Category Archives: Parent

Let The Summer Time Roll

I enjoyed our two weeks away, and it was definitely long enough for me to start thinking about all the things I wanted to do when I got back.

There are many writing-related things, of course, but I’m trying to let them take a back-seat to family life, since I have my boys (9 and 7) all to myself for two and a bit more months. That’s a backseat, not ‘getting out of the car and wandering off’, Write-Brain, ya hear me?

So anyhoo, today was the first day of Operation Summer.

MUSIC
Before we left I had purchased three recorders (yes, the musical kind) and two instructional books with the plan of getting the boys good enough to play from the Star Wars and Harry Potter books I had also bought. A has already had some recorder lessons at school and scurried off in an ‘it’s-too-early’ grump this morning, but I managed to snag the sweetly-enthusiastic 7 yo, G. I got him to stop making hideous screeching noises by showing him how the holes make impressions on your finger pads — if you’re doing it right. He was quite tickled by that. Then we went through the book’s lessons on note-length. I’ll say it one more time: the boy has rhythm!

He managed to successfully, if not consistently, play B, A & G, and I left the lesson there for today.

LIFE SKILLS
I confess to being a complete wimp when it comes to grocery shopping and doing it almost always when the boys are at school. So much so that the thought of having to take them with me today filled me with a kind of cold horror reserved by most people for public speaking and death. But I know that part of my job as a parent is to prepare my children to take their place in the real world and function without a mum or a wife or a paid staff to manage their affairs. So I made a list and told myself that I would take them to the shop and send them out to find things and all would be well.

Still I managed to stave it off for a while by saying ‘no, no, leave him with me’ when one of the neighbours sent her son over to play then sneakily announced her intention to slope off to the doctor’s. (Really, it was great; the boys burned off some energy and I got to feel like I did a good deed – even though it mostly involved not-having-to-entertain-my-kids-myself. Win!)

But eventually I could put it off no longer (well, I could have. Of course I could have. We could have eaten chicken breast with Kraft Mac’n’cheese instead of with broccoli and beets and I could have fed the boys month-old Frosties for breakfast).

i put on some soothing classical music in the car, to calm things down on the drive to the store. (It actually worked pretty well. I’m sure it will never work again.) All was calm and serene as we piled out of the minivan and scampered across the grocery store parking lot, the soles of our shoes threatening to melt right off on the boiling tarmac (really! It was like that scene from Terminator 2 where the T-1000 gets stuck to the ground by the liquid nitrogen. Except hot. Not cold. And our feet didn’t actually break off. OK it was nothing like that, but we just watched it again and the image is stuck in my head. Sue me. Unless you’re James Cameron in which case, don’t. You don’t need my money.)

The serenity was quickly broken by cries of ‘quit it’ and “he’s touching me!” and all sorts of joys of childhood that MY children are supposed to be above. I don’t know why this drives parents quite as crazy as it does, given that we were all once children imprisoned in relationships with irritating siblings who knew just which buttons to press to get us in trouble for whining about something THEY did, but it does. Maybe it’s the sheer relentlessness of it. I have been poked so often in that one spot, that just hearing the edge of a whine in a voice makes me wince as if someone has punched me.

In the store I let A drive the trolley for a while until my nerves finally frayed (lord help me when he’s old enough to actually drive). Then I sent the boys out on errands for various fruits and vegetables, but confess to losing heart a little when both boys forsook their quest for their stated heart’s desire – raspberries – to instead marvel at (and hit each other in the face with) a fruit that looked like Banakaffalatta from that Spaceship Titanic Doctor Who Christmas Special with Kyle Minogue. Sending A alone into the dark interior of the produce section to find a solitary orange resulted in my having to mount a rescue party and retrieve him from his position staring blankly at the orange display, clutching a little net bag of pearl onions hopefully in one hand. (“We could make pickled onions!” he said, quite truthfully. We still, however, lacked an orange.)

Somewhere along the line G touched something then stuck his finger in his eye, resulting in a frighteningly blood-red orb leering up from among the brassicas, and A managed to convince met to buy more chips and chocolate than were strictly necessary, but we finally made it to the checkout. Where we were slo-o-o-wly checked out by a boy whose mother really should have taken HIM to the grocery store more often when he was 9 or 7. (“Is this celery?” “No dear, it’s broccoli.”)

