The gift-giving season is upon us. Hanukkah begins next week, Christmas and Kwanzaa are just over a month away, and other holidays follow. Parents everywhere are beginning to think about how to navigate the pending avalanche of gifts, not to mention what they can do for their kids to make the holidays memorable.
It’s always around this time of year when a mother — or 10 — will approach me, somewhat wild-eyed, pleading for suggestions and direction.
“How do I keep my brother-in-law from buying the kids such noisy, battery-operated toys?” asked one. “My mom always insists on being so lavish, the kids are exhausted and spoiled and they haven’t even opened a gift from us or Santa — it takes all morning,” another explained anxiously. “I want to give the kids one or two really meaningful gifts, but I don’t have any ideas. Everything is so commercial,” complained the third this week.
One of the hardest things for some parents to do is to have a frank, honest conversation with the friend or relative in question, but if you can, it will often have a positive outcome and grow a relationship. Explain that the child loves them because of who they are and the time they spend together, not because of the gifts they give.
Here are a few suggestions I’ve put together that can stretch a budget, work for the environmentally conscious, and hopefully keep everyone in the family happy and connected.
• Provide catalogs or links to websites that have items you prefer. Explain that the catalog is just a source for ideas (some of those items can be pricey) or let them know that whatever they choose from it that is age appropriate would be treasured. Try Natural Pod, Nova Natural Toys, and Jalu Toys, which all carry quality, natural, practical, real-life, and sturdy items. In Squamish we are lucky to have stores like Toy Corral at On The Farm and Kaos Kids that carry board games by eeBoo and Peaceable Kingdom, Anker Stone Building Sets, and Sarah’s Silks.
• Many items can be made from items already in the home. If the person is crafty, ask whether he or she would make an item for the child. Knitting a cap or scarf, sewing a dress for a dolly, building a wooden and wire mesh bug catcher are all things children treasure. For an older child, rather than making the item completely, ask whether they might create a kit that the child and the giver can work on together to help the child learn the skill that the person loves.
• If the person enjoys nature, they can gather treasures — stumps/cut branches from the trees in the backyard, a ribbon tied around fresh flowers, a cutting from a favourite plant to grow at home, a basket full of acorns, shells or pine cones. Even better when the gift is an invitation to gather the treasures together.
• Seek out the classics… Solicit a favourite book from their childhood, a collection of fairy tales, Mother Goose rhymes, or animal fables. Other collections might include toys for the kitchen or workshop — real items found in their own home or toolbox.
• Encourage them to shop second-hand. Not only will they find something unique and affordable, but oftentimes the money will go to a worthwhile charity.
• Suggest a family photo album or memory book of the child’s life: Ask them to write a memory of whatever the subject of the book is about — when mama was pregnant with you, when you were born, when you were little, what I love to do with you.
• If your child is very interested in a costly sport or activity, ask for others to donate items or contribute toward the fees.
And finally, the only one who really ever works 100 per cent of the time… Give up! Quit trying to change everyone else and just set the boundaries for your family. Realize that the giver gives a gift out of love and wanting to give you enjoyment. Accept the gift with love and gratitude — what you do with it after that is up to you.
If your child gets an inappropriate toy and your boundaries are pretty clear, your child will know immediately it will not be a toy that is going to be around your home for long. Let the child play with and enjoy it and when the all-too-soon time comes when the child is bored with the toy, let it go.
Do you find yourself in moments of sheer frustration trying to get your child — whether toddler or teenager — to eat the meals you prepare?
Perhaps it is a rare occurrence that your child refuses to eat; however, I know some of you are nodding solemnly, remembering how just last night, the spaghetti hit the floor, and walls, and underside of the table, and… no need to go on, we can all envision it. For others it can be a thrice-daily battle.
If you are looking for a few tips as to how to get your kids to eat, the best place to look is at the very beginning — the preparation of the meal.
