Posts tagged boys

The Class of 2013

I am the proud parent of a graduating member of the class of 2013. I will try to refrain from cynicism hereafter, but it must be said that this sentence used to mean something. In my case, it means that my son finished preschool yesterday. He, along with 9 other children now hold that illustrious title of Preschool Graduate. In all fairness, he is the only one of our three children to complete preschool, so I suppose that is noteworthy.

I do not intend to spend my time pointing out our collective fascination with graduations, graduation speeches, commitments to excellence and world change, and of course grad outfits. Actually, I did want to focus on the outifts, come to think of it.

As it were, this year I had two graduates. Yes, I am the lucky mother of a kindergarten graduate as well. Oh, and a grade 3 graduate. It’s practically like being a Triple Crown winner, folks. But I digress. Having had a child graduate from kindergarten in the past, I am familiar with the conventions: put them in a dress shirt, comb their hair, and pray that they are wearing proper footwear by the time they march into the gym to the music of Pomp and Circumstance. (Teddy’s JK Christmas concert had him wearing his winter boots with his dress pants, and Sammy looked like a homeless man for his SK graduation with the tongue of his right shoe hanging out over his toes. This is what happens when 5-year-olds are responsible for their own footwear at school.)

Since Caleb is our first child to attend preschool, however, it perpetually slips my mind that those two days a week he spends colouring and playing under the watchful eye of several patient women qualify as “school.” And so I show up for his Christmas concert on a Wednesday morning by myself, not having thought to invite proud grandparents, godparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, and the family doctor. I miss picture day (although in my defense, we were in Europe at the time) and forget about his “special helper” days.

One would think that I’d have figured it out by June that preschool is a bigger deal than I think it is, but yesterday’s  graduation bore witness to my utter incompetency as a preschool mother yet again. Just when I was patting myself on the back for having remembered all of his recent “special helper days,” the graduation confirmed that the “Preschool Mother of the Year Award” would have to go to someone else. Perhaps to the woman pinning a pink bow in her princess’s long, silky hair. At least she remembered to comb her kids’ hair for graduation.

In my defense, the event was called an “end of the year celebration and BBQ,” which, to me, means lawn chairs, meat from the grill, and possibly a bouncy castle. I saw no problem, therefore, with teaching a piano class from 4 – 5, and leaving my husband with the instructions to have the children ready so that we could leave as soon as I was done. The veggie tray was already waiting to go, so nothing could go wrong.

We showed up at the school and I quickly realized that a veggie tray was not the only thing I was supposed to bring. Properly attired children would have been a good idea. While little girls were wearing their new spring dresses with matching purple bows in their hair, our Caleb was still wearing his two-day-old camouflage shorts and army green sleeveless T-shirt. With giant Freezie stains down the front.

Believe it or not, his personal appearance was the least offensive of our three boys. Teddy wore his trusty faded camouflage shirt (the one he had donned on picture-retake day) and his hair was still matted down with sweat from his bike ride home from school. Sammy’s T-shirt and shorts were about as random a pairing as Coca Cola and Belgian waffles, and his legs bore the telltale dirt streaks from having played in the sandbox and then watering the plants. Suffice it to say that our children’s appearance presented a stark contrast to all the cleavage and high heels in the room.

I probably should have been more specific in my instructions to my husband than, “have the children ready”. In all fairness to him, he was interested in only one thing when he got home from having spent 8 hours in a hot, sticky factory on a hot sticky day: a shower for himself. So as it were, Oliver and I were presentable, while our children look like the progeny of dead-beat crack addicts.

At this point a married couple has two options: harangue one another for incompetence, or laugh about the situation. We opted for the second. Oliver joked that it would be a great idea to gather all the children in the room for a group photo, and then assign everyone the task of finding the Trefz children – similar to “Where’s Waldo.” We laughed at the women who had gone to the effort of coordinating their outifts with their perfect little daughter’s, and took solace in the fact that we will never see most of these people again anyways.

As one would expect, our boys were blissfully unaware of being under-dressed, and were more concerned about the lack of a bouncy castle. The food served as moderate consolation, but everyone was happy to return home without too many tearful good-byes or sentimental reflections on the passing of an era.

For those of you considering preschool for your child, take it from me that it is a bigger deal than you think it is. You’ve been warned.