All I can say is ‘thank you, Reader’s Digest, for placing your humor issue on the supermarket checkout stands this week. Both boys seized upon it and all was calm as “Zack” picked his red-faced way through my spring onions and (heaven help us!) beets.

COOKING

My celery sensitivity has made many pre-prepared foods a minefield for me -soup and stock among them – so I am currently simmering up a batch of chicken stock, and have already made a teriyaki marinade for tomorrow night’s flank steak (hello, barbecue!). I have part of a chicken tikka marinade ready too, so I’m feeling pretty good about this shopping trip and its results.

Tomorrow morning I plan to use some of the bounty of apples I inadvertently let the boys sneak into the cart to teach A how to make apple pie. From scratch. With nothing but a knife and a rolling pin and the able tutelage of Delia Smith. And that’ll give us a good home for the evaporated milk A wanted to buy.

GARDENING

A insisted on picking up some living parsley while we were in the produce section. I was quite surprised when he, very responsibly insisted on planting it this evening. Sadly he decided to do it right when the mozzies were at their most voracious, but hey. We also scratched out a couple of lines in the soil for carrots. A could definitely be a gardener. That’s something to work on this summer as one of the many ongoing little projects.

LANGUAGE ARTS

I’m also planning on making the boys memorize poetry this summer, because it’s awesome and a huge contributor to one’s ability to use the language properly. While I wait for their materials to arrive, I stalked around the upstairs of the house re-familiarizing myself with “Casey At The Bat” which I learned a couple of years ago but then forgot. I’m using the ‘memory palace’ method to assist me (Google it). In my head, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine on my front porch, and Casey advances to the bat in my dining room. And if that didn’t make any sense at all, you need to a, read the poem and b, Google ‘memory palace’.

KNITTING

I’m making fingerless gauntlets. Because it’s 100 degrees.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation. So far.

Fun Food For Kids – Dinner Bricks

I like to feed my kids real food as much as possible – rather than something processed and canned and overpriced — so I like to cook for them.

Back when they were babies I cooked everything for them. But when they were hungry, there was no time for  waiting around for chopping, steaming, pureeing.

One of my friends introduced me to the genius idea of making batches of steamed, pureed vegetables, freezing them in iceblock trays and then tipping them out and quickly zapping one or two whenever I needed them.

Fast-forward six years. My kids are still hungry NOW! (with the exclamation mark).

Last month when I was cooking up some pasta for lunch, I realised (ka-pow!) that I could make a huge batch and freeze some individual portions for later. But how to store them? I dont’ have much freezer space so lumpy bagfuls of unidentified frozen dinner tend to get buried and forgotten and quickly fill up the freezer. I’ve toyed with squeezing the storage bags flat, but even at that, they end up slipping and sliding and causing a slippery, pointy avalanche whenever I open the freezer; plus I run into the problem of reheating them quickly inside their plastic prisons which, I’m assured, is not the most healthy option. (mmm, melted plastic).

Enter The Dinner Brick

While an icecube tray would no longer fill the stomachs of my growing lads, I realized I had, in my pantry, a nine-portion mini-loaf pan.

Dinner brick pan

I lined the pans one at a time with cling film 1, dolloped in a three quarters of a cup full of pasta and meat sauce, wrapped up each portion and shoved the whole pan into the top of the freezer.

When they came out: bricks of nutritious goodness ready for the zapping.

(Sorry I didn’t take any pictures.  We just polished off the last one at lunch time)

Updated: I took a picture of the next batch!
IMG_2647

 

The Fun Part

When I first pulled one of my little packets out of the freezer I was being hounded by a hungry six year old.

“What can I have? What will you make me?” he repeated.

Losing patience I slapped one of my nutritional super-packets down on the quartz surface where it made a KLONK loud enough to silence the boy for a moment.

“That.” I said. “A dinner brick.”

