Big Hairy Audacious #Momgoals

Well it’s officially been a year of mostly staying home in a worldwide pandemic. The vaccine is being rolled out to older folks and to those with health issues that might make the virus particularly challenging for their immune system. And it’s hopefully only a few weeks away for me! 

I feel like I’m sitting at an airport with a delayed flight – watching everyone else get on their flights to get to where they are going and I am just sitting here, waiting. 

For me, this year of the pandemic has been divided into different phases or “chapters”:

Covid – Table of Contents 

March 2020-May 2020….Total nightly anxiety but peace-filled days with my kids playing in the backyard. We had teddy bear picnics, made long chalk train tracks, celebrated V’s first birthday, and didn’t get takeout at all. I drank a lot in the evenings and ate a lot of bags of chips. I gained weight.

I bought a lot of stuff online (#retailtherapy) and my kids loved playing in the boxes.

May 2020-June 2020….Optimism and our first Covid bubble family with our neighbors across the street. That was a great time. 

June 2020- August 2020….Construction. A pipe cracked in our bathroom and was leaking down two stories into the basement. We had many contractors in and out of the house at that time and I was very nervous about getting covid.

Bathroom demolished down to the studs.
Before and After

September 2020 – November 2020…. A second wave of optimism and our second covid bubble family with DK’s best friend’s family. Another great period of time in 2020. 

November 2020 – January 2021…. Total reclusiveness. Relishing the coziness of home through the season and enjoying the simplicity of the holidays with our children.

Opening up all the windows of the advent calendar just because it’s 2020 and who cares?
I think we’ve all gotten to the point of isolation where we pretend to be pregnant just because it’s fun to have a belly and no one’s coming over so who’s gonna know?

End of January 2021 – February 2021…. My panties were in a twist, y’all. Frustration, impatience, exhaustion were the emotions on the tip of my covid emotional iceberg.

I’d take a covid vaccine in my eyeball, that’s how badly I want one.
Seriously it got so bad I started using the Google Arts and Culture app again to find my doppelgänger. She also looks wistful and at her wits end.
I love how the photo above is a 55% match but this one is a 60% match. Send help.

March 2021….A third and hopefully last wave of optimism and planning for the future. Sitting in the airport gate excited to get on my “flight” to an amazing vacation (aka waiting for the vaccine so I can see people again).

One year down and we honoured the occasion with dessert for dinner. The kids were ecstatic. Like caffeinated squirrels.

What has your year looked like? Have you also had very distinctive “chapters”?

A Year of Personal Growth 

Despite all these separate chapters, one thing that remained consistent throughout is my determination to make this period of our lives focused inward on personal growth. 

It was during this year that I worked to establish some good home routines for our family. Bedtime routines, a daily family clean up, and meal plans. 

It was also during this time that I took on some personal goals. I got back into my habit of reading, which had dropped off my radar with V’s birth and buying and renovating our house. I started taking weekly Spanish lessons online with a one-on-one tutor in Vera Cruz, Mexico through I joined Noom and began prioritizing my own nutritional health in a quest to lose the baby/pandemic weight. I quit drinking wine every night as a way to wind down from the day and dull the pandemic anxiety. And most recently I started running using the Couch to 5k app. I’ve been going out nearly every morning (mostly to get away from my family for 30 minutes, I’m not a saint), and I’m up to running for 8 minutes straight. People no longer look at me as I wobble past them in the plaza and wonder if I’m okay and if I need an ambulance. 

And yet despite all that I have accomplished for myself, I still found myself feeling down that I hadn’t found time to write on my blog. I love writing. I love the creative outlet. I have tons of ideas bouncing around in my head for posts I want to write. But it’s just so time intensive and requiring deep focus! Who has time for that right now?! 

I found myself resenting that I didn’t get time to write. That much of the time I got to myself was three minutes here to log my food with Noom, thirty minutes there to go for a run, an hour a week to learn Spanish. What I wanted was several hours of peace and quiet to deep dive into my thoughts and research and just write. At the same time, I felt guilty for taking the time I did take for myself. I felt guilty for using my phone at the dinner table to log my food with Noom. I felt guilty for not taking my thrill-seeking daughter in the jogging stroller when I run. I felt guilty for my Spanish class starting at 8 pm and rushing through the kids’ bedtime routines once a week so that I could attend on time.

Thank goodness my husband is free of the pathology of mom-guilt and has been able to tell me many times: don’t feel guilty about that. He has encouraged me to get out of the chaos of the house and write, to take a break from the kids. But do I listen to him? No. I let the mom-guilt continue its cascade.

One morning on my run, I was listening to a podcast and I heard another mother talking about the subject of personal growth. 

She said that the truth was that we can’t have it all all of the time. We can have some things sometimes and other things at other times. 

I get to be with my kids today.

Right now we are in a global pandemic and reliable childcare isn’t really a possible option for us at the moment. And that’s okay. This is a season. Reframing my “I have to be with my kids again today” to “I get to be with my kids today” is a good reminder to me that this is a season, I won’t always get to be with my kids. And when I’m in that future season, maybe that’s when I will write more.

Maybe right now is when I do the living that I will later write about.

In this podcast interview, this woman had written a book and she was telling us about the process of writing it and publishing it as a mother of four kids under the age of ten. I’m inspired by her, but I also hate her just a little bit (hey, I already told you – I’m not a saint). 

That is my dream, to someday write a book. But maybe I don’t write my book until I’m 50 years old. Or maybe I write my book when I’m 75 years old. I’ll definitely have more wisdom to put in its pages at 75 than I would at 33.

Me, in 2062, reading what I wrote in my 30s. With an antique telephone, because I’m vintage.

However this doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to make time to practice the craft of writing, because it is a creative outlet I enjoy, and practice will make me a better writer. So I’m writing this post on my phone while I snuggle my daughter to sleep.

Bringing My Kids Alongside 

In her book, The Brave Learner, Julie Bogart encourages each individual in the family to have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (commonly known as BHAGs in the business world) and for the family to work together to help each other achieve their personal goals. For my husband, he wants to work extra hours on a side project that is needed at work and might be the kind of thing that lands him a promotion. So I get up early with the kids so he can work late into the night on his professional goals. DK wants to build a railroad in the backyard. So we bought him a set of books about a boy and his grandpa who built a model railway on their farm so that he could “do research”. I’m not sure what V’s BHAG is, as she’s 2 years old, but she loves to help me cook, so I stand patiently by while she makes a huge mess with the flour and stirs in too many raisins. Someday perhaps she will cook a meal for us. And for me, my kids and husband say “have a good run!” when I trot out the door every morning on my quest to run 5k.

I highly recommend this book!

Bringing my kids alongside me in my goals shows them through osmosis how to work towards goals – The hard work, the time investment, and the importance of practice towards progress. When I was in 9th grade, my mom went back to school. Seeing her study and write papers gave me a great perspective of what kind of work ethic would be required when I too went to university. Realizing this has helped me let go of the mom-guilt. My children want a mother who is healthy and intellectually fulfilled. They are learning how to pursue their own passions by seeing me pursue mine. It is good for my children to see me struggle and get frustrated with something I am learning how to do – and how I keep at it until I can do it. I am a better mother when I’m not resentful and despondent at the groundhog nature of my days. 

A good friend of mine recently started a custom cookie business. She had it in her mind that she’d like to learn how to bake and decorate sugar cookies, and so after years of wishing, she bought some tools and got started. And here’s the truly amazing thing – she’s incredibly talented at it. Like seriously, check out some of these pictures of her cookies. You can follow her on instagram @humbleandkindcustomcookies.

In a few short months she has built a beautiful brand and sells stunning cookies. All of this success is hard to balance though with a busy life with two kids, but she can let go of the mom-guilt knowing that while she builds this business, her boys are seeing what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They are seeing attention to detail and brand management. They are seeing design and creativity. They are seeing accounting and time management. They are seeing their mom as a woman with passions and talents outside of her identity as their mother and they are seeing their father support her in her goals. And someday they will understand and support their spouses in the same way.

Charlotte Mason said “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life” and my friend’s sons are getting a great home education as they bear witness to work. 

I wonder if bringing our kids alongside us in our dreams of pursuing our careers and achieving our own big, hairy, audacious goals is the antidote to the mom-guilt that plagues so many moms who work outside and inside the home. 

Pockets of Time in Imperfect Places 

When I was single, I had this little one-bedroom apartment on the fourth and top floor. Outside my windows was the foliage of a big birch trees and my home felt a little like a nest in its branches. I would spend Friday nights cleaning so that Saturday morning I could wake up to a quiet, clean, and peace-filled apartment, make a cup of tea, and sit down and write. The sun trickled in through the tree leaves and bounced off the warm, cream-coloured walls. It was my dream writing environment: quiet, clean, organized, sunny, warm, and with a view of nature. 

I continue to tell myself that I can’t possibly write anything decent without the perfect writing environment at home. But my home is so rarely quiet or clean. Trying to prepare the perfect writing environment takes time away from when I could actually be writing. 

When I was doing my Master’s degree, I was trying to get through a ton of readings. I would print journal articles and read through them while I waited in line at the campus coffee shop, while I waited at stop lights, or while I waited for class to start. I do know from experience that pockets of time can yield great efforts towards a goal. And yet I need to remind myself daily not to expect the perfect moment – but to do it in the here and now, a little at a time in an imperfect moment. 

In this season of my life, I need to accept the time given to me in the imperfect spaces of my day: waiting for the shower water to heat up, waiting for the lunch noodles to cook, the three minutes per day that my children actually play nicely together, or sitting in the dark with my daughter while she falls asleep as I type slyly on my phone.

What about you? Do you have any Big Hairy Audacious Goals you have been putting off because you “just don’t have time”? How could you bring your family alongside to work on goals together? Where do you have pockets of time? 

Trick or Treat! Re-imagining Halloween in the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Coronavirus continues its slow burn through my county in California like the longest slow dance of my high school tenure. With summer coming to a close, kids back in zoom school, and wildfires surrounding us, I need something to look forward to. I turn my sights to Halloween and my stomach drops. What if there is no Halloween this year?! As of this writing, they’ve cancelled trick or treating in LA county, and I’m just waiting for our county to do the same.

