Just because he’s a braying jackass of a human being doesn’t make it okay to body-shame him, and just because he is the living embodiment of his Klan-hooded Father’s retrograde id doesn’t mean it’s fair to dismiss him by ascribing his behavior to presumed mental illness.
English has a huge and colorful vocabulary. We can label and describe him without debasing ourselves by using color, hair texture, body size, physical proportions, or neurological function.
So, to mark this, his 35th day in office as the Popular Vote Losing Illegitimate Swamp President, I present the first 35 things I could think of to call Donald Trump, limited to adjectives and adjectival phrases.
It’s Advent and time to get ready for Christmas! In celebration, here’s a list to help with your elving. It’s current as of 2016, and I will update it as necessary in the future. I hope you find something to inspire you here– enjoy!
If you’re like me, you have no problem coming up with presents to give people for the holidays, but filling stockings is a bit more difficult. Picking out a dozen appropriate trinkets is much harder than finding a couple big gifts!
As I have filled my children’s stockings over the past several years, I’ve struggled with exactly what belongs. I don’t want to fill them with cheap junk, or with too much candy, and I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on stocking stuffers. I want the things in my family’s stockings to be worth getting, but still small.
So I brainstormed up a list one year, based in part on what I’ve found works and in part on what I predict will work but haven’t had occasion to try yet. A lot of the things on this list (I’ll use an asterisk * to denote them) can be made at home with only a hobbyist skill level.
Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist
For babies and toddlers:
fruit— it’s cheap and they love it. Easy-peasy. If you aren’t doing baby-led solids, you can always tuck a couple of their favorite *purées into the stocking instead.
wooden spools— great for stacking, rolling, even lacing.
recycling— seriously: yogurt tubs, the metal lids from frozen juice concentrate, and squeezable condiment containers are all excellent toys for kids this age
*playsilks— one of the ultimate open-ended toys
*massage bars or food-grade oil— for baby massage. We use almond, but olive or sunflower would work equally well.
wadded paper— not only does it take up a bunch of space in the stocking, but you know they’ll love it. It’s fine to just use printer paper, but unbleached newsprint is ideal.
*crunchy snacks— puffed grains, yogurt puffs, or crackers in a little container are a great treat for a toddler, and they promote fine motor development.
hairbrush— a soft goat-hair brush is not only the perfect tool for keeping wispy baby hair groomed, it’s also a good sensory stimulation tool for teaching names of body parts and promoting coordination
small board books or indestructible books— Sandra Boynton books are a great size for most stockings.
*cake crayons or crayon rocks— this is a great present for older siblings to give a toddler as they can recycle their old crayon stubs.
*knot doll— perhaps the easiest doll to make, a great introduction to dollmaking for the giver and to dolls for the recipient.
*playdough— a single container of storebought is the perfect size for a stocking, or you can fill a baby food jar or other small container with homemade.
*bath toys, bubble bath, etc.— older babies are moving from just getting bathed to actively taking a bath, and that means it’s a great time to make sure they’re having good cleaning fun. Our favorite brand of bubble bath comes in a stocking-dominating 1-quart size, but it’s still an awesome way to make bathtime more playful.
*hat— whether it’s a soft stocking cap for a tiny December babe or a funny animal-eared hat for a toddler, a little warmth is always a welcome addition.
*bubble solution— most kids won’t be able to really work out how to blow bubbles at this age, but they’ll love watching someone else blow bubbles for them.
*fingerpaint— with art, it’s best to start them young. A tasty, good-to-eat fruit-based paint is best for this age, because you know they won’t be able to resist.
*blocks— whether it’s a thick branch cut into chunks or a delicate, German-made rainbow of fancy shapes, blocks are a great filler gift that even a newborn will quickly grow into.
*rattle— soft fabric or shiny silver plate, old or new, there’s a reason rattles are classic.
*teether— we prefer silicone here, but natural wood is nice, too.
large buttons— to this day, I don’t think I’ve topped the Christmas when I gave my 1-year-olds a collection of 1.75-3″ buttons. A mix of colors, textures, shapes, and materials will be even more compelling.
For symbolic functionalists (ages 3-7):
magnifying glass— learn about bugs, optics, and the world in general. A great stepping-stone for kids who aren’t quite ready for a microscope.
hand-size ball— nothing too hard or too bouncy for younger kids, just a nice-sized toy for rolling down ramps and off of tables and using as a pretend egg.
colored pencils, *crayons, or markers— give good-quality tools that are a true pleasure to use. Everyone has their favorite brands and varieties; ours are Lyra Super Ferby, Prang, and Giotto Turbo Maxi.
craft sticks, large wooden beads, ball of string— open ended and cheap, these are an excellent way to get young engineers thinking about How To Make It.
magnet— a nice, big one is the best plan; something that can be used for testing surfaces and making paperclips dance but won’t wipe hard disks.
