Tag Archives: what works for us

WIP Wednesday (only slightly delayed)

start date: 19 May 2017
time elapsed: 6 days
completeness: 50%

Last summer, in a fit of pique, I tried to resign myself to doing shoes for the smalls the conventional way.

I was frustrated with my inability to make a shoe that stayed on Númenor’s foot, and I was out of the natural rubber soling material I use for all-purpose shoes anyway, so I gave in and bought shoes for the smalls.  Or at least I tried to.

I went to the websites where I normally buy shoes for Robert and myself.  I tried the vendors I’ve been hoping to win a pair from but couldn’t really afford, assuming their kids’ shoes would be cheaper.  I tried the brands I’d heard were for hippies.  None of them had acceptable shoes for children.  Several brands didn’t have kids’ sizes at all, a couple had adult sizes and baby booties but no shoes for children, and the few that had shoes in the right sizes for my kids were so aggressively gendered I couldn’t find anything I would consent to buy, much less anything my funky, post-gender kids were interested in.

So I finally just bought some cheap crap on Zulily.  And the smalls loved the way their “storebought shoes” looked, but they were stiff-soled and uncomfortable to wear, and the sneakers took too much work to get on and off, and they couldn’t be laundered, and one of the pairs of shoes I bought after trying my hardest to find things that passed the minimum standard STILL came with a California Prop 65 warning.

And now, 8 months in, the sneakers are worn through in the toes and aglets.  The flats still look okay, but they don’t have much time left in the toes, either.

So, to review:

Homemade Shoes

Pros: cheap, recycled/recyclable, easy to mend, washable, biodegradable, uses fabric scraps, custom, ergonomic, unique, sweatshop-free

Cons: time-consuming to make, time-consuming to repair, tend to slip off Númenor’s feet, last 4-10 months

Storebought Shoes

Pros: fast, novelty materials (glitter fabric, etc.), secure on the foot, reusable/recyclable boxes

Cons: non-biodegradable, produced with fossil fuels, assembled by slave labor, MUCH more expensive than homemade, produced by the thousands or millions, difficult for smalls to use without help, stiff soles, narrow footbed, cause cancer or reproductive harm, difficult to clean, nearly impossible to repair, packaged in unnecessary plastic, last about 8-10 months

And so, here I am making new shoes for the smalls at home again.

But in the intervening time, I came to a couple new conclusions: first, I only want shoes for the smalls to last less than a year at this point because they grow so fast, that’s about the lifespan of footwear for them anyway.  Second: I have been causing myself unnecessary grief using western-style shoes and a storebought pattern.

This time I’m trying a new approach: breech moccasins from a custom pattern I drafted from a water-resist impression of Númenor’s actual feet.  The toebox is nice and wide, and the soles are natural rubber crepe, cushioned with a layer of wool blanket and lined with a scrap of cotton muslin.  The uppers are sewn together from the few usable bits of an old pair of Robert’s twill pants and hand embroidered in variegated cotton floss.  They are designed to be lightweight on the foot and flexible, while still giving moderate protection from rough terrain and the elements.

So far, I love them.  They should stand up well, and be easy to mend and patch for a few months, and then, probably at the end of next fall or in the spring, they’ll be ready for the wadding bin.


The skull-print muslin is Blackbeard Skull in Black from the “Blackbeard’s Pirates” collection by Riley Blake Designs.

No Tooth Fairy Needed

I am honest with my children.

Always.

No matter what.

It’s difficult.  It means sitting with a lot of uncomfortable truths.  It means prefacing a lot of statements with “I think” or “basically.” It means admitting to my own ignorance and failings more often than my ego would prefer.

It also means we don’t do those childhood myths designed to scare or haze children: no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Sugar Sprite, no Boogeyman, and no Tooth Fairy.

We do preserve the parts of those traditions that are important or fun, because growing up is significant and life should be fun, but there’s no fanciful explanation for it.  My kids know that Robert hides the Easter eggs, that I make the majority of their Christmas presents, and that the house takes a cut of their Halloween candy action (which is only fair, since we supply transportation, room and board, and attire).

And most of the time I feel like it’s magic enough to have a loving and stable family,a safe home, and a beautiful world to explore.

But for some reason, when I looked in Númenor’s mouth a few months ago and saw two VERY loose front bottom teeth and the permanent teeth already erupting under them, I felt a little tug of sadness about the fact that our house is a Tooth Fairy No-Fly Zone.  I worried, just a little, that somehow this milestone wouldn’t be as important or as marked as it should be.

So I thought about how we should shape our family traditions as we turned this new corner.  Here’s what I came up with.

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Some practical equipment, namely toothpaste.  Until now our smalls have been brushing their teeth with just water, which works fine, but we want to be extra-careful with those new permanent teeth coming in because they have to last.  So now Númenor has his own little pot of baking soda, bentonite clay, and coconut oil to help him clean and polish.

A special gift for this special first tooth, in this case, the A-frame play tent I’ve been planning.  There will probably be a special gift for the last tooth, too, when we get there.

Two tiny bits of tradition: a tooth traded for a gold coin, and a special place for the dead drop.  The trade is the magical part, and the pocket money is the bit kids actually care about.

This is the beginning of the end of the little-kid parenting in our family.  Now that those first teeth have dropped, Númenor is just a regular kid, no longer a little kid.  There are still others coming up the ranks, of course, but we will have one child who is too old to be called little anymore.

Which is equal parts frightening and wonderful.

And plenty magical.

Toys with SOUL

Lately I’ve seen several blog posts 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.

handmade soft mouse toys and sleeping bag

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.

wooden train built from colorful blocks

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).

Númenor assembling a tinkertoy creation

Loved: If your child wouldn’t miss it, your child doesn’t need it.

Ithilien with his favorite toy, "Bitey" the plastic shark

Simple.  Operational.  Useful.  Loved.  SOUL.

Full disclosure:

  • 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.