Amy (old posts, page 20)

Graduation Videos

Here is Cordelia watching, bemused, as everyone else participates in "Sticky Bubblegum":

And here is Delphine and her class performing a chant about recycling:

Shrinking Habitats of Eight-Year-Olds

Okay, more on the free-range kids thing. Look at this map, showing how the habitat of an English eight-year-old has shrunk in four generations; it's wild!

It's from this article.

My mother, as a child, was one of those "get out of the house and don't come back until six o'clock" kids but my brother and I stayed more close to home. The best bit was when "home" was five acres of land.

Free Range Kids

Delphine and I have been reading some classic chapter books about kindergarteners, like Ramona and the Betsy books. (By the way, if anyone can recommend any other books/series in that vein I would love to hear it!) I am struck by how early these kids walk to school alone: specifically, early kindergarten. Ramona was written in the sixties and Betsy was written in the thirties. So, apart from the cars which I agree are a concern, what has changed in the world since then that prevents us from letting our kindergartners walk to school? Nothing. But we don't because of some irrational, formless fear that Something Bad will happen to our children if we don't supervise their every move.

I'm thrilled to find a website of people who don't want to wrap their children in bubble-wrap, and I'm astonished I didn't find it before now: Free Range Kids. I don't have time to read much now but I'm looking forward to exploring this website! And in the meantime I might even let my kids play in the front yard without supervision! I'm a maverick.

TTC Madness

I'm posting this here mainly so Dave can enjoy some schadenfreude about our fair city and so Sascha and Leontine can see the messier side of Toronto. Oh politics, why must you be so hard?

A Day In The Life: Friday, April 25, 2008

(Delphine is almost five and Cordelia is two and a half and a month.)

It's 8:03 in the morning, and the girls are out on the deck. It's about 10 degrees outside so they both have on sweaters, and Cordelia has on mismatched wellies. They are lounging on the lounge chairs (the "relaxing" chairs) and playing "Ah ah ah!" with a crow. The crow says "Ah ah ah!" and they say "Ah ah ah!" back. Blake stood at Delphine's window (which overlooks the deck) and said "Ah ah ah!" and Cordelia started giggling.

Delphine loves to go outside every morning right after breakfast, now that it has warmed up (the weather, not breakfast). She has explored every one of the thousand square feet back there, and she keeps track of what is growing for me. Right now the fiddleheads are coming up, and it's all I can do to stop her from picking them all to eat.

Cordelia is at that stage where she overgeneralizes grammatical rules, so she "holded" my hand or she "moveded" back. (I'm not sure what that double-suffix thing is about, but it's pretty cute, in a Gollum-esque way.) Anyway, that's cute enough but Delphine has started doing it too, which is awesome. I like that she's learning things from her sister, even if those things are wrong. I'm sure they'll get sorted out sooner or later.

8:17 am: Cordelia is sitting at the dining table drawing with crayons. She says "I'm drawin' a hyclops! The hyclops goin' to have hair..." And she talks herself through the whole picture. She likes drawing cyclopses because she's still at the stage where her drawings are mostly circles and lines. Circle, circle inside, two lines sticking out; ta-da! Hyclops!

Delphine is making pictures of all different houses. She drew a condo, and a boathouse, and the roof of a house, and a round house, and just a regular house.

This morning Delphine told me she had a bad dream, but she changed it to be a good dream. There were monsters, and she had writing on her skin which told the monsters there was something inside her, but she told the monsters that the stuff inside was stuff they didn't like, muscles and bones, not something good like money and treasure. Then she flew away, and the monsters couldn't fly. She triumphs in her dreams!

It must have been a good night for bad dreams, because Cordelia woke up twice with bad dreams, too. Maybe Delphine can teach her how to make her bad dreams go better.

It's 2:42 pm which means I should go and wake up Cordelia so we can go pick up Delphine. Cordelia has only been asleep for about an hour; I put her down a little later than usual because there was a guy here aerating our lawn and I had to pay him.

Anyway, this morning we went to the library to pick up the thousands of books Blake and I had on hold, and to get some books for the girls. The girls got another Alfie book by Shirley Hughes, and a few more picture books. I got a couple for Delphine from the "Advanced Picture Books" shelf. I must also remember to order a new chapter book for her; we just finished "'B' is for Betsy" by Carolyn Haywood. We read a couple of books while we were there; Delphine picked out a book about a farmer, but she was very disappointed when it turned out to be just a counting book. She is getting too old for probably about half of the books in the picture book section of the library. I think we might have to switch to a bigger library, but I don't want to; I love this library and it's so handy.