*paper airplanes— virtually free, this one is easy to underestimate, but a few sturdy pre-folded paper airplanes will give a kid this age at least a full day of play, if not a whole weekend.
crazy straws— be ready with a strongly-colored drink for maximum effect (grape juice works well).
*stickers— a guaranteed hit. To save money, buy up a bunch of stickers on clearance after seasonal holidays throughout the year. Kids this age will love stickers and stickering no matter how strange it is to be decorating with Easter bunnies in December.
sunglasses— equally for dressing up and eye protection, a cheap pair of kids’ sunglasses is the perfect size for a stocking.
*small soft toy— 90s Beanie Babies are cheap and ubiquitous and the perfect size for a stocking.
novelty socks— whether the kid in question loves Winnie-the-Pooh or sugar skulls, you can probably find something. The bargain section of Target often has great novelty kids’ socks throughout the year.
inflatable ball— deflated for a stocking, just blow it up for Christmas afternoon burning-off-energy.
temporary tattoos— especially if a kid has an inked parent, this can be a fun addition to the dress-up possibilities. In our house, we use temporary tattoos as post-bath incentives (because they stick better to clean skin, of course).
*hair accessories— the “ouchless” style of hair elastic made from fold-over elastic is best for kids this age. Don’t shy away from sparkly, glittery, fuzzy, or generally over-the-top– little kids understand exuberance, but have no concept of tackiness.
*alphabet or number toys (stamps, stickers, games…)— a set of mini alphabet stamps or a spinny speller, number stickers or a set of dice with Arabic numerals on them, or even place-value blocks are all great learning tools and toys for this age.
small notebooks, sketchbooks, or writing pads— some kids will make a single mark on each page, flip through to the end and declare themselves done, while others will fill every blank space and still be trying to cram more in. Either way, they’ll love it.
small musical instrument—such as a whistle, ocarina, mini hand drum, maracas, etc. for making noise and (hopefully) contributing to the family band more than to the family headache.
*small motion-based toys— paper yo-yos, tops, bamboo-copters, hooey-sticks/whammy-diddles, buzz saws, pinwheels, Slinkys, Jacob’s ladders, climbing bears, etc.
non-toxic nail polish— little kids love to dress up and adorn themselves for special occasions, so a tube of Piggy Paint or another kind of non-toxic nail polish can be an awesome little treat.
*glow-in-the-dark anything— no really, anything. Buy some glow-in-the-dark beads and seal them into an old spice jar and call it ectoplasm or toxic slime or magic beans or ghost pills…
sunprint paper— as always, a fun little novelty and a good opening to talk about the science of sunlight.
small building sets— Playmobil, Lego, etc. often have mini-project grab-bags for a good price around the holidays.
*Ostheimer-style figures— look around online or in a natural toys catalog for inspiration, then grab a jigsaw and see what you can do. It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if you portray a favorite animal, because it’s driven by imagination anyway.
Play house accessories— doll clothes, felt food, dollhouse furniture, play tools, mini spray-bottles, whatever the kid in question is into.
For concrete operationalists (ages 7-10):
glow sticks— whether they save them for the next summer’s drive-in movies or make a Boxing Day alien autopsy movie in the living room, there’s always a use for glow sticks, and you can buy them cheaply at the dollar store!
field guides— look at your local used book store or library book sale for a field guide to wildflowers, butterflies, minerals and gems, or whatever the kid in question always seems to need to know more about. Pocket field guides are the perfect size for a stocking!
temporary tattoo paper/*henna kit— a great gift for the kid who is already planning their 18th-birthday tat or needs even more ways to dress up for parties.
Japanese puzzle erasers— you can get them for about $1/each, and they are cute and functional. Kids this age love to collect and trade, too!
*small notebooks or journals— for secret thoughts, big plans, or just writing notes
stapler and staples, tape, scissors— the age-appropriate upgrades to the creation station, art table, or mini home office.
craft kit— a basic sewing/mending kit or an intro-to-knitting kit are great for this age, as are friendship bracelets, pin looms, beading kits, etc.
