Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthday party

On Saturday we held a 2nd birthday party for our toddler, C, at home. A great time was had by all, most especially the birthday girl, who is still talking about "my birfday party, mine 'appy birfday!"

Unlike a lot of our parties, this one wasn't particularly themed, although her big sisters, indulging her current love of the Wiggles, made Wiggly signs and decorations to put up around the house.

We also cleaned and decluttered the place to within an inch of its life (parties are very good for us in that regard - they force the "big" clean, the one you've been putting off, and sometimes that's really helpful! The table looked pretty nice as it was set up, if I do say so.

One big difference that I noticed in preparing for this party is how much more pleasurable the prep time was, and how very unstressed we were, in the days before and the morning of the day itself. This is the very first time I've prepared for a kid's party while not also juggling paid work and carrying a horrendous sleep debt. C now sleeps a lot better - mostly down from 8:30pm to 6am, and only waking at night once or twice a week - and that, combined with my less pressured time now I do not have to shoehorn work hours in every week, made the whole experience really enjoyable for me.

Expecting about 15 children and 20 adults for afternoon tea, I made the following party food:

- fairy bread, which is always and ever a hit
- fruit plates
- bacon & egg pies, which always go very quickly with older kids and adults alike
- a Spanish frittata (potato & red onion)
- mini cupcakes iced in fairy colours
- Vietnamese-style rice paper rolls, some with prawns, some with marinaded chicken
- a chocolate hazelnut cake (provided by my Mum)
- bowls of chips
- "little boys" (mini frankfurt sausages)
- multicoloured jellies

There was also, naturally, the birthday cake - following in a family tradition of 2nd birthday cakes, C's was an ice cream cake from Dairy Bell, in the shape of Thomas the Tank Engine.

The food was pretty close to all consumed - we had half a frittata left, which made a nice dinner on Sunday combined with a salad, and a few slices of the chocolate hazelnut cake, but that was about it. Everyone seemed to have enough - I hope they did! I only served iced water to drink and later, cups of tea and coffee - I think it's just easier (not to mention cheaper) to avoid sweetened drinks at parties altogether.

We did have fun! We had a pass the parcel, where each layer was filled with a little object from the $1 basket at the local Big W - things like skipping ropes, yoyos, water guns, bubble wands, hopping frogs, mini puzzles, and so on. The beauty of that was that as soon as the pass the parcel was done, all the kids poured outside to play with their new acquisitions, which amused them for half an hour before the second party game - a classic, old-fashioned, hilarious egg & spoon race. The kids bounced on the trampoline and dug in the sandpit and generally had a good time. The adults sat and ate and chatted and soaked up the sun.

The birthday girl herself was entranced, not least by her superlative haul of gifts - which was heavy on playdoh related items, kitchen / cooking stuff, and puzzles. But she also loved having all her favourite grown-ups around her (grandparents, godmother, neighbours, friends), and having loads of kids to play with and cosset her, and playing games and eating copious amounts of fairy bread, fruit, and cake.

It was, in the words of my brother, an old-skool kid's party - nothing fancy, nothing heavy, just fun food and a few games and cake and laughter. It was a wonderful day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading Notes - The Secret Garden

When I think about the truly magical books of my childhood, many titles come to mind. Some of them, such as My Side of the Mountain and the Narnia books, I've written about here - books that I've loved, and have loved again sharing with my girls. There are many more that I haven't yet got around to reading to the kids, though, for one reason or another. So it was a very happy surprise when my eldest, who's 7 1/2, came home from school with a library book as her reader and announced, "Look, Mum. I borrowed this book called The Secret Garden. Mrs O says she thinks I'll like it. Do you?"

"Oh yes!" I enthused, startling her a bit with my response, I think. "You'll love it!"

My conviction that she, like millions of children before her in the hundred years since this book's 1911 publication, will love The Secret Garden is already being amply justified. The night before last, she went to bed with it at 8:00, aiming to read 10 pages before lights-out at 8:15. At 9:30, as I was finishing the wipe-down of the kitchen before bed, she came padding out to get her water bottle from the fridge, her eyes tired.

