Blog-o! Notes from latte.ca

Mon, 24 Dec 2012

Lately Cordelia and I have been going through the folder of completed work her teacher sent home at the end of grade one. (She's four months into grade two at the moment; one day I hope to catch up.)

One of the exercises they did last year was to figure out how you can "make" particular numbers; that is, what two numbers add up to a number.

It took her a little while to catch on:

Make 7
2 + 5 makes 7. A red dancing yeti + 2 purple eggs makes 7?

Make 8
8 + 2 makes... damn. Okay, 5 + 3 makes 8.

Make 9
Ah, now she's got it. 6 + 3 makes 9; 1 + 8 makes 9!

Now it's time for her to do it by herself: choose a number and show how to "make" it two different ways. But Cordelia is Blake's daughter, so her additional challenge is to do that correctly while also doing as little work as possible. I think she nailed it:

Make 1


And here she is, this year:

Cordelia

[Posted at 21:56 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 27 Jul 2012

The girls are six and nine now, and they are starting to hear pop music at camp and at their friends houses. When we were in Saskatchewan they asked me to make mix CDs for them, and they both requested a few songs. I padded their choices with a few tunes of my own, and here's what they ended up with:

Delphine's 2012 Summer Mix CD

"Call Me Maybe", Carly Rae Jepsen
"Black Horse & Cherry Tree", K.T. Tunstall
"Mama Said", The Shirelles
Marmoset!
"Drinking Games", Library Voices
CBC Saskatchewan is really great about playing local music on their morning show, and we heard this while we were hanging out in my mum's room having our morning tea.
"Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People
I asked Twitter what terrible pop songs the kids were listening to these days, and the lovely @LadySnarksalot sent me her playlist. This is one of her tunes.
"Nothing On You" by B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars
"Firework" by Katy Perry
Delphine has this song memorized and can sing it while performing a dance of her own creation.
"Brokenhearted" by Karmin
"Born This Way" by Lady Gaga
"Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" by Shakira
"On The Floor" by Jennifer Lopez
"What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction
"1 2 3 4" by Feist
"Glad You Came" by The Wanted
"I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz
This is one of my regular karaoke numbers.
"Overworld Day" by Scott Lloyd Shelly
This is from Terraria.

Cordelia's 2012 Summer Mix CD

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin
"Wavin' Flag" by K'naan
"Born This Way" by Lady Gaga
"Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People
"Firework" by Katy Perry
"Domino" by Jessie J
"Just a Girl" by No Doubt
"Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" by Shakira
"For Your Entertainment" by Adam Lambert
"Where Is The Love" by Black Eyed Peas
"If I Had A Million Dollars" by Barenaked Ladies
The classics!
"Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
"Mushaboom" by Feist
[Posted at 21:50 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 24 Apr 2012

Last night Delphine and I went to the opera. This March Break Delphine attended Opera Camp at the COC, and one of the perks was a pair of tickets to the dress rehearsal of the opera she studied at camp, Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. It's an opera in one act, and the other half of the bill was Alexander Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy.

The Zemlinsky was first, which put a bit of a spanner into our plan to leave at intermission in case of extreme boredom or fatigue. Fortunately there was neither, despite A Florentine Tragedy being a bit, um, challenging.

Delphine and I read the synopses over before the show and decided A Florentine Tragedy sounded more like a comedy. A merchant walks in on his wife and her lover. (Delphine says "boyfriend".) The merchant decides the wife isn't really having an affair, so he tries to sell the other man some merchandise. The boyfriend says sure, he'll buy it and then offers the merchant even more money. The merchant says the boyfriend can have the whole house! The boyfriend says he wants the wife! The man says his wife is only good for housework, and then tells her to sew something! (Actually spin, but Delphine thought sew.) The men drink wine and then fight, and the man kills the boyfriend. The wife says, "I didn't realize you were so strong!", and the man says, "I didn't realize you were so beautiful!" Their love is renewed!

(It makes much more sense now that I know it's based on a play by Oscar Wilde.)

After we had a giggle at the synopsis we watched the real thing. Delphine is very attentive at musical performances, and she was rapt through the whole show — except at the end with the fighting, when she "shut up", as she calls it: closed her eyes and blocked her ears.

As I said, it was pretty challenging: discordant and free of any melody to speak of, grim and dark. But we've been going to Music and Truffles for a few years, and they're not shy about throwing all kinds of crazy music at kids; Delphine doesn't seem to mind it. The direction and staging was interesting — the acting was stylized and melodramatic, with many poses being struck. At several points the performers created dramatic shadows and silhouettes.

After the show ("That was creepy.") we met up with Tanya and Ursa and explored the Four Seasons Centre. We asked the girls if they wanted to stay for the second show, and there was jumping and glee.

Gianni Schicchi was entirely opposite to A Florentine Tragedy: Italian, not German; sunny, not dark; comic, not tragic; a cast of many compared with a cast of three; natural rather than melodramatic acting. It was a perfect double-bill for the circumstances: if the girls never go to another opera they will have a pretty good idea of what opera is about.

The direction for Schicchi was great — broad without being ridiculous. Special credit goes to the supernumary playing Buoso Donati, who had to die in the first few minutes of the opera and then be manipulated for the rest of the show, ultimately being wrapped up and folded into a sofa bed.

Also in the opera were Simone Osborne playing Lauretta, who was adorable (and sung beautifully) and Peter McGillivray as Marco. He's performed with my choir a couple of times and is also great. I also enjoyed the performance of Marco's wife, La Ciesca, by Rihab Chaieb. And everyone else was really good, too. (Not that I'm a connoisseur — I'm pretty happy as long as no-one goes flat or falls off the stage.)

The show ended around 10:00 and we were home by 11:00, which is the latest Delphine has ever been up, ever. She was hungry (if you stay up late enough you get hungry all over again!) so we had a piece of toast and went off to bed, full of the satisfaction of an adventure successfully completed.

[Posted at 23:01 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 12 Feb 2012

This afternoon we all went down to the U of T Child Studies Lab (I could be totally making up that name) to participate in some science. We've been on their list since Delphine was a baby, and have participated in a few studies; they're usually fun and interesting—the girls love being guinea pigs. (Except on the way home when they're tired and cranky and hate everything, especially each other.)

Today's study was at a special lab with hidden cameras, in one of those fantastic red brick Victorian (Edwardian?) houses on Spadina.

The study was on lying and tattling. The girls took turns going into the hidden camera room with one of the researchers—I've forgotten all their names because I suck, so let's call her Jenny. Jenny and the girl started drawing pictures, and then another researcher (Michelle!) came in to tell Jenny she had a phone call. Jenny left but not before telling Michelle not to use the paper from the book with stars on it! Only use the paper from the book with the fish on it! Don't forget!

