Thursday, November 10, 2005

random thoughts about shyness

If child is nervous around new people, try to meet them in places where there is lots of space to move away and still have fun. EG a park rather than going to someone's house for tea. That enables a child to play on the swings/slide/on the grass verge 50 yards away and begin interacting AT THEIR OWN PACE (Which might mean - not actually directly till the next play date)

Some children might like to be told ahead of time who they are going to meet - perhaps see a photo too.

Some adults are REALLY bad about invading the personal space of a child who is not comfortable with it. In that situation, defend the child - make a physical barrier between yourself and the adult so that they would have to invade your space to get at the child. I know parents who say explicitly "give him/her some space - (s)he takes a while to be comfortable with new people".

I also know parents who say "please just ignore my small child until (s)he gets used to your presence". Some children like to be around people without 5 pairs of eyes looking expectantly at them waiting for some kind of performance.

The other thing is that I think parents need to be willing to follow their child's cues about pace of almost any activity. It might take 20 visits just playing on the side of the swimming pool before another 5 where the child plays in their depth and then eventually wants to explore further - but sides of pools are wonderful places to play and so are the steps in and out. Rather than thinking "my child is timid" think "my child wants to get every ounce of learning and richness out of every aspect of this before the next bunch of sensory overload bangs in".

Sunday, October 23, 2005

smart suits

The problem, of course, with smart suits is that one only buys them every 6-10 years. And one day one looks at them, and although the jacket is still in good condition, and it is just as beautiful a colour as it was 10 years ago, the trousers just won't do.

I don't think it is POSSIBLE to wear trousers where the hem tapers in to the ankle any more. Nobody does. And wearing clothes that would look completely dated rather destroys the point of wearing the smart suit. Harumph. Which is why I am delighted that a little concentrated googling turned up this site

Whether I am brave enough to do this or not is another question. Maybe I'll just take the trousers to the nice alteration shop in town...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

day care woes

There was a recent question to the TCS list about a pre-verbal child who protests at the transition to day care, but then goes on to have a lovely time (according to the day care providers). I responded as my thoughts developed, in several messages. This is more structured.

1. Let’s assume that the child really does enjoy going to day care while the parent works. The parent needs to be pretty sure of this assumption before working on it.

It may be that all that is needed is a different approach to the transition. Allow an extra hour for mooching around the puddles in the day care car park, or for playing with the child at day care? 5 minutes of puddle hopping seems a long time when you are late, but nothing at all when you have an hour's leeway.

Alternatively, perhaps the child would prefer to be taken to day care by hir father, or maybe they'd rather say goodbye at home, and have another trusted adult take them to day care?

A good threshold game is playing peek-a-boo around the door one hopes the child will eventually want to go through. And making sure one goes on playing peek-a-boo with furniture props well into the room. Maybe one of the day care staff could be primed to go on with the peek-a-boo game? Then child's transition to day care could be very gradual.

2. Let’s assume that the child does not want to go to day care. Parents now need to brainstorm WILDLY.

Perhaps one parent could do their work at home or in the evenings, perhaps with a baby sitter in the house (a trusted teen? A devoted grandparent?). Perhaps a parent could take the child to work with them (either on an occasional basis, so they can see what is happening when they are at day care, or even on a regular basis). Perhaps two people could job share, each looking after their combined children in one of their houses while the other works.

Perhaps one of the parents would like to stop working for money and be at home with the child?

It would certainly be worth doing the maths of income minus day care = remainder and think of other ways which would make parent happy to earn that remainder, not involving child care.

3. If the current situation involves leaving the child crying in the day care provider's arms, the parent is teaching their child a big lesson: "when the chips are down, parent cannot be relied upon for assistance". Will that not come back and bite the parent later on? It has to damage the parent/child relationship, quite apart from not taking the child's NEED not to be left seriously.

4. I think it is also worth bearing in mind that children are designed to be pretty well glued to parents or similarly close carers until sometime in their second year, at least. The nursery scenario is a cheap way of enabling parents to work, but it is not optimum for many children ever, depending on personality.

IME, children thrive in small mixed-age groups rather than in same-age groups, which most nurseries don't offer. A 4 year old is much more interesting to a 2 year old than another 2 year old is.

Sure, we have to be creative to be parents as well as earning money; the difficulties associated with finding ways of paying the bills do not excuse following the herd and abandoning our children to something sub-optimal, however.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The product mentality

APInternational, the attachment parenting organisation, has the motto "Peaceful Parenting for a Peaceful World"

The underlying message is clearly that if you attachment parent your children - breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, baby wearing - your children will likely turn out to be gentle and peaceful people.

Unfortunately, the API logo writer had not read The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris. She argues - pretty compellingly, as far as I've got - that the major influence on how children turn out is not how their parents treat them, but what their peer group is like. There are genetic effects and indirect genetic effects, but the people children mdel themselves on, once they leave their mother's knee, are their peers.

If you want your child to be peaceful, live in a commune where the whole community is peaceful.

I think Attachment Parenting is a splendid way to treat very small people. But do it because it makes parents and children happier, not because you have some ultimate goal for your child's mature personality.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Thinking about tantrums

This is a recycled post from Rational Parenting, which is on hiatus.

A tantrum: when a person loses all ability to express their intentions directly through language or signs, instead using a variety of tantrum-characteristic behaviours, such as uncontrollable weeping, screaming, shaking, drumming of heels on floor (varies according to the person).

A tantrum is a horrible thing to experience. It makes one's eyes sore, gives one a headache, makes one tired, dehydrates one, and does not solve whatever the problem was in the first place.

Helping one's children avoid tantrums and minimise their effects seems to me to be the natural aim of any parent, not only because tantrums are horrible for the person having them, but also because they are horrible for the person on the receiving end - there is great temptation either to give in to all demands of the hysterical person or to remove them from sight and earshot until they have stopped. The one end of the scale is self-sacrifice, the other is neglect. I would recommend neither as a parenting strategy.

I think that having tantrums is an inevitable part of childhood. Some children have them because their parents seem to set out to ignore their intentions. Others have them because their parents - being fallible - sometimes miss the cues of their children until the children have reached a point where intelligible communication is no longer possible.

1. staving off tantrums

is eminently possible. It requires the tantrum-catcher to know the tantrum-thrower very well indeed, in order to pick up on their cues.

For example, many pre-menstrual women display tantrum characteristics - a boiling up of frustration is eventually vented, either through aggression or through weeping. It can often be side-stepped by those who love the women. Some like to be cosseted, and tucked up on the sofa with a cup of tea; others need to be told to "buck up, old girl"; yet others merely need reminding that their hormones go funny at certain times of month. Choose the wrong response at your peril.