*tote bag— some kids this age are defined by their stuff– they need to organize it, secure it, travel with it, whatever, and a tote bag is a great, basic way to do all that.
pocket microscope— for the kid who wants to identify sub-species of ant or is always wondering what the inside of leaves look like, this is a perfect, stocking-sized upgrade to the magnifying glass.
magic trick— see what introductory tricks your local magic shop recommends– kids this age are finally ready to start learning some showmanship and they love feeling like they’ve outsmarted others!
book— “pocket” paperbacks are a great fit for most stockings. Kids this age usually love adventure novels, sci-fi, and fantasy. A book of jokes or a foreign language phrasebook could be great for the right kid, too!
origami paper— it’s pretty and versatile (it’s good for much more than origami), and it will spark creativity.
watercolor paints— the nicer kind that comes in little tubes is ideal for kids this age, and they’re still usually pretty cheap.
*jewelry— kids this age love fancier stuff, and a lot of it can still be affordable enough to be practical, such as a pendant on a ribbon, birthstone earrings, or bangles.
*pinback buttons— whether they have favorite characters, are themed for favorite holidays/seasons, or are just a cute typography of the child’s name.
*novelty keychains— tiny flashlights, a decorative initial, a pony-bead animal…so many possibilities here.
card/dice games— whether they play by themselves, with friends, or at family game night, this is a great fit for both stockings and older kids.
*coordination toys— yo-yos, diabolos, jacks, marbles, and jump ropes are all great for kids this age.
Mad Libs or single issue of kids’ magazine— a great way to make reading fun and approachable, even for early readers.
clay or modeling clay— for kids who have graduated from play-dough.
collapsible or transforming anything— collapsible drinking cups can be found with camping supplies.
For tweens and teens:
earbuds— easily lost or broken over the course of a year, and pretty cheap to replace. Older teens might be ready for a high-quality pair that’s meant to last.
temporary hair dye/hair color spray/hair chalks— tweens and teens are all about decorating themselves, and this is a fun way for them to experiment without committing.
washi tape— a versatile and fun craft supply that makes great décor and personalization touches, it’s ideal for teens and tweens
*clothing embellishments— iron-on patches, hot-fix spikes or rhinestones, or just a pack of big safety pins can delight a punk-aligned teenager, although they will probably be too cool to show it.
*zip-up pouches— whether for makeup storage or organizing pencils, somehow young adults never have enough smallish, zip-up bags and containers.
*makeup and makeup tools—you can make simple makeup at home, but even the most sensitive-skinned brand snob will need supplies, and the local beauty supply store can have great deals on brushes, eyelash curlers, sponges, etc.
gel pens and black paper— tweens love novelty school and office supplies for sending notes to each other and personalizing their spaces and belongings.
small journal or diary, preferably with lock— it doesn’t matter how cheap and easily-defeated the lock is, a tween will still appreciate it.
embroidery floss for friendship bracelets— even jaded, consumerist tweens love doing little crafts like friendship bracelets, and most older teens would be happy to continue exchanging little handmade tokens with their friends.
polymer clay or cold porcelain— for the tween or teen who has outgrown modeling clay or wants something easier than natural clay.
*amigurumi— there are free patterns for virtually any character, animal, or interest. If you’re not crafty, you could still put together a kit for your teen or tween to make it themselves.
*accessories— a teenager’s need to play the fashion game can be met with a minimum of expense and trouble if they have a sizable and frequently-refreshed collection of accessories such as belts, hats, fashion jewelry, hair accessories, infinity scarves, etc.
*personal care products— teenagers are all about grooming. Indulge them with moisturizer, bath salts, lip balm, shave soap, or whatever they might need. Trial or travel sized goods are perfect for stockings and will help young adults figure out what works for them.
*favorite snack foods— if there’s any particular treat they love and you don’t like, or can’t understand, or normally refuse to pay for/make, slipping a few into their stocking is a great way to show that you love them.
novelty flash drive— for transferring term papers from home computers to school computers, sharing pics with friends, downloading movies to take to grandma’s 20th-century historical re-enactment (aka her house), or whatever, a fun flash drive is a must-have.
*monogrammed stationary— a fun, grown-up present for a teenager who loves all things personalized
calligraphy supplies— some teens pride themselves on the beauty of their handwriting, or the sophisticated ease of their doodling, or want to feel more connected to their Asian heritage. A couple pens and some ink is a great way to try out calligraphy before committing to a big expensive set.