Well, you see where this is going. Sure enough, good old Michelle figured she liked the star paper better, and drew a picture on it; then she decided she didn't like her picture, and threw it out. After all this, Jenny came back into the room and, after Michelle left, asked the girl what had happened when she was away.

(Meanwhile Blake and I were in another room with eight thousand computers, including the monitors for the hidden cameras. We watched the girls while filling out a huge stack of forms and questionnaires on the girls' personalities and our parenting styles.)

Delphine went first. She immediately put her head down and started working intently on her picture. (The kids were asked to draw a picture of their most favourite place; she drew a beach.) She didn't look up or show any sign of noticing the researchers' exchange, to the point that Jenny was very certain to remind Michelle loudly not to use the star paper on the way out the door.

When Michelle used the star paper, Delphine didn't say anything either, and when Jenny later asked what had happened the exchange went something like this:

J: So what happened when I was gone?
D: I just drew a picture.
J: Did Michelle draw anything?
D: Yes, she drew a picture but she threw it away.
J: Did she use the star paper?
D: Yes.

Cordelia was a little different. (Cordelia is a little different.) She also set to work drawing a picture of her favourite place—she drew our house. (*melt*) She was much more voluble and animated, though, talking through what she was drawing and why. When Michelle came in, she looked up and paid attention to the whole conversation. Then when Michelle started to use the star paper, Cordelia was quick to remind her that she wasn't supposed to use it.

After Jenny was back in the room, she asked Cordelia the same questions she had asked Delphine:

J: So what happened when I was gone?
C: I just drew my picture! (She still talks all in exclamations, with lots of body language.)
J: Did Michelle draw a picture?
C: Nope!
J: She didn't draw anything?
C: She didn't draw anything! (This said with a great big "Who can figure?!" shrug.)

So Cordelia fully lied to a quasi-authority figure, to protect someone she had barely met. It was almost just lying for the sake of it. There was a chart in the room we were in that showed the percentage of kids who lie from ages three to, I think, eight, and almost 100% of six-year-olds lie. I call it "peak lying".

This study was interestingly timed, because I've noticed Cordelia lying more lately. The thing is she's much better at it than Delphine. She tends to lie when it's plausible, and she sticks to her story, often with a touch of righteous indignation to make you feel like a jerk for not trusting her. Hopefully she'll either grow out of it or learn to use her power for good, not evil.

After the study was over, the researchers sat everyone down and explained what had happened, and then sent the girls on a hidden camera hunt. Delphine revealed that she had been a bit suspicious about all the fuss over the paper, and Cordelia looked a bit sheepish.

The end of the story is that the girls got to choose a gift out of a treasure chest to thank them for participating. Delphine chose a "make your own bouncy balls" kit, and Cordelia picked through the entire box before finally seeing and pouncing on a ninja action figure with light-up eyes. ($1.25 at Dollarama!)

[Posted at 22:49 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 07 Sep 2011

I haven't posted about the girls for ages because Delphine's not totally comfortable with being the subject of a blog any more. I guess if you want to get to know Delphine better you'll have to either meet her or wait until she starts her own blog. But I might sneak in the odd post, like this one.

This week Delphine started Grade Three and Cordelia started Grade One. Cordelia wasn't excited about starting Grade One until a few days before, when her sister convinced her it would be fun. Delphine has had Cordelia firmly under her wing since school started: they entered the first day fray together (with strict instructions to us to stay out of the way) and they have been meeting up at recess and sharing snacks.

Both girls love their respective teachers. Delphine is in a 2/3 split which seems like it's going to be an awesome class. Cordelia is in a 1/2 split – I'm not sure who is in that class but I really like the teacher so I think it will be a good year for her, too.

More generally, Cordelia is still clinging to her baby status. She doesn't like to read, although I think she reads better than she likes to let on. She also flat-out refused to learn to ride a bike this summer, although she's learning to go like stink on the scooter to keep up with Big Sister. I'm curious to see what being in Grade One will do for her carefully maintained aura of incompetence. I'm pretty sure she steps up and shows her abilities when she's at school, and I think soon she's going to have to accept that we know that she can do stuff.

Cordelia has always had an affinity for numbers (as I expect I've mentioned) and her report card last year said "Cordelia shows an avid interest in math". I'm curious to see how that interest develops in Grade One's more advanced math.

Cordelia's my little maker. Her catchphrase is "I could use that for something!", whenever I try to throw away some interesting box or widget. And indeed, if I let her have the thing she will cut it up and glue some other bits to it and transform it into a building or a slide or a cat or some other creation. I so want to take her to a Maker Faire.

Around about when she turned eight Delphine transformed from a little kid into a pre-adolescent. I used to think "tween" was a nonsense marketing category, but there's a marked difference between seven and eight. She's got a new spirit, a little bit of sassiness and attitude, but not in a bad way; she's still polite and civil (mostly) but she's got opinions. A few of her rants: "Why do they change everything when they make movies out of books?!" (with a subrant: "'How to Train Your Dragon' was nothing like the book!"); "Everyone thinks Canadians live in igloos!"; "Why does everyone drive everywhere?!"; and one of my favourites, "Everyone else has a nice basement, why is ours is all gross?!" She's going through a bit of a noisy, self-righteous phase which, if she doesn't grow out of it, will serve her well on the Internet (or in the Computer Science Club) some day. But it all comes from noticing the greater world and realizing that there are different ways to be in it, and trying to work out what your choices say about you.

This year she's starting ballet, which will hopefully teach her self-discipline and maybe some humility (unless she turns out to be really good at it). She's still enjoying piano, and she's taking an art class with Cordelia. Perhaps a little overscheduled; we'll see how it goes.

[Posted at 22:32 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 15 Jan 2011

"I want it back!"

"It's my turn!"

Delphine and Cordelia had both decided that the orange sled was the only sled worth using. We were out with their friend Ursa (and Ursa's two sleds, the green one and the blue one). There had been a horrible misunderstanding when Cordelia lent Ursa the orange sled for JUST ONE TURN, but then Ursa gave it to Delphine instead of back to Cordelia. Delphine refused to relinquish it, but Cordelia insisted she must have it back.

When I stepped in they were in the screaming-tug-of-war stage of the fight — I separated them and took custody of the sled, and then we talked. We talked about Cordelia's preferred resolution ("I want the sled!") and Delphine's preferred resolution ("I want the sled!"), we talked about how much Cordelia was willing to compromise ("She can't use it!") and how much Delphine was willing to compromise ("She can't use it!") We talked about the possibility of taking turns ("No!") and using the other sleds ("I want the orange one!") We talked and talked but neither girl would compromise and I had run out of ideas.

