Thursday, January 12, 2012

The longest morning of my life started with ...

Some pretty keener plans.

The plot was simple: run errands.

The twist: must tote a toilet-training-toddler as side-kick.

On our route, we had 4 destinations: Post-office, Doctor, Pharmacy (tentative) and finally some wholesome Grocery Shopping (coincidentally, on Mazhé's top 3 hangout spots).

Before I go further, here's a nugget of information you all should be privy of. Mazhé's on day 10 of toilet training and is getting there. Just has a few "timing issues" to work through which he will/should/maybe figure out ... some day.

Being the trusting mom that I am, I made him empty his bladder before we stepped out (armed with spare underpants, shorts, shirts, shoes, 2nd set of clothes for Mama, spare purse and a diaper: one can never be over-prepped in such dire circumstances). Here's how the morning went down.

Post Office: This was a quick 5 minute drive from our place and I really wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary. The line-up was short and we practically did an In-n-Out. Mazhé lived up to my expectations (fortunately).

Doctor: The appointment was for me. To get Mazhé involved, I told him I was feeling uneasy about the whole thing and he promised to "hold my hand" while I was with the Doctor (cue insides turning to mush). Unfortunately, our parking spot was a bit far and Mazhé started to walk funny just when we entered the clinic. Thank goodness the toilets were right at the reception so I darted straight for them just as Mazhé started to announce that there was a "problem" down South. Timing was pitch-perfect and aim was dead on. I couldn't have been more proud of my Mama-toilet-time-senses.

As we settled down in the waiting area for the doctor to arrive, something happened that I hadn't factored in to the realm of possibilities. There was a water-cooler ominously placed smack in the middle of the waiting room (well, a bit off to the edge ... but was quite in-your-face, if you know what I mean). I tried to think if Mazhé had ever seen anyone use it. Fortunately he hadn't and so continued to ignore it while I distracted him with an invigorating classified section. And then, the inevitable happened. The receptionist sashayed over, popped out a cup, loaded it with some H2O and chugged it down. Mazhé's eye-balls did the water-equivalent of the Vegas $ka-ching$ He made a bee-line to the cooler, professed he was very thirsty and proceeded to down cup after cup of cold water (the kind that makes your bladder feel like a brick).

I tried in vain to tear him away. Nothing was working. And then, naturally, the doctor showed up. I asked Mazhé if he could hold my hand now, as I was really feeling uneasy. I got a go ahead, I'll join you in a minute .... sooo, so, thirsty. chug, chug. Bereft, I made the lonely walk to the doctor's office. A few seconds later, I was joined by my supremely still thirsty toddler ... who was toting a cup of water in his hand. His hands were too busy cradling his precious cup to comfort Mama. Shrugging it off, I focused on my conversation with the doctor. Just when the examination part was about to begin, Mazhé jumped off his chair going BRB ... he needed to get a drink (he's only 2!). I tried stalling the doctor to get Mazhé back in the room prior to the examination. After 2 minutes of small talk in butchered French, I excused myself to hunt down my pride and pain.

As if to prove Murphy's law, I saw him walking funny (still with a  cup of water in his hand) and indicating it was time for some big business. Wait-a-sec! Big business wasn't supposed to happen until bed-time. He was clearly on a mission to throw my C+ game off. Without thinking twice, I scooped him away and made it to the toilet just in the knick of time (such is the adrenalin pumped life of a stay-at-home-mom). Fast forward to post examination: I made sure I got Mazhé to purge his bladder once again before we stepped out and away from the comfort zone of a toilet within a 10 ft-sprint radius (haven't gone gym-ing in a while).

Pharmacy: Turned out that we had to go to the pharmacy. Fortunately, it was only a short walk away and I felt as if I had extracted most of the water Mazhé had inhaled during the doctor's appointment. No incident to report. Feeling rather confident, I decided to tempt fate and keep on track with our itinerary and hit the super market.

Supermarket: En route to Mazhé's happy place, I would clandestinely sneak in "is it pee-pee time?" every couple of seconds. He patiently explained to me every time that all was quite south of the border. At the market, he wanted to push the cart along. Since he had been such a big boy all day, I gave in. While I was distractedly perusing through the aisles, I heard a faint gasp. I turned around and saw Mazhé 11 ft away (darn!), with a deer-caught-in-headlight look and his hands crossed over his nether regions as if that were to magically plug the floodgates of heaven from opening up. I bolted his way, scooped him up and 2 seconds later, was standing by a bush outside watching my Manneken Pis. Unfortunately, my timing was off by a touch which lead me to walk back into the market with a not exactly pristine toddler. But hey, when you're at this stage of the parenting game, some standards have to slide down a notch to keep the noggin balanced.

