An open letter to the patrons of fast food restaurants.

Dear people who may have been vomited on at Burger King,

I am so, so sorry. SO SORRY. You see, we were trapped in epic traffic trying to get out of London. One of my kids needed the loo, and when we finally saw the Burger King we thought we were free and clear. We all got out of the car to stretch our legs, and it was then that my other child started saying, ‘I think I might be poorly. I feel like I might throw up.’

You see, that child has lots of food allergies. And about an hour before we’d had a nice lunch out so my sister could celebrate my wife’s birthday. We only let the kid with food allergies have chips, as they are usually a safe bet (and I doubt he’d eat anything new at a restaurant, anyway). He started getting the beginnings of a hive on his face while we were still there and looking a bit peaky, so we gave him a dose of allergy meds and thought nothing more of it.

And he was fine. Right until he wasn’t. (Is this the part where I explain he’d never vomited from allergies before? If we’d experienced this in the past, I assure you we would have stayed outside far from other members of humanity.)

As we were speed walking to Burger King in an attempt to hit the bathrooms ASAP – both for the pee and possible vom alerts – he started coughing. And if you picture an entire walkway through a fast food place, well, he vomited everywhere. EVERYWHERE. We are talking the full twenty foot long, three foot wide walkway. And I’m pretty sure some spattered on your party/food. And I would have checked, but he was still getting sick everywhere and we were carrying him outside as quickly as possible while encouraging his sister to not slip in the puke (and I was very apologetically/hurriedly telling the staff. While I’d normally clean up our own vomit, this way so much that there was no way I could.)

And then he threw up again outside. So much.

So we managed to eventually pull ourselves to the toilets after the vomiting had stopped, and stripped off clothes, and rinsed HAIR (I told you it was bad). And then a certain child may have, ahem, gotten food allergy sick in another way.

My wife had to run back to the car for more wipes and non-vomity clothes. In the meantime, more sickness happened.

In short, we totally desecrated not only the bathroom, but the entire main bit of the restaurant. And the path by the main entrance. By the time we were finished attempting to look like humans again (and, happily, allergy kid was bouncy and cheerful again once all the, er, allergy grossness had erupted) and I was ready to come grovel to you, you had left. In fact, the whole place had emptied out.

So I guess I should also apologize to that franchise owner.

Anyway. I hope none of the vomit hit you guys. I hope everyone’s shoes were left clean and squeaky. I hope none of you had a gag reflex upon seeing someone get sick.

Yours cringingly,

Alison

How to ‘make’ your kid go to bed at the generally socially acceptable hour.

…in a few easy steps.

1. Travel to an exciting city, not arriving until after nightfall. Be wowed by the bright lights and busy streets, before arriving at a relative’s house and running around for hours with her dog. The grown ups all lay limply on the couch while Pokemon plays on the tv. Don’t go to sleep till at least ten pm.

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2. Wake up at what feels like an insanely early hour. Travel across London, following along on the Tube map your parents only had the foresight to grab one of…leading to some pretty intense feelings about who, exactly, is allowed to use the map.

3. Systematically tear apart the soft play in the American Embassy. Stay there for a couple of hours – long enough to run yourself ragged, eat a weird picnic brunch, and be asked, ‘Is this your mom?’ by an official looking man. Then ask the people at security on the way out if you can see how the x ray machine works, prompting a good few minutes watching them scan bags.

4. Go to the Natural History museum. Spend a long time outside in line, and then make the mistake of going straight to the dinosaurs. Endure the crush of people, love the dinosaur skeletons and models, and then go hang out in human biology. Behold! A giant picture of a sperm and egg, very hot topics in our house, along with a video of the development of a baby from a few seconds old to full term. Sit silently, eyes wide, in total awe. Walk around the corner and show interest in the creepy ten foot high foetus, even though all the adults are laughing and taking pictures from odd angles. Look around some more, eat some ice cream.

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5. Take another ride on the Tube, being sure to sit on the platform for ages before the right train comes. Complete your journey by riding on the top deck, front seat, of the bus. Once back at your relative’s house, run around/play video games/look at books/run around more/watch a show. Go to the private, ritzy titzy gardens across the street and play tag for an hour.