Then Blake made an excellent point. Both girls were under the impression that the orange sled was the best, but how could they be so sure? We should definitely do some experiments to figure out which sled was the best, just in case it turns out they were fighting about the wrong sled! They must pit sled against sled in a rigorous and methodical series of distance trials. First the orange sled with Delphine versus the blue sled with Cordelia, then the blue sled with Delphine versus the orange sled with Cordelia, next the green sled...

By the third round of these trials the girls had forgotten they were fighting, and by the fifth they had forgotten what they were doing altogether and they were just having fun.

The moral of the story is, sometimes you can't reason with them (because no-one wants to be reasonable) but you can usually distract them — the more byzantine the distraction, the better. Daddies are especially good for that.

[Posted at 22:19 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 07 Sep 2010

Let me start by saying the girls both had a wonderful day back at school. Delphine loves her teacher and her classroom, Cordelia loves her teacher ("she didn't frown all day!") and daycare. Everyone was all smiles at lunchtime and after school when I picked them up.

The rot started to set in when we were walking home. When Cordelia said she did something cool in class, Delphine said, "That's stupid." Cordelia yanked on Delphine's backpack and pulled her off-balance. When Cordelia said she did something for the first time, Delphine said, "Anyone can do that." Cordelia pulled on Delphine's backpack, Cordelia tried to get between Delphine and Blake... Just, on and on and on.

Finally, at the end of dinner, Cordelia talked about how she learned recorder in daycare, and Delphine said she was jealous and she wanted to be in daycare because she never learns anything good. Then there was something about Cordelia getting more jello, and someone said "meh meh meeeh". (That was Delphine.)

And I said, "I'm sick of both of you. Go. Go to bed."

There were shocked looks, and looks of disbelief, and crying and supplication. Cordelia said, "I don't know how to put myself to bed!" Blake said, "I can tell you: go upstairs, put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, read yourself a book, and tuck yourself in." "But I don't know how to read!" "Then you're going to have to find someone who can read to you."

Delphine got herself together pretty quickly – she loves having to step up and be responsible. If we made her move out next week she'd probably make out just fine.

Cordelia is more persistent and more invested in getting us to do things for her – she is not embracing independence. She cried for someone to read her a book for ages, to no avail: it was just like sleep training all over again. After a while Blake went upstairs and pointed out to her that Delphine could read her a book. Cordelia asked her to, and Delphine said okay, so Cordelia reported to Blake: "She said she would read to me, but I don't want her to!" So of course Delphine decided not to read her a book, and Cordelia cried some more.

Blake came downstairs and I said it's funny how quickly things turn around – for a minute she had someone to read her a book but she managed to fuck it up in a second by being snotty. That's a good lesson.


I knew as soon as I sent them to bed that this was not good, democratic parenting. There is no way that having to put yourself to bed is a reasonable consequence of being nasty to your sibling.

But I honestly was sick of them and I honestly was happy not to put them to bed. I suppose I could have called the whole thing to a halt and explained that I made a mistake, but Cordelia would have interpreted that as a response to her crying and carrying on. I had to be more stubborn than she was.

Anyway, eventually Cordelia gave up crying, and put herself to bed. Both of us went to chat with the girls, and Cordelia said to Blake, "Will you teach me how to be a polite girl?"

Which is what we want to do, but of course sending them to bed without a book is not the way to do it. That's either punishment or pettiness, and either way will do nothing to help the girls get along with each other. Although I do think it sent a message about how much it bothers me when they pick at each other, for what that's worth.

So I suppose it's back to Siblings Without Rivalry, and maybe it's time for me to take a look at how I treat the girls. Most of the fighting is instigated by Delphine – Cordelia will overtly (usually physically) try and horn in when Delphine is getting attention, but it's mainly Delphine who is scornful and spiteful.

It's hard to treat two such different people equally, and I think I might be warmer and friendlier with Cordelia because she's such a fun and bubbly person. And because Delphine is older (and thus we expect more of her) and also tends to be absent-minded, I think we correct and criticise her more. My hypothesis is that Delphine picks at Cordelia because she wants to show us that she's good too. It's time to ramp up the affection and patience with Delphine, and ease up on the criticism and correction. And also pay more attention to their fights to try and sort out what's going on.

[Posted at 22:01 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 02 Feb 2010
More Mornings

Since last week we've been continuing the pleasantifying of mornings, and with one little hiccup yesterday, I think it's working.

To review, this is how it goes: we get up and have breakfast together, then I go and shower and leave the children the following list:

  1. two trips to the kitchen
  2. pack snack
  3. get dressed
  4. brush teeth
  5. brush hair

To which Delphine inevitably adds a sixth item: Play. I think they're finally understanding that Play can only come after (and if) every other thing is done.

Cathy suggested creating a colourful chart listing the morning routine, but Delphine is text-oriented and a list nerd like me, so the staid to-do list format works for her. I write a new list every day, and she solemnly X'es off the things she's finished. It works for both girls, even though Cordelia doesn't read yet, because Delphine's essentially in charge of Cordelia in the morning, and Cordelia doesn't mind. (Your mileage may vary.)

Yesterday I didn't include "brush hair" on the list, and when I announced "we have to leave in five minutes" Delphine rashly concluded they had time to play because they were "almost done". Cordelia came downstairs with every intention of playing and justly rebelled when I said I had to brush her hair first. She dug her heels in and I lost my temper and hollered at them. I'm not sure why I took it so badly—could be that I didn't get enough sleep, or I was worried that I would miss a 9:00 appointment. Fortunately Delphine stepped up and was the grown-up. She brushed Cordelia's hair and her own, and helped us all get out of the house in good time.

Today our morning went smooth as butter: I didn't leave anything off the list, and the children didn't muck about. We arrived at school in plenty of time, with no shouting. It probably didn't hurt that the kids were in bed early last night.

I should add that one of the keys to this working is that I studiously don't care what their snacks look like (apart from that they have to contain fruit). Today Cordelia took a little container with some pretzel sticks and a dried apricot—no snack bag, no drink. It's certainly not how I would do it, but I expect it will be good enough for her, plus she has the satisfaction of having created and packed her own snack.

Another thing I cultivate a lack of interest in is what the children wear. Today Cordelia wore a black dance leotard with teal leggings, which might just be a little too gorgeous for kindergarten. Delphine has been dressing herself sensibly (but with a certain flair) since forever, and fortunately she's happy to choose Cordelia's clothes too, on the days Cordelia's not interested.

