about being allowed to get dirty. He gets dirty everyday in actual mud. Outside. He runs bare foot on carpet, or grass, or sand, or dirt. He sticks his hands in lentils or chickpeas or beans or whatever when he’s snacking on them. He might not bathe in edible, homemade, glow-in-the-dark slime but he certainly seems to spend a lot of his time covered in some sort of slime from somewhere. He smells flowers. Dances to music. Tastes more things from the garden than I care to think about.

Sensory Play!

The point is, all of his play is sensory play. Every day is Sensory Play Day. And unless you keep them vacuum-sealed in their packets on the shelf, it’s the same for your small people. So, it’s time to breathe out.

Happy Mama Happy Baby
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500 Books in the First Year

When I was pregnant with Pickles I read that it was important to read 500 books to you your child in his or her first year of life. At first this seemed overwhelming. But what can actually be more overwhelming for a new mother is to have no structure or goals or achievable targets. 500 books was like a KPI and in my yearly (self) performance review there would be something measurable to tick off. Yeah, yeah, health, happiness and all that too.

So we dutifully trundled to the library every week to get at least the ten new books a week that it would take to reach our target. Even when he was too tiny to even be able to see a book properly, we were reading to him. Choosing new books and reading together has become so much a part of our lives now that we don’t even have to think about it with Pords. She’ll probably reach her 500 before she gets to six months. And there will be many books that she’ll hear (what definitely seems like) hundreds of times each. We’ve got favourites, and are forever making new favourites. But we definitely had to wade through a whole lot of not so good ones to get there. So I’m going to start a list of the best, so if someone else wants to take the 500 books in the first year challenge, you can select straight from he top shelf.

So here goes, my first review:

Cave Baby – Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett

The hardcover version of this book was given to Pickles about a year ago. It makes a beautiful gift because the pictures make an immediate impact, but I’ve got to admit that when I first read it I wasn’t a fan. Mum and Dad are the bad guys and poor old Cave Baby has to endure a terrifying experience before discovering ultimate liberation through art and imagination. But Pickles was a fan. Again! Again! He’d shout. And so I read it again. And again. And again. And now that I have mastered the cadence this book really is a joy to read. As with all of Donaldson’s work that we’ve discovered so far, there are exciting variations to the pace and tempo, plenty of interesting vocab and sounds, and although there are scary bits there is also plenty of humour.

As all good books should, this one takes you on a journey. We are always right there with Cave Baby as he sits bored and lonely in his cave. Right there as his parents really just don’t get it. Right there as the mammoth lifts him and takes him on the scary ride through the night. And right there when he realises that the mammoth wants him to do exactly what his parents forbade. “And they rollick and they frolic…” Perfect. Pickles delights in that page every time as if it was the first.

The illustrations, too, are glorious and fit the mood perfectly. There is enough detail in the pictures that you can spend time on each page, pointing things out and asking discovery questions. It is a great one for language development. I would highly recommend reading this book with the special little people in your life. It’s such a lot of fun.

If you have a baby and you can’t get into reading to them, my advice is to try and find books that you enjoy reading too. It’s never too early to start.

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The Goblin Stump

Winter is coming. Tomorrow. It will be Pords’ first. She probably won’t notice, snuggled as she’ll be in a constant cocoon of swaddles and blankets. But for Pickles it will be tough. The blossoming independence of toddlerhood curtailed by cold and rain. It won’t be this cold forever. But a season is forever when you’re two.

So today, despite my preference for summery warmth, I put on my raincoat and boots and zipped Pickles into his puddle suit and we went exploring in the misty rain of the morning. A generous wind, appreciating our efforts, had deposited a spray of bright pink flowers in a hollowed out stump in our front garden. Pickles was intrigued. I told him that the goblins who lived in the stump were having a feast. They love to eat flowers. Pickles suggested that they also enjoyed grass and leaves and set to work adding to their spread.

I wondered where the goblins were. Given that it was a rainy day, I was surprised they weren’t at home. Pickles knew. He told me that they were out riding bunnies. The goblins can be tricksters, but by and large they are kind and gentle. The bunnies are their best friends. So that answered that.