CD/DVD/iTunes gift card— used CDs and DVDs are cheap and a great way for a young adult to start building their own media library. If you can’t find anything they like in a physical copy, you can put a little money towards their own digital purchases instead.
nicer, “grown-up” supplies for their handcraft of choice— whether it’s a nice pair of bamboo needles for a knitter, a little book of watercolor paper for a painter, a few remnants of silk for a sewist, a multi-needle punch for a felter, a couple fat quarters for a quilter, or something else entirely, a little investment in their interest now is a message that you believe in their talents and skills.
office/art/craft supplies— whichever ones they are always borrowing and forgetting to put back (sticky notes, nice sharp scissors, novelty hole punch, etc.)
gift cards to local food shops— ice cream parlors, smoothie stands, pretzel stands, candy shops, or whatever you have in your area, in small denominations. Check the mall food court for ideas if you’re not sure. This one is great because you’re basically giving them a chance to hang out with their friends.
*phone accessories— headsets, cases, car chargers, plugs/dust excluders, charms–we all know how teenagers live on their phones!
public transit passes/all-day-fare tickets— the gift of transport and independence, great for tweens and teens in a metro area
car wash vouchers— really a gift for you (if your teen doesn’t have their own car), but most teens are desperate for any chance to drive the car, even through the car wash, so they’ll like it, too
books— most teens have a favorite YA/pulp paperback author or series, such as Discworld, but if not, this is a great opportunity to introduce them to yours. Teens also like banned books!
grown-up coloring book— this is a great trend, whether your teen likes it or “likes” it
gift card— for their favorite coffee shop or other small indulgence
*consumable goods— especially nice soap or shave soap
*hair accessories— everyone always needs more hair elastics, bobby pins, etc. because the little stuff like that is always getting lost
*keyrings/fobs or luggage tags—especially with their monogram or a favorite character or theme
*artisan chocolate— the Thanksgiving or Halloween clearance is a great way to pick up a couple little things that are still delicious, even if technically the snowflakes are would have been more seasonally-appropriate than the acorns.
*bottle of micro-brew beer or gourmet soda— Jones or Dry soda are my personal favorites, but check your local supermarket and ethnic stores (Jarritos come in some pretty wacky but delicious flavors!)
*cold-weather accessories— most adults suck at self-care. Make sure they have a warm hat, gloves, mitts, scarf, cowl, slippers…
socks or underwear— if you know their favorite kind, it is perfectly acceptable to buy socks or underwear for the stocking of an adult
*photo art or memory art—especially featuring their kids, grandkids, or pets
*shot glasses— plain glasses are cheap and it’s easy to DIY them into something amazing and personal– but it would be tough to fit most stemware into a stocking. A shot glass or two, or maybe a single tumbler, is the way to go for stockings.
liquor minis— if their favorite alcohol is too expensive to buy often, you can still likely get a mini of it for a very reasonable price.
*coin purse or pouch— especially people who carry purses or handbags tend to get a bit disorganized and could use more little secure containers, regardless of their system for coins.
*billfold or wallet— even the perfect wallet wears out, and you can easily and cheaply replace them with DIY options
sealing wax and signet— a great, low-cost present for the antiquarian, the anachronistic, the steampunk aficionado, or just the perpetual host or avid papercrafter
multi-tool— some people need all the help they can get perfecting their EDC.
*small puzzle or brain teaser— everyone likes a challenge, and everyone likes a toy, no matter how old or “grown up” they are
novelty standard card deck— whether they love flowers or baseball or Star Trek TOS, you can probably pick up a card deck that caters to them for a reasonable price.
*desk toy or fidget— mini zen garden, stress ball, worry dolls, paper construction set, or a magnetic sculpture of paper clips, everyone needs something to play with to help them work
old photograph of them— choose one from 10+ years ago that evokes a special memory or looks like it has a story behind it. This is especially great for elders, because it’s basically an opportunity to reminisce for an audience.
Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.
Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:
Tea towels. The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out. I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
Coat for Númenor. Another year, another coat. This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use. I might draft my own pattern.
Hoodie for Númenor. Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
Twin-size comforter for Ithilien. In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night. At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife. I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it. The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones. But it’ll be warm regardless.
“What Lives Here?” picture book. This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time. The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives. I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there. It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien. I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus. How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
Autumn leaf babies. If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies. I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves. I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
Altoid tin boredom busters. We recently inherited a big box of mint tins. They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything. So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
More petticoats for myself. Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
Halloween costumes. This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry. Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.
What about you? What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?
Some classic children’s books aren’t necessarily uplifting to read, like Mary Poppins (spoiler alert: in case you don’t know, the Disney version of the character is sugary-sweet by comparison to the real MP). Some classic children’s books are problematic due to racism or sexism or imperialism, like…well, anything written by Rudyard Kipling. Some classic children’s books are difficult to read aloud because of language or dialect issues, like The Wind in the Willows. Some require a LOT of background information, so much so that to read them to a modern child is to give line-by-line commentary, such as the Little House series or the All of a Kind Family series.
