parenting

Psycholinguistic evolution. Or: why pre-schoolers are wonderful.

memory jar

image via here

We were driving around in circles the other day, Harry and I; lost on the way to the house of a new friend from school.  ’Oh Mummy’ sighed Harry, ‘We should have asked the CatNap how to get there’.

Such linguistic slip-ups are one of the great delights of  these wonder years as Harry masters the art of language, and each time I struggle with the urge to leave them uncorrected in the hope that they  somehow get preserved forever in all of their magic.  Many are logical and smile-inducing; a plate of buzz-ghetti is a favourite food (apparently this switching of sounds is very common, along with the usual mixing up of plurals and tenses).  Others are more mysterious in origin; add parmesan to your spaghetti and you now have a plate of ‘Pasta with Damage’ – another keen favourite, though none of us can understand where the damage bit comes from.

The first voyages into empathy are also touching and occasionally comedic; when one of his classmates was tearful at the prospect of school last week, Harry leaned over to her and stage-whispered ‘It’s ok; they won’t make you have hair-washes here’ – hair washing, for him, being the most scary and distasteful thing he could imagine and therefore the obvious cause of her anxiety.

It’s hard not to laugh when these things pop out, but fortunately Harry is remarkably affable and good-humoured about causing mild hilarity. ‘I’m a funny guy’, he beams, chuckling, before testing out the correction and making a mental note for next time.  And I usually do correct, because the social perils of ignoring minor speech errors loom large in my mind; I still remember vividly the heated prickle of embarrassment of breakfast after a friend’s sleepover in my teenage years when I asked for a bowl of muesli – pronounced ‘mursley’ in our household, where such things had only been read on the packet and never heard spoken aloud.  The stunned silence around the table, and the sniggering of her younger brother before someone ventured ‘do you mean moo-sley, dear?’ almost ruined my 14th year (I was a very melodramatic teenager).  I blame my parents.  Still.

Ages ago my mum urged me to scribble some of Harry’s sayings down before they got lost in the hurly-burly of time passing and the white noise of growing up.  I harboured vague intentions for way too long, never quite settling on the right way of doing it – the right notebook to scribble them into; the right way of recording them – and thus losing countless gems in the process.  Then a couple of weeks ago I  read Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts how her late husband used to keep a jar on his desk filled with bits of paper capturing the sayings of their young daughter, which he then occasionally recycled into the mouths of characters in his books.

So simple, yet so obvious.  Write them down, stick them in a jar.  Fill up the jar.

Pause at odd sentimental moments and go find the jar; sift through, smiling and remembering.  Allow yourself to become a bit misty-eyed.  Sign a poignant sigh and then get a grip.

That’s my plan anyway.  And my jar is in fact an old teapot, which sits majestically on a shelf above the kitchen sink, and is now rustling with very important scraps of paper.

I added the most recent one this morning, after we stepped through the door into a classically autumnal world of swirling mist and fog.  ’Look, Mummy!’ exclaimed Harry; ‘there’s Sky Dust everywhere!’.

A perfect world of buzzghetti, CatNaps and sky dust; long may it remain so…

Buzzghetti

 

Moments for which there really should be a word.

The Days May Be Long

I’ve just put a small boy to bed, teetering with exhaustion and glowing with pride at having completed his first day at school.  So proud in fact, that he has been wearing his new uniform since dawn and only agreed after much discussion that it should be removed not only for bathtime but also for bed. It is hung carefully in clear sight of his bed, lit by the nightlight so it can be admired at all times.

Everyone warned me that the day your child starts school is one of those watersheds, where the world spins a little more slowly on its axis, and the past four years flashes back in technicolor glory, from the tininess of hands and feet, the warm solidity of toddler thighs, the milestones of weaning and walking and talking… until suddenly you watch your child, so brave and expectant, in school shorts which look impossibly large and grown up, waving you off from the classroom door.

On the one hand I am so proud to have grown this amazing man-in-waiting who can take life in his stride and who views everything as the next great adventure; on the other I want to freeze this time forever to preserve the magic of these wonder years before he grows any older.

At the moment, I am required to play a starring role in all of his games; that of the beautiful princess, who must be rescued from danger (dragons, pirates, husbands; anything which might distract me in fact).  There is little to indicate me for this role in anyone else’s eyes, but for Harry this is my natural place and I participate willingly, even if this requires me to climb grubby trees and sit there for hours whilst he rushes around at ground-level, or to wedge myself into the impossibly small cupboard under the stairs which doubles as a castle dungeon.  Occasionally, Harry forgets to rescue me and I find him playing with Lego, oblivious to the cobwebs in which I am covered.  Still, I am all too aware that soon I will be required to maintain a low profile when games with friends are afoot, so I will make the most of my time in the princess spotlight.

