28 January 2009


I've only just started to let Ella watch 'older' movies, as she seemed ready for it.

The first one - Willow - was a mistake because it featured trolls. She could't sleep that night and ended up in my bed.

So last night we tried Narnia (the lion, the witch and wardrobe). As expected, she crawled under the doonah whenever she heard the "suspense music" (it was about 35 degrees in the bedroom!). But this time there was another aspect of the film that affected her too. When the sad music played as the kids are on the train after being sent away from London to avoid the dangers of war, she commented: "They are very sad, aren't they? It's a bit of a sad movie, isn't it?" Then - when the little girl starts crying because her siblings won't believe her when she tells them about Narnia:

Ella - [crying] This film makes me cry!
Me - Oh sweetie, it's ok to feel sad because of a movie. It's not a bad thing. Look, she stopped crying now and everything is fine.

She definitely doesn't lack empathy.

22 January 2009

No fun

This morning Ella was watching ABC Kids in the bedroom and a show called Go Yabba Yabba was on. She didn't react when I commented that this show was weird. Too weird. So weird that it was almost creepy. Then - as I was searching for clothes for work:

Go Yabba Yabba: What do you think is fun?
Me - Not going to work is fun. And sleeping in is lots of fun too. And someone else cleaning your house, now that's fun!
Ella - Mum, it's on the tv. They can't hear you.

Always ruining my fun with her common sense!

Flying monsters

Ella came out of bed to tell me she couldn't sleep because of the thunder. But it turned out it wasn't really the rumbling that kept her awake.

Ella - I'm scared the monsters are gonna come.
Me - If they come, I'll scare them away. But I don’t think they'll come.
Ella - The monsters live far away from our house, don't they.
Me - Yeah, I think they do.
Ella - They only live in Belgium. And that's really far away. And they don't let monsters on the plane, do they?
Me - No, they definitely wouldn't let monsters on a plane.
Ella - And not bad people either.
Me - No, they can't go on the plane.
Ella - But they let old people on the plane. Because they can't do nothing, can they?

I'm sure there is some logic in there somewhere.

21 January 2009

Favourite things

I was trying to tell Ella that she is getting a bit too heavy for me to carry. She enquired if her dad would still be able to carry her and I confirmed that he probably could because he is a man and men are usually stronger than women.

Ella - Is papa a man?
Me - Yes, papa is a man. And I am a woman.
Ella - I want to call him a boy.
Me - If he's ok with that, that's fine.
Ella - Because it's not my favourite thing.
Me - What's not your favourite thing?
Ella - Men are not my favourite thing. That's why I want to call him boy.

11 January 2009

The birthday party

Last Saturday was Ella's 4th birthday party.

These are the things I learnt from that experience:

- I am not superwoman. I don't even look anything like her.
- Organising a kids birthday party at home is a sure sign of insanity.
- I do not want to miss seeing my child enjoy her birthday party ever again. And not just because I deserve some immediate gratification after so much hard work.
- My child needs constant reminders to not to behave like a brat in public. I used to mainly remind her because of how it reflected on me. Now it dawned on me that it is my duty as a parent to tell her for her own benefit. A bit like when you make a fool of yourself when you're drunk and you ask your friends the next day: "Why did you not stop me?!"
- All it takes to stop her yelling orders is a gentle but unambiguous reminder. She'll immediately switch to her nice voice then.
- Making sausage rolls from scratch is so not worth the effort and one of the most thankless tasks I can think of.
- Home cooked food in general is overrated. Store bought food and snacks are adequate food for a kids' party.
- Eating however is hard to overrate. Not doing it while running around from early morning till late at night may result in having to take pain killers and feeling sick.
- Forgetting to put out the plastic plates and cutlery is rather silly.
- I am so incredibly lucky to know a very talented and patient face painter and other friends who were willing to help in various ways. (Next year, I won't have to rely on you as much, I promise!)

So, a very educational experience in the end.

I asked Ella if there was anything at all she would've changed about her party and she gave me a convincing "no". So mission (impossible) accomplished.

