Tag Archives: questions

Shh… Don’t Ask

I'm forever blowing bubbles... left-handed.

I’m forever blowing bubbles… left-handed.

Disability.

It’s a bit of a funny topic when you think about it, and one children are quite happy to broach in that innocent yet blunt way they have. You can be walking down the street when they’ll see someone and that piping voice will ring out at full volume with any question that pops into their heads.

Why does that lady use a stick?

Why does that man use a wheelchair?

Why does that grown up need someone else to look after them like you look after me?

In other words, the sort of questions that tend to go through our minds with varying degrees of complexity.

The trick is how to bring our children up with a positive view of disability, to satisfy their curiosity without making someone who has different abilities be anything less than they are – real people with real talents, likes and dislikes who just happen to have an extra dimension to their lives.

It’s something we’ve been able to experience from both sides. The Other Half is an amputee and one of his pet hates is when parents get embarrassed and try to shut their children up when all the kids want to know is what happened to his arm. He’s quite happy to explain it. He’ll crouch down and ask them what they think happened, then he’ll tell them about a bus accident and how the doctors couldn’t save his arm and had to cut it off.

He’s not ashamed of it.

He’s not embarrassed by it.

And there’s no reason that anyone else should be embarrassed by it.

He does have his own unique way of dealing with parents, or children, who have a negative approach. I remember one occasion when, whilst we were on holiday in Hawaii, two children pointed at him and said “Yuk mister, what happened to your arm?” He looked at them, looked at the water, pointed and said “There’s sharks out there!” We’re not sure if they went swimming after that or not. Five minutes later, two more children asked the same question in a totally different, non-judgemental, way and he explained it in his usual fashion. The parents thanked him for being so open and patient with their children afterwards.

Of course, not everyone with a disability will feel the same way when approached by small, curious children. They might not want any intrusive questions, but, by and large, our experience is that, when children ask the question, it’s for the same reason they ask why the sky is blue, why leaves fall off the trees in the autumn, or why hedgehogs hibernate in the winter; they genuinely want to know.

And people are usually OK with explaining it.

The problem is, with so many views about disability and the fact that society itself isn’t quite at the point where disability is accepted as something natural that can happen to people the same way people can have darker skin or blue eyes, it can be difficult for us as parents to show our children a way through the minefield of learning about people’s differences whilst still respecting them as individuals.

We’re trying to help them understand that someone who has a disability may need to do things in a different way, or might need a little help with certain tasks, but that isn’t too much different from them needing help with zipping their coats up or me needing help with sorting out the flipping heating system. It’s not that we’re trivialising the support some people need, just trying to put it into a context a five-year-old can understand.

In the meantime, we’ll answer his questions or let others answer his questions.

And we’ll try to emulate his open-mindedness when it comes to the world, and the people, around him.

I’ll Be Watching You…

People watching

People watching

Mini has taken up a new hobby – people watching. Well, strictly speaking it’s not a new hobby since she’s been doing it pretty much since she was born, but it’s certainly one she’s pursuing with a single-mindedness that is a little unnerving.

I know all children are natural people-watchers, after all, it’s how they learn. But Mini seems to be taking it to new heights. She’s two and a half now and by this age Motormouth was more interested in talking and taking things apart. Mini is the quiet one, just absorbing everything and listening.

And of course, watching.

Motormouth still asks why people do things, usually at the top of his voice when everything, and I mean everything, else is quiet.

Like “why has that man pushed in front of us in the queue?”

Or

“Why is that woman making us walk through smoke by standing in the shop doorway with her cigarette?”

Don’t you just love children not having the same filters as us?

It sums them up really, Motormouth the talker and Mini the watcher.

Speaking of which, she has so much more freedom to watch people more closely now she’s mobile.

And she’s fascinated by emotions.

Which is why, the other day, she went and stood by someone else’s table when we were at a restaurant.