Helping one's children requires exactly the same attention to the cues of the child. Sometimes people have gone beyond being able to express how tired or hungry or thirsty they are; this is where trusted adults can gently help them to change their mental state through a snack or a drink or a quiet activity or whatever.

2. Helping to end a tantrum when it has begun

Some of the same techniques would apply as in the tantrum-avoidance stage: trying to identify the problem and a way to solve it; or providing comfort until the child has calmed down enough to solve their problem themselves. NB it strikes me that this is a big argument in favour of extended breastfeeding, which can provide food, drink AND comfort in one benign swoop to an unhappy child.

Sending someone away to weep it out alone is a cruel act. No-one should wish weeping-oneself-into-exhaustion on another person. Sending one's own child away, denying them the love and reassurance that will help them to start problem solving again quickly, is also counterproductive in the long run. If one's role as a parent is to be a trusted advisor to the small people one lives with, then excluding them from one's presence when their problems have got too large for them to handle rationally is the act of a fool. If Betty's parents do not help her to solve problems as a child, she is highly unlikely to communicate her problems to them and ask for help as she grows more independent. Welcome to teenage hell.

Acceding to demands that are in conflict with one's own intentions is also counterproductive (= self-sacrifice). I hope that helping one's child no longer be hungry or thirsty wouldn't clash with anyone's own intentions (and remember the urgency with which such physical needs need to be met when one is not in control of the provision of food and drink - there's nothing like a blood sugar low). But buying a toy that a child just saw and won't use for more than ten minutes?? It is much better to calm down the tantrum with love and respect, and then creatively find alternative solutions with the child (do we know anyone who owns this toy? Might it be for sale on Ebay or in a charity shop? Are there any better toys it would be worth buying instead? If we spend money on this toy, will it have implications for the rest of the family finances? Can we sell it on Ebay if it's rubbish? Can we play with it in the shop?).

One should never assume that someone is throwing a tantrum 'for no good reason'. Even when it's 'just hormones', the emotions are real enough, and problem solving (however small the problem seems to anyone outside the sufferer's head) goes on hold until the emotions have been assuaged.

Are we at the beck and call of our 'manipulative' children here? No more than we are at the beck and call of anyone we love who needs help to see beyond the perceived enormity of a problem to its solution.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How common is baby-wearing in the UK?

I have no means of being scientific about this, obviously, so here is my anecdotal response.

I have seen lots of people use a baby carrier of the Baby Bjorn/Tomy variety for the first couple of months. You can buy them on the High Street - it is a pretty mainstream thing to do. Obviously, the baby quickly becomes too heavy to be comfortable to carry in this way, but more and more babies at least have the security of being carried in their earliest weeks. I think it is partly because our town centres are mostly pedestrianised, and they are often also medieval. Cobbled streets and tiny-baby-in-pram is not a happy mixture for a Saturday shopping trip.

Most people then move straight on into prams and buggies, IME, except for when they are going on long walks, and then Karrimor-type backpacks are common, at least among the middle classes.

But there is a little move towards baby/toddler wearing, again, among the middle classes. One clear indication of this is the NCT catalogue - the National Childbirth Trust is the nation's big natural childbirth charity; they organise antenatal classes and have active networks of local branches with coffee mornings, tea parties, nearly new sales etc etc. And as you can see in the NCT catalogue, there are various baby carrying devices advertised. I think there are more than there were 2 or 3 years ago, but I might be misremembering.

1. The Wilkinet. What a splendid invention this thing is. It starts like a standard baby bjorn type baby carrier, but as the baby gets larger, they can face outwards or can be carried on an adult's back, rucksack style. I have seen successful (though fairly contorted) breastfeeding going on in it with older babies. And the weight really is distributed well. I have also seen fathers very happy and comfortable with a Wilkinet - it doesn't look too earth mother-y for a man with a manly outlook.

2. The better baby sling. I've got a friend with this one (and actually, both parents use it completely interchangeably - an effect of the tartan pattern rather than being a bit floral, maybe?!). It always looked a bit stiffer to me than my faithful Huggababy, but it's a perfectly good ring sling and LOOK there it is out in the mainstream.

3. The Hippychick hipseat. There is one good thing about this. It acknowledges that a) carrying a child unaided on your hip leads to problems and b) every mother carries her child on her hip. But really, how many people are going to wander around the house with this contraption strapped to them for every time a child might want a carry? A ring sling gives you the same load spreading, but is much easier either to whip on instantaneously or leave on all day, wookie-like.

4. The Bush Baby cocoon and baby carrier - the sorts of things I mentioned above. I haven't tried this brand.

I rarely see mothers with slings - local ones I tend to get to know! - but people often say supportive things, and I wave the logo of my sling at anyone who says anything friendly.

There is a growing market on of second-hand slings and also WAHM ring slings. Every time I go to visit, there are more slings on offer and less chance of a bargain!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

In praise of reins

“Leads are for dogs not people”

Actually, I disagree. The sight of a child straining at the leash while their mother gossips 4 feet above them is an awful one. But there are times and places in which a set of toddler reins is a splendid piece of equipment.

There is a stage when a child begins to learn about traffic. They are fascinated by cars (*point*), lorries (*point*), buses (*point*), vans (*point*), motorcycles (*point*) and aeroplanes (oh no, sorry, that’s something else). They learn from their parents’ verbal and non-verbal cues that roads are things to be treated with caution, and that the pavement is the safe place to be.

There is also a stage when a child learns to walk – wobbly at first, and delighting in their growing balance and confidence.

Some people’s children encounter these stages in the convenient order. Others learn to walk before they understand roads. For these children, wearing reins by the roadside gives them the freedom to walk along and the parent the ability to stop them falling into the path of an oncoming juggernaut. Reins can be slack at all times except when disaster actually looms.

Cliff tops and river banks are similarly good rein places. A child can investigate without actually falling 150 feet.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Baby Food – An Easier Alternative

This is a partially fictionalised account for our local parenting magazine. Feedback please - I want to improve it! You'll spot the breastfeeding and autonomy subtexts...

I’ve never bought a jar of baby food. And I’m not one of those efficient mothers who (apparently effortlessly) boils up vats of vegetables, puréeing and freezing them in ice-cube trays so that there are always home-made meals ready for the baby.

Instead, I’ve just been following the guidelines of the World Health Organisation. They advocate exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and then a mixture of breastfeeding with suitable food until at least the age of two. Babies don’t develop the digestive enzymes to cope with anything other than milk before around 6 months, so there’s little point in hurrying the process. I think the important thing is to let your child dictate the pace.

How much food?