And the cutest story which I did get to witness was when I found the only boy (Quin) at the party standing at the toilet, with the last 2 remaining girls (Ella and Lucy) watching on.

Ella - Quin! You have to come outside to do [so and so]!
Quin [glancing from the toilet to Ella's face and back] - I'm doing a wee.
Ella - Quin! When you have finished... doing a wee, come outside and do what I do! You have to do what I do!
[No response from Quin]
Me (whispering at Ella) - If you want to?
Ella - If you want to Quin, come outside and do what I'm doing!
Quin - OK.

Drawing drama

Today in the car on the way to daycare, drawing a picture for her grandmother:

Ella - I'm drawing a sad fairy.
Me - Hm.
Ella - Do you know why she is sad?
Me - Why is she sad?
Ella - Because the police put her in jail.
Me - Oh. Why did the police put her in jail?
Ella - Because they think she killed the sheep.
Me - The fairy killed a sheep?
Ella - But she didn't do it. But the police put her in jail. That's naughty isn't it?
Me - Oh, but when they find out she didn't do it, they'll let her go.
Ella - No they won't.
Ella - And now I'm drawing the fire. The fairy is in the jail fire.
Me - They don't put anyone in the fire in jail, Ella. Jail is just little rooms people have to stay in.
Ella - Yes they do! This jail has a fire. It's a bit of a dangerous jail.
Me - There are no dangerous jails, Ella. And could you not draw something more cheerful? I don't know if S will like getting such a sad picture.
Ella - I'll draw something nicer on the other side, ok?
Me - Ok.
Ella - And they cut off the fairy's wings.
Me - I don't want to know. I'd just rather not know, because it makes me all sad.
Ella - But they'll grow back!
Me - Oh ok then. As long as there's a happy ending, I suppose I can cope with sad stories.
Ella - And there's a baby one, and she's happy. She's happy because she's yelling at the police: "Let me out of the fire!" And fairies don't burn or go brown or anything in the fire.
Me - That's good then.
Ella - I won't tell S what it is.
Me - Why not?
Ella - Because then maybe she'll get sad. I won't tell her the story and then she won't know.
Me - Maybe that's best.

Senior days

After coming out of the supermarket today:

Me - Ella, for the 5th time, get on the bike now please, I'm fed up waiting.
Ella - I just have to do this.
Me - Ok, then I'll go and you can walk home.
Ella - Nooo!
Me - It was just a joke, Ella. You know I'd never do that. But I just don't want to be kept waiting any longer.
Ella - That makes me very sad if you say that.
Me - I'm sorry, sweetie. You know I would never, ever leave you behind anywhere. Just get on the bike now.
Ella [climbing on the bike] - If you say that again, I'll be very sad.
Me - I'll try not to say it again, ok? But you know it's only a joke, don't you? I would really never, ever leave you behind. I have told you that plenty of times.
Ella - I forget sometimes.
Me - You forget that I would never leave you?
Ella - Yes. And you have to remind me lots of times on the days that I forget.
Me - Ok.
Ella - I'll tell you which days I forget.
Me - Ok?
Ella - Thursday...
Me - [burst out laughing]
Ella - And Wednesday. And Sunday. That's the days you have to remind me.
Me - Ok, on Wed, Thurs and Sunday I will tell you lots that I'll never, ever leave you.

08 January 2009

Of monsters and magic

Yesterday morning I went back inside the house after clearing the back lawn of half-chewed bones* to find Ella crying and calling out for me.

Me - Tell me what's wrong, sweetie.
Ella - I had a bad dream about monsters and they are still here.
Me - Ooh, we'll need some magic to scare them away then, won't we? Here, you take one fairy wand and I will take the other. Now we'll go to every corner of the room, make a circle with the fairy wand like so and say: "Abracadabra abra hey! Make the monsters go away!"
Ella - No, we have to turn them into fairies.
Me - Ok, what about "Abracadabra abradairy, monster turn into a fairy!"