After the library we went to the toy store to get something for Ursa, who is turning 5 this weekend. The girls were supposed to help me pick something out, but they got distracted by the train set. There was a little boy playing with the trains too, and they did 'dinosaurs knock over the trains' and 'look out, sheep, don't get hit by a train!' and all kinds of other train/plastic animal hybrid games. I finally got them to help my pick some little things out, and we headed home.

Lunch was peanut butter and Marmite on leftover buns (I forgot to make bread again). I made Delphine a snack of oatmeal cookies and prunes (no, she's not constipated, she just really likes prunes) and we were off to school. After I dropped her off, Cordelia and I headed home, the lawn aerator guy was here, and that's the end of that story, mostly. After he was done I overseeded the lawn and seeded the border we are converting to lawn. I know, it's madness. I need to come up with something better to do with my backyard, but in the meantime grass seed is cheap.

Now I'm going to wake up Cordelia and get her something to nibble on while we go back to the school to pick up her big sister.

Cordelia had a couple of oatmeal cookies to nibble on, and I put her in the big double stroller to go pick up Delphine. Usually we take a smaller stroller, but Delphine stubbed her toe really badly in the morning so I thought she might need a ride home.

After school, Delphine stopped and played with her friends for ages, as usual. School is out at 3:15 but we're lucky if we get home before 4:15. As usual, they started off playing in the school play structure, sliding, jumping on the wobbly bridge, and, increasingly, climbing the various climby bits – ladders, ropes, tires, and so on. Then they moved on to playing right at the far end of the playing field, apparently in the dirt. I think they like it over there because they're so far away from their Mums and grandmothers and so on. Finally we Mums got them moving by promising a few minutes of play on "Big Hill", the sloped lawn at the front of the school. (Obviously Delphine's toe was no longer bothering her.) We finally managed to leave with only some of the usual hysterics, and came home to a dinner of pancakes and bacon and mango and fried tomato. Sometimes I like to have breakfast for supper, just for fun.

We skipped bathtime in favour of reading some books, and then it was into pajamas and into bed by 7:15. I make that sound easy, but often there is some debate as to whether and when it is necessary to put on pajamas, brush teeth, tidy bedrooms or go to bed. Usually we all agree on reading a book or two, though.

Blake got home, as usual, sometime in the middle of bedtime and joined in the mess of brushing and reading and fighting. After the Smalls were in bed we Bigs took the laundry off the line and folded it, cleaned the kitchen, Blake had his supper, we watched a couple of Daily Shows and went to bed.

And that's a day in the life.


Spring has arrived with an unlikely two sunny warm days in a row, over a weekend! We celebrated by playing in the muck. We raked most of last fall's leaves off the front and back lawns, and I cleared off and weeded some of the north border in the backyard. I pulled out about a ton of creeping charlie, which is surprisingly satisfying to uproot when the ground is soft; you can get hold of a bit without breaking the stem and then reel in about a foot of plant and roots, like a magician pulling scarves out of a hat.

We also uprooted some of the many raspberries, and I cleaned out some of the raspberry patch. There are dozens of plants there and it's hard to get the leaves and twigs and weeds out from between them, to say nothing of trimming out the dead canes, pulling out the millions of little suckers, and removing the raccoon poop. I think the smart thing to do with the raspberry patch will be to thin it out as well as reduce its overall footprint. The previous owners must have really like raspberries.

There are lots of little things growing, but the only things flowering yet are crocuses. I'm not sure what the other things are so I'm looking forward to their flowers. Some tulips I planted last fall are coming up in the front yard; Delphine is very excited about that because she helped me plant them.

Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment this week was that Blake built a frame for our Square Foot Garden. That's a technique for vegetable gardening whereby you plant your entire garden in one (or more) four-by-four foot squares. We picked out the spot for the garden and Blake was poking around in the shed and found four perfect four-and-a-half foot planks, which he screwed together into a frame to delineate and protect the garden. I say this casually, as if Blake screws things together to make other things all the time, but if you know Blake you know that just isn't so. He is not what you might call "handy". However, he made a perfectly lovely frame without swearing or drawing blood, so I think he might be handier than either of us suspected. The frame is gracing our garden and waiting patiently for some nice compost and lots of seeds.