Did she want to go to the play area with Motormouth?

Oh no.

The seven year old having a meltdown was much more interesting.

Despite our best efforts she kept returning to the table to stand and watch with a quizzical look on her face. Every so often she would look back at us, point to the screaming, tearful boy and say “look”, just in case we were missing the event. She was genuinely fascinated by the whole thing.

The poor mother, I did try and send her fellow-mother vibes that we understood and that we’ve had our own public displays of unhappiness from noisy children to deal with,, but I think she was a bit too distracted to notice.

I can see why Mini was so intrigued by the screaming boy though. In our house tantrums are just as common as any other abode with children under the age of… oh… twenty five or so… but they tend to be short-lived. It’s rare that we get a sustained bout of hysterical screaming.

Mini cries when she shuts her fingers in something or someone tells her no. She really, really hates that word. Motormouth cries, well, at everything else. (I have checked the books on that and apparently it’s normal.)

I hope Mini never loses that interest in what others are thinking or experiencing and that she can use that to become more empathetic and tolerant towards others.

In the meantime I think I’ll have to settle for trying to get her to be more subtle during her observations.

Bee Baw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When do the lights go down, Mummy?

When do the lights go down, Mummy?

Well, today we reached another milestone with Motormouth.

He saw his first film in the cinema.

We told him we’d take him a couple of days before if he was good and, bless him, he tried so hard, despite Mini’s attempts to make him stray off the straight and narrow. In fact, it’s been quite weird for it to be her that’s the naughtiest rather than him. He remained resolute in the face of sibling sabotage, not reacting when she was pinching him (her latest habit which we’re trying very hard to break), pulling his hair (he really does need a haircut) or slapping him on the back.

To be fair, they have had their times when they played nicely together. I know they did.

I wrote it down in my diary.

Back to the film. He wanted to see Planes 2 – Fire and Rescue (and, I have to admit, I was quite keen to see it; any film that has ACDC’s Thunderstruck in the soundtrack has got to be good.) We bought the tickets as a special treat before he started school. It was a very special treat as it turned out – £14 for the two of us and that was just for the tickets with him under 5!

We went away and amused ourselves for an hour and a half when we found out that the showing we originally wanted was 3D. (Please cinemas, if you’re going to list all your showings in one place, do let us know which are 3D and which aren’t.) Motormouth is too young to watch 3D and I really didn’t fancy trying it with varifocals (yep, I am that old – calling this blog the Trials and Tribulations of a Mature Mother might have given you a clue in that department). Having seen the film now, I’m really glad we didn’t, since Motormouth found some parts a bit scary and they would have been even worse in 3D. Anyway, we got the tickets, wandered around, came back and went into the cinema.

Motormouth was on form, at least with his questions. We had everything from where the music was coming from, to the best tally system to use when counting the lights, to the names of every single film character in the adverts, all liberally interspersed with “when are the lights going down?”

I think the poor father behind me must have been worried that he was going to keep it up for the entire film.

He did, but to be fair to Motormouth, he did learn to whisper his questions.

He did suddenly develop a fastidious streak half way through the film, which is odd since it’s usually Mini that stands there and demands to be cleaned.

“Mummy, I’ve got sticky hands. Have you got any wipes?”

“No.” I silently berate myself for not chucking a pack into my bag.

“But I’ve got sticky hands. I need a wipe!” I’m very conscious of the the volume rising.

“Just wipe your hands on your T shirt!” Not generally accepted parental advice but he usually does it anyway. To my relief he does it and quietens down. In the meantime, I’m thanking whatever gods exist that I bought him dolly mixtures for the film and not anything chocolate.

A few minutes later… “Mummy, I’ve got sticky hands. Can you lick them clean for me?” I won’t go any further, suffice it to say that there are some sacrifices you are forced to make as a parent.

Finally we could concentrate on the film again.

