Knitting With A Boy

011My oldest is knitting!!

It started a few months ago, when his grade 1 class learned how to fingerknit.  And he has been fingerknitting little belts and strings in the car, at home, and even during a (long-ish) musical concert.  He’ll ask if he can knit, then go to the little wooden shelf where I keep my modest stash of yarn, and fingerknit away.  It’s marvelous.

He also asked me several months ago if he could do some knitting with two needles, and we tried.  It was a bit too tricky, and we shelved the project for another day.  And I confess that although he has asked me a few times since then to try knitting again, I’ve resisted, thinking it was still a bit too early to learn.

But I put it squarely on the table again, when I picked up the needles again myself a little while ago.  Also, my son’s class is moving to knitting with needles soon too.  This, and seeing me work, prompted him to ask again if he could learn to knit, and thank goodness I said yes.

Somehow, something seems to have shifted, and he is ready for it.  He works hard at his knitting, because it is a challenge for such young hands.  It’s not easy, but we are encouraged by all the little steps that show improvement, and I am amazed at how often he asks to knit.  (Like when I am buckling all three kids into the car, for example.)

When we were working on a first little project, the metal needles kept slipping.  I wondered aloud if we should try some bamboo needles, which might be less slippery.  My oldest was very excited about that, and we quickly determined to go to our local yarn shop to buy him some bamboo needles just the right size for him, and a skein of his own yarn.

My son was so keen on going that he helped develop a plan:  we could go while one of his younger brothers was in afternoon kindergarten and the other could be taken in the stroller and nap there.  Also, he said, we could knit there.

And I realized that every word he spoke was true.  My son has gone with me several times to the yarn shop, and seen the knitters who gather at its centre to knit together.  Never have I sat there to knit; I have always been with a child, and also felt a bit shy to join in, as the knitters were experienced and knew each other.

But now I was fortified by an eager companion.  We would go!

And we did, both of us doing something new, learning together.

And it was so nice.


The Benefits of Being a City Kid

027One of the benefits of being a city kid is that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that you may one day play in the big leagues.  Well, on the big league’s turf, anyway, which is what happened for my middlest son this weekend.  His house league team sold the most tickets to a Toronto Marlies Game, and their reward was to play their house league game on professional ice at the Ricoh Coliseum.  With his dad on the coaching bench, his mother in the front row, and his brothers watching and cheering his every play, our star player had one of his best games ever.  See that Goal #2?  That was his, along with three assists to help his team to a 5-3 win.  A beauty of a game that not only made me a proud mother but a proud city-dweller, too.


Friday Fun: Caine’s Arcade

Have you seen this yet? Nine year old Caine Monroy spent last summer built a fully-functioning cardboard arcade inside his father’s autobody shop in Los Angeles, California. In October of last year, a whole bunch of new friends showed up to play:

Go Caine! Kudos to filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, too. “I felt proud”, indeed.

Souper Douper!

Photo by cogdogblog on Flickr. Used under a creative commons licence.

Name a food that is (a) easy to prepare (b) healthy and (c) inexpensive to make?

My husband reminded us of one last week.


But not any old soup. Homemade chicken rice soup. From scratch.

I know! It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Soup is soup. It has sustained people for generations. Yet, how many of us regularly make our own chicken broth? There was a time when I made chicken soup all the time, but I fell out of the habit of it, given that there are so many easy (read: canned) alternatives that can be ready in slightly less time than it takes to press a couple of buttons on a microwave. So why make your own? You just have to eat one bowl of freshly made soup, and the reasons become obvious. Homemade chicken soup is one of those foods that is easy and cheap to make, and infinitely better from scratch than anything that comes out of a can. It’s just nicer. And it’s better for you, too. As someone who avoids gluten, I know what’s exactly in my soup when it’s made at home. And it makes me happy. We should all eat what makes us happy.

