Posts Tagged ‘children’

Strange as it seems, even to myself, a few years ago, I did no crafting at all. None. I couldn’t knit; I didn’t bash metal; I didn’t know one end of a spinning wheel from the other, and I wouldn’t have known my lino from my litho if it bit me.This, after a childhood and adolescence spent almost entirely amidst craft materials. As a child, I stole the soap from the bathroom to carve into some kind of printing block in the middle of the night with my penknife. I spent my pocket-money in the hardware store on fuse wire, to bend and sculpt. I plagued my mother for months to save onion skins to use as a dyestuff (giving up when I realized that a) an entire toy-chest full wasn’t enough to dye so much as a t-shirt, and b) I had no idea how to access any kind of mordant in those pre-internet days). I calligraphed and illuminated my way through my teenage years, occasionally dabbled as a student in watercolor and acrylic (increasingly embarrassed, this was pretty much as covert as the soap-carving phase), and then… I gave up. I went into ‘making’-latency for about fifteen years. How ever could I have imagined I was me?

I guess, mostly, I was busy elsewhere. I was very much a word person during that phase of my life, and struggling to maintain equilibrium in a foreign-language environment (yes, I spoke the language in question – I even earned my living translating from it), but it drained my creativity to live, essentially, alienated from myself.

Also, I was making several other things. Like this.

Don’t you just love the cute father/daughter nose?

Anyway, that one is six today. Quite the competent young miss, off to school in the mornings, full of the joys of being six. Full of hope. Full of potential. With all the doors of life still open.

Look: I was making great stuff back then, now I think about it.

And here’s one I made today: this is drypoint, printed on the pasta machine press.

Happy birthday, my sweet.

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Having enjoyed the annual wonder of the bluebell woods again, with this year’s display being particularly impressive (is ‘spectacular’ too histrionic a term for such an understated miracle?), and despite having taken approximately a million photographs (or, at least, enough to fill my camera’s memory card, which I believe is a first, in a fairly futile attempt to capture the ‘far-as-the-eye-can-see’ quality of the scene), I had originally decided not to share (mostly out of deference to Sylvia, who is quite possibly still experiencing icy blasts, sub-zero temperatures, and horizontal snow, and partly because I did share a couple of years ago).

Then I read, on someone else’s blog, that 90% of the world’s bluebells are to be found in British woods, and relented. I have no idea if that information is accurate, and no real notion of how I would research its authenticity, so it is presented to you – with a health warning – in rather the way my old therapist used to preface anything dubious she wished to say (but from which she also wished to distance herself), with the formula, “as my old therapist, who was a Very Old Frenchwoman, used to say to me…”. My own therapist was a charming American in Paris:  imagine the New Yorker made flesh. I went to her in grief, after my mother died, and stayed to be nursed through the final illness of my marriage. I stopped going when our session had morphed into a series of unsustainbly expensive chats over tea. Several years later I met the Beloved, and he introduced me to the New Yorker, which I recognised immediately as V-. made ink.

But back to the bluebells. I don’t know if 90% of them are in our native woods, but certainly, they are worth celebrating, and photographing, and sharing as widely as possible, and all the more so if most of the world is missing out.

Anyway, we grasped the moment, seized the day like champions, and indulged in some general-purpose cavorting and frolicking. Some tree-clambering was attempted by some members of the party (with attendant rescuing occasionally required by other, taller members of the party), and remarkably few bluebells were harmed in the process.


Also, we had the woods entirely to ourselves and while I’m sorry more people weren’t out enjoying them, I was also moved, and grateful for our luck. We had been blessed, in our modern, busy world, with a brief, quiet miracle of timeless – and entirely unpurchasable – perfection.

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The house is very slowly being put back into its usual state of trauma after enjoying a quiet week off while we were in Cyprus. The little ones are apparently unable to play with anthing for even a minute without upending the entire box of Lego, or Playmobil, or both (but it’s at least an hour’s work to put it back). I am eyeing the grown-like-Topsy garden and considering my next move in the case of Virginia Creeper v The Householder, and gently reacquainting myself with the Blessed Trinity of washing machine, dishwasher and tumble dryer, so I haven’t had much to show for myself creatively in the last few days. A sock, a couple of rows of my holiday shawl (and then an irritating couple of rows painstakingly back, because I had failed at Reading Patterns 101), and this:


A needle roll, made – gratifyingly – out of nothing but odd scraps. The main fabric I bought a while ago on Etsy, the lining fabric is part of a never-ending magical length of raw silk I’ve had for years. I’ve already used it to make a top (long defunct) and a very long wrap-style baby sling, and there’s still some left. The inside pockets were once a child’s cotton top, and the perfect ribbon was randomly lying around. I’m on a roll: what next?