I’ve had to disappoint my kids over and over again throughout this pandemic; Barking at them to stay away from other kids, getting them outside only to see the playgrounds covered with tape, and saying no to seeing friends. I’ve played by the rules our health department laid out for us, and we celebrated three birthdays in a very low-key way, but cancelling my kid’s favorite holiday is just too mean. 

I ask around in a few online mom’s groups and neighborhood forums – and the overwhelming opinion is, “no, we will not be participating in trick-or-treating this year”. What? Even outdoors and with masks, people are hesitant to have kids come close enough to pass them candy, and many parents aren’t willing to risk the high-touch load of a crowd-sourced candy stash. My heart sank. You can’t trick-or-treat alone. It’s a community-lead thing. The only thing worse than cancelling Halloween would be to get our hopes up and our costumes on, and go out trick-or-treating only to have no one answer the door.

Rite of Reversal

Aside from Halloween being my four-year-old’s favourite holiday, it’s one that I know carries a lot of ritual importance in our society. It is what anthropologists have termed a rite of reversal.

A rite of reversal is a ritual in which the social order is reversed; the world devolves into chaos and then reverts back to order. These rites are important in human culture because they remind us why we have social conventions and rules in the first place. Sure, chaos is fun for an evening, but at the end of the day, when you crawl into bed, you’re happy that when you wake up in the morning, things will go back to the way they were. Trick-or-treating on Halloween night is an example of a rite of reversal.

On Halloween:

  • Children, who are usually only in public spaces in the daytime, get to run through the streets after dark, often without their parents.
  • Children get to go to stranger’s homes and rather rudely, threateningly demand candy (Trick or Treat!).
  • Children get to dress in costume.
  • Spooky and scary replaces light-hearted and predictable.
  • Children get to eat lots of junk food/candy.

Everyday I try to teach my children to be polite (say please and thank you and not be demanding or threatening), to dress appropriately (not go out in public in costume), to eat healthily (celery sticks not chocolate bars), and to not ever take candy from strangers. Yet, on Halloween, the opposite of these behaviours is allowed and encouraged. We literally send our kids out at night in a costume to threaten strangers to give them candy or they will play a trick on them.

Halloween is special. On Halloween you can break the rules. In doing so, it releases tension between child and parent and reinforces why we have rules at all. While Halloween is a fun night and some kids might wish it were Halloween every day, the fact that it isn’t every day is what makes it so fun and so special.

I care about Halloween for my kids for a bigger reason than their smiling faces covered in chocolate at 9 o’clock at night…I believe it is an important cultural rite that helps balance the adult-child or rule-maker/rule-follower relationship. So I’ve been wracking my brain trying to find other ways that we can celebrate Halloween in a way that fits in with the uncertainty of a pandemic, while upholding the spirit of the rite of reversal that it is. Ways that still reverse the order of things to blow off some of that pent-up steam. I know I need a release from our new-normal even more now in the midst of this will-it-ever-end can-I-hire-a-babysitter-yet pandemic.

The Year we went as a dog and a dog walker

Ghoul’s Dinner

I have wanted to host a Ghoul’s dinner for a while – a special dinner where for one night only, my family subverts the normal and throws out all the table manners that my husband and I have been trying to instill. Parents and children get to be excessively rude, having fun and doing all the things we aren’t supposed to do at the table: belching, reaching, gagging, eating with our hands, wiping our faces on our shirts, blowing bubbles in our milk, building castles with our potatoes, banging cutlery on the table, and throwing food on the floor. This night of chaos (and subsequent family clean up) reinforces why we have table manners all other nights of the year. People, and especially our children, are creatures of habit. We like to know what to expect. We certainly wouldn’t want a chaotic meal with spaghetti in our hair every day, so when you do a ritual of reversal for fun on a set day of the year, it reinforces why we care about correct behaviour. Life generally is more pleasant when we follow social conventions and we don’t have to clean globs of food off the floor – but once a year, it’s nice to let loose and remind ourselves of that.

If you’re not keen on the mess and rudeness of a Ghoul’s dinner, you can still subvert the normative meal-time framework by serving a desserts-only or desserts-first meal for supper on Halloween night. I can imagine the look on my four-year old son’s face when he comes down the stairs to the dinner table and sees a table set with a huge cake, sides of ice cream sundaes, pie, brownies AND cookies. A Candyland dream come true! We might even play Candyland while we eat.

The year we went as the scariest thing you’ll ever see…Bay Area Traffic.

Trick or Treat

There’s something so exciting about walking around the neighbourhood after dark. Everything is quiet and still and there’s a small thrill that you shouldn’t really be out. Halloween night is even more thrilling with permission to leave the public space (the sidewalk) and go up to people’s front doors (a public-private space) and shout “Trick or Treat!”. In usual years, neighbors give our kids treats because they don’t want a trick played on them. But what if we went back to the original intent behind that phrase and played “tricks” on neighbors who aren’t handing out candy? Now I don’t mean mean-spirited, illegal or dangerous pranks – but perhaps we could leave some cards with tricky riddles or tongue twisters on them as “tricks” instead of receiving “treats”. I think that would capture the ritualized subversion of order as well, but from the opposite angle.

Halloween Treasure Hunt

One thing that I love about Halloween night is how well my kids sleep afterwards. Even if they’ve had 15 mini chocolate bars, they crash hard onto the pillow from the excitement of running around the neighborhood for three hours before bed time. By the time trick-or-treating is over, my kids have earned their candy stash. They worked hard for it, going door to door schlepping a heavy bag around while wearing an awkward costume in the dark. Part of truly enjoying anything is the hard work associated with getting it. How good does a cold beer taste after an afternoon of digging holes for fence posts? So good.

How could I make sure that candy, which is usually restricted in our home, is part of our celebration this year, but in a way that my kids still have to work hard to earn it (instead of just buying some and throwing it in a bowl on the counter)?

The year we went as the Caltrain engine, a princess commuting to work, and a Caltrain employee.

I thought we could order some halloween-themed plastic eggs (or we could put halloween-themed stickers or draw silly faces on our leftover plastic easter eggs) and hide them around the house and our yard, filled with candy. I mentioned the plan to our immediate neighbours on our block with kids and we decided to collectively make it an event for our street at dusk on Halloween night. A Halloween treasure hunt is possible to remain distant from others – after all, if you’re searching where someone else is searching, you will have to share the booty, so it’s in the kid’s best interest to search an area on his/her own.

While the Centre for Disease Control  guidelines indicate that there is not much evidence that coronavirus transmits particularly well on surfaces, it is easy to wipe down a plastic egg with an alcohol wipe before opening. And if multiple homes are packing the eggs, they can put the candies in the eggs a full three days before Halloween to give any potential virus particles on the candy wrappers time to die before the eggs are hidden, found and opened.

2020 has been an unbelievable and unforgettable year. I want our Halloween night to be unbelievable and unforgettable too, in a good way. A way that doesn’t stand out in our memories as the worst Halloween ever, but as one of the best in spite of everything else going on around us. Throughout so much of this pandemic, my kids have had to adjust and go along for the ride. I want to put them and other kids at the forefront this Halloween and make sure they know that their childhoods are still important, even in the midst of all this scary grown-up stuff happening. Maybe you will join me.

Some orange playdough! Stay tuned for this year’s family costume. It’s truly inspired and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Taking a deep breath in 2020

As many of you know, I have been fascinated by the writings of a Victorian woman, Charlotte Mason, for about two years now. I am inspired by passages like:

“Our aim in education is to give a full life. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.”

Charlotte Mason

Some of it, on the other hand, I chuckle….ahhh to travel back to Victorian times…Scientific advice about feeding your child a variety of bland foods, airing out beds every day or dressing only in wool – while well-intentioned and researched for the time period – is dated in 2020. There are some wonderful words of wisdom in her writings, but you also have to read between the lines with a discerning eye and your critical thinking cap on.

One piece of advice that I initially scoffed at, though upon further reflection, she is absolutely right, is her obsession with air. She spends a full six pages in her first volume, “Home Education” talking about the air we breathe, and it is definitely something I took for granted before 2020.

She writes, 

“You can’t live upon air!” we say to the invalid who can’t eat. No, we cannot live upon air; but if we must choose among the three sustainers of life, air will support us the longest. We know all about it; we are deadly wearing of the subject; let but the tail of your eye catch ‘oxygenation’ on a page, and the well-trained organ skips that paragraph of its own accord….Oxygen, his name; and the marvel that he effects within us some fifteen times in the course of a minute is possibly without parrallel in the whole array of marvels which we ‘tot up’ with easy familiarity…” (p. 30, Volume 1)

Breathing is a pretty phenomenal activity – that we do it without thinking every few seconds, reassures me that even in a world teeming with busyness, chaos and uncertainty, some things go on as before. Here is a video, if you’re interested, about the mechanics of breathing.

Considering how important oxygen is for human existence, oxygen puzzled scientists for centuries. The prevailing theory in the 17th century was that all combustible matter contained a substance called phlogiston that was released during combustion. Air was so ubiquitous that we didn’t even realize we lived in it. Another element must be responsible for why things stopped burning under a glass dome – the item had run out of phlogiston, not that the oxygen in the dome was gone.

“Phlogiston theory states that phlogisticated substances are substances that contain phlogiston and dephlogisticate when burned. Dephlogisticating is the process of releasing stored phlogiston, which is absorbed by the air. Growing plants then absorb this phlogiston, which is why air does not spontaneously combust and also why plant matter burns as well as it does.”(Wikipedia)

Scientists at the time believed that when something burned, it was because it contained this mysterious fire-element, called phlogiston. These ideas built upon the Ancient Greek, Empedocles’ theory of the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. Phologiston was considered the element of fire. It wasn’t until scientists were trying to trap phlogiston that they discovered oxygen and hydrogen. However, ironically, they didn’t even realize what they had found – they believed they had found dephlogisticated air (air with the phlogiston taken out of it). (The Mystery of the Periodic Table, Benjamin Wiker, 2003)

As a fish moves about in an ocean of water, we live in an ocean of air – and yet it is something we think so little about and took us so long to even realize. So often the things that are most prevalent and unquestionable are overlooked. I rarely think about the process of breathing. I rarely think about the air I am breathing in and what it is made of or contains. I take such a fundamental thing to my continued existence completely for granted.