And some classic children’s books are every bit as sweet and charming and relate-able as you remembered from your own childhood, like Winnie-the-Pooh.
Here are a handful of vignettes from the classic books about the stuffed animals that live in a fictionalized version of Ashdown Forest that have become part of our personal Darmok in the Surton household:
1. “Really as blue and as bracing.” We use this phrase to mean “it was all it was cracked up to be” or “it was even more wonderful than I expected/remembered”.
Piglet wasn’t listening, he was so agog at the thought of seeing Christopher Robin’s blue braces again. He had only seen them once before, when he was much younger, and, being a little over-excited by them, had had to go to bed half an hour earlier than usual; and he had always wondered since if they were really as blue and as bracing as he had thought them.
2. “French word meaning bonhommy.” An exclamatory phrase used to explain that a word or phrase is difficult to define or untranslatable, or is so obvious a cognate or etymology that it stands for itself. Eeyore is perhaps the oldest inhabitant in the forest; he has the sarcastic and cynical attitude of a teenager at least, whereas the other characters behave like little kids. When the other animals forget Eeyore’s birthday and he is trying to get Pooh to ask why he’s upset, he is in rare form.
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”
“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily. “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained. “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”
3. “Aha!” The other animals kidnap baby Roo and leave Piglet in his place. Piglet tries desperately to carry out Rabbit’s plan (everyone would say aha! to Kanga so she understands that Roo has been kidnapped and will only be given back once she agrees to leave the forest forever). We use this phrase, and its repetition, to indicate that a Cunning Plan has come to fruition and we want other people to notice.
“Aha!” said Piglet, as well as he could after his Terrifying Journey. But it wasn’t a very good “Aha!” and Kanga didn’t seem to understand what it meant.
“Bath first,” said Kanga in a cheerful voice.
“Aha!” said Piglet again, looking round anxiously for the others. But the others weren’t there.
4. “I think the bees suspect something.” From one of Pooh’s most famous escapades, in which he dresses up as a cloud and rides a balloon up into the sky next to a beehive in an attempt to steal some honey. We use this phrase pretty much exactly as Pooh did– for indicating that someone has caught on.
After a little while, [Pooh] called down…
“I think the bees suspect something!”
“What sort of thing?”
“I don’t know. But something tells me that they’re suspicious!”
“Perhaps they think that you’re after their honey.”
“It may be that. You never can tell with bees.”
5. “Spotted or Herbaceous Backson.” A phrase used to stand in place of bullshitting. Poor Owl, who can’t really read or write but is far too proud to admit it, is presented with a note from Christopher Robin, who is just learning to write (“Gon out, backson. Bisy, backson. C.R.”), and tries to pretend he can both read and understand it.
“It is quite clear what has happened, my dear Rabbit,” he said. “Christopher Robin has gone out somewhere with Backson. He and Backson are busy together. Have you seen a Backson anywhere about in the Forest lately?”
“I don’t know,” said Rabbit. “That’s what I came to ask you. What are they like?”
“Well,” said Owl, “the Spotted or Herbaceous Backson is just a–”
“At least,” he said, “it’s really more of a–”
“Of course,” he said, “it depends on the–”
“Well,” said Owl, “the fact is,” he said, “I don’t know what they’re like,” said Owl frankly.
Many happy returns, silly old bear!
*While A A Milne wrote several stories and poems about childhood and his young son and even Edward Bear in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the first story about Winnie-the-Pooh was published in the Christmas Eve edition of a newspaper in 1925.
It’s not my strong suit, especially when it comes to expectations for myself and my creative works.
I like to aim high and be profoundly disappointed in myself when I am, inevitably, not capable of being some unholy amalgam of Ma Ingalls, Maria Montessori, and the Yarn Harlot.
I’ve been watching the weeks tick by with shocking speed and looking at the dwindling but still ambitious nesting list and getting more and more frustrated with myself for not inventing a Time Turner and spending all my doubled days knitting and sewing and deep-cleaning the house.
So, in the interests of realism, here’s the list of things from the nesting list that I would most like to finish in the remaining time before the baby comes. I’ve allotted myself one project per week until Christmas, because I know that there will be other things (like gift making for the extended family and baking bread and playing with my children) that will crop up as I try to go about my business.