Children will more readily eat meals they either prepare or help to prepare. There is a sense of accomplishment and pride in being able say “look what I did!” or offer mom or dad a helping of supper in which their own hard work can be found within.
I’m a big fan of getting kids involved in the process (disclaimer: my husband is far better at actually doing this than I am, but then he does most of the cooking these days). Once we’re settled at the table, it’s amazing to see how well this effort of inclusion results in better-filled bellies.
The notion works for all ages. Inviting a one-year-old to play on the floor around you with wooden spoons and storage containers is just the beginning. By two years old, your little ones can be up at the sink giving peas a bath, scrubbing carrots or helping to wash up. Sure, it might be a bit messy and you’ll have some water to soak up, but everyone will be kept occupied and smiling.
By three, you should be able to give your toddler a small, sturdy knife and show him or her how to chop vegetables — keeping fingers out of the way — for salad or a side dish.
Pizza toppings are a perfect idea, as are the ingredients for a stir-fry or curry. This sort of activity can last for years!
The key is to build in the extra time it will take to have their “help” and know that sometimes there may be a few spills along the way. The upside is that you’ll be teaching your child what it means to help with food preparation from a very young age, and they’ll be able to appreciate what it means to fix a meal. It will also give you a great deal of time you wouldn’t otherwise have connecting, not just about food (and the opportunity to share nutrition information) but everything — relationships, school, friends, and all sorts of challenges they might be facing.
When we give space and allow conversations to unfold naturally — as opposed to drilling them with 20 questions at school pick-up time — you’ll find you will learn a lot more about your child as well as forge a stronger bond.
And you’re certain to see a lot more of that food being gobbled up.
I love Hallowe’en – the costumes, the festive atmosphere, the bonfires and candle-lit jack o’lanterns – it’s thrilling and exhilarating. But there is something about October that makes me wonder if everyone has gone completely mad.
What piques my curiosity most as we look forward to donning costumes, flowing like small armies of ants through the streets, calling on neighbours and filling pillowcases with candy, is how adults have forgotten that this part of Hallowe’en – the part where kids get to be kids – isn’t theirs.
Where is the common sense of those who decorate their yards with what appear to be actual props from the latest Freddy movie? In the matter of one short block kids can see axes lodged in oozing skulls, hear amplified blood-curdling screams that sound all too legit, and spot headless “bodies” and torsos swinging from trees.
It’s fine and dandy if you want to go all out for your weekend Hallowe’en party where friends and co-workers come dressed as a sexy version of their childhood career option or favourite superhero, but whatever happened to the scariest part of trick or treating being that seldom seen neighbour gruffly opening the front door and creepily asking you reach into a cauldron for candy – only to have your hand snapped at from beneath?
I get that technology allows us to do things bigger and better, but honestly should we really be bringing that sort of imagery to the minds of school children? Is there not some sort of sacred protection we all feel toward kids that keeps us from showing them the worst of our imaginations?
As a society we agree that it’s practical and appropriate to rate movies and video games, that there are just some things young eyes shouldn’t see. Parents are able to make intentional decisions about when their kids are ready to view graphic content, but on Hallowe’en it’s suddenly open season.
Perhaps due to the graphic nature of media we are all exposed to many of us have become numb to it. And that’s a problem. One can find inappropriate “decorations” in the oddest of places – restaurants, rec centres, offices, salons – you name it. Never mind the rows of fake bloody heads with rotting flesh found in cheap discount stores that some parents struggle to avert the eyes of toddlers from. What’s was wrong with bats and broomsticks and cobwebs?
Can’t we make something out of this occasion that brings about a sense of wonder, mystery and magic? Over the past few years when my children were preschool and kindergarten age we celebrated with friends on candle-lit pumpkin walks with potluck dinners around bonfires and visits to the Woman Of The Woods, who would graciously accept an offering from the forest in exchange for a short parable and a treat like a juicy pomegranate or homemade licorice. There was awe in the faces of the children and perhaps a little concern, but never terror.