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Picture Day

This is a school picture of me at age 7. Every time I looked at this picture over the years I asked myself the same question: Did the photographer not notice the hair? Could she not have at least drawn my attention to the fact that I looked like I’d just had an encounter with a bear? Check out the dress, folks. Obviously I was prepared for picture day. The hair was the result of recess, and I would have appreciated the opportunity to set it right before it was captured in all its disheveled glory for posterity.

I know how painful a bad school picture can be, especially to the perfectionist control freak. It was with great shock and horror, therefore, that it dawned on me in the middle of the morning while shopping for shirts for our oldest son in Once Upon A Child, that today was Picture Re-take Day, that merciful accommodation of school photographers for those children who a) forgot about Picture Day, b) were absent, c) were cross-eyed in the picture or d) were caught on film picking their nose.

I racked my brain trying to remember what Teddy looked like when I sent him off this morning. I remembered an epic bed-head. I desperately tried to bring to mind what he was wearing, but it just wouldn’t come. Experience has taught me that he gives about as much thought to his clothing as he does to girls, so this could be a disastrous picture. (Note: this is not my kid, but you get the idea)

Thankfully I had four really nice shirts in my hand, so I quickly paid for my purchases, grabbed our youngest son and ran out of the store on my mission to save Teddy’s grade 3 picture. As I raced across town (for yes, I was on the other end of the city) I hoped against hope that his class had not yet been called down to the gym. “At an average of 3 kids per class needing re-takes,” I reasoned, “if they start at Junior Kindergarten, what is the chance that the Grade 3s have not yet been called down by 10:15?” Clearly the odds were stacked against us.

The thought occurred to me that we should have just gone with the original picture. It wasn’t so bad, really, just severe. He was looking at the camera as if to say, “our landfills are filling up, folks, and I don’t see you doing anything about it.” (He is the official garbage sorter of their class – by his own choice. Today he “gets to” stay in at recess to remove the recyclables from the trash and put them in their correct receptacles. Where does he get this stuff?) Still, the severe picture in a nice shirt would have been better than the bed-head and who-knows-what ghastly T-shirt and track pant combo.

I roared into the parking lot, grabbed two sweaters and my now sleeping 36 lb three-year-old and made my way into the school. (By the way, 36 pounds of dead-weight is a lot heavier when you’re in a hurry than when you can take your sweet time). I got to the office, which was empty. I checked in the Principal’s office, which was also empty. The Caretaker is next, a former classmate from high school. “Luke,” I said. “I’ve got a problem. I forgot about Re-take Day, I haven’t brushed Teddy’s hair since the original Picture Day, and his outfit is probably a disaster. Can you help me?”

At this point the music teacher came by, who offered to get Teddy out of class. As she was off getting Teddy, the Secretary came back from the photocopy room and I filled her in on the reason for my visit. Together we figured out that one grade 3 class was already in the gym, but not his. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then they came around the corner: the music teacher and my sweet, smiling boy dressed in a faded grey camouflage T-shirt, poppy-red track pants, and a bed-head that hadn’t settled in the course of the morning. In that moment I knew we had avoided a painful school picture for the next perfectionist control freak in our family.

Together we used water from the fountain to try to tame the unruly hair, and I requested the photographer to crop the bright red pants out of the picture. “Teddy,” I informed my now smartly-dressed son with only mildly unruly hair, “you just pose with your arms crossed and the photographer will take off your pants.” As soon as the words came out I realized that the true meaning had been lost, and the caretaker, secretary, music teacher, and another waiting mother were all in stitches at my slip of the tongue.

Truth be told, of course, we all know that this was about me, the Mom. We Moms care about these things. It’s the reason we show up at school with hairspray and a comb on picture day just to ensure that our offspring will look good in the picture that will grace our mantle for the coming year. We pay attention to the details in our kids’ lives. If we didn’t, who would remember the little things, like bringing cupcakes for the Halloween party or 20 little Candy-grams for all their little friends on Valentines Day?

Actually, I’m not that detail person. I’m quite the opposite. So while other moms made Zombie eye-balls using Oreo Cookie crumbs and cream cheese for their classroom party, I remembered that morning about the party and sent along a bag of chips for one (from Daddy’s secret stash) and a package of store-bought chocolate chip cookies for the other. “Better than nothing,” I assured myself. “I’m doing my part to keep up with the other Moms.”