So, for now, mornings are a success story. As the girls grow and the dynamic between them changes, I guess our mornings will change too, and of course the success of mornings will depend on how well-rested we all are, but for now I'm happy that we have laid the groundwork for a functional start to the day.

[Posted at 10:41 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 27 Jan 2010
Morning is Broken

I'm not sure this is the post I want to post, but it's on my mind.

Today I did a positive parenting experiment. Normally Blake and I nag and cajole the girls through their morning, until we're all angry at each other and we end up rushing to school in a sweaty rush. Lousy way to start the day, so I decided to Schäfer it up: I would tell the girls what was expected of them and what I would do, and then I would step back and let them take responsibility for their morning routine.

They were forty minutes late for school.

Here's how it went down. We ate breakfast together, and then I went upstairs to take a shower and dress, with the following message: "You guys need to take your two trips [to the kitchen with stuff from the table], pack your lunches and snacks and get dressed. If you have time can you give Thomas his food and water?" At that point they had enough time to complete everything if they got on with it.

While I was in the shower they fought. While I was getting dressed they fought and then played. After I was dressed I came downstairs—the table was not cleared and they were both still in their pajamas. I carried on without agitation or urgency. I finished clearing the table while they played, them I folded laundry. At 8:30 I let them know the first bell was ringing at school—they were still in their pajamas, but at that point Delphine started to rush. She asked for, and received, help packing her lunch, while Cordelia stayed in her pajamas. Delphine tried to get Cordelia to hurry up, and she agreed to pack Cordelia's snack while she got dressed. Finally we left the house at 9:05, and signed in at school at around 9:20.

I was calm on the outside but on the inside I was freaking out while they played as if they hadn't a thing to do all day. It was a miracle of parental self-restraint. I didn't even nag on the way to school, I let being late speak for itself. (When you say "I told you so" or "let this be a lesson to you" it's called piggybacking and it turns a natural consequence into a punishment, which just gets you caught up in a power struggle and demotivates the child.) Being on time for school is not my problem, it's theirs. My job is to provide them with the tools and information to get to school on time.

Tonight we're going to have a family meeting to talk about mornings. My suggestion will be to make a morning routine poster, and I will let them know that a) I will only remind them of their morning responsibilities once, b) I will not play with them in the morning, and c) I will let them know what time it is every ten minutes. Hopefully they will come up with some ideas of how to stay focussed in the morning.

I hope tomorrow goes better. I know I'm supposed to be detached and aloof, but the school expects the parents to "get" their children to school on time, so I do feel responsible and guilty when they are late. Also, I have a few morning meetings and appointments coming up which I don't want to be late for. I'll have to review my parenting books and see what I'm supposed when my kids are making me late. In the meantime I will repeat the following phrase: "It will get worse before it gets better. It will get worse before it gets better."


What I Did Wrong: I sprung this new behaviour on them without warning. As I said, normally we nag and hustle and bother them all morning and I think that's where they get their clues as to how late they are and what they should be doing. Today I remained calm and I think the girls interpreted that to mean that we were on time, even though I told them in words that we weren't. Actions really do speak louder.

Also, we were running a teeny bit behind right from the start. Not behind enough to make us late, but behind enough that we needed to be brisk. So I would say I'm responsible for about five minutes of that forty. I would rather our mornings were leisurely but focussed, which will mean I need to be more disciplined about getting up and fixing breakfast on time.

What I Did Right: I think otherwise I applied the principles of positive parenting correctly. I remained kind yet firm, I didn't get into any power struggles, I told them what I would do rather than what they should do.

[Posted at 11:02 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 15 Nov 2009

Positive parenting, or democratic parenting, is essentially parenting as if your children are human beings who deserve the same amount of respect as the adults in the household. It is about raising your children to understand that they are part of a community, with rights and obligations, and it's about getting them to behave without punishments or rewards. It's also evidence-based parenting, with a grounding in scientific research and knowledge of neurological development and psychology.

I was raised with respect and I want to raise my children with respect, so I am using the tools of positive parenting to guide me.

My leaders in this endeavour are Alfie Kohn and Alyson Schäfer. They have both written excellent books on the subject. Both Alyson Schäfer's books are about positive parenting (although I prefer The Good Mom Myth), and Alfie Kohn's parenting book is called Unconditional Parenting. If you're interested in positive parenting I recommend you pick up one or both of those books. (And then everything else Kohn has written, because he's awesome.)

I'm not an expert on psychology or positive parenting, so I'm not going to give out advice here, but what I will do is write about situations in our house, and how we managed them. Some of these situations go smoothly, some of them don't, so I'll talk about what I think worked, and what I wish I had done differently. I hope this will give other parents some ideas about how to parent positively, and I'll admit I hope that rehashing these situations will reinforce my knowledge of positive parenting, and help me apply positive parenting techniques more often.


What Happened: Today Delphine (6) was invited to a friend's birthday party. Fifteen minutes before we were to leave for the party, I told Delphine it was time to get ready. She was wearing a stained t-shirt and a pair of leggings with a hole in it, so I told her she would have to change into something nicer.

She hated that idea. She wanted to wear what she was wearing, because (she said) she didn't have any other leggings. (It was a gymnastics party so she wanted to wear leggings rather than jeans or a skirt.) I stuck to my guns and explained that in our culture we show respect for people by wearing clean clothes to their gatherings. Delphine countered with "But Erika won't care!" Which is probably true, but I pointed out that Erika's mom will care, and she did most of the work for the party. We finally got to the point where I said I wouldn't take her to the party unless she had some clean clothes on.

The situation was resolved by Blake going upstairs with Delphine to help her pick out something appropriate—she ended up borrowing a pair of leggings from Cordelia. It took quite a lot of gentle persuasion and friendly helpfulness from Blake to get everything smoothed over.

What I Wish I Had Done: I wish I had started the whole conversation by saying "In our culture, we show respect and affection for people by wearing clean, tidy clothes to their special occasions. Are you happy with the clothes you're wearing, or would you like to find something else?" Alyson Schäfer (can I just call her Alyson?) calls that TTFT, or Take Time For Training. Usually she's talking about more mechanical things, like doing up a zipper or cleaning a bathroom, but it applies to social conventions, too. Giving Delphine ownership of the problem would make her feel responsible, and there's a pretty good chance she would have just changed without a fuss.

If she still protested I could have gone with the "when-then" tactic: "When you're dressed for a birthday party, then I will take you to the party." That's a little more coercive because I'm basically saying, "I won't take you to the party until you're dressed the way I want you to be dressed", but the wording is impersonal and it does reflect the needs of the situation (societal norms) rather than what I want. (Rather conveniently, what I want is for Delphine to conform to societal norms. When she's older she can go to parties dressed like a slob, but she's still young enough that I don't think she fully understands the messages that dressing inappropriately sends.)