So we walked around to every corner (and dark crevices between furniture) of Ella's room, my room and the lounge room to exorcise the monsters. (It appears monsters only like carpeted rooms?) It took me 10 minutes of my valuable time between waking up and rushing off to work, but it was well worth it. No monsters have reared their ugly heads in the past 24 hours.

There's a bit of a story behind this too.

When Ella and I (and my niece) shared a room at my sister's place in Belgium last August, Ella started crying loudly late one night. I rushed over to her bed, saw how distressed she was, picked her up and put her on my lap on my bed and tried to get her to focus on me so I could calm her down. But she looked around and screamed hysterically at the dark corners of the room, yelling about monsters. She behaved like she was on some hallucinogenic drug. I had to rush her out of the room and down to the lounge room. There I finally managed to get her to focus on my face and she calmed down eventually. It was then that I realised how hot her skin felt and after checking her temperature, she turned out to have quite a high fever. It was a classic case of fever-induced hallucinations.

When she finally regained control over her speech, she feebly but surely told me that she would not go back into that room because the monsters were still there. I remembered the advice from another parent years ago about not denying the existence of whatever young kids might be scared off. And this was even worse than your average irrational fear. I saw that she SAW those monsters coming towards her. To her they were as real as the furniture in that room and there was no way that anyone would've been able to convince her that was she saw was not actually there.

I did some quick thinking and then told her that what monsters are more scared of than anything else in the world is… bubbles. It was the first thing that came to mind and it really did not matter at all what it was. I went up with a bubble blower and came back down to report to her that the monsters were sooo scared of the magic bubbles that they tripped over their own feet running down the stairs and out of the house. That they were really far away now and would never be able to find their way back to the room.

It worked. She went back to sleep in the same room, though she never really felt totally at ease there again unfortunately.

Since then we have had magic marbles, magic pebbles, magic fairy wands and a magic bear to ward off the monsters. Ella has also decided that monsters are scared of beautiful things (which is why beautiful clothes are important!) and somewhere along the track the fairies got involved - because the fairies can 'ding' the monsters into fairies. (It's all very logical, really!) At the last Halloween party we attended, Ella came up with the idea of dressing up like a fairy because then [smug laughter] "all the scary monsters at the party would be scared of her."

She only once brought up the monster experience herself, a couple of weeks after our return. "Remember mum, that there was a room in Belgium, that had monsters?" And I have brought it up myself a couple of times. Not because I am a sadist and want to remind her, but because I know that noone - not even a 3yo - could that easily forget a harrowing experience like that. It may be one of her earliest memories that will stay with her forever. It is part of her history and part of who she is now and there is nothing I can do about that. What I can do is acknowledge to her that it was real and try to put a positive spin on it by reminding her of the power of magic, which now - fortunately - is every bit as real to her as the monsters were. I have at times asked her serious questions about the experience - because I really want to know what it was like. The last time I mentioned those monsters was when we read an illustrated book in which a fairy has a dream about shadowy monsters coming out of the walls towards her. I asked Ella if the monsters she saw were like those in the book. She said they weren't because hers were real and the ones from the book were only a dream. And she said they looked "different".

Before I had a child myself, I think I was probably one of those people who thought it was rather unethical to "lie" to your children e.g. about Santa and the Easter Bunny. But this experience has ultimately taught me that a child's imagination has both negative and positive sides and it is better to use the positive aspects in their advantage then to just leave them struggling with the negative ones on their own.

And besides, who am I to tell her that 'my reality' is more real then 'her reality' anyway? People believe in all sorts of things, so believing in monsters and fairy magic really doesn't seem that far fetched. As far as I am concerned she can believe in fairies for the rest of her life. If it offers her comfort or enjoyment. But I do hope that one day she will see the monsters for what they are: a figment of a child's vivid imagination and nothing at all to be afraid of. I also hope that it will teach her something about dealing with the other kind of monsters inside our head that we all get haunted by at times: that she will always know that all it takes is some skilfully applied fairy magic to make them run away in fear!

