picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Next month in Cosmo Parenting: How to live your dreams through your kids and look great doing it!!

Wow. This parenting thing is complicated. Every time I sign Ben or Molly up for an activity I have to ask myself:

1. Am I doing this because they like it, or because I like it?

2. Am I choosing this activity to conform to some outmoded gender stereotype, like “girls are supposed to do dance, and boys are supposed to do hockey?”

3. Am I choosing this activity to deliberately DEFY some outmoded gender stereotype, like “wouldn’t it be SO COOL to be the parent of the ONLY boy in ballet class?”

4. Can I even afford the fees, let alone the equipment?

5. What if they don’t like it? Will I make them stick it out, or let them drop it?

I have no coordination. Zero. In fact, less than zero: I have negative coordination. When the good lord was handing out coordination, ze not only skipped me, ze came back and took extra away from me and gave it to Kerri Strug. When I tell people that, they always laugh and say something like, “Oh, yeah, I totally know what you mean, me too, like back when I did my twelve years of dance and gymnastics I was totally awful…” and I think to myself, “I don’t think you quite ‘totally’ know what I mean.”

When I was in Godspell, our Judas, who was also a choreographer, bravely tried to teach us a simple dance number and I had to take him aside and explain, “I need you to understand that when I say ‘I have no coordination and I’m not going to be able to do this,’ I’m not just being self-deprecating – I can try my very hardest to learn it and I can practice it for months but when it comes down to it, I will get up on stage and I will %$&* it right up.” In the end, I got to stand in the back on a sawhorse  playing rhythm sticks, and damn it, I nailed it!

“We Beseech Thee” from Godspell
That’s me in the back – NAILED IT!!
©PicklesINK 2012

With this lack of coordination both coupled with and contributing to my lack of interest, I was a dismal failure when it came to athletic pursuits. I hated every minute of ballet as a preschooler, loved swimming lessons but despised competitive swimming, and never went back after one brief season each of soccer and softball. Skiing was the only exception. Artistic endeavours were more up my alley and I sang in multiple choirs and played in multiple orchestras through my school career and recently discovered a love of acting. I am also amazed by the seemingly effortless skill of dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters and love watching them. Ian brings the love of competitive and team sports to the equation, with childhood success in swimming and judo and an adolescent and adult rugby and soccer career under his belt.

So when it comes to Question 1, things get pretty complicated. I would LOVE to sign up Ben and Molly for everything under the sun, especially those things I would have loved to do but couldn’t – Wouldn’t it be amazing if Molly became a champion gymnast? A pro hockey player? A prima ballerina? If I get Ben into lessons early enough, he could be a  concert violinist! A pro baseball player! A musical theatre triple threat! All of these things that maybe I could have been if only my parents had started me in lessons when I was 2 and forced me (for my own good, damn it!!) to continue!

Or Ben could be a professional busker…
©PicklesINK 2012

And then Question 2: When Ben was 3, we signed him up for hockey, but we’ve got Molly in dance. What if Ben would like dance better? Are we pigeon-holing him? What about Molly? She seems to like dance, but am I just seeing that because she looks so cute in her pink dance outfits? What if her niche is actually judo? Am I selling her short?

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Seriously, how friggin’ cute is Molly in a dance outfit?
©PicklesINK 2013

Then there’s the flip-side, Question 3: I’m a liberal-minded, enlightened, feminist mom, and I should make sure everyone knows that! Am I letting down the cause by dressing up my daughter in her pink leotard and packing her off to dance class with all the other girls every Saturday? Maybe I should sign Ben up – PEOPLE need to SEE that boys can do ballet too! Ian is really good about calling me on that one. Having grown up as one of four brothers in a fairly traditional family, he leans towards being more comfortable with Ben in gender-normative “boy” activities while being happy to consider trying Molly in anything; and in my “enlightenment” (and those are deliberate air quotes) I am biased towards putting Molly in gender-normative “girl” activities (because SHE LOOKS SO DARN CUTE!) while wanting to push the conformity envelope with Ben. Together we meet in the middle and make a pretty good team.

Not to mention, how friggin’ cute is Ben in hockey gear?
©PicklesINK 2012

And of course Question 4: How privileged I am to even be able to ask this question, and to have it so far down on the list, when for so many families this is Question #1 and none of the other questions even factor into the decision!?! I have to be mindful of just how amazingly lucky we are that we have these opportunities available AND that we can afford to provide Ben and Molly with at least some of them.

Finally, Question 5: What will we do? I don’t know yet. My parents were really good about making us stick things out for long enough to know for sure that we wanted to quit, and I’m thankful for that. I think I’ll have to play that one by ear, and activity by activity. It kind of links back to Question 1, doesn’t it? We will have to make sure that in making that decision, we’re focusing on what Ben and Molly want or don’t want and not what Ian and I want.

