Friday, October 25, 2013

Lessons from Maria Montessori

Imagine a beautiful landscape.

Are you there?

Now imagine that you are holding a camera and a sketch pad. And that you are quite the artist.

Sketch what you see.

Now take a picture.


Finished? Beautiful. You really are a gifted artist.

Now take a look at your sketch and the picture. Put them side by side.


The sketch, no matter how talented you are (and you are, clearly), is - at best - a very accurate representation or impression of what you actually see before you. It is influenced by your vision, your perception, your experiences, your judgements, your feelings, your beliefs, your ignorance, your view of the world.

The picture is an exact reproduction. It has absolutely no frame of reference, just the frame of the lens.


Now consider this:

The sketch describes our experience as adults. We see the world through a series of filters. We have the ability to be selective about the information we absorb, and the information we ignore. We take information in differently depending on who we are, what we've experienced and how we're feeling. We frame everything into a context that makes sense for us.

The picture describes the way a child from the ages of 0-6 sees the world. No filters. No artistic license. Only one giant lens. They see, hear and feel it all. And I am not exaggerating. Almost on a daily basis, my daughter points things out to me that I would never have noticed on my own, describes things in terms that I would never have thought possible for her to understand. Because she's not trying to put each experience into a tidy little box of context that is familiar and comfortable. She is just experiencing. Everything. Taking it all in. ALL of it.


So here's a thought. If she's hearing every bit of music that she's exposed to, why not expose her to the best? If she's watching every social interaction around her, why not show her the very best way to communicate and relate to others? If she is really tasting every single spice and texture, why not allow her to taste the very best food you can create? Why fill that vast expanse with the mediocre, the inferior,  or worse - the detrimental?

We are, of course, only human. And the human experience is not perfect. But given the knowledge that after 6 short years your child will begin to develop their own filters, their own prejudices, their own opinions of the world based on their own experiences, don't you want to give them the very richest platform from which to leap?

I do.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

IKEA: Swedish for "What is this hold you have on our family?!"

Our history with IKEA has been well-documented. And if you've missed it, there are a couple of examples here and here.

My love affair with IKEA started in my third year of University, when one of my roommates had an entire bedroom delivered and set up right before our eyes. It was magical. What made it even more enchanting was the fact that we didn't have an IKEA in the city and had to drive to "Toronto" (read: Burlington) for the experience.

It continued well into my mid- to late-twenties, as J and I shacked up and began building our little nest together. It positively flourished in Brooklyn, where we found lots of second-hand treasures. And, what's more, it seems to have grown with us. What was once a warehouse full of cheap furniture for students who would throw it on the curb in eight months is now a haven for financially strapped graduates who spent far too many years in University and will be living like students for years to come, though they would like to project the illusion of being grown up.

IKEA is the ultimate refrigerator box in the basement. It's a giant box of fun that is limited only by your imagination. My brother and I had one of those, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, H, for my lifelong aversion to enclosed spaces. When I wasn't screaming myself hysterical we had some serious fun with that box. So really it's exactly the same.

Why am I going on about IKEA again, you ask? Well, it's just that every time we go, a little bit of magic happens, and I want to remember these little bits of magic. Take yesterday, for example. After school we headed to IKEA, each with our own agenda. I was returning bins and looking for plant stands. E was gearing up to party in the ball pit, and J was hoping to find a quiet corner in which to study, before we all reconvened for some $2.99 fish and chips. And you know what? All of this is possible at IKEA! So once our goals were accomplished, we were on our way out when the giant ice cream cone perched tantalizingly at the exit caught E's eye. Why not? I don't even bother telling her it's fro-yo. So we buy three "ice cream" cones, and as I hand E hers (the prettiest one, of course), her eyes light up and she looks up in amazement at the picture. "I don't believe it! This is so beautiful, and it looks just like the picture! It even has the curl on top! How did they DO that?" The expression on her face was priceless. You would think she had just watched the ocean turn to chocolate.

IKEA, you complete us.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


E's teacher pulled me aside as I was leaving school yesterday. That's always a special feeling. Then she looked at me conspiratorially and said that she will be sending homework home with E tomorrow.

Now, just in case you all have forgotten, E is a) in Montessori school, where they simply don't do homework, and b) four years old.

As my eyebrows tickled my hairline and I looked to E for confirmation, she danced in a circle saying "Yay! Yay! Homework! Homework!" So this is what the Twilight Zone feels like.

Ms. Veronique explained that some of the oldest students - particularly those who will be entering the public/separate school systems next year - are given some homework throughout the year to ease the transition. The upshot of that is that some of the younger ones, who look up to the older ones, want to try homework as well. And if they want homework, homework they will get!