I have never seen him sit still for so long, even allowing for the fact he climbed onto my lap when the hero got into real danger, or so quietly. He was totally engrossed. He stayed awake the whole time (unlike the little girl behind us who was carried out by her dad at the end, still fast asleep).

It also fittingly carried on the theme of the week that Motormouth has adopted – fire and rescue. Everywhere we’ve been he’s been running around calling out “bee baw bee baw”, which apparently is the correct sound for a fire engine. Motormouth gave me appropriate instruction on that this morning. We’ve had the sirens on in the car park, in the supermarket, around the restaurant where we were supposed to be meeting the Other Half, pretty much anywhere he went, we’ve had sirens.

He’s also been sliding down poles.

Literally.

Sometimes he’s even asked for help. I don’t think the toddler parking sign in the local supermarket will ever be the same again. I think the staff were a bit bemused as well.

And every day he’s had to wear red, or at least his reflective vest and builder’s helmet (he broke his fireman’s helmet). Well, almost everyday. He had to change his T shirt before we went to the cinema today – he’s almost as messy an eater as his father, so he went for the camouflage look.

We’ve got another Motormouth/Mother day tomorrow and we’re going to watch a film. This time it’s going to be with popcorn and snuggled up on the settee. The cinema experience is great but a little too expensive to do too often.

What to watch though? Monster’s Inc. or Despicable Me 2?

Choices, choices.

The question is, what catchphrase do we want to be hearing for the next week?

By the way, Planes 2 has some nice touches for us adults and does a particularly good homage to ChiPs, complete with Eric Estrada’s vocals.

Oh yeah, and there’s ACDC.

Mummy….?

Questions, questions, questions.

Questions, questions, questions.

This week, in fact this year, has been a time of questions. I never thought one small person who hasn’t even started school yet could have so many questions. And why do they feel like they come all at once?

If you read the Facebook page (note the quick plug there?) then you’ll know that Motormouth starts asking questions, oh, around 6 seconds after he wakes up and finishes somewhere around the time he finally falls asleep.

It’s not too bad when I can see them coming. I can try and prepare for the answer. I’ve become a dab hand at explaining things like the Big Bang, how dinosaurs died out, how tractors work or the life cycle of trees.

It’s the sneaky ones that leave me gaping like a stranded fish.

All I can say is thank the gods for Google (other search engines are available). Motormouth has got used to me saying “I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up”, and we’ve turned it into a shared task; an expedition to the library or search on the internet. It’s even seen me pacing out the length of a blue whale in a certain supermarket’s café, much to the amusement of the other customers.

But the questions I can’t predict?

What’s pineapple in Japanese?

How many meteorites are there in the universe?

How many sea creatures are in the ocean?

How many of them can live in the Arctic?

Why do pigs make bacon?

Why don’t slugs have shells like snails?

Why do sharks have fins?

Why didn’t they put orange paint in his painting set?

What’s that fish on the fish counter in the supermarket?

Why is the sky red in the evening?

Why isn’t my skin black if it’s hot today?

The list goes on.

And on.

And on.

He seems to have developed an insatiable need to learn things, not that I’m knocking that, in fact, I’m trying to nurture it, but I wonder how the playground conversation might go when he starts school.

Did you see Fireman Sam last night?

No. Did you see that National Geographic documentary on giant prehistoric sharks?

I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one.

In the meantime, I have this secret, if slightly nerdy, dream of us sitting at the dining room table doing our homework together. I won’t mention it to him yet though.

I’ll just carry on trying to field the questions whichever direction they come from.

So, what’s the strangest question you’ve been asked?

I’m Going On a Dinosaur Hunt!

We're working our way round the evolutionary spiral.

We’re working our way round the evolutionary spiral.

For the past few weeks Motormouth has been obsessed with dinosaurs. You might already have guessed this from previous posts and Face book updates, but it is definitely an obsession that shows little signs of waning.