We’ve become lazy. We’ve allowed the lowest common denominator and commerce to dictate how we celebrate what was once a wonderful night of festivity and fun and turned it into a something many parents with younger children are eager to avoid – it’s not just the sugar.
Let’s focus on putting the thrill back into All Hallow’s Eve for kids – while at the same time keeping our sanity about it all. And while I’m at it, I would love it if one child – just one – instead of knocking on my door this Hallowe’en simply bellowed TRICK OR TREAT!
A couple weeks ago a cute little graphic with the quote circulated on the Internet. It read: “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways.” Instantly, and despite its source, the profound phrase affected me. I promptly added it to my Facebook parenting page, where I like to park a lot of inspiring thoughts, blog shares and, of course, my own writing.
But rarely do I come back to a post, time and time again, the way I have with this one. Every day, perhaps several times a day because of all the “opportunities” I am given (insert a winking smiley face emoticon here), I think of this phrase and the poignant truth behind it.
Almost two weeks ago, my eldest fractured her arm in two places and dislocated her elbow. We’ve made multiple trips to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver; she has undergone major anaesthetic twice, and come home first with a green cast and more recently a blue one.
Perhaps it was all the narcotics she was given, but even I am not accustomed to dealing with a small person with such a big bark. On about as much sleep as a brand-new mother might get, my patience was being tested again and again and sometimes, I will admit, I did not react with as much compassion or grace as I would have liked.
It’s hard to keep your cool when you get knocked in the mouth in the middle of the night by the full force of a seven-year-old flailing her fiberglass-encased arm and wailing unintelligibly about swimming with cows.
Yes, we are co-sleeping again. I wonder what Dr. Ferber has to say about that?
When I am able to draw upon my well of compassion and inner strength, things go much better. I have to remember that in her situation I, too, would be outright cranky, and probably WANT to be just as demanding; I merely have the maturity and experience to know that sort of behaviour won’t get me very far. I guess we all have to learn that at some point.
This quote, in all its wisdom, also goes for adults.
Like when that driver yells out his window at you, not because you were too slow on the gas, but because he had a fight with his wife that morning. Or when the clerk at the store is snarky with you for asking if they have more stock in the back — it’s not you she’s upset with; her boyfriend just cancelled dinner plans via text. I know, perhaps the moral of the story here is not to text while you are at work, but in any case, as Keith Anderson sings — somebody needs a hug!
Keeping in mind that everyone is fighting her or his own hard battle is one way to move through life feeling less victimized and responsible for other people’s outbursts. Remembering that those who most need our compassion and love likely will ask for it in the most off-putting ways is another.
I’ve also learned that for the subsequent nights while Big Sister needs some extra support, I need to sleep on the other side of the bed!
A few weeks ago our family cottage on Lake Manitoba — where I spent about three months a year until I moved out on my own — was torn down.
Knowledge that this event was in the offing didn’t make seeing pictures of the demolition any easier and I found myself flooded with emotion and introspection. And I should be clear, this cabin I speak of had one cramped bedroom and what I think was the original “great room” where we cooked, ate and lounged on a daybed playing cards. There was a small stereo and nine-inch TV with rabbit ears where we sometimes watched fuzzy episodes of M.A.S.H after the news in the evenings. We had no indoor plumbing and I was about nine before we had hot water. I didn’t know it then, but it was heaven.
Having been back to visit earlier this summer, I found that while many of the sights had altered, the smells and textures, and simply the feeling of sand — THAT sand — between my toes, were all unchanged.
Despite the fact that B.C. is now home, my childhood will forever live at Twin Lakes Beach. My sister, cousins, friend Diane and I spent endless days there, running free. It seems to me that as long as we kept within an implied one-kilometre boundary, there was nothing we couldn’t do. Swimming for hours on end, mucking about in the marsh, making nests in abandoned haystacks of farmers’ fields, climbing trees, building forts in overgrown empty lots — it was all ours for the taking.
