Category Archives: siblings

Monday night comedy

It’s definitely bedtime, but Mabel is playing at her dollhouse, totally immersed in a scenario that I am not privy to, muttering everyone’s lines and making it all up as she goes along. Usually she likes to keep the TV on in the background so nobody can hear her, but tonight it’s off. I let her play on.

She bounds over to me, the little drama all wrapped up, to announce that she’s hungry. No surprise there, since she barely ate any dinner. I let her take some goldfish crackers, though I’d rather she ate a banana. A banana is not on her list of acceptable options tonight, and we’re out of yogurts.

Dash is done with his homework and has had his bedtime snack. They fall on each other like puppies and I head up the stairs, picking up the basket of clean laundry for folding as I go, hoping that tonight, for once, they’ll follow me. They do, after a fashion, having decided that Mabel is a baby and Dash is her mother and I – oh joy – have been assigned the role of big brother. Such hilarity.

Whatever gets you through the bedtime routine, as my mantra goes when I’m solo-parenting it. My mantra also goes why is this still such an ordeal and aren’t they old enough to just put themselves to bed yet, but nobody answers my queries. This particular game got us all the way into pyjamas and through toothbrushing and bathroom necessities and into Mabel’s bed, where the three of us now sat as she orchestrated the next part.

Her lisping fake baby voice is nothing like the voice she really had as a baby, when she probably spoke a lot more sensibly than she’s doing now, but tonight, for the moment, I’m entertained by her clowning. She produces some baby board books and demands that her “mother” read them. I watch Dash gamely – and relatively fluently, for him – read the sight words. After a couple of books he tries to hand the job off to me, but she’s ready for that – “No! He’s dyswexic! He can’t wead them!” Then he decides to teach her to read, and sounds out “r-e-d” for her in the colors book. She picks up another at random and reads “wed, wed, wed; wed wed wed, weeeeeed”, and gives herself a round of applause. She’s a born comedian, but I’m not sure anyone beyond the immediate family will ever see this show. Maybe you had to be there anyway. I’m somewhat enchanted by the sight of the two of them in fits of giggles, huddled together in cute pyjamas, in perfect accord, in cahoots.

I leave them to it though, as it’s clear no real storytime is going to happen tonight, and go to fold the laundry in my bedroom. I’m about finished when they’ve done with all the hilarity her room affords and they appear at the door. We’re at that point where the fun is about to turn into hysterics. Actually, we may have left that point in the dust ten minutes ago. I push a load of Dash’s folded clothes into his arms and he retreats to his room before Mabel can run in there and lock him out. It’s every man for himself now – she’s about to bounce on my bed where the other clothes are in neat piles, because she knows that that, of all things, will push my buttons and turn me from mild-mannered pushover to rage-filled mother bear. I’m very protective of my folded laundry.

I pull her back to her room by the ankles. She’s still giggling, putting on the baby voice, but my goose is cooked, my hourglass of patience has run out, and it’s time for the fun to end. Time to sleep. I heave myself up again to her bunk and sit against the pillows to one side. Amazingly, she joins me, lies down, lets me pull the duvet over her fluffy new pyjamas.

Ten seconds later she asks me if I know how hard it is to fall asleep when you’re tired but you can’t go to sleep. “That’s because you haven’t tried yet,” I say, exasperated. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation. She harrumphs back at me, thrashes her legs demonstratively, wriggles. I hold my ground and close my eyes; let my mind drift – but not too far. I have things to do downstairs, my day can’t be done already. Besides, who knows whether her brother is going to sleep or fashioning paper aeroplanes in his room. At least he’s quiet, I think.

The legs are still. She turns onto her back and yawns. Her breathing changes. A few more minutes and I can go. Picking my way over the foot bumps, the bunched end of the duvet, the red fleece blanket. Down the creaking ladder, out the door where stepping on a floorboard makes her new shelving click unaccountably; it’s okay. I’m home free.

A quick check on the boy, who was in fact lying quietly with his light off. Hope I didn’t wake him up. Night night sleep tight close the door.

Nine-thirty and I’m out. Not bad going for a Monday night.



Meet Fred

I bought a butternut squash at the farmers market on Sunday morning. I’ll make one of those nice galettes, I thought to myself.

Mabel had other ideas. Apparently this was the cutest, most adorable butternut squash ever. She cradled it in her arms and called it Fred.