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Good question.

We’ll come to it later on.

Yesterday, we went to an Open Farm day at one of the farms which supplies our local farmers’ market. I’ve always liked them, and their meat, and the idea of buying local organic produce, etc. All those things that mean we turn out week after week to support the farmers’ market, even on a day like last Saturday, which poured with the kind of rain rarely seen outside of the tropics or an old-fashioned Hollywood sound lot. The road became a river, the farmers were half-drowned, and incey-wincey batsman had his game of cricket rained out, so he hasn’t been an entirely happy chappy this weekend. That said, he did get to play one evening last week when we also had tickets for the opera, and so he’d better not make too much of it. That’s all I’ll say, but if dear, if you read this: take note.

It was certainly interesting to see the actual animals you are likely to be eating over the next year or so, and I found it oddly reassuring. The animals looked like they have a decent environment, and good husbandry, and no nasty antibiotic crap to eat, and are slaughtered a mere eight miles away (and it turns out they have to be scheduled first because they are organic animals), so they have the lowest stress levels your meat could plausibly have. I know my food was an animal, and I’m not prepared to be vegetarian, but I do care – and worry – considerably about the ethics of livestock production. Just, if I am ever faced with having to kill the creature myself, I might become vegetarian then. That’s my bottom line of hypocrisy actually: I won’t seek out the er, ‘opportunity’ to kill my dinner personally, but if I find I am confronted with it (like when I had to batter a fish supper to death on a rock, or pluck a still-warm chicken), and shirk, then I can’t allow myself to eat that kind of dinner again.

But where was I? Yes – the Open Farm day. Fair play to them, they did a good job. The whole family were out in t-shirts that read, “ask me, I’m a farmer”, directing the significant traffic, running the various animal talks (including the disconcerting visit to the ‘finishing barn’ where next week’s burgers were looking soulful), filling the hay trailer with visitors for the tractor rides (we somehow missed this: it must have been when I was distracted by the sheep for a few hours), and running the piglet derby (they screamed like stuck toddlers when the racing ribbons were tied round their tummies). Additionally, there was a rather random reptile exhibit (“Have you ever felt a snake?”) and an equally random ‘dancing dog’ display. This involved a hideous decorative-type dog with pinched little features and a pink sparkly ruff (tutu?) around its neck jumping though hoops and so on. I couldn’t bear to watch, but the little ones were entranced. I was more entranced when the display ended and I discovered this: a woman spinning dog fur.

spinning dog furShe would spin your own dog’s fur if you wanted her to (a woman with several bags of fur stored away in the cupboard under her stairs came up while I was there and was delighted to find her: and my family think I’m strange). Or she would spin the hideous dog’s fur. I forget the name of the breed. She also knit up some of the resulting yarn into very well-made garments she sold at a price that cannot have justified the labor. One item was a child’s swing coat, very beautifully knit, cabled all the way around, and with perfect buttons (I want some of those buttons). The really odd thing was that, since the dog fur fluffs up enormously as it’s worn, I can’t imagine you’d see any of the lovely stitches after about a week. It was a staggering amount of effort that she’d put into this coat. If you could mine someone else’s time like a fossil fuel and release the energy from it the way you can burn coal, I would have bought that jacket like a shot. And if you want an idea of how much dog fluffs up, take a look at her jersey. It’d make a fine dancing bear outfit. (And check out her matching hair: I did warn you there was something slightly scary about the whole experience). My main take-home from the meeting? That spinning wheel you see there: it has a much smaller footprint than I expected. And I know where to borrow one from.

So in the end, they hauled me away from the crazy spinning lady, because only if I left could I see the sheep. In theory I was supposed to be helping carry the lunch, but by the time I disengaged, the lunch had already been carried off on a tea-tray srounged by miracle. I say, between me and a miracle, they were better off relying on the the miracle and they clearly knew it. But the thought of the sheep got me back on message, if only because at that point I had  cunningly realigned the message with my own nefarious purposes. Of course my favorites were the sheep. There were some orphaned, hand-reared lambs that the kids were allowed to pet while I pretended to listen to the farmer’s talk about which kind was crossed with which to produce what. Really I was thinking about jumping in the petting pen, and about the notion that fresh wool with the lanolin in it might become waterproof mittens, if a person were able to spin it, combined with the very obvious fact that those sheep had just been sheared (and a couple of dozen enormous sacks of fleece were sitting conspicuously in the adjacent barn). Eventually they dragged me away under threat of a cream tea.