I would wager we all have a place like that in our memory bank: A place in nature where the beauty of childhood envelops us in a safe, tranquil embrace.
Yet, as I plan for a film screening of the documentary Play Again (Thursday, Sept. 26 at the Eagle Eye Theatre at 7:30 pm) that addresses the effects of nature deficit disorder and the digital age, I find myself questioning what children of this generation will cherish from their own childhood. Of what will their so-called golden moments consist?
Will their warm and fuzzy memories comprise of a favourite app or game played on an iPod in the backseat of a minivan?
The power that screens have over us these days — admittedly, I use one much of my own working day — is immense. Children in the United States are on one version or another five to 15 hours a day.
As parents, we still have influence in our children’s lives — more when they are younger, of course. It’s up to us to ensure that our kids continue to build real hands-on experiences of their own and not ones predominantly virtual. Let’s make sure they get outside to play, that they get dirty, that they know what it feels like to play tag in the forest, to hide in the hollow of a tree, and to feel the sun — and rain — on their cheeks.
After all, they won’t melt. I checked it on the Internet.
Food planning has never been my forté. Just ask my husband. Oftentimes he will sweep into the house after a long workday and within moments will have whipped up a snappy supper without batting an eye — even when chopping onions are part of the mix.
I, on the other hand, fret over every small detail, another aspect of my self-diagnosed frustrated perfectionism, I’m certain. I agonize over the quality, the nutritional value, and the “orgainic-ness” of ingredients. Left to my own devices, I would construct — in my mind — the perfect meal, and by around 10 p.m. find myself too hungry to cook and settle for a bowl of gluten-free cereal. If it weren’t for the kids, I could probably do that six out of seven nights a week (but boy, what a meal that would be!).
Some might say planning and prepping daily school lunches are a bit of a thorn in their sides. For me it is like I fell into the rose bush headfirst. Not only do those pesky little thorns get a jab at me, I get a headache out of the deal to boot.
Now that my youngest will attend full days this year, I’ve graduated from making one lunch and snack a day to two. My kids don’t particularly eat a similar diet or like the same foods, either. I will console myself with the idea that yours don’t either, regardless of whether this is true.
Complaints aside, I think I have come up with a relatively brilliant solution to my lunch bag woes, and I’m happy to share them with you.
Sitting down with each of my children, I had them tell me what sorts of lunches they think they will like, and chose some “themes,” giving me a little leeway when necessary to fudge things a bit.
The home run in all of this is the daily lunch plan that emerged. Every day of the week, each child will get the same lunch as the week before — Mondays are pasta day (my choice of whether they get Annie’s, gnocchi with sauce, or something similar in their Thermos); Tuesdays are sandwiches made with cold-cuts, canned fish or nut butter; Wednesdays are a selection of hard-boiled eggs, ham, cheese, crackers and hummus; and Thursdays are onigiri, or Japanese rice balls. Fridays we get a reprieve with early dismissal, so that one I will leave off the chart for the time in effort to appeal to my more whimsical nature.
My list of pre-approved lunches — which I’m willing to switch up for something else at any time should something suddenly fall out of favour — will make shopping a lot easier too. As you might imagine, I’m a bit dogged by that task as well. My compulsion for label reading takes a LOT of time!
In addition to a stable fruit, veggies and a drawer of mom-sanctioned, healthy snacks, I’ve committed to Sunday night baking — muffins, homemade granola and the like. As I write this, it is becoming quite evident that Sunday will now become grocery-shopping day.
You win some, you lose some!
As I prepare for back to school — which, for me, invariably means a much busier work schedule — I am pondering what child activist Marian Wright Edelman once said: “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”
The relaxed pace of summer is coming to a close and soon many parents will find themselves packing lunches, arranging before- and after-school care, and shuttling kids around town — and to the city — for classes and lessons all aimed at enriching their child’s experience of life.
Which makes me stop and wonder: How much enrichment does childhood really need?