The ride back was uneventful. That I was confident of as there's no way he could have wanted to go unless he started creating matter in his body. Then, I'd be looking at a pretty lucrative offspring of mine!
Overall, we probably were outdoors for maybe 3 hours. Living it felt like an eternity. Chapeau to all the parents who've got toilet-trained young'uns under their belts and bon courage to the rest who haven't graduated yet. These brief moments are just one of those experiences that make for memories to look back on and smile/cringe. Let's all try to enjoy them before they're over!

Flickr photo by thelastminute

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Montessori: not just some middle-class voodoo

Warning: I'm starting 2012 on a soapbox as this post is all about why and how I Montessori, when it comes to Mazhé. I think it would be pertinent for any parent / parent-to-be / someone who knows a parent, to read on, make what you want of it and (hopefully) be inspired enough to share.

Before getting into technicalities, here is my karmaic story with Montessori. My first encounter happened 5 years ago when my sister, Tara, told me she had enrolled her daughter at a Montessori preschool. Not knowing much about the phenomenon, I naively scoffed it off as a side-effect of her being a granola munching, tree hugging, organic zealot of a Californian. Fast forward to November 2010 which is when our 13 month old joined a Montessori preschool in downtown Toronto as I headed back to work after maternity leave. Truth be (embarrassingly) told, we sent him to a Montessori preschool due to some glaringly poignant reasons:

i) Had a nice ring to it (Mon-tay-soo-ri ... can't beat that with "Fun4Kids Daycare")
ii) Conveniently located along husband's commute to work
iii) Situated in the high-rise we first lived in as husband and wife (nostalgic trip, anyone?)
iv) Cost us almost as much as a 2nd mortgage. Following the logic that you get what you pay for, we expected a bonafide laureate after he graduated from the toddler section (which included yoga, french and other fru-fru curriculum items)

And then, he started changing. First came the sign language: he could say "milk", "food", "please", "thank you" etc before he could verbalize it. And eventually came the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back: he would push his chair in once he was done using it. Every single time. At 14 months old. Insane in the membrane!

When Mazhé turned 18 months old, we had to (unfortunately) leave Toronto (and the Montessori finishing school) for the sunny shores of New Caledonia. Here, we went through some testy experiences to get him into an equally good daycare for the mornings and have met with some luck (read about it here with a follow-up here). Now that he spends a lot more time with me (afternoons and summer vacations) and being the budding curious toddler that he is, I had to up my ante to figure out how to stimulate him in a constructive manner.

With that mission in mind, I hosed myself with as much information I could glean trolling through blogs, buying off of Amazon and downloading to my Kindle (for iPad). I perused through several progressive education philosophies such as Montessori, Waldorf and Regio Emilia. Most were enlightening and fortunately few had any remnants of archaic Adultism (Wikipedia defines that as the prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people), aka Top-Down-Parenting, where the parents word is the first, only and final say by virtue of the fact that they wear the adult sized pants in the roost.

More fascinatingly, what I did uncover was that most new-age education philosophies are built on a coherent vision to improve human society by helping children realize their full potential as intelligent, creative and whole persons (for perspective, compare that to the traditional behaviourist/factory education model rampantly practiced in most public schools, where a child is considered an empty vessel whose main purpose is to be filled with (mostly unwanted) knowledge ... that can later be regurgitated out for standardized, multiple choice tests ...).

I'm nowhere near the end of my quest for knowledge on early childhood rearing. However, where I have arrived at is an approach which resonates with me and works brilliantly for Mazhé. And, it has given me tangible results in the shortest amount of time. So, here I go coming out of the closet: I'm a Montessori Mom. I live, breath and bleed it (in moderation, of course). I would find no greater joy than being able to impart on someone else who is taking care of or interacting with a child, the harmony that comes from this ideology. What follows below is my synopsis of everything Montessori in a not-exactly-bite-sized blog post (you have been warned).

What's the scoop on Montessori?

It is an education philosophy created by the visionary, Dr Maria Montessori in early 20th century Italy. Back in her days, she happened to be bored at school and decided to address the problem of education with a fresh outlook. As a result, she redesigned education from the ground up.

As a child, she didn't quite fit any "mould" and was a bit of a keener/over-achiever. She got a degree in engineering and later, medicine, thus becoming one of the first women doctors in Italy. After her medical training, she worked in psychiatric clinics where she became interested in helping mentally handicapped children. She worked with them, adapting the works of other thinkers in the education field, to stimulate them in a way to help them reach a higher potential. In 1901, the children she worked with were passing state education tests designed for regular children. Rather than patting herself on the back for what she had managed to do, she instead questioned why regular children weren't doing better in the same tests. She then went about applying what she learned from her time with the handicapped children, with the regular ones. Over a period of time with trial-and-error, experimentation and keen observation, she was able to postulate what is now known as the Montessori method: an education philosophy that allows children to achieve their potential more fully than what traditional schooling can offer.