We’ve got used to being told that the reason the toilet roll is not only all over the bathroom floor but the landing as well is because the velociraptor was bored.

Or that a passing ankylosaur made him drop his sandwich on the floor. (Apparently ankylosaurs don’t like Marmite sandwiches, or tidy up after themselves.)

I went though my own phase of being into dinosaurs, in fact, I’m pretty sure I still have a few of the books tucked way in Nanny Nutjob’s loft. (I’m planning to give them to Motormouth when he is a little less tyrannosaurus rex-like with his more fragile books).

This morning I had to tell him all about a documentary about Megalodon that his father and I had watched last night. He had the usual Motormouth run of questions. You know, the sort of things a 4-year-old boy will come out with?

What did it eat? (Smaller sharks and whales.)

When did it live? (Millions of years ago.)

Is it still alive? (No. It’s extinct.)

Why did it die? (They think it didn’t adapt well to the loss of the large prey it ate when an ice age hit.)

Is it related to the Great White shark? (They don’t think so but opinion is divided – it’s something to do with the spine apparently.)

And so on.

And on.

And on. As only Motormouth knows how.

It’s great that we have a son who is interested in learning and I hope he never, ever loses that. I also hope we’re setting him a good example. He knows I’m going to college and always checks to make sure I’ve done my homework. I have a dream that one day, when he starts school, we’ll all sit around the table doing our homework. (Yes, I know that’s sad and just a little weird.)

I’ve also been doing my homework on dinosaurs to give me at least a little bit of an edge. (There’s only so many times I can take him rolling his eyes and saying in a very patient voice “No Mummy, that one was a mammal but it lived in the sea”.)

Typically for Motormouth, he’s not just interested in tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus or brontosaurus. Oh no. His particular favourites this week are dunkleosteus, sarcosuchus, icthyosaurs, ankylosaurs, orthocones and lots of others I have to look up. (Knowing the name isn’t enough, I get tested on habitat, diet, size, enemies, fighting styles, methods of defence and reason for extinction.) Plus I have to know odd facts.

Did you know that velociraptors had feathers?

That tyrannosaurus rex and stegosaurus never met (there were millions of years between them)?

That dinosaurs were around for about 165 million years? (I doubt we’ll make that long before we become extinct – look at how close we’ve come and how often in only a few thousand years!)

That suchus means flesh eater?

I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to bore you.

I could also mention the slightly unnerving habit he has of creeping around and muttering to himself. When you can get close enough to hear what he is saying you realise he is basically re-enacting the script from Walking With Dinosaurs, complete with waving arms and crouching walk. He also keeps producing sticks of varying sizes for consideration as fossil bones, classifying them by species and subspecies.
Still there are worse people he could emulate. The other day he told me that Nigel Marven was the coolest zoologist around and he wants to be a zoologist when he grows up.

Or a builder. He quite fancies that as well.

It can be exhausting keeping up with it all, especially as, like most kids his age, he wants to go over the explanations several times to make sure he understands.

I’ve noticed that he wants it more frequently when it’s something that’s worrying him.

There was a burglary in the next road, so we’re making extra certain we lock all the windows and doors at night (they broke in whilst the occupants were asleep). Motormouth was there with his usual questions and we’ve explained what we’re doing, why and how he’s going to be safe. He has shown an interest in the subject before and spent days asking us at regular intervals what burglary was and that was just after seeing an advert on the TV (thank you alarm company I shall not name). Now he knows it’s happened for real near us. This all happened last night and I was preparing my mental notes for “explaining what burglary is eight different ways”. All he wanted to do today was look at the house, not possible since I didn’t know which one it was, and besides it was morning and we’re always running late in the mornings.

So it is with some relief I left him at playgroup this morning. He wandered off without a backward glance at me, on a mission to find some pens and paper so he could start drawing today’s batch of dinosaurs.

And me?

I’m reading up on the Triassic era. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a test tonight.