Finally I wish we had started the whole thing earlier. One of Alfie Kohn's parenting guidelines is "Don't be in a hurry", and it's great advice if you can manage it. So much household tension is caused by running short of time. If I had left more time, we might still have had the drama but at least it wouldn't have forced us to rush out the door after Delphine got changed.

In the end, Delphine got to the party on time, in nice clean clothes, and hopefully we all learned something.

[Posted at 22:34 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 14 Oct 2009

The girls had a fight last night. I was sitting reading, and they were playing on the living room floor. They both wanted a truck that Delphine had made out of Lego; Cordelia wanted it to play with, Delphine wanted to use the pieces for something else. The disagreement soon escalated to snatching and hitting, so I intervened.

The Democrative Parenting people suggest that this is a splendid opportunity to show your children how to resolve difficulties. Could Delphine get other, identical pieces out of the Lego box? No. Could Cordelia play with some other Lego or a different truck? No. Could Delphine make Cordelia another, identical truck so Cordelia could play with that and Delphine could have the pieces of this truck? No? No.

So you have no interest in actually resolving this, you actually don't care about the truck or the Lego at all, in fact you're just being little assholes and fighting for the sake of it, then?

It was at this point that I got hollerin' mad. I was mad at them for being contentious jerks, but also at the parenting advice people who are all, "Help your children learn to communicate and resolve disagreements," ignoring the fact that they are not always tiny little adults who just want to get along. I'm no Skinnerian but sometimes you have to treat them like animals, because sometimes they behave like animals.

So I manged to lose my temper not only at the kids but also at an entire philosophy of parenting. Hooray!

After I was done hollering at them I went upstairs to my room, and then they worked it out for themselves.

Alyson Schäfer would say that they were fighting to get my attention, and my first mistake was intervening when it got physical—that is, rewarding them for fighting by giving them the attention they sought. The facts of the case certainly support that theory: I was ignoring them (by reading), they fought, I paid attention to them, they kept my attention by refusing to resolve their fight. They only stopped fighting when I took my attention out of the picture by leaving the room. Which is what I should have done as soon as the fighting started.

(Of course that's easier said than done when you have a tiny house with only one really good reading spot. Parenting is hard.)

[Posted at 09:59 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 20 Aug 2009

It's been ages since I've posted, and I have so much to talk about I don't know where to start. I want to talk about what we've done, what we're planning, and how everyone is doing right now. Perhaps chronologically is the way to go.

When I last wrote it was mid-June. The girls were supposed to have swimming lessons for the first two weeks of summer vacation, and then Delphine was supposed to go to day camp at Riverdale Farm for a week, but both things were cancelled on account of the Toronto city workers' strike. We couldn't spend long, lazy days at the park because the bathrooms were closed (city workers' strike) and we couldn't take the ferry to the Island and go to Centreville (city workers' strike) so we tried to find fun other ways. The library remained open through the strike, and we could go to the park for a couple of hours at a time. We went to the ROM and the Science Centre, and Cordelia and Delphine played with friends and neighbours. Honestly, the three of us are pretty good at just kicking around together. Blake joined us for some fun—one of the perks of freelance work is that you can spend odd weekdays with your family and make up for it by working on the weekend.

One Friday in June, Delphine hosted a t-shirt party. She had received a "sticker club" chain letter, which I didn't let her participate in for various pedantic reasons. She was disappointed, but after a conversation with Blake she decided she would host a party where each guest brings a t-shirt (or two). At the end of the party, each guest gets to take home a different t-shirt. Some of the guests were perplexed, some were really into it, and one girl took home the same t-shirts she brought, but everyone had fun and they all went home happy.

The girls and I went on big Expedition to the lake one sunny Tuesday. We took the bus, then the subway, and then a very long streetcar ride all the way to Woodbine and beyond, to the beach at Kew Gardens. The girls spent a merry morning playing with pebbles and water, and befriended a little girl while I chatted with her dad. We were all getting along famously so we headed over to the playground together, then took a walk to an ice cream shop before heading home, grimy and exhausted, at about four in the afternoon. We ended up getting together with that same little girl and her dad the next week, but then they went back home to Calgary.

Just as the Toronto city workers' strike ended the girls and I headed out to visit my mum in Saskatchewan. We were there for two weeks, and had a grand time. The children love being at Granny's house, where there are lots of things to look at, and unlimited television and cookies. (Although even my mother was getting sick of kids' TV by the end of it.) Thanks to the indomitable Shirley, my Big River fixer, we went to a beach at Nesslin Lake, visited a cattle farm, and went fishing. Cordelia caught a fish and Delphine learned how to hold a fish up to have your picture taken with it. (You have to stick your thumb and finger into its eyeballs, which she did with aplomb. She is not squeamish and she's quite pragmatic about the fact that things have to die if you want to eat them.) I caught a few fish, too. I rather enjoy fishing. One day I'll have to try and fish around here.

I think my favourite thing in Big River, apart from the fishing, was walking in the woods at Nesslin. We went for a walk in a beautiful moist forest, rich with fungus and moss and berries. The forest floor was dense with life, and made me realize how sterile a traditional garden is, with its empty brown strips of soil between plants. I would like a garden with the ground alive with fungus and tiny vines and mosses.

We also got to visit a real straw bale house at Ness Creek, which seems to be some kind of hippie retreat (with wireless internet!)


As soon as we landed in Toronto, Andy met us at the airport to take Delphine and Cordelia to the cottage for a few days. (Blake and I weren't invited.) A fine time was had by all—the girls played on the beach for three days (getting nut-brown in the process) and ate corn on the cob for supper, while Blake and I played at being childless. We went for coffee, we went for lunch (it was supposed to be brunch but apparently no-one in our hard-working neighbourhood serves brunch during the week), we saw a movie, and Morgan treated me to a pedicure. I spent quite a lot of money on used books, as you've seen. I also bought a tube of lip gloss and some hair dye, which was more fun than perhaps it should have been. It's unspeakable luxury to be able to go to a store, be it a book store or a drug store, and spend as much time as you want browsing, considering, reading labels and jackets, without having to hurry up and pick someone up, or rush because the children are getting restless. Twenty minutes considering lip gloss! Can you imagine?