All this came back to me as I sat in the school car-park today, clutching the wheel and bracing myself to drive away.  In every car in the car park this scene was repeated; mascara being reapplied, husbands being called and debriefed on the recent partings, and everyone being brave and taking a deep breath.

In the end it was a triumph; a brilliant day for Harry with no tears or drama.  In fact, the only thing that Harry found shocking was that at lunch they were served only half a jam-tart each for pudding, and not a whole one (Harry is a man of healthy appetite).  Despite this reportedly Dickensian approach to food, the signs are good and I couldn’t be more relieved.  It’s one of those days where you feel like a million miles have been travelled… but travelled well.

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Regular followers of this blog will know me as a lover of words, so when I stumbled across this beautiful collection of untranslatable words (below) via Pinterest which capture specific feelings or moments in time, it resonated perfectly with my current heightened emotional scale.  The authors collected eleven words which in different languages define something perfectly, and appear to have no direct translation.  The piece itself is lovely, but equally fascinating is the response it has gathered whenever it has appeared; the list of new words just grows and grows as readers around the world add more, as in the comments here.

11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures

For me there is just one word which is missing from these lists and deserves to be invented or declared; that mixed feeling of pride, nostalgia, anxiety and infinite, reckless love which hits you like a wave when your impossibly small child turns to you at the door of his new classroom and waves you goodbye….

We should name it, I think.

Neat Feet

Today Harry elected to wear his red rubber wellington boots to nursery.  Yes it is June, and they were accessorised with shorts and a t-shirt, but H is a firm believer in following one’s fashion impulses regardless of season or peer pressure. (I say peer pressure; we were greeted by an eclectic cluster of two-year olds dressed as fairies, superheroes or simply sans clothing altogether, so perhaps conventional dressing is the only taboo at Harry’s age…)

I love Harry’s feet, and always have… as a tiny baby they, like his chubby starfish hands, seemed impossibly small and in constant motion as they flexed, explored and sensed this new and strange world.  One of my favourite pictures I took in those first few blurry months was this one of H&A’s feet, which hangs in the kitchen.

Since then, Harry has developed a keen interest in footwear, albeit each new sized shoe leads to a comic day of tripping and dragging as he learns the extra clearance required for walking in longer shoes.  This morning Harry opted to try on my husband’s shoes for size; a moment I had to capture…

I’ve kept all of H’s shoes since his first slippers at a couple of months old, and often ponder what to do with them; they currently hang on nails along my office wall, waiting for inspiration.  The most recent favourites are these battered silver trainers below, now immortalised as the footwear du jour at age 2  - I did the same for him at age 1 and will keep going over time.

What were your favourite shoes as a child?  As a tomboy I lived in trainers apart from the obligatory school shoes, a notion incomprehensible to my husband as he now surveys my overflowing shoe rack and row of killer heels of a height which makes him wince. Now that my home-days are spent in sandpits and muddy fields,  I have to confess that trainers are once again enjoying a revival in my daily life, and the heels mostly just a reminder that somewhere deep inside me is a footloose glamazon in temporary hibernation…

A Very British Affair

After two weeks of soaring temperatures, blue skies and barbecues, the heavens duly opened this Friday to mark the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the long bank holiday weekend.  Since its self-declared annus horriblis in the 90s amidst Diana’s death and Charles’s disfavour, the Royal Family has reclaimed its place in the hearts of Britain and the Commonwealth.  This weekend almost every village in England held street parties, fetes and events, and Jubilee-fever spread across the county despite the rain, not least here in our house…

In preparation for hosting a Right Royal Tea Party for Harry’s nursery friends, we decked out every surface with bunting, added red, white and blue accents wherever we could and of course chose our own wardrobe with care… (I should add that these are my husband’s legs, before I get inundated with sympathetic comments and advice on discreet depilation…)

You can’t have a tea party without cake, advice we took very seriously, so Harry and I whipped up these cupcakes (below) and adorned them with London landmark cake-toppers and sprinkles. Regal brownies, bell peppers with mozzarella and a raft of other healthy and distinctly unhealthy treats rounded out the feast.  Despite adding vast amounts of gel food colouring to the frosting we managed to achieve a watermelon shade rather than a deep red, but they looked no less perky for that.