Everything Else I Read in 2007

Wow, I didn't realize I hadn't updated my book log since August. That's insane! Book log updates take a long time, so I guess I put off doing them, but eight months? Here are the books I read from August to the end of last year, and I'll post this year's books in another post. One day. Maybe in August.

Three Junes by Julia Glass was a vacation read I borrowed from Baba, and it was a great book. I am looking at all the notes I made on it after I read it, and sadly despite having written the notes and now reading them, I don't remember much of the story, which doesn't reflect well on my attempts to read more attentively and remember what I read. Anyway, it's one of those novels with dozens of different characters whose lives intersect in interesting ways. The characters are beautifully drawn and the intersections of their lives are plausible and enjoyable to read about.

I sound like an idiot when I try and write about fiction! Maybe non-fiction too. Oh, I wish I were smarter. You would think all this reading would help.

Get Smart: Nine Sure Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School by Ronald Dietel. I think I picked this up because it was on display at the library. That is to say, I didn't order it especially, and I'm not worried about Delphine's academic development or anything. I'm not even particularly worried about whether she "succeeds" in school; the question of whether getting good grades can be considered succeeding is very much up in the air for me at the moment. Anyway, that's now, but back in September when I read this book I thought it would be cool to know how to help my kid succeed in school.

Dietel starts by commenting on the fact that apparently there is no time to be a kid any more, and there's big pressure on even the smallest of children to succeed in school. "The words 'let them be kids' are becoming a faint echo of the past." And that's all he says. He doesn't say that sucks, he doesn't say you should be a counterpoint to the pressure in your kid's life, he doesn't say maybe achieving in school isn't the be all and end all. And I guess he wouldn't! If he felt that way I bet he would have written a different book.

He goes on the talk about the different factors which affect your kid's success at school (specifically: ability, effort, attitute, school quality, teacher quality, school learning habits, home learning habits, evaluations, communication). And then for each factor he talks about how you can affect and improve it, varying from study techniques to working with your kid's teacher to homework routines. It was a pretty useful book, for what it was. I am older and wiser* now than I was when I read the book, and have some different perspectives on school and learning and how much involvement I should have in my kid's life, so even though I only read this book a few months ago I think I would approach it a lot differently if I read it today.

* I am older and wiser now mainly because of a book I just read called Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn which has blown my mind and made me rethink everything about interacting with my children, but in the best possible way. I will post about it sometime.

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins; another just-picked-it-up choice. This is a young adult novel about an Indian-American teenager who is torn between her traditional grandparents and her desire to be an ordinary American girl. I generally liked the story and the message of the book, but I am spoiled by all the Canadian books I usually read and was really put off by all the American references. I don't see why an American book shouldn't have American references, but there's something nice about books set in Canada. They're easier to read. I expect the same is true about books set in Sweden if you're Swedish. I also though that Sunita's boyfriend's exoticization of Indian culture was kind of creepy, but it was presented positively in the book.

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande is a book about how to succeed in medicine, or any endeavour which involves risk and responsibility. Gawande's three core requirements for success are Diligence, Doing Right and Ingenuity. He illustrates them with fascinating examples from the field, from the difficulty in getting people (doctors!) to wash their hands to the subtleties of conduct in the examining room, to the near-magical improvements in neonatal survival after the introduction of the Apgar score. This is a wonderfully written, interesting and thought-provoking book, whether you are a doctor or just want to be smarter and better at what you do every day.

Incidentally, here are Gawande's five "Suggestions for Becoming A Positive Deviant":

  1. Ask an unscripted question; be interested in someone else, surprise them, learn something about the people you see every day, find their humanity.
  2. Don't complain; it drags you and everyone else down, it is unhelpful and boring.
  3. Count something, track something; be a scientist in the world. If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting.
  4. Write something; add some small observations about your world; step back and think about a problem; make yourself a part of the larger conversation.
  5. Change; respond to new ideas; recognize the inadequacies in what you do and seek out solutions.

Find something new to try, count how often you succeed, write about it, ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going. These are words I try to live by, even in my relatively small world. I strive for constant improvement. That sounds really dorky, but it's true.