We had the girls back last Friday morning, and spent the weekend not doing much, to everyone's relief. This Monday brought more excitement with the start of day camp. It's not a fancy, themed camp, just a week at the child care centre where Cordelia went to nursery school. It's all day, though, which is the longest Cordelia has ever been in the care of someone outside the family. Delphine has been having a fantastic time—one of her best friends is also enrolled in the camp—but Cordelia continues to be very sticky. She's been a mummy's girl for at least six months now and this week has been especially pathetic. She cries at breakfast: "I wannoo stay wif you! I don' wannoo go to camp!" Then when I drop her off she won't let go of me. Once I extricate myself and leave the room she collects herself within a matter of seconds, apparently, so I'm not concerned for her long-term mental health. And I have to agree with her that six or seven hours is a long time to be away from your Mummy, especially later in the day when you start to get tired and grumpy and the organized activities peter out. Kindergarten will be much easier since it's only two and a half hours. That's barely enough time to miss me.


Tomorrow is the last day of day camp, and then we have two weeks of not-very-much before school starts. I'm not expected to buy school supplies for either girl, and they both have plenty of clothes, so we don't need to go shopping. We are scheduled for trips to the optometrist and the hair salon, and I want to go to Centreville, and see an IMAX movie at the Science Centre, before the end of summer. Between that and catching up with friends we haven't seen for ages, the next couple of weeks will be agreeably busy but not frantic.

[Posted at 22:01 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 05 Jul 2009

I have a confession to make. For the last few months, I have seriously worried that I might like one of my children more than the other. On the one hand I had Delphine, irritable, emotional, and bossy; on the other, I had Cordelia, amiable, charming and fun. (Also little and cute.) Obviously I love them both, but Cordelia was a lot easier to be around than Delphine.

And then Cordelia changed. She's still funny and cute (and little), but she's gone all intense. She's at that age now, where if you cut her toast wrong, or put the applesauce on top of the yoghurt, or put the left shoe on before the right, she freaks out, sobbing until whatever it is is put right or you manage to make her laugh. The other night she didn't want to go to bed, and she had a stereotypical toddler tantrum, screaming and kicking and yelling, for a good ten minutes. We had honestly never had one of those, with either Cordelia or Delphine.

I'm not sure if this change in behaviour is a developmental stage, or if it's simple that we gave up naps a week or so ago and she's still adjusting. Before this she'd always been a happy, easy-going baby, but I remember Delphine going from Straightforward to Complicated sometime in the preschool years. Parenting a baby and toddler is a physical endeavour, carrying and feeding and wiping. Parenting a child is emotional and mental and completely different. I think I now have two children.

Thank goodness—I don't think I could have pretended they were both equally easy and fun for much longer.

[Posted at 21:45 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 24 Jun 2009

Both the girls "graduated" last week, Delphine from Senior Kindergarten, and Cordelia from Nursery School. There is some division of opinion on these early graduations: Some people seem to think they're idiotic—graduating from kindergarten?! Seriously?—while others, mostly parents, think they're charming. I'm in the latter camp: a rite of passage is a rite of passage, even if you're only three feet tall. Both Cordelia's life and Delphine's are going to be very different in September, and I think that's worth acknowledging.

Cordelia is starting Junior Kindergarten in fall, in the mornings. We haven't met her teacher yet because she's going to be new to the school, and I have no idea who else is going to be in her class. All we know is which room she's going to be in. She's familiar with the school, though, from dropping off and picking up Delphine for the last two years. She's thrilled to be going to "my sister's school". (She refers to Delphine almost exclusively as "my sister".)

Delphine is starting Grade One in fall, and we'll find out tomorrow who her teacher is going to be. She's alternately scared and excited about Grade One. I'm excited about finally being able to buy school supplies.


Cordelia has a new passion: chewing gum. I always used to judge, a teeny bit, people who let little kids chew gum, but as in so many ways, I have become that which I judged. I have to limit her to one piece of gum a day. She likes the minty kinds.

Delphine's new passion is Dirty Jobs, which she likes to watch every day. I figure it's an informative window into the grown-up world, and it will give her some idea of how much work goes into making the food and objects which appear in our house. And into cleaning skulls and preparing owl pellets. She calls Mike Rowe "Mark".


Delphine and Cordelia were enjoying a marathon TV session on Saturday morning, when Saddle Club came on. Saddle Club is one of those cheap soap operas in which Australia seems to specialise—this one is set at some kind of horsey school and is aimed at, I assume, "tweens". Delphine doesn't watch it regularly but she enjoys it when she catches it. I think it's rubbish, and when it came on I huffed and rolled my eyes. Delphine said, "What?"

"I don't like this show. There's too much melodrama and people getting upset with each other."

Blake cut in with, "They don't talk to each other about their problems, they just get mad."

I said, "No-one acts like that in real life."

Delphine gazed at us levelly. "Maybe they just want to make it exciting."

Well, I guess I don't need to worry about her media awareness.


I went to Value Village today. (Blake stayed home and looked after the children, so they don't appear in this story. Sorry.) My mum sent me some money for my birthday, because I said I wanted to buy myself some new clothes. I thought the money would go further if I shopped at VV instead of Addition-Elle or Lands' End.

The trouble with living in a middle-class neighbourhood surrounded by more middle-class neighbourhoods is that you have to travel a long way to get to a second-hand store. My second-hand-shopping maven friend told me that the Value Village at Landsdown is the best one, so off I trekked. A bus trip (it was too hot to walk to the subway station) and a long subway ride (with a transfer!) later, I arrived at Landsdown. I can't comment on how nice the Landsdown area is, because it was 30 degrees today and there's a municipal strike on; I imagine every Toronto neighbourhood looked like shit today.

The Value Village at Landsdown is huge, it's like a small Zellers. I managed to find beautiful dresses for the girls to wear to the two weddings we're invited to this summer, and then I started shopping for myself.

How is it possible that I'm too fat to be a size 18 in the dress section, but too thin to be a size 20? (Also why are there so many ugly dresses? Did the Golden Girls Fan Club and Drag Show recently clean out its closet?) Further, how is it then possible that I can be too thin to be a size 18 in the pants section? How is it possible that there was only one cute dress that fit me, but dozens of sweaters and shirts? Do fat women not buy cute dresses? Or do they buy them and then hang on to them for dear life?

The most frustrating thing was how unevenly placed the sizes were; I found clothes that fit me (and many more that didn't) in the size 16, size 18 and size 20 sections. Some of those clothes had the original store size labels on, and the VV staff had faithfully placed the clothes in the section that matched the label. Which, of course, is a failure. I'm an XL at Cotton Ginny, a L at Tabi, and a 1X at Addition-Elle, but I don't fit into Reitman's XL, or really most other labels' XL. I'm a 16 pant at Lands' End and a 18 at Addition-Elle. So even if you do place clothes in the label-appropriate section, you won't get consistency in section sizes.

