Friday, December 24, 2010

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

The Poppet's feet are amazingly entertaining. 
She curls up her toes and then points them. 
She touches one foot with the other and then looks at them in astonishment. 
She stretches her feet out so that they go in all different directions, and then she curls them in again. 
She brings her feet together so that just her toes touch and then she brings them part again. She curls her toes up, and then uncurls just one set of toes. 
She flexes her feet at right angles and then relaxes them. The toes on one foot are often doing something entirely different than the toes on her other foot.
She finds them fascinating. 
I find them adorable. 
They are small and perfect, a pale almost translucent pink and soft as petals. They are slightly chubby with tiny wrinkles and tiny nails. There is often a large gap between her big toe and all her other toes. 
Thoughtfully, she holds one foot and twists it in and then out. 
Consideringly, she rubs the sole of one foot against the bridge of the other. 
Baby's feet are enchanting. 
Which is one of the many reasons why Mem Fox's book for children Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes' is such a hit. 
This was one of the first books my son ever loved - a gift from friends from the Solomon's who came to stay with us in Vanuatu and brought amazing gifts - including my little boy's favourite books - Baby Boo... and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Brilliant Strike Rate. And they were Board Books. We've already replaced Baby Boo twice. Now it's Ten Little Finger's Time to be replaced with a glossy new copy. 
It's been well loved. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Siblings Sleeping

My children are sleeping side by side on my bed.

They fell asleep with their legs entangled and while they have now disentangled, the Sprocket has reached over in sleep to gently rest one hand on the Poppet's face.

There is nothing that I can think of that has made me as happy as watching the deep-sleep breathing of my children as they sleep, side by side, turned in towards each other with the Sprocket gently touching his little sister's cheek.

I suspect that in the future there will be times when they do not get on so well as they do now, when the Sprocket is just past two and the Poppet is four and a half months.

Even now the Sprocket is less than impressed with the Poppet's habit of pulling his hair (it's a tactile thing, she means no harm). An the Poppet is a little apprehensive when the Sprocket is less than careful in his exuberant leaping.  More than once I have had to restrain him from jumping on the Poppet. It is carelessness, not maliciousness.

But on the whole, my Poppet thinks that her big brother is the most entertaining and wonderful thing in the world (after the milk) and her face lights up when she sees him and she giggles and grins and smiles and sings and if she could, I am sure she would turn cartwheels. The Sprocket thinks this is fairly cool, and smiles shyly in return and will, on request give her kisses. If she is in her cot crying he will look at her with worry and lead me to her. If they are nursing together he will give her arm little pats.

In years to come when they squabble and argue, kick, punch and back-stab each other, I hope I will remember this evening.

There was a massive Queensland storm today with sheets of thunder and lightning and the sky turning green. The temperature suddenly dropped from ridiculously hot and muggy to pleasant. The world outside our window is now drenched. Cicadas are singing and frogs are croaking and my babies lie sleeping side-by-side in golden light.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There was a time...

There was a time, and I remember this time, that I could have a shower by myself. All by myself, with no one else inside the shower with me. With no squirming toddler, with no dirty plastic truck.
There was a time, and I remember this with even more nostalgia, when I could go to the bathroom all by myself. 
I remember this. 
I could sit on the toilet without trying to grab for the toddler climbing up the change table to crawl along to the bathroom sink to play with the taps. 
Or lunge for the toddler turning on the shower to flood the whole room so that he will then slip and look at me accusingly. 
We are presently staying in a granny flat. Which is great. Except for the granny-bathroom. Which has a hospital-style shower with no distinct edges. 
Every time you turn on the shower the whole bathroom floods and it takes four or five towels to de-flood it. 
The Sprocket loves to turn on the shower. 
I tried not bringing him into the bathroom with me once. 
I thought hey, just for a few minutes he will be alright out of my sight. 
I was wrong. 
I came out and he was sitting in the kitchen sink. 
I don't know how he got there. I just know that he was there. Within reach of my husband's super sharp knife, of the kettle, of the compost bin he loves to up-end.
The Poppet is just about to start crawling. She is pushing up her little butt and flailing her little legs. 
She thinks the Sprocket is the most amazing, the most wonderful, thing in the world. (After the milk) 
Soon she will also be turning on showers and climbing into sinks. 
There will be two of them. 
I am feeling very tired. 
And I am remembering the time I could go to the bathroom all by myself

