Angry Birds and Flying Cornflakes

© Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, via Wikimedia Commons

© Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, via Wikimedia Commons

An air of evening calm settled over the charming family campsite we were staying at. It was 9pm. Crickets chirped, Cicadas chattered, and Children chuckled their way from toilet-block teeth-brushing into snuggly sleeping bags.

And then. The foghorn sounded. Just as the children were drifting off to sleep …

‘Baptiste!!! Viens-la! Dépêche-toi!’

Which roughly translates from French as ‘Baptiste! Come here! Hurry up!’ It was the first outburst of many in a verbal tirade that lasted twelve minutes. It took place at the play area – just the other side of the hedge from our camping pitch, and about nine metres as the crow flies from the children’s tent. Mercifully the wee ones were so tired from their outdoor day that I could have detonated a kilo of explosives in the tent and they would not have stirred.

But still.

Such disturbance of the peace was surely unwarranted? Not to mention unnecessary. I’ve no idea who Baptiste was, but the poor lad’s only crime seemed to have been playing out and having fun in the designated play area. When Mum had decided it was time for him to return to the bosom of his tent she fired off a machine-gun burst of linguistic abuse that prompted a similar response from her harassed offspring before he reluctantly (and who can blame him?) unpeeled himself from the climbing frame and shuffled, sloth-like back to his canvas abode.

As peace descended once more I sipped my wine and thought what a perfect example this little episode was of the way kids reflect the manner in which we communicate with them. A purposeful, calm approach, sans yelling, would almost certainly have kept the whole interaction on a more relaxed level. Baptiste would doubtless have attempted to negotiate a little extra time at play – it’s what kids do. It’s the parent’s job to manage that. All that shouting achieved was to make both parent and child stressed, and to unsettle the lives of the 70 other individuals in the immediate vicinity.

It’s not always easy to keep your cool with kids. They have a knack for pressing all your most sensitive buttons, and seem to relish winding you up and setting you off to paddle furiously like a bath time turtle, before laughing in your face at the absurdity of it all.

Little tykes.

But an air of calm in the family can only be cultivated if Mum and Dad lead by example.  So next morning, when Joe inadvertently stood on his bowl of cornflakes, catapulting milk and soggy orange shapes all over his Duplo, the cool-box and the camping stove I didn’t shout. I suppressed the feeling of mass irritation that welled in my chest and molded it into something resembling mirth. With a smidgen of careful counselling on the avoidance of future cereal flinging thrown in for good measure.

Joe looked both sorry and relieved, and gave me a big squidgy hug before helping me clean up. I smiled as I silently banished my inner Angry-Bird back to her nest.

 

 

 

May the Force-Field be with you

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‘What does this button do Mummy?’

Joe’s twitchy finger flies towards the On/Off switch on my laptop.

‘Noooooooo! We don’t touch that one sweetheart.’

The kids are fascinated by how I spend my time when I’m holed-up in the office working. They will regularly use all their guile to convince Daddy they are playing peacefully, and then sneak out of the house and run down to my writing cave to say ‘Hi’, brimming and grinning with their own cleverness. Unless I have an imminent deadline I don’t mind these brief interruptions – in fact, I love that my freelance life creates this possibility.

But.

I do wish my laptop was equipped with a protective force-field button. They gravitate towards it like orbital bodies on a collision course with planet Mum. Of course they do. It has winking blue lights. It beeps. And Peppa Pig lives inside the U-shaped-Tube hidden beneath the shiny back-lit keys. It bestows the gift of black-and-white colouring sheets to the printer on demand, and magically creates playlists on the ipod of all those chirpy songs from Disney movies. What’s not to like?

I can imagine that in their eyes the laptop receives an irritating chunk of my daily attention quota and has, therefore, assumed a somewhat mythical quality – ‘If Mummy devotes so much time to this piece of electronic wizardry it must be pretty special, right? And I’m a kid, so if it’s special – I WANT ONE!!!’