To distract from the grey skies we turned the house over to toddler mayhem and had games, music and a few decidedly regal events; each partygoer decorated their own royal cookie, customised a crown to wear and earned a medal for enthusiastic participation in games with very few rules and much cheating; the best kind always are, I find…

Once every cake was eaten and the bunting trailed wearily from the bannisters, we collapsed in front of the television to watch a film about the creation of the official Jubilee song, which draws together performers from across the Commonwealth; a pretty awesome achievement, you can watch it here.  So now we’re officially Jubliee-d out, as I imagine the Queen must be too; at least I didn’t have to do all this in high heels and a hat, maintaining a smile throughout.  Respect is due, your Majesty…

Harry’s Ark

Most of the projects I do for and with Harry take minutes or hours; we are notoriously distractible and not genetically completer-finishers. Not at all. This one however was a monster; it began when Harry was just a few days old, and was finished a year later – at last, Harry’s Ark (with apologies to Noah) is ready for the rains to come!

In the early, fuzzy days of new motherhood I decided I wanted to make Harry a toy that he could play with over a number of years, that would look good even when it was retired to the playroom shelf, and maybe, just maybe, might become a family heirloom and entertain others in the future.  I must have been mad; let’s blame the raging hormones and sleeplessness.

I settled on the idea of a Noah’s Ark, as a sort of boy’s equivalent to a Dolls House.  My creativity may be strong but my woodworking skills are not, so I searched Ebay for old model boats or half-built and abandoned projects that I could makeover.  I found the base for Harry’s Ark this way; a beautifully shaped, nearly complete hull of a boat that was discovered in someone’s late grandfather’s workshop.  This gave an added poignancy to the project and I like to think he’d have been pleased to see it finished and put to use.  I built the body of the ark using random doll house components bought online (pillars, doors and windows) and balsa wood for the walls and pitched roof.  Miniature cedar shingles glued to the balsa create a folk-art style roof, and I used malleable stained glass leading for the roof top and edges.

I added eye-hooks along the hull and threaded a waxed washing line and curtain rings to give the impression of buoyancy aids (amazing what you can repurpose!).  A cheap ladder from the pet store intended for budgerigar cages provided the perfect ramp for animals to board the ark.  Stitched scraps of hessian filled with rice make good food bags / sandbags, and join straw bales and barrels to make a collection of props for Harry to use when playing.  Harry helped me to gather tiny twigs through the winter, which I chopped and glued to fill the roof cavity and add a decorative top to the ark walls.  I nailed a tiny model dovecote to the roof and added miniature birds and a weathervane (the forecast of course is always rain but you never know…).

I was determined that this should be a properly usable toy and not an ornament, so designed it to come apart into several pieces (above).  When Harry was tiny he played with the base alone, then I mounted it onto castors and added a rope so he could pull it around.  Now that he is 2 and more dextrous, he marches the animals in and out of the ark and positions them along the roof, slams the doors and zooms them up and down the ladder laden with buckets and miniature carrots and grain sacks.  Being a boy, many animals regularly plunge to their doom in the sea, and the emergency services are frequently required to rescue lost dogs and sheep.  Not very biblical perhaps, but great fun nonetheless.

We bought a few pairs of Schleich animals to start him off, which cost a couple of pounds each; I thought that in time this would be a good pocket-money investment, with Harry able to add new animals one (or maybe two) at a time, and find the odd one in his Christmas stocking.  With that in mind, I customised an Ikea box using transfer paper, so we can document and then store each new arrival….

The ark is still a work in progress, and I suspect always will be; bits occasionally drop off after vigorous play, but more often additions are requested and made; our next project is a feeding trough and some nets to trawl the ocean; I’m thinking fishnet stockings might be the obvious candidate for recycling here but am pretty sure I don’t have any lying around (not these days, at least…)

What was your best-loved toy as a child, and has it survived? I give our ark a 50:50 chance of longterm survival, but actually it doesn’t really matter – sometimes the very best toys get loved to death and destruction, and that surely should be seen as a sign of their success..

Sunshine Projects!

When Harry whips out his shades (albeit upside down), you know that Summer is right around the corner, and some outdoor project planning is called for. In anticipation of a heady season of outdoor living and loveliness – fortunately optimism comes naturally to us both – we now have a sunshine project list that is beyond our wildest capabilities. Still, dreaming alone is intoxicating stuff…here’s a few of the things that made our Top Ten:

Inspired by a hotel we stayed at last Summer in the beautiful Guia D’Isora region of Tenerife, these  pebble curtains would look stunning on a terrace or even inside in a bathroom – we’re collecting interesting stones in preparation…

Simple concrete or terracotta pots add an on-trend colour pop to the garden when sprayed in neon technicolour; the use here as an accent works more powerfully than a top-to-toe dousing; we’ll be trying this for sure next weekend.

