The Nativity – in Duplo

The Husband & the Fairy Godmother recently made a stop-motion animation of the nativity with our kids’ Duplo, using fishing wire and kitchen roll to create flying angels. This was for work. I’m going to leave that thought hanging there while I carry on with my story, but suffice it to say, the project proved that we had in our Duplo collection all the most important pieces to create a nativity scene.

As they had finished, I had bagged up all the figures ready to return to the Duplo box. Then suddenly I had a thought. Here in my hand was an honest to God, ready made “story sack” with which I could tell my tiny people the Christmas story.

The next morning, I prised the Boy and the Girl away from Team Umi-Zoomi (the new craze) and sat them down near the Christmas tree.

“I’m going to tell you a story,” I announced.

The Boy’s eyes wandered longingly back to the living room where the TV is.

I took his Numberjacks from his arms and placed them by the tree. “There, number 3 is all ready to hear the story, and so is number 4, and 5 and number 6 [= the artist formerly known as Teddy]). Are you ready too?”

He was ready.

Numberjack 5, listening attentively to the Christmas story

Numberjack 5, listening attentively to the Christmas story

I took items out of the bag one by one and told the story, building it up as I built up the scene. First I introduced the stable and its inhabitants. The Boy provided the noise for each animal as we placed it in the stable, then he put them around their manger to eat. That evening, Mary and Joseph arrived on their donkey, looking for a place to sleep.

“They asked the animals: can we sleep in your house tonight? We can’t find a bed anywhere! What do you think the animals said?” I foolishly asked the Boy.

“They said no!” he supplied merrily.

“They said yes, actually,” I corrected tersely. “They were very friendly animals.”

Then there was drama in the night, and the baby was born. But oh dear, where could the baby sleep? The manger was invitingly placed front and centre. I gave the Boy the Duplo baby and asked him to find a place for it.

“I know!” he said, and evicted all the animals from the main stable building, ready to put baby Jesus there.

“Or how about this?” I hastily put in, holding up the manger, “This could be a good place for a baby to sleep. Shall we put some hay in to make baby Jesus comfortable?”

The Boy and the Girl industriously collected fallen pine needles from under the tree and placed them in the tiny manger with tiny fingers (which saved me some hoovering later in the day, bonus!). Baby Jesus went on top, and his proud parents stood to either side.

Baby Jesus in his manger, cow and pig in the stable, chickens on the roof. All is right with the world.

Baby Jesus in his manger, cow and pig in the stable, chickens on the roof. All is right with the world.

“Jesus was no ordinary baby,” I explained, “He was God’s son. So God put a beautiful bright star in the sky, just above the stable, to show where Jesus was so people could find him and visit him.” I took out the one Christmas decoration we hadn’t put up yet (as it had been in use for the stop-motion animation), the star. I hung it above the tree and our little scene.

“Wow!” said the Boy in awe. “Is a velly big star.”

The shepherds (one of them in a zoo keeper’s outfit, but neither of them can read so I figured it would be okay) followed the star and arrived with their one sheep, followed swiftly by the wise men with their presents for Jesus. They all gathered round and said thank you to God for the baby.

I had to get creative with the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Bonus points if you guess which random item is meant to be which gift...

I had to get creative with the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Bonus points if you guess which random item is meant to be which gift…

To my utter surprise, the kids were actually engaged and paid attention throughout the whole thing. We then found that lots of our usual activities could link in to the story:

Beautiful sticker advent calendar

Beautiful sticker advent calendar

The Boy’s advent calendar – he could identify the stable, the animals, the shepherds and the wise men.

It's not spelled wrong, okay, it's Dutch.

It’s not spelled wrong, okay, it’s Dutch.

We had to use a magnetic letter to supplement.

We had to use a magnetic letter to supplement.

The Boy suggested using the alphabet puzzle to spell some key words. He chose ‘Jesus’ and ‘Baby’, both of which had repeating letters, so I had to be a little creative (see above).