 

Admittedly, I did have to endure about five minutes of wailing about how he didn’t want a brick for dinner while I defrosted and reheated said item, but when he was finally presented with a steaming plate of pasta and meat sauce (liberally dusted with grated parmesan), his face lit up, and he dashed off to tell his brother that he was getting to eat a Dinner Brick, like it was the most exciting thing in thing in the world. 2

 

I’m planning on making more batches of Dinner Bricks in different flavors and contents, so that the journey of discovery can continue! I’m thinking mini shepherd’s pies, next…

And so, I give you: the Dinner Brick. Use it well.

  1. I know, still plastic, but easy to get the food out of after freezing
  2. there was something very sci-fi about putting a solid rectangle into a box, pressing a button and being rewarded with a plate of real food!

A Kid’s View Of The World

It is so refreshing to rediscover life through the eyes of a child.

Especially my slightly twisted children.

Today’s Stories From The Boys’ Blog:

1. How Urban Legends Start

I’m listening to A and G playing with a big cardboard box.

They’re pretending to mail themselves to Disney World.

For now, A is sealing his brother inside the box.

“Tape me!” says G.

“With real tape or Duck Tape?” asks his brother.

“Duck Tape.”

“Noooo!” cries . “That’s the WORST kind of tape!”

“Why?” G’s voice was slightly muffled.

“Because it’s Duck Tape. They make it from real ducks. They kill them and turn them in to tape!”

While I was typing I heard A scurry off downstairs.

Then I head G explode out of the box and scurry after him crying,

“Nooo! I was joking about the tape!”

I guess he thought A was off to murder some ducks….

2. Watch Out, God’s Finger Is On The Button

After prayers tonight G (aged 4), betraying his guid Scots Presbyterian roots, said,

“Julie,” (he’s very informal), “I think God is remote-controlling us.”

Predestination? At 8:14 on a Friday night?

I didn’t feel like getting into a theological debate, but I fear the thousands of dollars we’re spending on a good Free-Will-And-All-That Catholic Education might be money down the drain.

Heavens!

Best Job In The World

Sometimes being a stay-at-home mom is really really tough.

Those are the days where everybody is fighting, nobody is sleeping and you haven’t showered, talked to another adult or had a moment to yourself for as long as you can remember.

Then there are days when it snows just enough…

Just Enough Snow

And the temperature gets up above freezing so you spend a couple of hours building a snow fort

Snow Fort I

or two…

Gregor Behind Snowfort II

and teaching your four year old how to make a really big snowball…

…or a snowman.

Snowy!

And you end up with some impressive hat hair…

Hat Hair

And the only people who laugh at you are laughing with you.

Best job in the world!

Kindergarten Aspirations 2010-2020

[audio:http://www.julieduffy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/kindergarten2010.mp3|titles=Kindergarten Aspirations 2010-2020]

Visited the school yesterday and, while hanging around, found myself reading the exhibits on the wall outside the Kindergarten classroom.

Embracing the idea of history and change occasioned by the dawning of a new decade (which it’s not. But don’t get me started on the whole “there was no Year 0” thing. I’ve accepted that very few people care, and that ignorance is apparently a much more attractive trait than pedantry) the 5-6 year olds had penned (pencilled) tiny treatises on the topic of “In the next decade I will…”

Here’s a partial list of what I saw

In the next decade I will…

  • Get a job (complete with drawing of office desk and vase of flowers)
  • Get a phone
  • Get a car
  • Get a phone
  • Be driving
  • Get a job at Target
  • Drive a car
  • Get a new phone (emphasis mine)
  • Be getting a car (notice the subtle implication that someonKindergarten Aspirations 2010-2020e had better be buying this kid a car before their 16th birthday or else…)

And to counteract the chilling effect of most of those, there were a couple of sweet and probably untruthful ones which read

In the next decade I will

  • Make my bed
  • Help more

However, I now offer up my favourite, which I find just charming in its utter lack of imagination, because it sounds just like a five year old boy has sounded for hundreds of years: as befits a five year old:

n the next decade I will

  • Get a new cap.

(Of course, it’s possible that I’m being hopelessly romantic and  the kid simply misspelled ‘car’ )

PS I only have an hour between outings and figured I would keep on my tight, wriggly-into boots while writing this. But it has been so long since I’ve worked outside the home that it felt positively distracting to be typing with shoes on, and I was forced to shuck them so my toes could dig into the carpet like so much summer sand…

Mother Of The Year

Stop hitting people, stop touching them as you walk by, don’t barge between them, don’t swing your lunchbox.