Hmm. I feel a make coming on. Surely a laptop can’t be that hard to create? And if it distracts jam-covered digits from my working lifeline for at least five minutes then it has to be worth the effort …

It was. Here’s how it played out:

What you will need:

  • Cardboard or thick card
  • Scissors
  • Paint
  • Plastic document sleeve
  • Sticky tape
  • Glue stick
  • Blue tac
  • Circular stickers
  • Colouring pens
  • Thin black or blue marker pen
  • Velcro

How to make it:

  1. Find or cut out a piece of cardboard or thick card that is just a little more than A4 length (30-31cm), and about 2.5 times A4 width (51-52cm). Lay it flat??????????????????????
  2. Mark a line at 15cm in from each end and create an inwards fold along each line – this will create a centre section that is just slightly larger than A4 in all dimensions
  3. If you have the time (and patience!) you can paint whatever colours you like, on both sides. My mini-Mummys were too excited to wait, so we skipped this step. Brown is the new black in corporate-kid world
  4. Take a plastic document sleeve (like the ones you clip into ring-binders) and place it squarely in the middle of the centre section. Use sticky-tape to secure it down its long sides. The strip with holes in can pass onto one of the folded sections and be secured there. This is you laptop ‘screen’??????????????????????
  5. Turn the card so that the narrow end is towards you and the length stretches away from you on the table. The strip of hole in the document sleeve should be on the section closest to you. Take some Blue tac and place a small blob under the bottom two corners of the card. Press them down onto the table in front of you to keep it still??????????????????????
  6. Reach for the top fold of the card, and lift and bend the top fold upwards and towards you, creating a triangle that acts as a stand for your ‘laptop’. Use two more blobs of Blue tac under on the top edge of the card to keep the stand upright
  7. Take some stickers and make a line of 11 small-ish shapes along the row of holes in your document sleeve. Use the marker pen to write the numbers 0-9 on the stickers. On the last one draw the On/Off symbol (incomplete circle with a small line cutting into it vertically from the top)
  8. Using other stickers if you have them, or colouring pens, create a ‘Keyboard’ of letters and other symbols on the flat section of your laptop. For small kids the Alphabet in the right order and a Space Bar is probably sufficient??????????????????????
  9. Ask you child to choose a few favourite pictures and insert them into the document sleeve. Place their favourite on top. This their ‘Screen’, and show them how rotate the pictures to keep it interesting. They can add new ones as they create them
  10. There is one final flourish to add. Unpick the Blue tac but leave it attached to the card. Fold the smaller sections in over the ‘Screen’ – the bottom section first, then the top one. Make a mark in the middle of the overlap on both folding sections. Take a small square of velcro and glue the fluffy section the bottom, and the scratchy section to the top. Now your kid’s laptop is portable??????????????????????
  11. Et Voila! A laptop – just like Mummy and Daddy’s??????????????????????

My two kids (6 and 3) loved this – I suspect any children much older than 8, or any that already have a wealth of electronic gadgets of their own may not be so easily fobbed off with something that doesn’t actually switch on, but you never know! It may not be a force-field, but it could just provide enough distraction to prevent your own kit being destroyed by inquisitive little fingers. It kept mine busy for about 30 mins (Ella) and 5 mins (Joe). Less time than it took to make. Naturally. But that’s not the point is it? Spending time away from the real thing and actually doing something with the kids is what it’s all about 🙂

 

Thinking Outside the Crayon Box

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There is a fabulous children’s picture book by Drew Daywalt called ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’. In it, a little boy opens his crayon box one day to be confronted with a series of letters from his crayons. Each colour has bared its feelings about the way in which the little boy chooses to colour with it – blue, his favourite colour, is happy but tired and worn out; pink is discontent through lack of use, and so on. It’s a charming and innovative tale, that culminates with the young boy creating a picture where colour conventions are cast aside. Who says the sky has to be blue?

I love this book for the way it encourages children to challenge accepted norms. When we sat down to colour together the other day I was delighted that my daughter declared her intention to create her very own tribute to the book. The resulting picture (above) turned accepted colour wisdom on its head. She relished the challenge of resisting learned habits, carefully and deliberately selecting unusual colours for each part of her picture. It was a pleasure to observe her creativity in action. I could almost touch the freedom of expression as it burst forth onto the page before her.

She was invigorated. I swelled with pride.