The Girl carried the story on for herself, and spent most of the rest of the day trying to get a wise man, the baby Jesus, Mary, a shepherd, ANYBODY, to sit. on. the. donkey. She managed it once and was very proud.

photo (14)

That evening, Daddy had finished editing the stop motion animation and came down to show us all.  We gathered round the laptop and my husband pressed play. The Boy’s eyes grew wide with wonder. There it was! The story from the morning, but the characters were moving, and there were flying angels! The Girl also bounced up and down in excitement. When the story reached its conclusion, the Boy pointed at the baby in the manger and exclaimed: “Baby Jesus!”

I wiped a proud little tear from my eye. Learning had taken place. 

You can see the animations here (Shepherd’s Hear the News) and here (Wise Men Visit Herod).

The Secret to Happy Parenting

When I was offered my new teaching job, I was asked to consider how many hours I could do, and when. I was initially just going for evenings, but I thought how nice it would be to do a bit more, perhaps a morning or two as the Boy will be starting pre-school after Christmas.

“Oh,” said a friend of mine with 6 children, “I’ll have your kids for a morning.”

It would never in a million years have occurred to me to ask her – her plate already seemed quite full. But, well, she offered. So I said “great” and now the Boy and the Girl have a wonderful time with her and whichever of her kids are at home on Friday mornings.

I pick them up after lunch and if time allows, linger for a cup of tea.

And I watch and study and try to learn.

How does she do this? How does she have six children who are fed and clothed and in school on time and happy AND have a clean house AND all her marbles? How come she is so calm?

And she is. Like all of us, she can get cross or impatient with bad behaviour, she has busy and stressful days, but generally she is very calm, laid back and most importantly: in control.

“We hide all the mess upstairs” she says. This is one of her secrets, but doesn’t quite seem to cover it.

She has everything organised, has shopping delivered on regular days, plans all the week’s meals ahead in her diary. “I have to,” she says, “you can’t just whip up a meal for 8 people from what you find in the cupboards”.

When I arrive at her house to pick up the kids I usually find her wearing some fetching marigolds. “I was just cleaning up after lunch,” she smiles. “Come in.” I guiltily think back to my own house, where breakfast is still congealing in bowls on the table – that is, if the cats haven’t licked up all the milk by now.

She hoovers regularly throughout the day, the washing machine is always on, her kids don’t sit in front of the TV all day but play together and have fun, she takes them on outings and meets friends. She plans full weeks but also knows her limits and says no if she needs to.

I could pick up her good habits (or try to) and that would improve my life, but they are all things that I try and give up on after a few days or weeks.

Why? What is her secret?

I worked it out the other day while watching her make lunch for five children and two adults while putting away the shopping and checking on the dinner arrangements:

Acceptance.

My friend has accepted that motherhood is what she does. When you are a stay at home mum, you clear up each meal after it is eaten. You make sure that there is food in the house to cook dinner every day. You make sure the floor is free of tiny icky things for your one year old to find. You clean your bathroom and fix things that are broken and make sure the kids are happy and healthy and educated. This is what you do, and you get on with it. It is the baseline.

The reason I consistently fall off the wagon with my good intentions is because I haven’t accepted the reality of motherhood. I hate cleaning anyway, so perhaps I have a little further to come in this regard, but I am still resisting the inevitability of it now that I have two small children. My head says: hygiene. The rest of me sticks two fingers up at hygiene and says: I want to have a cup of tea and write poetry and chat to friends on Facebook. I’ll do it later.

Cleaning aside, now that life is very busy with work as well as motherhood, planning and organising has become even more essential than before. I need to plan meals, and then make sure I have the ingredients in the house for us to cook them. When I do, my life is so much better, but still I loiter and linger and prevaricate. Do I really have to?

I do notice that my head-in-the-sand technique just seems to result in more mess and less food in the house, but that doesn’t seem to spur me into action by itself.

