The Flight of the Gay, Innocent and Heartless

This past year, doors have opened while others have closed. For example, I got the perfect job for my current stage of life, while learning to let a few of my housekeeping standards go so that I can keep my sanity. I’ve had to learn to manage my time even better so that I can fit in some of my hobbies and passions. What has been drummed into my stubborn shell through all this is that God has my back and everything always works out in the end because of this. Does this mean I stop worrying? Of course not because I’m a mum, but it helps give me a lot of perspective and I probably have less sleepless nights as a result.

For the first time last year, I set myself a reading challenge. In the past I’ve just tried to devour read as many books as possible. Ever since having Iris, the annual total has plummeted. With the advent of her starting formal school and being much more independent, I thought it was time to get back to my pre-baby reading pace. I have to admit, I cheated a bit by putting in books that were marginally longer than novelettes. However, one thing I didn’t bank on that has been such a boost for both my reading and Iris’s is what I read to her at bedtime. We progressed to longer, more wordy books in the second half of 2016 starting with my favourite Dahls. In 2017 we read, Black Beauty, Finding Black Beauty, Danny the Champion of the World, Peter Pan and Matilda twice! We’ve started 2018 with another of my ab favs, The Secret Garden and intend to continue on to other classics and more modern treasures such as Brian Selznic’s masterpieces. Perhaps when I’ve managed to practise my various British accents more, I’ll do a recording just for posterity. It’s also been fairly interesting to see how my opinion of books I thought I knew so well has changed as I’ve grown up. Where previously I shared in Danny and his father’s opinion that poaching from Victor Hazell was perfectly justified because he was an obnoxious, conceited twit who had too much ill-gotten money for his own good. As I read it anew with my daughter, along with most of Dahl’s work, I realised how flawed his morals actually were. Perhaps that’s why I loved them to begin with. However, what I’ve loved more than anything else, is sharing all my childhood gems with Iris and seeing my joy of the written word reflected in her.

Over the past year, I’ve also witnessed my daughter mature in leaps and bounds and while it’s made me tear while secretly watching her toddler and baby videos over and over, I’ve also had so much to be proud of. So what better book to end the year and teach me about trust, especially trusting my own daughter and her choices than J M Barrie’s everlasting classic?

This is the first time I read Peter Pan. I know, I know, like what?! How is that possible? Well all I can say is, there are a lot of books in the world and I moved on to adult classics pretty early.

I wouldn’t really classify this as an “interactive” book which is how it’s described. Most of the extras are just to look at as seen in the pics. The illustrations are beautiful, however, as is the binding so I’m still very happy with it.

As we started the book I thought the profoundly stilted and old-style language would be too much for Iris. At times she did seem to get a bit lost but overall, I was very pleasantly surprised that she got all the jokes and even shushed me when I wanted to over-explain stuff.

I have to admit I got embarrassingly emotional when the children flew out the window and when they returned. Of course I know it’s all metaphorical but how can any mum not feel when your kids decide to abandon you?

Perhaps it was divine timing for me to read this as a mum than as a child. I’m certainly treasuring every moment she still turns to me for support and cuddles more but at the same time, I know I’ll need to let her fly when the time comes and trust that she’ll come back if and when she needs to. I just have to leave the window open.

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Growing Up Subtly

So I had a minor-major mum moment on Sunday where I realised, slightly tearfully, that my baby is well and truly growing up.

Horns Tails Spikes and Claws by J. Elizabeth Mills and Jef Czekaj was one of my opshop finds a few years ago. It’s one of those mix-and-match books you can flip different parts of it to make strange and funny combinations of stuff. I got it in the hopes that Iris would entertain herself with it. She never really got into it so a month ago just before my last blog post, I decided it could go in the giveaway pile  along with another similar book.

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Last week, I took the pile out ready to give away to friends and family. This particular one was going to a friend with boys who might appreciate such humour more. From about Thursday she started flipping through the book and had a bit of fun with it, which I thought was just her usual reluctance to give her stuff away thing.

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On Sunday morning she comes over while I’m having my morning cuppa to ask me to pick a favourite combination. When I looked at it I saw this:

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On. Every. Single. Page. IN INK.