If you continue to breastfeed on demand after 6 months, you never need to worry about whether your child is eating enough. By 18 months, my children probably got more than 50% of their nutrition from solid food, but to be honest I wasn’t counting. The ratio of milk and food shifted very gradually. I always offered my child small helpings and plenty of them, and avoided trying to force just-one-more-mouthful in to finish the helping. Only the child can decide when they are full.

What if they don’t like it?

Do you eat food you don’t like? Does forcing it down make you like it any better? Well, why try to force a small child to eat something, then?

Some food I offered was rejected with contempt first time, and then was soon after enjoyed. One or two things were left of the side of the plate lots of times, so I made sure I offered alternatives and eased off on the unpalatable item. After a few months, these foods could often be easily reintroduced and hugely enjoyed.

Letting the child decide what to eat and how much of it means that those battles of wills over eating are much less likely to develop in the future. Relax now, and save real stress later!

What sort of food?

Remember, food is fun! If you are house proud, I recommend putting one of those waterproof tablecloths over the area where the child will be eating, and then… let them have at it! We soon gave up on bibs as completely inadequate (if you’re going to have to wash the cardigan anyway, why wash a bib too?).

If you give the child a spoon from the start, they will soon get the hang of it, especially if you are showing the way with another spoon. I found myself being solemnly (and pretty dextrously) fed yoghurt by 1-year olds as often as I fed them.

Finger foods are as good for playing with as eating: slices of apple, carrot sticks, a thin slice of cheese, a soldier of toast (With LOTS of butter on) and so on. Little things a child can pick up and pop in (like peas or those little pasta twirls and shells) are often appreciated.

Different textures, colours and flavours are much more interesting for a child than beige-coloured purée, and being introduced to them early means that children are more likely to accept all kinds of different foods later. Offer lots of variety – and offer what you eat yourself, so that joining in with the family foods is just normal.

Food doesn’t appear by magic. At 6 months, I started including my children in food preparation. They enjoyed playing with the vegetables as I prepared them, and ate lots of raw brussels sprouts, parsnips and even garlic – ah well, I expect they were following some deeply healthy Californian raw foods diet! With help, children little over a year old can start chopping vegetables; even younger ones can stir successfully.

What about choking?

A certain number of things will go down the wrong way to start with. Either the child will cough the things out again or you can quickly scoop them out of the mouth with a finger. I was careful to avoid really hard things like nuts. By waiting until past 6 months, the child will quickly get the hang of chewing (even with no teeth) and swallowing, and the chance of choking just gets smaller and smaller.

So introducing your child to food needn’t be traumatic, hard work or expensive. By keeping the breastfeeding going, you can relax about letting your child play with food and gradually eat more of it when they are ready.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Jabbermommy's promotion at work post

from here

Your Big Day, v1.0

You just got a big promotion at work. Your job now allows you much more autonomy, as well as providing you with many more outlets for expression. Your head is swimming with new thoughts, ideas and feelings. You're not one to plan for the future very much, but you do love to reminisce about your day, and you feel elated. The celebration dinner was okay, the chicken and pasta was delicious, but the broccoli has left you feeling a little gassy.

You take a relaxing bath, slip on some soft pajamas, and read a short story that you love to read every night. You feel a little drowsy, and your eyes droop, even though you still feel excited about your big promotion.

Your loved one, someone you love in ways you don't even understand yet you can feel the love for them so deeply, tucks the covers around you, kisses you goodnight, and then leaves the room.

You are now supposed to sleep for nine to ten hours. Solid. Without waking. Alone. In your excitement about your big day, you'd forgotten all about that requirement of the household. In fact, you forget that requirement the moment you wake up in the morning, because you love being awake so much, you love experiencing everything life has to offer. Nonetheless, you try to settle down, even though thoughts of your big promotion are still racing through your head. You drift in and out of a light sleep, dreaming of all the big things that have happened today.

You startle awake each time your stomach aches. That broccoli is still bothering you, and you call to your partner to bring some medicine, but they ignore you. You wake occasionally, jumping up onto your knees, ready to crawl, because your legs are restless, twitching and itchy. You twist and turn trying to get comfortable. The covers are too light, so you call to your loved one for another blanket, and they ignore you. You're thirsty and your throat feels a bit sore from all the calling to your loved one, but again they ignore you. You begin to feel scared, wondering why your loved one, the one you feel so much love for, the one you are completely dependent upon, is not coming in to help you. You start crying, calling out to your loved one, "Please, come to me! I need help! Please, just come here and give me a hug, I need some reassurance that things are okay!"

Silence. The clock ticks. You cry out one more time, desperately. Silence. You sink back down onto the mattress, pulling your blanket around you, trying to soothe yourself. You realize you're hungry, that your stomach has already emptied its contents, and that you need a small snack. You again call for your loved one, shrilly this time, stridently. Your head aches, your eyes ache, your throat aches. They continue to ignore you.

You give up calling for your loved one, and drift into an uneasy, exhausted sleep, your stomach aching, your eyes itchy and swollen, your mind confused and troubled.

Who are you?

You are a baby that stood up on your own for the first time today.

Your loved one is your mother. Unbeknownst to you, she's read in a few articles online that you're supposed to sleep through the night, uninterrupted. Her friends, her mother and her spouse keep telling her that it's good for you. Her heart aches every time you cry, her arms literally hurt wanting to reach for you, but she checks herself. She halts on the way to your door, and turns around, to settle back into her own bed and her own uneasy sleep. Even though she no longer hears your crying on the baby monitor, she doesn't understand why she doesn't feel right.

When you wake up in the morning, you are overjoyed to see the love of your life again! So overjoyed, in fact, that last night is already forgotten, by your conscious mind. She is so relieved that you're not angry with her, she smiles happily, knowing she did the right thing.


Infants have different sleep cycles than adults, for sound reasons that should be studied* by every parent. The growth of their body and their brain depend on their unique sleep cycles being respected. To expect an infant to conform to adult sleep patterns, or worse, to expect an infant sleep more hours and more soundly than an adult, is not only unrealistic, but is damaging in the long-term on both physiological and psychological levels.


Your Big Day, v2.0

You just got a big promotion at work. Your job now allows you much more autonomy, as well as providing you with many more outlets for expression. Your head is swimming with new thoughts, ideas and feelings. You're not one to plan for the future very much, but you do love to reminisce about your day, and you feel elated. The celebration dinner was okay, the chicken and pasta was delicious, but the broccoli has left you feeling a little gassy.

You take a relaxing bath, slip on some soft pajamas, and read a short story that you love to read every night. You feel a little drowsy, and your eyes droop, even though you still feel excited about your big promotion.