Mason lived between 1842 and 1923 – the crux of the industrial revolution in Britain. This was a time when coal and oil were burned for lighting, when every home had a fireplace for heat and cooking, and when the main means of transportation used horses (and in cities like London or New York, there were 50,000-100,000 horses working daily in the city, each horse producing 35 pounds of manure and two pints of urine per day.) Basically the air was putrid in dense cities like London. So her emphasis on fresh air for children was very relevant from a public health perspective.

Now, 100 years later, we are in the midst of a pandemic where the virus spreads chiefly through the air we breathe and as we sicken with it, our lungs fill with fluid, making it harder to breathe. Time I spend outside my home, I spend wearing a mask to protect myself and others from the virus, and in California as I type this it is literally raining ash on my car from surrounding wildfires. The air quality is poor here right now and we’ve been cooped up in our home for days. 

For me, fresh air has never felt so precious. I don’t think I’ll ever take the ability to breathe freely for granted again. 

One of my favourite spoken word poems is “If I Should Have a Daughter” by Sarah Kay. One portion of the poem comes to mind now.

“She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.” – Sarah Kay, If I Should Have a Daughter [emphasis, mine]

These last few weeks, it has really felt that California’s lungs are just getting slammed from all sides.

Before covid, I would get outside with my kids every day. It was part of our daily routine, our habits. I could palpably feel a need for fresh air, my body craved it. We were outside every day rain or shine.

When the pandemic hit and everything shut down and we were instructed to not leave our homes for anything but essentials, we locked down and barely left our property for anything. Sure we could go out into nature, but I felt too afraid to in this new world order. We spent a lot of time in our backyard, still spending lots of time outdoors every day – but I missed the smell of trees and I missed the smell of the sea. And I missed the smell of sweet grasses blowing in the warm breeze.

Charlotte Mason wrote, “There is some circulation of air even in the slums of the city, and the child who spends its days in the streets is better supplied with oxygen than he who spends most of his hours in the unchanged air of a spacious apartment. But it is not the air of the streets children want. It is the delicious life-giving air of the country.” (p.32, Home Education)

The first day that we went to the beach after they reopened, I cried. Being back and being able to take in a great big breath of fresh air off of the expanse of the sea was life-giving. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it until that moment.

Charlotte Mason saw the importance of getting out of the city as much as possible to breathe fresh air. She also emphasized the importance of airing out the home. As mentioned above, homes in Victorian England were heated and lit by burning different fuels, which suck oxygen out of the air. She wrote,

“Put two or three breathing bodies, as well as fire and gas, into a room, and it is incredible how soon the air becomes vitiated. We know what it is to come in out of the fresh air and complain that a room feels stuffy; but sit in the room a few minutes, and you get accustomed to its stuffiness; the senses are no longer a safe guide.”

In spite of all the technology advances we have made in heating/cooling/air filtration, my home still gets stuffy. And if the air outside wasn’t unhealthy to breathe from all the plumes of smoke settling into our valley, I would open the windows and take a deep breath.

What have you been taking for granted lately? What advice have you scoffed at? Whose friendship have you assumed would be there when you finally got around to responding to that text? Who have you disagreed with without hearing their side of the story? Maybe a moment to open the windows and let in some fresh air.

Finding my Mom Tribe

A few weeks ago, I found myself alone, with my two children, at Alum Rock park in San Jose without cell coverage. I had been having an off day with my kids – and because of that, we ended up separating from the group we were with and just doing our own thing. My husband had no idea we were there, and, as we were having an off day, my friends probably assumed we had just left and gone home.

We walked toward these really pretty mineral springs. It was nice to get some mental space after the tantrums and whining of the day. Breathe in, breathe out. Rock cliffs rose up on the one side, and the sulfur-scented water was blue-green and crystal clear as it babbled along underneath low-hanging trees. It was hot and dry and we saw a couple small snakes. Before becoming a mom, seeing a snake would have put me in cardiac arrest – but now, some kind of mom-instinct kicks in and I’m able to stay unruffled while I manage a possibly-threatening situation. I calmly picked DK up and we continued on pushing V in the stroller past the snakes. DK wanted to go down to the springs to throw rocks in, but at this point, I felt uneasy at being all alone out there without even cell coverage to call for help (there are rattlesnakes at Alum Rock!), so I trusted another important mom instinct and we got out of there to rejoin civilization.

We are meant to raise our children in community. This is how humans have been raising their children for thousands of years. The saying “it takes a village” is cliché for a reason. I think that’s part of why my instinct to “get back to where there are people and we are safe” kicked in when we were out there, just the three of us. Hunter-gatherers 5000 years ago didn’t have cell coverage either, but they also probably didn’t peel off the group with their kids into an unfamiliar territory.

And yet, it seems incredibly hard to find a true village to raise your family with. We live in an age with nuclear families, private homes divided by yards and roads and driveways and dual-paned windows. We live in an age when you go to the park with your children and the other parents aren’t looking around for someone to talk to, they are looking down at a 3×5 inch screen and talking to someone across the globe. And, we live in a very transient time – people chase dreams and jobs across state-lines, across the country and across the world. This trend is especially obvious in Silicon Valley where people come, make their money, and move back to a place with a lower cost of living. Eight of my friends moved away in 2018. In 2019, three of my friends have left. So far in 2020, I’ve said goodbye to 4 dear friends. It feels like a never-ending cycle of meeting people, getting to know them, welcoming them to my inner circle, and then saying goodbye.

So how do I find my tribe? How do I make mom-friends again and again? What’s the secret?

The secret, actually is quite simple: Join an online local moms group (Facebook or are good places to find one), put yourself out there and host events at times and locations that are convenient to you. When you do this, you might be surprised who will show up AND the best part is they will show up because it is a time and location convenient for them too. So you can do it again. And again. And again. And slowly, through the repeated events, you will get to know each other, your kids will learn to play together, and you will have built your tribe.

Once, I organized a playground play date in a local moms group at 7:30 in the morning. I thought no one would show up. But a girl with a baby the same age as mine and who lived nearby came. That day I met my friend Pav, because she too was up with a baby at 5:30 am and by 7:30 was ready to get out of the house. Because I said “Hey, does anyone want to join me?”, she is still my good friend. Don’t just wait until someone else hosts an event and try to fit it into your schedule. Host it yourself. Do things you want to do, that you are prepared for, and you will meet other moms who want to do the same things and who’s kids have the same nap schedules.

Me and my friend Pav, going to a spa day together

I wanted to meet other moms who were interested in getting outside with their kids. So I started hosting weekly nature walks at times and locations convenient to me and my kids. It started by connecting with a couple of moms through a local moms group about Charlotte Mason, and over the year, we have gathered quite a large group of like-minded mamas through word of mouth and friends inviting friends.

Our tribe gathered for lunch at Shoup Park Redwood Preserve

Over the past year of doing these nature walks, I have discovered another important secret: doing things that scare you is always better with a community. Take going to the beach for example. The beach isn’t that scary normally. But it is terrifying to a mom with more than one young child to keep track of. Honestly, it’s kind of out-of-the-question to go to the beach with my kids alone. How could I keep both kids safe from waves and eating sand and drowning? I need my mom tribe. Together, we approach parenting as if we are playing zone defence. I liken it to being a Canada goose. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of goslings and geese, you’ll notice that the geese stand in a circle, facing outward, surrounding the goslings. Going to the beach with my mom tribe seems a lot like that. We have some moms standing near the stuff and the sand toys, we have some moms standing near the water. We have some moms standing near the cliffs that are oh-so-fun to climb. In basketball terms, we are playing zone defence. Man to man is impossible anyways when you have more children than arms.

I am beyond grateful for my mom tribe. Together we have caught frogs, scared away snakes and backed away really quickly from a mysterious growl in the bushes that one five-year old said was “a bear” (we actually think it was a mountain lion). Doing things together has taught me a lot about parenting, about patience, about how to pack a lunch, when to put bug spray on, and what poison oak looks like.

So much of motherhood feels like I’m just fumbling along. But with my tribe, at least we are all kind of fumbling through it together and carrying one another through moments of doubt.

How can you start your own mom tribe today? What kinds of things do you like to do with your kids? Which times and locations could be convenient for you to invite others to join you in that activity?

Telling Tales

I love telling stories. I’m actually pretty good at it…get a glass or two of wine in me at a party and I’ll tell you about the time a seeing-eye-dog-in-training licked poop off DK in an airport bathroom with more colour and enthusiasm than Stuart McLean.

In this, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree because my dad is also a great story teller. I remember when I was a kid asking my dad to tell me a story and he’d make one up on the spot (or at least I thought he did). One particularly memorable one involved baby Heather with the hiccoughs and everytime she hiccoughed, she’d float little by little towards the ceiling. Her family members and neighbours all tried to pull her down until everyone she knew was hanging on for dear life, down in one long line from her shoe. Just when they thought all hope was lost, little baby Heather farted and everyone came tumbling down to earth. Everyone laughed and laughed and laughed at the fart and lived happily ever after. Now I’m not sure if this is a Jim Dunphy original (it definitely has elements of a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate factory), but that’s not important – I thought it was hilarious and I loved hearing this story. Thinking about that now has made me reflect on doing the same thing for DK and baby V.

I honestly haven’t really tried coming up with anything decent yet – it’s hard to come up with a story on the fly that a kid will like that has a beginning, a middle and an end. I can’t just tell him about that time I accidentally shaved off my eyebrows. A few days ago, in a desperate bid to get him to agree to take a bath, I said “Let’s play the three billy cars!

“Once upon a time, there were three billy cars. And the name of all three billy cars was?…”, I began.

“Gruff!”, exclaimed DK excitedly, plunking his butt down in the bath water that two seconds before was “too hot! Too cold! Too wet!” He gathered three cars up quickly and I grabbed his tow truck.

“The three billy cars were on their way to the gas station where they could eat and eat and eat and get fat. But on their way to the gas station there was a bridge over a rushing river,”

“Under the bridge lived a troll who was as mean as he was ugly!” DK continued, quoting our version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone word-for-word.