As the Beloved was stuffing children back into the car, I doubled back to beg some wool off the farmer. I was thinking about a handful, to try out the drop spindle I haven’t made yet (from old CDs, or anything else, either). He was more than happy to oblige, since it seems there is indeed practically no retail value to the wool. He sells it – for not much – to the Wool Marketing Board – and  apparently what I’d heard elsewhere is true: the fleece is worth less than the cost of the shearing. I made it back to the car with an armload of fleece and stuffed two big bags with it (two, not three bags full) and shoved them in the boot (trunk). One bag of black, one of white. I’m excited, anyway.

Shortly afterwards, we stooed for the cream tea and I wanted my coat. I opened the boot – just enough to get my coat, just for a second, but the Littlest One was right behind me, and he gasped and pointed: “Why are there sheeps in there?” And of course everyone fell about laughing, and thy’ve been mocking me ever since. Now my two bags of sheeps are standing outside the front door, and I have had to be persuaded that no-one is likely to come and steal them. “People will steal anything,” I say, and they look at me pityingly.

Meanwhile – my stripes progress, thus:

striped sock

Not bad, eh?

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The more we understand about the natural world, the more we discover that it is full of patterns, generated perhaps in random ways, but retained by nature for their strength and robustness. What it is about patterns that causes the human brain to love them nearly as much as nature does, and to find them almost infinitely pleasing. They’ve been causing sleepless nights in our house recently though.

I’ve been thinking about this as I watch my youngest child – aged two and a bit – develop a fascination with puzzles. He’s suddenly able to find patterns in what looks like chaos, and is learning to reconfigure and organize the world around him. Interestingly (and this was something I’ve observed before, and forgotten) the toddler gestalt for puzzles is completely different from an adult’s. We keep saying, “look at the picture; find the edges; start with the corners” but he’s engaging with the elements in other ways – it’s another case of the way the toddler’s limited knowledge of the world creates different categories of same/different/alike. For puzzle-solving this works OK. It doesn’t matter if you know you’re looking for Bambi’s nose or saying to yourself “gold bump and dent facing out… gold bump and dent facing in, let’s try that.” I know that puzzles are only partly to do with pattern recognition, but I’m certain that’s a big part of the thrill. And either way, boy oh boy, the boy is certainly thrilled. What can I tell you? He’s completely, utterly smitten and obsessed. He wants to take the puzzles to bed with him at night (we vetoed, on the grounds that puzzles need to be worked on a flat surface); he wakes up and chants “puzzles, puzzles” (actually “puddles”, of which the blessed wetness that is Wales also has its fair share again this week) until he get down the stairs and into action. Breakfast can wait. As can lunch, dinner, getting dressed, going out and any other activity a two-year-old might be expected to engage in. I haven’t specifically tried the straight choice of puzzle or chocolate yet, but I’m getting curious. Now I’m amused by all this, but I sure as hell can’t claim I don’t understand it. I know he goes to sleep and sees puzzles all night. And wakes up in the night and thinks about puzzles for a bit, and then goes back to sleep and thinks about them a bit more. Or – as he did last night – wakes up and just can’t for the love of all that is holy, go back to sleep because there are puzzles downstairs, waiting to be done NOW!. I know because for months I have closed my eyes and gone, “knit, knit, knit, knit, knit”. Or thought about glass.

Last night I’d have loved to close my eyes and go “knit, knit, knit, knit, knit”. Instead I was being hounded by imaginary fruit flies, and by number patterns on the clock. The fruit flies are the corollate of one nice day. One. That’s all we had, one day of sunshine, and now we’re overrun with fruit flies enough for a full-on summer. I’ve had to put the fruit bowl in the fridge, which I hate doing, and set out little fruit fly traps (plastic cups of balsamic vinegar for them to drown sweetly in), which I enjoyed more than I would have predicted. Only they are being revenged on me in the night and pursued me through my dreams, which were anyway distressingly few and far between.