"Did you wake up, love?" I said, surprised. It's rare for her to wake that early in the night.

"No..." she equivocated, then said in a small voice, "I've been reading. With my torch. Under the blankets."

My effort to put on a stern parental face utterly failed in my wash of memories of doing that exact thing at her age. "Enjoying the book, honey?" I said.

"It's really, really good, Mum," she said earnestly. "I'm up to page 70 and I think Mary is going to find the key to the garden soon! Oh, I'm loving it! It feels like a magical world, except not magic exactly, more..."

"Secret," I finished for her, nodding. She's put her finger on one of the core appeals of this wonderful story - the feeling of hidden delights, private spaces, secret stories, that is so vividly realised in the evocation of the living, breathing space of a garden. One of my favourite aspects of the book was always the detail and love with which Burnett describes the growing world - you can almost smell the good earth in her words, see the plants unfurling, hear the robin singing his little song.

Another thing that A, my 7 year old, is very taken with is the character of Mary. She likes Mary precisely because Mary is cross-grained and disagreeable; so far from a picture-perfect heroine, she's a spoiled, cossetted terror at the start of the book. Mary's gradual redemption to her true self (which is still strong-willed, still obstinate, still feisty, but also brave, steadfast, loyal, honest and intelligent) is a story arc that never grows old for me. A is already seeing a change in Mary, and she's astute enough to know that it will probably gain momentum as the book moves forward.

It's a great thrill for me that A has discovered this classic by herself, browsing in the library, and was instantly drawn to it. It, and other books of its vintage, are my salvation to the problem of having a child that reads 3 years or more above her age-group, but for whom many contemporary authors do not produce subject-suitable material. She needs books that demand a high level of literacy but retain a child-centric view of the world, and Burnett, like another of my favourites, Edith Nesbitt, fits the bill admirably there.

As for what she's going to read next? "I saw another book in the library that looked really good," she mused. "It was called Charlotte's Web..."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Happy 2nd birthday, my darling baby. I love you more than a mountain, more than a star, all the way to the moon ... and back again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We Play - Mud Puddles in the Summertime

When you come home from swimming lessons on a warm Saturday,

and your Dad makes you chocolate milkshakes with extra ice-cream,

and you discover a lovely muddy puddle from the night before's heavy rains,

and Mum says to have fun in your bathers,

well, that's pretty much a perfect morning.

This post is part of the weekly We Play meme at the wonderful Childhood 101. Check out the main page over there for lots of fantastic play ideas.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Walking to school

Today is the end of the second week of the school term where I live. My secondborn started school this year, while my eldest is in her third year (Grade 2, here in Victoria). We've had a really positive start to the year, with only a few minor bumps, and part of what has helped it to be so successful, in my opinion, is our decision to walk to school three days a week.

If the kids ride their scooters and I push the toddler in her pusher, the walk to school takes us 17-20 minutes. (It's no more than 3 minutes in the car, but usually takes an additional 5 minutes to find a park and walk into the school from the car). Being out in the morning air seems to perk us all up and for me, certainly, helps work out any kinks from the night and wake me up. Coming back, the toddler likes to walk rather than be pushed, and we meander home slowly, often taking as long as 45 minutes, stopping to look at things and chat to other school parents as they wend their way home.

After school, both the big kids seem to really value the walking time, talking about their day in a relaxed way. We often stop off at the park on the way back and they work off some energy there, and on Fridays (a tradition carried forward from last year), we stop at the milk bar for an ice-cream to celebrate the end of the week.

It seems like a lot of time out of the day when you add it up - at least an hour in the morning, often an hour and a half in the afternoon - but it sets a tone for the whole day that is really upbeat. Our two car days, where I need to go directly on to activities with the toddler after school drop-off, are noticeably less serene in their beginnings.

