Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Toy explosion

This is my fourth Christmas since having my son, and I thought I'd become used to the fact that the influx of toys (including his birthday presents) meant some major reorganisation.  I even prepared a little in advance for it this year, buying a bunch of fabric baskets and making plans for where I could put new storage units.

What I failed to grasp was that having two children was going to make the chaos that much worse.  I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I haven't even touched it yet, since I've been too busy trying to find a place for everything new!

In retrospect, I should probably have taken this into account when drawing up the children's Amazon wishlists (with most of our family abroad, this is the easiest way for them to send gifts).  With my daughter in particular, I felt she didn't need many baby toys, because she'd inherited all of her brother's.  So I focused on other things that she would get some enjoyment out of now but would have more value as she grew older.  For example, the crawl-through tunnel.  She adores tunnels, and this is something that both children will be able to play with for years to come.

Downside of this is that such presents tend to be large.  The tunnel might fold down flat, but it's not exactly something I can put on a shelf!

Still, it's been fun.  I've gone a little stir-crazy at times, but it's been fun playing with everything, and I'm definitely making progress with where everything's going now.

One benefit to the reorganisation chaos is that we've had a lot of empty storage tubs floating around, and I've been able to observe my daughter spontaneously and happily transferring toys from one tub to another on several occasions (also, posting her little playpeople through the handles).  That's a fun little milestone!

Today it finally occurred to me to use this activity to my advantage, and I put an empty bin by the table where we have our Fisher Price nativity set.  My daughter likes to take Mary, Joseph et al and drop them one by one onto the floor before scooting off to the next interest.  I'm hoping that she'll start dropping them in the tub instead.  Best case scenario: once they're all collected in the tub (instead of skidding across the hardwood floor), she might then put them back on the table.  Otherwise, at least they won't be strewn across the floor.

One thing I always tell people is that they don't have to stick to the wishlist.  I love putting it together, researching the kind of toys I value and know how to get the most out of, but I don't want my children to miss out on something because I hadn't seen it or didn't think much of it.  One of my big beliefs is in multiple adult influences; I'm the primary caregiver, the guiding voice, but I want my children to be exposed to several points of view.

The drawback of my principles is that after every Christmas / birthday, I always have to deal with the fact that my children have received toys that I consider a complete waste of space.  I have very firm views on what does and doesn't constitute a good toy (as I expect most parents do), so it's a struggle to see the kids playing with something that makes me wince.

Still, however much I might hate it, the kids generally love it, and I don't want to over-rule them about toys unless it's something that I genuinely consider morally objectionable (hasn't happened yet, though I suppose it might do as they get older).

Case in point, the Big Loader.  This is a bit of a cheat, as I don't really hate the toy, but this was one my husband picked out, so he knows my objections to it already, and thus I'm free to make them public.

Anyway, my husband had this toy as a child, and he was suddenly reminded of it shortly before Christmas.  He promptly bought it for our son, despite my objections that we already had presents for him.  It's a fascinating little toy, but it's entirely motorised.  You switch it on and watch it.  I felt that at this age, our son was better served with toys that he could push around the track, not to mention the small parts problem with a mobile and curious baby.

My fears proved fully justified as one of the first things my son did once he figured out the on/off switch was to turn it off and carefully manoeuvre the vehicle through the complete cycle by hand (something that it's not designed for, which means a lot of dropped balls).  Meanwhile, whenever it's out, I spend half my time hauling my daughter away from it, and how we haven't lost one of the smaller-than-a-marble balls by this time, I don't know.

On the other hand, my son loves it.  My husband gets a kick out of playing it with him.  Also, this is one toy that my husband picked out himself, something that he doesn't get to do very often, and this is the wrong season to deny anybody the pleasure of giving.  And while the practicalities of it are causing me a great deal of stress, even I am hypnotised by the thing once it gets going.

In the end, they're having fun and that's the main thing.  I don't want to confine my children to my view of appropriate play, so even though I'm a dyed in the wool toy snob, every toy we're given will be put out on the shelf to be played with.  I'll probably have to do a Goodwill run eventually, due to the sheer number of them now, but I'm determined not to give away anything they actually play with.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Week at Home

My son's school ended last week, and it hit me rather belatedly that I was going to have to look after both children by myself all day all this week.  The horror!