VV has a chance to correct the vagaries of women's clothing sizes; surely it would be simple to have a template in the back room against which staff could hold up each donated item of clothing, to sort it into the right bin. Even if you only picked one dimension—waist for pants, say, and bust for dresses—once you found the size that matched your body, you would be one variable closer to finding something that fit.

This was only my second VV trip, and I think I've decided it isn't worth it. It's a long trip to get there, it took me forever to find clothes to try on, I had to wait for a change room, and then only about fifteen percent of them fit. And after all that, of course, it's another long way to come home again. If there were a location nearer to here I might go again—they're opening some new locations, but I fear we are too embedded in Richville to ever get a thrift shop nearby.

After all that, I didn't even find a dress for myself to wear to the weddings. Tomorrow I will call the local consignment stores (without much hope) to see whether they carry my size. I expect I will end up going to Addition-Elle, which is no loss; I still have a good chunk of my birthday money left. (That's the great thing about VV: two sweaters, three shirts, one pair of pants, two pairs of earrings, a hat, and two kid's dresses for $70. Seriously!)

[Posted at 22:36 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 20 Jun 2009

[Posted at 16:38 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 05 Jun 2009

This evening at dinner Blake was talking to Cordelia about names. He asked what her name is. She replied "Cordelia Winton!" (It's not.) He asked her what Delphine's name is: "Delphine Winton!" He asked her what my name is: "Mummy Winton!"


Delphine is at Auntie Morgan's place for her birthday sleepover tonight. They went out for dinner, and tomorrow they're going to Sunnybrook Park, among other things. Sunnybrook Park was Delphine's choice, even though I don't think she's ever been there. I hope it lives up to her expectations.

Meanwhile Cordelia is home with us for a sleepunder. One of the perks of a sleepunder is getting to choose dinner—we had Chinese. Another is that you get to sleep in the Big Bed if you want to. So far no-one has ever taken us up on the Big Bed thing, but Cordelia's in the Big Bed right now. (It's nine o' clock and she's not asleep yet, so she may yet end up sleeping in her own bed.)

Tomorrow we might go out for breakfast, but we spent a lot of money on dinner so maybe not. The school in which Cordelia's nursery school is located is having their spring fair, so we might go to that too. The possibilities are endless.

It was pleasant having only Cordelia tonight. She's charming and funny and nice to be around. Oddly (not really) when Delphine is around they're both annoying about forty percent of the time. Yet Delphine is great by herself too; we hung out together this morning at Yonge and Eg and she wasn't annoying or snotty, she was mellow and interesting and engaged. Blake and I thought there could be a real future in a boarding school with a Sibling Mutual Exclusivity Schedule Option.


The other day Delphine and I had a long conversation about World Wars. It started when we stopped to look at an old print of a WWII battleship in a storefront on Mount Pleasant. Delphine wanted to know who started the war, who fought, how they fought, who won. The whole conversation made me realize how little I know about it—I guess it's time for a trip to the library... We talked about different kinds of guns, about guns on airplanes, about tanks. I told her about attacks on cities. I told her about the Enigma machine. We talked about what Daddy would do if there was another World War—we decided we hope he would stay home and work the computers, not go into battle.

It was an interesting conversation. It reminded me once again about the incredibly huge amount of knowledge you have to absorb before you can even begin to understand our world. I mean, not only do you have to know about the World Wars, you also have to know about the Holocaust and slavery and the Black Death. You have to know about The Beatles and Elvis and Queen and Fred Astaire and tap dancing. You have to know about gasoline and dinosaurs and planets and the atmosphere. You have to know how to wash cotton, how to cook rice, how to floss, how to make a new friend, how to approach a strange dog, how to use the phone and the library. The human brain is astonishing. I'm reminded of that when Delphine and I come up against some huge body of knowledge which she's hardly begun to explore. There's so much for her to learn. But she's made a pretty good start.

Apparently the World Wars conversation has provided plenty of playtime fodder. The following day Delphine told me that she and Pierce and Jaime played castles in school, and they bombed and shot at each other's castles. What fun!

[Posted at 22:10 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 07 May 2009

I've been thinking some more about Guides. There's a lot more to it than I first thought. The problems I wrote about yesterday, with the badges and the structure, those are problems of unmet potential. Guides could be a fantastically cool opportunity for girls to explore their interests and challenge themselves, but in fact it's a leader-centred crafts-and-activities club. Some of the crafts and activities are cool, some of them are pretty lame, but they're seldom actively damaging. (Although I wish Delphine's troop hadn't chosen to do a bridal shower for a leader in one of the meetings.)

But failed potential is only that; it doesn't mean Sparks has no value. It's an all-girl group of friends separate from Delphine's school friends, which is important. It's good for kids to have more than one group of friends; if one group goes wrong with bitchiness or drama, you have other friends to fall back on. And it's valuable for kids of either gender to spend significant amounts of time in same-sex groups. On both those counts, Sparks stacks up in a way that I don't think will be easy to find elsewhere.

The other nice thing about Sparks/Brownies/Guides is that it taps into the Guiding infrastructure. They have programs, they have funding, they have summer camps and campsites. (Sparks don't go camping, but Brownies do.) Camping with Brownies and Guides was my first exposure to real camping, and it had a lasting impact on me as it did on Kat.

Guides is also an organization with a rich history, and it's represented throughout the world. When I was a kid I remember thinking it was pretty cool that there were Girl Guides just like me in places like India and Australia.

I've tried, largely in vain, to find other clubs or organizations which would fit the bill: a (preferably) girls-only organization which will provide community and allow my girls to explore their interests and challenge themselves in a supportive, pedagogically progressive environment. In the States they have Earth Scouts and Camp Fire Boys and Girls, which seem to be much more sciency, and more child-centred, than Guides. Camp Fire Boys and Girls is US only. The Earth Scouts website is pretty horrifying and they do that stupid badge thing too. (Maybe my standards are too high.) I've thought about seeing if the ROM or the OSC have any kind of generic Science or Discovery clubs, but they wouldn't provide that continuity of community that I'm hoping for. I've even thought about starting something up myself, but I don't care about this enough to invest that kind of time and effort into it. (Not that I don't care very much, but it would be a lot of time and effort.)

In conclusion, Sparks seems to be the best of a bad lot of options. Is that good enough? I'm still thinking about it.

[Posted at 22:12 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 06 May 2009

I'm trying to decide if we should keep Delphine in Sparks next year. (Sparks is the precursor to Brownies, for 5- to 6-year-olds.) Delphine has been in Sparks for the last year, and now the time has come to sign up for next year. But I have serious qualms.

