Monday, 30 June 2014

The question of babies and where they come from

I've always turned to books for answers; searching for meaning between the covers of a book is a kind of well-established, lifelong habit. So, when I've had to answer the kid's questions about the news that she's getting a little sister or brother, I've turned to the following two beautifully illustrated books: There's going to be a baby by John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury and The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall. With the kid cuddled up on my lap, we've paged through these two new favourites and talked about all kinds of things related to the "baby in Mama's tummy".

There's going to be a baby is a sensitive and beautifully illustrated story about a little boy finding out he's getting a brother or sister and the different moods and responses he has to this news.

The illustrations capture the changing seasons leading up to the birth and explore both the time he spends with his mother as well as his internal world imagining this new baby. It's both funny and very true.

What I love about Sophie Blackall's new book, The Baby Tree, is her commitment to honesty and answering children's questions with just the right balance of openness and understanding. The story follows a curious little boy whose very busy parents tell him the news that a new baby is coming.

Once he has absorbed this information, of course many questions arise, such as where do babies come from? He then sets out to question the people in his life about this and gets a whole lot of confusing answers. Olive, his teenage baby sitter, tells him babies come from the seeds that grow into a baby tree.

His teacher, Mrs McClure, says that babies come from the hospital.

Grandpa tells him about how the stork brings babies and leaves them on the doorstep.

Roberto, the mailman, thinks that babies come from eggs. So eventually he ends up asking his parents who give a beautifully honest answer that ties in elements of each of the other responses and finally he feels satisfied about this baby mystery.

There's so much more delight to share from these two books, so I would highly recommend them!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Life without a TV

I haven't had a TV since 2009 and even back then I didn't watch it much because it was so archaic it didn't even have a remote control (plus SABC isn't that interesting). But I haven't missed it. It's like a bad habit: really difficult to get over initially, but once you've forgotten about it, you don't miss it at all. Even if we happen to be somewhere that has a TV, I never really think to turn it on. I don't like the sound it makes and the way it fills the house with noise. I don't like the way it silences conversations and sucks hours out of people's days. I don't like the way living rooms are arranged around it as if it were royalty. I resent the way it can hold whole families captive. But most of all, I think I hate it because it stifles creativity.

I know this makes me sound like some kind of anti-television extremist. I'm not, I promise. I don't find TV particularly offensive and I don't even mind watching TV at someone else's house. I just don't want one in mine. I don't want the kid growing up in a house where we gather around a rectangular screen for a few hours everyday and regardless of intentions, I know this is what would happen if it were there, sitting in the lounge like some special guest.

A lot of people then ask, "but what do you do?" And that's exactly it. What would we all do if we didn't watch TV? At first we would experience a kind of impenetrable blankness, an emptiness to life, but then, pin-pricks of opportunity would begin to shine through. Creativity would kick in. We might write, read, blog, cook, talk, finish something, start something, play, think, create, connect.  We would do life.

The problem with TV and its infinite choices of effortless entertainment is that it's hard to strike a balance (to the point where one might think it's designed to not let you). It's not like we don't watch anything in our house. There are DVDs and series. The kid gets to watch Mary Poppins and Disney movies and the Barbapapas in German. So there are those days where I come home exhausted and don't put up enough resistance because I have work to finish off, dinner to conjure up, emails to check, boring household tasks to complete; but what I have noticed is that the more frequently that happens, the whinier the kid gets. It's as if watching "TV" on a regular basis drains the creativity and power of invention out of her. We return to the question of "what to do" and the answer suddenly seems "nothing" and boredom and whining set in.

Then there can be weeks where she watches absolutely nothing and she entertains herself with imaginary games and drawing and busy rearranging of stuff to fit some exciting internal plan. She holds picnics and drives cars on imaginary roads, "reads" stories to her fluffy toys, collects things in the garden, invents her own hopscotch game, tries out puzzles, creates and cuts out and glues things down until everything around her is sticky and covered in tiny bits of paper. She comes and watches me going about those mundane, everyday tasks and asks "what you doing?" and wants to help.

Maybe my resolve won't last forever. I can accept that, but I do worry that if we invite TV in, those everyday moments of "doing life" will dissolve away before we've even noticed it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


Packing things up into boxes, moving into a temporary home, clouds of brick-red dust, piles of rubble revealing the outline of old walls, shrinking patience and growing tiredness, the damp smell of new cement, solidness crumbling, plans and measurements scribbled out on bits of paper - then lost, new spaces taking shape, air gritty with dirt, dreaming of when the dust finally settles and things can be unpacked and arranged again, dreaming of normality and also of a little one to come... many changes!


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