Remember the circus school incident? We had similar situation last week. Another life lesson where The Princess learned important things like “life isn’t fair”, “misunderstandings happen”, and “you just have to deal with it and move on”.
It happened at her last ballet class of the year. It was a hard day all around – she knew it was her very last class and she was already upset about it. I tried to make the day fun with a trip to the beach, but that failed spectacularly when we had to turn around after five minutes because every square foot of sand was covered in small gifts left by a gang of territorial geese. We played at a clean poo-free pool instead, and though we all had fun, it did not take way the pressure of the day.
Finally it was time for the class. Everything started fine, but about halfway through the lesson, I thought I heard The Princess talking loudly from her room. After hearing her again a second and then third time, I decided to investigate.
I peaked through the open door and saw her sitting in a corner, crying bitterly. She saw me but did not move so I stepped back out of sight and asked the other parents what was happening. No one had a clue. I figured that The Princess would find me if she wanted but she didn’t emerge until the end of class – she walked out with tears still streaming down her cheeks, took my hand, and walked silently with me to the car.
Why!? Why did her last class have to end so badly???
When we arrived at the car, she crawled into the front seat beside me and told me what happened. To be honest, I don’t think it was a big deal and I’m surprised the teacher was upset with her at all. I’m not surprised that The Princess reacted how she did, though, given how stressed she had been about the last class of the season. She was a
walking dancing time-bomb of emotion.
Then The Princess told me that she didn’t get her sticker, the last sticker of the year.
Ugh. Stupid, stupid stickers.
I hate stickers when they are handed out as a reward at lessons. I hate them with a passion. You know what my daughter’s reward is? Attending a real dance class at a real dance studio with a real dancer as an instructor – for our family, that can be a sacrifice at times. And I feel like I’m being ripped off when it becomes more about getting a sticker than the joy of learning to dance.
I want my children to learn the intrinsic value of doing things well – of mastering a new routine or learning a new skill. I want them to do their best so they can experience the immense satisfaction of knowing that they really worked at something and that the work paid off. But if we always reward them immediately with candy or a sticker, will they ever have that opportunity?
A couple years ago, I signed The Princess up for the pre-ballet class at our local recreation centre. I didn’t expect much, given the age of the students, but I was still very disappointed – the weekly class was led by a few teens who wasted too much time throughout each lesson conferring on what to do next. Given that the children did the exact same things each week, I have no idea why discussion was needed so often. My biggest frustration was that the teachers spent the last 5 to 7 minutes of the 30 minute class handing out stickers. That’s about 20% of the time spent waiting for each girl to carefully choose which Disney Princess sticker she would like to take home this time.
I can assure you, if the stickers weren’t there to begin with, my daughter never would have cared about them. She never would have said to me, “Mommy, I don’t want to put on my pretty dress and spin with the other girls because I really feel I need a tangible reward at the end to make me feel that my time has been well spent.” Though that would have been pretty stinkin’ cute.
With this in mind, when I called around for a studio for this year’s lessons, I made a point of asking each studio if they hand out stickers at the end of class.
They do. Every single one.
I DON’T GET IT!
Maybe that’s why The Princess was unimpressed with knitting – I didn’t reward her with something shiny when she successfully finished a row. Maybe that’s why her room is messy – there is nothing colourful waiting for her when the bed is made. Even at school last year, The Princess regularly received candy from her teacher – and for what?? Honestly, it feels like everyone has collectively given up on teaching children to work hard or respect each other – I mean, why work on character development when you can just add another Cinderella sticker to their collection, right?
By the time we got home from the last ballet lesson, The Princess had composed herself. We shared the story with my husband and then she went downstairs to watch TV with her sister. I told everyone I was going to go get gas and I’d be right back.
Then I went to Dollarama and bought her a sticker.
A stupid, stupid sticker.
The whole time I drove to the store, I heard Alfie Kohn in my half of my head, railing against the use of rewards because “rewards cause people to lose interest in whatever they were rewarded for doing.”
The other half of my head fought back – it was the last class! She didn’t have the opportunity to make a new memory or redeem herself in her teacher’s eyes. She was humiliated – and that’s what she’ll take away from ballet lessons. Do you know what she remembers from circus school? Total embarrassment. Not the gigantic trampoline or the trapeze bar 10 feet in the air – just the way she felt when she left.