Guides is supposed to be about empowering girls and allowing them to build confidence, and yet they're going about it all wrong. The organization decides what girls should be interested in (by making badges available), decides how they should go about exploring those interests (the bullet-point items you have to fulfill before getting a badge) and then rewards them for their interest. Rewarding kids for things is a proven demotivator. And worse, in Sparks the girls haven't even had a chance to express their own interests: the meetings are predetermined at the beginning of the year. The girls' interests don't even come into play! It's incredibly disappointing to see a great opportunity to excite and engage girls be squandered because the adults involved lack the knowledge or imagination to do things differently.

Of course it's a giant crapshoot how good your troop is going to be because the Guide organization doesn't provide all that much, well, guidance on how to plan and run meetings. You might get amazing leaders who do know how to motivate and engage kids, or your girls might be stuck with a group of unruly kids led by frustrated adults yelling at them to shut up and get on with the Pointless Craft of the Day.

And if that weren't annoying enough, you have to sign an idiotic release form every time the troop does anything out of the ordinary. If the organization is that risk-averse, how are they going to help my girls become fearless?

Finally it's expensive. The annual fee is $125, there's a $1 dues charge at every meeting, and twice a year we have to pay $96 for those lousy cookies (and then dispose of them as we see fit). Plus we had to buy a shirt and sash. I suppose compared to the $250 or so that we spend on most 12-week programs Guides isn't actually all the pricey, but they seem to keep leeching at us all year instead of just once up front.

On the plus side, Delphine really enjoys it. But then she really enjoys watching Backyardigans and eating gummy worms too.

[Posted at 14:26 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 20 Apr 2009

Delphine has gotten to be pretty picky at the dinner table, and after one too many "I hate this!"es, Blake and I decided to let Delphine pick every dinner this week. Blake walked her through picking things that are on sale, and he also advised her on the standard protein-vegetable-starch distribution of a meal.

So this is what we're having this week. Try and guess which words Delphine wrote and which were Blake's (Blake likes Random Capitalization and Punctuation):

  • Mashed Potatoes & Hot Dogs AND (charred) ESPARAGIS
  • Pizza with Pepperoni & Tomato
  • Chicken Sandwiches & cut up apples & Corn on the cob.
  • Burritos (Beans, tomato, cooked carrots, cheese)
  • SRINP ring AND GRILD cheese SANWICHES BOK CHOY???

Should be a tasty week.

[Posted at 17:03 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 07 Apr 2009

My kids are great. They really are, despite occasional outbursts to the contrary. Okay - here's what they do that's annoying: Cordelia dawdles in the morning when it's time to get dressed; Delphine whines when I ask her to clean up (or leave the playground, or stop doing whatever she is enjoying); while they do play nicely together, they are both often impatient with each other and often fight, usually about really stupid things. That's all! That's not much, really.

Okay, there's one more thing. The most annoying annoyance is the pestering: they pester me for television, and for candy, and for trips to the park. They pester me to let them paint, or go play across the street. They ask, I say no, (or later, or tomorrow, or "you already had your tv/candy for today"), and then they beg. They argue. They bargain. They whine. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, sometimes they get distracted by something else, but however it ends it's tedious and aggravating.

I don't control what they eat at mealtimes, I don't control what they wear, I don't control what they play with, so they don't pester me about that stuff. The things which they pester me for are the things which I control; the things for which I'm the gatekeeper.

It must be so frustrating for them, to want something and to have to get past me in order to get it. I really can't blame them for pestering. I know if I wanted a lollipop or to watch Chuck or something and someone was (apparently) arbitrarily preventing me from doing so, I would be pretty pissed off. I would do everything in my power to get what I wanted, even if the only thing in my power was whining. Indeed, the very fact that I couldn't have that lollipop would probably make me much more obsessed with it than I would be if I could just grab a lollipop whenever I wanted one.

I've tried to create some kind of external structure around these things, so that it's not up to my whim. For example, the girls are allowed two TV shows a day, and four a day on weekends. These are rules they helped create and which they agreed to. Even so, they manage to find all kinds of opportunities for negotiation: TV now or later? Which shows? How long are they? Does Pingu count as one show? No? How many Pingus count as a show? Ultimately all these decisions are up to me, which puts all the power in my hands and creates a very unpleasant dynamic where they are constantly supplicating to me and I'm in control of their happiness. This is not how I want my home to be.

So what to do? I guess we could come up with ever more specific rules: TV only after school; three Pingus equals one Dora; one Sesame Street equals two Doras; if Delphine watches something while Cordelia is napping then Cordelia gets to pick the next show... Augh. That way lies madness, and eight million rules.

The assumption underlying all this, of course, is that if I left these decisions: how much TV? How much candy?; in the hands of the kids, they would handle it badly. Is this assumption valid? If I let them watch as much TV as they wanted, would they watch it all the time? To the exclusion of doing other things? What about candy? If there were candy available all the time would they eat too much of it?

I can start to answer these questions by considering adult behaviour. (That's the logical extension of every parenting dilemma, isn't it? "He's not going to be in diapers when he goes to university." "She's not going to keep eating only white food for the rest of her life.") So, I know I have gone through periods when I watched too much TV. I know I have watched TV, even crap TV, to the exclusion of other, more valuable activities. There are plenty of people out there who inarguably watch too much TV, for whom TV has negatively affected their quality of life and prevented them from living up to their potential. It has taken a good deal of self-restraint (and some technological tricks) to reduce my TV watching to the level it's at now, and even still I could probably afford to watch less. I have to consciously manage my TV habit; perhaps it is asking too much for a five-year-old and a three-year-old to do the same, and it is appropriate for me to manage it for them. Perhaps I have to just suck it up and deal with their whining as a part of being a parent.

(I could write that whole paragraph over again for candy, as I'm sure you can imagine.)

Incidentally, I'm thinking of shutting off the TV altogether this summer. (Well, at least for the kids. I'm a giant hypocrite. Also there's no way Blake would agree to not watching TV.) I have a friend whose dad unplugged the TV every summer and I must say it sounds like a fine idea. At least it will provide me with a short and easy answer to any demands: "Sorry kids, no TV until school starts in September." It might even curb the whining. Maybe.

I don't know the solution to this problem. Maybe I need to keep explaining the importance of not watching too much TV. Maybe I need to be more firm when they try and negotiate (I think I'm pretty good at sticking to our existing rules but perhaps I could be better.) Maybe I've been blessed with particularly persistent children and I just need to be more patient. Maybe I need to try harder to distract them. Maybe I'll just keep trying things until something works. Or they move out and buy their own damn TV.

[Posted at 23:41 by Amy Brown] link