Drastic Measures

Every single mother has had and will continue to have those moments. Those times when banging your head on the wall is highly preferable to parenting your child at that particular moment. If you even try to deny it, you’re an alien. So it was with a slightly unhealthy glee that I read a short story by Enid Blyton in her Bedtime Stories.


Right from childhood, I’ve never been a fan of Ms Blyton. I always found her prose unimaginative and her plots boring, preferring the naughty wickedness of Roald Dahl. However, I do recognise that Blyton’s stories are easier to digest for younger children. Or at least those that didn’t watch Rambo at the age of seven (I made full use of my dad’s penchant for falling asleep in front of the tv). So I have a few of her books, mostly from op-shops for Iris’s benefit.

I love that Iris is old enough now for proper books and we’ve been going through different ones for the past year. We started with The BFG, which was so warmly nostalgic.  Then we read George’s Marvellous Medicine and I realised that a lot of Dahl’s work seems to be him having a go at people he doesn’t like – the rancid grandmother in George’s Marvellous Medicine, the disgusting couple in The Twits, the mean farmer in The Fantastic Mr Fox, the list goes on. “The Other Little Boy”, which is about Ronnie, who is particularly naughty to his mother, also seems to be in this vein with Blyton taking a jab at horrible little brats. At the height of one of those head-banging moments, Ronnie’s mum threatens that she might just get “another little boy” because Ronnie is so rotten to her. Ronnie takes this as an empty threat, which you would think it was.

However, lo and behold, another little boy appears. It is vaguely implied that this boy, Dan, is an orphan. However, Blyton glosses over the logistics of how he came to be there. Anyway, Dan turns out to be the perfect child, of course.


Ronnie first tries to bully Dan into leaving. However, Dan stands up to Ronnie’s rubbish. Then he tries to bully his mother into getting rid of Dan. This is what she says: “Certainly not, Dan has no mother at all. He has never had all the things you have had – the joy of helping his mother, having her kiss him good night, telling her his troubles, looking after her when she is tired, sharing everything with her. You don’t want those things, Ronnie, and you said you wouldn’t mind if I got another little boy.”

So his usual bratty behaviour failing to get his desired results, he tries guilt. He goes to his father and asks, “Don’t you like me, Daddy? Don’t you love me?” To which his father replies, “I love you, because you are my son, but I can’t say I like you very much, Ronnie. Why should I? You are rude and selfish and unkind. I shall always love you and back you up, but whether I like you or not depends on yourself and your own behaviour.”

Ouch.

So Ronnie sees the error of his ways and promises Dan he’ll be good to his mother. Dan agrees to leave only if Ronnie does what he says, which he does of course and everybody lives happily ever after.

Obviously, this is never going to happen and I’d never go so far because, thankfully, Iris is mostly a wonderful child. I mean if your kid is that bad, it does say something about your parenting as well. The mum in this story is clearly a pushover who does no disciplining whatsoever. BUT, it’s a great one to mildly, with one eyebrow raised, threaten waywardness with. Or just to chuckle over as your child(ren) give(s) you horrified looks of indignation. Heh.

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.

Making Them Feel Special

So about a third of Iris’s library is made up of hand-me-downs from her cousins and among them is Max Lucado’s You Are Special.

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We always say the year has flown by at the end of it but somehow this year really has gone quicker than previous years. This is probably because so much has happened and how busy we’ve all been. For Iris it has been a tremendous year! She’s formed her first girl posse; learned to read; learned to swing herself on the swing; had her first successful ballet concert in front of a big audience on a real stage; AND stopped sucking her finger (this one is huge and I will do another post just on this later). I try to let her know just how proud of her I am but words really cannot express it all. What I fear is for her to lose her sense of self-worth for whatever reason because I know the world, and especially other kids, can be cruel.

This is why a story like this is so important.

In the world of the Wemmicks, small wooden people carved by a woodworker named Eli, they rate each other with dots and stars. Those with lots of stars are admired for their looks or talents. Those with dots are looked down on because they’re not pretty enough or good enough at anything. One Wemmick with lots of dots is Punchinello. No matter how hard he tries, he couldn’t seem to stop getting dots. And he believed he deserved them.

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Then one day, he meets Lucia who has no dots or stars at all. When other Wemmicks tried to give her a star or dot, it would just fall off. Punchinello wanted that too so Lucia told him to go see Eli.

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Filled with self-doubt, Punchinello did.

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There, Eli told him he shouldn’t care what the other Wemmicks thought of him because he thought Punchinello was special.  If Punchinello focused on what Eli thought of him, it wouldn’t matter what anyone else thought.  “Why don’t the stickers stay on her (Lucia)?” “The stickers only stick if they matter to you.” “I’m not sure I understand.” “You will, but it will take time. For now, come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care.” As Punchinello began to believe Eli, a dot fell off.

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It’s not just about God, everyone should feel special because we all are. No matter your race, religion, colour of eyes or whether your hair is straight or curly. Everyone is entitled to feel unique, beautiful and worthwhile as a human being. As a parent, it’s so important that we help our children retain their sense of self-worth and for the most part I think I do okay. There are times when I feel like I don’t deserve to be a mum and that’s why I’m really glad Iris has someone else, far more qualified than me, to fall back on to tell her how wonderful she is. This is my Christmas wish for her and all kids, that they’ll always have someone to tell them they are beautifully and wonderfully made and no one has a right to make them feel bad for being who they are.

XOXO

Guess How Much I Love Winning?