By the time we were on our way home from the market, the children were reading stories to Fred in the back seat. In the kitchen I found them negotiating a custody arrangement whereby they take turns looking after him.

Last night Mabel put Fred to bed on her bottom bunk, on her unicorn pillow pet and snuggled up under her red blanket. She didn’t wake him this morning, but she told me on the way to school that he needs a lot of sleep.

Vegetables. My children love them far too much to ever eat them. What sort of a monster would you be to do that?

Dash was very excited to hear he would get Fred on Tuesdays, because Tuesday is already his favourite day at school, with makers’ class and bridge club (yes) and science as well. Having custody of Fred the Anthropomorphic Gourd as well is just the icing on the cake. So to speak.

Tonight Mabel ceremoniously presided over the handover and now Dash is sleeping with Fred.

Today I went to the supermarket and bought a new, less cute, butternut squash. He won’t see the light of day until his demise is imminent. Galette will be mine.

Sibling scheming

On the way to school on Friday, Mabel and Dash were hatching a plan. Every time I turned around to make sure neither of them had fallen on their rear end as we walked the icy half-mile there, I was told not to listen, and to go on ahead, and not to try to hear anything.

(The only one of us who fell on their rear end was me, halfway there, slipping on a piece of invisible ice. The kids, meanwhile, were seeking out every possible bit of frozen meltwater to skate on and making up a song about being ice mice. After you’re an ice mouse, apparently you can graduate to being an ice rhinoceros. I think I was an ice rhino, all right.)

On Friday evening I was told that I should stay in bed the next morning because they had important planning to do. The next morning, needless to say, this did not pan out as well as I’d hoped. For one thing, of course, I was already in Mabel’s bed when she woke up. And she insisted on lepping out of bed and waking her brother, because of the Things To Do. Then I tried to stay in bed but I was only allowed do that with two children there too, who kept kicking each other from either side of me. Not restful. I finally went downstairs with them. (B was already gone out on a long run, because that’s how he rolls on a Saturday morning.)

Mabel points something out to her brother

Exactly who is in charge here, do we think?

I was exiled to the dining room while they did Important Things to do with colouring and drawing, I think. At a later point there was some sort of letter/number code being worked out. It was all Top Secret and I enjoyed the tranquility greatly and tried not to worry too much about exactly what it was they might be plotting.

On Sunday morning I was assured of a lie-in. I was assured of it again when Dash barged in to us at 7am or so with a bowl and a box of cereal on a tray. It was a sweet gesture, but I really don’t like breakfast in bed and I sent him away again, trying not to hurt his feelings too much. Then I went back to sleep for a while, to ominous sounds of duct tape downstairs, but their excitement was too much and we had to get up pretty soon. I really hoped they weren’t making a huge mess.

We turned out to get a banner, taped to the wall, and a treasure hunt that sent us from clue to clue around the house. The winner (B, I think) was to get a personal performance of a play, but I’m not sure that happened. Dash had also wanted to bake a cake, but I had refused to help him with that on Saturday, because we went out instead. I knew the weather would be more conducive to cake-baking on Sunday, and while the freezing rain fell outside I facilitated as he  made a Nigella birthday custard sponge.

The banner

A picture of all of us. Then “No swety hugs! Dun dun dun! Finally: “No mater if we go to the arcecdi [Arctic] or the sonorin desert i am sta[y]ing with you.” Spot the child who’s watched a lot of WildKratts episodes.

 No pictures of the cake. We ate it all.

Dramatis personae

Mabel is still astounded by the child-sized Anna-from-Frozen doll we saw at Target today. It was just a couple of inches shorter than she is. Here is a direct transcript of her conversation with her brother just now:

M: I have NO IDEA how anyone would play with that. You’d have to be nine or ten to play with that.

D: You’d have to be 18. It would be terrifically bad.

M: And it might get mixed up with someone in your family who was very quiet and good.

… American Girl Dolls, fine. They’re not huge.

D: Though I still hate them. No doubt about that.

My children crack me up. In between infuriating me and driving me bananas, if I can just stop and listen to their turns of phrase, they crack me up. The other day Dash asked me “Do you know what irks me?” I had to ask “No, what does irk you?” just to get him to say irk some more.

Mabel talking to Dash

I turned off the TV on Friday after school, with some trepidation, adhering to our new policy of only four shows a day (yes, that should be plenty; but the step of actually turning it off is tricky and unpopular) and since then Dash has taken to playwriting. (Playwrighting? He’s both writing a play and being a playwright, so I guess either would do.)