Apparently not. On the day after Halloween when I picked up our third son from pre-school, I marveled at his large paper bag filled with candy. Upon closer inspection I realized that Caleb was apparently the only child who had not brought little Halloween treat baggies for all his “friends”. Every Mother with a child in that school had assembled little treat baggies for all the other children, stuffing them with erasers, pencils, play dough and sweets, tying them up with a ribbon and name tag, and finally somehow distributing them to all the other children in the class. My only comfort is that some of the bags were anonymous, so they can just assume that one of those was from their “good friend” Caleb.

I have to say though, that the pay-off this morning was the actual picture. The photographer allowed me to stand beside her, and I watched as she tilted his head and adjusted his arms to make the picture just right. His smile wouldn’t really come, so I just reminded him that the photographer was going to take off his pants. Beautiful.

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A Quiver full of Blessings

When I consider all the evenings Oliver and I have fallen into bed, utterly exhausted by our three boys and their antics, yesterday seems even more surreal. While on most evenings I find myself praying, “God just give us the strength for this next half hour of showers and tooth brushing,” yesterday I found myself thanking God for the three amazing gifts that never cease to surprise us.

After a lovely day of gardening and playing outside, we had just finished supper when a landscaper friend came by the house to give us some advice on our outdoor plans. We left the boys to play inside so that we could both be part of the consultation. Every now and then I would check on the boys, just to make sure that there wasn’t any trouble. After all, in my experience, war will break out between those three within about 2 minutes of being left to their own devices. Though I didn’t actually see them, their quiet voices assured me that there was no reason to worry. “They’re probably just looking at books,” I thought. Still, strange…

As we were wrapping up the consult with the landscaper on the front porch, we spied the kids inside, jumping around in the living room, obviously trying to get our attention. Seeing that they were all happy and smiling, I simply smiled, nodded, and returned my attention to our friend. All of a sudden it dawned on me that Teddy was wearing PJs. Come to think of it, so was Sammy. Upon closer inspection, even Caleb was in PJs, which surprised us, since Caleb does not dress himself yet. “Too bad they don’t know it’s shower day,” I commented to the two Dads standing on the porch. “They’ll just have to take everything off again.”

At that point I noticed, however, that the boys’ hair looked wet. “Teddy,” I asked our 7-year-old through the window glass, “Did you shower?”

“Yup!” he exclaimed, obviously tickled pink that I was slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“Did you shower everyone?

“Yup!” he said again, a giant smile on his face. “We even brushed our teeth!”

I couldn’t resist re-introducing our trophy children to our family friend, who was as shocked as Oli and I were.

As we were preparing to begin the story time ritual a little while later, Caleb suddenly entered the room saying, “I yat a poop!” Since Caleb still prefers the diaper to the potty for this particular bodily function, I assumed he was stating a fact that was in the past tense. I quickly ushered him into the bathroom, where it turned out that his pants were clean and he was eager to sit on his little red pot.

From his vantage point watching the exciting drama unfold in the doorway, Teddy was quick to tell me that he had already put Caleb on the potty before his shower. (Trust me folks, this kind of thing happens all the time when you have trophy children.) Apparently Caleb was having a great potty-day, because his subsequent potty-success sealed the deal on an incredible day.

We read stories snuggled on the couch in front of a warm fire, and finished off the time with some acappella singing. When we got to Peter Lutkin’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You – which I have been singing to all three at bedtime since they were nursing babes – I decided to take the two older boys to sing in Caleb’s room, who was still awake in his crib. As we stood in the darkness by his crib singing the familiar strains of this beautiful hymn of blessing, Caleb joined his little voice to our dissonant chorus. Although we don’t yet have harmonizing voices, that day we had harmony in the home. It was there in the darkness that I mentally bottled the moment; a small preserve for the next time they’re at each other’s throats and I’m losing my mind. For all the trouble they are, children are indeed a blessing.

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C’est L’amour

I just finished the single-most futile yet somehow obligatory task in all of motherhood: my children’s Valentines cards. Combined, we completed over 40 this year. And yes, the kids did help. A little.

This afternoon (Feb. 13) at 5:00pm I found myself browsing through Shoppers Drug Marts’ assorted Valentine offerings along with all the Dads who had left the task to the last minute. The funny part is that I am not a Dad, but a Mom who is supposed to love Valentines Day and all it stands for. I’m supposed to be the torchbearer of all things sappy and pink in a household where my gender is outnumbered 4:1, but I just cannot do it. In my mind, Valentines Day and this ridiculous tradition of handing out a Valentine to every child in the class could be done away with, beginning immediately.