Now anybody who loves books will surely understand my abject horror when I saw a previously perfect book being desecrated. I was livid but in a moment of supreme control, which still amazes me, I did not immediately yell but told her that she’d have to be punished by not getting her allowance the following week (more on financial matters later). I then said I was so angry I couldn’t even talk to her anymore and went upstairs to get ready for church.

Not sure if it’s a good or bad sign but it seemed that my not yelling indicated to Iris that it wasn’t a big deal, because 15 minutes later she seemed to have forgot the whole thing. So, still not quite yelling but perhaps a bit more hysterical, particularly with crazy eyes, I asked her, knowing that she should not have done it, to think about and tell me why she did what she did.

She went to her room to change and came back five minutes later to say: “I like the book and I didn’t want to give it away.”

It hit me like being bowled over by a 20-kilo six-year-old that not only had she grasped the true intent of her feelings, which to my mind is pretty mature for a kid, but she admitted it to me and expressed it like such a big girl that I started tearing up immediately.

I gave her a big hug and told her how proud and grateful I was that she was being so honest.

This is why husband and I still steal into her room every night to look at her sleeping because it is only then that she still looks and behaves like our little baby. It’s utterly hilarious that despite knowing (and often wanting) that our children will grow up, just like how we know we’re all going to die, we still react with such shock when we see it happening. So please excuse me while I go sniff and cuddle Iris’s baby clothes.

Facing Fear with Fear

We are two weeks away from moving into our brand new house. Those in the know will be aware of the arduous nature of this particular journey. From the moment we chose a builder, it has been THREE years in the making. Rather than go into vent-mode, I have chosen to look forward and am allowing excitement to overtake my bitterness at the wait. So while we are in the throes of packing and readying ourselves for the move, I have had to pack away most of Iris’ books. The library has therefore become even more invaluable than before.

In fact, we’ve joined another council’s library, giving us access to four other libraries. Since Iris started full-time school, we’ve been going to the library a lot less so it’s been really lovely rediscovering the joys of borrowing books. We’ve also, thanks to a friend’s tip, started borrowing jigsaw puzzles and Iris is now able to listen to audio books. She is currently enjoying The Enchanted Tree, which is brilliant for us when she wakes up at 6am. More on that in another post.

In our last library haul was this absolute gem. I was, of course, drawn to the amazing painting-style illustrations but reading it has been equally enjoyable. In The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger, Timothy Basil Ering, uses imagination to combat the greatest enemy of childhood sleep – the imagination. Squidlegger_cover

Hamilton is a frog who loves pretend play, especially of the swashbuckling bent. However, this causes problems at bedtime when his overactive imagination makes him run to his parents’.

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We all know co-sleeping is really no-sleeping for parents.

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So his father employs two methods of dispensing of these nighttime terrors – reward and psychology.

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The casual way he planted that nugget of inception was utterly brilliant and inspirational. So young Hamilton’s fears are turned on their head and he learns that the monsters he fights in the day and that terrify him at night can also be playmates. Well done Dad.

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I also love Ering’s classic adventure-style prose.

 

Not That Kind of Mum

There are mums who never raise their voices or lose their temper. They take the time to get their children’s attention instead of yelling, then speak levelly with them and they never, ever resort to threats or bribery. I am NOT such a mum. But I try. Most of the time. Ok probably about 65% of the time. Or 60% depending on what kind of day it is.

Due to the other 35-40%, I feel the need to remind Iris regularly, that I love her no matter what. Even when I’m angry with her or when she’s angry with me. And I often catch myself feeling selfish or thinking selfish thoughts. Especially at bed time when I just want her to GO TO BED so I can do my own thing. She usually does but there’s a lot more whingeing and dawdling than I have the patience for at the end of a long day. This is where I feel I fail her most, that I don’t think of her more, put her needs before mine more. It’s as if even after five years, I still haven’t got the hang of this mum thing, which to the world at large, means sacrificing almost every aspect of your life to your child(ren). I’ve given up getting drunk, locking the bathroom door and dreams of fame and riches (as if they were a real possibility) but I’m sorry I don’t like sharing my food, especially when it’s the best bit I’ve been saving to eat right at the end of the meal.