I'm not sure if it's the exercise, the fresh air, the chance to talk, the independent motion, or the fact that we are together when we walk in a way that you're just not when you're hustling people in and out of cars. Or maybe it's just that walking to school gives me, in particular, the occasion and the cause to literally stop and smell the roses.

Whatever the reason, I'm really enjoying the school walk.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Play - Stained Glass Hearts

This week I am rostered on to provide the craft activity for the community playgroup that I attend my almost-2-year-old on Wednesday mornings.

Planning a craft for this playgroup can be a little challenging, as the children range in age from 12 months to 5 years, have a range of languages, abilities and needs, and there is a wide variability in the parental expectations about the level of structure the playgroup should provide. (I'm also on the playgroup committee, and that question poses endless grounds for both reflection and angst, probably more than any other issue we discuss).

So in planning the craft, which falls to me once a month, I try to find something that is inclusive, that can appeal to different age levels, that doesn't require or invite parental direction, and that loosely ties into the same theme that the person doing the story / songs has selected. The craft is entirely optional - kids can wander up and do or not do as they choose - but I like to make it appealing, fun, and bright.

This week, riffing on Valentine's Day, the story theme is Love, so I thought we might make stained glass hearts.

"Stained glass" windows are one of the easiest and prettiest of all the age-adaptable crafts. My kids have made square and arch windows in this design at other playgroups, at kinder, and even at school. I saw no reason why the concept couldn't be parlayed into heart-shaped designs, so that's what we'll be making tomorrow.

The concept of stained glass craft is simple.

1. Create a "frame" of stiff cardboard (in whatever shape you desire). It needs to look like a picture frame - hollow in the centre.

2. Cut a piece of clear Contact to fit over the outside of the frame but not overlapping the edges (I usually aim for halfway along the frame itself).

3. Stick the Contact over the frame WITH THE STICKY SIDE UP.

4. Cut up several colours of cellophane into random but fairly small shapes.

5. Stick the coloured cello to the sticky Contact in a pattern, or randomly, as you like.

6. Cut and place a second piece of Contact over the finished cello surface, sticky side DOWN, so that the two pieces of Contact stick together and form a coated smooth surface for the cello.

7. Hang or place next to a source of natural light and watch the pretty colours!

My toddler road-tested it for me and had a really good time sticking her collage together, and we think the results are nice. So the 3 hours I've spent perfecting the shape, cutting the 25 frames, the 50 pieces of Contact and the bucket of cello may yet pay off ;-)

Best of all, I've saved the small inner hearts (that were cut out to make the frames) to use as play or crafting pieces another time. Waste not, want not...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We Play - Playdoh

An oldie but a goodie!

The 23 month old is deeply enamoured of playdoh right now and her older sisters are enjoying rediscovering the fun of doh with her.

This post is part of the weekly We Play meme at the wonderful Childhood 101. Check out the main page over there for lots of fantastic play ideas.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Here comes another one

When we got home from school pick-up with the 7 year old half an hour ago, I commented to the girls that the toddler and I had bought a treat at the shops this morning to have as afternoon tea.

"Oooooo, what is it, what is?" the 5 year old enthused.
"Ice-creams," I told her. "Like choc wedges, but a lot cheaper, they were on special. I got two boxes."
"How many in each box?" the 5 year old wanted to know next.
"10, I think," I said as I lifted them out of the freezer.

She furrowed up her brow for a long minute, her lips moving silently.
"That means, if we all have one every day, we'll have enough for 4 days!" she proclaimed triumphantly.
"No," her 7 year old sister demurred, "5 days, E. 20 how many 4's is 5."
The 5 year old shook her head pityingly at her older sister and said, "But what about Daddy? 5 people, so it's 20 how many 5's. That's 4. Isn't it?" she appealed to me.
"Yes, it is," I said faintly, a little bit staggered. This is the child who's joined a prep class that has as its term 1 goal to be able to count to 20. Heaven help me.