“A tow troll!” I said, shaking the little blue tow truck and giving an evil laugh.

DK drove a yellow car along the bath tub’s edge.

“The first billy car came to cross the bridge,” I continued. “Trip trap trip trap trip trap, went the bridge.”

“WHO’S THAT TRIPPING OVER MY BRIDGE?!” DK screeched in his raspy “troll” voice, bouncing and smiling in the tub in excitement.

“It’s only I, the first billy car and I’m going to the gas station to make myself fat!” I said.

DK mumbled and looked at me, not quite sure what the “tow troll” should say next. So I prompted him,

“No you’re not! For I’m coming to tow you away!”

The tow troll chased the little yellow car around the tub and then finally gave up, very tired. DK, shrieked with delight the entire time.

And so we continued through the rest of the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. And then we did it again, because, 2 year olds.

I had stumbled upon a way to play with my kid that doesn’t make me want to scratch out my eyeballs, at least the first time through the fairytale skit, because I’m not grasping at straws coming up with things for my character to say. Don’t get me wrong, role playing banal conversational exchanges like, “how are you today?” “I’m good how are you?” “Do you want to play with me?”, are important role-playing exchanges for developing conversational skills with a preschooler…but I can only take so much of that. Re-enacting our favourite stories in play is something I do find enjoyable and I don’t think I am alone here.

Telling tales orally is a rich human tradition. We have been passing down stories orally to one another for thousands of years. Before the inventions of the written word and printing presses, we had no other choice, bedtime stories were oral narrations. The fairytales and nursery rhymes we recite to our children today are the same ones parents on the English Isles and Northern Europe told their kids over centuries. Around the world, different cultures have their own rhymes and oral tales that they have been telling children over generations. Telling stories to our children seems to be an intrinsic part of parenthood.

Charlotte Mason recognized that oral tales were one way humans had been learning for millennia and a core part of her educational philosophy is “narration” wherein a child explains in his own words what he just read, either orally (grades 1-3) or written (4+6). Mason writes,

“Education…demands a conscious mental effort…the mental effort of telling again that which has been read or heard. That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education.” (Vol. 6, pp. 159-60)

Telling back in your own words what you just read or had read to you requires active listening/reading, focus and attention. It requires comprehension of the text. Along with printing, narration is the first step to learning how to write and compose. We know from modern educational research that we remember hardly anything of what we read or hear, but we remember a lot more of what we teach to others. Storytelling (the art of telling a story from memory) is one form of narration.

Not only does telling a story from memory help cement it in the storyteller’s mind, the personal interaction with your child is memorable for them.

DK and I had already been reading a couple of books of nursery rhymes (I like Mary Englebright’s versions because I love her illustrations) and age-appropriate  fairytales (I really like Paul Galdone’s fairytale book series), but I wanted to try just telling them orally without the book or props in front of me, to see how DK reacted. I re-read a few of our fairytales by myself one night and practiced the structure of the story in my head. Often fairytales have lots of repetition, which is loved and needed for preschoolers. So I figured out what I needed to repeat to make sure I had the basic structure right. He loved hearing me tell a story he was already familiar with in my own words and it was fun because I could add my own spice to the story – changing the name Goldilocks to DKeylocks, for example. He listened with rapt attention and an energetic thrill to be a character in the story. I won’t know for a few more years, but I also hypothesize that hearing me retell familiar stories will also help him in his storytelling abilities when he is 5.

Telling tales is also an easy way to distract from frustrations at having to wait for things. I can tell him a tale while I nurse his baby sister. I can tell him a tale while waiting in line at the grocery store. I can tell him a tale while he sits on the potty. It captures his attention, entertains and also creates a social bonding moment between us, storyteller and listener.

So now I have to practice some more tales and expand my roster!

What about you, dear reader? Do you have some favourite stories you like to tell your kids? How do you incorporate tales from your childhood into your child’s life?

Tandem Dessert and Other Secrets

Many toddlers are picky eaters. We know that. Biologically it does make sense to be choosey about what you put in your mouth when you are still learning about the world, lest you eat something poisonous, so I do get why my son flat out refuses to eat all fruit. Well I don’t actually get it, fruit is delicious but whatever, I can respect his distrust of all fruit for now.


I have struggled to feed DK ever since he was 6 months old and I was told by my pediatrician to start introducing cereals etc to him. I found it stressful to introduce new foods to him. I didn’t know what to feed him, he didn’t want to eat it, and he made a big mess. I don’t know that I “tried” a specific method – baby-led weaning or whatever the opposite of that is, I just tried to get him to eat food. He was much better at eating if he could put whatever it was in his own mouth, so baby-led weaning kind of took over. But still, he barely ate anything but breastmilk. After one particularly difficult trip home to Canada, he actually lost 3 pounds and I freaked out, basically force feeding him peanut butter and ice cream. It was a low point for me.


Things did not get better as he entered toddlerhood. There were very few foods that I would introduce that he had any interest in or would try at all. And what was worse, he started gagging just looking at certain foods or at the suggestion that he try something. Seriously, he would gag anytime he saw a strawberry or an apple. In desperation, and in preparation for my next pediatrician visit and wanting it to look like I was at least trying to get my kid to stick to a growth chart, I took a course offered through my doctor’s office called “Feeding Your Toddler”.


The course was taught by a pediatric nutritionist and her goal was to teach us how to get our children to eat – but not overeat. She based her talk on the work of Dr. Ellyn Sater who wrote many books on feeding children in the 1980s and 1990s, among them, “How to get your kid to eat, but not too much.” (1987). And frankly the info in this course BLEW my mind and also completely freaked me out. It was so different…could it possibly work?


The basic premise is that you want your child to see all food (healthy & unhealthy) as neutral and to eat just the right amount so that we feel full, but not too full. Treating all food as neutral means that chocolate ice cream has the same value as raw broccoli (I know, crazy right?). But the goal here is to not develop cravings for those unhealthy forbidden foods. As soon as we put dessert on a pedestal or use it as a reward for eating the healthier foods, we develop an unhealthy relationship with that unhealthy food and it makes us crave it that much more. The second concept, to eat just the right amount, breaks down into letting your child choose how much, or if, they eat at all. Unfortunately, the side effect of requiring that children finish all of the food on their plates makes them lose their natural ability to tell when they are full and begin to associate the feeling of being over-full with satisfaction and reward. Down the road, this can cause weight issues such as obesity. Now, this isn’t my current problem with DK – but with the obesity epidemic predicting that we are now entering generations who won’t live as long as their parents – I want to make sure that anything I do do to get DK to put food in his mouth will not be counter-productive to his relationship with food in the long-term.



The instructor broke meal time down into parent versus child roles.


The parent’s role is to decide: what we eat, when we eat, where we eat.

But the child’s role is to decide: how much to eat or whether to eat at all.


I’ll admit, I had a really hard time with this. Following this advice to fulfill my role and to let DK fulfill his role meant that I had to give up control completely about how much he ate and I was already freaking out that he was underweight. Could I really just put a communal bowl of pasta on the table and let him serve himself what he wanted? What if he didn’t like what I made? I brought my concerns up with his pediatrician, who I saw a few days later and he said to follow the advice of the pediatric nutritionist and just see what happens.


And so we tried the method to see.


We let DK choose how much of anything he wanted to eat and trusted that over the course of a few days, he would get a balanced selection for a healthy diet.


We served a selection of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy with every meal – letting him decide how much he wanted (if any). We didn’t try to push one food over another, but offered them all equally and without pressure or guilt (or at least tried to).

And, the hardest thing, when we served dessert (and the nutritionist’s advice is you should serve dessert at least once per week), we served it in equal portions (everyone at the table gets one cookie) but we served it at the same time as the rest of the meal.


This advice seems SO WRONG and against everything our moms and grandmas taught us. You earn dessert because you ate enough of your peas. You don’t just get dessert.


We were very skeptical. If we served a treat with the rest of the meal, DK would fill up on his dessert first and eat less of the healthy stuff, right? The concept is, if the child feels that all food is of equal value and that the dessert is not conditional on any other eating – they are happy to eat the dessert when they are ready, and not in a “I have to eat this right away before I lose it” binge-eating-attitude. And the long-term goal is to develop healthy eating habits, not binge-eating-junk-food -when-no-one-is-looking-habits


But yes, at first, that is what happened. He ate the cookie first. And would ask for another one. But we said, “We each get one.” and then he’d try to eat ours. But we re-affirmed, “we each get only one” and we would eat ours so that the temptation was gone. But we kept trusting in the method and a few times per week, we continued to serve a single cookie each for dessert, at the same time as the rest of the meal.


And now, I am amazed that what they said would happen, is happening. DK will take a nibble of his cookie and then eat his chicken, or spinach or rice, and then take another nibble of his cookie. Often he doesn’t even finish his cookie before he declares he is “all done” and gets down from the table.


He has become more adventurous for eating more foods and when he tries it of his own accord, he often likes it. Whereas if I encourage/pressure him to try it (which pediatric nutritionist  said not to do…I know, I’m not perfect), he almost always spits it out and says “I don’t like it” and won’t try it again. Case in point, he now eats raw spinach and raw broccoli very happily. I didn’t even bother to offer it to him with any suggestive influence because most kids don’t like those things, so I assumed it would be a flat refusal and didn’t bother even asking, but it turns out when he wants to try it, he will, and he’s more likely to like it without the power struggle.


Some days, DK only eats carrots. And some days, he only eats chicken. And some days, the only food worthy to cross his lips is yogurt. But over the span of a few days, he does get a balanced diet.


Now, to be real, I still wouldn’t say my child (or my husband for that matter) is an adventurous eater – but his palette has expanded and his curiosity about what is on the table is widening. I try not to be a short-order cook, so if I know there’s no way he (or my husband) is going to eat the soup I really felt like cooking and eating – I try to make sure our table is set with communal dishes of things he will eat: fresh cut veggies, bread with butter, a bowl of nuts, etc. And he can always ask for a peanut butter sandwich or toast, which I will short-order cook for him.