Peter’s become the designated chicken rice soup maker around our place. Here’s how he does it:

At the grocery store I decided to buy the pack of 4 chicken breasts on the bone (around $11 vs $20+ for boneless). Boning the meat isn’t hard; however not being an expert I didn’t fret getting every last bit off the bones. However, I’d paid for the things so I didn’t want to throw them out. So I made soup. To the bones-with-meat I added 1 finely chopped onion, 2 biggish carrots, 2 stalks celery (with leaves even!), peppercorns, 1 large bay leaf, some thyme and 2 whole cloves of garlic plus water to cover, and simmered for 2 hours. After a night in the fridge, I skimmed the fat, took the meat off the bones, and added a cup or so of rice (and cooked for 20 min) and salt to taste. Awesome and simple. Boning the meat-5 min; chopping onions, carrots and celery-5 min; picking meat from bones and skimming-5 min; everything else-5 min. We had enough for 6 good sized bowls that blew away any store-bought soup, plus 4 good sized breasts that we cooked up the first night.

Four chicken breasts. Two meals, and one of them is soup. Of course, chicken soup freezes really well, but only if you have leftovers to freeze in the first place!

Caecillius est in horto. Mater non est compos mentis.

What does it say about your child when he, having grown weary of the old-school teaching style of his Mandarin teacher (Mandarin being a required subject at his school as part of the TDSB’s integrated International Languages program), decides to try to convince his parents to write to the school excusing him from further Mandarin lessons, such a concession by the school to be made possible on promise that his mother will home-school him in her free time in another language of his request? And he continues this campaign for a couple of days straight?

And what if his language of choice is Latin?

Despite his pleas, and much to his chagrin, eldest child has not been excused from ongoing attendance in Mandarin class. He is now, however, the possessor of the first four chapters of  Latin for Children, which he shall start working through over the March Break.

All of this is to say: be careful what you wish for, especially when – surprise! – your mother studied Latin in high school.  You never know when a request like this might bite you in the nates.

Tales of a Reluctant Hockey Mom

“Hockey mom.”  There are two words I never thought I’d use to describe myself.  I’m not at all a fan of the professional sport, though I do get very caught up in my kids’ games when I’m there to watch.  Truth be told, I don’t feel fully entitled to the moniker, since I am the parental unit who is usually on the home front while my husband is at the rink.  Dragging a three-year-old boy along to hockey games is no one’s idea of fun, and I’m not so keen that I want to arrange babysitting to allow my two hockey players to have both parents rinkside.  So I’m a proud mother of two hockey players who is very often in the background. 

Our house was minus two for the February Family Day long weekend: G and Ted were in Montreal for G’s hockey tournament.  There are so many things I once would have resented about the time that hockey takes out of our schedules, the dent it makes in our time as a family of five all in one place at one time. 

But, while our little family of five was not together all weekend, G had as spectators for one game his grandfather, who drove five hours to see him, his great aunt, two of my cousins and their families.  My father is one of twelve children.  We have a sprawling family, and that was four separate branches of the family tree out to watch one kid play hockey and gather for a meal and a chin-wag.  I was profoundly humbled that they took time out of their weekends to gather at the rink.  Call it “Aren’t We Blessed to Have Such a Wonderful Extended Family?” Day.  That G’s team won gold was also news to warm his distant mother’s heart.

As it happened, we five were together for Family Day Monday, but it was a very quiet sort of a day.  I wanted textbook Quality Family Time, but I was too tired for orchestrating a perfect memory, and so we drifted into our day, hanging out in pajamas all morning, reading, playing tag at the park, making bread, cooking wholesome soup and unwholesome nachos, playing Lego, and catching up somewhat reluctantly on homework.  G worked out how long it would take him to get all of his homework done and then wilted.  The crash after the high of a fun-filled weekend.  But then he found the solution to a difficult math problem in a fraction of the time he thought it would take and rejoiced, saying, “That felt as good as winning gold!”

And that’s where all of these pieces fall into place for me.  G has had to work really, really hard on this select team.  Goals, which come fast and furious for him on his school and house league teams, elude him in this group of stronger players.  A few days ago, G said to his dad, “I love being on the Select team. Winning is so much more fun when it’s hard.”  He is not the star of the team, but he is a fully committed member who works his heart out.