She asserted that the human baby is born "incomplete" and have the unique task to finish their own formation. And that construction of one's own self lasts from birth - 24 years of age. This was a revolutionary concept for its time that lead, inevitably, to a second surprising conclusion. Education must begin at the child's birth. Education needed to be reenvisioned as it wasn't a matter of pouring knowledge into a child with a "readymade" brain. Education had to enable children to construct their own brains (think: increasing the density of neural connections through intelligently planned stimuli) and to continue building upon them until maturity was (allegedly) reached ... around 24 years of age.

Interestingly, she also observed other characteristics of children under the age of 6. She postulated that they go through very specific and well-defined periods of interest in certain areas of their development (aka "Sensitive Periods"). For example, there is a period of intense absorption with order, another for language, and another for learning to walk. During each of these sensitive periods, a child is so focused on the particular development they're sensitive to (read: fixated upon) that they will ignore other things that may have previously interested them. Their energy level and dedication to the task they're sensitive to is extraordinary but ends just as abruptly as it begins, typically around the time where they have sufficiently got a handle on the activity they're focused on (ever seen a toddler repeat something a gajillion times without yawning? that is a sensitivity they're showing). It is during these sensitive periods that they are able to master quite easily what they are focused on. Once the sensitive period passes, they are still able to learn the skill (e.g. language), however, requiring much more time and effort.

The following is a short extract from Montessori's work that lists out some sensitivities children would portray between 0 - 6 years of age.
  • birth - 3 years = absorbent mind - i.e. ability to learn and assimilate effortlessly and unconsciously from the environment just by being immersed in it.
  • 1.5 - 3 years = language development - start saying first words followed by more complicated sentence construction.
  • 1.5 - 4 years = coordination and muscle development, interest in small objects.
  • 2 - 4 years = aware of order and sequence in time and space.
  • 3 - 6 years = susceptible to adult influence - tooth fairy and santa clause will be as real as you make them be.
  • 3.5 - 4.5 years = writing.
  • 4.5 - 5.5 years = reading.
Too often, the precious formative years from 0 - 6 years are wasted by parents (and teachers) who feel that the child is "too young" to learn. As most parents can attest, a young child's curiosity is insatiable and they should be given unlimited opportunities for observation, movement and exploration. This nurtures their curiosity and cultivates in them the invaluable mana for learning. What a child can be is determined by the foundation laid in these early years, and their capacities are almost limitless. What can limit them are how the caretakers approach these years.

One of Montessori's most revolutionary belief was the importance of the child's environment when they are  "learning". She felt that for children to flourish and grow in self-esteem, they needed to work in a child-centric environment. She humbly maintained that she did not create a teaching method; rather her ideas on teaching children merely grew from closely observing them. From this she discovered the following universal needs of all children:
- Joy in learning
- Love of order
- The need to be in dependent
- The need to be respected and listened to
- Interest in fact and fiction

There are countless books written about Montessori and its application from the start (I've added some references at the bottom for some bedtime reading). There is so much that can be shared on this topic that a single blog post can't possibly do justice (readers would start dropping around like dead flies a fraction of the way through!). What I hope will be helpful in a tangible manner, is my interpretation of Montessori's principles ... and how I've incorporated them in our daily lives:

(a) Structured and enticing environment. A child is learning all the time from their environment and from the adults that surround them. It is far more fruitful to put energy into enriching their environment and becoming good models than in just teaching the child (walk the talk!). Order in the environment is beneficial for the children and helps them concentrate. Children thrive when there is order and routine to anchor their daily sensory adventures (to relate, how many times has a messy place made you feel uneasy?). I embraced this by de-cluttering our place forensically and organized Mazhé's playroom so that there are few (and carefully selected) activity items available for him to explore at any given time (see snippets from his play room below).
Clockwise from top LEFT: Reading corner, Activity shelves with several sensorial "projects", entrance door, globe and flags to enhance understanding of geography, painting/chalk-board area

With such an open concept (begging for entropy to increase at the hands of a toddler on a mission), I had to reinforce the need to return something to its place after he was done working on it. I thought I'd turn into a broken record stuck on "Please put it back ... " and was ecstatic to see him happily put things back in their places before moving on to the next. I concluded that it didn't take much coercion as he took joy in keeping things organized as it tickled his (and any other child's) innate sense of feng shui.