Being the saintly mother that I am, however, there I was standing in the drug store trying to decide on whether to throw my money away on Dinosaur Valentines or (official) NHL Valentines. The Dad next to me was on his cell phone with his 6-year-old: “How about Hello Kitty? No? Tinkerbell?… Ummmm, pink, it looks like… The Tinkerbell ones are Pop-Ups. No? So Hello Kitty then? Ok, I’ll keep looking.”

I wasn’t about to let my kids make the choice between dumb and dumber, and so I went with the non-licensed character Picture Search Valentines for Teddy, who would love that type of thing, and the Dolphin Pop-Up Valentines for Sammy, who would also love that type of thing. Had I realized that the pop-ups aren’t actually built-in, I would have dropped that box like a hot potato.

While Teddy went about preparing his Valentines like a seasoned pro in a chicken processing plant, Sammy needed more guidance (this being his first Valentines Day, after all). He was so taken with those dolphins that all he wanted to do was play with them. I repeatedly reminded him that his only task was to sign his name, which he did to the best of his ability. My tasks in preparing those Valentines included:

  •  punching the 20 dolphins out of the cardboard
  • matching the correct dolphin to the correct card background (which took some figuring out, seeing as there were 8 different card designs and 8 different dolphin types – Yay!)
  • bending the little tabs to fit into the little slots of the cards
  • carefully finagling them through the little slots
  • ensuring that each dolphin would actually pop up
  • securing the card tops into the little tabs to keep it closed
  • addressing it to the lucky classmate who would receive this token of Sam’s affections.

The hilarious thing is that Sammy has no interest in actually giving Valentines to girls. Just this morning he was telling me that girls only gave to girls and boys only gave to boys.

If only this were so, my Boy.

The truth is that there is this unspoken 11th commandment that says “thou shalt prepare a Valentine for each child in the class of thy progeny with a view to each child’s fragile self-esteem and the other parents’ esteem of thee. Shouldst thou disregard this immovable law, thou and thy child shalt be smitten with the knowledge that thou wast the only family to not participate in this most sacred Elementary sacrament.”

So every year I put it off until the very last minute, finally haul my reticent rear-end to Shoppers Drug Mart on February 13, and spend the evening helping my children complete a task that they really cannot be expected to do by themselves at the age of 4.

I asked one last-minute Dad whose children are in grades 5 and 2 whether there was any end in sight to this madness. He didn’t offer me much hope, saying that the tradition was still alive and well in his daughters’ grade 5 class. I’ve done the math, people. If this blight lasts until grade 6, I will have spent 12 years buying and preparing Valentines that will only end up in the recycling the next day (at least if the other homes are anything like ours). For 7 of those years I will be responsible for more than 60 Valentines.

I think it’s time to start a revolution.

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Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop

Cockfighting dsc01729

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One of the first songs I was introduced to in Mrs. Fairbairn’s music class as an awkward 11-year-old immigrant girl was “Let There Be Peace On Earth (and let it begin with me-e)” Being a sentimental little girl I loved the song, and sang it with all the hypocritical gusto I could muster. The truth was, the only peace in my corner of the earth that I could realistically effect was with my younger brother, and God only knows how often my dear mother bellowed, “TAKE IT OUT BEHIND THE CHICKEN BARN!” when she’d had her fill of our bickering. In keeping with the general temperament of my family of origin, the two of us fought loud and hard, and it drove my mother crazy. (We’re basically pale Italians that eat Borscht instead of Pasta, but otherwise proprietors over the same fiery temperament). Perhaps Mom secretly prayed for her grief to be visited on us when we too became parents.

Or maybe it’s the prayers of Oliver’s mother that have been answered (though, to be sure, that gentle soul would never wish grief on anyone). I am told he and his younger sister had some terrific battles as well, although their style of fighting was different. Apparently only his more vocal sister would scream while Oliver quietly taunted her, causing her to get the short end of the rod of correction more often than he did. That’s how his sister tells it, anyway. Prayers or no prayers, the sins of our youth have been visited upon us in our adulthood and we are now the frazzled parents presiding over two flavours of fighting: Teddy and Sammy fight like my brother and I did – loud and hard, while Sammy and Caleb fight like Oliver and his sister did, with one screaming at the top of his lungs while the other surreptitiously whips up his brother’s ire. The chickens have come home to roost, except we have no chicken barn to which we can drive the three of them when the battle gets too intense.