6. Back inside, have dinner. One of your parents goes out to meet old colleagues, so the remaining parent and her sibling migrate out to the garden. Join them. Bounce on the hammock, squeeze everyone on it for storytelling, perform in several ‘shows,’ do quite a lot of singing, dancing, and laughing. Watch the sun set. Possibly while either half naked or in pyjamas.

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7. Watch one episode of Swashbucklers in bed – the giant mattress turned sideways so you both fit with ease. Then your parent climbs in the middle, tells a story, rubs your back, cuddles.

IF YOU DO ALL THESE THINGS, YOUR KIDS MAY FALL ASLEEP AT 7:29 AND 7:36. Results not guaranteed.

Storing up belief for the times when your immediate source momentarily dries up!

While rereading the post I wrote about the process of finding lost toys, my thoughts became more clear about one thing: remembering the successes of the past can really help us get through the uncertainties of the present.

When M lost his Lego piece and I almost lost my mind, remembering all the times I did get so angry about missing Angry Birds in the past calmed me down. I remembered that we (usually) did find what was missing. I realised that as his collection of something grows, the whole (usually) becomes more important than its parts, so one missing piece isn’t such a catastrophe.

I remembered that we got through these small multiple crises in the past, and I knew we would manage it today.

It’s like that with a lot of things.

I remember worrying that the kids would be in nappies forever. You see, I was that crazy parent who didn’t bother with ‘potty training.’ I held the belief that kids do things when they are ready. But no matter how strongly we hold a belief, even when it is borne out by our own personal past experience and that of our friends/family, it is normal and natural to have wobbles.

We had potties scattered around the house. The kids knew what they were for. There was no pressure, no agenda. Just lots of f’ing potties littering our scenic vistas.

And one day, it happened. S said, ‘No more nappies! I’ll use the potty from now on.’ Even at two, she sounded very sure of herself. And she was right to trust herself. That very first day she had one or two accidents on the floor, until she managed to figure out about timing things right.

Three weeks later, he did the same thing.

Neither one ever had an accident beyond the first day, we never had months of fighting and bribes over bodily functions, they learned to trust their own bodies in their own time. I was the one who had to catch up, carrying spare under garments everywhere we went for months, despite the fact that I never needed them.

Now when I worry about things like reading, thinking, will it ever happen? I remember those two smaller versions of themselves, who even when so young managed to figure out something so complex. They waited until they were exactly ready, and then it just happened. No muss, no fuss.

So much of their learning has happened like this. When they have a need, when they are truly ready, when they are joyfully at play, it just happens. Using scissors like a pro, tracing, writing a name.

I store up each little victory like a squirrel storing nuts for harder, colder times. A sort of protection, a fallback, a way to bolster myself when I wonder and wobble and wonder some more.

My collections of acorns is growing.

Rise of the hero(es).

Positive message of the Lego movie be damned: I’m about to break out the superglue.

Yesterday we had some friends round, and they brought the kids some Lego sets. One was a Star Wars little spaceship, and M about exploded with joy. He’s so proud of this little ship that his friend helped him build; he even hung the plastic bag it came in on his bedroom wall. He’s not let go of it. (Don’t leggo your Lego! I know, it’s gross, but I had to say it. Otherwise I’d keep hearing it repeat in my brain all day.)

Imagine my joy to wake up this morning to a slightly desperate wife saying, ‘He lost a little bit of Lego off that ship. His heart is breaking.’

It transpires that while he was manically running around downstairs last night, this piece mysteriously vanished into thin air. I tried to build myself up for the inevitable horror and suffering a missing toy can sometimes bring.

And so it began: my helpless trudge around the lounge, flicking my eyes from side to side methodically. Asking random questions like, ‘Where did you do most of your running? Over here, or there?’ And then I asked the most awful question of all: ‘Can you just please look under the play kitchen? You’re smaller, so it’s probably easier for you to look underneath things.’