All weekend he’s been writing scenes and badgering us to type them up and then perform them. His opus now stands at four short plays in each of which his parents die and come back as ghosts (or “goghsts” in Dash spelling). Then there’s a villain whose bullets rebound killing himself, and someone always intones mournfully, “I was a great friend of your mother/father.” We each have at least one role and often several, and sometimes have to bilocate.

Honestly, we’re getting a bit exhausted by all this and I might have to turn the telly back on.

The sporty one

The fact that it’s mid-March should mean that winter is well behind us, but the weather forecast tells a different story: we have 5 to 9 inches of snow forecast for Monday. I utterly refuse to believe it.

Dash is doing beginner’s ice hockey, did I tell you? It’s so beginner that they haven’t even touched a stick or a puck yet, and they’ve had four of their six classes, but it’s all about learning technique, apparently. Which mostly means how to skate better, so I’m all for that. He’s come along a lot considering in December he was like an octopus on ice, all flailing arms and falling down. Last Sunday I took both kids to the open skate (while B recovered from his 50km race; need I elaborate?) and Dash was showing Mabel and me how to skate backwards and practicing his jump-stops and not falling down at all. I’m impressed. It was worth the ridiculous amount of hockey gear I had to shell out for, because it was too late in the season to find anything second-hand.

Meanwhile, Mabel has decided she doesn’t want to take dance this term, so she has zero extra-curriculars, while he has hockey now and baseball already signed-up for starting in April. My surprisingly sporty child, that one. I fear he’s getting this privileged treatment as the firstborn, because once he’s doing things I’m reluctant to fill up all our other evenings with other things for Mabel – like T-ball, for instance. But it’s also because I’m pretty much 100% sure she has no interest in doing T-ball. Although she’ll freely admit that she wants a trophy, just doesn’t want to play the sport.

Mabel dishing up muffin batter

The non-sporty one.


Saturday night

– Let’s have a sleepover!

– We want a sleepover!

– Okay, you can have a sleepover, since it’s Saturday. But Dash has to do his reading first.

– I’ll read to her!

– He’ll read to me!

– Okay, up you go, then.


– First I‘ll read to you. I know all the words in this one.

She starts to read Red Hat Green Hat.


– I’ll go up and see what they’re doing.

Dash is trying to thread a giant IKEA fake flower through his sister’s hair.

– That’s not reading. But your hair is lovely.

– I’m styling her for the doggy show.

– Woof woof.

– Right. So you’re not reading to her, then? You can play for ten minutes and then you have to come and do your reading. I’m setting the timer, okay?

– Okay.

I go up again. They’re tying their legs together with a piece of ribbon.

– This is for the three-legged race. We have to have a three-legged race.

– Okay, race to downstairs, and then Mabel has to come back up while Dash does his reading.

Long pause at the top of the stairs as the ribbon comes untied and must be tied again. I help, eventually. Then I go down and designate the finish line.

– Yay! You won the race. Right, upstairs with you, Mabel, I’ll give you a piggyback. There’s your book, Dash.

Mabel insists on tying her legs together so she can have a two-legged race back upstairs. I help her hobble thus up the stairs, bring her to bed, read two chapters of her book. Dash comes up, having read his chapter.

– What about our sleepover? We’re still having a sleepover.

– But I want to have it in my bed.

– Your bed’s too small. You have to come into my room. [Dash has a small loft bed with a spare mattress on the bottom, so it’s like a set of low bunk beds.]

– But I’m scared on the bottom of your bed. It’s dark and strange.

– But I don’t fit in your bed. I know, you can be in the top of my bed and I’ll be in the bottom.

– Okay.

Mabel goes into his room, with duvet and stuffed toy and doll, and installs herself in the top bunk. Dash brushes his teeth and puts on pyjamas.

– But I want to cuddle with you.

– Okay, you can cuddle with me.

Dash gets into the top bunk with her, which is exactly the same size as Mabel’s bed that he wouldn’t sleep in because it was too narrow for two. But never mind that. Daddy reads them a chapter of Dash’s bedtime book.

Not thirty seconds after Daddy leaves the room with the two of them snuggled up in Dash’s top bunk, Mabel follows him downstairs at speed.

– Mummy, I need to go to the bathroom.

– Okay. Come on.