The rewards of being a somewhat reluctant hockey mom are plentiful: seeing him recognize the value of hard-won victory, seeing that spring in his step as he drags his hockey bag along to the next game, seeing him feel part of something bigger than himself.  That, surely, is something to celebrate on Family Day.

Non-Diapering 101: Elimination Communication

When someone asks what kind of diapers to use, the debate is usually between cloth or disposables.  But what if a viable answer to the question were ‘none’?

Have you come across this idea?  It’s called elimination communication, or EC for short, or natural infant hygiene or infant potty training.  Whatever the moniker, the basic idea is that caregivers use timing, cues, and intuition to recognize a baby’s need to eliminate waste and then the caregiver helps the baby relieve itself in an appropriate place.

I first heard of this at a mothers group meeting 5 years ago.  A dozen brand new mothers sat in a circle with our infants and someone circulated an editorial piece that I think was printed in Today’s Parent (I can’t find reference to the article now).  It featured an Indian woman’s skepticism around her mother’s claim that all her children were toilet trained at 11 months, and that this was common in India.  One new mother in our group confirmed that when travelling in rural China, where poverty tended to preclude diapers, she saw diaper-less children who had barely learned to walk squat by the side of the road to relieve themselves.

Personally I was too busy reeling from having my first child to pay much heed to EC, although I believed such things were possible, especially in countries where inter-generational families are the norm and mentors for child-rearing would be prevalent.

I would only witness EC firsthand once, though, and this was at a work lunch for a colleague who was on maternity leave.  Midway through the meal, she discreetly withdrew to a dark corner behind the table with her 6 month old daughter, and emerged a minute later with a little pink potty that she emptied in the restroom.  It was such a casual occurrence, I might have doubted it happened except that I had seen it myself.  Or maybe, less charitably, I might assumed a certain extremism in any mother who would practice EC.  But there she was, my girlfriend, in all her lovely, normal splendour, holding what looked like a very normal IKEA potty.

I made a little more effort to educate myself when baby two arrived.  I called my mother-in-law’s Portuguese seamstress, who had toilet trained her babies by one, but she didn’t return my calls.  Then I perused some websites on EC and basically got discouraged.  Looking at your baby for signs for when to go?  I looked into my second son’s face for cues and saw precisely none, except when he was already relieving himself – that is, too late.  And the holy tone of some EC proponents kind of put me off.  Also, practically speaking, my second son was a prolific pooer, and so I gave up on EC before trying.

And then…  I went and had another baby.  And had zero plans for ECing this baby, just the same as the other two.  But a couple of things happened.  First, I chanced upon a documentary called My Toxic Baby.  In it is a blurb about EC, including a video clip of a a woman taking her baby to the toilet  by sitting on it (in reverse position, facing the toilet lid) with a baby cradled in her arms.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but I think hearing about EC again and seeing a visual of it in action made an impression on me.

The second thing that happened, and it just kept happening, and that was that whenever I took my baby out of his diaper and let him have some air time on the diaper table, he would pee.  Not infallibly, not always immediately, but entirely consistently.  Enough to make me say a couple of months ago to my mother that “someone who knew what she was doing could toilet train this baby”.

Then the Sunday after my mom’s annual Chinese New Year party, my older boys were taking a rare nap to recover from the late night celebrations.  The house was quiet; it was just me and baby.  With no forethought, I found myself taking my baby’s diaper off and wandering upstairs to the bathroom.  I faced the toilet and sat on its edge and cradled my baby like I’d seen in the video.  He played with his toes for a second, and I was going to wonder how long you’re supposed to wait for your baby to pee when I was interrupted by the sound of tinkling.

I kid you not.  My baby peed!  In the toilet!  Just like in the movie!

It’s hard to describe the rush this gave me (see exclamation marks above) but rush it was.  My baby boy is five months old, it was my first try, and I hadn’t read a stitch about EC for years.  But there we were.  Baby was perfectly at ease over the toilet, and seemed to know precisely what we were doing.  I took him to the toilet five times that day, and he peed four of those times.