Unfortunately, a spontaneous afternoon outing at the park precluded Ms. V from being able to prepare the assignment (excuses, excuses), but I am assured that I will be receiving a ziploc bag tomorrow containing all manner of mysterious learning materials. I am intrigued. I am also assured that this is most definitely an optional assignment, to be completed only in the event that the desperate need to do homework lasts longer than the walk home. I am relieved.

I know there are countless parents out there who visibly flinch at the mention of the H-word, but I feel it's safe to say that at this stage of the game we're not looking at anything so complex as to have me racking my brain for the meaning behind acronyms like ROYGBV and BEDMAS...right? (P.S. I am now SO OLD that both of those examples have been replaced with more "accurate" ones. Sigh.) Besides, I really have nothing to worry about, considering that my daughter is the clearly the next Good Will Hunting:

That's right. My kid can add 1643 to 3232. And she totally wrote the 7 backwards on purpose. That's how she rolls.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I swear, I will remember to forget if you will just Stop. Screaming.

It started off well. So well. So smiley, huggy, lovingly well. She was happy to see me. I was ever so happy to see her. She showed me the puzzle she got at Mad Science. I showed her the paper caterpillar I had made for her. She asked if I had anything sugary to surprise her with and I told her that, in fact, I did! She happily got busy making paper caterpillars for her dad and I when we got home while I started making dinner. Bliss. Until...

E: Mom, isn't your birthday coming up?
M: Why yes it is!
E: I'm going to make you a birthday card!
M: Wonderful!
E: Do you want it now or on your birthday?
M: Oh, I'll wait until my birthday for sure.
E: Okay!
E: Mom, how do you spell "Birth"?
E: Mom, how do you spell "th"?
E: Mom, how do you write "d" again?
E: How do you spell "ay"?
M: Like the letter "A" or "ay" like in "birthday"?

I wish you could picture the utter and complete emotional, physical and psychopathological breakdown that occurred inside the body of my little girl before exploding all over the kitchen after my benign, yet terribly ill-fated inquiry.


Screaming, crying, pounding, kicking, flailing - the works. For a very long time. Through the hugs and the cuddles and the assurances and the pat downs and the suggestion that she leave the kitchen after kicking the dishwasher door open twice and swiping the cap of her marker under the hot stove, it continued. Through the apologies and the promises to forget this ever happened and putting a 4 minute timer on the pity party and suggestion after suggestion after suggestion of ways to start over and make a new surprise, there was just no consoling her.


Eventually though, it passed. It passed as quickly as her running back into the kitchen, stepping into her rainboots and zipping out to the backyard saying "I'll just be a minute, Mom!" When she returned, she had a pile of freshly picked tomatoes and, more importantly, an excited smile on her face.

M (making sure to look very, very surprised): Tomatoes! Just what I was hoping for! THANK YOU so much for this lovely surprise!
E (beaming maniacally): You're welcome! Did I surprise you???
M: You sure did! These will go so well with our dinner tonight!
E: Do you remember the other surprise?
M: What other surprise?
E: The one about your birthday?
M: Oh, I forgot! It's almost my birthday, isn't it?
E: Yes, and do you remember the surprise?
M: What surprise?
E: The card?
M: What card? Did Dad buy me a card?
E: Okay! Never mind! (skips out of the kitchen and hurries over to her table) Mom! You can't look at what I'm doing okay?
M: Okay!

E: Mom, how do you spell "Birth"?
E: Mom, how do you spell "th"?
E: Mom, how do you write "d" again?
E: How do you spell "ay"?
M: "A-Y"! (please don't freak out please don't freak out please don't freak out)
E: Okay, thanks!
M: Whew.
A few minutes later, as I was putting dinner on the table, she ran over saying "Here's your birthday card Mom!" Luckily, I've learned from being burned many, many times. I slapped my hands over my eyes and said "No wait! We have to wait until my birthday, remember?" "Oh, yeah! Don't look Mom!" That was a close one. So off she trots, back to the table, and proceeds to apply enough tape to seal every window in our house shut to that card to make sure that noone, but noone, is getting into that baby. I instantly start brainstorming ways to get into it in a few days time without destroying this precious labour of love and agony. I think I'm screwed.

And there it is, folks. Parenting, boiled down to one tumultuous anecdote. There are good times, and there are horrific times. And they are completely erratic and unpredictable. You never quite know what's around the next corner, except that in any given day you are likely to feel like Mom of the Year and Turd of the Earth, most likely in rapid succession. So please, the next time you find yourself questioning why a mom you know seems a bit fragile and might be sipping a little too freely from that bottle of wine, understand - she is probably either just emerging from, or moments away from diving headlong back into one of the most harrowing and/or gratifying moments of her life. So cut her some slack.