With that in mind, of course, I’ll sign Ben and Molly up for violin, piano, hockey, tap, ballet, t-ball, soccer, swimming, acting, gymnastics, ringette, curling, skiing, tuba…or maybe not! I’m trying my best to provide them with a variety of options to see what peaks their interest (so far DEFINITELY dance for Molly, but we haven’t hit on a real love yet for Ben) while not falling into the trap of signing them up for something Every. Single. Night!

Of course, when Molly is a pro tennis player and Ben a Broadway star, I’ll let you know so you can say, “I knew them (or at least read their mom’s blog) when…!”

~ karyn

How do you navigate the crazy world of kids activities?

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The Rainbow Connection

I picked up a really lovely book a while back at the Grand River Book Store at the Five Oaks Retreat Centre outside of Paris, Ontario: God’s Dream, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams.

God’s Dream
Cover art by LeUyen Pham

It’s fitting that I picked it up at the beginning of February, Black History Month, as telling Ben and Molly about Archbishop Tutu sparked a conversation about apartheid and racism. Ben was shocked at the idea that anyone would think that people should be treated differently because of what they look like, citing examples of his friends at school who had different-coloured skin but were just the same as him. We also talked about Archbishop Tutu’s own experience of growing up in South Africa during apartheid and witnessing and experiencing the mistreatment of black people by white people, but always advocating for both change and forgiveness.

God’s Dream comes in both a large hardcover edition with a dustjacket or a smaller board edition; I chose the board book in the interests of durability. The language is simple and the pictures bright and appealing, making the book suitable for children from infancy to school-age. In 28 sentences and 15 illustrations, the book covers love, racism, ageism, diversity, apology, reparation, forgiveness, theism, and universality, delivering as its core message that we are all God’s children, worthy of love and respect, and called to love and respect one another.

The engaging illustrations depict cultural and religious diversity (sadly, as with so many children’s books, it is missing pictures of children with disabilities) and the universal message makes the book relevant to and suitable for families with any theistic worldview not specifically Christianity (or organized religion at all): You could read the story to a group of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish children, for example, and they could each recognize their faith’s core message.

God’s Dream ends with the message that when people fulfill God’s dream by loving one another, “God smiles like a rainbow,” and ends with a picture of a rainbow made up of children’s handprints.

Book illustration

Final page of God’s Dream
Art by LeUyen Pham

Ben and Molly immediately asked if we could do a craft like that, and I suggested that in the interests of size we try fingerprints instead. We started with rainbow-coloured paints in an egg carton…

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Rainbow-coloured paints in an egg carton
©PicklesINK 2013

..then took turns painting each others’ fingers with cotton swabs…

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Molly painting Ben’s finger yellow
©PicklesINK 2013

…and stamped the painted fingers on the canvas to make the rainbow.

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Ben stamping his yellow fingerprints
©PicklesINK 2013

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Ben painting Molly’s finger purple
©PicklesINK 2013

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Molly painting my finger pink
©PicklesINK 2013

Finished painting

Finished rainbow fingerprint painting on canvas
©PicklesINK 2013

The finished product was a complete team effort and is now proudly displayed on the playroom wall.

~ karyn

Have you read any particularly meaningful children’s books lately? What would you recommend?

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Giving myself a pat on the back

This morning was rough. Ben and Molly clearly woke up on the wrong side of their beds and everything I asked of them was met with flailing, screaming hysterics resistance. Now a year ago, thanks to a mild but chronic chemical imbalance in my brain commonly known as “dysthemia” or chronic depression, I would have been all:

Baby Ben in full tantrum mode
©PicklesINK 2013

But this morning, with the aforementioned chemical imbalance under control, a good night’s sleep under my belt, and my Supernanny and 1-2-3 Magic inspired parenting toolkit in hand, I was all:

Grinning baby Ben
©PicklesINK 2013

So when I told Ben that he couldn’t have his usual morning cereal bar because I was ready to give him his actual breakfast and he screamed, yelled, and hit the table with his hand, I led him to the time-out step and calmly explained that he was sitting out because he had yelled and hit and needed to calm down.

And when I told Molly to go to the bathroom before she finished getting dressed and she refused and collapsed to the floor crying, I told her that if she didn’t go pee before I counted to 3, I would NOT take her underpants off Ben’s head and give them back to her.

Thinking back over the morning routine, of the about 40 minutes of actual routine parts — feeding breakfast, doing bathroom stuff, getting kids dressed and out the door — probably 3/4 of it was spent with one or both of Ben and Molly yelling or crying (NB – I think an early night is in order tonight). But amazingly, in that time I didn’t cry or raise my voice, and what’s even more amazing is I didn’t FEEL LIKE crying or raising my voice.