Your loved one, someone you love in ways you don't even understand yet you can feel the love for them so deeply, tucks the covers around you, kisses you goodnight, and then settles in beside you to watch over you as you fall asleep.

You feel their breathing and their heartbeat against your body. Your own heartbeat and breathing slows to match theirs. Their warmth radiates through you, suffusing you with a sense of rightness and comfort. You slip into a light sleep, eyes twitching in REM. Your loved one knows you are only in a light sleep, and waits for the signs of deep sleep. When your body is completely limp and your eyelids have stopped twitching, your loved one quietly eases away from you, to return to you in a little bit, for their own sleep. You wake slightly to feel the warm body slide away from you, but you've felt it many times before and you know it'll return shortly, so you slide back into a deep sleep.

You startle awake each time your stomach aches. That broccoli is still bothering you, and your covers are too light. Your loved one is sleeping beside you, they wake lightly and tuck the covers around you again. You snuggle up to their warmth, but you whimper because your gassy stomach is still bothering you. Your loved one rubs your lower tummy gently in a clockwise motion, encouraging the gas to make its way through your body. They pat your back rhythmically, encouraging a little burp, as well. You're not as bothered by the gas now. Your needs were met. You feel secure, safe and comfortable, and you settle back to sleep.

You wake occasionally, jumping up onto your knees, ready to crawl, because your legs are restless, twitching and itchy. Your loved one's hands settle you back into your place, where you snuggle again, mind whirling with thoughts of your big promotion, legs twitching. You hear a quiet chuckle, and feel gentle hands massaging your tense legs until they're loose again. You clutch their fingers as you fall asleep.

You wake slightly and realize you're hungry, that your stomach has already emptied its contents, and that you need a small snack. You cry out for milk, your loved one provides it, and you suckle until your thirst and hunger is slaked.

You drift into an an easy, deep sleep, your tummy filled, your needs met, and your mind untroubled.

Who are you?

You are a baby that stood up on your own for the first time today.

Your loved one is your mother. She's been sleeping beside you since the day you were born, and she knows every twitch of your body, every one of your breathing patterns, and how often you're hungry and thirsty during the night. She knows you had a big day, and she is prepared for a night of disrupted sleep. She knows that you'll need to process your big development in your own way, and that she can just be there to guide you through the night without forcing anything. She trusts her own instincts. After she's had some time to herself, to refresh her mind and spirit, she settles into bed next to you, taking note of your furrowed brow, your twitching legs, and the sound of little gas bubbles in your tummy, and knows you'll need soothing during the night.

When you wake up in the morning, you are overjoyed to see the love of your life again! You reach up to pat her face as you get your fill of milk, your tummy comfortable and full. You jump up into a crawl immediately after eating, and find her body makes an excellent playground. She smiles happily, knowing she did the right thing.


Thursday, July 28, 2005


I just linked Jabbermommy.

There are some great posts there on co-sleeping, not spanking and attachment parenting in general. Go read, right now. :-)

Pippi Longstocking

By Astrid Lindgren.

There are at least 3 books in the series. They are a wonderful exploration of how a child can live autonomously, delighting in cleaning the kitchen floor with sponges tied to her feet (though she wouldn't want to do it every day).

In a couple of short paragraphs, Pippi exposes the nonsense of teacher-led schools (and decides not to go again, thank you). Her enormous strength protects her from intrusive adults, and Tommy and Annika gradually learn to relax into Pippi's unconventional adventures - what does it matter if some crockery gets broken on the way, ot Tommy cuts his finger a little?

But Pippi is also aware of not quite fitting into societty's norms and it bothers her. She would benefit from a trusted advocate to help her navigate a tea party or a circus trip ensuring that others enjoy themselves too.

I would recommend Astrid Lindgren, but Pippi in particular, to any child, and most urgently to those who spend too much of their time being bossed around by adults. A splendid subversive birthday present...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Letting go as children grow

I loved Deborah Jackson's "Three in a Bed" so I had high hopes for this book. NB it is the updated edition of "Do not Disturb".

The best parts are derived from - or directly quoted from - Alison Stallibrass's "The Self-Respecting Child", an absolutely splendid and unpretentious book written by a playgroup leader which has been on the shelves of my mother's house since the mid1970s. So I had already encountered those.

There is far too much primitivism in the book. The treatment of children in primitive tribes is romanticised, as if lacking the material trappings of modern society makes it easier for parents and children to interact. There are many quotations from starry-eyed anthopologists. Such primitivism is anti-rational and anti-knowledge, I think, as if progress has jeopardised the nourishing interactions between humans, and we were all better off when we spent all day growing food and washing clothes in rivers.

It's certainly true that in a pre-industrial culture where everyone has to work all the time, it's likely that children will be invited to do their share as soon as possible. But there's absolutely no reason why a western family shouldn't let children help chop vegetables/do laundry etc etc as soon as they show interest. Children mostly seem to want to join in with the activities around them. It's not being a pygmy which makes it possible for children to contribute to the family tasks as they want to.

TV is seen as bad (surprise) rather than just another medium for learning. And family celebrations of the seasons are promoted hard, I'm not sure why. So there is just a hint of nature-worship here (where books are natural and televisions aren't, of course). Maybe there is tremendous value in marking the passing of the year with family rituals and celebrations; I suppose I just choose mine from my culture (Christmas; Easter for new handkerchiefs and easter egg hunts; November 5th for fireworks and burning effigies of revolutionaries) rather than solstices and things.

Good ideas:

Not interrupting our children when they are in the middle of something

Designing our lives so that adult schedules impinge as little as possible on children, but also so that we can do what we want as well.

Stopping a child doing 'dangerous' things like climbing stairs prevents them developing physical grace and confidence. Stopping them doing dangerous things like drinking bleach is a good plan, however.

Allow a child mental and physical space to play, learn, think, be creative

Reacting to a child's actions honestly and specifically in a good plan. Rewards are silly.

"We owe it to our children to convey the rules of our culture, although we may expect them, as they grow, to question those rules"

So there is some good stuff which leans inthe direction of common preference finding, and respecting a child's autonomy, but I learned less than I hoped from this book.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Good Night's Sleep

It’s late at night. The parent walks a lonely walk up and down the landing, soothing the baby to sleep. As the child drops off, drowsy but not fast asleep, the parent gently places the baby back in the cot. Immediate arched back and frantic screams… or fitful sleep for half an hour until sentry duty begins again… is it any surprise that after a month or six of this, many parents turn to some form of controlled crying, to try to get the baby to fall asleep in the cot so everyone can have a good night’s sleep?