Actually, the surprise was that I wasn't afraid of it.  I had to do it in the summer, back when I was sleep deprived and unable to think straight.  I was miserable and convinced that I was failing as a mother.  But now my daughter is mobile and more independent, my son has got over his terrible twos, and I've caught up on my sleep, by and large. 

I was trying to think of different outings for every day, but this close to Christmas, we had too many errands to run.  Meanwhile, most of my son's friends have gone to spend Christmas with their extended families, and my husband was working late hours all week, so it was just me and the children a lot.

And it was absolutely fine.  On Monday, I took my daughter to her baby gym class, and brought my son along as well.  Knowing that the class would be significantly smaller than usual, I asked if he could sit in with us and was given the OK.  I warned him that this was gymtime for the babies and small toddlers, so he mustn't play rough.  I know that, on the whole, he's quite good at listening, and I was counting on his unfamiliarity with the place to inhibit him somewhat, but I was fully prepared to leave if it all went horribly wrong.

It didn't.  I can't describe how proud of him I was for playing nicely and listening to me.  There was one occasion when I had my hands full with my daughter and he started to climb on a trampoline that another toddler was using.  The rule was one child on the trampoline at a time, and I called to him that it wasn't his turn right now.  He promptly got off.   The girl helping to run the class was very impressed and got him a sticker.

Throughout the class, he behaved impeccably, having lots of fun with the equipment, but never hindering the smaller children nor demanding priority for himself.  I was so delighted with him for being responsible, for being at a social / emotional level where he could do that...  After a rough summer behaviour-wise, I didn't know he was there yet.  He's certainly not there all the time, but still.  It was kind of a first steps moment.

The toys from his birthday still have plenty of novelty value, which kept him more or less occupied at home.  I brought the rollercoaster back inside as well, largely for my daughter's sake.  Normally the rollercoaster sits on our front deck, but right now the front deck is being utilised for Christmas lights and is less baby-safe than usual.  Having it inside provides an extra focal point for both children.

I thought my daughter would enjoy scrambling over the track, but she's actually more interested in riding it.  She can sit in the car and hold on while it goes down the track, although I don't dare leave her to it.  Instead I keep pace with the car, my hands inches away from her just in case, and stopping it myself.  Afterwards, she scrambles round to the front of the car and does her level best to push it back up.

That's the part that surprises me.  She can't quite do it yet, but she's trying and she knows what the point of getting it on track is, if her excitement is any indicator.  It's wonderful knowing that she actually likes riding the rollercoaster, but I'm more fascinated that she understands the sequence of events.

On the downside, she's spent the week fighting a cold and cutting her fourth tooth which has resulted in some very cranky afternoons.  Her brother can be set off by her crying, and there are few things I enjoy less than having to calm down two screaming children.

Still, on the whole, it's been a good week, one to make me wish I had both children at home more often.  Next week, the whole family's at home, which I am definitely looking forward to.  Maybe we'll actually get around to some of those day-trips.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

On not thinking nicknames through...

My daughter is a big baby.  She weighed 9lb 10oz at birth and has been over the 90th percentile for everything ever since. It's possible she might yet balance out, but all the signs are that she's going to stay tall with a proportionate build.

Her size has always baffled us to say the least.  I'm short and skinny (the one perk of my screwed up hormones), my husband is average erring on thin, my son is short...  We all have big heads, but you get the general family picture.  I have a couple of risk factors for gestational diabetes, but I passed my glucose tolerance test with flying colours.  Oh, and based on my daughter's every other physical attribute, we're quite certain there wasn't a mix-up of embryos.  She's most certainly the product of our genes, just... enlarged.

Whenever I thought of having a potential daughter, I imagined a dainty little girl.  Instead, we got a solid powerhouse who looked twice the size of the other babies in the hospital nursery.  As I said, I was baffled... but there was also a perverse part of me that was tickled to death.  One of the things that had always bothered me about raising a girl was how to avoid falling into gender-based expectations.  This girl was defying them from the start.

So I immediately dubbed her the "Crushinator", or "Our most beautiful robot daughter" as the less psychologically-scarring alternative.  This name has stuck around, being used with increasing affection over the past ten months.

Of course, the inevitable has happened: our son has started saying: "C'ushinator!"  Which is ridiculously cute, but in the long term, I think Little Miss Crushinator would prefer that we nipped this in the bud.  True, it's almost certain that she'll be bigger than her brother in just a few more years, but I'm guessing that won't help her feelings about the name.