– And then I want to go to sleep in my bed.

– Right.

Poor Dash. Another foiled sleepover. Maybe next weekend.


Information overload

There was a tour of the elementary school for parents of prospective new students. Even though I also have an current student at the school, I went on it. Partly because I could, partly because I thought I might learn something new (I did), and mostly, I think, because once I have a little knowledge of a subject, any extra information has somewhere to stick and I assimilate it better. I have somewhere to hang it. You need somewhere to hang your knowledge, which is why learning things when you’re a child and have no experience is in many ways such a terrible idea. I mean, once you’ve travelled a bit, it’s much more interesting to learn more about geography and history, for example.

But I digress.

I went on the tour so that, with my existing knowledge of how things were, I could glean a better understanding. But in so doing I did feel a little guilty about my son’s experience at the same juncture. If they’d been giving the tour three years ago I would have done it, of course, but they didn’t start to offer it till last year. But I went to very little effort to find out the things they were telling us through any other means either. I just accepted that he was going to the school and filled in the forms and dragged him along for the first two weeks until he finally conceded that it wasn’t so bad and very soon thereafter began to love it. But I didn’t really know anything about how long recess was and how often he’d have PE and whether the whole school had lunch at the same time or not, and it didn’t occur to me to find out. We found out as we went along.

I think part of it was the overwhelming nature of becoming part of the American public school system when we had never really planned to do that. It was such a new thing for us not just as parents but as participants, that we had to close our eyes and just jump, really. A trust exercise, if you will. We knew the school was fine (not great, but fine, with an involved PTA), we knew enough sensible, good, educated neighbourhood people who sent their kids there to believe this was not going to be a decision that Ruined His Life, and I spent a lot of time that year saying, “It’s just elementary school,” and nodding vigorously as my friends said the same thing back to me.

But I am concerned that it might look like I put more thought into decisions when I make them for my daughter than when I make them for my son. I think it’s a preservation instinct, actually, that makes me shut down in the face of information overload and purposely make a swift decision based on a few key factors. I don’t want to know everything because I can’t process everything. Later on, when we’ve been softened a bit by exposure and more knowledge of the situation, the environment, the way things work, I can take in more information and make the decision anew, or differently, for the second child.

Does that make any sense to anyone? Do you do this too?

Dash at school

2011: First day of K

And let the record show that I did not go back the next morning and buy the cheetah

I took Mabel with me on Thursday after school to pick out a present for her to give to Dash. (Dash has a “school present shop” where he bought presents for us, so it seemed only fair.) Beforehand, I double-checked with her that she knew we were shopping only for her brother, and that she wouldn’t get anything for herself. She agreed, but I was still a little doubtful that she could pull it off.

We nearly turned around and left as soon as we got through the front doors, because she desperately wanted a cheetah from the dollar section. But then she said “Just let me play with them for a while” and I stood around for three minutes while she took all the animals out of their corral and arranged them into couples, families, and families with adopted children. When I said it was time to put them back, she helped put them back and we moved on.

And so to the main toy section, where we soon found – guess what? – a new lightsaber for Dash. Because the fact that he has two blue ones and a red double-blade apparently didn’t stop him from putting another on his list, and since I couldn’t find a green Qui-Gon Jinn lightsaber anywhere, I hadn’t actually got one and was feeling bad about it. So when Mabel decided he should have a red Darth Vader one, I didn’t demur. (Also since these are the cheap ones that don’t light up and come in at under ten bucks.)

Item acquired and gallon of milk in our cart, I tried to whisk her back to the checkouts without passing the rest of the toys, but she insisted on looking at the other aisles. “Not to get anything, you know that don’t you?” I repeated. “I know,” she said.

And here’s the amazing part: she looked at the baby dolls and the princess dolls and the ponies and the Lalaloopsies and the Barbies and the play kitchens and she admired them all and we said how lovely they were … and then we left. We bought what we had come for and not a thing more.

Well, there was a vanilla milk in Starbucks after all that, but it hardly counts.

Siblings Without Rivalry

And here’s that post about the book.

I’m finally reading Siblings Without Rivalry, after two people mentioned it to me in the space of a few days and I decided it was A Sign. I know I should have read it years ago, possibly as soon as we had Mabel, but there you go, I didn’t.

It was written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who wrote the laboriously titled but very helpful How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. You may remember me raving about one of its techniques last year when Dash was stuck in the terrible six-and-a-halfs. Siblings Without Rivalry takes much of the same material, but applies it specifically to situations that come up between siblings. It’s really quite eye-opening.