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bounce - How Champions are Made by Matt Syed

Bounce, How Champions are Made by Matt Syed

This is a must read. 
This is one of those books that I am going to force my husband to read and that he will enjoy. As soon as they can read I will bribe my kids to read it. I will even consider crocheting cushions with quotes from it. 
And at present I can’t crochet.
Its premise is fairly simple – There is no such thing as innate talent – there is just hard work and determination – oddly enough, seen in practice this is a mind-blowing theory.
I nearly didn’t borrow this book because a.) it’s mainly about sportspeople and b.) it’s written by a sportsman and as one of the great unable-to-catch-a-ball-if-it-jumps-into-my-open-hands-and-clings I generally have a casual disdain for professional sportspeople.
Don’t they have a life?
Do they really want to look back and say well I swam up and down for 7 hours a day 7 days a week for 17 years…
But… this guy can write. 
And he can find those bits of information that make you sit up and take notice and think and then apply it to your life and your kid’s lives and come up with wow. 
I see how this applies to this and this and this and that. Bounce is one of those books you have to stop every few pages to TELL someone about.
One of those books you thrust on other people and say here, read, honestly.
But first – let me admit my bias – my kids. 
This book provides compelling evidence that it’s not in the genes, it’s not DNA that produces child geniuses and sports star, it’s just practice.
10,000 hours at least to be precise… of practice.
This is interesting for me – I’m not a dunce at maths - I’m just dead lazy.
My complete failure to learn French, Spanish, Latin, Tongan, Pijin and Bislama was just me not putting in the effort… Hmmm.
My failure to get anything like a decent sound out of the piano, the recorder the guitar or the violin - also, just laziness. I will admit that if Shakespearean sonnets in Tongan didn’t roll of my tongue or Chopin preludes didn’t issue forth from my instrument in say - 10.5 hours, I was done.
I'd tell myself it wasn’t my thing. I'd say o well. I'm just bad at learning languages and not musical.
I admit… I still find it hard to believe that if I just practiced I could learn how to dance… (Also tried… Scottish, Irish and ballet…)
However, my loss is my kids gain, which is more important. 
They can achieve whatever they want… as long as they practice.
As long as they get in those 10,000 hours…
But… and this is the killer… the kids have to a.) want to do those hours – preferably finding them fun (laps anyone?)
And they have to be actually learning stuff in those hours, constantly challenging themselves and heading beyond what they think is possible. 10,000 hours of auto-cruise doesn’t do it.
They have to be willing to fail fail and fail again – and see this not as them falling on their backsides, but as learning.
The Sprocket is a month shy of two. 
And my husband and I have been pretty chuffed, because, let’s not beat about the bush, he’s a musical genius. 
Give him his little fake electric guitar and he’s stamping his feet and he’s nodding his head and he’s strumming those non-existent strings. 
He’s going to be a rock-star for sure.
The first rock-star ever without an alcohol problem. 
Yep that’s my boy. 
Smug much, yeay.
And then I got to thinking about it.
He’s already been to 4 music festivals.  3 if you count the in-utero one.
He’s listened to Sudanese, Irish, Scottish, Ni-Van, Solomon islander and East Timorese bands…. Live.
He’s already watched the Woodstock videos – on a mega mini- movie screen.
In the morning while we’re waiting for our coffee to hit we show him youtubes of Clapton, Louis Armstrong, the John Butler trio, Capercaillie, Silly Wizard.
This one we don’t admit often, but the kid was born to Enya (I know, even the attending doctor said to keep it quiet, and I remember him saying this even as I did my best to bleed out all over him.) 
I think it was Caribbean Moon.
It is possibly not surprising the Sprocket spends a lot of time each day on the piano and his various guitars, ukuleles, saxophones, Xylophones and drums.
So far he’d have a good three or four hundred hours of actual playing under his belt and about a thousand hours of watching and listening.
So… another 9,900 hours and he’ll be a child prodigy!
Which is an interesting thought, but even more interesting is how the concept applies to other things – medicine and firefighting were two examples from the book. Business.
That old business of Robert the Bruce and the Spider (Try, try and try again) is obviously (according to this rather well documented theory) more relevant than any genetic input.
This books manages to make the rather old fashioned sounding virtues of dedication, persistence and experience sound cutting edge.
Read it.
Below is a video of the author talking... interesting. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Shrub