I was afraid the same thing would happen to ballet. She LOVES that class and her fellow dancers. She adores her teacher. I just couldn’t let the joy this class brings to The Princess be tainted with a bitter memory.
When I handed her the sticker, I didn’t mention where it came from. Being a smart kid, she immediately asked if I bought it at the store or drove back to the studio. I didn’t want to lie, so I just asked what she thought I did and wouldn’t tell her either way. So while she suspected that I bought it, she decided to embrace the hope that her teacher had forgiven her instead.
It’s easy to condemn parents who want sport teams to eliminate the score or get rid of the awards that honour some kids but ignore the others. I used to make fun of those parents – will their kids be able to cope with life? How will they handle real disappointment when their childhood has been bubble-wrapped for them?
But now that I have my own children, I’m starting to understand. It’s not black and white. Not everything has to be a life lesson. Maybe my child learns to deal with disappointment better in small doses, like missing a party because of illness or leaving a play date at the park early because of a storm. As a parent, maybe I’m given the opportunity to teach my children using their own unique temperament as a guide. Maybe as a parent, I get to rely on my own wisdom to ease my child into the “real world,” in the way that I see fit.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just a hypocritical wuss that treasured the hopeful look in my daughter’s eyes when she took the sticker from me.
Our living room has been buried under piles and piles and PILES of clothing all week long. Seriously, it looks like Thing One and Thing Two ditched the Cat in the Hat and took over my house instead. Except that in this version of the story, my kids and some random talking goldfish actually encouraged the chaos instead of trying to contain it.
It all started earlier this week when I realized that I have four months left in my pregnancy and I’d probably need to start gathering clothes. So on Monday morning, I started pulling all the bins of clothing up from the laundry room and dumped them on the couch. Then, basket by basket, I brought them back down to the laundry room to be washed and dried. In retrospect, I probably could have skipped a step there.
Since I was in a sorting mode, I pulled out half the clothes from the girls’ dressers and closets as well. Six years of clothing, all on my living room floor.
Now, when it comes to dealing with children’s clothes, I follow the sorting method described on The Happiest Home. I store ALL the spring/summer and fall/winter clothes together, regardless of size. I used to try to be more organized. I had a bin for 0-3 month clothes and a bin for 3-6 month clothes and a bin for 6-9 month clothes and a bin for 9-12 month clothes. I had a bin for 12 month clothes and a bin for 24 month clothes and a bin for 36 month clothes. And I had no floor space in my laundry room whatsoever. Just bins.
But of course, Murphy’s Law would kick in and things would get lost. Item’s would get stashed in the wrong bin and were as good as gone. Or labels fell off the bins and the clothes weren’t discovered until halfway through a season. Or clothes were put away because they were the “wrong” size – even though they fit perfectly well – and replaced by clothes that could have stayed in storage for another year.
When I read the post last year on The Happiest Home, I realized it could all be much easier. Each season, I go through all the clothes that we own and I pick out the season-appropriate ones that will fit each of the two girls. Clothes that are too small or too big or too warm or too cold or too polyester (fabric snob alert) go back in the bins to be sorted again in the next season. In this way, I don’t miss anything and I make sure that the closets aren’t filled with clothes that don’t actually fit properly. While I sort, I remove any clothes that the Pixie has outgrown and I either donate it to a thrift store or move it to a small bin of my absolute favourites, kept for a hypothetical third baby.
And now that baby is far less hypothetical! There’s just one problem: he probably doesn’t want to wear the beautiful plaid dress that the Princess wore for her 6 month pictures. And he probably won’t like the handmade dresses and skirts that I lovingly sewed. And he probably doesn’t want his 1st birthday picture taken in the same outfit that both his sisters (unintentionally) wore.
A lot of clothes had to go.
I started sorting into seven boxes. Everyone in my house was under strict instructions to NOT. TOUCH. ANYTHING. The Pixie promptly took that as a personal challenge, but I foiled her mischievous plans by turning on Blue’s Clues.
My seven boxes were as follows:
1. Box one was for clothes that were in pristine condition. This box was taken up to a local children’s thrift store and almost completely rejected. We were offered $6.25, which is probably less than we paid in laundry soap.
2. Box two was for clothes that were still nice but not perfect – maybe they were a little worn or had a small spot. These clothes are destined for a donation bin at a local charity.
