Friday, 26 October 2012

Mystery Suprise Secret Color Reveal Playdough

On Fridays Sasha doesn't have any afterschool activities, so I have twice as much time with her as on the other days of the week. She is happiest -- and I am happiest -- if I provide her with structured activities to fill that three and a half hours until her parents and I swap places. If I don't plan anything, trusting the hypothetically boundless imagination and creativity of a six-year-old, we inevitably devolve into a tug-a-war over how many tv shows she ought to be allowed to watch in exchange for however many minutes or pages of academic busywork she is willing to complete. It's a lot of whining and dramatic fake tears and I'm so over it.

Earlier this week while one of the babies slept, I borrowed half a cup of salt, half a cup of water, and god knows how much flour to whip up a batch of playdough. In a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to alleviate that horrible playdough smell, I added vanilla extract, which really just made it smell weirder. So, maybe pick a different scent if you're going to Try This At Home.

While Sasha was at school, I separated out the playdough into balls, molded them into shapes sufficient to receive food coloring drops, and rolled them into balls so the food coloring was hidden on the inside of the balls. The idea was that as you start kneading each ball, the color is revealed! It's Mystery Surprise Secret Color Reveal Playdough!

I made the orange one as an example, or maybe I just spilled food coloring everywhere. Guess.

And then, if you feel like following directions beyond the exciting "what's inside" part which takes one second per ball of playdough, you knead the heck out of it until it's all a uniform color. Then you store each ball in empty and washed babyfood jars, for future use.

Sasha is unpredictable enough that I tend to approach any project I plan with "If she's even half interested it's a win. If she takes it in her own direction, go with it." So when she decided that, rather than fully knead each ball to produce uniform color and store each in its separate baby food jar, she wanted to smash all the half-mixed colors together into a "sandwich," I just cheerfully asked open-ended questions packed with science vocabulary like "hypothesis" and "theory."

"it's a sandwich with green bread"

With our greenish-yellowish-pinkish-orangish-brownish dough, we formed cakes and cookies, made imprints with nuts and leaves we'd collected last week, and played Playdough Monster, which was really just me chasing Sasha around trying to convince her to wash the playdough residue off hands so that I wouldn't "eat them."

That's a "cake" I made for Sasha while she sang Patty-Cake

It kept her entertained for 45 minutes, so I just need to come up with two or three more activities per Friday to totally avert the iPad wars.


Sasha Says, ep. 5

On weeds: "If you're nice to them, they'll be nice to you."

After watching the debates with her parents, who reportedly didn't really talk about their views with her: "I like Obama but I don't like Governor Mitt Romney. He seems greedy. I'm voting for Obama."

"Guess who my favorite character in Totoro is? Miyazaki." [Miyazaki is the art director, which she knows]

Referring to slugs: "They're stretched out so they're thinnyer."

Sasha: "Can I watch a movie? You said I could watch a movie when we got home."
Me: "I really don't remember saying you could watch a movie."
Sasha: "Trust me, you did. I'm a kid, so I have a better rememberer than you."

"Pumpkins are fruits because they grow on a vine. All things that grow on vines are fruits. Take my word for it. If you want to. You can decide if you want to take my word for it." 

"Spiderman got bited by a spider that had chemicals in it, and then he started cobbing web."

"Know why I want to watch Rugrats? Because it reminds me of my boyfriend. Because it has love in it."
Later in the conversation: "I love Q, that's why he's my boyfriend. But he doesn't like me because he's afraid I might kiss him. So I'm not his girlfriend."

High fives,

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Scavenger Hunt Bingo

I've been trying to think of ways to get Sasha out of the house to enjoy these last few warm, dry(ish) fall days, since the rains and the cold are just a storm system away. I whipped up a "Sasha's Fall Scavenger Hunt Bingo" page in half an hour one evening this week. Ecology plus reading fundamentals plus art, all in game format? I hoped she'd think it was fun and awesome, and not stupid or boring or too hard. She can be hard to predict.

