Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Beauty of Unavailability.

Last week I ate up every second of being unavailable as we drove West into the next Canadian province, for a family vacation in Kelowna.

One day I'll enjoy being available - I'll long for emails and for the phone to ring and for people to want things from me. But right now, there's nothing quite so lovely as the peacefulness of not turning on my laptop for a few days, as letting my cell phone battery die and not charging it for an entire week, with the knowledge I'll get to it all later.

In all honesty, I did check into my emails every now and then (an Internet junkie can't do cold turkey), but it calmed me, that I didn't have to respond to anything then and there. It would all wait.

I enjoyed the long, winding drive through the mountains and took the time to think and reflect. And by that I mean, I took advantage of random intervals between shrieks of protest and groans of discomfort and requests for more DVDs, colouring books and snacks. I simply take what I can get.

There's a certain something about British Columbia. It's very peaceful, and very imposing. Everywhere are deep valleys and towering mountains, all of it covered in the most luscious green forests.The open space is limitless and the woodlands vast and mysterious.

Yes, I fell in love, as I always do when in BC. And did I mention that Kelowna is famous for its wineries? Yes, true love indeed.

Being away from my life and unavailable to everything back at home made me think about how "available" I am day to day. Or, how available I feel I should be, if that makes sense. It seems as though I'm always switched on, always in touch, always "on" in one way or another. I feel the need to respond promptly to emails, to answer the phone or the door, even if my mood doesn't suit the timing.

In the end I suppose there's nothing wrong with being switched on, so long as I learn to switch off occasionally, too.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Favourite Kids Books So Far 2011

It's crazy to think we only discovered the library a few months ago. Since then, a whole new world of kids' literature has opened up for us. Once or twice a week we go and replenish our collection with new reading material - with all kinds of books we we might not otherwise see.

One of the best things about the library is that you get to discover your favourites for free, before spending wads of cash on a million books you might not love.

Since we became avid library-goers, a few striking favourites have emerged.

How to raise a dinosaur, written by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi. 

For our dinosaur-obsessed boys, this is one of the best dinosaur books we've come across - and we've seen a lot. The illustrations are exquisite, the concept is funny, and the book is full of interactive flaps.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems

We've read this book countless times. There's something charming and relatable about the story for young kids and adults - clearly the writer, Mo Willems, had this in mind when he wrote the stories. So loved was this book, that we went on to read Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity.
Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus, by Mo Willems

Another Mo Willems book. My sons hooted and cackled as we read this book over and over. It's read from the perspective of the pigeon, who relentlessly tries to coax you into letting him have his way. Hillarious.

The Secret Birthday Message, by Eric Carle

I picked this up one day for no other reason than Eric Carle is one of our favourite authors (this grouchy one excepted). It's the kind of book that really lets the imagination run wild. As the secret message unfolds, the reader is taken through a visual adventure.

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, by Mélanie Watt

A tale about a cautious Squirrel who weighs up all the risks before venturing out to make a new friend. There's a nice combination of pictures and diagrams that make the book visually interesting to read with a child. And, in the end, the lesson is a good one: nothing ventured nothing gained. Scaredy Squirrel makes his friend even though its not who he had expected.

A Book of Sleep, by Il Sung Na

I'm not sure whether I love this book because of the sleep-inducing story (sleep inducing in a good way), or the lovely illustrations that I've considered sourcing, printing and framing. Whatever the reason, this is one beautiful book, and a great bed-time read for kids.


Big Earth Little Me, by Thom Whiley

A nice way to introduce simple ideas about protecting the environment, this book is even printed with soy ink. It's aimed at younger kids, but both of my sons liked this one.

How about you - what are your kids' favourite books right now?
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Monday, June 6, 2011

His Little Big Boy Room

We have no more cribs in our house, it's official. Yesterday we took apart our youngest son's crib and turned it into a toddler bed. It's one of those Ikea cribs that convert. The bed looked so tiny when it was all put together, but it worked in the spacially-challenged (!) bedroom, and felt immediately right when we moved it into its place.

And, most importantly, he approved.

He was more than okay with it, in fact, leaping off and on the bed for the next few hours and proudly telling everyone within ear shot about his "big boy room".

As we took apart the crib and put the redundant pieces away, I thought about how this room started out, four years ago, as a nursery, decked out with all its baby accessories. Now it's been bedroom to two boys and the signs of baby are quickly fading.

Some baby things remain though. It's going to take me a while to part with them all.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Complex Dilemma of Asking for Help.

I've always had a hard time asking for help. In my first job out of university, I preferred to sit at my desk, stewing over a problem rather than ask a colleague for help and risk exposing a weakness. When I moved to Canada I refused to let my family back in England know that I was having a difficult time during those first few months. And then, when I had children, guess what? I still refused to ask for help. If someone offered, I'd usually take it. But I wouldn't go out of my way to ask anyone, preferring to manage it all by myself.


I think it has something to do with projecting an air of independence and strength to the world. And where does that even come from? At what point in my life did I become a person for whom it was important to be completely self-reliant and never admit I needed support?

Because really, it's not important to prove to the world I can cope alone, in fact it's kind of a lousy thing, and a lousy thing to teach my kids, too.

Have you ever heard that saying "it takes a village to raise a child"? I always wondered where the hell this village is - because it isn't in my neck of the woods. Practically all the parents I know are as self-sustaining as me. We're all doing it, more or less, by ourselves. Many people live far from their families, relying on the support of friends and outsourced help. It sometimes seems as though the way of the Western world is to be strong (whatever that means) and self-sufficient.

Or is it just me?

In some Asian countries, it's not uncommon for two or three generations to live together in the same house. The role of family plays a much bigger role, and families are much more involved in each other's lives.

There they are, with their villages raising children, and here we are, doing it alone.

Which is better?

Saying all that, I am fortunate. Very fortunate, actually. Despite living thousands of miles away from my parents and brother in England, I do have help here. My husband's Mom and her husband live in the same city as us and they are wonderful.

And it's because of this relationship that I felt okay, for (I think) the first time last week, calling my mother-in-law on a rainy Thursday morning after a bad night's sleep, for no other reason than feeling completely unable to face the chores of the day, to ask whether she could come over - and help me. In typical me-style, I felt awful asking. As if, by asking I was admitting I was an imperfect human, thereby revealing my vulnerable side. Gasp! She came over, no questions asked, no judgment. Having raised two boys alone, she understood.

On that rainy morning, as I drove around the city carrying out my errands childless, I was so glad I'd asked for help that it made me wonder why we don't ask each other more.

Like I said before, many of us live a long way away from our families, so we rely on friends, neighbours, acquaintances. And in a way, our friends become our alternate family. But it's not as easy to ask friends for help as it is family. We hate to impose. We don't want to be a nuisance. But we should ask, shouldn't we? Because when we ask for help, we admit that we're human. And we let other people know it's okay to ask for help, too.

How about you? How often do you ask for help?
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