Well, actually, there are kinder alternatives. Try what humans have done for millennia: tuck the baby into bed with you. Being next to his/her mother is the natural place to be – it makes everyone more relaxed and more likely to sleep well. There is no need to buy thermometers and worry about whether the baby is too hot or too cold – it’s easy to tell if the small person curled up next to you is comfortable. Instead of listening anxiously to the baby monitor to check the baby is breathing, you can just listen to them breathing right next to you. And if they stop breathing, you are right there ready to rouse them. In fact, scholars such as James McKenna are working on the hypothesis that co-sleeping (sharing a bed with a baby) may be a preventative of cot death.

A mother and baby sleeping together often synchronise their sleep patterns, leading to better rest for everybody. Breastfeeding mothers sleep more lightly than other people. An advantage of co-sleeping is that by the time the baby has stirred and given a whimper, the mother has probably got him/her latched onto the breast, meaning that (with luck) everyone can go back to sleep during – yes, during – night-time feeds. And smothering a baby, as long as you are not drunk, aware the baby is there, and sleeping on a suitable surface, is overwhelmingly unlikely. It is easy to lie in a way which makes rolling towards the baby impossible (lie on your side with a pillow between your knees and the baby in the crook of your lower arm: all attempts to roll forwards will be futile!).

People worry about whether a co-sleeping child will ever leave the family bed. In fact, left to themselves, co-sleeping children spend the night in their own bed as early as cot-raised children (just ask around – many children climb into the parental bed at night or in the early morning for a hug or because of a nightmare, or for company… it’s just that people don’t usually admit it). In fact, an “open bed” policy means that children can take independent sleeping at their own pace. They are much less likely to grow up with insomnia and behavioural problems.

What about relaxing in the evenings? I found that my children were usually happy to sleep in a ring sling when they were tiny, so we just took them out with us! As they got older, and less good at sleeping in restaurants, we made sure our social engagements were at lunchtimes. And there’s nothing like retiring to bed with a book and a baby at 8pm… sleeping when the baby does is a good way of combating the sleep deprivation of motherhood.

I was lucky. My children never screamed at night. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I walked at night to soothe a child, and every time the (tiny) baby was in clear colicky pain. Some babies do cry at night and can only be soothed by walking, especially colicky ones. But even then, co-sleeping has the advantage that when the baby finally falls asleep, everyone can carefully subside into bed with minimum disturbance for the baby. While a night of teething is never exactly a bed of roses for baby or parents, co-sleeping means that the mother can at least rest and doze whenever the baby is calm (spare room and ear plugs highly recommended for the father so that someone is fully rested in the morning). And at the happy end of the spectrum, when a baby wakes in his/her parents’ bed, (s)he does not have to cry to make them come and start the day. Instead, co-sleeping families wake up with smiles, cuddles and giggles. There is no better way to start the day!

Suggested reading: Deborah Jackson, Three in a Bed: The Benefits of Sharing Your Bed with your Baby (1999)
Advice on safe co-sleeping may be found here

Saturday, May 14, 2005

potty training

"Potty training" assumes that children want to be dependent on someone else for being clean and dry, and do not want to copy their elders. I think this attitude is mistaken. Many small children dislike being in wet or dirty nappies, and many very small children carefully tear off small pieces of loo paper to put down the loo, while they aren't raising or lowering the lid or trying to pull the flush lever.

Once children begin to get physical control over peeing and pooping, and begin to be consciously aware of the sensations of needing to go and going, there are two ways to proceed.

1) Frequently sit child on potty and celebrate with mexican waves, gold stickers, or new bicycles when child performs. Child will quickly learn that this is something very important to hir parents, and it will therefore become a source of anxiety or an opportunity to exercise power over parents by refusing to go, or going elsewhere. Much anxiety and misery all around. Eventually child learns to use potty/loo.

2) wait until child expresses an interest in no longer wearing nappies. Explain the system. Clean up accidents with an "oops, never mind". Child will probably get the hang of it at approximately the same time as in system 1), or slightly earlier, with no stress, and OWNING the triumph of a self-directed step towards independence.

Monday, May 02, 2005

I dreamed this piece of music a few nights ago. Despite the hurried scoring, it is actually a piece for German brass band, intended to accompany the view from one of those mountain-top TV cameras which pans around interminably on a certain German TV station in the early morning.

I wish there was a contrasting B section, but I only dreamed those eight bars.

Lovely to dream a whole piece of music. Very thrilling to remember it perfectly. Maybe next time it'll be something really exciting...

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Boys and girls

“I really wanted a boy/girl”

“Girls are just awful as teenagers”

“Potty training a boy is incredibly hard”

OK. The boyness of a boy, or the girlness of a girl is a very small part of what is interesting about them. In fact, it is an absolutely zero part to begin with (slightly different nappy changing techniques required. Period).

Don’t go into an interaction with someone with a bunch of expectations based on some arbitrary categorisation, like sex. Such expectations have a way of being self-fulfilling. Expectations – even apparently positive ones - put limits on what a child feels free to explore and learn.

Wishing for a child of the opposite sex because one or both parents imagines that they would feel a greater kinship with them and share more interests is a rejection of both children’s individuality – the hypothetical child as well as the real one. Maybe the parent needs to think more creatively about finding ways of every one exploring their interests, and valuing what each other does rather than looking for a mini-me through whom they can fulfil all of their own unmet childhood desires

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Cooking is not as hard as some people think.

Here is an example:

1. Chop an onion into centimetre-ish pieces. Chop a single clove of garlic as small as you can be bothered.

2. Heat up a big pan and put in some oil. Gently fry onion and add garlic after 4 minutes. When the onion starts to go translucent, put in 1 cup red lentils and stir well for a minute or two (so the oil goes all over).

3. Add a pint or so of stock. Domestic goddesses will of course have made this from a chicken roast leftovers the night before. Mere mortals can use a stock cube and boiling water.

4. Add a 14 oz tin of chopped tomatoes and a couple of teaspoons of tomato puree. Add at least a table spoon of fresh thyme leaves if you have a thyme bush. Otherwise, add half a tablespoon of dried thyme leaves.

5. Bring to the boil and turn the heat right down. Simmer with lid on for 15-20 minutes.

6. Add some lemon juice (I did about 1/4 lemon) and salt and pepper to taste.


All done in less than 1/2 hour. If you make enough, you can put some in the freezer for a week or so when you've forgotten how nice it was last time and fancy an easy lunch.

Why doesn't everyone do this? It's so much nicer than shop soup, even though there are no fresh ingredients except the onion.

Book meme

From Gil.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
I don’t want to be a book at all. I am a person.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
No. It would never go anywhere.

The last book you bought is:

The Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, for an on line book study group I’m in.