Despite the hosepipe ban sweeping Britain after just one week of sunshine, I’m determined that we’ll have our own carwash up and running by August, catering for all the neighbourhood scooters, ride-ons and tricycles…

And when we’ve worked our way through some of those, we’ll kick back with a bowlful of these beauties; after all, frozen yoghurt and fruit has got to be good for you, right..?

And all of these of course will be in addition to our Great Sunflower Race, launched here; if you planted a seed too, ping me a photo or link with your progress and we’ll have a race pitstop to check who’s germinated, who is racing ahead and who has yet to pop through the soil – bate your breath! It’s not too late to join in, though illegal stimulants might need to be added to your watering can to ensure any late entrants catch up…

Photo credits: Neon pots via www.theproperpinwheel.com  Carwash via www.sfgate.com

Typography for toddlers

Typography is definitely enjoying a moment in the spotlight, with the ubiquitous Keep Calm and Carry On mantra leading the field.  I saw something a little like this (below) in a glossy spread of someone else’s magazine, whilst reading over their shoulder on the tube. The phrase stuck in my mind as being exactly the kind of guidance we want to give to Harry, so I had a crack at creating it in eye-popping brights on my home laptop and printer (in Powerpoint, nothing more sophisticated).  Framed simply, it graces the playroom wall and adds a splash of colour, and can be replaced within minutes for something cooler as Harry grows up.

Even more temporary, which suits my fickle nature, is this poster which I made for the bathroom today, reminding Harry of the morning routine (when read aloud, of course; though destined for great things, literacy for H is still a little way off…).  Being 2, Harry loves a good routine, although one which involves hair brushing and the donning of clothes is less appealing.  If H could skip steps 1-4 and depart the house full of Cheerios and cuddles but still sporting PJs and a bedhead, the world would seem to him to be a very lovely place indeed. Tacked to the wall with a nail and bulldog clip, we can replace this whenever it gets dogeared or needs updating.  I don’t anticipate it still being there at the point that we need to add ‘shower and shave’ to the list, but hey, who knows…

If you fancy having a crack at something similar but can’t face starting from scratch, my files are attached below for download, so you can tweak text and colour to personalise… enjoy!

WORK HARD PLAY HARD poster-1

mr sunshine master

A Bathtime Armada

Seldom is there anything more pleasing than uncorking a bottle of wine and feeling that you are doing something lovely for your offspring at the same time. Sin and virtue irresistibly combined.  I’ve been conscientiously setting aside corks with the vague notion of making boats for Harry’s bath, and this week my small stash was boosted by an enormous sack of corks contributed by colleagues, who seemingly rival Oscar Wilde in their affection for the grape.  The intriguing odour of slightly stale red wine corks now permeates Maison Kate and the ambience is none the worse for that.

Scraps of gift wrap, cocktail picks and pennies were all we needed to knock up these buoyant beauties; if you tire of attempting to saw the corks in half (don’t do this after drinking the wine…), just glue three together for a galleon-like raft (below). We used drinking straws to create gusty winds, seething whirlpools and ultimately as a means to a refreshing drink from the pretend sea itself – urging a 2yr old to blow not suck is a comedic exercise in futility, I have learned.

Once our flotilla was complete, I used the residual corks to make these jaunty clippers (below), which will float in bowls on the table tomorrow night when friends descend for dinner, bearing menu details and various dares and challenges for the guests to complete.  They’ll doubtless be dive-bombed by olives and tested for buoyancy with such rigour that they are unlikely to survive the main course, but first impressions are everything and they add a splash of nautical colour to the room.

We’ll leave Harry and his armada bobbing in the tub – a man’s bath is his kingdom after all, and no place for cameras – but suffice to say that these boats are phoenix-like in their ability to rise again after complete immersion and apparent destruction; dry out the cocktail pick, mount a new sail and away you float, into the brave new world of another day…

The Playroom Safari

Harry’s now at the age where hand puppets are becoming interesting; they can bring stories to life, steal food from his plate (who knew that giraffes are partial to bananas, or that crocodiles lose all sense of decorum when faced with a square of toast?). They can whisper secrets furrily into one’s ear, and seem to Harry to occupy a realm somewhere between make-believe and reality.

We’ve amassed a small safari of animals over the last couple of years, including this incredibly lifelike rabbit below (‘it looks like roadkill‘ shuddered my husband, as I whipped the admittedly rather squashed bunny out of my suitcase after a recent business trip).  The trouble is that like all soft toys they tend to get buried at the bottom of the toy box and discovered only by chance, usually looking somewhat crumpled and adorned with lost Cheerios and ancient stickers.