And the end result was that by the time we were ready to go, Ben and Molly were all:

This is actually Ben and Molly last week when they decided to play a funny joke on me and switch outfits!
©PicklesINK 2013

And I call that a WIN for everyone!

~ karyn

How do you handle it when your kids are melting down? How do you keep your cool?

 

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Who decided to call it March “Break” anyway?

I’m ba-a-ack!! Sorry about the bloggy hiatus. It’s been a bit of a hectic couple of weeks around here! My car has been fixed, no thanks to Mazda (I won’t get into that though…feel free to scroll back through my Twitter for details). So far I haven’t received the bill, so I’m just pretending it doesn’t exist…not necessarily a sustainable plan over the long term, but it’s working for me right now!

It seems that Mother Nature has decided to tack the winter she forgot to give us last year onto the end of this one. Watching the blowing snow out my living room window day after day I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. But I digress.

We had a great March Break but I don’t think you can really call it a “break!” We went up to my parents’ ski chalet for the week, bringing friends and our babysitter Victoria with us. When we got there, Ben and Molly spent an hour bouncing off the walls – “When are Noah and Ella going to be here? Are they here yet? When are they going to get here? AREN’T THEY HERE YET???” I think that was when Victoria started wondering what she had gotten herself into…

Noah and Ella and their parents arrived and the kids settled right in together:

Hanging out 1

Ben and Noah and Molly and Ella giggling together in chairs (no plans for bedtime any time soon!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah went to ski day camp in the mornings and both improved immensely skiing-wise. Michael (Noah and Ella’s dad) and I got some great skiing in too. I think we managed to go through every snow condition possible – warm, sticky spring, fresh powder, icy pellets, freezing cold dead of winter. It was like the entire ski season compressed itself into 3 days!

Ben skiing 2

Ben skiing. I think this was the really cold day – note the icy patch on his left
©PicklesINK 2013

With a 2-hour group lesson every day, Ben and Noah both improved immensely. Ben continues to work his way through the fast-food metaphors, having now graduated from doing “pizza slices” and onto “french fries.” They also became quite well-known at the hill – “Are you Ben’s mom? Oh my gosh, he and Noah are SO. CUTE. They are so chatty! And they were holding hands while they were waiting for the lift.”

Noah skiing

Looking good, Noah!
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Ben skiing

Ben’s kind of halfway between the pizza slice and the french fries here.
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Much to their mommies’ terror, the reward for a good day of skiing seemed to be a trip down the free-style terrain park. There’s nothing quite like seeing your 5 year-old sliding across rails and off ski jumps to strike cold fear into your heart!

Molly also tried her hand…er…her feet at skiing. Boy, was my back sore after that…

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Mommy and Molly skiing together
©PicklesINK 2013

As I’m sure you gathered from her expression, she hated it! She wasn’t totally satisfied though – I asked how she liked it and she said, “Great! But faster next time, Mommy, okay? Faster!”

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Mommy helping grinning Molly back up at the bottom of the hill
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben finally got to experience his first sleepover. We’ve tried a few times letting him and Molly share a room, and sadly it always ends in disaster. The closest they came to making it work was a few weeks ago when Ben finally fell asleep and stayed that way, despite Molly sitting up beside him kicking him with both legs yelling, “Ben? BEN? Wake up, Ben! I want to play! BEEEEENNNNN!!!”

Ben and Noah, happily, were able to make it work, much to Ben’s delight – “A sleepover with my BEST FRIEND? THIS IS THE GREATEST NIGHT EVER!!” Towards the early hours of the morning we did discover that Ben, like his parents before him, is a cover-hog. My advice for marital harmony, folks? Two words: Separate duvets.

Sleepover

Ben and Noah’s sleepover
©PicklesINK 2013

Thanks to Victoria, we grown-ups were able to enjoy a lovely night out at a beautiful local restaurant called Mrs. Mitchell’s, named after the last and longest-serving teacher at the one-room schoolhouse that now houses the restaurant. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it! (If you can’t get there, at least try making their famous spoon bread at home). The waitress told us one of the best stories ever about my mom and aunt (identical twins): “You know how they look exactly alike but one of them is chattier than the other? For years I thought they were the same person but with multiple personalities. Then one day they came in together and I nearly fell off my chair!”

Mrs. Mitchell’s is also famous for their afternoon tea, which has been a favourite of mine (and hasn’t changed much!) since I was little. Karen and I brought Molly and Ella for a “Princess Tea Party” on our last afternoon.

Princess tea party 2

Molly’s first taste of tea
©PicklesINK 2013

Really, what could be better than an individual basket of fresh-baked scones and sweet potato and walnut muffins served with strawberry preserves, cream, and whipped butter? Not much, say I!