Due to a roughhousing injury, Sasha had an abbreviated day at school on Friday. As she started a third episode of Rugrats on the iPad, the dog danced around nipping at us for attention with increasing desperation, and the baby upped his fussing, I tentatively suggested a walk. "Are you feeling better enough to go on a scavenger hunt?"

She considered the question briefly, then said, "I will be, after one more movie." (Movie meaning episode, in Sasha-speak.)

So 20 minutes later I crammed Ezra in the Ergo on my back, leashed up the dog, refused a "one more movie pleeeeease" request and reminded Sasha about the scavenger hunt, and we headed out. (I recommended a sweatshirt or coat but she balked and I didn't push it. She didn't seem cold on the walk, so one point for the "trust the kid to know their own needs" approach.)

She had such a good time with the scavenger hunt that she announced, "When we get back, I'm going to make you a scavenger hunt!" (She did, but by the time she'd finished drawing it she'd lost interest in going back outside.)

The only thing we absolutely could not find was slugs. I'm not convinced she actually saw a spider or any mushrooms because those two included some vague gesturing into bushes, but good enough. Although it wasn't in my original plan, she wanted to collect up the things that were reasonable to bring home; no live animals or pumpkins off the neighbor's porch.

All in all, a successful fall activity. Plus the dog got her walk, Ezra got some fuss-curing fresh air, and I got to totally bore Sasha with a few soliloquies about species of oak trees and photosynthesis and decomposition and adaptation.


Thursday, 18 October 2012


By happenstance more than intention, my partner HB landed the dream nannying position. When I first read about the mom online, before we knew the family needed child care, I told HB, "She sounds like you in ten years!" The family is a car-free, cloth-diapering, music-playing, art-making, urban farming foursome a five minute bike ride from our front door. The kids are three and one. The guy that HB is taking bike mechanic classes from rents out the basement. The kids are happy to play in the mud for hours, pausing to chase the chickens around the yard. It's only 10-12 hours a week, so HB still has time for her two classes, her tutoring job, and her two regular volunteering shifts. But she'll make enough to pay rent each month, which is a huge relief on her savings account.

She was nervous her first day, since it's been awhile since she's taken care of kids those ages. She got the baby's cloth diaper on wrong, and didn't feed the kids enough for lunch, but had a pretty good time otherwise. In the evening, I coached her on typical schedules and needs for each age -- how often to check a diaper, how to space snacks -- and she did great the second day. Today is her third day with the kids.

This week was a trial week. HB got an email from the family saying that they interviewed another well-qualified nanny, but that they would rather HB continue with them. It's a year-long commitment.

At the end of each day, our ritual is to recount our day to each other. My recitation is typically full of naptime drama, progress toward milestones (Athena just started solid foods and Ezra began crawling yesterday), and Sasha's antics; HB's varies widely depending on what she wanted to do that day. But now we spend an hour over dinner swapping kid stories, comparing the goofy things the older kids said, sharing diapering disasters, fretting over parenting decisions we've made. It's new and different and delightful.

Since we want to someday raise a car-free family ourselves, I'm so thankful HB has this opportunity to practice her parenting skills in a context where she'll have the chance to figure out how to propel the kids to parks and museums and community centers by bike, by bus, and by foot. She's going to learn a lot.

We'll be an awesome parenting team someday.

High fives,

Monday, 15 October 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 4

"If my mom was a horse she would have shorter hair."

Singing me a song she composed (clearly on the spot): "I don't have any rights to get what I want, but I have needs, needs, needs."

"Do you know why I like Word Girl so much? Because I am Word Girl. But don't tell my parents."

"Ezra has laughing skill. And pooping skill."

Referring to the playbill/program brochure from a recent children's theatre show: "I got autographs on the flipper!"

Listening to an orchestral piece on the Classical music station: "This reminds me of country music."

Apropos of nothing: "You know what? Ezra was homeborn, but I was born in a birth center."

"When I grow up, I don't want to own a car. Cars are not as good for the environment." [context: Sasha and I have talked about how I choose not to own a car, and that I bike and bus everywhere.]