It's not easy giving up a nickname... and my husband, being a Futurama fan, has grown quite attached to it.  But then I googled it while trying to see if Crushinator onesies exist, and I discovered that it has an urban dictionary definition that our daughter definitely won't thank us for!  So farewell, Crushinator, but you will always have a special place in our hearts.  And I would still totally buy the onesies if I ever found some.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Birthday Party!

We had a party for my son's third birthday this weekend (I am still adjusting to the thought that I have a three year old son...).  I spent weeks stressing about this and over-thinking it, because that's what I do.  Our problem was that he hadn't been invited to many parties which may or may not mean that our son is unpopular (OK, even I am not worrying about that this early), but it does mean that we didn't have much basis for comparison.

What are birthday parties like these days?  I remember when I was under five, the parties were all about games: pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs... do children still do that these days?  We strongly considered renting a room at the local inflatable play area, just so that we wouldn't have to worry.

In the end, I didn't like the way renting somewhere meant a lot of money, a fixed guest number and a specific time-slot.  I did like the way that having the party at home would mean that we were at home and able to talk to other parents, plus anything we bought for the party, we would get to keep!

Anyway, I didn't opt for party games, since it seemed like it would be a lot of work explaining the rules to two and three year olds.  Instead, I exploited my favourite parenting resource: my neighbour, whose son is in my son's class at school.  She had an inflatable pool.  We both had the Step 2 rollercoasters.  Target had a sale on 150 packs of fun balls.  So for one day, I was going to turn our living/dining room into our very own indoor playground.

For anybody wanting to try this at home... get a smaller pool.  We had 900 balls in that thing, and it still wasn't really enough.  The kids were young enough not to care, and they leapt off the sofas into that thing with no regard for their tailbones, but we either needed twice as many balls or a pool half the size.  Pro-tip: when emptying the pool, use a wastepaper basket or similar container to scoop the balls out.

Putting the two rollercoasters side by side worked surprisingly well.  I took out the stair pieces to get them closer together, which made it a little awkward with the kids' feet knocking against each other, but it was a very effective adaptation.  It allowed for races, and reduced the fighting over whose turn it was, but mostly the children got a kick out of being able to ride with another child.

I had been nervous that this wouldn't be enough so I had a few other toys that could be used in conjunction with them, an air cannon for the balls, cardboard blocks to build crash barriers for the rollercoasters and dancing scarves, just because.  These were completely unnecessary.  They all got played with at some point, but honestly, we'd have been fine with just the pool and the rollercoasters.

Actually, we'd have been fine with just the ball pool.
Ironically, the rollercoaster proved safer for my wandering daughter...
The biggest precaution I took was to eliminate any other toys from the living room (most got shoved in a box and shut in the study), and put the barrier across the stairs to prevent children wandering up to my son's bedroom and the toys there.   There were a few different reasons for this: I didn't want toys migrating into the pool which would lead to broken toys, punctured pool and injured children.

I also didn't want to complicate the cleanup.  It's one thing to have 900 balls strewn across the living room, it's quite another to have balls, pieces of train track, lego, play figures....  Actually, the children were surprisingly good about the balls.  I laid down a rule of not throwing the balls out of the pool.  I wasn't going to enforce it, but they obeyed.  We even managed to establish the habit of gathering escapee balls to throw back in, which was adopted by both children and parents.

Finally, I wanted to keep the children in the living room, so that we parents could sit on the sofas, supervise our offspring and chat amongst ourselves.  All of the parents were just brilliant in this regard.  Everybody was very laid back, but also on the spot about guiding children as needed (when we weren't playing with them ourselves).

Basically, I can highly recommend doing something like this.  We were quite lucky in what we were able to get hold of (having two rollercoasters at our disposal is going to be an unusual circumstance), but I suspect that most people can improvise something for the under five group, if you ask around your friends--if you have a summer party and can go outside, even better!  Changing the room around was a lot of effort for one afternoon, but it's just once a year and it was all the more fun because it was our room.

Of course, the children who don't usually visit our house are now convinced that our son has the best house ever, and are going to be sadly disappointed if they come over for playdates.  Meanwhile, I have started worrying about what we're going to do for his fourth birthday...