Then again, sometimes (more than I’d like) Iris behaves in a manner, which I will plainly label – being a brat. This shames me because I feel I may be contributing to that behaviour either by example or by lack of correct parenting. I don’t want my child to be that kind of kid. The one other parents stare at and shake their heads in disgust. I wonder if I am spoiling her. I don’t want her to constantly ask for stuff, to only think of herself and not consider the feelings of those around her. Sure she’s only five, but I don’t think it’s too early to start ingraining that sense of others. Especially in today’s world where we’re bombarded with messages that “we’re worth it” and “we have to look out for ourselves”. It’s too often about me, myself and I. Isn’t that why I’m more selfish than I should be?

 

I guess right from the start, we’ve been struggling to be better human beings and while we should strive to be more selfless, we shouldn’t berate ourselves or our kids when we some times fall short.

This topic has been playing on my mind, particularly in the lead up to Good Friday and Easter.

Very often, a great picture book can illustrate the important lessons in life better than we could ever try to explain.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

There hasn’t been a children’s book, nor, I think will there ever be one, that encapsulates the concept of unconditional love and generosity more than Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I got a lot more emotional when I first read it than with any other picture book. This is more than a classic and one that every single child needs to read with their parents. In fact, parents probably need to read it more because it’s about accepting our children for who they are, continuing to love them even when they draw away from us, being there for them always and not blaming them for wanting to live their own lives. When the boy in the story grows up, he seems to be a rather selfish man, only ever taking from the tree and never giving anything back. Yet the story is about giving, not receiving. The tree is happy when she can give something, anything to the boy to make him happy. This is not how humans behave but perhaps it’s something we should aspire to. By giving of ourselves, and not material things, we show our children how to love.

Honestly, no summary can portray the utter wonderfulness of this book so just go and read it.

Give Me Cake

Iris is turned four on Monday. This, I felt, called for a non-book related post. *Gasp* Back in Singapore, kid’s birthday parties have become yet another aspect of life to compete tooth and hangdog nail at. Parents splash out on venues, entertainment, cakes and photography. Frankly, it’s a little scary, because seriously, what kind of parent are you if you don’t book that playground with a balloon artist, metre-high fondant cake, photographer AND videographer?! But it is really good if you want to start an indoor play gym/outdoor water playground or any kind of kid’s entertainment. The thing I found most ridiculous to spend money on was the cake. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why parents, who are 90% of the time, both working their poor butts off, would rather just spend the money for someone else to make a cake. After all, we succumbed to it for Iris’s first birthday. We didn’t get the fancy venue (it was at my parents’ house), entertainment (we rented a foam play structure) or even a photographer (thanks Jay!), so we got one of those cakes.

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The theme was, obviously, the farm. I had everything in theme, cups, napkins, goody bag treats and even the balloons. The cake, while spectacular looking, like most cakes of its kind was very average in taste. Plus you can’t even keep the figurines. Quite possibly one of the most useless $250 we spent. In fact, I’d go as far as to say if I could do it over, I wouldn’t, at all! She doesn’t remember it, nor did she particularly enjoy it as a significant day. Sure she got lots of presents, but again, she was too young to appreciate them. Take note parents-to-be! Do not bother with first or even second birthdays. Focus on the fourth and beyond and ignore later questions of why there were no photos of first and second birthday parties.

For her second birthday, I decided to make the cake myself, a tradition which continues. I’ve had a mild thing for baking since my mid-teens. This grew into a proper hobby once I moved out and had my own kitchen. My problem, however, was that I had to wait for an occasion to bake cakes (I will not, contrary to popular thought, consume an entire cake on my own). So here was my chance. I even went so far as to practice making the cake twice to get the look and taste right. It was important that I had both. My cake was NOT going to be a bimbo fondant cake.

After three and a half hours’ work the night before, I made a rainbow cake with cream cheese frosting. I lost the pictures of the inside when some #*$& stole my phone but it was a rainbow cake. A proper one with six colours/layers. It was quite humongous, not terribly well frosted and we made the mistake of waiting too long to cut it. Hence we had a lot of leftover cake, but I did receive lots of compliments.