Top-Priority Nesting List for the Next Six Weeks
nursing pillow cover— I have a new, experimental nursing pillow. I designed it myself after years of struggling with commercially-available options that were either awkward to use, impossible to fit around a pregnant belly, or simply not tall enough for me. But it needs a water-resistant cover because babies are leaky and it is filled with buckwheat hulls.
winter boots for Númenor and Ithilien— For years, we were devotees of Stonz booties, but my children have now outgrown their XL size, and I wasn’t very impressed with the redesigned versions anyway. So this winter, they need new boots for snow and slush purposes.
winter bear bunting– This is one of the things that I added to the nesting list in a panic about having a newborn in the depths of winter and not being able to simply withdraw from the outside world like I did when Ithilien was born. Babies need warmth!
dyeing for my petticoats and the faux Victorian gown– Simply put, dyework is NOT something I’m going to be able to do with a newborn in tow. Whether I actually get these projects sewn up and finished is another issue, but the dyeing at least needs to be done before the baby comes.
Balmoral bootikins– I’m not sure what size these will turn out to be, so it’s important to finish them before the baby outgrows newborn-size things.
crib– This is truly the centerpiece of the baby’s space. Baby clothes will be stored in baskets underneath it, the mobile may need to be re-positioned over it, wall décor will need to move around to accommodate it, and I haven’t quite figured out how or whether I’ll be able to put a dust ruffle on it. So much depends on having it finished that it’s really not optional.
I may not be posting much as I try to get these things finished, since some of them are sure to take more than a week and I might be interrupted at any moment.
But I’m out there, somewhere, wishing I knew the charms and incantations necessary to be in two places at once.
This afternoon, my family took a moment to celebrate. Full-voice whoops of excitement, high fives and tens all around, jumping and spontaneously dancing to no music at all, running around in circles at high speed. We had just done a dry-run install of the baby‘s car seat, and found a way to get a safe and correct install of all three kids’ seats in the back of our entry-level sedan.
And yes, it absolutely is a red-letter day.
This is what my life has come to.
So, I made a list of similar occurrences. Because lists are a major part of how I cope, obviously.
Major but Trivial-Sounding Victories of Our Early Parenting Years:
Númenor’s feet were finally long enough that storebought newborn socks didn’t have ridiculous-looking empty heels flopping around halfway up his calf.
I found a stain-fighting solution that took out Númenor’s iron supplement.
Ithilien slept through the garbage trucks coming down our street.
I modified a recipe for a breakfast cookie so that it met all my criteria for a young toddler’s diet and didn’t taste like crap to me, either.
Númenor and Ithilien sat through a whole Chekov play without being disruptive.
I said “Well, it’s up to you.” and I meant it.
Ithilien decided that yes, sitting on your butt and scooting down the stairs WAS something that he could survive.
Númenor went a whole week with the same sheets on his bed.
Ithilien didn’t mind that his orange shirt with the monster on it was now too small for him and wanted to make sure we would put it into storage until the baby was big enough to wear it.
Númenor “read” a book to Ithilien so I could take a quick shower, and they were still “reading” together when I got back.
Ithilien spent a whole car ride talking about the interesting things outside his window instead of screaming hysterically for unknown reasons.
We invented the high-pitch OR high-volume rule.
Númenor chose to go back to his own bed in the middle of the night instead of coming into our bed.
Ithilien let me brush his hair, even though he had some tangles that needed working out.
I found a way to fit both small beds into the nursery in yet another house.
Númenor turned off the nature documentary he was watching and went outside to play.
Ithilien put his dishes in the sink immediately after he finished eating.
Númenor sat still while I dug a deep and painful splinter out of his foot.
Ithililen asked for more salad.
Númenor said “Can it be bedtime now? I am tired.”
It really is the little things that make life worth living, isn’t it?
This space has gone a bit quiet lately because we’ve all been so busy making ready: ready for the last fleeting moments of summer, for the coming academic year, for the new baby, for the building and practicing and learning we will occupy ourselves with when the rains move in.
So many baby things are flying off my needles these days, for our newbie and for others. Robert has been working on our crib, and giving the chicken yard and henhouse some desperately-needed updates. The smalls have been doing everything and nothing in that fantastic way peculiar to children in the summer.
While Robert took a rest by himself this afternoon, the smalls and I talked about what we absolutely MUST still do:
You never, ever sleep alone, or a full night. How would you know it was 3am if somebody hadn’t wet the bed? How would you know it was 4:30 unless somebody had snuggled in next to you and miraculously managed to occupy 85% of the bed with a body 25% the size of yours?
