Owen and I just returned from a lovely, restorative holiday in Europe. We visited my sister, her husband, and her son in Frankfurt, and then stayed with wonderful friends in London. Here are some highlights of our trip:

Cousins connecting
Welf climbing
Playmobil Park and Pirates!
Erin, Welf, and Owen in Medieval Nuremberg
Palmengarten, Frankfurt
The London Eye!
Big Ben from the London Eye
Buckingham Palace
High tea at the Wolseley
Riding a Double-Decker Bus
Communing with Victorian Dinosaurs in the Crystal Palace Gardens
More Dinosaurs!
Lounging in Green Park with the lovely Alma
More tea parties!

Owen, you are one excellent traveller! xox

Unjust Punishment

I still remember the time I got in trouble for running in the upstairs hallway (during a parent dinner party), when I had been begging and pleading with my siblings and friend to STOP running. I got in trouble because I was the eldest and the host and “responsible.” That punishment stung so much more than usual, because I was reprimanded for something I hadn’t done (and had even tried to prevent).

Owen and I were at the dollar store a couple of days ago. I guess the store had been losing carts, because they have now welded eight-foot-tall poles to the side of every cart. They don’t fit out the door, and they certainly wouldn’t fit in a car. We took one of these carts and proceeded through the store, with Owen pushing. I was right behind him. Owen hadn’t napped that day, and was already a bit whiny. Anyway, at one point he stopped. I tried to push the cart and it wouldn’t budge. I pushed harder. It reared up and crashed back onto the ground. Two employees were stocking shelves ahead of us. I was frustrated and also embarrassed. I pulled Owen away from the cart (pretty roughly) and knelt down and started to tell him that his behaviour was unacceptable, etc. I was angry. Then one of the employees pointed out that it wasn’t his fault. The eight-foot-pole had caught on one of the boxes stacked over our head. At this point, realizing my mistake, I apologized profusely to Owen, but the whole ordeal had been too much for him, and he burst into tears. He was sobbing and sobbing, and all the while saying “I’m sorry I’m crying, Mummy. My body just wants to cry.”

I hugged him and kissed him and hugged him some more in the middle of the aisle. And I was laughing (with nerves), and trying not to. The employees, no doubt horrified by the mood swinging parent in front of them, left. I felt like a colossal jerk. I guess I still do. Owen forgave me and we continued with our shopping and with our lives. What gets me is how swiftly my anger emerged. I know it was partly because people were watching. For some reason, I want to be perceived as a parent who takes bad behaviour seriously and disciplines appropriately. But there was nothing appropriate about any of what I did (except for the hugs and the apologies, I guess). I have been feeling the stress of work more lately, but I hadn’t realized how highly strung I was. Breathe, Anna, breathe.

American Pie

We started playing this song in the car because I misremembered  the lyrics – I told Owen, as I was buckling into his carseat (in January), that “January made me shiver” – then I thought – that’s wrong. So we listened to the seven-minute song and Owen was hooked. He was singing the chorus at daycare (I know, I know, another song with liquor in it, for a preschool-age child. Shame!)

Anyway, everybody knows the chorus but how many four-year-olds know most of the lyrics?



“Soccer Mom”

I’ve come to a realization about myself through parenting: the things I didn’t like as a child get only marginally more fun when I try to pass on a false love of them to Owen. For instance, Monday afternoon, I took Owen to an indoor soccer playtime event. We paid our admission fee, put on our running shoes, and grabbed our ball. As we entered the artificial grass stadium, my heart lurched. Oh God. They weren’t just kicking balls around. They were playing GAMES of soccer. The idea made me cringe. I was self-aware enough to realize how ridiculous my expectation was, but still. Games? How awful.

Owen, oblivious, took off, kicking his ball into the middle of the two games (between them, luckily). I was then yelling at him to come back because I didn’t want him to be trampled. One of the games was being played by large, fast, sweaty teenaged boys and adult men, who kick the ball hard enough to bruise (and possibly brain) you. I know. I got a ball in the leg. We were told that we could use the edges of the field, so we did, but we had to be extra careful 1) not to get brained by errant soccer balls and 2) not to let our own soccer ball be errant. Honestly, I was so stressed out. And it occurred to me that for most people, playing soccer means just that, playing soccer – you know – the actual game, with goals and strategy and winners and losers and speed and … all the things I kind of loathe. I don’t mind kicking a ball around. I don’t mind playing goalie with my child. But I did mind having balls flying through the air and athletic bodies pitching themselves in my direction.

We plan to register Owen in soccer this summer. Clearly, though, he is already behind a lot of the kids whose parents actually care about the game that is soccer and play it with their agile children. Another little boy, around Owen’s age, was also playing on the sidelines, but he was dressed in soccer gear (an outfit, green and white, with the logo of some restaurant on the back of it – you know – professional). He was wearing cleats, size 11 kids, and had a miniature soccer ball that he could control with precision. Anyway, he wanted to play with Owen, but Owen didn’t understand why this kid wouldn’t let him score a goal. The only rule I had remembered to tell Owen about soccer was that you were not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. He was so impressed with this rule that he asked, as we were walking into the sports centre, whether he might get arrested by the soccer police if he broke this rule. He also gamely tried to hit the ball with his head by getting down on all fours and trying to nudge it forward. You see? We’re the laughing stock. And then the other child, playing goalie, kept using his hands, and Owen said “he’s breaking the rule!” and I remembered that goalies could use their hands.