Yes, opportunities to learn an instrument or second language and play sports are truly wonderful and those of us fortunate enough to be able to send our children to such activities can count our blessings. However, over-subscribing a child comes with a cost. When extracurricular activities leave little if no time for imagination — free, unstructured play — and boredom (yes! boredom!), I am hard-pressed to find an unencumbered benefit. It is in these moments when children become their most creative, determined, resilient and adaptive.
According to a University of Michigan study, children have lost 12 hours a week of free time since the 1970s. That is one waking day out of every week!
For many kids it’s not just a factor of busy-ness. When children are on screens — an average, some say, of eight hours a day — their connection with family, friends (real ones, not just those online) and nature is seriously jeopardized.
Helping your child reclaim some of that “lost” down time gives him the opportunity to relax, rest, and thereby integrate what they learned and experienced in their day. It doesn’t matter if this is done while reading to oneself, playing an instrument, creating art or even baking. Better yet, enrol your child in chopping vegetables for dinner!
Pulling back, even just slightly, can create lasting impacts in your child’s demeanour, behaviour and attitude. When a child is less hurried, has time to process her thoughts and emotions, and can fully engage in the few activities she loves is when a parent will see the so-called rewards of a happy, fulfilled young adult.
This fall as we head back into the more hectic nature of school and activity, I encourage all of you to take a stand for your child’s childhood. Not everything need be about enrichment. Let’s leave some time for imagination, free-time and… boredom!
On the ferry over to Hornby Island where the family and I spent eight blissful (read: sporadically blissful) days and nights camping I had an insight. No matter how stealthy you think you are as a parent, someone is ALWAYS watching.
You see this was one of those perfect examples of how no one should ever become too confident in their ability to parent, lest you have your legs kicked out from under you.
Giving my husband some sorry excuse as to why he was now in charge of two manic children, I sat ignoring the gorgeous coastal scenery in favour of fervently banging away at my laptop trying in vain to file a magazine piece that was due just after the long weekend.
You know how everything can be calm at home until the phone rings? My children cannot stand it when I am on the computer. It doesn’t matter that there are seals and whales to spot, an entire ship to roam, or a backpack full of snacks they don’t get at home. They want my attention the moment I have something “important” to do.
So as my five-year-old whined and pleaded for the 16th time begging for something, ANYTHING, out of the vending machine I snapped my laptop shut and looked her straight in the eyes.
“No. For the last time, I will not say it again, NO.”
And then it happened. She kicked me.
And I kicked her back.
Yep. You read correctly. It was a monumental low in my parenting career. I kicked my sweet little baby square in the shin, quite possibly because I was certain no one was looking, most definitely because I was at odds with what I was doing and what I wanted to be doing. Working was not on my agenda this trip.
She looked at me in horror, mirroring I suspect, my own reaction. And then she let out a howl. It truly surprised me that she came to me – her assailant – for comfort. She threw her arms around my neck and moaned until the pain subsided and the shock wore off (for both of us).
Later (after I gave up writing or getting any work down whatsoever) as I was chatting with a clearly very experienced and relaxed mom about her baby’s full head of hair, I noticed my darling 5-year-old jumping on the top of a bank of chairs behind us. So I calmly and sweetly said “Honey, you can’t do that on the ferry. It’s not allowed. You’re going to have to get down. Now.”
The mom looked at me and smiled knowingly.
“Ahhh, P.I.P.” she said.
“Sorry?” I asked.
“Parenting in public,” she smiled. “It’s a tricky one.”
And for the second time that afternoon my legs were kicked out from under me.
There is currently nothing atop my refrigerator.
I haven't been able to say that for oh, at least seven years. Before that I lived in an old Second World War-era house where the fridge was recessed under some cute but useless cupboards. That's where I kept things that I gave away when we moved.
Since having children I've used this space to store, hide and effectively “remove from little fingers” anything and everything that wasn't working for us: Paper dolls for which the girls weren't old enough, modeling wax that was fun until it got shmooshed into the shag rug, magnets my then-toddler thought would be fun to eat — which resulted in a trip to the ER and subsequent X-rays after the nursing hotline advised that “one was fine, more than one could kill her.”