Our Christmas Shrub is now up.
Right up, being safely out of reach of inquisitive hands, on top of the fridge.
Please note the word shrub. I went into Bunnings to look for our Christmas tree in order to have a receptacle for some very sweet decorations. Pink, to match all of the Poppet's clothes.
And fell in love.
I'd eyed it off before, but this time when I saw it, I just knew.
Partly because the little Christmas trees Bunnings were selling were too small for my christmas decorations and because they had the potential to turn into massive great trees when planted.
Partly because my shrub smells divine and came decorated with 3 flowers.
It's a gardenia and brings back memories (yep, sweet nostalgia) of Tonga where they used to make leis out of them.(Although frangpanis were more common)  I've been wondering for years what flower it was - and now I know.
Whenever I got a lei (hmmm that sounds dodgy) I'd hook it over my bed-head or door knob for a few days until the flowers were brown and shrivelled, just to drink up the scent. Let me just say that a small room full of a few hundred gardenias on a string - smells like heaven, rich and heady and opulent.
So, not pine, but the house is still full of a scent of nostalgia.
I'd like to say we decorated our Christmas Shrub as a family, but, it was just us girls in the end. The Poppet supervising and myself placing. The Sprocket was running around shouting about trucks (what a surprise) and then over at his Nana's doing his usual tricks (stealing her walking stick, upending her cat's food...) and Ron was in bed with the Leurgy.
But hey, us girls got it done.
My family haven't had a traditional Christmas tree in awhile. When I was little we would cut a branch down from the pine tree at the bottom of the garden and it was always a massive great thing that had to be placed in a bucket and filled with bricks and was always, always lopsided and shed everywhere. Although again, it smelt divine.
Later, we took to buying a fruit tree and decorating that, and then planting it after Christmas.
My great aunts had a denuded Eucalyptus branch that they had painted gold (or maybe silver)
And when I lived down at the beach (sigh. sniff.) I use pieces of beautiful driftwood to decorate, which my aunt referred to as a 'Christmas twig.'
I figure the tradition of a Christmas tree hasn't been around that long, I'm happy to tweak it a little. Technically I'm thinking an olive or palm tree would be more in keeping with Bethlehem, but pines do bring to mind many beautiful memories of the festive season, and most particularly the ideal of a white Christmas and gentle falling snow. And sleigh-bells and warm plum pudding and custard and roasts and mmm....
Sniff. Nostalgia.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