(b) Freedom to follow their interest. Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives and are interested in what they're learning. In a Montessori environment, that is achieved by installing child-sized furniture (allows them to move it around with ease, giving a sense of control) and low, accessible shelves which openly display what the child can chose to work on (Montessori slang for "play with"). This enables them to control what they want to focus on, allowing them to build their ability to concentrate and achieve a deeper level of learning (see (d) below). If a child's choice is respected and facilitated, they will learn at a level that will amaze parents. Additional ways include providing stepping stools wherever the child won't be able to reach adequately (e.g. kitchen counter/sink, bathroom sinks, dinner table chair etc), smaller sized cutlery, pouring containers and other day-to-day items the child would be fascinated with.

(c) Education through movement. Simply put, a child learns when he/she moves. Movement enhances thinking and learning. A simple example to drive that point home is when someone learns to drive a car. They can either: (a) read a book on it, (b) hear an expert talk about it or (c) get behind the wheel and give it a spin. Experience will vet for most people that option (c) really brings along mastery of the skill by being hands-on. Montessori provides a curriculum with a plethora of activity ideas where there are lessons being learned through hands at play/work. This is my all time favourite website for getting ideas on how to keep Mazhé stimulated and learning across all senses.

Clockwise from top LEFT: Calendar and weather wheel to understand the concept of time and environment, alphabet box to master phonetics, music section, mystery basket with the theme of "items with lids"

(d) Deep concentration unlocks hidden potential. This usually comes about through working with their hands. Before, I wouldn't hesitate to jump in on something Mazhé would be quietly doing to cheer him on/ask what was up/just get involved. What I didn't realize was that him focusing on something meant that he was building on the crucial skill of concentration. The longer they're allowed to concentrate, the more they are able to foster their ability to focus for long stretches of time on something. What I do differently now is sit beside him and quietly observe to see how he interacts with his work/play. If I find he is misusing the materials, I gently guide him along. I stay present to see if he is struggling and getting frustrated, which is when I ask if he'd need help. If he is completely immersed, I take a step back and just enjoy watching him concentrate away.

(e) Reward and punishment is counterproductive. There is countless research which showcases that providing an incentive system is not a sound way for conditioning people to uphold desired behaviour traits. As once the incentive is removed, one eventually falls back on the default way of being. The Montessori way is a bit more time-consuming, however, gives solid long term results. Given that Montessori upholds that a child is intelligent from the very beginning, the only way to promote good behaviour and discourage bad is by patiently explaining why their behaviour's good/bad and the implications of doing it. For example, if Mazhé doesn't want to brush his teeth after supper, we would explain to him what could happen to his teeth if he doesn't (e.g. could rot and hurt ... with a little graphic show-and-tell via Google). Or if he doesn't put his stuff away, that his things could get lost or hurt someone if they trip over them (role-playing with a teddy bear does the trick). Using this approach instills in the child the underlying logic behind doing various tasks in such a rigorous way that they will continue to uphold what they have understood with joy. As opposed to doing/not doing them blindly just because they were told to do so.

When all is said and done, the best gifts you can give children are: TIME; uninterrupted concentration and; respect for the child's choice and direction of interest. It can be very tempting for parents and teachers - who have been educated in the traditional way - to start controlling/managing their child's time. Even the very best projects, field trips, family or school traditions and interests of the adult can interrupt the success of this form of education. The adults must learn to inspire, to give tools, and then sink into the background to observe and enjoy the unexpected!

If you have gotten this far in the post: congratulations and the end is nigh! In my quest to Montessori preschool my toddler, I've searched high and low around Nouméa to source materials. Most items can be found at stores such as As de Trèfle, Noumea Pas Cher, Bricolage, Geant and even Magenta Bazar! For specialized items, I have bought quite a few (with high satisfaction) from Montessori Services (make sure they mark their shipment as "Educational Materials/Books" in order to avoid paying any hefty custom tax).

I sincerely hope that you were able to take something from my post (leg-cramp?). If you have different views about the subject, please do drop me a note as I am always open to hearing what else is out there. Bon courage!!

Here's a list of reading materials I'd recommend:
Easy and light first read for someone wanting to get more information about what Montessori's all about, without getting hosed down.

Montessori, The science behind the genius
A deeper analysis of all the theories backed up with scientific studies, wherever available. This one's quite heavy but really placates the hidden scientist in you that the theory is quite sound. Have some strong coffee handy.

I'm not yet done finishing this, however, from what I've read: gives pretty tangible ideas of how to incorporate the Montessori methodology from birth.

             Teach me to do it myself                        Montessori play and learn Both equally good books with plenty of ideas with visuals on how to provide Montessori-based play for your young one.Note: All book images have been taken from 

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell 2011, Whats'up 2012?!