Clearly, I need to look at my life and accept it as it is. More than that, perhaps there is some enjoyment to be found in the little details: a clean table after a meal, ready to do craft on; a lovely clean carpet, just for half an hour; the smell of fabric softener on children’s clothes; roast dinner, everything ready at the same time, on the table before the kids get so hungry they start to eat the sofa; toys, tidied away in boxes and hidden upstairs; toys, chosen by excited children and brought downstairs in the morning; post-nap cuddles; middle of the night cuddles that won’t be available in a few years’ time.

It’s a pretty great job, really. Have you accepted that you are a parent? Or is that something you are still working on?

Life Game: The Gamers’ Dictionary

Hey there fellow Life Gamers,

I thought it was time I let you in on the secrets of Speech. I’ve started discovering in this new level that increasing your Charisma and your Influence hinges on acquiring more and more Words. You find them by interacting with NPCs and with the Brother, and when you use them on people, I find you get some interesting results. Every word you speak increases your Influence over the adults in the room and makes them go all gooey-eyed and less observant so you can eat more sofa raisins, floor food and play dough, but each particular word also turns out to have a specific extra benefit. To help you out, I have compiled a

Level 1 glossary

down – gets you lifted out of the high chair quicker
wow! – increases interaction time with the object you are admiring and the adult in the room
uh oh! – reduces the negative impact on your relationship with the Mummy when you spill something
cat – draws the brother’s attention to the cat and he will help you chase it for strokes and ear-pulling
teddy!! – exclaiming this while hugging a cuddly toy (not necessarily an actual teddy, a raccoon will do) increases your happiness
ball – gets you a ball. Trust me. This is good.
Daddy – nearest adult will usually take you to Daddy. If the nearest adult is Daddy, it gives you a massive Influence boost with him
bih-ki (biscuit) – this two syllable word will stun the Mummy and turn her into a mindless zombie for just long enough for you to command her to hand over a biscuit, even at 5.30am.
round – gets you a piece of paper and a crayon, which you can either munch on or use to draw loopy squiggles while saying “woun woun woun” some more.
ow! – this one is a trade off. When you hurt yourself, choosing “ow” over crying gets you fewer cuddles but more laughs
puh, puh, tap tap tap (pull, pull, clap clap clap) – Singing this with actions gives you a boost to your Musical and Coordination skills. Singing it within earshot of an adult, while pretending you don’t know they are listening, gives you a MASSIVE boost to your Cute levels.

That’s all I’ve got so far. HTH. If you find any more words, post them here, pref with a sound file so I know how to say them.

Thnx

TinyToddler

Me, hacking the slot machines at my local.

Me, hacking the slot machines at my local, wearing a party dress. Oh yeah.

What she is like

When the Girl was 15 weeks old, I had a stab at predicting what her personality was like, wondering how much of a child’s character is visible in the little baby stage. I think it is time now for an update: let me tell you what my girl is like.

Look! Bunnies!!

Look! Bunnies!!

Her defining feature is still, like at 15 weeks, her immense capacity for joy. She loves life, loves her special people, loves silliness and songs and things you can cuddle or operate or play peekaboo with. Her default setting is smiles. She gets tired and clingy, but she rarely gets really grumpy – unless her brother tries to hug her or you take her food away.

She is most definitely not gentle or cautious, as I thought at first. She is a kamikaze baby, hurling herself at everything that sparks her interest, heedless of trip hazards. She usually ends up flat on her face and has a new bruise on her forehead daily. Whereas the Boy learned what to do with doorsteps a week or so after he cracked walking, and would navigate Opa and Oma’s doorstep-heavy house with great care, the Girl keeps her eyes fixed on the prize and barrels on through. I have watched her trip over the same step three times (cruel Mummy) before she clocked, the fourth time, that maybe this had happened before and she should pause to investigate what was the matter with this particular route. She is a climber, where her brother was not, and she clambers up onto chairs and stools and boxes in order to get to forbidden objects – something the Boy has only just worked out.