The experts tell us that sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up. One author I read put it this way: if your husband came to you one day and said that he has enjoyed being married to you so much that he would like to take another wife, you wouldn’t be pleased. In the same way the Apple of Your Eye, your First-born, does not appreciate you introducing a sibling into his little world either. Neither will your Second-born appreciate the Third. In fact, it is quite likely that he will say things like, “I love Caleb a little bit, but I love Teddy millions!” or “Caleb can go live with another family now.” He may even talk about your family in terms that completely exclude that nasty youngest child who came to usurp his throne.

I don’t know where to pin the blame, but in the last few months conflict has been at an all-time high among our children. As anyone knows who has had to referee fights on a half-hourly basis (if not every five minutes) this results in a very, very cranky Mommy. A very cranky Mommy results in very cranky kids, who can stand each other even less than they could before, and so the cycle is perpetuated. Separation only works as long as they’re in their separate corners. When time-outs are over and life resumes, so does the fighting.

Short of proposing a child-swap with another family, we really feel like we’re at our whit’s end most of the time. Until this week when Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine arrived in our mailbox, and on the cover the headline, Can your Kids be friends? I tore off the plastic wrap and devoured the article immediately. Out of that article came a brand-new approach that we have tried with our two eldest with some measure of success. Most of my readers are probably already practicing this ingenious method of problem-solving with their children, but here it is anyway:

Step 1: put both parties in a time-out to give them a chance to cool down. Insist that you will not entertain any explanations (translation: tattling) at this time.

Step 2: without listening to either side of the story, sequester them in their room together with strict instructions to use words to express their frustration with their sibling and talk out their problem.

Step 3: if they still cannot solve their problem, get involved by hearing both sides of the story. So far we have not yet reached step 3. Our children have been able to solve their problem peacefully without Mommy or Daddy around. The process is much shorter and the peace longer-lasting than when we attempt to get all the facts and dole out appropriate consequences. I think that basically the kids just want to get back to playing and would both rather save themselves additional penalty minutes.

As for the younger two, I’m still waiting for my epiphany. Given that they’re 4 and 2, the previously outlined approach will not work. Any suggestions?

What I cling to, is that their fighting actually means they care about each other. Although my brother and I fought like cat and dog, somewhere along the line we became best friends and remained very close until we met our respective spouses. Both of our weddings felt a bit like a funeral for the other, who knew only too well that this new spouse was the replacement, the rightful occupant of that place of trust and dependency we had occupied for each other during our growing-up years. Today, after several years of working out the kinks in our overhauled relationship, fused together by new bonds of shared marriage and parenting joys and frustrations, our relationship remains strong and committed. The fights are a thing of the past and our mother can finally relax. Still, 30 years seems like a long time to wait for peace!



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Those Fabulous Fours

Panthera tigris sumatran subspecies.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve decided that the only thing more fun than having a four-year-old is having two four-year-olds. No, we’re not adopting. I’ve started looking after my friend’s four-year-old twice a week, which is proving to be more of a nice break for me than extra work.

This morning Sammy’s friend arrived in tears, not wanting to say good-bye to his mommy. How do you deal with a child overcome by this type of temporary grief? You tell the boys that you were planning a trip to the park, of course, even if your original plan was to get caught up on laundry and dishes.

The playgrounds near our house are situated on some lovely green spaces complete with a creek, trees, and rolling lawns. It is quite possibly some of the loveliest real estate in the city, and our neighbourhood association works hard to keep it that way. When we moved to our little dated bungalow five years ago with only a 2-year-old, we knew that one day these green spaces would provide hours of little-kid fun for our growing family. Five years later the kids’ wild imaginations are ready for input (and output), and a stroll to the playground is never just a stroll to the playground – especially not if you’re four years old.

Today the two four-year-olds veered off the path and headed down the grassy hill toward the creek bed where they were deep in conversation about tigers when I caught up with them. Each standing about 3½ feet tall, the boys were intently looking into each other’s wide eyes talking about tigers and their young, and that they would come to drink at a watering hole just like this one. There’s nothing like a like-minded person to fan the flame of one’s own imagination, and it was evident the boys were getting a bit nervous about he prospect of tigers being in the area. Trying to diffuse the situation with some common sense wisdom, Sammy’s friend put his little hand on Sammy’s shoulder and said reassuringly, “you know, tigers eat meat. We’re persons.”

After a short pause Sammy replied, “but persons are meat.”

With that it was time to leave the watering hole and check out an overgrown grove of trees nearby – a tiger’s lair, no doubt. After a bit of exploration one of the boys got nervous and wanted to be on his way again. The prospect of coming head-to-head with a full-sized Bengal was just too much for him.