All in all, I was very skeptical of the philosophy, but right now it seems to be working for us. Every so often DK will add a new ingredient to his “approved” list. Still no fruit, unless contained in yogurt, but I am very happy to report that he no longer gags at the sight of a strawberry and will touch it and allow it on his plate (although he hasn’t tried it yet).


A Little at a Time

I think the hardest thing when I become a mom was taking care of myself. And not just my physical and psychological needs like showering wearing clean clothes, or spending quality time with my husband, but also taking care of my intellectual needs.

Before I became a stay-at-home-mom, I took courses, I volunteered, and (when I lived in Canada and was legally allowed to) I worked. My day was filled with interesting conversations with intelligent and fascinating people. When my son was born and I was home with a baby who barely even opened his eyes, I became very lonely and isolated with no one to talk to or learn from. My need for an intellectual outlet was still there but I channeled it into over-thinking and over-researching things to do with caring for my kid. I would get stuck in these endless loops debating sleep training or baby-led weaning or how often to give my kid a bath…and the judgment would set in towards those who did things differently from me. ‘Cause I mean, clearly, they didn’t think it through as I had. *Let me roll my eyes at my past self*.

Now, I’m trying to be better. I still like to do research and learn about things to do with childcare and educational philosophies and share all that I’ve learned with people (Hello all my posts on Charlotte Mason!), but I try to not let the judgment police come to dinner anymore. One of the gifts Miss Mason has given me is an even bigger intellectual outlet so that I can do my research and share it and apply it to my life but then take the piece of my brain that was analyzing what other people were doing and give it something else to think about: Mother Culture.

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What is Mother Culture?

Mother Culture is just learning new things for the sake of learning new things. Keeping our minds sharp so that when our kids ask “Why is the sky blue?” we could actually have an answer (not that you always want to have an answer, there is value in long-term pondering for children…but more on that later).

I have found wisdom in much of Charlotte Mason’s writings, but I’m going to share one of my favourite passages with you:

“Is there not some need for ‘mother culture’? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, ‘I simply have no time for myself!’ ‘I never read a book!’ Or else, ‘I don’t think it is right to think of myself!’ They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification.

Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say ‘I cannot.’ Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we ‘cannot’ get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for ‘Mother Culture?’–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or ‘remember.’

The habit of reading is so easily lost; not so much, perhaps, the power of enjoying books as the actual power of reading at all. It is incredible how, after not being able to use the eyes for a time, the habit of reading fast has to be painfully regained…

The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, ‘I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’ That is the secret; always have something ‘going’ to grow by. If we mothers were all ‘growing’ there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls…

A brisk walk will help. But, if we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness.

Is there, then, not need for more ‘Mother Culture’?”
 Volume III, no. 2 The Parents’ Review

This idea captivated me. Could I find 30 minutes per day to dedicate to “Mother Culture”? I certainly found enough time to watch Gilmore Girls reruns. Surely I could find time to challenge myself. I wasn’t exactly sure what to even start with. A craft? A book?  A walk in the woods? In the end, I turned off the TV and hid my phone away and I started with the thing I’ve loved most: I picked up a book.

I started reading again. Not blogs or Facebook status updates or news articles, but actual books. I took Charlotte Mason’s words to heart, “The wisest woman I ever knew…told me once… ‘I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’”

I resolved to start limiting myself to 3 books at a time (I am notorious for starting many many many books and never finishing one but saying that I am “reading” it, when I’m really not) and to really try to find “living books” as my choices.

  1. A stiff book. Right now I am reading “For the Love of Physics” by Walter Lewin, a physics professor at MIT who is passionate about physics and has won many awards for his  teaching. It is not written “stiffly”, his writing style is actually very engaging, but it is difficult for me because my knowledge of physics is very poor (electricity works by magic, right?) so it requires all of my focus and concentration.

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2) A moderately easy book. Right now I am reading Charlotte Mason’s 6 volumes. When I first started reading them, I would consider her writing style to be “stiff”, but it’s amazing how much your reading skills improve as you get more familiar with the writing style. After reading 3 volumes, I’m finding her writing much easier to get through.

3) A novel. I resolved to read one novel from every majorly famous/renowned author. I want to be familiar with the stories that pop up in pop-culture but I don’t really know much about the original. For example, I know the quote, “Elementary, my dear Watson”, is from Sherlock Holmes, but I have never read anything by Arthur Conan Doyle.  So I brainstormed a list and strive to read one book by:

  • Charles Dickens
  • John Steinbeck
  • Jane Austen
  • Charlotte Brontë
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • J.D. Salinger
  • Albert Camus
  • Agatha Christie
  • Mark Twain
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • George Orwell
  • Stephen King
  • Margaret Atwood

So far in 2019, I have tackled Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (OMG LOVED THIS BOOK), the Plague by Albert Camus (OMG I HATED THIS BOOK. I actually quit ⅔ of the way in because it was just the most boring possible book I could imagine being written about a bubonic plague quarantining an entire city post-WWII. Apparently French writers who wax poetic about life and death are not for me), and I’m now reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. At this rate, it will take me about 3 years to read a novel from each of these authors, so this list is long enough for me!

Getting Focused Enough to Read

When I first started on this resolution in April 2018, I found it really hard to concentrate and focus even for 10 minutes on what I was reading. After years of reading tweets and status updates and endlessly scrolling, my eyes flitting down the page, my attention span was abysmal. So I downloaded an app (yes, kind of an oxymoron to use technology to curtail my technology addiction, but whatever) called Forest.

With Forest, you set a timer (for say, 30 minutes) and the goal is to not touch your phone and to focus on what you’re supposed to focus on for the entire time. If you focus for the time you set out, you grow a tree to add to your forest. If you touch your phone and close out of the app during that time, your tree DIES and you have this little dead tree in your forest. Sad little dead tree. As you can see, in 2018, I was not perfect and killed many trees responding to texts.

This screen shot of my forest isn’t comprehensive of every time I sat down to read because I didn’t need to use the app every time to divert my attention away from my phone. Like a muscle, focus and attention strengthen over time.

Additionally, I’m the kind of person who loves checklists. It helps keep me accountable as I love checking things off. Not everyone is a list person, but I am. So I started a Mother Culture Log Book to check off every day when I did my reading. It is a daytimer where I write in a corner of my calendar 10 minutes on each of the three books I am reading. I also challenged myself to read one poem (I forgot I loved poetry) and one entry from an encyclopedia about nature. Having this daily checklist helped me keep up with my Mother Culture goals even when I didn’t feel like it, because I do always feel like checking something off a list, especially when it only takes ~35 minutes to complete the entire list. I recognize this is next-level nerd, but hey, I say, embrace whatever nerdy system works for you to accomplish your goals. So now, on to explain my other nerdy system, my Book of Books.

My Book of Books

To document my reading and to help me finish what I start (with the exception of the Plague because seriously, I can’t complain enough about this book), I also started a Book of Books. It is a simple notebook, and when I finish a book, I write it in at the top of the fresh page and then I write my personal review of the book and give it a rating out of 5. It’s just for me. A personal diary. But it’s fun to look back on all the books I’ve read this year and remember what I read. And yes, I did write an entry about the Plague so I could forever remember how awful it is, even though I consciously gave up on Camus.

My Book of Books tells me that since April 1, 2018, I have read 20 books totaling 4792 pages. I know, I’m shocked too. And before you think “I don’t have time to read this much”, let me repeat – my goal was to read 30 minutes per day. 10 minutes from each of 3 books. Sometimes I got really into reading and read for longer than 30 minutes after DK went to sleep. But many days I didn’t manage to read at all because I had to binge watch Silicon Valley, The Crown, Escape to the Country, or the Good Place. I am very surprised to see those numbers reflected in nearly one year of reading for 30 minutes per day and I am inspired to see what I can accomplish in 2019.

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So what about you? What’s something you could do for 30 minutes per day that would help you grow and develop as a person and as a parent? It doesn’t have to be reading like me. Maybe you really loved painting in high school and you haven’t picked it up in 15 years. Maybe you loved math but never went any further than what you were forced to do in school. You could pick up where you left off and teach yourself, 30 minutes per day. Maybe you want to learn a second language. Or perhaps you’re craving something tactile and want to learn how to knit. I’m here to tell you you CAN do it. You DO have time. 30 minutes per day over 1 year is almost 200 hours towards learning a new skill or getting back in touch with an old passion. You will be astounded at what you can accomplish a little at a time.

Thanks to the internet, which is both a blessing and a curse – there are limitless resources on learning all of those things with help from experts, guided tutorials, samples, patterns, and step-by-step instructions. And if you do not know where to start, ask me, and I would happily help you find some resources to get you on your own Mother Culture path. 

Habits Habits Habits

We all have habits, good and bad. Habits help us get through our day so that we don’t have to make a million conscious choices every day – we do a lot of things just on auto-pilot. We wake up and get out of bed the same way. We walk the same route to the coffee maker. We brush our teeth in roughly the same pattern each time. Having good, healthy habits make living life a lot easier. We don’t need to question or fight about putting the toilet seat down – we just do it. We don’t battle over going to work or school – it’s just what we do. Of course we’d go to work – when it’s established as a habit, our brain doesn’t even recognize an alternative option.

Charlotte Mason speaks a lot about the importance of habit formation in building a child’s character. When talking about the early years (the years before school), she emphasizes three things.

  1. Reading great books (See my post about Living Books)
  2. Spending time outside (See my post about Getting Outside)
  3. Forming good habits

In this post, I am going to focus on the third point – habit formation.

Charlotte Mason writes,


I have written and re-written this post a few times, because it is hard to write about good habits and bad habits without judgment or without sounding preachy. What I deem to be a good habit of punctuality – others don’t see that as a habit worth going to battle over. And what others deem a critical habit for health, vegetables and fruit with every meal, as an example – I am definitely more loosey goosey on.

Ultimately my goal with this post is not to suggest which habits are good ones to instill with your children and which are bad – but to encourage all parents to take time to think about which habits they do think are important or not important and consider the long term effects on your child’s character.

And it is all about the long term.