Thursday, 4 October 2012

consistency & permanence

One of the things I always struggle with when I'm caring for other people's kids is aligning my "parenting" style with their parents' parenting styles. I know all the textbooks say to be consistent, that kids need consistency and rules and boundaries.

Sometimes this means grilling the parents extensively on their routines and approaches to various things and trying my damndest to replicate them. I just had a long conversation with Ezra's mom about sleep training and his bedtime routine, because the more of his sleeping cues I can replicate during naptime, the better he's likely to nap. And Sasha is a perpetual snacker, so we also had a conversation about how best to limit her afterschool snacking so that she'll actually eat dinner, without grooming her for an unhealthy relationship with food and control. (Lord knows she'll get enough of that from dominant culture.)

Sometimes consistency means being consistent to my own rules, even if they're (allegedly) different from the parents' rules. Real life example from a kid I babysat last summer:

Kid: "But my moms always let me have ice cream before dinner."
Me: "Well, your moms aren't here right now so we're going with my rules, and my rule is dinner before dessert."*

Most of the time, I feel like I straddle the line between these two approaches. After all, I figure these families hired me not to be a copy of themselves, but because they trust my judgment and they value having different adults in their kids' lives who will present them with different ways to see and interact with the world.

And some of the time, I resort to the old "pick your battles" standby.

I've written before about the tug-of-war that is Sasha and reading. This week after school, as usual, Sasha asked, "Can I watch a movie?" and I replied, "Yes. After you do your 15 minutes of reading homework." I offered different reading choices, and after waving aside my suggestions, Sasha sat up suddenly and said, "What if you write sentences about what you love about me, and then I read them?"

Good enough for me. "That's a great idea! Get me a pencil and some paper."

She returned with a notepad and a big black Sharpie. Little warning bells went off in my head. Is she usually allowed to use Sharpies? Do I really want to disturb this temporary reading truce for something as relatively unimportant as what writing implement we're using?

She uncapped the Sharpie and started drawing big hearts on the paper with lines in them for writing on. I tried to subtly hand her a ballpoint pen. Nothing doing. She carefully added stars around the borders of the page. Then little hearts that she meticulously filled in. She ate more pretzels. She made faces at the fussing Ezra.

Her stalling skills are truly something to be reckoned with.

Eventually she relinquished the paper long enough for me to write a few sentences. She added unnecessary periods to the end of every line, so that it read "I love. that Sasha. is smart." (I'm sure she's the next e. e. cummings.) With prodding, she haltingly, reluctantly read the first sentence. Four more iterations of that sentence and 12 minutes of reading time to go. She had gotten some accidental Sharpie ink on her hands at this point but nothing too major. Last week she and her friend had done full-body marker art (the phrase "We're gonna have to get naked for this" was reportedly heard from Sasha's room before a parent decided to investigate) and her parents had been pretty blase about it, so I wasn't unduly worried.

She busily traced all of the letters in each sentence; good, she's developing her writing skills, I thought. This is going well. 

While she was thus occupied, I turned around for 30 seconds to address Ezra's increasingly loud fussing, turned back, and Sasha had drawn long lines in Sharpie all up and down her hands, on both sides.

"Sasha. Do you know how Sharpies are different from regular markers?" I reprimanded gently.

"Yeah, Sharpies don't wash off."

I had just sent Sasha to the bathroom to wash as much of the ink as she could get off her hands when her mom walked in. I explained what had happened and fortunately, she's pretty laid back and didn't seem upset at all. She rolled her eyes and said, "She knows she's not allowed to use Sharpies."

Oh well. Kids are washable. And even Sharpie comes off eventually, thanks to our constantly regenerating skin cells.

High fives,

* = (Alternative answer: "Really? And when your moms get home, if I ask them if you're allowed to have ice cream before dinner, will they say that's true?" Usually this results in a sudden and creative revision of the initial statement, such as "Actually what I meant was that they let me pick out the flavor of ice cream I want before dinner, to eat after dinner.")