At the playground they discovered a large hole in the mulch in front of the playground equipment. “A dog digged this,” Sammy proclaimed. Later on our way home the boys discovered another large hole in the grass. Holes like this one call for closer inspection, of course. I asked them what they thought made this hole. “A gopher,” replied Sammy’s friend, as though it was the most logical thing in the world.

Sammy found the next hole: a large depression in the grass. “A HOLE!” he cried at the top of his lungs. The sound of the alarm quickly brought back his friend who had gone ahead. What on earth was this? Both boys crouched down and inspected the area. “A pipe,” remarked Sam’s friend, who saw the protruding end of a drainage pipe. Fascinating. What was even more fascinating was that the pipe ran under the path and came out again on the other side! The boys quickly figured it out that they could each peek through one end and see each other through the pipe!

I spent most of my time just watching this morning. There’s a lot to be learned by watching four-year-olds. I realized that discovery doesn’t happen when I’m in a rush with my kids. Discovery, curiousity and imagination take time to unfold. It’s also a good idea to just let kids do their own thing once in a while, instead of planning all their activities for them. Kids are perfectly able to play without mom’s interference.

I also felt just a tinge of sadness knowing that this innocent exploration and imagining will end one day, and will most likely be replaced by the less colourful world of video and computer games, texting, and the mall. And suddenly I understand the frequent comments and mournful smiles of people who “miss this stage.” As tempting as it sometimes is to wish for older, more reasonable and independent children, I’ve renewed my resolve again to cherish the precious pre-school years while they’re here.

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And Then There Were Two…

Look closer... it's right there!

Wrapped in bathing towels, Teddy, Caleb and I came home two days ago from the neighbour’s pool to witness what nobody ever wants to come home to: the toad’s terrarium stood open, empty of everything but the plantation soil and the rock puddle. The only clue to the tiny amphibians’ whereabouts was the guilty look on Sammy’s face, who had – until that point – been busy playing in the sandbox (Sammy was at home with Dad). Upon closer inspection we realized that two of the three toads were squished between Sam’s little fingers – his sandbox toys, evidently.

Guilt-stricken and fearing the wrath of his older brother, Sam ran back to the terrarium where he deposited the poor toads upside down in their little puddle. The sight of them just lying there belly-up not moving will probably always be etched on our collective psyches. Were they dead? Alive, but severely shaken by their ordeal?

Teddy quickly righted them back onto their legs, at which point it became clear that the breath of life was indeed still in them. It also became clear, however, that one of their brethren had been released into the wild blue yonder. A search was immediately initiated, but the chances of finding a frog small enough to bathe in a thimble in a dense patch of clover are about as slim as finding a parking space at the mall on Boxing Day.

Eventually Teddy called off the search, consoling himself that now he had “one less mouth to feed.” That, and the missing toad was the fattest one – too fat to fit into the mouth of any predator. Absolutely right on both counts, I assured him.

Still, the animal fever continues to rage at our house. They’ve taken over the house: chameleons, koalas, toads, frogs, lizards, and whatever else the boys have seen on TV. To be clear, we don’t keep all of these animals – the boys pretend to be them. Believe it or not the boys’ creature personas were not the result of any children’s programming, although certainly Zooboomafoo with Chris and Martin Kratt laid the groundwork for their current passion. Their current animal zeal is fueled by occasional family movie nights featuring BBC Earth’s Life documentary. The exceptional footage of this series (as with all of BBC Earth’s documentaries) leaves the children with scenarios that they just have to re-enact. Could previous generations of children have known what a chameleon’s long, slimy grey tongue looks like in slow-motion as it greedily snatches a preying mantis? The way that suction-cup tip envelopes the unsuspecting insect and rudely plucks it off of its perch in the blink of an eye is impressive and worthy of an attempted emulation, at least if you’re four and six years old.

Image: africa /


Source: africa/


Anyone who can still argue that children are not heavily influenced by what they watch on television need only watch our children’s play immediately following what we have just allowed the BBC to put into their little heads. If it’s not a komodo dragon lying in wait for its little brother err… prey, it’s a chameleon stuffing his cheeks with cherry tomatoes and storing them for the winter (it seems they’ve created a brand new sub-species by crossing a chameleon and a squirrel).