*Just re-read this and thought I'd better clarify that
a) the bones were not of the human but of the bovine variety
b) all the chewing was done by the canine occupant of our residence

07 January 2009

Time to forget about time

We came back from 10 days camping at Mystery Bay: a 'primitive camping ground' on the coast near Narooma.

We could've got my dream spot to put our tent: nice big mostly flat spot with 180 degrees ocean and beach views and right next to the track down to the main beach! But Ella decided otherwise. When she heard that someone we knew was already there, she insisted on setting up camp near them. And it was that decision that made it an ideal holiday for her. For 10 days we were part of a little community that consisted of 4 families with kids of various ages and some great grown-up friends.

Here the 3 little ones are terrorising 12yo Liam, who took it all in his stride.

Here Ella and us watch on in amazement as the 4 big kids go absolutely berserk after drinking a can of Solo.

The lack of privacy got to me a bit at times, but didn't bother Ella in the least. For 10 days she was a feral child, walking around barefoot (even I couldn't do that with all the twigs and leaf litter there!), unwashed (way too cold for cold showers) and sometimes only half dressed. She was very independent: made her own breakfast a few times, went to visit her friends' camps, got stuff from the tent or the car by herself, even did the dishes once. She temporarily lost her fear of the dark even: I watched in amazement as she walked around in the dark without a torch.

Apart from occasionally wiping the food off her face and getting her to wash her hands or wipe them with anti-bacterial gel after visiting the pit toilets, I did not wash her at all. I made 2 plaits in her hair the day after we arrived and didn't touch it after that. In sharp contrast with other families who went through great lengths to keep their kids squeaky clean at all times. An effort not to be underestimated when you are camping in the bush.

Fortunately I don't care about sand in the bed.

The weather wasn't too bad. There were some lovely beach days and enough sun for me to get sun burnt. Ella was more cautious in the waves than I would've liked her to be, but she had some fun in the water nevertheless. The body board was wasted on her though. Maybe next year.

Though I did find a good use for the body board after all.

Christmas day was quiet. The present - a car garage that I spend an hour in the middle of the night putting together by the light of a torch - got a genuinely surprised "Santa got me what I asked for!" reaction. We ended up having lunch by ourselves and then went down to the beach.

New Year's Eve got spoiled by a group of obnoxious teenagers who came just to throw a loud party. I felt obliged to spend the night in the tent sitting next to a sleeping Ella just in case she got woken by the racket.

We got home with a tan, sand in our hair and all our clothes smelling of the campfire. And feeling pretty tired. Not checking the time even ones while we were there, we probably did not get as much sleep as we should've. It was absolutely divine to forget about time though. To never rush, to take out time for everything.

Ella and Luna having a tea party.

So it is a bit of a shock to be back home and me back at work. The clock rules our lives again and it makes us both a bit sad. I quite enjoy having my privacy back and warm running water and a clean toilet. But Ella misses being part of a close-knit community. And she's of course taking it out on me. So we had following conversation last night while I was washing something at the kitchen sink:

Ella - I'm not going to wash anything.
Me - I didn't ask you to wash anything. But some other day you can do the dishes.
Ella - Then I'm not going to.
Me - You are old enough now to do the dishes now and then.
Ella - But I'm not going to do it!
Me - We live together in this house and we are a team, Ella. And we have to work together like a team.
Ella - I'm not in your team anymore. I moved you to the "caves" team.
Me - Oh. Ok. So what is YOUR team having for dinner then?
Ella - The same as you.
Me - Oh no, I'm only cooking food for MY team.
Ella - I'm going to cook food here. On the ground. That's where my fire is.
Me - So YOUR team are having pretend food. Well MY team is having salmon and sausages and potatoes on the bbq.

I could've saved my breath really…

A bit later Ella told me:

Ella - I saw a redback spider at daycare today. It's going to bite you. I'm going to put your hand on it and then it'll bite you…
Me - Right. If you continue to talk to me like that you can forget about me cooking you food and you can go to bed straight away!

We'll both have to learn how to deal with all those rules and boundaries and time limitations again. Though one of my new years resolutions was to not watch the clock so often and not rush as often.