Princess tea party 1

Molly enjoying her muffin
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah made good use of their time while the girls were gone, converting the chalet into a bookstore, complete with window display and “employees only” area.

Bookstore 1

Ben and Noah’s bookshop window display (visible from outside as we drove up!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Bookstore 2

Sign reads “Noah and Ben’s book store – staff only”
©PicklesINK 2013

When we got back, they were down in the “staff only” area hard at work writing and illustrating their debut novel, “Journey To The End Of The Pine River.” [*Spoiler alert*] I assume that part of the story will deal with the existential futility of trying to play Poohsticks with pieces of ice…

Bridge 3

Noah, Ella, Ben and Molly playing Poohsticks with ice – sadly, a losing battle.
©PicklesINK 2013

All in all, an excellent but exhausting week! Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know if you can really call it a “break.” Perhaps the concept was pioneered by a childless school principal – “EUREKA! I’ve just had the Greatest! Idea! Ever!!”

Bridge 4

Definitely worth it, though! Look at those grins!
©PicklesINK 2013

Or maybe it’s actually a clever acronym: March B.R.E.A.K. (Begetting Really Exhausted parents And Kids).

Aftermath

The Aftermath: I think Ian and Molly could have slept for a week!
©PicklesINK 2013

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To My Silly Munkin-Bum on Your 3rd Birthday

Dear Molly,

Time sure flies, eh? Four International Women’s Days ago, I went from this:

Me with pregnant belly
March 8, 2010
©PicklesINK 2013

to this:

Ian, me, and baby Molly – March 8, 2010
©PicklesINK 2013

…and now suddenly, somehow, you’re turning 3! Really – 3, even though I know you sometimes fudge the truth a little. I’ve heard you tell other kids that you’re 4 or 6, and you say it with such conviction that despite all evidence to the contrary, they actually believe you. Because really, who wouldn’t believe this face?

80s Molly

Grinning Molly in 80’s dance outfit
©PicklesINK 2013

I think it’s fitting that you were born on March 8, the day that we celebrate the achievements of women around the world as well as remind the world how far we still have to go. You are well on your way to becoming a strong-minded and empowered woman and I sure hope the world will be ready for you by then, whatever you decide to do or be!

Molly fixing sink 3

Molly fixing the sink
©PicklesINK 2013

As it is, by your 3rd birthday, I’ve already experienced your single-minded determination – like last summer, when you refused to wear anything that didn’t match, which meant that you left the house every day dressed from head to toe in pink (except for the one day a week that you wore your green outfit).

Pink-tastic Molly on rope bridge in Germany
©PicklesINK 2013

Or all those nights you decided that instead of going to sleep when you were tucked into your nice warm bed, you would read some books, rearrange your furniture, and make a couple of wardrobe changes before falling asleep in your favourite pink dance outfit and tights. (Thanks for that, by the way. I enjoyed that middle-of-the-night strip-off-your-leotard-and-tights-to-put-your-diaper-back-on-fiasco. We’ll call it mommy and Molly bonding time.)

Molly in bed 1

Molly asleep on her Dora couch in her dance outfit surrounded by the evidence of a wild night
©PicklesINK 2013

Yes, my funny bum, you may look cute, but your impulsiveness may one day get you into real trouble. Take this morning, for instance, when you were downstairs making a craft and I heard Ben say, “Molly! You’re not supposed to do that with TOYS! You have to go show mommy!” and then you came upstairs, seemingly abashed (although I could still see that gleam in your eye) as you showed me what you had done.

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Molly’s “craft” – a black toy car, now with hearts, glitter, and a face.
©PicklesINK 2013

We will have to keep working on the principle of “look before you leap.” At least we know that Ben has always got your back. He loves you SOOO much – and I know you love him too!

Ben and Molly – BFFs!
©PicklesINK 2013

I love hiding around the corner and listening to the two of you play together. You can play and chatter for hours, and even if you sometimes disagree, your arguments blow over as quickly as they started with both of you apologizing and working out a solution together.

Ben and Molly drinking their fuzzy water on our Valentine’s dinner out
©PicklesINK 2013

I should probably apologize in advance for the nicknames you’re going to endure as you grow up. It started out so innocuous, with “Molly-Moo” and then “Monkey,” which you quickly grew to answer to more consistently than your given name…then it devolved to “Monkey-Bum,” even given your Auntie Caitie’s dire warning that It. Would. Stick. After that came “Munkin” (I have no explanation…it’s kind of a combo of “Monkey,” “Munchkin,” and “Pumpkin” that slipped out one day…), “Munkin-Bum,” “Molly-Magoo,” “Funny-Bum,” “Silly-Munkin,” and I’m sure a multitude of others that have slipped my mind right now but will be equally traumatizing when they slip out in front of your middle school friends. I apologize in advance for being that mom.