St Nicholas and The Good Master

Recently I re-read the two books that have my favourite Christmas Stories. They're both by Kate Seredy and and I believe are based on the author's childhood in Hungary. The Good Master was first published in 1932 and is set just before the first world war while The Singing Tree is set during the first world war.
The Good Master is about a young boy, Jansci, who lives on a horse ranch and his cousin Kate (the screaming imp) coming to live with his family.
For someone who likes nostalgia (ahum) this book is gold. The illustrations are beautiful and the stories a delight. Nothing major happens, but the details of farm life, of Easter and going to the fair are beautiful and there is lots of kid-friendly humour throughout. (Kate deciding her cousin is a girl because he wears skirts, and pushing him off the cart so she can drive the horses springs to mind) 
As a kid I read and re-read this book hundreds of times. I could imagine nothing better than to wear the beautifully multi-skirted, embroidered dresses that Jansci's mother made Kate from flax and to ride horses across the hungarian plains, pausing to listen to shepherds tell amazing stories.
The Good Master also has the most lovely description of why we give presents at Christmas that I've read. And I am determined to read it to the Sprocket and Poppet as soon as they ask any questions about Father Christmas.
On December 6, the children get into the sleigh to pick up Mikulas (Father Christmas) from the trainstation. Mikulas comes bringing presents for all the children of the village, which Jansci and Kate get to leave on their windowsills. Finally, they come to the last house of the village, where the poorest children live, but Mikulas's sack is empty except for Kate and Jansci's presents... And Kate and Jansci give up their presents (this is fiction!). Sniff.
Once home, Kate realises that Mikulas is actually her father in disguise, and they talk about who Mikulas really is - a Bishop in Russia who did so much good in his life that he became the patron Saint of children. Below is Kate's father's description of Mikulas's day and Christmas Eve.

"His day, which is December 6 became a holiday in Russia. They celebrated by giving each other, and especially the children who Saint Nicholas loved so much, beautiful gifts in his name. The habit spread all over the world. In some countries he comes on Christmas day. To us he comes today. We believe that on Christmas Eve the Christ Child walks on Earth and leaves gifts for everybody."
Kate looked up. "He does, really, doesn't he daddy?"
Kate's father smiled. "He does, really, Kate, my dear. He comes and puts love and tenderness in our hearts, so much love for each other that it overflows and turns into gifts we find under the Christmas tree."


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar

On the day before Advent I finally brought an Advent Calendar.
And spent the next day veering between delight that I finally have an Advent Calendar that I’m happy for my children to grow up with, to bring out year after year until it’s faded and tatty looking and the embroidery starts to unravel, and disquiet that I started off Advent with an act of consumerism.
This was particularly jarring as I’m always bitching about how Christmas has been turned into the festival of buy-now.
I had plans to make a Calendar (although that would have involved buying the template and paints and brushes and glue and gold sparklies and etceteras, but the labour would somehow nullify that) but that fell through when Spotlight was out of templates and I could find no one else who sold them…
And then, at literally the very last moment, on the day before Advent, when I was just looking at an email catalogue from Oxfam, I found THE ONE. Hand-embroidered with individual pouches for little goodies, with a suitably festive design, while thankfully lacking any Santas. And hey, Oxfam = automatic reduction of consumer guilt. So I didn't feel bad about buying the embroidered stocking for the Poppets first Christmas or... Uh-um. Yes.
While my relationship with Christianity comes under the ‘it’s complicated’ status, I resent Christmas, a time when we celebrate the birth of a persecuted, Jewish refugee, born of a single mother (of ‘it’s complicated’ status), being turned into a corny blitz of excess.
And yet, whilst I resent the hi-jacking of a religious celebration into a commercial mockery, I’m just as guilty myself. The kids will only be getting a couple of presents each in their stocking, but I’m already looking forward to the food and drink of Christmas dinner, of dressing the kids up for it, of making Christmas pudding and watching with awe as my husband demolishes obscene quantities of prawns.
If we get to Church on Christmas day, (and with the two little ones this is a big if – all the local services start at 9.30am and I’m lucky if I’m out of my pajamas by then) we’ll be on a good thing.
If we find a quiet time in the day to reflect on why we’re celebrating, on the babies today who are being born in hardship, uncertainty and repressive regimes today, on the meaning of Christ in the world, we’ll be lucky. It’s likely to get lost between the wrapping paper and the wine.
But now, now I have the perfect Advent Calendar, and when I put a chocolate in day one for the Sprocket, he ate it with glee. He doesn't get it yet. He just gets the chocolate. But there's many, many Christmases to tell him all about it.