In the short term, and before school begins, enforcing bedtimes or breakfast habits seem like a lot of effort for not a lot of return in the short term. We are risking an hour long struggle over wearing pants and do we really care if our toddler wears pants? Often no… but the key is that we, as parents, are playing the long game. It’s not always about the here and now – it’s about your (and your child’s) future selves. By establishing early on that when we wake up – we get dressed, we make our bed, we eat breakfast, we brush our teeth, we leave for school on time – we are helping ourselves as parents in the long term to not have a daily fight against all of those things. If those things are habit, we stop seeing them as “options” or “choices” and more as “well of-courses – who wouldn’t?”.

Establishing good habits is not just for children – in fact I believe you HAVE to start with your own habits if you have any hope of instilling good habits in your children.

Lately, at 2.5, DK has been fighting getting dressed in the mornings or at all. I think that is partly due to the wonderful holiday season where we all stayed in our jammies for the entire day, and partly due to a pretty normal developmental stage for 2.5. Over the holidays, we slipped up here with our habits of getting ready for our day and now we are struggling to get back on track as we leave the house later and later and later. And so I would like to reset.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg outlines the golden rule of habit change. He writes, “To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and the reward stay the same.” (p. 62) For example, you’re more likely to stick to a workout routine if you choose a set time of the day (as soon as you walk in the door after getting home from work) and a specific reward upon completion (a glass of wine).

As part of getting DK back on track with his morning routine, I need to get back on track with my own. It’s so easy as a Stay At Home Mom with no pressing need to leave the house every day to just let the “getting ready for the day” part of our day just not happen at all.  I’d like to try a few different things to make this happen and make our morning routine easier and more “routine”.

First, wake up at the same time every day. Studies show that if you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day you will feel more rested – and damn don’t I need that feeling, pregnant with a 2 year old.

Second, set a time for breakfast. Lately I’ve just been kind of waiting until DK asks me for food to eat breakfast…so it could be at 7 or at 8:30 depending on the day. We have a pretty set lunch time and a set dinner time, so breakfast needs to join this on-time meal train.

Third, and most difficult, shower at night. This would be a major habit change for me because I just am a morning shower person. But it really would make more logistical sense to shower at night. It would also help me get to bed earlier. And I wouldn’t have have to juggle my morning routine around my husband’s morning routine AND get soon-to-be-two kids ready for the day. And so building on Duhigg’s Golden Rule of Habit change, I’m going to try sticking “shower” right after the cue “DK is asleep, it’s party time!” and before my reward “it’s-been-a-long-day-cup-of-tea”.

I’m going to try these changes for a month and see where they land us.


Habits of Focus, Attention, Observation

All these goals for getting us out of the house in a timely way is all well and good, but Charlotte Mason, when discussing the importance of habit formation, meant more than just establishing good habits of cleanliness and orderliness – she also meant other habits of character.

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” – Charlotte Mason

As a mom who is involved in many different moms groups, I have seen many posts asking for and giving insight into how to set up good family routines, how to establish healthy eating habits, how to get a two-year-old to brush his/her teeth – but I have never seen anyone ask about habits of character. Mason gives quite a lengthy list of what she means by these habits, which have been conveniently gathered and printed in the same location by Deborah Taylor-Hughes. I think this list is worth sharing here so we are all on the same page.

  • Courage
  • Loving
  • Good-nature
  • Focus
  • Giving
  • Unselfishness
  • Carefulness
  • Joy in others’ success
  • Clean clothes
  • Reticence
  • Discretion
  • Imagination
  • Courteousness
  • Temperance
  • Pure thoughts
  • Perfect execution
  • Pleasure and profit for reading books
  • Making way for elders
  • Not holding a grudge
  • Obedience to conscience
  • Willpower
  • Moral power
  • Thankfulness
  • Cheerfulness
  • Order
  • Propriety
  • Virtue
  • Carefulness
  • Ability to yield
  • Observant
  • Decisiveness
  • Accuracy
  • Tact
  • Watchfulness
  • Persistence
  • Sweet temper
  • Cleanliness
  • Neatness
  • Regularity
  • Patience
  • Punctuality
  • A sensitive nose
  • Care of fingernails
  • Amiability
  • Clean eyes and ears
  • Washed hands
  • Brushed hair
  • Obedience
  • Modesty
  • Caring for possessions
  • To look on the bright side
  • Finishing work that’s been started
  • Sense of humour
  • Purity
  • Putting away toys
  • Promptness
  • Appreciation of beauty
  • Regularity of schedule
  • Sleeping at bedtime
  • Truthfulness
  • Dancing
  • Calisthenics
  • Eye contact with others
  • Factualness
  • Prompt and intelligent replies
  • Good manners
  • Light, springy movements
  • Respect for persons and property
  • Training of ear and voice
  • Pure vowel sounds
  • Pronunciation of difficult words
  • Good humour
  • Musical training
  • Singing
  • Gentleness
  • Self-restraint
  • Courtesy
  • Kindness
  • Candor
  • Attention to detail
  • Respect for others
  • Attention
  • Self-compelling will
  • Reverence for others
  • Sense of duty
  • Desire to excel
  • Be first without vanity
  • Be last without bitterness
  • Trustfulness
  • Thinking of the “why” of things
  • Sportsmanship
  • Handwriting
  • Appetite for knowledge
  • Zeal for work
  • Undivided attention
  • Obedience to the law

Now, yes, some of the entries on this list are a bit “out there” – like I had to do a double take for “light, springy movements”. Is that even a habit? But upon further reflection – yes, I do think it is a habit. I have a bad habit of slouching and dragging my feet around. I wish I sat up straighter. I wish I didn’t have an E.T. neck. This is a habit I could change.

image6And others like “dancing” seem quite dated today (although I’ll admit I would LOVE it if my husband and I actually knew how to dance socially and weren’t awkward AF on our feet…so now I’m really considering signing DK up for ballroom dance lessons someday…)

Others on this list are “of courses” that really don’t require much thought – most parents will naturally encourage our children to be courteous and kind and obey the law.

But there are still others that today we tend to think of more as “personality traits” or “genetic predispositions” than “developed habits”. For examples, “pleasure and profit for reading books”, “a sensitive nose”, “sense of humour”, “training of ear and voice/musical training/singing”, “inclined to make the best of things” and “to look on the bright side”. But when I think about these things, I think Charlotte Mason is right – these are all skills that are developed over time and practice. Sure, some people may be naturally predisposed to certain attitudes or abilities – but that doesn’t mean that these qualities cannot be improved upon.

Lastly, there are the character habits on the list that have almost but disappeared in our fast-paced 21st century culture. We are now so used to instant gratification and (what seems like) the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, that the habits of focus, observation and attention have declined in importance in our lives and in the lives of our children. A friend of mine is a children’s librarian at a school, and she had to discard ANNE OF GREEN GABLES from the library’s collection because it was deemed too difficult for today’s youth reading levels. Another friend of mine is a kindergarten teacher and she struggles to read the same stories to 5 year olds today that she read to 5 year olds 20 years ago because their attention spans haven’t been well developed. Books can’t compete with a video game. In 2018, children are heavily exposed to flashy exciting screens, video games with constant gambling-like rewards, and the ability to ask Siri or Google the answer to any question. We have this idea that if the answer isn’t on the internet, then the answer is unknowable. We’ve ceased to wonder, and this extends to our children as well.

“The child who starts in life with say, twenty good habits, begins with a certain capital which he will lay out to endless profit as the years go on.” – Charlotte Mason

“The habits of the child are, as it were, so many little hammers beating out by slow degrees the character of the man.” – Charlotte Mason

When I first read Miss Mason’s works, I couldn’t name a single species of tree on my property. I had never observed anything about them. Recently, I tried picking up Jane Eyre, a book I had read ravenously the summer I was 15 – and I could barely read a page before I was distracted by something or other. After years of reading Facebook status updates, tweets and Buzzfeed articles, my focus and attention muscles were weak! And I’m not alone here! There has been an 800% increase in ADHD diagnoses over the last 30 years (Kardaras, 2016, p.23-24), which it’s possible that we are just more aware of the disorder now, so we are diagnosing it more – or it could be a combination of factors – one of which being, we as a society have sharply lost our ability to concentrate and focus because of the barrage of hyperarousing screen images flashing across our vision for much of our entertainment hours.

Additionally, a longitudinal study done by the German Psychological Association over a 20-year-period found that our sensory awareness is declining about 1% per year. We used to be able to distinguish between over 300,000 distinct sounds – but today we struggle to hear 100,000 distinct sounds. Study subjects early on in the study could see 350 different shades of a colour – whereas today, it’s only 130 (Kardaras, 2016, p. 29-30).

Our ability to observe the world around us has decreased as we’ve risen through the technological ranks. These realizations made me conclude that there were a few habits I really needed to emphasize in DK’s early years, perhaps more than other habits (like those that society would naturally encourage in him without necessarily conscientious effort on my part). I needed to work on the habits of: Focus, Attention and Observation.

How am I doing this? Well, it’s still an experiment in progress – but for the most part – it goes back to my other two blog posts: time outside away from screens and strengthening our skills of observation; and reading, reading, reading a lot of high quality children’s literature. Books that don’t talk down to DK. Books that contain one narrative, instead of multiple competing pop-ups/blurbs with little flow between them. Books with interesting illustrations from a variety of artistic mediums – not just the flashy/colourful/digital animation-style books.

Books like Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey


Or Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson


Or Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Or The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

So far, I think it is working. The other week when we were out for a nature walk, he said, “I can hear a crow but I can’t see a crow”. I’m still picking my jaw up off the ground.


Kardaras, Nicholas. Glow Kids, 2016.

The Outdoor Life

These last few weeks I have been posting about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of education. DK is not school-aged yet, and even when he is, I’m not certain that I’m going to homeschool him – but Charlotte Mason also has a lot to say about children’s lives in the years before school – so I’m trying to let her philosophy guide me in my at-home early years with DK.

There is a lot to sift through, but I think it boils down to three things:

  1. Great books (see my post about Living Books)
  2. Time outside
  3. Establishing good habits

These are the three priorities I now set for myself every day with DK.  Today, I’m going to talk about time outside. I’ve written a couple of posts about how important I think it is for children to play outside. I think that was what initially drew me to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy – her emphasis on long, unstructured hours outside. She writes, “They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of air are inclined to make a new rule of life, “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” (Home Education, p. 42)

This is easier said than done though, and it has taken significant commitment on my part to get outside and stay outside with a toddler. In the beginning, it was hard to just get out the door. I didn’t have the right gear, DK didn’t want to go, I didn’t know where to go, it was easier to just stay inside and not go out. But now that we’ve made it part of our daily routine, it has become commonplace and we are usually outside at a park 3 days per week for 3-5 hours.