The 7 year old, who is also punching way out of her weight in maths, had done some more contemplation. "How much were they, Mum?"
"Oh, a very good price," I told her, "that's why I got them. $7 for the two boxes."
"Hmmm," she said. "That's ... wait ... less than 50 cents ... more than 25 ...about 35 cents an ice cream, I think?"
I nipped over to grab a calculator, punched numbers and said, "Um, yes. It's exactly 35 cents an ice cream, in fact. That was pretty clever maths there, you two!"

The 7 year old grinned. "Maths is easy, Mum."
"Yeah, maths is fun!" declared the 5 year old as she skipped outside to eat her cheap and delicious treat.

I swear I do not know where they get it from.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On making mistakes and feeling guilty

My 5 year old, E, has an injured fourth finger on her right hand. It's swaddled in bandaging, supported with a splint, and taped to within an inch of its life.

Inside the dressing is a first knuckle with a short but very deep cut, which has been glued together and (we are hoping) will knit itself if the joint stays immobolised with the help of the splint for a few days. We're trying to avoid the dreaded stitching, but if the wound comes apart when it's checked on Tuesday, there won't be a way to avoid it. Fortunately, there does not appear to be any nerve or function damage - and given how deep the cut was, that in itself is a mercy.

This injury was sustained yesterday afternoon, and at a meta level, you'd have to say it was my fault.

Oh, I didn't cut her, either on purpose (how horrific to contemplate) or even accidentally. Nor did she cut herself by using a knife or other tool unsuitable for her age group. No, she was cut with dressmaking scissors while she and her big sister were cutting up cellophane for a craft. I, very foolishly, left them alone cutting up the cello while I went into the kitchen to turn the sausages in the pan. Two small (ish) children, with a heavy, super-sharp pair of dressmaking scissors, sharing the cutting of one rapidly diminishing square of cellophane.

Less than two minutes later, the 5 year old screamed, the 7 year old burst into frantic sobbing, and there was blood all over the table.

We immediately swung into crisis-management mode, with me racing the 5 year old to the bathroom to wash and examine the wound while my husband tried to comfort the 7 year old. The 5 year old actually calmed down quite quickly once the cut was washed and pressure applied, but the 7 year old was distraught, inconsolable, at the thought that her little sister was hurt. "It's my fault!" she wailed, aghast. "I'm SO SORRY! Oh, E, I'm SO SORRY!"

The 5 year old was a star, both then and later at the doctors, as she reassured her sister that she was fine, allowed the doctor and nurse to clean, sterilise, glue and dress her finger without flinching, and took the whole business in her stride. Other than the first shock of the pain of the cut, she seemed to look on it as rather more an adventure than anything else, and is eager to show off her war wound at school tomorrow (where, very unfortunately, she won't be able to write or draw for three days until unsplinted, as she is right-handed).

The more upset of the two was the 7 year old, who was really heartbroken at the idea that she had caused this injury to her sister, however inadvertently. "I feel so guilty, Mum," she sobbed, hugging me tightly. I held her and said that I understood, that no-one blamed her but that I knew it still felt bad. And I do understand. It's always harder knowing you've hurt someone you love than simply being hurt yourself. Heart wounds are the hardest to heal.

I understand completely because I feel guilty about what happened to E. What's one of the first and most basic safety rules with kids? No playing with sharp objects. They make children-sized scissors for a reason, you stupid woman, muttered my Inner Critic. This is YOUR fault. YOU were negligent. And now see where it's landed everyone - E won't be able to write, on her first week of school! A is terribly upset because she thinks it's her fault! But it's not her fault, it's YOUR fault. YOURS.

I rang my mum after the kids were in bed last night and told her the whole tale of woe, noting that I felt guilty about it.

"What for?" riposted my mother. "It was an accident. Accidents happen."

"But I left them with the scissors!" I wailed. "I should never have done that!"

My mum made her little half-sympathetic, half-impatient tcha noise.
"OK, so you won't do that again. But it's not like they're tiny, you know. A is almost 8."

"Yes..." I sighed. "But they are really heavy scissors. And so sharp."

"I think you're overthinking this, love," my mum said. "No real harm was done, and it was an innocent mistake. Don't worry about it."