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman. Another fantastic book! It's great when I get two good books in a row. This is a fascinating book about, as it says, how doctors think, and mainly how they diagnose. Groopman talks about the inadequacies in medical training, how doctors feel about you as a patient, how they come to their conclusions and how they can get stuck in stereotyped views of you and your condition. Most importantly he writes about how you can ask questions to understand your doctor's thinking and perhaps gently steer them in a different direction if you feel like they are not giving enough thought to your condition, or if you just want to understand their diagnosis better.

Everyone who is a patient should read this book, and doctors should too.

The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough by Sarah Nettleton. This is mainly house porn; lots of pretty pictures of "simple" houses; houses that are exactly as big and complex as they need to be, and no more. Pretty and inspirational.

Supernanny: How To Get The Best From Your Children by Jo Frost and Nanny Wisdom: Our Secrets for Raising Healthy, Happy Children — From Newborns to Preschoolers by Justine Walsh and Kim Nicholson. I read these books because I was looking for inspiration on how to discipline Cordelia, who was just getting into a bit of a hellish phase. Both books favoured timeouts, which I tried and which failed miserably because Cordelia would either be completely happy on the "naughty step", or Delphine would go over and comfort her.

Anyway, otherwise these are pretty good books which emphasise what I consider to be the cornerstone of good parenting, a structured routine. They also both give a shoutout to an early bedtime, another parenting tool which I think is sadly underused these days.

However, I wish the Nanny Wisdom nannies would stick to general parenting advice and stay away from advice on nursing, which is... well, it's none of their business and they don't know what they're talking about. They say you should stop nursing at a year and they say that at some point your milk dries up and your kid is just nursing for pleasure. Which is not true at all! They clearly overstepped the bounds of their own expertise there. If you want good nursing advice, the book for you is Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. Not some nanny book.

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is what you experience when you are completely involved in what you are doing, when you feel simultaneously focused and transcendent. It doesn't happen very often, and Csikszentmihalyi has studied when it happens and how. This is a book about how to fully engage in life, how to live without waste of time or potential. If you don't believe in an afterlife then you know we've only got maybe eighty years of consciousness, and you'd better believe I don't want to waste any of mine. This is a wonderful book about finding happiness and fulfillment, sometimes where you least expect it (like at work!).

Factory Girl by Barbara Greenwood. Barbara Greenwood is a lady in my choir who writes really neat history books for children, which combine historical facts with a narrative. She tells the story for a few pages and then breaks off and talks about the facts behind the story. This was an interesting read for me because it made me realize how much I bluff when I'm reading historical fiction. For example, the character in the book works in a sweatshop that makes shirtwaists. Sure, shirtwaists, I thought! Cool! It was only three pages later when Greenwood breaks out and says, in effect, "Here is what a shirtwaist is" along with a few illustrations out of the Eaton's catalogue, that I realize I had no idea what it was, really. Similarly she tells what, specifically, you could buy with the girl's meagre pay. I found this to be a very effective teaching technique; I think you're more likely to ask questions about what you're reading if you know that the answers are coming up, and I think these books encourage curiosity. I look forward to reading more of Greenwood's books with the girls.

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs. This was better than the last Kathy Reichs. I think I need another go-to mystery writer, though, because Reichs continues to annoy with her sentence fragments and her "it's on the tip of my tongue" intuitive mystery-solving.

Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. This was useful but I can't remember exactly what I learned that I didn't already know. Oh, I guess I learned that it is considered okay to put the entire message in your subject header (if your message is short). That always annoys me, but I guess if no-one else minds I'll have to put up with it. Also apparently you are only supposed to have one topic per email; if you want to talk to someone about two things you should send two emails. That sounds really maddening to me, but I have learned from experience that some people just don't read (or comprehend) more than one item or paragraph in an email message. Also I suppose having one topic per message might make it easier to file, if you're a dinosaur and you still use folders instead of tags.

And that's the end of my 2007 reading! I can't believe Cordelia is still asleep! I might even be able to post about what I've read in the last three months sometime before the end of April.