In the end, we had an OK time. We both learned a lot about soccer. I remembered that soccer is a game that some people like to play. Owen had his usual response to such occasions, “I’m really bad at soccer. I’ll never be good” but also “I wish I didn’t have to stay on the edges. Can we go back when there aren’t so many people?” We will. I might even throw the child into a game and have him be jeered and mocked by his peers. Sorry: am I projecting?  I have so many bad memories of playing team sports (badly) that I cringe when I get into these situations. Then again, we bumped into one of my favourite former students yesterday (one of the athletic young men). He said hello and then said soccer was great for kids. Fine. I just seriously have to leave Owen to the professionals.

Love Cravings

Owen is a very affectionate child. He regularly hugs the parents of the other children at his daycare, is free and easy with his I love yous, and waxes amorous with almost everyone. He told me this morning that he loved me so much that he would never leave me, that he would live with us forever. Duncan and I laughed, told him he’d want to move out eventually, but he insisted, no. I love you too much to ever leave you. We’ll see about that.

I am extra aware of these love-ins because one of the things Owen is supposed to “work on,” according to his daycare is his need for so much love. Please understand, I have the utmost respect for his teacher and I understand what she means — it just took me by surprise. I’ve heard this from his educators before, that when Owen is about to get in trouble, he will spurt forth an “I love you,” because he knows it to be an effective anger diffuser. He would do this to us a couple of months ago when he kept getting out of bed. He would wait at the top of the stairs, and when we would ask him why he was up, he would say, “I love you!” and then be led back to bed. His “I love you” was when he’d run out of other excuses, like he was worried there was a monster under his bed, or he was thirsty. And we’d be frustrated, because it was the third or fourth time we’d put him to bed, and we were tired, and it was late, and he was tired, and enough already – but it worked. We couldn’t (quite) get mad at a child who said “I love you” out of the darkness.

At daycare, though, if his teacher is busy, he’ll say “you don’t love me?” as though he equates love with undivided attention. He’s an only child, so I guess he gets a lot of our focus, but I’ve never thought of it as too much. I leave him to his own devices plenty. His teacher said something else which surprised me because I’d never considered it. She said that he needs praise all the time: “Did I do a nice drawing?” “Do you love my craft?” – and she wants him to say “I made a nice drawing” – and not need confirmation. And I totally understand the theory behind this idea – we want kids to be happy and confident. But when I heard this I realized that I also need confirmation. I want to be told when I’ve done a good job, or have taught a good class, or have made a good meal. For the most part, I know when I have, but I also doubt myself more than I ought to, and have to shake myself out of dwelling on what went wrong. Are compliments bad for children? Oh dear, not another thing I’ve done wrong…

On a very positive note, Owen has discovered how to write “I (heart) U” and is now writing that, and his name, and my name, on every surface. He has also started to draw kisses, which look like concentric circles. See below – the person with the really big lips? That’s Owen blowing me a kiss. I also like the dog with I (heart) U ANNA written on its stomach.

1796672_10151884017442000_181925994_n And here is the family portrait he drew, unprompted, at daycare.

1920567_10151884658967000_1466200279_nThe things that look like rosy cheeks? They’re dimples.


What to Believe

The realms of faith and doubt have been colliding in our house lately.

Owen seems to believe that shows he watches, even animated ones, feature “real” characters. He thinks he can visit the Care Bears, or the pteranodon from Dinosaur Train. He asks whether I would like to visit Tidmouth Sheds (from Thomas the Tank Engine), like asking if I would like to visit the grocery store. When I tell him that these are just shows, and that, while animated, they are no more real than the stories in his books, he seems surprised, disbelieving.

At Christmas, like a good lapsed Catholic (fake Catholic? cultural Christian?), I told Owen all about Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and how many people believe that Jesus was the son of God, but that he also had another Daddy, Joseph. “But is it true?” he asked, and I had to say, “I don’t know. Some people believe it, some don’t.” And I talked a bit about the story of Jesus and why people remember him.

He pushed the question. “But God is real?”

“If you believe he is, he’s real. No one sees him, but lots of people believe in him.”

“God is real like Santa Claus is real? Because no one can go to the North Pole? But Santa is real? And no one can go to Heaven? But God is real?”

And what can I say? Yes? Sort of? Change the subject, before it’s too late?

Owen is fascinated with the boundaries of life and death, of the body and the spirit (or ghosts), with heaven, and why we can’t go there until we die. He wants to know what it’s like. “Is heaven nice?” he asked this morning. Then he continued, “But that other place with the fire is bad, right?”