Molly first pic

My favourite newborn Monkey-Bum!
©PicklesINK 2013

So, as you move on to the wild world of 3 years old, whether you’re getting your hands dirty…

Molly in the garden covered with dirt (that Ben was shoveling over her head)
©PicklesINK 2013

…or keeping them clean…

Molly at playgroup playing with shaving cream
©PicklesINK 2013

…just make sure you keep on being your awesome self, even if that means sometimes being a square peg in a round hole.

The dental floss that Molly discovered would fit perfectly in a toilet paper roll.
©PicklesINK 2013

Dance to the beat of your own drummer…

Molly in her own production of “Blackbeard Takes Swan Lake”
©PicklesINK 2013

…show the world that there are two sides to every story…

Molly wearing her Santa costume over her ballerina dress
©PicklesINK 2013

…and when life gives you pepperoni sticks, lie down on placemats and eat them on the floor!

Molly enjoying a snack of apple, pepperoni stick, and pretend tea lying on the floor
©PicklesINK 2013

Mommy, daddy and Ben love you millions and millions and millions, our favourite Molly-Moo! To quote your favourite song, “Molly is my favourite monkey, favourite monkey, favourite monkey! Molly is my favourite monkey – She says, ‘Ooo-ooo, ah-ah!” We hope you have a very, very happy 3rd birthday and that you are always as happy as you are today!

Love,

Mommy

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Today Sucks – So Let’s Be Thankful!!

This morning was a little crappy. Yesterday my Mazda5 started making a really loud rattling noise, so I got off the highway and to the closest gas station, where I waited for Ian to come and pick us up. This morning I brought it to my mechanic, who had a look and a listen and informed me that I was now in the market for either a new engine or a new car – my call. Le Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve been sitting here moping about 1. How can I possibly afford a new engine (or a new car)? 2. How on earth am I going to get the kids to and from school tomorrow?  3. Why didn’t I notice sooner that there was something wrong? 6. Etc. Etc. Etc.

And then suddenly I thought to myself, I’m pretty goddamn lucky! I’m sitting here in my heated house when some people who have houses can’t afford to heat them and others don’t have homes at all. I’m worrying about the fact that I can’t drive to the grocery store when a) I’m fit and healthy and could walk there; and b) I have enough food in the house that I don’t actually have to go anyway. I’m worrying about a car that I don’t owe anything on when just being able to drive a car, let alone owning one outright, is a bloody luxury. I had to cancel Ben’s violin lesson tonight because I can’t drive him there. Violin lesson? How many kids get violin lessons??

So I’ve decided to set a timer for 1 minute and in that time write down everything that I can think of that I am thankful for. As they say on Top Chef, “Time starts…now!”

1. I have a working computer to write this on and a reliable internet connection.

2. I have beautiful, articulate, gifted children with no medical issues.

3. I have a loving, supportive husband, who comforted me on the phone this morning when I was blaming myself for the car.

4. I have people whom I can ask for help at a moment’s notice – like the woman whom we met when she used to work at our farmers’ market who is picking Ben up for me and the friend I called for advice about the car yesterday when I couldn’t reach Ian and who offered to lend me his car to finish my trip to Toronto.

…1 minute is up…

5. My fridge, freezer, and cupboard are full to overflowing, even though I haven’t been to the grocery store for a week.

6. I have credit and savings enough that though it will be an inconvenience, I can get through this.

…2 minutes is up…

7. I have a funny, active 3 year-old who is “bugging” me as I do this, giggling and pulling my hand away from the keyboard.

8. I have a skilled and sympathetic mechanic who looked at my car this morning even though he was swamped, had his son give me and Molly a ride home, and is going to find me the best deal on a used engine that he can.

9. I am healthy and happy – really happy – and since my depression is treated I actually can think about the positives in my life instead of being overwhelmed by the one negative!

10. I have to keep resetting my timer because it keeps running out before I finish thinking of blessings!

…3 minutes…

I mean, seriously – could anyone look at this kid and not grin back?

80s Molly

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” Molly channeling the 80’s in her dance outfit.
©PicklesINK 2013

As Bif Naked would Tweet: “Word of the day: Gratitude *beam*”

~ karyn

What are you grateful for today?

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Update – Momminus horriblis has returned to hibernation

Last week I posted about having one of those days when you feel like the most horrible mommy ever and everyone around you knows it and thinks it too….

I got so much wonderful support and feedback that I felt comforted and embarrassed all at the same time (I’m not good at being reassured — I’m the reassure-er, not the recipient!!). Anyway, you guys are fabulous and it was greatly appreciated!