Sit still. Use your knife and fork. Put your fork in the proper hand. Use your napkin not your sleeve! Sit up, sit down, don’t talk with your mouth full.

Stop saying “no” before I’ve even finished the question. Stop looking at me like that. Look me in the eyes when you talk to me. Don’t you dare talk to me like that. Answer me when I ask you a question.

Love and respect me and forgive me when I say so.

Beyond The Backlash of ADHD

For a while now I’ve just been hoping people would stop mentioning the term AD/HD around me.

Last night, instead of burying my head in the sand, I did some actual reading.

Apparently I had bought into the “AD/HD is way over-diagnosed and isn’t a real condition anyway” backlash without even being around for the first wave of information.

What The Medics Say

Neurons  (My God, We're Full of Stars!)

Neurons (My God, We're Full of Stars!)

All the medical sites and support group sites seem to have the same basic information:

  • There are regions of the brain that show differences in some people: the regions that controls attention and executive control (this study on adults with ADHD is described as ‘preliminary’ and is small-scale, but interesting nonetheless);
  • All children (and most adults) have some symptoms of ADHD sometimes;
  • People are diagnosed with ADHD when these symptoms are chronic, extreme and make life difficult by harming their interactions with the people around them:
  • In people diagnosed with ADHD these behaviours are not associated with willfulness and a desire to disrupt. They just ‘are’.

Now my job is to find some dissenting opinions that aren’t based in quackery, a desire to make money or sheer bloody-minded argumentativeness.

And then weigh things.

Genetics As A Factor

There is a strong suggestion, in what I’ve read, that ADHD has real, biological markers. There is also, then, a suggestion that it is a genetic thing.

Before I started my reading I was all set to point the finger at the paternal line: all that energy, all that brilliance, all that clumsiness.

After reading about ADHD symptoms and taking a little look back over my own life, I’m now semi-convinced that I have it too! (I’ll still pin the hyperactivity part on someone else though. That is soooo not me).

It could just be the old medical-textbook psychosomatic thing kicking in, but those symptoms are things I have fought (rather unsuccessfully) my whole life, and are character traits that cause me great frustration in my ability to overcome.

So What?

But whether I have a disorder is not so much the point.

Just the fact that I recognise many of the tendencies in myself and know, first-hand, how hard it is to overcome them, is making me a feel a lot more charitable towards the little  bundle of Attention Deficit that spurred my research (it really was tempting fate, wasn’t it, giving him a name with the initials “AD”?!)

So I don’t know what happens next.

But I feel better informed and less knee-jerky about the whole thing. And that’s got to be good.

If only I can focus long enough to make a decision…

Boys and Brains

Some hiccoughs in the Kindergartner’s progress recently have had my antennae tingling every time I come across any information about boys and schools and intelligence. I”ve discovered a few really interesting things recently.
This podcast of a recent Voices In The Family radio show was quite fascinating. The guests were a writer who has gathered all kinds of statistics and studies together to find out why boys are doing so poorly in school compared to girls (and there has been  a decline in boys’ performance in recent years) and a psychologist who studies these kinds of things.

Peg Tyre, the writer on the show has a book called The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do which is chock full of examples, studies and conclusions on the topic of boys and formal education. The thing I really like about it is that, although she does present conclusions, they are offered alongside the stats, which means that parents and educators can take that information and weigh it in the context of their own boys and their own situations.

The next podcast I listened to was a recent episode of Radio Times, also from my local NPR station. The guest was Richard Nisbett, who has written a book called Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. Apparently the whole question of intelligence and what it is, is quite fraught and political and I get the impression that the experts all disagree with each other quite vehemntly. However, I liked this guy’s thesis (that intelligence is largely affected by environment). It just makes sense to me. The podcast starts off with a discussion of intelligence and IQ scores and brain size and racial differenes that you might find a bit dry (but which I found fascinating), but it warms up a bit once they start talking about schools and once the callers start calling in (a pretty intelligent bunch of callers, if you ask me. Sometimes you get runts, but this show attracted some interesting and concise callers).

I’d recommend both of these shows, and possibly the accompanying books, to parents of young children, who are concerned about how to help their kids negotiate the world of school and learning.