The problem, of course, is that I don’t know what I believe. I believe enough not to say I don’t believe. I want Owen to have the choice to believe if he wants to. I want him to know all the stories and rituals he needs to understand the culture he lives in. I really do want him to associate Christmas with Jesus and Santa Claus (not to conflate them, but still). But just as I can’t explain the rules of most sports, so I feel ill-equipped to talk about religion. For now, I guess I am just trying to foster belief in something, be it fictional or spiritual.




On Not Eating Our Children; Or, The Evolution of Love

“I really like Lucy. Maybe I’ll marry her when I grow up.”

“Oh, yes? And will you have children?”

“Of course” (of course is what he replies to everything, lately. “Would you like a glass of milk?” “Of course.” “Would you like to get into the bath?” “Of course not.”)

“How many children would you like.”

“I think we’ll start with one.”

(Chortles from me).

“But we’ll know not to eat them.”

(At which point I nearly veer off the road).

The other night, Owen and I watched part of a documentary called Walking with Dinosaurs. I think I had underestimated how much its evolutionary perspective made it deal pretty harshly with survival (or its reverse). Owen was initially concerned that he would see all the dinosaurs become extinct, and I assured him that no – that they had millions of years to live and change yet. As to the fate of individual dinosaurs, however, I could not be so certain.

In the episode we watched, a group of Diplodocus burns up in a forest fire because they are too slow to outrun it: they are so heavy that they must always have three legs on the ground. The surviving young Diplodocus join the herd of adults only once they have proved their ability to survive on their own — the adults abandon their eggs but are programmed to respond to juvenile cries of distress.

In the same episode, another pre-mammalian reptile couple (whose babies hatch from eggs but drink from milk glands on the mother’s stomach) eat their own offspring when hunted by a larger reptile (to deny the predator food and to improve its own chances of survival). This was a pretty shocking idea to Owen. Frankly, had I known that this was going to happen, I never would have suggested that we watch this video. He turned to me, eyes wide, half laughing, half fearful.

“But you won’t eat me, will you? . . .  And Daddy won’t eat me?”

“No, of course not. We’re people. We don’t eat other people.” (I elected not to mention cannibalism here).

“And no one I know will eat me?”

“No, honey. No one you know will eat you. Of course not.”

“Of course they won’t eat me.”


We finished watching the video, but we won’t watch any more. Our conversation in the car showed me that he’s still processing the idea.

He was trying to wrap his head around why some animals would eat their young and others wouldn’t.

“You won’t eat me because you love me? Because people love their children?”

“Yes,” I said. “People have to love their children because their children can’t survive without grownups.”

It is strange to me that A) I would actually say this to my four-year-old… but also B) that this would be true: that love is something we have evolved to keep our children safe from harm – so that they can grow into adulthood and make new babies to perpetuate the species. I love that boy with a breathless, clutching hurt. With apologies to Maurice Sandak, I want to eat him up I love him so.  The fact that we have evolved to love (and not eat) our children does not make that love any less real, but it’s jarring to think of love as a survival strategy.


Jen & Jodi’s Friendly Kitchen

I have been meaning to put together this post since the summer, but I have been particularly busy this past semester, so I never had the chance. BUT: if you happen to be looking for a last-minute gift, for someone else or for yourself, here’s an idea for you!

Owen’s daycare smells divine. When we walk through the door in the morning, we get a hint of what Jodi is cooking for lunch. It’s often the smell of sautéed garlic, to be honest! She makes gourmet food for little foodies: Palak Paneer, Thai Beef, Fish Fillets with Rosé Sauce and Quinoa, Butternut Squash Soup with Ciabatta and Cheese… Often, when I try something exotic at home, Owen turns his nose up at it, but Jodi has the magic touch.

This summer, she and her friend Jen came out with a cookbook, featuring many of the recipes Owen eats at daycare. If that weren’t enough, there are healthy-ish alternatives to traditional foods (brownies made with oat flour, for example).

Jodi told me that the book was inspired by the fact that she was always getting calls from friends before supper time asking her what she was making for dinner. And Jodi’s meals would sound fantastic, but her friends wouldn’t have the right ingredients, so they wouldn’t be able to make the same meal.

What Jodi and Jen did is unique in that it provides menus and grocery lists for an entire year of cooking. Every single week of the year has a suggested menu and shopping list. It includes seasonal ingredients and recipes, and keeps busy lifestyles in mind by having most recipes make a double batch – one to eat now, one to freeze. Then Jen and Jodi tell you when it’s time to eat the frozen meal, too, and often provide an alternate recipe for the leftovers. Another great feature of the book is that every meal planner comes in two versions, one of which is vegetarian.

The book is sold in PDF format for $9.99. Here are some photos of recipes I’ve tried (sorry if my food photography skills are limited!

Oatmeal Brownies! Gone so fast they're out of focus.
Oatmeal Brownies! Gone so fast they’re out of focus.
Dahl with Basmati Rice and Peas
Dahl with Basmati Rice and Peas
Butternut Squash Soup. And Wine...
Butternut Squash Soup. And Wine…
Red Rice and Black Beans
Red Rice and Black Beans


Bon Appétit!