I mentioned at the end of the post that my plan was to drop Ben off first for the rest of the week to get him used to the idea. Most of my commenters felt that was a good call, and that preparing him for it in advance would help. My mom dissented, suggesting taking the “path of least resistance” and avoiding a power struggle. Now, my mom has had a lot of experience raising inflexible, headstrong children (Not me, mind you. I was perfectly pliable and obedient. My brothers, on the other hand…well, I’m sure you can imagine… and if they want to dispute that, they’ll have to start their own blogs) so she knows what she’s talking about, but in this case I felt that it was a power struggle worth having.

A note on power struggles – I think sometimes we give “power struggles” a bad name. There are parenting philosophies and experts that espouse responsiveness and equality between parent and child  but these do not sit right with me. I believe that there is (and should be) a power imbalance between parent and child, and like in any relationship in which there is a legitimate power imbalance (employer/employee, teacher/student, therapist/client, etc.) the onus is on the more powerful party to use and not abuse that power.

It is the parent’s job to guide their child’s development, encourage appropriate and discourage inappropriate behaviour, enforce safety rules, etc., just as it is the employer’s job to support their employee’s professional growth and monitor their productivity and the teacher’s job to impart knowledge and test the students’ retention and understanding of that information. Using that power in a way that violates the bounds of these relationships, such as to humiliate a child or force a sexual relationship with a student however is abuse. Finally, within these relationship it is also important for the powerful party to create opportunities for the other to experience autonomy and power over their own decisions.

I have a little bit of an obsession with child development reference books – one that I acquired a while back (long before I had children of my own) was The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene. This is an excellent book and well worth a read. Dr. Greene gives good advice for parenting and for life (and agrees with my mom) when he posits

inflexibility + inflexibility = meltdown

and outlines a framework for choosing your battles. He suggests figuratively placing your child’s behaviours in 3 baskets: Basket A contains decisions that must be enforced and are worth enduring a meltdown over (power struggles worth having); Basket B contains behaviours and decisions that are important but that you are willing to discuss and problem-solve with your child (opportunities for compromise); and Basket C contains behaviours that you are willing to simply ignore (opportunities for your child to experience complete autonomy).

Dropping Ben off first was a Basket B issue – I had decided that it needed to happen, but was willing to discuss with him how it would happen. When I picked Molly up at lunchtime on momminus horriblis day, I had a quick word with Ben’s teacher to explain the situation, and she agreed to be at the door to help bring him into the classroom if necessary (and I agreed to be on time!).

On the way home that afternoon I explained to Ben (this time calmly!) that sometimes I would have to drop him off first without him getting upset, so we would be doing that for the rest of the week to get him used to it, and once he was not getting upset about it, we would take turns dropping him or Molly off first. Then we talked about why he likes dropping Molly off first  – it makes him feel special to be the one to bring her to her classroom and kiss her goodbye – and what he could do that would be special when he gets dropped off first. He decided that he would give her hugs and kisses for her pocket (I give him hugs and kisses on his hands to put in his pocket before he goes into his classroom so he has them during the day if he needs them).

The next morning I reminded him again in the car what we were doing when we got to school, and it all went perfectly smoothly. Naturally, I assumed it was a fluke, but Thursday went well too, so I think we’re on a roll! Momminus horriblis has returned to her cave to hibernate indefinitely, and this particular issue seems to have been resolved successfully. I will remember in future to examine my Baskets A, B and C regularly, and I have learned that with a situation like that, in the moment it’s probably best to toss it into Basket C and deal with it in advance next time.

~ karyn

Of course, several days of pathetic sickie children has made it all the easier to banish momminus horriblis and welcome back momminus cuddlius protectivus on an indefinite basis!

Sickie Ben

Pathetic sickie Ben
©PicklesINK 2013

Sickie Molly

Pathetic sickie Molly
©PicklesINK 2013

 

 

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A Hands-on Valentine’s Day

This year for Valentine’s Day, Ian went all out — babysitter, fancy dinner, executive box seats for the Tragically Hip concert in Toronto, reservations at the swanky Royal York Hotel…not for me, mind you. This was all for work. I, on the other hand, chaired my first ever church committee meeting. But I’m not bitter. Not at all. Jerk. Is what I would call him if I was bitter, which I’m not. At all.

All joking aside, we don’t generally do a whole lot to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but he enjoyed being able to straight-face it at work when people gasped, “Isn’t your wife going to kill you for going out on Valentine’s Day??” And he did send me very beautiful flowers:

With lilies

My beautiful Valentine’s Day flowers!
©PicklesINK 2013

Sadly, I have found that lilies give me migraines, so this morning I performed a lily-ectomy and I think they’re just as lovely without them!