“3-5 hours?!” you might ask. “What do you do during that time? There’s no way I could keep my kid entertained and happy outside for that long”. Well, dear Internet reader of my imagination, I’m glad you asked! It has not been an overnight thing. It has taken training both for me and for my son to be happy and occupied during these hours. Allow me to tell you, in this blog post, of some of the things that work for me some of the time.

Charlotte Mason writes,

“Supposing we have got them, what is to be done with these golden hours, so that every one shall be delightful? They must be spent with some method, or the mother will be taxed and the children bored. There is a great deal to be accomplished in this large fraction of the children’s day. They must be kept in a joyous temper all the time [Hahahahhahaha See my note below], or they will miss some of the strengthening and refreshing held in charge for them by the blessed air. They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this – that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder — and grow. At the same time, here is the mother’s opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers. Then, there is much to be got by perching in a tree or nestling in heather, but muscular development comes of more active ways, and an hour or two should be spent in vigorous play; and at last, and truly least, a lesson or two must be got in.” (Home Education, p. 44-45)

Before we go any further, let’s just address the one hilarious line, “They must be kept in a joyous temper all the time”. Yeah, “thanks for the tip Charlotte, let me get right on that – controlling my two-year-old’s temper” is what I thought when I first read this. But upon further reflection, I don’t think that what she means by this is that they have to be happy and smiling the whole time, I think they have to be comfortable. Or, at least the way I interpret it is “if you don’t feel good, you don’t act good”. DK needs to be warm (but not too warm), fed, watered, well rested and healthy in order to enjoy his time outside. If he isn’t – there’s no point to even being there.

So now, let’s break down the rest in context of my outing today.

Today, we went to a park near our house. We walked there with the stroller and in the stroller we had a toy car, a ball, a monkey mat, a change of clothes and some diapers and wipes in a ziploc bag, a packed lunch, water, sunscreen and hats. We stopped at a Starbucks on the way (mama needs to be kept in a joyous temper too) and instead of going to the playground first, we went as far from the playground structure as possible to a cluster of trees.

I let DK out of the stroller and I let him wander off to wherever he wants (within a reasonable eye-sight-I-can-sprint-that-far-in-5-seconds-to-save-him-from-a-lion-distance). I’m not sure if it’s just DK’s personality or if there’s anything I did specifically that trained him to not Forest-Gump run away as fast as his little legs can carry him, but he’s pretty good with sticking nearby. He likes to wander away and explore but he checks his distance, looks back to see that I’m still there and I’m still watching him, and if I can’t see him, I casually stroll towards him. I suspect it’s more to do with his personality than anything, as I have friends who do the exact same thing as me and their kids are halfway to Timbuktu before they eat a timbit. Charlotte Mason would probably attribute it to habit training, but as my sample size is only one, I definitely cannot say that it’s anything I did specifically that makes him stay within a 40 foot radius of my body. He’s a cautious kid, and I’m taking advantage of that!

There is one tree back there in the park that DK discovered all on his own one day whose roots form little basins in the grass and on Thursdays, after the sprinklers have watered the grass overnight, there are little pools of water at the base of the tree. He loves to poke sticks in these pools, toss acorns, grass, etc. This is usually what he does first. He did not initially think to do all these things with the pools of water. I had to show him once. But now that he knows sticks can be pushed down into mud and stand up straight and that acorns make a satisfying little “plop” when they hit the water, he’s spent hours experimenting with what else “plops” versus “plips”. He’s also expanded his experiments to things I did not show him.

During this time, I can happily sit on my monkey mat. DK doesn’t let me read or do anything singularly focused, he gets too interested in what I am doing, wanting to climb all over me and not playing – so I use this time to heighten my own skills of observation and improve my own nature knowledge. There are at least three bluebirds that live in our tree and I get a special thrill every time I see that flash of blue fluttering in the sky. Our tree is a Pin Oak and has moss growing up the trunk. The grass underneath our tree is patchy and the blades are thin. The sound bluebirds make is different from that of some other bird that is nearby that I have yet to identify. 

Before reading Charlotte Mason, I thought I had to narrate everything DK did, I thought I had to talk to him constantly, to teach him all the time. I would say things like, “Oh you’re picking up an acorn, the acorn is brown, you’re throwing the acorn. Plop goes the water”. But seriously, who wants to hear that?! I would SCREAM if someone did that to my every move. So now, wiser and with better self-control, I sit back in silence.

At some point, DK gets tired of his own scrambles and he comes back to me for a visit. He often brings me a little treasure he found, and I say a something like, “Wow, this acorn has crack in it.” Sometimes I tell him something I noticed in my observations while he was playing and try to draw his attention to it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Charlotte Mason predicted this visit in her writings. She writes,

“Our wise mother, arrived, first sends the children to let off their spirits in a wild scamper, with a cry, halloo, and hullaballo, and any extravagance that comes into their young heads….By-and-by the others come back to their mother, and, while wits are fresh and eyes keen, she sends them off on an exploring expedition – Who can see the most, and tell the most, about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children, and may be endlessly varied, carried on in the spirit of a game, and yet with the exactness and carefulness of a lesson”. (Home Education, p. 46).

So, following her example, I’ve started asking DK to tell me what he saw at the tree. He usually babbles something unintelligible – but that doesn’t matter. This is the very very beginning of composition – learning to tell orally what he saw or experienced. I also like this exercise because whether I understand him or not, I am giving him, a whole person, equal time to share his first person narrative with me.

Then, I’ll usually ask him to go get some nature item for me. “DK, can you bring me a stick?” “An acorn?” “A rock?” “A leaf?” and on and on until we have a nice little collection. Some days DK is super into it. Some days he wants me to go with him, and I do, and we search together. After we have a good pile of objects on the monkey mat, we sort them, count them, talk about which are big/little/soft/hard/wet/dry etc. This is what I consider our “lesson”. If DK wants to go to the playground after this nature ramble, we go.

“This is all play for the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work, she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment — when they ask, “What is it?” and “What is it for?”, And she is training her children in truthful habits, by making them careful to see the fact and to state it exactly, without omission or exaggeration”. (Home Education, p. 47).

On our days outdoors, we often eat an early lunch outside. When we were in Tinkergarten, our leader handed out cloth bandanas to each kid to use as a placemat for their lunch. I couldn’t believe how well this worked to get DK to sit down and eat his food, so I went to Michaels and I got a bandana handkerchief for $2 to throw in our stroller for our al fresco lunches. It takes up no space, is lightweight, and really gives him a sense of formality “it’s eating time now, sit down”.

To leave the park (or go anywhere within the park), we play a great game. It’s called “Touch the tree”. The premise is this: I point to a tree that is in the direction I want us to go and we run up to  touch it. Once we touch it, we find another tree that is in the direction we want to go and we run up and touch it. We can get all the way to the park exit this way.

Sometimes we go to parks that are not near our house (like county parks or state parks). Those days, we often stay too late to avoid a car nap on the way home, so sometimes I just push DK around in the stroller while I listen to podcasts until he falls asleep. Then I break out that monkey mat again and lay down myself underneath a shady tree.

I say sometimes, and I mean twice. It’s worked for me twice. Which I think that since it is more than once, is enough to write it on my blog and say it is “doable and worth trying”, and I am willing to try for a third success, but I don’t want to paint a picture that every day I spend an hour tanning in the sunshine while my son blissfully sleeps in his stroller after a morning of beautiful nature study. That would be misleading. It is not always this way. In the early days of getting outside, we had more bad times than good. But through perseverance and preparation we’ve both gotten better at being outside in nature for 4-5 hours at a time and I think we are both all the better for it.

I think when getting outside with a toddler, the zen phrase, “It’s the journey, not the destination” is very fitting. If we go out with a specific hike to tackle, I will find it frustrating because we aren’t doing it “right” or “at all”. But if we go with the intention to just wander for a few hours and see where DK’s whimsy and curiousity leads us – it shapes up to be quite an enjoyable way to spend the day.

I know I’ll forever melt every time my son picks me a dandylion and shoves it in my face to smell. It’s the little things that last a lifetime.

Living Books Recommendations: Toddlers

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Living Books and filling my home with great books for my children. I love books and I love children’s books and I love sharing good books with great friends! So without further ado is a list of some of our current and past faves.

I would say this book list is good for the 0-3 age cohort. There aren’t a lot of words per page, the illustrations are engaging and include items your child is familiar with (and likely excited by, i.e. animals, cars, toys). Many of these books rhyme or have a nice diction when read aloud, which little ones really enjoy.

A lot of these books I was able to find at library book sales or used bookstores because they were popular in the past, but are now considered “dated”. For example, my library doesn’t have a copy of Each Peach Pear Plum to lend because it was published in 1978, but I found it at their book sale because many kids had it in their bookshelves in the 80s! All of these books can be found new on Amazon, however. See my affiliate links below, if you’re interested!

1. A House is a House for Me – Mary Ann Hoberman (1978)

Image result for a house is a house for me

love this book. It is a poem. The illustrations are extremely detailed and after probably 100 readings (I have the poem memorized now), I still love this book and find new things in the illustrations.

“A hill is a house for an ant, an ant
A hive is a house for a bee.
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse,
And a house is a house for me”

Seriously this book is amazing. Read it.

2. Boy + Bot – Ame Dyckman (2012)

Image result for boy and bot

My son loves this book. It is about a friendship between a boy and a robot. Is it a bit odd that the parents aren’t concerned that their son is being brought home in the middle of the night by a Dr.Evil-esque robot inventor? Yes. But I don’t let that get in the way of a cute story of childhood imagination and friendship.

3. Clap Your Hands – Lorinda Bryan Cauley (1992)

Image result for clap your hands books

This is a great book for burning off some afternoon energy as it gives simple instructions for body movements in rhyme form. The illustrations are colourful and include a cast of children and animals.