U is for Upset

U is for Upset

U is for Upset

Before the kids arrived there were times I got upset. That’s perfectly normal. I got upset by the usual things like bad news or seeing others in pain.

Then the kids arrived and there was a whole new world of upset waiting for me.

Holding those tiny babies, I made the usual promises to try and protect them from all the horrible things in the world and to give them the best life I possibly could.

I knew intellectually that I would need to let them make their own mistakes, that I would have to stand back and ignore all my natural instincts to step in and pick them up before they’ve fallen. That’s one of the hardest things about being a parent.

So I bite my lip and hope they succeed and give them a cuddle when it doesn’t happen the first time they try. Or the second. And with a bit of practice I’m managing this, though some days are easier than others.

And I can’t let them see me worry, that might stop them from trying, and that’s the only way they’re going to learn and develop.

It’s about protecting them from the grown-up world as well and the sort of things that have been on the news so often that we take them for granted. They catch a word or a phrase and you’re struggling to explain it in a way they can understand. War. Poverty. Climate change. All the big things that we struggle to understand ourselves.

Even explained in the simplest of terms, it can still be upsetting to hear about children who are starving or people who have lost everything. One of the things the kids need to learn is how to be upset, and how to deal with it, along with disappointment, rejection and not being chosen to join the sports team (if they still do that these days of course).

Then there’s this ability my children have to upset me without trying.

Like when they miss daddy more than me.

Or when they’ve fallen over and I’m not the first person they run to for help.

The fact that I like to think that I’m the most important one in their lives like they are in mine and it turns out I’m not, not at that particular moment anyway.

But I know that I am when it counts.

In the middle of the night when they wake up with leg pain or after a bad dream.

Or when they just want a cuddle and a story read to them.

So I’m going to hold onto those memories and bite my tongue when all they want to know when I pick them up from playgroup is when their father’s going to be home.

T is for Teacher

T is for Teaching

T is for Teaching

Where do I start with this? Or rather, where does it start for us?

From Day 1.

When that precious, noisy little bundle first arrives she’s working on instinct alone – rooting to find a nipple, crying when she wants to communicate something. She doesn’t even know that she’s a person in her own right yet, let alone that you are an individual and might have your own needs (like a trip to the loo).

And it can continue like that for months or years as she slowly develops the understanding and cognitive processes that allow her to see the difference.

And all the time, we’re teaching her.

Often without realising what we’re doing.

When we’re talking to her, knowing she won’t understand a word we’re saying, we’re teaching her about speech patterns, rhythms and waiting her turn to speak. When we’re helping her stack blocks or fill water containers, we’re teaching her to think in three dimensions and that although things might not look the same, they are. Three blocks stacked up are still three blocks when they’re in a row. We teach her her first words when she watches us point to things and name them.

She’ll still choose whichever word she wants for her first. I’m reliably informed that harder consonants are easier to form than soft, which is why babies are more likely to have “daddy” as their first word (that’s what I’m telling myself anyway).

I suppose that would also explain Motormouth’s second word being beer…

Then there are the less tangible concepts we have to teach them. How to be nice to someone, what good manners are or why they should share. It’s easy to do that isn’t it? We just teach them to go through the steps, and help them develop the understanding whilst they keep repeating the actions.

But is it really that easy?

We already know that our children learn by copying. That’s how they’ve learned pretty much everything that way so far.

So what about the times when our own application of the standards slip? When we forget to say thank you, or we push into a queue (yep, showing Englishness here)? How about being patient when we’re trying to get everyone out of the door on time in the morning?

They follow our example.

And it can be really tiring setting an example all the time.

Is there a solution?

Yes.

We just have to teach them that no-one’s perfect, that we all make mistakes, and even the nicest person can be grumpy and impatient at times.

That people are fallible and we should give them some leeway.

And that has to be the hardest lesson of all since we’re all (or certainly I’m still) learning to understand that as an adult.