And the crying began. I remembered back to when he started collecting the less-than-an-inch-high Angry Birds Star Wars guys. Back when he only had one or two and they were THE MOST PRECIOUS THINGS in the universe. Because he had so few, because he wanted to play with them all the time, because he carried them around….and because as soon as something leaves his hands, his brain wipes clean any memory of where it might be….it was a bad few weeks for me.

I became more and more angry about these little figures, anger based in the panic that he was losing something he loved so much. And frustration that, inevitably, I was the one left dealing with the fallout: his heart wrenching sobs, hours of mutual hunting for tiny Luke Skywalkers, and the long wait before we found any of them.

My initial feeling was a surge of that exhausted panic today. And wondering if my wife had managed to figure out how to unsuperglue the superglue lid that had stuck to the tip of the applicator.

Creativity be damned, flexibility be damned, GET THE SUPERGLUE. Make that sucker stick together so well it’s impossible to remember it was Lego in the first place! Make it last forever!

But he surprised me. Yes, he cried when I asked him to look under the play kitchen. I didn’t know how to respond to what I thought was his despair at having to hunt for his missing piece of awesome (though I certainly felt that despair myself!). So I asked. I had to.

‘Why are you crying? What is going on?’

I didn’t expect what I heard.

‘All my guys are looking. I’m getting everyone ready.’ His tears stopped as he earnestly showed me the lines of Lego (homemade) spaceships, Angry Birds figures, and the like. His voice lilted with hope and excitement. He said, ‘Look! Even the Cars and planes are going to help. And these Playmobil guys. Everyone is looking.’

He didn’t want to take time out from organizing a giant rescue mission for the rather paltry option of him looking under something on his own.

I nodded. He ran around the lounge, two Lego helicopters in his hands, speaking in deep tones of men’s voices over the radio. Talking back and forth, conducting the search, calling me ‘search master’ and having new toy ensigns come to me to report for duty.

He commanded an army of plastic friends ready and willing to help him. His positivity made me wonder what happened to the kid who would cry for ages until a missing thing was found.

I’m still waiting for the lego/angry bird mutants to rise.

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Pro tip: If you pop off a Lego mini figure’s head, the little peg that remains is the perfect size to fit in an Angry Bird’s bum. Voila! Mutants that are oddly appealing.

We still haven’t found the piece. The little spaceship has been delicately perched higher up where we can’t step on it. I think he’s a little afraid to play with it until the tiny maroon thing has been reattached to one of the wings.

But hopefully one of the millions of Yoda birds and pig nosed Stormtroopers will find it soon.

postscript: (Is it really a postscript if I haven’t actually posted this at the time?)

YES YES YES YES YEEEEEESSSSSSSSS. As I was uploading the picture to this post, I heard a scream of joy. I looked over and, sure enough, as he was playing with Lego spaceships and Angry Birds, the missing piece just popped back into existence. I’m so happy he got to be the hero, I’m so happy I didn’t explode in exasperation this morning, I’m so happy we held the faith it would be found.

Now, back to the superglue debate…Ha.

Sometimes it’s as simple as just showing up.

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Early yesterday morning, my daughter said, ‘Hey, I feel like flying our kite. We should do that!’

I will be the first person to admit that sometimes it isn’t so easy to follow your child’s inclinations. I was unshowered, we didn’t really have time to go to a park, it looked cold outside, I had no idea where the kite was.

But I’ve already written about how I think embodying ‘YES’ to a child is one of the most important things I can do. (And I recommend you check that post out , because it felt so important to me when I created it….) And that ‘yes’ is what I strive to hit.

Besides, the whole kite thing sounded kind of fun.

Aaaaannd…..surely there was no harm just doing it in our street? We live in a very quiet cul de sac. I half heartedly looked for the kite for about an hour, taking frequent little breaks to tell the kind people on twitter that no, I still hadn’t found the missing kite. I even tweeted a picture of the dreaded cupboard under the stairs.

But as soon as I really committed to finding the kite, it appeared. And in a place I was sure I’d already looked twice.