The last book you read:

Summer Camp at Trebizon, by Anne Digby. I never owned this when I went through my Trebizon craze aged about 10, and I found it in a charity shop recently. Amazing how happy all the characters seem to be to be at boarding school.

What are you currently reading?

'Perishable Goods' by Dornford Yates – I haven’t read it for a while

'The self-respecting child' by Alison Stallibrass – wonderful account of how children learn through play when they are just left to GET ON WITH IT. And I’m learning about Piaget, a bit, which is cool because he seems to be cropping up everywhere.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

Extreme Survival Almanac: Everything You Need to Know to Live Through a Shipwreck, Plane Crash, or Any Outdoor Crisis Imaginable by Reid Kincaid. Gil’s suggestion.

The Liber Usualis. I could use the singing practice. I could even live like a nun and celebrate the divine office, pretty much, if equipped with the LU. That’d take my mind off being shipwrecked. And it would take my mind off the ridiculous 5-book limitation.

LoTR. I usually re-read this in Lent, and I missed it this year because of reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (again). It’s only because I don’t think the Wheel of Time would count as one book that I’m leaving it off the list.

Something by Popper. Enough secondary literature already.

Playful parenting. Risky one this, but it’s been recommended by a friend and I haven’t got it yet.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And Why?
If I was the stick-passing type, it would be Dawn and Dan. They don’t post often enough. And I know that's only two.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

School dinners

Well, it's probably old news by now, but I only recently heard about Jamie Oliver's School Dinners campaign.

UK schools feed JUNK to the children. More than 200,000 people have signed his petition to do something about it but I don't think demanding more government money is the answer.

I think of all the mothers carefully spooning expensive organic baby food into their 6-month olds. How is it that less than 5 yers later they have so completely abdicated responsibility for what their children eat? Because they think that the State knows best.

A good outcome of all this would be if children were not fed garbage at schools. An even better outcome would be if parents did not trust other people to nurture their children for them, intellectually or physically.

The Hurried Child #3

Conventional Western parenting is a funny old mixture.

On the one hand, many couples have persuaded themselves that both people need to work outside the home full time in order to fulfill themselves/ keep themselves in the style to which they have become accustomed. The inevitable result is that they do not care for their children properly. Many mothers whizz their children through weaning in order to make child care arrangements easier. Many parents talk sentimentally about "all Ronnie's little friends at nursery" when anyone who spends time with their children knows full well that children don't engage in cooperative play at 9 months old; the other children and the nursery staff may be familiar faces, but they are no substitute for family. At the beginning of childhood, many parents are trying to push theit children into independence BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT SUITS THE PARENTS. It doesn't suit children, but it doesn't suit society to say so. Our governments therefore constantly bring out new initiatives to subsidise nursery care and enable parents to abdicate responsibility for parenting.

Fast forward 16 years. Those same neglectful parents are by now interfering in their children's lives. They ring up universities to book their children onto open days for courses the parents want the children to do. They still wish to control their offspring's social calendars well into their 20s. They put pressure on their children not to smoke, to wear clothes the parents approve of, to take up socially acceptable hobbies.

It's odd that in the early years so many parents are so keen for their children to be conveniently independent, and then later they want to rein in their children's independence.

I think Elkind is in a muddle too. He writes that "we infantilize [children] by permitting them to have messy rooms... to get up at odd hours". Apart from disliking the derogatory use of 'infantilize', I think he is picking some odd battles here. Parents interfere unasked in arbitrarily chosen parts of their children's lives - rooms and sleep patterns, here. Actually not so arbitrary - often parents interfere to try to increase their chance of reflected glory, or to minimise the social damage done to them by having visible offspring.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Racist violence in high schools

I was recently told an anecdote about some high school gangs in California whose aggression towards each other finally resulted in them all being given anti-racist counselling by their teachers. It might be apocryphal, but in any case...

School pupils are denied the right to freedom of association. They are forced to spend time in close quarters with an artificial cross section of the population (ie other people the same age). It is a completely understandable response in such a situation to protect oneself from intimidation by forming cliques or gangs. Frankly, I doubt whether the colour of the skin is really such a big deal. If it was an all-white area, the gangs would have been preppies vs goths. Or mods vs punks, just to choose a random example from 1970s Britain.

I don't excuse gang violence. But responding to it with anti-racist training? puhlease.

If you are engaged in something constructive, you evaluate the people around you in terms of their value to the project, not the colour of their skin.

The best solution would be to stop locking children up in schools all day. Help them find constructive things to do rather than spending years trying to make them docilely accept being bored by "education".

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I love google

"Spoiling the dignity and repose of the tea party" has been a familiar expression in my family for counter-cultural behaviour for as long as I can remember.

And now I know where it comes from.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

flying rather than A levels

This story is very exciting because travelling from Oxford to Cambridge will no longer entail a train journey via London (including changing railway stations in London) or sitting on a travel-sickness inducing coach for three hours. There are about 50 roundabouts on the route (no exaggeration - the route goes through Milton Keynes). I don't travel from Oxford to Cambridge very often, but whenever I have it's been horrible. So w00t.

But the most excellent thing about the story is that the person who has made this happen is still only 18 years old, and gave up his A'levels to pursue the dream. So much for Keeping One's Options Open. And so much for Teenagers Should Be In School Getting Educated. I hope he gets very rich indeed.

I will be making sure everyone I know who ever travels between Oxford and Cambridge knows about the new flying option. Brilliant.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The hurried child #2: the competent child

Elkind attacks the idea of the Superkid, competent to cope with anything that life, and particularly his parents, throw at him. He writes that by assuming our children are competent, we abdicate responsibility for nurturing them properly, putting them through early and prolonged separations, for example, or pushing them to learn to read or write at the age of 4.

Assuming that one's children are made of rubber and will always bounce back is a cheap excuse for not doing one's best as a parent. It is a cheap excuse for seeing one's children as reflections of one's own social status rather than helping them achieve their own goals.

The ideal, I think, is to 'spot' one's child. Assume they are competent to do what they are trying to do rather than hovering nervously, band aid at the ready, but be ready to offer help when wanted. And don't push them to join a football team so you can vicariously rekindle your boyhood dream of playing for Manchester United.

I think I'd be better off reading this, probably

The hurried child #1: independence

I am reading David Elkind's "The Hurried Child". It is certainly thought provoking.

Elkind writes too much about what parents should or should not let their children do, rather than thinking about why children develop certain preferences. The authoritarian undertow of the book is pretty wearing.

But he made me think once again about independence. Many parents are keen to encourage their children to become independent, by sending them off to nursery at less than a year old, say. Over-protection is not the only alternative. From the moment when a child first wriggles out of hir mother's arms to roll on the floor to the moment when the chils starts offering hir parents a loan for a new car, children will embrace independence at their own pace, given the freedom to do so. Knowledge of parental support whenever needed (being rescued from the sleep-over party that the child wanted to attend but became homesick at, for example) gives a child the inner security and confidence to experiment and push the boundaries of their independence.