Learning to view things from a different angle is a complex skill, but Daywalt’s book has distilled the idea to a beautifully simplistic level. With this new clarity I feel empowered to guide my kids into innovative thought patterns in all areas of their lives. I think I’ll term it ‘Thinking Outside the Crayon Box’, and break out the colour-sticks whenever we’re feeling stuck in a rut of convention.

The Art of Pasta

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In a whizz-bang-flash the latest school year came to a close here yesterday.

WhereDidThatGo?!!

The year in which my girl started formal school, and my boy eased gently into full-time nursery. The year in which I remembered what ‘me’ time feels like. But all that was put on hold when the school herded the kids out for the last time yesterday, and Ella bounded into the room at 7am this morning with the curious early-energy that is so mysteriously lacking on school days. The summer holidays have well and truly landed.

I need a large, strong, hot, black coffee.

There. Much better.

Now. How to fill this expanse of time ahead of us? When I’m around I tend to indulge the children on the first few days of holidays. They are endlessly enthusiastic and in dire need of adjusting their stimulation radar to accommodate the slower pace of non-school life. I like to ease them in gently. An arty activity felt right, but I couldn’t face the paints, not on Day One.

Flushed with the success of replenishing my pasta stocks the other day, I had an different idea to satisfy their creative appetites. Pasta Art.

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I couldn’t quite cope with bursting open multiple tubs, so we applied the KISS principle and worked only with Torti (little spiral pasta shapes that are short and versatile enough to be collectively arranged into a variety of easy shapes). I filled a bowl with Torti and arranged us around it, strategically placing myself between the children to minimise any risk of competitive conflict erupting (it happens).

Let the Pasta Art fest begin!

We started with a face, a tree and a star. Nice neutral shapes that are simple to create. Then the inevitable stereotypes that I’ve tried Oh-So-Hard to prevent in my kids crept in:

Ella – ‘Let’s make a girl!’

Joe – ‘No, a car!’

So we made both …

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The opportunities with this activity are endless. When you consider the diversity of pasta shapes available it’s possible for even young kids to be quite intricately creative. If the mood is upon them.

We fiddled and made pictures, shapes and words for about half an hour before crunching alerted me to the fact that Joe was getting bored and had started eating the uncooked shapes. The clean-up is quick and easy, especially if you give each child a tray to work on. You can even create a guessing game where one child starts a pasta-make, and the others have to try to imagine what it will be. Like Pictionary without the cards and pens.

I love the holidays. Juggling work and childcare is always a challenge, but taking the school-run-rush out of the mix somehow seems to bring an air of calm to the house that is the perfect environment for wild imaginations to thrive.

Once the Pasta Art session was complete the children were dispatched for free play while I made lunch. My Mummy ears remained vigilant for sounds of trouble about the house, but were instead assaulted only with the sounds of collaborative industry. Together the children made a pirate boat from the living room chairs, and amused themselves with walking the plank and fighting sea monsters. I smiled to myself – it so often seems to me that creative endeavours stimulate the imagination in more ways than one. The Pasta Art session was half an hour well spent.

It’s all relative

© Rotini - Yellow, Red, Green By Stilfehler, via WikiCommons

© Rotini – Yellow, Red, Green By Stilfehler, via WikiCommons

 

Back in the day, in the time I like to fondly refer to as BeKaS (Before Kids and Stretchmarks), a Good Day usually involved some kind of achievement along the lines of the successful negotiation of multi-million pound deal, or timing a journey along the M6 to miss the worst of the traffic. Such was corporate life. As parent I find that nothing much has changed – I still regard a day as Good when I feel like I’ve achieved something, it’s just that my priorities have shifted a little.

Yesterday was a Good Day in PoKaS world (Post Kids and Stretchmarks) – I replenished the tubs in my kitchen which house my pasta (sprials, spaghetti, penne, macaroni …).

How times have changed.

Honestly though, the completion of this simple task felt amazing. I have a bit of a fetish for buying pasta. I am physically incapable of passing the requisite aisle in the supermarket without a powerful magnetic force dragging me to face the serried ranks of wheat shapes before me, all begging me to lob them in the trolley and make a run for it.