We went out, leaving the front door open as M just wanted to stay inside. S was almost dancing in anticipation, and she was off. Cheeks rosy in the wind, gleeful instructions telling me she could just run along the pavement, experimenting with string length and gusts of wind.

One elderly neighbour watched us from her window, clapping and laughing. Another neighbour bumped into us and said a rather amazed, ‘WHAT are you doing?’ before grinning and wishing us luck. Still another stopped her fitness fast walking to watch us and cheer us on. It felt like a whole community adventure.

I felt free and wild and empowered. People were waving at each other and shaking their heads (in a good natured way!) when I whooped with joy louder than my little daughter (who is so big and powerful) when the wind caught the kite and raised it up. Even better when she declared she could power the kite by running, excited and joyful, exclaiming, ‘It went even further that time!’

She powered us all. She made us all feel happier on a very grey morning. She had an odd idea and ran with it, and I was lucky enough to have decided to go along with her.

She is going to go further and further. She can make ideas soar, bring people together, and most importantly, remind me that the most important thing I can do is show up when I can. Support her ideas, help her realise them, enjoy it right alongside her.

And as she carried the kite back to the house, she looked up at me and said, ‘This was so fun.’ Those four words erased an hour of kite hunting, of wind strung cheeks, of my sore body from chasing the kite when it went astray.

I showed up, I was present, and boy….did I have fun.

So, you educate them…yourself?!

‘So, you educate them yourself?’ she asks brightly.

How do I say, no, no, not me.

They are educated when the wind bends the trees and blows their hair. They are driven by their interests – archeology, game design, writing words, telling stories. They ask an awful lot of questions, we have discussions hundreds of times a day.

They are educated by their friends, especially the ones who have something extra to help us all learn – like our friends who help us learn about difference and emotions and navigating friendships in an intensive crash course in human relations. They learn from the adults in the community and in our friendship group – we’ve learned about mud rescues, water pipes, roman times.

We learn from strangers we bump into in the woods – what it means to be lonely, how it feels to be friendly, about the way it makes everyone feel warmer when you smile.

She studied the poster counting up to twenty for ages and taught herself. The day she spied the poster up to 100 that I stuck to a door, she counted to a hundred no problem! She can do verbal maths problems in no time flat. I didn’t teach her that.

He creates fantastic characters and storylines for games he’d like to design. He knows all their specifics, how he’d build them, what their purpose would be in the game. I didn’t teach him that.

She draws beautifully. She copies letters from other pieces on paper onto her own paper. She’s making letters out of puffs and potato waffles bitten to size, arranging them, asking what they spell. I didn’t teach her that.

He’s suddenly ready to trace, and when he asks to make a card for his grandparents, he writes ‘nice’ across the front as if it is no big deal, as if it isn’t the first time he’s traced letters so perfectly. I didn’t teach him that.

I answer a lot of questions, but they decide what to ask. I might help them look up youtube videos on how fog is created, how to modify computer programmes…but they are the ones soaking it in, clicking related videos, and days later astounding me by some of the leaps they’ve made.

They are educated when they are ready, when they are interested. They are learning all the time.

Sometimes they need me, sometimes they don’t. I may think of ideas or materials and have them ready and available, but everything we do is fueled by their questions, their imaginings, their ideas of what is possible. They haven’t learned that learning itself is a duty, a bore, a struggle. They are just living, just playing, just doing what interests them and….well, they become more immersed in their ideas, more robust in their critical thinking, more excited about the wonders of life every day.

I don’t say any of this to the stranger at soft play who is so curious about a family that doesn’t have their children in school. I smile warmly and say, ‘Well, yes, a bit. But they also learn from other people we know, from places we go, from things we do.’ She smiles back. I think to myself, they learn from themselves and from each other, too.

As we turn to tend to our individual children, I marvel at the things my children know and all they have yet to experience. But mostly I am inspired by how not knowing something doesn’t make them feel discouraged or confused – it makes them enthusiastic to learn. And their education has one prime, basic truth about it: they may not know everything, but they are learning how to find out.

 

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