I have never, ever, ever, ever won anything. I’m not talking about for sports, because I had to work, a little, for those. I’m talking about those supermarket lucky draws, travel draws, the hundreds of Frankie magazine giveaways, etc. Zip, nada, zero. This changed in the most appropriate and wonderful way possible last Tuesday.

It was not a great day for me and I was as cheerful as a baby breaking molars. Then I received an email saying I’d won a 20th anniversary edition of Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram’s Guess How Much I Love You from Walker Books Australia.

This was one of those competitions where you have to write something related to the prize. This one was to write 25 words about “Who you love to the moon and back”. Now I’d seen the tweet for this on February 11. I dithered about it until the weekend. Then finally I took about 10 minutes to write: A monkey. A drama queen. A wet kiss. An adorable cackle and guffaw. A marshmallow and chocolate nut. A performer. My four-year-old daughter, Iris.

This is how excited I was. I took a photograph of an envelope.

This is how excited I was. I took a photograph of an envelope.

I absolutely did not expect to win. Particularly not on a day like the 17th of February, which is what made it all the better. I see it now as a special message from the Guy in charge to me.

First published in 1994 and coming it at about 400 words, this timeless story pretty much encapsulates the most important and really the only thing we need to do as parents – let our kids know how much we love them. Jeram’s illustrations are so perfectly matched, they make you feel like you’re reading honey and warm milk. No review necessary. The title says everything, but to fully appreciate this book, you have to read it yourself.

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Much too often these days I notice how much Iris has grown up. I catch my breath and try and take a mental polaroid of each moment. Just like with her clothes, I’ve been passing on some of her baby books and have been trying to expand her listening skills by reading more wordy books. I forget that sometimes, she still needs those books that seem simpler with less words but with such a powerful message. Just as reading it will remind me how much God loves me, enough to send me a message when I’m feeling especially low, I hope that years from now, Iris will read this book and know that I love her right up to the moon and back.

 

Rediscovering Old Gems

Another brilliant perk of being a parent (as if you needed more), apart from being legitimately allowed to play with toys again, is rediscovering all my old favourite books and sharing them with someone else who’ll appreciate them just as much.

Dean's Enchanting Tales from The Magic Forest

Dean’s Enchanting Stories from The Magic Forest  was one of those books I kept reading over and over again. I remember how I loved looking at famed illustrators Gillian and Ronald Embleton’s beautiful illustrations waaaaaaay back when.

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Published by Dean & Son, which was famous for its “moveable books”, the book follows Hans and Gretchen on their morning walk through the enchanted forest next to their farmhouse. They encounter myriad magical creatures from flower folk to dwarfs and a talking lion. It’s divided into neat chapters should the book prove too much after a long day. Iris is really into bookmarks at the mo.

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Unlike the Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson or Scheherazade tales, which all tend toward the macabre, Dean’s Enchanting Stories from The Magic Forest is pleasantly light and happy with only one mildly scary bit when a very naughty gnome leads the children astray in a gloomy, foggy bit of the forest. Although this also helps to teach Iris about not following strange men, so still a win!

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This is one of a series of such books, all of which were illustrated by the Embletons and are all out of print. However a quick eBay search yielded copies of three of the four books. Now I need to find a vinyl record player for my seriously retro audio books!

 

Gothic Charm

Fairytales for Wilde Girls

Inspired by my first YA (young adult) book review, I decided to pop into the YA section at the library. The first book I saw on the “recommendations” table was Allyse Near’s Fairytales for Wilde Girls. I briefly glanced at the synopsis and thought, hey an Honour Book of The Children’s Book Council of Australia’s got to be passable and popped it into the book bag.

The book sat on my bedside table for a week and a half while I finished up Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales (very, very good but more for adults). The more I looked at the cover, the more doubts I began to have about it. Was it really something I’d like? Or some soppy pre-pubescent gothic romance with glowing vampires and other such rubbish? Yet, when the time came, I decided I’d at least give it ten pages. Boy was I pleasantly blown away.

I’ve always had a predilection for children’s fantasy. In my opinion, the best single, all-round novel is Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (though a cult favourite, the movies do not come within a hair’s breadth of how great the book is). And of course there is the inimitable Roald Dahl who gave me years of fantastic escapism. However, I’ve not come across anything even near their quality since. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Harry Potter series but the writing itself is just not as good. Then I read Ms Near’s debut novel.

Her prose is pitch perfect. She uses a language both beautiful and suitably challenging for a teenager. Drawing on inspiration from Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allen Poe, she manages to fabricate a vividly colourful world within a tiny English coastal village with exactly the right tones of ghostly horror appropriate for her audience. Her main character, Isola Wilde, named after Oscar Wilde’s ill-fated younger sister, is at once identifiable as a girl who stands out for being herself. Isola can see things that others can’t, including ghosts, fairies, mermaids and gargoyles. Then one day, walking through her beloved wood, she comes across a dead girl in a cage who proceeds to haunt her in a terrifying way. Isola finds herself slowing becoming possessed by this ghost despite the best efforts of her six guardian “princes”. Interwoven through this is her unhealthy relationship with her manic depressive mother who fed her on the fairy tales that seem to be swallowing her up. Can her new love interest, Edgar save her?

It’s one of those rare books that I did not rush through the end because I wanted to start a new book.

The ending is also pretty spectacular. Perhaps not the most original but still perfect in its execution. The only thing I’d change is the cover.

When I closed this book, I had a massive smile on my face. I cannot wait for Ms Near’s next work.