This past week I was brave enough to have Adriana Smith from Shining Goddess Clearing in my home. While that in and of itself isn't completely terrifying, the notion that she was there to help me clean, clear clutter and organize without pre-emptively trying to do it all on my own, was.
I know I'm not the only person overwhelmed by his/her house. I noticed on Smith's Facebook page that she had cancellations and subsequent openings in her schedule more than once that week. I was determined not to bail just because I was afraid she might learn the truth about me: As much as I tout simplicity, I have yet to master it.
In a few short hours, we tackled a good chunk of my kitchen. We pulled apart cupboards and cleaned top-down, putting back only what was really needed and wanted. I donated a few things to Pearl’s, made a bit of money selling items online, and shared with friends.
Simplifying is a process and it’s one that is making an impact in other areas of my life beyond the physical. Lightening one’s load is akin to freeing the mind of clutter as well. The amount of energy that goes into managing one’s belongings can be burdensome when you have more that you need, and especially so when everything doesn’t have its place.
When the kids returned home at the end of the day, they were suitably impressed and even a little dismayed that I hadn’t spent all that energy in their bedrooms — which I will take as encouragement. In Simplicity Parenting, the first realm we tackle is our environment. Keeping things pared down to the basics without many multiples (which lead to too many choices both for adults and children alike), organized, and clutter-free helps ensure that kids aren’t stressed or overwhelmed. As any adult knows, when one is stressed or overwhelmed, it can lead to many undesirable actions and behaviours.
The same can be said for kids, perhaps 10-fold. Most parents are keen to know the magic answer to kids’ behaviour problems. While there is no trick, one of the first things you can do is tackle your environment. Give it a try. Much like my kids, I think you’ll be suitably impressed.
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
– Henri J.M. Nouwen
While vacationing recently I had the opportunity to experience many different styles of parenting and grand-parenting. It was a unique peek into the way that different generations approach the role of child-minding, and how certain “tried and true” methods of discipline either work or don’t.
I fully acknowledge that children today are markedly different to those of prior generations. I would speculate that it is for a myriad of reasons, including high stress lifestyles, an economic “necessity” that sees both parents working full-time, increased single-parent households, heightened media and screen exposure, and less time in nature, to name only a few.
In the past couple of decades most forms of physical punishment, like spanking, have been pretty much taken off the table. Not all of our parents employed such methods, but it was certainly an easy one to resort to. In its absence many parents turned to behavior modification, and constructed rewards and consequences.
More recently we have come to understand that even these methods are without great merit. Certainly, like anything, you can achieve desired results – but at what cost?
Ultimately when we speak of disciplining a child, most are referring to appropriate punishment. However, discipline comes from guidance and demonstrating how you wish your child to be in the world. I recognize that when my seven-year-old starts to raise her voice in frustration a little too often, chances are I need to look at how I am responding to comparable situations.
Similarly when siblings are fighting more than usual, or the way in which they are disagreeing with one another – hitting, yelling, door slamming, you name it – is escalating, we as parents are wise to examine the root cause beneath the more common behaviours. Modeling your desired reaction when things get heated is one of the most effective ways of disciplining your child – but keep in mind it’s proactive, not reactive.
All of this, of course, takes years of patient parenting. Children of all ages – including teenagers – need to see how we respond to the world, repeatedly, before being able to absorb and mimic our values. In between they will try on any number of responses to see how each one feels and what the ramifications of their choices are.
For parents, we may not see the fruits of our labour until we are well past the point of affecting any further change. This job may truly be the least instantly gratifying job on the planet. Unless you count those unexpected snuggles from your six-year-old, casual hand-holding from your tween, or “I love you” texts from your teen.
In those moments, it’s all worthwhile and you are reminded why patience is, indeed, a virtue.