3. Box three was for clothes that my friend may like for her coming baby.
4. Box four was for clothes that are sentimental items – little dresses and hand knit sweaters that I will insist that my grandchildren wear, regardless of how out of style they are by then. Will cotton even still exist in 20 years?
5. Box five is the garbage can. Anything stained got thrown out.
6. Box six was for clothes that will fit the Princess of the Pixie in the fall or in years to come.
7. Box seven was for clothes that can be used for our little boy.
It’s a surprisingly small box.
When the Princess was born, I had visions of beautiful, handmade clothes made in simple fabrics – unpatterned linens and cottons accented by cute prints. Lots of neutral colours. But the pink came anyway, and as the Princess got older, she embraced the colour and the ruffles and the glitter. When the Pixie came along, I admitted defeat and just used the clothes that we already had. And now I have almost nothing that will suit a boy.
What do boys wear anyway? When I look through the stores, I see mostly blues, greys and browns. Almost all of the shirts have trucks or sharks or dinosaurs on them – the world must know that our baby boys are tough, I guess.
It bugs me that gender-training begins from birth. My baby boy can wear whatever I want him to! Yet as I sorted through the clothing, I found myself passing up anything with a hint of pink on it. While I cheer for older boys with the courage to wear pink to school, I find it somehow different to be putting my boy in pink as a baby. Clearly I am not as liberated as I thought I was.
I was even more surprised to discover that my husband couldn’t seem to care less. The aqua striped shirt with two pink birds on it? “Keep it”, he said. The yellow sweater with the big pink kitten on the front? “Yeah, why not?” he asked. I really thought I was more open-minded than this. I at least though I was more open-minded than my husband.
I’m slowly coming around though. It took me a while but I’ve realized that girl’s clothing is fun – they get ruffles on their bums and puckered princess sleeves. They get lace accents and lots of gathers. Maybe boy clothes are boring in comparison, but that’s okay too. My little baby will get the beautiful, simply styled clothes that I had originally envisioned for my girls. Handmade linen pants with knee patches in fun, colourful prints and hand knit sweaters made with variegated yarns. My boy will have a rainbow. He will wear blue because there are so many beautiful shades of blue. But he will also wear reds, oranges, greens, purples, and yellows. And he will have splashes of pink.
Which means I better get the sewing machine back out.Read More
To celebrate Victoria Day, the girls and I headed to Westfield Heritage Village for their Queen Victoria – A Woman of Influence themed weekend. I thought my girls might get a kick out of seeing someone dressed up as a real queen. Plus, after a long 10 days of sickness making the rounds at our house, I were desperate for some fresh air and a fun, low-key afternoon. We packed up a picnic lunch and drove to the village.
Westfield wasn’t yet open when we arrived, so we ate our lunch in a field full of dandelions. The Princess and The Pixie ran from flower to flower, enjoying themselves so much that I almost wasn’t able to convince them to enter the park once it opened. But after some coaxing, we finally we went in.
At first, The Princess was unimpressed. “Why do we have to be here?” she whined. Repeatedly. But by the time we left, she was certain that it was the coolest place ever. And she made me agree that we’d return again the next day with our cameras.
So on Monday afternoon we drove out to Westfield again, armed with another picnic, my mother, and our cameras. The Pixie spent most of the day parked firmly in her stroller but The Princess loved exploring the buildings, listening to the volunteers talk, and taking pictures.
What makes Westfield so lovely? See for yourself! Westfield has more than 30 historical buildings surrounded by beautiful forests and trails. Here is a sample of the pictures taken by both me and The Princess. Disclaimer: most of the good ones are actually hers.
I gravitated to the gorgeous handicrafts found in so many of the buildings. Seriously, most of the women volunteers were knitting or quilting or tatting. Sign me up.
And of course we spent most of our time in the barn petting the animals. The girls got to pet ducklings, chicks, chickens, a gigantic rabbit, a sheep and a lamb.
The Princess was especially taken by the volunteers in full costume and was entranced by many of their presentations. She was also taken by all the old-fashioned items found in the buildings, taking over 300 pictures in all. I remember when have 36 pictures on my camera film was a special treat. Just sayin.
I expect that we’ll be back at least a few more times this summer. I don’t mind – it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. And I told The Princess that she needs to learn everything she can about the village and the individual buildings if she ever wants to volunteer there herself, and she seems to have taken the task to heart. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you see us there in a few years, dressed up in old-timey garb. I’ll be the one that’s knitting.