It has been rather quiet on the blogosphere from my end as life is just that busy offline.

Mazhé's creche broke for summer vacation in early December and he'll be having some serious Mama time for 2 months. 2 weeks in, no casualty to report and we're having a blast!

4 days ago, he solemnly announced that he wanted to switch to underpants and has been holding steady with his pre-2012 resolution. It has been 4 very. long. days. But when all is said and done ... and I see him yank down his shorts to show off his underwear to yet another unsuspecting stranger, I just positively glow with content seeing my little heart take one more step on the road towards independence.

When I look back at 2011, it has been quite a year of changes, highs and lows, smiles and tears with new friendships and lasting memories forged. We're about 30 minutes away from 2012. This will probably be the only time I will be first in line to greet the new year thanks to our geographic location (GMT + 11 hrs). Before I go join my boys on the balcony to digest a wonderful New Year's eve dinner with old and new friends ... and look over the fireworks at midnight ... I wish you all the best 2012 you could possibly imagine. And before I logoff, some parting words that sum up what 2011 taught me: don't live with regrets and embrace change!

Happy 2012 from the 3 of us :)

 After a couple of takes like , we managed to score 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"If killing can be deemed a crime, so should giving life"

The above is a line from a Pakistani movie I saw a few months back (yes, Pakistan has a flourishing, albeit sketchy, movie scene with films pumped out by an industry called ... wait for it ... "Lollywood"). Humour aside, this was the second Pakistani movie I've seen (the first was when I was at the tender age of 11 yrs  ... perhaps saw only 30 seconds of a portly heroine boogying in a polka dotted thing probably put together from a thrift-store table cloth ... hence, it took me this long to recover), and it left quite an impression.

The title was "Bol", which means "Speak". The premise was around a (scarily truthful) stereotype of a low-income Pakistani family with your patriarchal org structure. Dad ruled the roost while crusading as a homeopath to make a paltry living. Was also unversed in basic human rights. Mom was, unsurprisingly, illiterate and submissive to Dad. They had 3 daughters, which is considered a burden by quite a few Pakistani families as the onus is on the parents to marry them off (i.e. find a guy, scrape some dowry, pay for the whole shebang). After a couple of miscarriages, they ended up getting a boy to "carry on the family name" (which obviously needed to be etched in history books).

Unfortunately, luck didn't quite shine on them (based on their definition of "luck"): the boy turned out to be  effeminate and was later revealed to be a hermaphrodite (an eerily common occurrence in Pakistan). A lot of drama, polygamy (by the father, with a prostitute, nonetheless) and a murder later (of the unlucky son, by the spineless father), the eldest daughter finally took matters into her own hands. She killed off her father during an emotionally charged sequence of events. She was tried in court and condemned to death by hanging. When she was about to be hung, she (coincidentally) had some time to talk to the press gathered to witness the execution. During the course of the film, she shared her side of the story (while a precarious noose hung nearby). She culminated the story by asking the question "If killing someone can be considered a crime, then giving life should also".

The context of such an argument is with the backdrop of a nation (Pakistan) riddled with poverty, illiteracy, corrupted understanding of religion and paucity of human rights. There are countless cases of families living abysmally below the poverty line and chugging out children faster than the Duggard family. Being the cricket-crazed nation that we are, the running joke was that the locals were trying to "grow" their own cricket team, literally. Unfortunately, this situation is far from being a joke. You have masses of innocent ones being brought into this world and opening their eyes in households without roofs or walls ... and where basic needs of food and clothing are a rare commodity. So, you can imagine where "education" would rank in the pecking order of wants.

These children are raised in absolute poverty, with slim chances to break out of the vicious cycle of wasting lives. And they continue to be born. They continue to live meaningless existences. Until they meet Their Maker. And thus comes full circle the ugly, expanding elephant plaguing Pakistan (there are many others, though; this post will focus on the one above). When we bring a new life into the world, we need to embody the universal commitment to honour that life: With love; With respect; With dignity; and, With ourselves. Those are the simple, yet solid foundations upon which our offsprings mould themselves to become the exemplary individuals that they all have the potential to be.

But when you know you can't even feed them, why bring them into this world? When you see such blatant disregard of these basic commitments, I wish upon a star of a world where these acts of callousness meet their just retribution.

The case mentioned above is an example of an extreme situation where the responsibilities of Parenting are muddled to oblivion. It pains me to see another extreme version right here, in the white-washed living rooms of the West. Where children, as young as 3 months old, are left to cry themselves to sleep in order to "learn" how to drift to slumber on their own (yes, I'm vehemently against Ferberization or any spin thereof. There are countless sources that articulate well the flip side of it). Where toddlers are showered with iPhones/iPads/gadgets loaded with apps guaranteed to keep them entertained long enough to let you "run that errand" or, worse yet, "get some me time". Where "Baby Einstein" and "Dora" are your default Nannies. Where taking the time and having the patience to make your youngster understand you is a drag. And, where yelling, domination and carrot/stick-approach are some of the ways to discipline kids as young as 3 years old ... as a consequence of them not understanding you.