On Saturday morning I was reading it at the breakfast table as Dash and Mabel fought their way around the house, disagreeing over what or how to play, bugging each other, pinching and hitting and screaming and then laughing again. I called them over and asked Dash to read the title of my book. He spelled it out. They remembered what “siblings” meant, but I had to explain “rivalry.”

“I’m reading this so that I can figure out how to stop you two fighting,” I said. They were impressed that I had to read a book to discover such a thing. Dash grabbed the book and sat down at the other end of the table, opening it at the first page and starting to read.

“I’m going to find out what it tells you, so we can not do it,” he said, with an evil grin.

I was delighted to see him reading, so I did the washing up and left him to it.

Brother and sister


Anyway, I thought I’d share my notes, since I have to bring the book back to the library soon. I recommend reading the whole thing to understand where the authors are coming from and see lots of examples of these techniques in action. The book also shows them in cartoon form, which makes it quick to read and easy to remember.

  • Siblings are essentially always in competition for their parents’ love/time/attention. As soon as you take sides in a dispute or punish one for hurting the other, you are building resentment and rivalry, and therefore making things worse.
  • When they complain about their sibs, you should verbalize how they’re feeling for them: “You sound furious.” “It makes you mad when he does that.” Acknowledge how they feel about each other.
  • Encourage them to express their feelings with words: “Tell him how you feel.” “Let him know how mad you are with words.”
  • Tell the other one why you’re listening to the one right now: e.g.,
    – Mabel, interrupting: I have to tell you this thing.
    – Me: I know you do, but right now I’m listening to Dash tell me about school. I know it’s important to him so I want to hear it. Then I can listen to what you need to tell me.
  • Treat them uniquely, not equally. They get the things they need when they need them; they don’t both get things at the same time just because. (I’m not sure that “because Mom went to Target and I was with her and I whined” counts as needing something, exactly.)
  • Don’t cast them into roles, and don’t let them do it to each other. Tell them how you want them to be:
    “I know that Dash is generous, so I’m sure he’ll give you a turn when he’s done with it.”
    Or, better, “I know you’re both smart, so you can work out a solution to this.”
    Then leave the room so that they don’t act up for your benefit.
  • Never compare, even favourably. It reinforces perceived roles and encourages resentment between sibs. When one comes tattling about the other, say “I don’t want to hear about him right now. Tell me about you.”
  • Encourage teamwork rather than pitting them against one another. So “Let’s see if you can work together to tidy up before the timer goes off” rather than “Who can pick up all the toys first?” I am so guilty of saying this. You know why? Because it works! (But it’s bad. Bad Mommy.)
  • When they’re fighting and it’s escalating, state the problem and tell them you expect them to work it out. No tolerance for hurting. If one is in danger, separate them.
  • If they can’t work it out, sit down and make a list with both of them, the way we did for one with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen.
I think I need to print this list out and tape it to my fridge.

Sibling revelry

Mabel had a tantrum over the little teddy bear beside the checkout in the supermarket that I wouldn’t buy for her. I was being wonderfully patient and gentle with all my “No’s” until finally I just had to wrestle her to the floor and pry it out of her hands. Perfect.

I’m reading Siblings Without Rivalry just now. I was trying to write up my notes to make a useful post for you lovely people (and for me to come back to, seeing as how it belongs to the library) but the children are thwarting me at every turn.

I tried to keep the TV turned off today when Dash came home from school, because TV time has been expanding exponentially lately and we need a moratorium. Pretty soon, he was complaining of boredom. I decided to use some of the techniques from the book:

“I know that you are a resourceful and smart person, Dash. You can think of something new to do.”
“How do you know I’m resourceful? Give me an example of a time when I was resourceful,” he countered.
What is this, a job interview? I don’t know. Probably some time when you got up to mischief and didn’t want me to know about it. Sheesh. I didn’t say any of that, but it was admittedly tricky enough to think of something. Evidently all the TV has been quashing his opportunities for resourcefulness.

I ignored him and Mabel some more.

Then there was some interval when they were both standing on the kitchen table, which hardly seemed safe, and the next time I looked into the room Mabel was throwing off all her clothes while Dash held her upside down by the legs.

I turned the TV on. Some days it’s the only thing that stands between us all and bodily harm.