Every meal is worse than water torture. Forget getting them to eat the damn food, how about deciding what to make for them– when making plain pasta is UNACCEPTABLE and making sauced pasta is UNTHINKABLE and presenting them with either dish a personal insult, what is it that they want us to do? How about bribing/threatening/manipulating/whatevering them into letting you prepare what they’ve demanded in peace, if they ever do decide on a single demand?
Your war cry is “Just a minute!” They want fifteen totally contradictory things, surrender is not an option, and you’re just trying to get through the hour without having your head explode when they suddenly barrel in out of nowhere, shrieking and crying at you in the resonant frequency of your skeleton, and you know full well that they will show you no mercy if you ask them to slow down or start over.
Reason is not an option. No, they don’t understand that if they would just hold still you would be done by now. They don’t seem to hear you when you say that violence begets violence and remind them to use their words, and then they somehow conjure up surprise when they are in pain.
And yet, you are expected to know the explanation for everything. “What does ‘solitary’ mean?” “Why do birds have feathers?” “What do tarantulas eat?” “Why are oil molecules slippery?” “Why do they call it ‘French’?” “What kind of spider is that?” “What is that dog’s name?” “Why are rocks hard?”
You have memorized what tracks of what CDs are “robot songs” or “hey! songs” or “na-na-na songs.” You are secretly pleased that they like “Hey Jude” and “What I Like About You”, but you’re kind of embarrassed that they know so many words to “Domo Arigato Mister Roboto,” and you really hope they never sing “Centerfold” at Grandma’s house.
Movie nights are an unparalleled source of déjà vu. Yes, they want to watch it again. Even though they just watched it yesterday. Even though they can recite every line. Even though the songs have been stuck in your head for three months.
You don’t bother to guess what artwork is supposed to be. To you, it’s clearly a scribble surrounded by irregular boxes, but this is a heretical thing to suggest to the beaming illustrator of, apparently, a Star Destroyer attacking a baby echidna in a robot suit with the laser guns going pew pew pew and a spider web catching the laser blasts so they can be recycled at the depot and made into force fields red force fields.
All of your household rules can be expressed in pithy soundbites, the better for yelling across the playground like an idiot. “Be gentle and kind!” “It’s his body, so he gets to decide!” “Everyone has their own imagination!” “If you don’t have consent, it’s not a game!” “Use your words, and then get help!”
Sometimes, when you give advice, they listen. Maude and all the Golden Girls be praised, y’all, it’s a Bastille Day Miracle!
Getting into the car seems to take every muscle in your back and most of an hour. Address nudity, send to the toilet, help with shoes, maintain pace and stay on target, unlock door, demonstrate how to open door, wait, lift child, bend over, buckle, buckle, buckle, check shoes, check provisions and possessions, distribute car toys, defuse fighting over car toys, get in car, buckle, start engine, “rocket ship blasting off” countdown, drive away.
You no longer understand comedy.
They say: “Knock knock.”
You say: “Who’s there?”
They say: “Chicken walking across the road.”
You say: “Chicken walking across the road who?”
No answer, just hysterical, rolling-around-on-floor laughing.
What. Just. Happened.
History doesn’t seem to be the way you remember it. “When I was a baby, I just went into the ocean with my robot swimsuit submarine and saw a shark and I said ‘good mornden, shark, I want to be your friend’ and the shark said ‘no I will eat you’ and then I was eated up and I died.” — Ithilien, apparently still alive and uneaten
Context is a luxury. “Remember when we saw a movie at the drive-in lasted night, with the many women and the one woman growing a baby and one woman with black eyes and the white men driving-racing with a truck with monster-truck wheels and all fire and a sand cave full of ice and sand and there was an explosion?” –Númenor, describing Mad Max: Fury Road, which we saw six weeks prior
It’s a sacred and awe-inspiring occupation. Every day is a fresh adventure, and they learn and change so fast you can barely keep up, but they still need their scrapes and bruises kissed and want to snuggle when they are tired. They have sweet, baby-round cheeks, and long, strong limbs that carry them far and fast. They worry about impossible things (like teddy bears coming to life and starving because they have only stuffing and no digestive organs) and inevitable things (like their own death). They have tiny, mad, whirring, working minds, and the verbal skills to let you peek under the hood. They love to give presents and have parties and prepare for holidays months in advance. They tell you they love you, and they mean it.
Lately I’ve seen several blogposts about taking away your children’s toys, and how much they benefit from the freedom and lack of distraction and clutter.