When you can't/won't give them the time, then why have them?

Now, I'm not some granola-munching, tree-hugging, co-sleeping parent that makes my kid's Nutella from scratch (that would be my sister) and let him run wild. I'm far from it and have even flirted with what Ferber says. What I am, is someone who is thirsty for knowledge and is (super) critical of any information/soundbite/silver-bullet that comes my way. As I came into the role of Parenting, I developed a heightened sense of observing other parents around me. While doing so, I hosed myself with books, articles, lectures, tweets (and any other form of information guzzling) about different child-raising ideologies. My quest for gaining more knowledge about my role as a Parent is far from over. I'm certainly not a poster child of a perfect parent either. But there are certain "truths" about Parents' roles that have crystallized in my mind. I struggle to articulate them in a way that would do justice to the message (yes, that's possible). To make-up for it, I am plagiarizing extracts from some books where it came close to hitting home for me:
Have today's parents lost the power to guide and influence their children? Faced with the mighty attractions of television, the competing pressures of school and peers, and the limited family time available to working parents, it is no wonder that many think so.
Yet the more we learn about humans, the more we become aware that no force in children's lives has more importance than parents. Parenting forms children's core belief about themselves; at the very beginning of their being, the way children see themselves mirrored in the eyes of their earliest caretakers and how their behaviour is reflected back forms their image of who they are. Because children are culture's greatest natural resource, the future of the world depends on our children's conceptions of themselves; all their choices come out of this self-view. And nothing can be more important than that.
Montessori Play and Learn, Intro by Joy Starrey Turner (president of Montessori Accreditation Council for Teachers) 
A child is fundamentally different from an adult in the way they learn. They have what is referred to as an absorbent mind, one that unconsciously soaks up information from the environment, learning about it at a rapid rate. This capacity to learn in this way is unique to the young child and lasts for the first six years of their life, more or less. During this time, the impressions made on the child's mind actually shape and form it, and therefore have an impact on their future development. It follows, therefore, that each and every early experience is of vital importance.
The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori (reworded to prevent a mass snooze fest)  
When the very persons that have the most significant impact on a child's self-view are not entirely there during those crucial first six years, it paves the way for struggles along the journey of life: terrible toddler years, difficulty learning at school, turbulent teenage-hood, socially reclusive adults and so on. It can be argued that an absent parent commits a similar crime to an abusive parent, as not being there for the growing child is a form of abuse of their basic need to be nurtured.

Having said all of the above, I'll get off of my soap-box and clarify that I do get that me-time is important (I'm a strong proponent of it, while balancing it with what's due to the children). I also get that sometimes you have both parents working to make ends meet OR to ensure they're able to uphold a certain level of a lifestyle that they're accustomed to OR to not slip down the socio-economic rung they're perched on. When all's said and done though, your child(ren) won't quite cherish the feel of the Burberry parka they used to wear to kindergarten or the view from the Eiffel tower during their exclusive private school's "field trip". The memories that will bind the family together are the times the family spent together. Really together (i.e. not Ma, Pa, Peter, Jane and Fido glued to their electronic gadget of the month, while in the same room). What will mould your little terrible two to become an asset to society a few decades later is: a caretaker who is consistently there to guide them along their way to independence while reinforcing that they have what it takes.

If you take anything from this post, try at the very least to: scale back the "nice-to-haves" to spend more time with the family; turn off the TV/PC/Mac/PS/X-Box/etc and grab your zoned-out toddler/tween/teenager to do some book reading/arts & crafts/cleaning-up/pillow-fight/<insert any meaningful activity you can do together>; listen to and respect your children (as young as they may be) and be there for them; And, most importantly, spread the word amongst other parents (or parents-to-be) that you know of - let's not make "giving life" a crime.

(photo credit)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can you sing A La Claire Fontaine?

My 25 month old can ... sort of. And it's tickling me pink.

This is a french nursery rhyme that he has been listening to - fanatically - since he was a wee 1 yr old. And now, he's ready to debut his rendition of it.

Here's some Mazhé lingo to help with deciphering what he said:

Mazhé Regarder = Mazhé Look
No Mazhé Camera Chaheeyay = No, Mazhé wants camera

Lyrics of the song are here.

And, the video is below. Enjoy!


Monday, November 28, 2011

November's already over?