I know how far between because of the clock. I do try not to look at the alarm clock in the night, but some nights, it just won’t be ignored. And that’s where the patterns came in again. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this in public, but I find it relatively pleasurable (to use a nice measured term) to look at the clock and see a “special number” rather than an ordinary one. A special number is any number in which I can discern a pattern. Obvious ones are palindrome numbers, like 10:01 (one I rarely see from my bed) or 04:40 (frequently spotted, and peculiarly horrid). Repeat patterns – 05:05 – are good, and runs – 02:34 – are allowed. There are a couple of basic rules. Principally, no number may be ‘stalked’ (i.e. it’s cheating to look at 03:44 and lie in wait for a minute). You have to spot the number ‘in the wild’. My cunning plan – to lift the curse – is to get as many numbers as possible into the special category, in the hope that my mind will stay more relaxed and sleep-ready if I’m not trying to find patterns in the middle of the night. In an ideal world, they would all be special and then I could ignore them. I’m sure if I were a crazy maths geek, I could do it, but I’m not and I just can’t. I’ve tried to convince myself that increasing in threes is a pattern, but my brain just isn’t buying (so 05:31 is good, but 02:58 remains a washout). It has accepted 03:14 (pi) at a theoretical level, but without real enthusiasm. On a really bad night I have ‘collected’ 02:02 thru 06:06 and a matching set of 02:20 thru 05:50 –  a negative triumph or pyrrhic victory if ever there was one. But the brain does love a pattern, and it was, I suppose, marginally better than a night of 01:13’s and 06:21’s.

Of course, I would have had an altogether better night of it – depite the puzzles, and the patterns on the clock, and the fruit flies – if I hadn’t allowed myself to be dictated to by my Inner Puritan. My Outer Puritan is bad enough. My Outer Puritan believes that it is only permissible to suck a throat sweet in the daytime if you are considering immediate self-harming with a sharp knife as a direct distraction from swallowing and only permissible at night if the effort of swallowing is waking you up seconds after you have drifted off or keeping you awake. The Inner Puritan simply rules that “you’ve had one”. I whine that it was 23 hours ago and the Puritan tells me to put a sock in it. I plead: the Outer Puritan would let me have one. The Inner Puritan is unmoved. I had one. 23 hours ago. Don’t ask me why I listened to the Inner Puritan until 06:37, but I did. Then the 24 hours were up. Whew. With nights like that, who needs torture techniques?

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I have a mathematical friend who once, in our university days, treated me to a very nice meal he had cooked, and afterwards, espresso and an explanation of quantum theory. It may have been a complex intellectual wooing manoeuvre, but if so, it failed miserably as I was so busy trying to bend my head around the quantum part that I failed to notice the rest. Also I thought he was involved with someone else (which he was) and naively assumed (I can’t quite believe this now, but it’s true) that he could therefore not be engaged in wooing activities (which he quite possibly was, actually). Hey, ho. Also, poor soul would have been barking up the wrong tree for another reason. As he’s about two feet taller than me, I wouldn’t even be able to see the expression on his face without my contact lenses, and according to my Iron Rule of Partner Selection #3, that’s a rate-limiting factor in relationships: I can’t imagine going out with someone too far away to see (rather like not speaking a common language).

Well, I was very taken with his explanation, and especially with Shrödinger’s cat, which I vaguely remember as involving an experiment set up with a cat in a box and some particles of something which in one state would mean that the cat was alive and in the other state would mean that it was dead, but that until it was observed which state was true, then the cat had to be considered simultaneously both alive and dead.I don’t remember if there was a neat little appendix that made play with the experimenter/observer effect, or if I only dreamed that part. And I might be pretty wrong about the whole thing. There I go, bastardising science again, But don’t blame me; blame my friend Andy.

Anyway, fast-forward a whole hunk of years, I find Child Two happily singing to herself the nursery rhyme for a quantum universe: The Grand Old Duke of York/He had ten thousand men;/He marched them up to the top of the hill,/And he marched them down again./And when they were up, they were up;/And when they were down, they were down,/And when they were only half-way up,/They were either up or down.

Until they were observed, at which point they would presumeably be categorically one or the other. But not, note, half-way. One or the other, but apparently both. This helps me with the cat in Shrödinger’s box. Either/or masquerading as “and”. Not a concept a three-year-old has any difficulties with, it seems. What does that imply?

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Recently the little ones have been engaged in more equal struggles. Child Three has suddenly got verbal, and therefore is better able to defend his position, and express his desires to his sister, who used to just issue decrees about what he was going to play with, and what she was going to do (not that she’s stopped with the fiats, just that he now offers more resistance). He is also deeply at the ‘mini-me’ stage of wanting to do exactly whatever she is doing, whenever she is doing it. So they play with – say – the dolls, and fight – in a rolling cycle – over who gets the doll du jour, who gets to push the pushchair, who wears my shoes and now also who gets to be the mummy. The middle one – the puppydog-eyed -pintsize tyrannical one – will declare herself to be the mummy, and he will immediately chime in that he wants to be the mummy too, and is now as likely as anyone to burst into tears if told he can’t be. I try to leave them to sort out their own turf wars, but if the noise levels get too high (we went to the zoo once, and heard ruff-tailed lemurs screeching at each other, and they sound exactly like that), or if a bloodbath appears imminent, I might sweep in and make them take turns, or if I can get them to settle for it, both be mummies.