But I’ve noticed that nobody actually takes away ALL their children’s toys. And for good reason! Play is the work of childhood, for one thing, but more importantly, where would you stop? Cardboard boxes are toys. Craft supplies, board games, playing cards, books, sticks, rocks, recycling materials, pillows, and furniture can all be part of a game, too.
Obviously there is wisdom in limiting the playthings available to a child to what they can reasonably use and enjoy– too many toys cause chaos and clutter instead of fostering learning– but I don’t think it’s really necessary (or desirable!) to take ALL, or even most, of a child’s toys away.
Instead of taking things away, I focus on having the best things in the first place. But that presents a problem of definition: how do you tell if a toy is really the best it could be? Is it about carbon footprint? Price? Ethical manufacture? Subject? Do you follow Montessori guidelines? Waldorf? Froebel? What about that pesky cardboard box?
Robert talks about measuring the usefulness of toys in milisticks (one-thousandth the usefulness of a stick), as if you could calculate such a number.
I once tried to make a list of Platonic ideal toys, not unlike Friedrich Froebel’s list of gifts:
The stick about as long as your arm and two fingers thick (toy swords, magic wands, hobby horses, and fishing poles also fall into this category).
The collection of smooth pebbles that each fit nicely in the palm of your hand (marbles, small beanbags, little wooden figures).
The piece of string about as long as your armspan (dress-up belt, horse reigns, garland, necklace, clothesline).
The bit of wood about the size of your hand (the toy car, the bathtub boat, building blocks, play food, small board books).
The scarf big enough to wear as a cape (dress-up cape, doll blanket, fort-building sheet, bag).
The box just big enough to sit inside (rocket ship, car, cave, fort).
The avatar (doll, action figure).
But then how many of each is appropriate? And is that really an exhaustive list? And is there an advantage to differentiation– is it better to have a wheeled car AND a bathtub boat rather than just a block of wood that you could pretend is either a car or boat?
After a few years of trying to verbalize what the difference was between toys that were “good”(perennial favorites with the smalls, pleasing to me) and those that were gimmicky or just not well-designed, I finally came up with a satisfactory method for screening our collection. All our toys have to have SOUL.
Playthings should be:
Simple: A minimum of fuss, function, and automation. Ease of production, repair, and disposal should also be considered.
Operational: No missing parts, not broken, not too complicated for the children to use at their current stage of development, not too dangerous/limited for use in the area where it is found.
Useful: Strengthens a necessary skill through play (e.g., lacing cards, button snake), or provides an outlet to explore something of unlimited interest (e.g., dolls), or can be used in infinite ways (e.g., blocks, marbles).
Loved: If your child wouldn’t miss it, your child doesn’t need it.
Simple. Operational. Useful. Loved. SOUL.
Yes, sometimes they talk about wanting a specific toy. They aren’t often exposed to ads and we don’t go to toy stores or toy departments (talk about a mecca of the pink/blue dichotomy), so this usually takes the form of Númenor rattling off a list of specifications for a hypothetical toy he would like to have. My answer is always the same: How can you make a toy like that for yourself? Sometimes I offer suggestions for materials or offer to help him design or build. Sometimes it’s as simple as pretending one of the simpler toys we have already has those advanced features (lights up, fires lasers, etc.) with the help of sound effects.
Yes, we do limit toys coming into the house. We ask for very specific things for the children for gift-giving occasions, only about half of which are toys, and we intercept and donate or return unacceptable things before they are added to our collection.
Yes, I do sometimes pick up the toys for my children. But more than 90% of the time, we work together to do it or I supervise while they do it. We have built the habit of helping to put their own things away correctly and cheerfully since they were babies, and now it is second nature and I only have to step in when a tantrum or an unexpectedly early bedtime interrupts the usual night routine.
Yes, sometimes my children do squabble over turn-taking related to toys– but sometimes they squabble over turn-taking for sticks, rocks, or bits of recycling they have made into playthings. Anyone who tells you that their kids never fight about turn-taking now that they don’t have storebought toys is being less than truthful or has alien podlings instead of human children.
Yes, every few months we rotate the toys that we have out, and as part of that rotation, we pull out toys that are outgrown, broken, or don’t adhere to the SOUL criteria. But I don’t feel burdened by using half an hour of my time every three months and couple of 18-gallon storage containers in our garage to make our toy collection manageable.
Obviously, as with all parenting advice, this is simply what works for us, and it might not work as well (or at all!) for other families.
The soft mice and their sleeping bag were handmade by a member of my extended family, the train is from Melissa & Doug, the rods and connectors are Tinkertoys, and Bitey the plastic shark (currently Ithilien’s favorite toy) was a gift.