Is it just me who feels like time's doing the proverbial swoosh-by? We're at the brink of December (which also means that Movember would mercifully be over ... and kudos to all the brave men who giddily donated their faces for a noble cause). On our side, november was a happy and eventful month, with some highlights including: 1) we took (another) family get-away from the island (this is a really neat place and all, but there's something in the waters that just makes you want to hop on a plane ... every couple of weeks), 2) My husband celebrated another year of life, with some neat surprises from his truly, 3) I became a born-again Montessori-an (yes, I bleed Montessori now - which I'll spill on to a future blog post), 4) Mazhé upgraded to a big boy's bed (I get teared-up seeing how my little baby's doing all sorts of non-baby stuff) and 5) No one observed Movember on these shores (amen?).

Here's how some of it fared.

A few weeks back, we swung by a tiny speck of an island off the coast of New Caledonia called Ile des Pins/Island of the Pines (see bottom right corner of map below) for a quick recharge.
Photo credit here
We spent 4 glorious days chockfull of family time and a not-too-shabby 75% hit on the weather front. This was an early Christmas present from the in-laws which (naturally) resulted in us renting out a bungalow at Le Meridian for the stay.

Some of the things to do around include checking out the natural swimming pool (piscine naturale) where high tide gets sea water flowing into a naturally formed pool cordoned off by a rock formation (on the other side of which you can see some pretty impressive pacific waves). The pool has some coral patches and quite the abundance of exotic fish (husband spotted a Zebra Fish while snorkelling). We canoed, paddle-boated, played with dinky cars on the hotel gardens and also spent a blissful day vegging in the sun at Kuto Bay (skip Kanumera Bay - which is right next door - as you'll be tripping over tourists OR being blown off by gusts of wind OR complaining about the off-textured sand). There was hardly anyone around at Kuto Bay, the water was crystal clear and shallow for as far as the eye could see along with talcum-soft sand (read as: instant baby-proof beach). Although we only spent 4 days in this little slice of paradise, we felt recharged and ready to head back home. This place is definitely going down as our little retreat away from the "hustle and bustle" of Noumea (bonus feature: flight time is a short 30 mins from Magenta airport).
 Mazhé ticking off the major entry on his bucket list
 Enjoying some welcome virgin cocktails on our arrival at the hotel
 Testing out our bed for the stay ... consequently ditched his crib and shacked up with us
 Examining how he could get maximum amounts of water out of the tub in minimum amount of time
 He insists on wearing them shades whenever he can

 Lots of beautiful beachy shots 
 Our favourite breakfast buddy
Random island spotted on our flight back

When it comes around to my husband's big day, I fancy cooking up surprises (much to his chagrin, as the pressure's on him to top it come my day). Each year, I spend some time thinking through what would be the present/experience to take him by surprise. This year, given that we're getting to tick off quite a few things from our bucket list, I was running dry on options. I ended up telling him we were going for a horse-riding extravaganza in the wilderness of Nouméa. He feigned happiness (although, I did feel a mental cringe at his thought of being strapped to a horse, sweating through a 37 C heat wave, in tandem with a toddler whose phrase of the month is "C'est quoi ça?"/ "What's that?" ... used at a charming frequency of 56 times/minute). I offered to drive us down to the equestrian club, which is where I threw a curve ball and pulled up at the Helisud offices at Magenta Airport (fast and reliable company for organizing helicopter tours; they have plenty of packages and a certifiably anglophone-friendly environment. Email to get more information).

The flight package we took gave us a neat tour of Nouméa's coastline, along with arial views of Ilot Canard and Ilot Maitre. We went all the way to the coral break-line where you see the Pacific surf pounding the shores of New Caledonia. We also got to see a rusted-out shipwreck and the Phare Amédée lighthouse. The highlight (and lowlight) was when we spotted a school of manta rays. The pilot got excited and decided to take a closer look, whereupon he executed this corkscrew downward-death-spiral maneuver that left me begging for a barf bag. We also spotted a turtle gracefully swimming around (followed by some more nose-dives by our enthusiastic pilot).

 The coastline facing our hotel
 Ilot Canard looks prettier from way up
 Mazhé driven to drinking by the stresses of the flight (also observing Movember sporting his moustache man shirt)
 Got a smile out of my little love with some tickling action
The evening didn't end there as I whipped up a dinner worthy of a Michelin Star (rookie chef version?). On the menu was some Beef Wellington, with apple-pepercorn sauce reduction and roasted fingerling potatoes. It left my husband with a food-gasm. I'm just that good ;-)

And, last, but nowhere least significant: my little love out graded from his crib to a big boy's bed. It was a smooth transition with the only hiccup being when we first put him down. He showed up at our bedroom door a few minutes later excited to bits at his newfound freedom. Fortunately, it was a one time stint at stretching the boundaries and he hasn't done a repeat performance. This definitely makes it a lot easier for us to snuggle up with him for bedtime story reading (additional context: his big-boy bed is a queen size).