March Break

It's day three of March break, which I have been looking forward to for a while. As I might have mentioned a thousand times, taking people to and from school is the thorn in my side for this winter, so a week of unstructured days where we don't have to be anywhere in particular are any particular time sounds awesome. I'm also glad to say I haven't turned into one of those Moms who is scared to face a week or even a day with her kids. (One of my favourite examples is an acquaintance from school who has bought her kid millions of toys but "has" to schedule her for activity after activity because she is "bored" at home. My kids aren't allowed to be bored.)

So on Monday we had a friend of Delphine's over and they did the usual dressing up and jumping on the bed and drawing pictures and stuff. I threw together some lunch and then Delphine went over to the friend's house while Cordelia napped and I ... I don't remember what I did. Read, maybe?

Tuesday we had a huge impromptu March Break Pizza Party. I had invited my friend Ellen over with her three, and my friend Tanya invited herself over (she's allowed to do that) with her two, and she in turn mentioned to a friend, Anna, that she was coming, and said friend invited herself over (she's not really allowed to do that but we have been muttering about getting together sometime, and she's moving to England soon so it's not like I need to worry about something awkward developing.) Anna has two boys, so altogether there were nine children (two babies, three toddlers and four kindergartners) and four Mummies. We tossed the eldest out into the snow for a while where Jake (the senior kindergartner) gave orders and pulled people around on the sled. The Mums juggled babies and made pizza and talked some awesome talk (I love smart people) and then we hailed everyone in and fed them all. Then all the kids played upstairs. It was an interesting dynamic; they are all three and four and I swear they spend eighty percent of the time discussing what they were going to play and what the rules were and whose rules they should use, and maybe twenty percent of the time actually playing, usually chasing each other and screaming.

Gradually people left (but not without cleaning the kitchen first!) until it was just Tanya and me and ours, and we agreed it was good fun but not something you'd want to do every day.

Today I declared Toy Sort-Out day. We brought every toy in the house down to the dining room along with the assorted boxes and bags and things they go in, and put everything where it's supposed to be, creating new categories and boxes (with labels) as necessary. I am trying to train them to be organized freaks like me. It was hard work but it only took the morning. After lunch Delphine and I "rested" on the couch (with the TV on) while DeeDee napped, and now they are outside painting the snow with food colouring-tinted water, and making snow cookies with the sandbox toys I dug out.

Tomorrow we're venturing downtown to the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts, and Friday is still wide open! Maybe we will go tobogganing in the park. What are you doing for March break?

Mind-set, or why I don't tell my kids they are smart

Here's an article from Scientific American about how a focus on your kid's effort — not their intelligence — is the key to success in life (and school). The bottom line is, either your kid believes that she's smart and successful because she was born that way (a fixed intelligence mindset) or she believes she's smart and successful because she works hard and practices (a growth mindset). In either case, eventually your kid is going to run into something she can't succeed at effortlessly. If she has a fixed intelligence mindset she will give up on that thing, assuming that it's just something she's not good at. If she has a growth mindset she will just try harder and harder. Children with fixed mindsets will also be scared to try new things, and to make mistakes, for fear that they will be "outed" as someone who isn't so smart after all.

So your kid needs to know that intelligence isn't intrinsic but is something that can be changed and improved, and she needs to know that being intelligent isn't much use without a good dose of hard work and courage. That's why I am not impressed when my kids are smart; of course they are smart. It's what they do with themselves that I am interested in.

This issue is close to home for me because I grew up with a very fixed mindset and it has taken me years to shake it. It also caused me to make some decisions I still regret now. Basically every time I wasn't instantly successful at something I would give it up, and I was absolutely petrified of making mistakes, so I never took any risks. I would like my children to be bolder, less fearful of failure and mistakes, and to work harder than I did as a child. (And as an adult, now that I mention it.)

Here's an interesting paragraph from the article for Kat — this ties into something we were talking about the other day:

Mind-set can affect the quality and longevity of personal relationships as well, through people’s willingness—or unwillingness—to deal with difficulties. Those with a fixed mind-set are less likely than those with a growth mind-set to broach problems in their relationships and to try to solve them, according to a 2006 study I conducted with psychologist Lara Kammrath of Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. After all, if you think that human personality traits are more or less fixed, relationship repair seems largely futile. Individuals who believe people can change and grow, however, are more confident that confronting concerns in their relationships will lead to resolutions.

Oh, incidentally I got the link from Alyson Schafer's blog.