Beyond just being entertaining to watch, our children’s role-playing has reiterated for us the importance of our role as sentinel at the media portal of our children’s minds. Whether we like it or not, we have a very strong influence over our children’s behaviour simply by determining what we allow them to watch. Let’s give them wholesome material to emulate.

  • Toads! (

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Homeward bound after a week’s stay at the cottage, our 6-year-old son surprised us with some unexpected news: “Hey Mommy, guess what? I’m bringing 3 frogs home!” While the news was unexpected, it didn’t come as a surprise.

One of Teddy’s favourite occupations while at the cottage was collecting tiny postage stamp-sized toads for observation. He’s now telling everyone that he collected 21: eleven little toads and one much larger frog that counts for 10. Now three of his little friends were embarking on an epic odyssey (at least for a toad) and their new owner couldn’t contain his joy. “Finally I have a pet!” he remarked continually.

The biggest surprise in this story is that Mommy also likes the toads. I am known to like – nay, love – plants, but animals are too uncontrollable and messy. (Which is precisely why I should probably have a pet, but that’s a different discussion altogether.) I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but those little brown speckled frogs with their scrawny legs and freckle-sized feet have grown on me.

Initially I was prepared to insist on having him release the little guys after a day or two, explaining that they would be happier in the wild where they could catch their own food. With a heavy heart and tears running down his face he headed outside to do as he was told. Now, I am a big believer in sticking to my guns in most parenting struggles, but this I couldn’t bear to watch. It wasn’t that long since I was a kid (was it?), and suddenly I could feel his pain at having to release his precious “new pets” into the wide open backyard. I ran outside to let him know that we’d try to make the arrangement work. Besides, this could be a great learning opportunity (for all of us!).

Now that we had some permanent amphibian residents in the house, we decided to make some arrangements to increase their comfort. For one thing, they needed food. What do tiny frogs eat? Ants, apparently. So until we could get to a pet store to buy some crickets, Oliver and the boys captured ants and watched the little toads hunt them down. This activity is much more interesting to watch than a cocoon languishing away day after day. We put a few rocks into the little bug catcher so they would have something to climb onto, and made sure to fill the water bottle lid with water so they could cool off whenever they felt like it. Still, every 10 minutes Teddy would ask if we could buy a terrarium for the frogs. When I could no longer stand it and forbade him asking me again (it was, after all, still only Sunday – the day after we’d gotten home) he began to say things like, “those frogs sure are squished in there…they need a terrarium” or “I’m sure those frogs would be happier in a terrarium.”

I knew installing that windowsill was a good idea.

By Monday Teddy had the responsibility of feeding the frogs, which was an eye-opening experience for him indeed. For the first time he realized that if these guys were going to live, it would be because he caught the food for them. While running errands on Tuesday we happened to pass a pet store, and I – in a very uncharacteristic move – went in with the children in tow. A pet store for kids is like a jewelry store for women. They have live animals, people! Not being pet owners ourselves (at least, until recently) we never darken the door of pet stores, so for our children this experience was as new as the dawn. We did manage to walk out with only the essentials and no extra pets: a plastic bucket specifically designed for kids who collect small critters, a plastic “rock” with a small depression to hold water, and some coconut husk plantation soil. I dug up a weed from the lawn and planted it in a small jar and placed it in our new “terrarium” along with a few rocks from the garden. Most importantly we purchased 10 mini-crickets, almost as big as the toads themselves. For the little toads, the crickets were certainly more demanding prey than the ants, but by the end of the day only 3 were left. Success!

In just over a week I have gone from having no contact with animals to babysitting a terd on my kitchen windowsill to observing a small eco-system interact in a blue-tinged bucket.  Here’s my latest observation about life, based on toads and children:  just as the clay of our life is beginning to harden as we reach adulthood, God gives us children to force change and new experiences. Any kid will tell you that soft clay is way more fun to work with than the hard stuff.

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Living on the Wild Side

“Sammy, do you love your little brother?” I asked Sammy after reading a touchy-feely book about a big brother welcoming his little sister into the family.
“Not really,” Sammy answered after a few moments’ thought.

“Would you have been happier with a sister?” I asked, curious.

“No,” he mused. “That would be a She,” he concluded, as though that were explanation enough.

“And you don’t like She’s?” I prodded.

“No.” A three-year-old’s favourite word.

“But you just played with some girls this morning. Wasn’t that fun?”

“No. They’re only fun at their house.”

“You mean when you play with them at their house, or when they play with other girls at their house?” I asked.

“When they play at their house with other girls,” Sammy answered without any hesitation.