I believe that children whose parents withdraw their time and assistance in the name of 'promoting independence' become less confident, and less able to navigate the challenges of life without help.

Note: independence is not the same thing as autonomy, which we have, and which should be respected, from the start.

Friday, March 11, 2005

hitting children ps

Now I've looked at what the school was proposing the mother should hit her child for. Talking too much in class, chewing gum, and bringing toys to school.

Gum chewing makes my jaws ache, personally, and I hate the way it stops tasting of anything after about 10 minutes, but if someone else wants to chew it, then that's their lookout.

But it is very clear why gum chewing and the other things have riled the school so much. It means the boy was not paying enough attention and trying to entertain himself in other ways - by having a conversation and playing with toys. Instead of addressing honestly why toys and friends might be of more interest than whatever activities the teacher was forcing the children to participate in (could it be just possible that the school might be at fault for so blatantly not meeting the needs of its pupils?), a SIX year old is branded as naughty - a label which can follow a child through their entire school career - and the school deems that he should be hit for not being interested in what they have offered him educationally.

Thank G-d homeschooling is an option in that state.

School demands parents hit children

I'm horrified that a school would require a parent to hit their child as part of the school's disciplinary procedures. How on earth can a parent advocate for their child if they are pulled into being part of the authoritarian machinery?

Hats off to the mother for taking her child out of the school and planning to home school him for the rest of the school year.

Almost the most ghastly thing is that in the survey on the same page, only 13% of respondants never spank their child. That's an awful lot of people resorting to violence rather than reason. :-(

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Lord of the Rings link

this is very funny

A homily on teaching and guidance.

Thank you to JSB for his comment below; I’m sorry it took me so long to respond.

I think it is important that any guidance of a child starts from an acknowledgement of that child’s autonomy. We can offer our best theories; if we fail to convince our children, then it is time to reassess our theories, look for the theories’ flaws, and help our children to achieve what they are aiming at in ways that do not harm them.

If a child acts in certain ways which contravene society’s social codes, se will find it hard to realise hir goals. As a parent, why would I not share my best theories about the effects which my child’s behaviour might have, and give advice, when sought, as to more profitable ways of interacting with the world? The only difference between my view and that of JSB in his comment below is that where he thinks

“The trick is finding the line between making your child do something that is generally appropriate and not making your child do something that is your own personal preference”

I think the trick is not to make one’s child do anything against their will. Authority is a poor basis for persuasion (“Eppur si muove” said Galileo, allegedly, under his breath).

I do not subscribe to the bucket theory of knowledge, where we pour our wisdom into the heads of children and they emerge as knowledgeable adults. The acquisition of knowledge and understanding requires one to crave that understanding oneself. No amount of well meaning advice or instruction will permeate the mind of someone who does not want to know. If my ideas are any good, and the child is interested, then bingo.

As parents, if we are brave enough to trust our children, to trust their intellects, to be their advocates and advisors, and to be prepared, with our children, to contravene the basic rules if we cannot rationally justify them, then there is no reason why we should “all have to do things that we don’t like to do”.

We only do things against our wills because we haven’t yet been creative enough.

silly quiz

Amazing what you find when browsing...

You are 'programming in QBASIC'. This programming
language (of which the acronym stands for
'Quick Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic
Instruction Code'), which is so primitive that
it cannot easily be used for any purpose
involving the Internet nor even sound, was
current more than a decade ago.
You are independent, in a good way. When something
which you need cannot be found, you make it
yourself. In writing and in talking with
people, you value clarity and precision; your
friends may not realize how important that is.
When necessary, you are prepared to be a
mediator in conflicts between your friends.
You are very rational, and you think of things
in terms of logic and common sense.
Unfortunately, your emotionally unstable
friends may be put off by your devotion to
logic; they may even accuse you of pedantry and
insensitivity. Your problem is that
programming in QBASIC has been obsolete for a
long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, February 25, 2005

chores again

I wrote about chores a couple of months ago here

I agree entirely with JSB (in comments below) that giving children an allowance in exchange for chores "is a way to get the kids to help out around the house". But I think there are much better ways of having a clean house than treating one's children as cheap labour.

If cleaning is important to a parent, they should do the cleaning. If the child sees it is something interesting/fun/energetic/worthwhile, then the child will be interested in joining in.

If the parent cannot persuade their family rationally of the need for a certain level of cleanliness, and of the need for a certain level of filial assistance to maintain that level, then they should either rethink their desired level of cleanliness or ask for help in solving what is - after all - the parent's problem. To link such assistance to an allowance is an abuse of power.It does not give the child a say in how their living space looks or how their time is spent - and why? - because the parents control the family finances.

'Nothing is more demoralizing than being forced to work for nothing' except possibly being forced to do something the value of which you do not appreciate in order to meet your side of a hopelessly lop-sided bargain that your parents have coerced you into.

Sharing rented accommodation as a student can provide better models for dividing household chores in autonomy respecting ways. The humble rota causes many a falling out. The best situation I've encountered is one where one person who really enjoyed laundry did all the laundry, another who enjoyed getting her rubber gloves on regularly cleaned the bathroom and kitchen surfaces, and a third who hated cleaning but loved cooking did most of the catering and had no idea where the washing powder was kept... everyone contributed according to their values and priorities.

I have known quite small children take on major chores (like looking after the poultry, involving getting up 20 minutes before everyone else to feed them before school) not because anyone forced them to, or paid them to, but because they WANTED to.

Monday, February 21, 2005


An allegory:

Husband has a job; wife works at home, being a homemaker and bringing up the children. Wife wants to buy a book.

Husband says "well, I have the money in my account, but you don't get your allowance until Thursday, and by the way, you have to wash my car and change three fuses before you can have it. And you can only buy the book if I think it is appropriate"

It all depends on one’s attitude to property and resources within the family. I do not think those doing the earning should dictate what happens to all the money; other members of the family contribute to family life in other ways but do not end up with $$$.

In favour of an allowance system: if family works out how much spending money is left after rent, bills, food etc., and works out what sorts of money-spending activities each is likely to want, then sharing out the money saves the child(ren) having to ask for permission or approval. It respects their autonomy, and means that they themselves can learn (with advice where asked for) about managing their finances, and about choosing the resources they want around them.If child blows a week’s allowance on something they immediately regret, then parent can help them minimise the frustration (selling item on Ebay? What is the shop’s returns policy? Does a friend want to do a swop?)