Looking forward to December, it will be another packed month. Mazhé's crèche breaks for summer vacations (yup, it's the most wonderful time of the year in the Southern Hemisphere) and we've got Mazhé's first serious Christmas to prep him up for (clearly the folks at crèche are doing the same as he comes home each day reminding us - like the armageddon - that "Papa Noel Arriver!!" (Father Christmas is Coming!!). I'll have two months of uninterrupted Mama-junior time during these vacations and am excitedly looking forward to it. 

I hope you all have been keeping well and wish you the most happiest last month of 2011!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Update on the Crèche scene ...

Some of you might have read my earlier blog post on our daycare-hunt for Mazhé when we arrived in New Caledonia.

5 months and a fortnight later, things have changed quite significantly. Back in June, I was concerned to see Mazhé's flourishing vocabulary shrinking down to two oft-used phrases of "ça suffit!" (that's enough) and "touche pas!" (don't touch). Apart from my husband, the only other French language influence he had was at his crèche. Knowing our home environment forensically, forceful language such as the above just didn't happen here. My tiger-mom senses started tingling about his crèche. So, I decided to be a bit more vigilant every time I went to pick and drop Mazhé off. Very soon after, I started seeing red flags all over the place.

First was a teacher yelling at a toddler (who was probably being his standard, curious, toddler self). Second was Mazhé coming home with a glaringly obvious chomp-mark from a toddler-piranah on the loose ... and the teachers had no clue about it. Third (and the proverbial last strike) was when I actually saw a teacher harshly spank a child for supposedly disciplining him. For context, some rules at our place include no yelling and absolutely zero tolerance for hitting/spanking (we just don't follow that ideology for disciplining as it ingrains in the child the behaviour you want for the wrong reasons ... along with potential long-term psychological harm resulting in adults displaying tendencies to collect buttons or just kill people wearing them).

I discussed these incidences with the owner whenever I'd encounter them. Unfortunately, instead of condoning the actions outright, I was also met with excuses (e.g. "the teacher's having a tough time at home" or "some parents ask us to spank in order to discipline their kids"). Cringe. I started feeling doubtful about sending Mazhé over knowing that he could potentially be exposed to role models and behaviours we don't support.

We went knocking on La Maison du Petit Enfant's door in downtown (the crèche managed by Red Cross) and were met with a "get in line to get an appointment with the secretary to get on the waiting list" response. Despondent, I started tapping my local connections to see if anyone knew of a place they could vouch for quality of care. That was when my resourceful friend, Sophie, came to the rescue by recommending Atout Bout'Chou. They had 2 branches with a 3rd one opening up in Dumbéa (dig that name?) soon. We made appointments to check them out and and were had at "Bienvenue". In particular, the staff at Atout Bout'Chou 2 were the kind that immediately made you want to check-in at their crèche. The space was super organized, with a ton of activities for the toddler program that strongly followed the Montessori philosophy (something we wholeheartedly adopt and endorse). The teachers were trained in early childhood education and everyone walking around oozed professionalism. Part of me wanted to paperclip-chain myself down to the circle time bookshelf till they'd give in and let us enrol Mazhé. Fortunately, we didn't have to resort to such histrionics. At the end, we had an immediate rapport with the administration, they felt for us struggling to find a high quality child care option in the middle of nowhere. It didn't hurt that Mazhé brought out his big guns and charmed everyone within the human species classification with his "Bonjour Madame/Monseiur", "Aurevoir!" coupled with shy grins.

After our return from Dubai, Mazhé started going to Atout Bout'Chou 2 and it has been unicorns and butterflies all around since then. Thankfully, "ça suffit" and "touché pas" have been eradicated from his vocab for the most part (except under extreme duress, of course, they'd crop out ... but only in self-defence). He looks forward to go to "l'ecole" every single day, including weekends. He loves his teachers and already has a band of cohorts he talks about at home (I gather they're his towel-neighbours in the wash-up area). They're 50% more expensive than the previous one we were sending him to and the commute time has doubled. Having said that, two clichés to chew on: 1) You get what you pay for, 2) Peace of mind is priceless. And, compared to how much daycare costs in Toronto (i.e. a 2nd mortgage), it's chump change.

For anyone looking for a quality crèche option in Noumea (bit out in the suburbs, though), certainly look up Atout Bout'Chou and cross your fingers that you can get a spot for your little muffin (or just bring a paperclip chain along).