She loves eating and experiments with her mouth. You can put her on the floor, release her and she will locate and target anything small and colourful in the vicinity and start munching on it: floor raisins, bits of play dough, glitters, stickers, you name it. Not everything is food, thankfully: I caught her at the cats’ bowls once, but it turned out she was just tidying up a bit and putting all the little cat biscuits that were strewn on the floor back into their bowls for them. She likes to find her own drinks as well: when I’m running the bath she will lean over and scoop up some water from the tap and slurp it out of her hand. This week – the horror – I found her using the same ‘scoop’ method to sample a little of her brother’s wee from the potty. Yup, that’s a story we’re saving for her wedding day. Suitors, be warned.

She is definitely very sociable and loving. She loves people and is always charming strangers and making new friends on public transport. When we leave the supermarket she says goodbye to the store at large, waving her little hand and saying “Hiiiii!” At the end of the day, she will flag and interrupt reluctant play to come over to me or Daddy or The Fairy Godmother and lean her head against our legs, sucking her fingers and twirling her hair.

Even at night, she prefers company. Around ten or eleven pm she will wake up crying and we all know what time it is: it is cuddle time. Kind offers from others to settle her end in more screaming and tears. It is not until Mummy comes up and hugs her close that her breathing slows and settles, she sucks her fingers and snuggles into the hug. Then I can lower her back into her cot and leave the room, closing the door behind me, and she will sleep on, her hug-tank refuelled for a few more hours.

So that is my Girl, at 14 months: loving, friendly, headlong-hurling-kamikaze toddler covered in bruises, cheeky explorer, devourer of everything, wee-drinker, singer of songs, full to overflowing with the joys of life.

Joy at stickers

Joy at stickers

 

Old Favourites: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Welcome to this month’s instalment of ‘Old Favourites’, in which a guest blogger writes a review of a beloved children’s book. This month we’ve got Beth from Plastic Rosaries, a great book lover and freelance writer. She had trouble choosing a favourite, she said, so we may well be hearing more from her in the coming months reviewing her second and third choices!

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr

Cover

I have hundreds of favourite children’s books. Hundreds isn’t even an exaggeration but there are some I could still read now and love in exactly the same way and feel exactly the same thing – When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is one of them.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is very close to Judith Kerr’s autobiography as it plots the stories of Anna, Max and there family as they have to leave their home in Germany due to being Jewish in the run up to the Second World War. Like Kerr herself, Anna and Max’s father is high on Hitler’s ‘hit list’ and they simply have to move. The move takes place and as they’re packing up all their worldly belongings they have to make some pretty rash decisions when it comes to their toys.

Choosing between toys may seem like no kind of horror but when you’re so very young and everything is about to change it’s a big deal and it’s in this initial decision that the title of the novel comes. As the excerpt below shows, Anna chooses a brand new monkey toy instead of her beloved Pink Rabbit:

Extract1

Now the first time I read this book I thought very little of this but every other time I’ve wanted to dramatically shout “Anna NO!” as nothing will ever be the same for them and there never is an occasion to return for Pink Rabbit. Within a few pages Anna realises as much:

Extract2

This is a novel that even had 10 year old me nearly in tears. No one wants to think of Hitler playing with their beloved toys and it’s a very powerful way of expressing the horrors of war for younger children. It’s beautifully written and illustrated too and even though they’re uprooted time and again Anna and Max find moments of humour and enjoyment in all their homes.

Judith Kerr is an author you can enjoy from the day you’re born. The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog are firm favourites with younger children and then you can move onto When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and get some real insight into how wonderful Kerr is as an author as well as an illustrator. It takes real skill to live through such testing times and come out the other side with a story to tell and the eloquence to be able to tell it.

A beautiful beautiful book that I have read time and time again!

WhenHitlerStolePR Pages