Pathetic it may be, but I’m powerless to resist the charms of the various pasta shapes, and feel compelled to ensure home-stocks remain high and with sufficient variety to make me feel like a daring cook. (Hey, look at me, I can boil three different shapes of pasta … even as I write that I know it sounds daft. As if the kids could care less anyway, as long as it’s hot and has cheese on it.) Still, we all have to get our kicks somehow.

To run out of pasta would be a fail of monumental proportions. Consequently, my cupboard is stacked full of the stuff. Ages ago, when I was still firmly entrenched in BeKaS and my appreciation of time was skewed, I acquired some useful storage tubs to feed my pasta passion, and kept these replenished religiously after every shopping trip. These were Good Days too.

Until December 2007 when my daughter arrived and the concept of ‘free-time’ took on a whole new meaning. Thereafter, the crinkly packets just got shoved in the cupboard in favour of nurturing my crinkly baby. I worked hard to ignore the tubs that winked spitefully at me each time I ventured in.

Babies rock your world in so many ways. Like many new parents I discovered that some days just finding time to get dressed was a luxury. That was my Good Day right there. Refilling pasta tubs? Forget it. Of course, things improved with time, but the fragile family-management structure we’d achieved was disrupted again when my son arrived in early 2011.

Slightly panicky, I ring-fenced a precious half-hour each week for me-time – a little space where I could have a pee and a proper shower without having to break off to stop my toddler creating murals on her bedroom wall, or unpeel my newborn from his vest after an over-enthusiastic bowel movement. So Sundays became my Good Day. For a while. That was three years ago.

And yesterday, tub-filling once again became my Good Day. Life has gone full circle, and yet it hasn’t. The kids have changed my world forever and I couldn’t be happier about that. My daughter was colouring at the table; my son was engrossed in a game with his duplo. Both had batted me away when I offered to play. The independence of little people growing has entered my home.

As the dust settles on the frenzy of my early parenting years I can begin to fully appreciate the relativity of time. What seems important now, may become irrelevant tomorrow. But that’s okay. I’m going to live in the moment. Good Days will come and go, but the best days will always be the ones on which my kids were born.

 

Girls can’t play with cars …

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

 

… in the same way as boys do. I have decided that this is one of life’s Universal Truths.

 

Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Daddy:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Daddy: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Again, again!’

Beams and nods. And repeat. Many times.

 

Now.  Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Me:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Me: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Not like THAT Mummy!’

Smashes cars together in frustration. Stomps off in a huff. (Joe, not me. Most of the time.)

 

Eh?

 

As a relatively self-aware Mum I know that I find it easier to relate to what are traditionally considered to be ‘Girl’ games. In the early days I used to try and encourage Joe to make a garage for his cars, and tuck them into bed. Naivety doesn’t even come close. In my simplistic mind it had worked for Ella so surely it was worth a try, right?

At some point it registered that Joe is a BOY. So I watched him playing with Daddy. And I made mental notes. And I tried very very hard to man-up my car-play:

  • I practiced my ‘BBRRRRRUUUUMMM’ in the shower. To amused looks from my other half.
  • I Googled ‘playing with toy cars’. Have you ever done this? Fascinating. And in some cases a bit, well, weird!
  • I watched Toy Story. Again.
  • I even crept into my boy’s room during school-time to have a play on my own in a desperate attempt to jettison any remaining awkwardness around all things mechanical.
  • I made myself available for motor-mania at every opportunity.

Things have improved without a doubt, but there is no getting away from it – Daddy-car-play is still preferable to Mummy-car-massacre in his eyes. Sigh. If Daddy’s not around then my pathetic attempts will generally suffice. Under sufferance, and amid much eye-rolling and fist-clenching from my boy. He’s very patient.

I used to think it was just me, but this weekend an impromptu session of Mum-therapy showed me I’m far from alone.

Dropping Joe off at a friend’s house for a birthday party I was corralled into joining the other Mums in their garden for a glass of the red stuff. Imagine. Relaxing on a Saturday afternoon instead of chipping ice off the freezer or getting tooled-up to do battle with the oven-spray. You know, they really had to twist my arm.