You Know You're A Stay At Home Mom When…

I love that I get to stay at home with my children, but there are, as in any career, downsides to the job. Sometimes they strike me as funny, so I’ve started compiling a list.

You know you’re a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM)  when:

…You really amuse yourself by writing both ‘ketchup’ and ‘catsup’ on the shopping list and deliberately leaving it in the cart for someone else to find.

…You put on make-up because you’re Going Out! (To your annual OB/GYN check-up).

…You actually look forward to going somewhere that requires you to wear tights/panyhose.

More to come, as they occur.
What would you add to the list?

Spoiled — A Rant

When I was a kid (back in the dim, dark days of the 1970s) a birthday party was the highlight of the social calendar.

There weren’t very many of them, certainly not one for every child in the class, and I don’t think they started before age 7 or 8, or whatever age parents then thought kids could be trusted to be left without one-to-one supervision.

The girls donned floor-length party gowns (mine, I think, was green and velveteen) and bows in our hair, and the boys wore smart shirts and possibly ties, certainly real trousers and shiny shoes. Then we sat cross-legged on the floor and played Pass the Parcel, or were blindfolded for Pin The Tail on the Donkey, or Blind Man’s Buff. All very Victorian and charming. Then there were little triangular sandwiches made from white bread (crusts off, hoorah!), filled with salmon paste or egg mayonnaise. There might be fizzy drinks and paper straws (straws? It MUST be a special occasion!). A round birthday cake encased in a paper fringe, with the appropriate number of candles on top rounded things out. There was usually jelly and ice cream to eat while the cake was cut, wrapped in a napkin and stuffed into your party bag to take home, where you would whine to be allowed to eat it, be told ‘It’s nearly dinner time!” and when you did eventually get it, you’d spend most of your time sucking the icign out of the soggy napkin. The party bag might even have been attached to a helium filled balloon, if the hosts had gone all-out.

It was heady stuff and only death or German Measles could stop you getting to a Birthday Party.

My eldest is turning six this week. We invited a few of the children from his class over to our house for a party. We don’t have a huge house so it wasn’t the whole class, just his favourite few. I’m a little nervous, but not about the prospect of having a house full of children: no, I’m nervous that they might all be too busy to come.

I managed to shoe-horn A’s party into a weekend in between two other birthday party weekends from his class, but I still wasn’t sure if people would come. So far I’ve only heard from a few people: one kid can’t come because he has a football (American) game. One can’t come because she has a skating lesson. Our favourite family friends might not make it because their son has a basketball playoff match.

Did I mention that these kids are six?

I know people who spend two hours two nights a week sitting by the pool at the Y while their eight year olds trains for the swimming team. I know six year olds who are on three or four sports teams (American football, baseball, basketball, soccer or icehockey). They also go to Karate classes. Then there’s the Cub Scouts and Brownies.

My children go to swimming lessons once a week (if I remember to take them) and the little one has a knock-about ‘sport’ class one morning a week when he’s not at pre-school and I think that’s extravagant! We play board games and video games and maybe they watch a little too much TV on Saturday mornings. We probably spend a bit too much time in toy stores. We kick a ball around the garden and try to learn to get along. We read. We make up stories. I’m grateful that I can’t imagine my eldest volunteering to do anything that would take him away from his toys yet, if ever.

And I just can’t believe that we’re wrong: that we’re somehow putting our kids at a disadvantage because they don’t yet know how to dribble and pass and be a “team player”. I don’t believe that having extra-curricular activities to run to every day after school and every weekend does much for a six year old’s health or disposition. I worry about what it does to the family dynamic when the parents have no time for themselves and become slaves to their children’s schedules. I wonder when these children have time to think and to dream and to become curious. I secretly suspect that they don’t. I strongly suspect that this constant stimulation shuts down their brains and breeds incurious adults who need to be busy but never really question anything and swallow whatever the ad-makers put on the mass media brain-suckling-tube. I foresee a hideous, dystopian future — a brave new world, if you will — all caused and created by childhood over-scheduling. (I have also been accused of over-thinking things.)

Or maybe I’m just ticked because I’m scared no-one will turn up for my boy’s party!,