Without lilies

My flowers, just as lovely post-lilyectomy.
©PicklesINK 2013

On my end, I wanted to do some art with Ben and Molly for Valentine’s Day presents for Ian. For the last little while any time I’ve given Molly paints she has happily sat for ages painting her fingers and making prints, so for a Valentine’s Day craft I figured I would tap into and fully sanction that hands on technique! My idea was to make a fingerprint garden with a “Bee Mine” theme.

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Ben and Molly’s Valentine paintings for Daddy.
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben was right on board and caught on immediately. I helped him with the stems and started him off on the flowers and he took it from there — “No, mommy, don’t worry. I can do it. I know what I’m doing.” After he finished his flowers I painted the bee on his thumb and we stamped that, and he took it from there, drawing the speech bubble for the bee, the butterfly, and the sun. Can you figure out Ben’s secret trick to drawing butterflies?

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Close-up of Ben’s painting of a row of flowers, bee, butterfly, and sun.
©PicklesINK 2013

My independent-minded Molly, on the other hand (heheheheh) made it very clear that she wanted no help, so her version reflects her non-conformist nature! (Didja see what I did there with “nature”??). The “printing” on the easel, I’m told, says, “To Daddy, This is a garden and a bee, Love Molly.”

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Close-up of Molly’s painting of a garden with flowers and a bee.
©PicklesINK 2013

Not to be outdone, I also did my part for Valentine’s for Ian — weeks ago I found the perfect card, bought it, snuck it into the house and carefully hid it, and just as soon as I figure out where, I’ll give it to him!

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Valentine’s Day swag: My flowers and Ben and Molly’s paintings. Pretend that you can see my card too!
©PicklesINK 2013

I hope that you had a good Valentine’s Day, however you chose to celebrate (or not)!

~ karyn

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Planes, trains and automobiles. But mostly trains.

It seems like every child goes through a train phase starting in toddlerhood and ending…well, for some, never!

Photo of model train exhibit at the Elgin County Rail Museum, St. Thomas, Ontario
Photo credit: Rail Museum website

I distinctly remember my little brother’s obsession with his wooden Brio train set and Ian remembers spending much of his childhood improving his model railway. Ben and Molly are no exception and love building and playing with elaborate train tracks.

But I think Ben’s track-building obsession literally takes things to a whole new level.

Ben has always been a big Thomas fan and we supported that, amassing (with the help of generous and resourceful friends and family members) an impressive collection of Thomas-related toys, books, furniture, clothes, bedding, etc. When Ben was about 3 he produced his first recognizable drawing: At a time when any attempt to place a writing implement in his hand and suggest that he do anything other than scribble produced a complete hysterical meltdown, he woke us up one morning to show us that he had drawn a perfect train track and then stuck engine stickers onto it in.

At age 3 and 4, he was requesting that intricate tracks be built for him on the playroom floor. We considered getting a train table, but the size of tracks that he wanted would not have fit so we decided against. He would take the tracks that were built for him as a starting point and renovate sections of them to his specifications. I marveled at the little details he would add, like laying out blue cloths to be lakes and rivers (populated with bath toys that he would sneak downstairs), and once after a conversation about junctions and switches (probably with Uncle James) he cut out a paper triangle and taped it to one of his junction pieces to be a switch.

Once he was satisfied with a track, he would spend days (or weeks…as long as it took me to decide I wanted to be able to see the floor again for at least 24 hours) acting out Thomas stories with his engines.

Track - May 2011

Ben and Molly playing with trains, aged 4 and 1
©PicklesINK 2011

Around the time he turned 5, Ben stopped being satisfied with the ordinary options afforded by his train set. If he had slopes to make bridges, why couldn’t he make them multiple levels? What was to stop him having elevated tracks? Why, simply the lack of support pieces of the height he needed. Then he realized that he had drawers full of Lego and blocks at his disposal and the world was his oyster.

Track 2 - April 2012

Elevated bridge to an elevated junction.
©PicklesINK 2012

He experimented with elevated tracks and then formed a new goal – a bridge two bridges high – which after many failed attempts, he finally succeeded in creating.

Ben’s first two-bridges high bridge (over another bridge)
©PicklesINK 2012

The next game-changer happened this past November when we impulse-bought a ceramic Christmas village at our church bazaar. Shortly after it was set up on top of a cabinet, a train track and water tower mysteriously appeared in the centre of town.

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Christmas village with train track and water tower.
©PicklesINK 2013

Thus began Ben’s 3-month-long track-building project (no exaggeration – he worked on it from November to January), which I will let him describe in his own words.

The Legend of Brio Peak

By Ben Pickles, as told to Karyn Pickles

Long ago, the Brios went through a tunnel through Brio peak instead of going over it. It wasn’t easy. Some of the tunnel collapsed sometimes and some of the trains never made it back. It was clear that the trains needed a safe way to deliver their loads, so they decided to try and go over the mountain. It was hard, but after years of hard work, the trains finally built the track.