The next day, I took him to the toilet six times, and he peed six times.  Ben was working, but my mom was over, and she took him two or three more times, with success.  And on the fifth of my six times, my baby pooed.  Poo!  In the toilet!  I was so crazy with excitement that I didn’t flush so my mother could bear witness.  And crazy tree that I didn’t drop far from that she is, she went to see it and was, in my view, suitably aglow afterwards.

And that’s how I became an accidental elimination communicator.

What’s the fine print?  Well, while I often give baby diaper-free time, we still use diapers, and sometimes our diapers are wet.  But far fewer of them are wet, and they’re on my baby for much less time, meaning a much more comfortable baby.  And since I use cloth, it’s very nice to have less laundry to do.  Another thing is that I still can’t really read cues on my baby, so I have to rely on intuition and habit, trying by trial and error to notice what his patterns of elimination are.   I think I’m slowly getting better.  Finally, I haven’t attempted anything at night.

Probably the biggest thing to note is that I check baby’s diaper a lot more often.  He’s sometimes dry for a couple of hours, but I may be taking him to the toilet up to twice an hour after he has nursed.  So EC requires a lot more attention from the caregiver and isn’t feasible in settings like a daycare, and sometimes isn’t very practical in settings where it’s usually feasible.  I went to Cleveland last weekend, but I didn’t make special stops for baby to pee on a toilet.

But as anyone who has done it knows, diapering a child for years and then trying to untrain that habit requires a good hunk of work too.  So it’s not really accurate to dismiss EC on the basis of workload; it’s more a question of whether you’re choosing to front end or back end the work.  Satisfaction ranks in there too:  I never would have thought that helping a tiny baby pee and poo could be so satisfying but, for me, it really is.

I’m pretty sure that some babies are easier to EC with than others, and my newborn kept showing signs of readiness until I couldn’t ignore them anymore.  But my other babies also peed when their diapers were off, and although they were not out of diapers late, and I also remember thinking for both of them that someone who knew how could have helped them learn to use the toilet earlier.  Definitely part of what has made the process so accessible this time around is a simple willingness to try.  The proverbial open mind.  Having heard about EC through enough different channels, it’s like I finally reached my EC tipping point.

One more note:  although I’ve used the word “train” throughout this post, I’m not really interested in how my baby “performs”.   It’s fun to see the surprised looks and share the laughter when people see I’m practicing EC, but that’s not nearly enough to have me make this choice.  And while I think early toileting abilities is a likely and welcome consequence of EC, I’m not banking on it.  I feel less like I’m training my baby than allowing his natural abilities to express themselves through EC.  He was showing some obvious innate body awareness, and it’s a pleasure to encourage and work with that awareness.  I love knowing him just that much better, recognizing just a little bit more the fullness of who he is and what he can do.

Virtually all parents are delighted when their children start using the toilet; I guess I’m just feeling that flush (tee hee) early with my third baby.

How old are you?  Were you alive in the 80s, and do you remember the show The Greatest American Hero?  It’s about a man who gets superpowers when he wears a certain suit, although he doesn’t really know how to use them.  My stumble into EC has the opening lines of its theme song on repeat in my head: Look at what’s happened to me/ I can’t believe it myself / Suddenly I’m up on top of the world / Should it have been someone else?

Rather histrionic, I know.  I don’t care.  We all take our lumps as moms; why not enjoy its surprises and pleasures to the fullest too?

The Age of Self-Awareness

The Rouge Test is a self-recognition test that identifies a child’s ability to recognize a reflection in a mirror as his or her own.  Beginning at about 18 months, a child who sees rouge on the nose in his or her reflection in a mirror will wipe his or her own nose to remove the smudge, thinking, as infants do, that “That is me in the mirror, I’d better do something about that unsightly blotch of red.”

We have discovered a new self-recognition stage in our house:  The Quotability Factor Recognition Stage.  Beginning at the age of 10, a boy might say something funny, then immediately ask, as children do, “Are you going to put that in the next Christmas letter?”

Teaching Griffin to Knit

In the September issue of Today’s Parent magazine, I have an essay on teaching my son to knit, and the red blanket in the photo above is the result of our day’s lesson.  On newsstands now.  (And you will have to get it from the newsstand.  My essay is, alas, not part of the online content of the magazine.)