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Her third birthday saw my technique improve as well as one of my strokes of genius. The theme was Peppa Pig, because Iris, like almost every other girl child in Australia, England and anywhere showing Peppa Pig, absolutely loves it. It’s amazing how a cartoon with such simple artistry can be so entertaining, even for adults! Big balloon, big balloon, bigger than the moon….Anyway, I copied the design of this cake from Sweetapolita, but instead of slaving away at fondant figures that would have probably looked all wrong and couldn’t be kept/played with, I ordered plastic figurines and stuck them in the top! The chocolate is supposed to look like a muddy puddle, BTW, for those familiar with the show.

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It tasted divine because I had found THE CHOCOLATE CAKE recipe. No, I’m not going to share it.

This year, we hired a Shetland pony for the party so that became the theme. It’s always better/easier to have a theme. Incidentally, we thought it would be a simple affair as the kids would be entertained by the pony and the playground and we’d only provide finger food. WE WERE WRONG. Even the simplest of parties can be completely knackering.

For the cake, I took inspiration from one of my favourite food bloggers’, my name is yeh, funfetti and pony cakes.

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I am still recovering from all this birthday business. I think I might borrow my friend’s idea and only have parties every alternate year. Or maybe not. Think she’ll have outgrown mermaids by then?

Not Just a Goldfish

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Gillian Shields and Dan Taylor’s Dogfish is such a joy to read for so many reasons. Another of my earliest purchases for Iris, I was initially drawn to it for the illustrations and the title, because honestly, everyone judges a book by its cover, especially children’s books.

Unlike with adult books, it is not only easy but essential to read through a kid’s book before buying (see my earlier post Say What?!). Dogfish is safe, hilarious, succinct and has some excellent lessons in pet care, reading people’s emotions on their faces and contentment.

I also really love the earthy colours and mid-century décor of the kid and mum’s apartment. When a book has few words, the font used stands out even more so it’s imperative that the right one is chosen. Although the digital reading by former Dr Who, David Tennant that came with the book in a CD could possibly come in handy, I’ve only ever played it for Iris once. Unless you have a child who is going to sit there and keep playing it while looking at the words to teach him/herself to read, there’s not that much point to it, in my opinion. They can’t ask the CD, after all, what is an “irritated but sorrowful” look can they?

A boy has a goldfish, but wants a dog.

"Everyone has a dog...except me."

“Everyone has a dog…except me.”

He tries persuading his mum, using logic and his “hypnotising eyes”.

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Unfortunately his mum is much too wise and even more logical: “Well, if you can’t have what you want, you could try to want what you have.” I love this mum.

"Irritated but sorrowful"

"Hypnotising eyes"

“Hypnotising eyes”

So he turns his mind to making his goldfish into the best pet a boy could have – a dogfish!

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And everyone is “utterly, totally, blissfully happy”.

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A Girl After My Own Obsessions

Almost every woman I know has iterated, “Please kill me if I become like my mother,” or something to that effect. Now as a mum, however, I take devilish delight in seeing my offspring take on little bits of me.

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Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) and Nick Sharratt (Shark in the Park) have teamed up several times to excellent effect. Honestly though, I wasn’t sure about Chocolate Mouse for Greedy Goose, at first.

I love that it’s succinct, just one line a page and the rhymes are easier on the tongue than some of Donaldson’s other works. Each animal is given a page and food-related rhyme and Sharratt’s illustrations are, as usual, refreshingly bold and very expressive for such simplicity of lines.

It also manages to include the concepts of logic,

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healthy eating,

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manners,

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competition and

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compromise!

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But then at the end when helpful pup suggests washing up, they all go to sleep instead.

Most people close to me will say I’m a bit obsessed with cleanliness. Okay, a lot obsessed. So naturally whenever I read it to Iris I would always add a “that’s not good” at the end, referring to them not cleaning up.

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Lo and behold, a few weeks ago, we picked up this book again after a few months’ hiatus and when I reached the end, Iris refused to let me turn to the last page. She then changed the story to say they all washed up. She even added washing hand actions like a proper obsessive-compulsive! Needless to say I was howling with laughter and husband was amused but a bit afraid. Just a bit.

Now if she becomes anything near what a horrible, cantankerous, emotional jabberwocky I was as a teenager…………boarding school anyone?