Brio Peak 4

Collapsed elevated track, part of an early attempt
©PicklesINK 2013

The track goes from Briotown on Brio Peak onto a bridge part to Brio Peak station, then onto another bridge part over Brio Pass all the way down to the biggest windowsill and then into a bumper. There is a brook under the tracks called Brio Brook.

Brio Peak 2

Brio Peak Station; where the track bends is where it passes over Brio Brook
©PicklesINK 2013

On the bridge parts there are no fences, so it is kind of dangerous, but there are supports.

Brio Peak 1

The bridgy part down from Brio Peak (with supports but no fences)
©PicklesINK 2013

The trains’ names are Brio and Aaron. Aaron doesn’t go all the way to the windowsill; he just goes from Briotown to Brio Peak Station. Brio goes all the way from the windowsill to the top of Brio Peak.

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Aaron pulling a passenger carriage
©PicklesINK 2013

There is only one road up to Brio Peak that is made especially for the Brio Power Crew. There is a cargo plane that brings building supplies to Briotown and Brio Peak. Brio and Aaron collect all of the garbage and recycling from all over Briotown and bring it to the cargo plane’s landing strip for the plane to pick up and then the cargo plane takes it to another town that has garbage and recycling facilities.

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Ben, proudly showing off the finished track (with tall supports).
©PicklesINK 2013

It was very hard to build the track, especially the supports, because some of them are really tall! I had to use up almost all of my Lego to make them tall enough.

The End

Ben celebrated his success by painting commemorative portraits of Brio and Aaron.

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Ben’s painting of Aaron, washable poster paint on canvas. Model in foreground.
©PicklesINK 2013

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Ben’s painting of Brio, washable poster paint on canvas. Model in foreground.
©PicklesINK 2013

Limited edition numbered prints and other merchandise will be available at a later date, just as soon as I can ink a deal with that British company that made all the William and Kate engagement stuff two years too early.

~ karyn

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I’m sorry, but I believe in “sorry!”

In yesterday’s guest post on the Mabel’s Labels blog, psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer discussed her views on forcing children to say “I’m sorry,” after an incident. She feels that making your child simply say the words creates a power struggle and invites a sarcastic, “I’m saaawry.”

I encountered this view at a highly-regarded child care centre where I did a university placement and it didn’t sit right with me there either. We weren’t really given an explanation at that time beyond, “It teaches children to lie to get out of trouble,” without any insight as to what to do instead, which cemented my dislike of the policy.

Alyson Schafer gives a much better explanation than that in her post and I agree with all of her recommendations of “what to do instead” – but instead of “instead” I would do them “as well.”

I talked briefly about apologies in my post on empathy and compassion and described what we are teaching Ben and Molly to do when someone has been hurt.

Today I was faced with exactly the sort of situation Schafer is talking about: Molly shoved a broom I had asked her to put away, hitting Ben on the forehead. Ben cried and Molly ran away when I asked her to apologize. Chaos ensued as Ben, feeling better, started to chase her, I told him to stand still and let me handle it, etc., and finally Molly returned, said a grudging, “Sowwy,” and made a break for it again. This was the teachable moment – I could have accepted the lip service and ended it there, but I chose not to.

I showed Molly the red mark on Ben’s head and said that she needed to find out if Ben was okay and if there was anything she could do to help. Molly said, “Are you okay Ben?” and he said, “Yes, I’m okay now.” Molly said, “I’m sorry,” this time meaning it, and they hugged and Ben said, “I forgive you.” Molly said, “Can I do anything?”, Ben replied, “Well, I could use some ice,” and they ran off together to get an ice pack from the freezer.

So yes, Alyson Schafer is right – if I had simply required Molly to utter the words, “I’m sorry,” and left it at that, Molly would have taken away from the experience the understanding that saying, “Sawwwry!” is a magical get-out-of-jail-free card. By not letting her off the hook there and delving deeper into the meaning behind the words, I encouraged a moment of healing and connection for both Ben and Molly that taught them the power of apology, reparation, and forgiveness.

“Sorry” is just a word, but it is a word that has deep meaning in our society, and apology is a two-way street. When I make my child say the words, whether they mean it or not, it eases the other person’s pain. By switching the focus to the other person’s feelings, I help my child understand that impact and make the interaction doubly meaningful this time and in future.

Sorry

Gratuitous adorable picture of kids in Halloween costumes: “I’m sorry I tried to eat you, Molly!” “That’s okay Ben – I’m sorry I’m a strawberry and you’re a carnivore!”
©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

What do you think? When we make a child say “sorry” or “thank you” are we teaching them to lie to avoid getting in trouble, or are we teaching them empathy?

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