The solution; to mount them on the playroom wall, hunting-lodge style.  Each animal has been carefully (if not very imaginatively) christened and allocated a position, and now our very own safari surveys the playroom and its members are regularly invited down for play.  It’s perhaps the only habitat in which you will see crocodiles, giraffes and elephants co-existing in such harmony…far more harmony than a bunch of toddlers, that’s for sure.

How to make these: After experimenting with various poles and mounts, I discovered these papier-mâché hands (1) which duly fill the puppet heads to max effect when glued to a piece of MDF (2) –  strong cardboard would work just fine. Glue together, paint white all over with a soft bristled brush (3), allow to dry and then drill a small hole before mounting on the wall with pins or nails (6).  I added these name tags (4), made from wood offcuts and blackboard paint and strung loosely over the hands.

Laundry? Life’s too short…

There’s nothing like a weekend of torrential rain and domestic chores to make one’s mind turn to glittery, sparkly things; to cocktails and flighty behaviour and all things fun. Given that kitten heels and Cosmopolitans would be a tad inappropriate at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, let alone hindered somewhat by a toddler and localised flooding (unrelated, those last two, for once…), H and I have been making our own fun, combining clothespins, glitter and glue to messy creative effect. Here’s the grown-up edit of alternative uses; Harry’s showcase to follow in due course.

1. Nailing ribbon to an old picture frame and using sparkly clothespins to attach personal mementos, which include here my husband’s marriage proposal (we don’t only communicate in writing, I hasten to add), a favourite wedding photo and a cherished note from a friend.

2. Adding a salvaged tap end to a clothespin to hide a message to Mr B inside his suit carrier before a business trip (always good to have something to look forward to..)

And as a creative alternative to stand-up place cards for dinner…

These are so simple they don’t warrant a tutorial; we found that double-sided tape is the easiest way of attaching coloured scraps of paper, glitter and ribbon to clothespins for all sorts of fun, but glue would work just fine.  2yr olds are ideal for the decadent and flamboyant distribution of glitter; we will be sparkling lightly all week, and the entire house has taken on a lovely sheen.  Using glitter in tonal shades works great for items like the pegboard; primary colours and vibrant patterns add a zing to refrigerator doors when a magnet is attached to the back.  And if you really want to be purist and use them for laundry, they make great ‘Lonely Sock’ pegs when hung in a row on the laundry room wall….

Open for Business!

Napoleon once famously declared Britain to be ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, unfit to go to war with France (this was shortly before his defeat at Waterloo, ahem).  In the centuries since, this throwaway Gallic insult has become something of a source of national pride, with the village shop being the heart and soul of any local community and a fiercely defended institution.

Avid followers of this blog (thank you both) will know that Harry is a big fan of The Shops, unhindered as most 2yr olds are by the notion that one must pay hard cash for the magical goods contained within. His original cardboard box play shop sadly collapsed this past weekend, after months of cavalier treatment from children and grown-ups alike (what is it about very small spaces that makes adults determined to wedge themselves into them?), so I’ve been finishing a more robust version below, which we are proud to open here today for all your daily provisions.  The prices are of course outrageous, as Harry is saving up for a new fire engine; an apple will set you back about a week’s wages, but it will taste very good, I can promise you. Tips, process steps and a few close-ups of our wares below.

As with Harry’s play kitchen, I found this dresser top / hutch on ebay for around £15, and set about sanding, priming and painting it.  This involved poking the odd woodworm in the eye with a sharp stick, but otherwise was fairly painless.

I mixed up food boxes and packaging with various bits of plastic play food that we already had to produce a rather odd – let’s say eclectic – mix of produce to sell. The wooden trays are the lids of some ikea storage boxes, with home-printed labels for decoration. Stripy paper bags are filled with dried pasta, and some paper triangles glued to ribbon make for a festive bunting to mark the Grand Opening…

This bell was a junk-shop find with an astonishingly loud clang (note to self; check this next time before cheerfully purchasing…).  Harry’s cooking apron doubles as a store-owners uniform, and Japanese paper tape accessorises the shelf-fronts. Wooden drawers act as a till for cash, and fake fruit abounds wherever you look.  We are having a Dali-esque issue with scale, as you’ll see; strawberries are the size of eggs, and pears have a decidedly GM look to them, casting a shadow over smaller produce; such are the results when you acquire play food from a number of sources over a number of years…

And finally of course, our shop sign; it had to be French (sorry, Napoleon…). Now, what can we tempt you with today?