She is, of course, quite right. I know this and I accept it. But then why is it that when one of my children gets hurt in a way that greater diligence from me could have prevented, I feel guilty? (I am not completely OTT about this - I recognise and accept 'pure' accidents, that were neither foreseeable nor preventable, and I also feel no guilt for the multitude of times that my children injure themselves through their own curiosity, experimentation or exuberance).

I think maybe part of it comes from the baggage that I carry about what it means to be A Good Mother, some of which is personal, some cultural. Good Mothers, snarks my Inner Critic, don't allow their children to come to harm through negligence.

But what about the need for them to explore and learn? responds my Inner Logician mildly. We believe in that too, don't we? How will we know they're ready for a more difficult tool if we never let them try it?

Uhuh, snorts the Inner Critic. Very convincing, except NOT. This wasn't a decision to let them try, this was just forgetfulness and carelessness. You knew damn well A wasn't steady with those scissors. You saw it. You just ignored it.

So, it was a mistake, sighs the Inner Logician. Is it worth feeling guilty about, though? It's not the end of the world.

Yes, you can say that now, because no permanent damage was done, responds Inner Critic. Could've gone the other way, though. Couldn't it? And then you'd have to live with it. Forever.

And Inner Logician retires to lick her wounds, despite feeling that Inner Critic might be being a bit melodramatic, while Inner Critic does a victory dance on the summit of Mount The-Only-Good-Mothers-Are-Guilty-Mothers. (My mental topography is kind of weird ;-)

This isn't going to eat me up forever, or even for very long - E's finger will soon be better, and already today things are normalising. But today, I do still feel guilty. However irrationally. However unnecessarily. Because my child was hurt, at least in part due to my not paying enough attention.

Friday, February 4, 2011

First Day of School

This morning my middle girl started school. She's been quiet, pensive, most of this week, making feints at declaring herself not ready, but without any real conviction - her nervousness at war with her curiosity and excitement. This morning, though, there were no signs of hesitation, with her and her 7-year-old sister (who's in grade 2 this year) up, breakfasted, beds made and dressed, by 8am and waiting impatiently at the door to go.

It was an eventful first morning for her - I was summoned to the school at 11am to bring her a change of clothes, as she'd been inadvertently pushed in a puddle and was soaking wet, with two injured knees. I hustled up to the school in trepidation, expecting to find her distraught and wanting to come home, but instead I found her sitting in the office with her two best friends from kinder on each side of her, animatedly holding court with the office staff as she described her summer holidays. Through the glass door I could see another four or five little kids - "Her posse", one of the office staff noted drily. "They all wanted to come in with her, but we limited it to two." The girl herself greeted me cheerfully, proudly showed off her banged-up knees ("Look, Mum! There's actual blood seeping out from under the bandage!") and chattered about what she'd been doing as I executed a quick-change for her in the sick bay. She was impatient to be done, especially once the bell had rung for returning to class. "Come on, Mummy," she urged me. "I don't want to miss the story!"

When she got home at 1:30, collected by my husband, she was full of confidence, bubbling over with things to tell us, and declared that school was better than kinder "by a LOT." I think she'll be OK.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We Play - Painting

The kids have been steadily working through the various craft kits they were given for Christmas - tile mosaics, a painted clock, trinket boxes and decorated diaries among them - but on Sunday morning, with an extremely hot day looming (it got to a little over 40 celsius here), they just wanted to do some free painting.

The eldest went abstract and fluorescent

while the 5 year old painted a scene for her big sister

and the 23 month old wanted to paint only in greens and blues. When asked what she was painting, she replied firmly, "Deep, deep inna sea. Cool kwi-ut fish, that me!" (She was referencing her favorite Dr Seuss book, My Many Coloured Days, which represents moods as colours / animals. The green-day "cool and quiet fish" is one of C's favorites).

This post is part of the weekly We Play meme at the wonderful Childhood 101. Check out the main page over there for lots of fantastic play ideas.