The party was in honour of a little pal of Joe’s who has just turned three (my boy is three-and-a-half). In a perfect reflection of text-book-preschoolers the group, which numbered four, spent a happy time largely ignoring each other. Until one decided it was time to play on the ride-on tractor. At which point cherry-picking, caterpillar-hunting, and random digging were simultaneously abandoned and the little men swarmed around the vehicular honey-pot in a mass of grubby knees and pointy-elbows.

We Mummy-guests offered objective support from a distance in our bubble of relief while the resident Mum exercised her parental muscles to resolve the conflict with a lesson in sharing and a fair degree of small-boy-lifting and re-siting (who needs kettlebells?). Re-filling her wine glass we did the empathy thing and then collectively reflected on boys and their toys.

To a woman we have all experienced the car-play scenario above. Many many many times. And it seems impossible to resolve, despite our best creative attempts.

I’m sure there are Mums out there whose car-play is to the satisfaction of their young male offspring. but now I know I’m not entirely alone I don’t feel so bad. I do my best. In car-play with my boy, in character-play with my girl. And every single time I do anything remotely child-related. That’s what being a parent is about after all. No instructions, no rule book. Just a terrifying fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ride where the only thing you can do with any certainty is – your best. The odd cry of ‘Vive la différence!’ works too.

And so does the odd glass of red.

 

Beware of the Tut-Tut

© Jacqueline Godany – Via WikiCommons

A gaggle of Mums hovered at the gates of my children’s school this morning, as they do every morning. I’m not your average ‘part-of-the-clique’ Mum but I break into the buzz from time-to-time to show willing and because I know it’s important for my kids that I engage in at least some parental networking. Part of my struggle is the fact that, despite my admirable grasp of the French language after ten years here, I do still struggle with the quick-fire-partial-slang conversations that define the communications of a casual group setting such as this. Mostly I listen, and nod, and say ‘Oui!’ a lot. It seems to work. The hum today was focused on one little girl, let’s call her Jane. She’s six, and every morning and evening arrives and departs with her parent/granny/guardian with a dummy in her mouth.

That’s right, a dummy.

Not uncommon in preschoolers hereabouts in fact, but six is at the upper limit of what I’ve seen. The Mummy-hum this misty morning was erring towards disapproval. The tut-tutting was audible. Even as I nodded to fit in I hated myself for bowing to peer pressure and partaking in this judgmental exchange. And I despised myself more when the thought crossed my mind that they may have a point. Surely six is too old for a dummy?

Well hell, who am I to decide that? Or anyone else? Society and parental peer pressure have a lot to answer for.

Kids have so much to cope with as they grow up. If they can derive small comfort from something like a dummy then why berate them for it? I totally get the development position on this – excess use can damage tooth growth, speech patterns, and so on. But for all we know this little girl’s dummy is only used on the school-run and at no other time. And even if it’s not, what business is it of ours?

The whole comforter issue is fresh in my mind this week, as at six-and-a-half years old my girl has entered the last stages of separation from her Teds. These two once-pink-now-grubby-grey-and-chewed cuties have been with her since birth, and have soothed her through every single childhood trauma so far. She went to bed twice in the last week WITHOUT THEM and didn’t care. Not long ago such an event would have unleashed a tsunami of distraught emotion that would have rendered all other activities invalid until Teds were located and installed in her arms. I know of other children who reached this happy-to-separate stage ages ago, at four or even three years old. Was I worried? Not a jot. I encourage my girl to be independent but if she wants and needs her Teds then she has them. And will continue to have them for as long as SHE wants them.

Childhood peer pressure seems to start at around eight years old. Little Jane will doubtless drop the dummy habit before then, and if she doesn’t, well all power to her single-mindedness. It’s hard not to judge others. I try not to – I don’t always succeed, but I’m mindful of it, and how little we can really know of anyone’s whole story. If I hear my kids making comments about someone that have an air of judgement about them, I instigate a conversation about the difference between opinion and judgement, and how damaging and hurtful the latter can be.

They may not really get it yet, but if I can help them to beware of the tut-tut as they grow I hope it will contribute to the development of their self-respect, and respect for those around them.