Pickles didn’t want to go to sleep tonight. I sat next to him and held his hand as he lay in his little bed. Close your eyes. We’re in the garden near the Goblin Stump. We can hear some beautiful music coming from the stump. It sounds like tiny little bells ringing. We can smell something delicious. We walk over to the stump holding hands. We see two little goblins drinking tea from tiny flower cups. They offer us some tea too. It tastes like raindrops. Suddenly we’re shrinking down to the size of the goblins. There is a puddle the size of a lake. We go swimming in the puddle. The water is cool but the sun is lovely and warm. The sunlight starts filling us up. We feel it in our toes. Our feet. Our legs. Our tummies. Our shoulders. Out to our arms and hands and fingers. Back up to our necks. Our mouths. Our noses. Our eyes. Our ears. Our hair. We are warm and filled with light. We float up up up into the sky. Higher than the clouds. We fly like two balloons. We see our house below and float back down. We are big again and we are tired and we climb into bed. Kiss goodnight. And sleep.

One of the advantages of doing guided meditations to calm Pickles for sleep is that it also enables me to work mindfulness into my day. It definitely doesn’t work every time. In fact sometimes if he is reminded of something fun that happened during the day he gets more excited and worked up and wants to go over the story again. Again! But it is always a special, treasured time and so even when it doesn’t work, it works.

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The Hokey Pokey

You put your whole self in

When I only had Pickles he was my whole world. He wasn’t my first experience of love. Before I had ever considered love as a concept I loved my family. Before I had ever attempted to articulate the enduring grandeur of deep friendship I loved my friends. Before I had ever sincerely contemplated the crashing complexity of true love I loved my partner. And other shades of love along the way, some that came and went, others that seared their intense brightness forever on my very being. Yet here he was and I saw my heart anew. Never really inside me anymore. In his every breath a heartbeat echoed. In his every smile and sigh and flailing grasp a soaring of the soul.

You take your whole self out

And so there I was lost to the world. Me but out of me. My whole self rewritten. Suddenly time was Vonnegutesque. I didn’t sleep but I was asleep. Had never slept  but was always sleeping. I was a child and a mother and had always been both. My mother was dancing me around the room. I was dancing Pickles around the room. I was here I was nowhere I was everywhere. It was perfect imperfect bliss. I had Pickles and nothing would ever be the same again. I hoped everything would always be the same.

You put your whole self in

When I only had Pickles he was my whole world. Every night I longed for the next day. Every smile was the first smile. I was every new parent and he was every superlative. I held him, rocked him, sang to him. I took him to music class, gym class, swimming class. The library, the zoo, museums, the theatre. Endless playgrounds. We explored together. We laughed and danced and shared a secret language of sounds and gestures. It was unfathomable that anything could ever be as wonderful as this, as him. This perfect little person. My heart overflowed everyday and was refilled by the mere memory of a moment.

And you shake it all about

And then. And then. There was Pords. Pickles is my world, my everything, the song of my heart. Pords is my world my everything, the song of my heart. When people described the love of subsequent children I was dubious. That the heart expands or makes room didn’t make sense to a new mother whose heart was already full to bursting. But it wasn’t that at all. This love is not an expansion of the heart. It is a new heart. They are separate loves. “Who is your favourite, mum?” “You’re all my favourites.” This is not glib. This is not trite. This is the impossible truth. When I turn my mind to Pickles he is my best love, my dearest child. When I turn my mind to Pords she is my best love, my dearest child.

You do the hokey pokey and you turn around

I have Pickles and he is my whole world. I have Pords and she is my whole world. And I have their father and he is my whole world. Together they are my universe, but each inhabits their own separate sphere. Each is my greatest joy. As a scholar and a teacher and a rational thinker it turns me around. Inside out and upside down. Why wish for the weekend or next month or Christmas time when there is the possibility of this impossible love? When there is the puzzle of how this can be so.

And that’s what it’s all about

And so, dear friends and enemies, that’s what it’s all about. Just life and adventures with Pickles and Pords. And their mum trying to make sense of it all.

 

Mummuddlingthrough
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