In favour of not having an allowance: as long as everyone has a sense of how much money is available, and everyone is prepared to put a rational case for their spending plans, and everyone’s desire for a share of the family resources is met, then handing the money around can be done in an ad hoc way. This requires everyone involved to be happy to justify their expenditure – it might be rather collectivist for some. “Mum can I have £30 for some DVDs?” “no, we have no spare money” “why not?” *blush* *stonewall* *hedge* *equivocate* “your hair cut looks lovely, mum; what did it cost?…”

At the moment, I would advocate an allowance for what used to be called “pin money”, so that every child, from when se expresses an interest in having money, can buy a magazine, some sweets, some Star Wars stickers, a small lego set, without having to ask anyone. Instant larger purchases have implications for the finances of the whole family, and therefore should be open to discussion.

I would never advocate forcing a child to perform tasks for a share of the family money, especially since it is not easy for children to earn money in the West. If what the family can spare is insufficient for the child’s needs, then helping them to make money legally should be a priority for the parent – paper round; computer programmer; making cakes for the Women’s Institute; whatever.But forcing someone to vacuum in order to be allowed a share of the family resources implies that only those actually earning $$$ should have a say in how they are spent.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


I just came across this site:

I haven't read much of what is on it yet, but it struck me as a FANTASTIC
way for a vicar to broaden the audiences for her sermons. Buh-bye hard pews. Buh-bye attention wandering for 30 seconds and losing the rest of the audience.

Woo hoo.

fussing #2

So fussing is making an unnecessary bother about something which really isn’t important: “Have you got enough layers on, dear?” “Oh, don’t FUSS mother”

It concerns me that the US parlance for a crying baby is that se is “fussy” or “fussing”. If a child is hungry, uncomfortable, tired, frightened, thirsty, cold, bored, or any of the other challenges which a baby does not have the physical resources to overcome alone, what is se supposed to do to avoid having hir emotions branded with the same brush-off as a suburban lady with too many antimacassars? Wait patiently for someone to notice se needs help?

Is it silly to concern oneself with definitions, or do the words we use to talk about children reveal what we really think of them?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

fussy children

This is an idiom which just doesn't travel across the Atlantic. It always makes me uneasy when I hear children described as fussy.

In the UK, if someone is fussy it means

a) that they are constantly rearranging the doilies on their perfectly clean nested occasional tables


b) that they will only eat steamed vegetables, rice not pasta, and drink wine only from the Loire Valley

I know it doesn't mean the same in the US, but I wonder whether it carries the same perjorative connotations? If so, then my unease is justified... more on why later, maybe

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Lady and the Unicorn

This book follows Tracy Chevalier’s usual structure of taking the creation of an art work as her imaginative starting point. I love the unicorn tapestries, and every few pages I found myself turning to the reproductions at the ends of the books to look at a detail or just enjoy the sequence. Chevalier has a gift for making a scene come alive through evoking a sense: the feeling of a garden under one’s fingers; the smell of cloves for curing toothache.

Of course, the unicorn stories are all about the seduction and capturing of a wild beast, and the thread of seduction, forbidden or welcomed, runs through the book. There was too much detail for my taste – some passages were squelchier than necessary. And lust was made to be too much of a (blinding) motivating force… but this all connected with the seduction and taming of the characters in the book, so I understand why Chevalier did it.

I prefer books where the characters are motivated by saving their honour or their country or staying alive or solving some practical problem – characters who are concerned with acting in a morally right way, and wrestle with achieving that. Good children's books do this because obviously sex is not a motivating force, and sex is actually pretty boring as a plot device (what does it achieve, beyond titillation?)

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Case for Democracy Natan Sharansky

Sharansky argues that the best weapon against tyranny is the creation of free societies. He argues that the West can and should intervene, using the tactic of linkage. If a tyrannical regime (presiding over a "fear" society) wants to trade with free societies, such trade must be linked to them changing their human rights record: the population must be able to express their views freely without fear of reprisal.

The most uplifting aspect of the book is Sharansky's narration of the collapse of the soviet union. The most depressing aspect is the hash that he considers everyone - Europe, the US, successive Israeli governments - has made of moving towards a separate Palestinian state. I was feelling quite optimistic about the role of the security fence in removing terrorist violence, but he reminded me that leaving the Palestinian regime to continue as a "fear society" condemns its people to more years of poverty, doublethink, and propaganda.

He makes no connection to the micro-level, but I think his message applies there to. Just as a free, democratic society functions better than a fear-filled dictatorship, which inevitably carries the seeds of its eventual implosion, so a family with authoritarian parents is doomed to disaster as the children defect to freer climes as soon as they have the physical and mental power.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

random recipe

I was waiting for the groceries to arrive, but needed to make supper.

So this is what I did:

fry a couple of onions and some garlic while thinking...
add about 2lb lamb mince and brown.

In a great wave of inspiration, add a teaspoon of ground cumin, same of ginger, same of coriander. And a chopped up dried red chilli.

Then (on a roll now) add a tin of tomatoes and a small tin of tomato puree. Throw in some cardamom pods. Pepper. A beef stock cube (I thought it needed beefing up)

Cook for about 20 minutes, while thinking what on earth to do with this mixture. Add a tin of black-eyed beans in desperation.

Put a good dollop of live yoghurt in the bottom of a lasagne dish; soften some lasagne sheets in boiling water and put on top. Shove in the random lamb gloop, put on another layer of lasagne and then another layer of yoghurt. No cheese on top (didn't I say? We were waiting for the grocery shopping to arrive... and one of the guests is lactose intolerant)

Cook for about 40 minutes in a medium oven.By the time it was ready, the groceries had arrived so instead of the anticipated frozen peas, we had broccoli. This dish was a HIT!!!

I wanted to record it for posterity. If I had more minutes, I'd do some half-cocked tie in to parenting ;-)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

leaving food on your plate

It was always the starving children in Africa whose welfare my generation was invited to consider when threatening to leave food on our plates. As I watched a mother cajole her child into eating "just two more mouthfuls" recently, it struck me anew how illogical it is to force a person to eat food when they do not have portion control. Noone can guess correctly for another person how hungry they are (children should not be forced to eat food they do not like either, but that is another question for another day).

This is one reason why I am firmly outside the puree-up-vats-of-boiled-vegetables-and-spoon-it-into-the-child's-mouth school of solid food introduction. When the baby smiles or opens hir mouth to burble something, in pops another spoonful of slop. Much better to keep on with the breastfeeding and let the child develop the hand-eye coordination to get as many spoonfuls of yoghurt or handfuls of cooked carrots into hir mouth as se wants to eat/taste/play with.

Controlling what one puts in ones own body is important.