“Reach for the sky, wiggle your toes.
Stick out your tongue and touch your nose.”

4. Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell (1982)

Image result for Dear ZooThis is a classic lift-the-flap book for babies and toddlers. I love that it uses repetition as well as rich adjectives (fierce, grumpy) to describe the animals.

5. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – Mo Willems (2003)

Image result for don't let the pigeon drive the bus

This book is really funny and my preschoolers love it. It’s because of this book that two of my son’s early words were “bus” and “pigeon”. It is about saying no to peer-pressure and even the youngest speaker can say “NO!” to the Pigeon when he begs to drive the bus.

6. Each Peach, Pear, Plum – Janet and Allan Ahlberg (1978)

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A rhyming find-it book that also introduces fairy-tale characters, Each Peach Pear Plum is a simple and well-illustrated staple on our bookshelf.

7. Forest Bright/Forest Night – Jennifer Ward (2005)

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I love this book for teaching about nocturnal/diurnal animals. The illustrations are beautiful and it shows that while some animals are sleeping, others are awake. It is written in rhyme and the language is very rich.

“Sun light, forest bright, 
After sleeping through the night,
Leap and flash…deep splash.
Climb and stumble…bear cubs tumble.”

8. Freight Train – Donald Crews (1978)Image result for freight train donald crews

This is one of my son’s absolute favourites for winding down to bedtime. Similar to the meditative cadence of Goodnight Moon, Freight Train is a zen reading experience. It includes colours as well as train-specific jargon as a train chugs past the reader off the page [to dream land].

Even now, when my son is upset, I can recite, “A train runs across this track. Red caboose at the back…” and he calms right down. We are actually on our second copy of this book. It is well-loved.

9. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site –
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (2011)

Image result for goodnight goodnight construction site

Many two-year old boys are really into cars, trucks, trains and construction equipment. This is a great story about all the different machines going to sleep for the night. It is also told in rhyme.

10. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown (1947)

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I did not like this book before I had kids. I thought the pictures were hideous and I thought the story was annoying. But a dear friend gave it to me as a baby shower gift, so I grudgingly read it to my oldest child when he was a baby and it would calm him and help him fall asleep. This book was magic. I now think it is one of my favourite children’s books because as it is read aloud, it almost reminds me of a Gregorian chant. It is so soothing and meditative.

11. Harry the Dirty Dog – Gene Zion (1956)

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My son loves this book and I think he can really identify with its main character – a dog named Harry who hates getting a bath. Harry runs away from his bath to play in train yards, construction sites, and car repair shops, which is probably any child’s toddler-fantasy. In the end, *spoiler alert* Harry gets a bath – so if you’re looking for a book that might encourage cleanliness among little boys – this might be the perfect book for you! There aren’t too many words per page and the illustrations are cute.

12. Jamberry – Bruce Degen (1983)

Image result for jamberry bruce degenThis is a book I dug out of my old childhood book boxes. As a child I loved it because of the verse:
Strawberry ponies
Strawberry lambs
Dancing in meadows
Of strawberry jam.

My son is partial to:

And so the world turns and a new generation reads a beloved classic!

13. I Love Bugs! – Emma Dodd (2010)

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I like that this book doesn’t give a bunch of facts and names for specific bugs – instead it just describes them as a child might – using descriptive adjectives and includes specific bugs in the illustrations. It is very fun to read aloud as you recite fun tongue twisters like:

“I love springy jumpy leapy bugs
and slimy crawly creepy bugs.”

14. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie – Laura Joffe Numeroff (1985)

Image result for if you give a mouse a cookie

For some reason, I thought this book was for older children – like 5 year olds. But my two year old is obsessed with it (as well as other similar titles by Numeroff) and I’m glad I brought it home from the library book sale. I think my daughter might identify with the mouse, whereas an older child might identify with the boy taking care of the mouse. I know I definitely feel as exhausted as the boy at the end of the day!

15. Motor Goose – Rebecca Colby (2017)

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This book is very well written. It is a parody of Mother Goose rhymes re-written with motorized vehicles of all shapes and sizes as the stars! A two -year old boy’s dream! Sometimes I am hesitant with Mother Goose rewrites because they aren’t exactly right in rhythm and cadence and rhyme…but this one is very well done. I have every single poem memorized now. *humble brag*

16. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? – Dr. Seuss (1970)

Image result for Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You

When I was a kid, my dad used to call me “the girl of a thousand voices”. Maybe that’s why I like this book so much – I can practice all the sounds and voices I’ve been perfecting for thirty years. I love how this book includes onomatopoeia (and I love that I get to use that word in a sentence!) and we can read it either with the word “Pop!” or making a popping sound with our lips. My toddler loves trying to make all the different sounds with his mouth.

17. Potty – Leslie Patricelli (2010)


I have been trying to get my toddler interested in the potty since his second birthday. This is the book that he really enjoyed and didn’t slam shut saying “no no no no no” about the potty. It’s cute and we love celebrating with the baby at the end of the book when he goes potty.
I can’t claim that this book is the answer to potty training though because I have yet to be successful with that milestone!

18. Red is Best – Kathy Stinson (1982)

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This is another book I dug out of my childhood book box to read to my kids. I love how it acknowledges that a child has legitimate reasons for wanting things a certain way and that mom’s reasoning isn’t necessarily better. It meets a kid where they are at and sympathizes with them.

“My mom says, “Wear these. Your white stockings look good with that dress.” But I can jump higher in my red stockings. I like my red stockings the best.”

19. School Bus – Donald Crews (1984)

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Another by Donald Crews! It follows a school bus around the town to pick up and drop off children to and from school. If your little one is into buses, this is a must-have.

20. Sheep in a Jeep – Nancy Shaw (1986)

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Another great book with short rhyming phrasing and rich language. My toddler particularly loves this one because it includes a jeep, mud, pigs, sheep and a crash.

21. Ten Apples Up on Top – Dr. Seuss (1961)

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This is an excellent book for counting but also for learning other important math concepts like “more”, “less” and “equal”.

22. The Little Engine That Could – Watty Piper (1940)

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There are shorter adaptations of this book, but I just love the original by Watty Piper. I love the illustrations. I love the repetition. I love the extra details and the more difficult language. This is a classic book about believing in oneself and perseverance.

23. The Snowy Day – Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

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When I was a kid, I thought this book was terrible. Now I think I just read it too late to appreciate it’s beautiful simplicity. It is definitely a book for the 2-4 year old crowd as they explore the magic of snowfall. My toddlers love this book and there is a little 38 minute film adaptation on Amazon Prime that is also very sweet and age appropriate.

24. The Three Billy Goats Gruff – Paul Galdone (1973)

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Fairytales and nursery rhymes are such an important part of English-speaking culture, and I think they are crucial reading for children. Some, however (like Rumpelstiltskin or Hansel and Gretel) are a bit too scary for 2 year olds. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is a good fairytale for toddlers. It’s got great voicing for story-telling, it isn’t very long, it’s not scary, and it teaches about standing up to bullies. I also love that this one is easily adaptable to real life; my son loves to say “trip trap trip trap trip trap” when we cross over foot bridges on our adventures (to imitate the sound the goat hooves make on the wood), and we always keep an eye out for trolls! Paul Galdone has written a really nice collection of the fairy tale classics, if you’re looking for a set. I like that they are all separate books instead of in a big heavy treasury that is difficult for DK to hold himself – but they are all published in the same size and style so they match together on the book shelf.

25. The Train – David McPhail (1977)

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This book was a serendipitous discovery at a used book store. I knew my toddler train-enthusiast would love it, because it is about a train, so I bought it with just barely skimming it. But I love it too! It is about a boy whose train set in his bedroom comes to life at night and he works on the train doing all the various jobs required on a steam train (stoking the boiler, driving the train, loading luggage, clipping tickets, selling food). It’s a very cute book and a great one for bedtime. My son often chooses this one to take to his crib to look at as he falls asleep.

26. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle (1969)

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I’m sure everyone has heard of this book – it is a classic of children’s literature. Until I read it as an adult to my child, I didn’t realize how it incorporates natural sciences (metamorphosis), math (counting up to 5), the days of the week, and nutrition (healthy food versus junk food, feeling hungry versus feeling full). In such a simple text, so much is communicated and as such I have a deep respect for this book and its author.

27. They All Saw a Cat – Brendan Wenzel (2016)

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This book is about how different critters (humans, animals, bugs) see the world differently. It’s a perfect book to teach about perspective (bird’s eye view, for instance), differences between people, and artistic style. This book is the definition of “a picture tells a thousand words”. They give some great ideas for the mind to chew on.

28. Waiting is Not Easy – Mo Willems (2014)

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I love Mo Willems. He’s probably my favourite contemporary children’s author. I’ve loved every single Elephant & Piggie book I have read so far and I think they are a staple for every child’s bookshelf. The writing is simple and straightforward, but they teach in a by-the-way and funny way about things many children struggle with. They are all-ages in ideas and content, and great early-readers for kids just learning to read.

For my son’s second birthday party, we did an Elephant & Piggie theme and asked guests bringing a gift to please bring an Elephant and Piggie volume to add to our collection. I’m so glad we did! We get so much joy out of these books. Waiting is Not Easy is one of our favourites! It is also a nice line to be able to trot out when my toddler is frustrated that he has to wait for something…”Waiting is not easy!”

29. Who is the Beast? – Kenneth Baker (1990)

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This is a clever book about seeing differences and similarities in ourselves and others. The illustrations are beautiful and my preschooler loves finding  similar animal body parts on two different animals as we read (i.e. a tail on a tiger and a tail on a monkey).

30. Yummy Yucky – Leslie Patricelli (2003)

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My baby will pick up this book and read it to himself, babbling away and then screaming “YUCK”, before turning the page. It is simple and has given me some great wording and a reference for when my toddler puts something in his mouth that is yucky (or yummy!).

My husband and I do find it amusing that our toddler’s favourite (and only) foods he consistently eats are the yummy examples in this book. Perhaps it has done more harm than good?

So there you have it, my list of the best board books for babies and toddlers. What are some of your favourite books for toddlers and babies? I’m always looking for more!