This actually rarely satisfies them, and I’m really beginning to think the whole point is to squabble over the limited resource. It’s not that they don’t get on – they do, and frequently play and giggle very nicely together for, ooh, several minutes at a time, rushing from one end of the house to the other, screaming with pleasure and working themselves into paroxysms of silliness. It’s also not that they don’t have plenty of toys and books, because it goes without saying that they do. The strategy of semi-identical items has been tried, on occasion, but I’m not a big fan of it. I think it misses the point. Why have two of anything, when they’ll both want the same one anyway?

A case study, then, to illustrate the point. We have in our possession a certain cushion with a giraffe pattern on it (known to posterity as the “‘raffe cushion” and, it is worth pointing out, rejected as a less-desired-object of two when first introduced to the Commission for Juvenile Fickleness) which has made its way into the car (no, I don’t know how, either. There used to be nothing in the car, except people and maps, but that was a while ago). It is primally fought over, “bagsied” and negotiated around endlessly. In an effort to quell the disputes engendered by the ‘raffe cushion, shoals of other things have followed it into the car, including (but not limited to) a train, several animals, a wooden Miffy book, a doll or two and another cushion (donated by Child One), strategically introduced to pander to the One Each party among the parentforce. Paff. One each. As. If. In the interests of a fair experiment, the other cushion was made as enticing as possible. It is an object of prior and proven covetedness, having been out of bounds on Child One’s bed throughout all of known history*. It is a breathtakingly lurid, Disney-merchandising hideousness of the first water, representing Snow White (I think) complete with the added attraction of a detachable bird on a string. Normally, they would definitely go for it ahead of the rather beige ‘raffe†. I’d stake my life on it. But naturally, in the context of the car, where the ‘raffe cushion is the Designated Object of Desire, the Disney Craptacular is Poison. Untouchable, shrink-from-it, shriek-inducing poison. Personally, I’m inclined to agree, but once again, this is not the point. Eventually, when I could endure no more, I decided to end the experiment early (before they reached the age of eighteen) and take everything else out of the car, leaving only the ‘raffe cushion and enforce strict turn-taking until such time as one or both of them stop caring about it (however, when I went on my trip to Nottingham, I artfully circumvented the issue by bringing one rag-doll, a special favorite of Child Two, for her, and induced her to relinquish her turns with the ‘raffe cushion “because I can let you have it, but you’d have to let him borrow Wollipops”. Hee, hee. They don’t call me Mammachiavelli for nothing.)

Exept for exceptional cases (like the time we bought them each a fireman’s hat at the firestation charity carwash), when near-death toy-rage is a racing certainty, I really don’t go with the One Each principle because I don’t think it teaches the crucial life-skill of negotiation (aside from the crucial life-lesson that Mummy and Daddy have limited resources), which is a skill I do see them gradually learning. They are much better now at sharing custody of the ‘raffe – and it turns out, quite simply, that communication – both being able to talk – is the real key to it. And I think that half the reason that they go for the same thing in the first place is because they are actively seeking out situations where the can learn how to manage the complexities of negotiation and conflict-resolution, which is knowledge we all need, and that being given One Each, or having the Security Council step in is bad for their development, because it deprives them of the opportunity to learn in a context where we still call it ‘turn-taking’ and not ‘warfare’ and where the costs of failure are still low. At its simplest expression, they may occasionally try to beat the crap out of each other now, but I’m hoping it’s their way of preparing for a lifetime of getting along (including a lifetime of sharing the limited resource of their parents’ time and energy).


*a period akin to, but much longer than the statutory “previously sold for” price shops display on their sale tags, next to a tiny asterisk admitting that this was for not less than ten minutes in one special, overpricing stalking-horse store no-body has ever frequented and actually the owners use it as a dummy operation in order to legally justify their “sale” prices. But I digress, slightly.

†At the risk of digressing even further, and more dangerously, I can’t help thinking that the back of my car is some elaborate divine analogy for the Middle East: we have our our own mini-Palestine, once spurned and unattractive, now capable of triggering armaggedon. But hey, now they’re talking, so there’s hope.

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