When I consider the daughters of my friends, I have to wonder whether our boys’ disinterest in the gentler sex is actually to their benefit. I have an inkling that the mothers of those sweet little princesses would have their reservations about our sons’ most recent imaginative play: pretending to be top carnivores, or worse, scavengers.

Their fascination with the intricacies of the food chain stems from their love of non-fiction books (Teddy just received the “Student of the Month” award for his independent animal research at school) and Sammy’s favourite animal show, “Zaboomafoo.” They are also enamoured with dinosaurs and their classification as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. (As it turns out, there are even “insectivores”. Who knew?)

A few weeks ago they were playing with play-dough. I had recently made a big batch of brightly-coloured blue play-dough to inspire our boys to sculpt whatever they could dream up: cinnamon buns, bunnies, eggs, stamps of flowers…the opportunities are endless with play-dough. As it turns out though, I obviously still think like a girl, because what my boys ended up using the big lump of dough for was to represent a big hunk of carrion (a dead animal, for those of you who don’t know) which was being eaten by a plastic hippo and a plastic fish (the two animals they have in their play-dough collection). At one point the fish was “stuck” in the heap of deceased animal flesh, calling out to the hippo to “come and save me! I’m stuck! Start eating right here!” Yum.

One of the most common questions from the boys for a while was, “is _____ meat?” (fill in the blank with an animal name.) Now they will make statements about animals being “meat”. They discuss which animal is meat for which other animal, and even wonder whether we humans are meat. I’m still not sure how to field that one. Grizzlies are of particular concern to them, and they often want to know how far away we live from the bears.

Sammy, who has a particular fascination with animals, role-plays animal personas all the time. When he is alone he is often a peace-loving species, high-lighting the animal’s qualities by describing it as an animal that “is quiet” or “is a good listener.” When Teddy gets home from school though, be prepared for some serious stalking of prey, growling, and pouncing. The two of them set to attacking toy horses or pillows, taking them down with their “sharp claws,” and chasing away the competing carnivore who would threaten to steal their kill. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to which boy secures the most kill and which one is chased away most often.

Some people may consider the boys’ pastime reflective of a morbid fascination with death. I disagree: Oliver and I feel like we’re watching a nature flick in which the young animals learn to hunt and fight at a young age by wrangling with their fellow yearlings. Our gentler Sammy is receiving an education in being more assertive in the face of a very dominant alpha male, which will no doubt stand him in good stead as he begins kindergarten next year. We have seen that boys tend to gravitate towards games that involve hunting or killing, and I confess to preferring this game over the imaginary killing of people using light-sabers or worse. If nothing else, it has certainly reinforced the timeless truth once again that kids will act out what they see, read, and hear!

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Love at First Sight II

As the weather warms up, so does Sammy’s love affair with the worms. Saturday was the first real spring day here in Southern Ontario, and while we spent the day outside gardening, Sammy spent the day tending to his worms. As I dug up a new patch of dirt to plant my onions, Sammy discovered earthworms in abundance, and collected a handful which he proceeded to carry around with him for the morning.

First he found a small one, which was a baby worm, he said. Then he found a fat juicy one, which was obviously the Daddy. He happily reunited the two who had, it seemed, somehow become separated in different patches of earth. Whether they liked it or not, the two worms spent the whole morning getting reacquainted in Sammy’s little hand.

There came the time when he had to go to the bathroom, so he carefully placed the worms back on the soil and covered them with a leaf. He was in and out of the house in a flash, fearing presumably that his little friends would crawl away. Thankfully the worms were right where he had left them and the game continued. (Let’s remember that earthworms aren’t exactly known for speedy getaways. That’s their big downfall; probably the reason why their species has remained where it is on the food chain.)

At one point the neighbour began washing his car with a high-pressure hose attachment. This generated some noise as the water connected with the car’s metal exterior, which simultaneously generated some concern for our little Patron of Worms.

“Mommy, the wormth are getting thcared,” he worried out loud in his endearing lisp. I notified the neighbour (who was amused) and assured our little boy that the neighbour would be done soon.

One comment he made during the course of the morning revealed why he’s so enamoured with worms. As he spoke to his squirming handful in reassuring tones, I overheard him calling them his “gentle friends.” All of a sudden it all made sense. Sammy doesn’t love flighty grasshoppers. He doesn’t love “in-your-face” and energetic dogs. He loves fish. He loves worms. He loves gentle creatures – just like himself.

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