My first love

This was my first love.

Mum. With my second baby Eve the day she was born.

Mum. With my second baby Eve the day she was born.

This was a close second.

blanky

My baby blanket. Blanky. Stitched with love by my god mother. A patchwork of satin and cotton scraps, patched and re-patched when it was love-worn. I would move it around, while in bed, trying to find the cold bit. The corner that hadn’t been clutched. When that part was warm, and I would circulate blanky to find a corner still to be loved.

That was my first memory, though I am still sure Mum was my first love.

My thumb was a close third. My orthodontist didn’t call this love. Nor did my parents, when they saw the bill for squillions of dollars.

Soon after those early loves came this:

T435 PL REP  FC

and this

clive-cover

and this.

winnie-the-pooh

 

These books, among others, gave my little thoughts words and my little ideas pictures. I would take these little words and little ideas and weave magical worlds, where things happened, and people talked. These stories kept me company down the bottom of the paddock, and tucked up in bed with blanky and thumb.

Later, these stories found their way into a typewriter. I can’t quite remember, but can imagine six-year-old me sitting straight-backed at Dad’s typewriter, giving form to my stories. The paper fed out the bottom of the grey machine. The letters clunked heavily under small but conscientious fingers.

When I was six, I published this:

fairystory

fairystory1

fairystory2

 

fairystory3

 

There were others stories. On finding this anthology last week, I was sucked back to the mind of that girl, sitting at her dad’s grey typewriter. This is the closest I get to feeling what she felt and thinking what she thought. An imprint. A trace. An icon from six-year-old me, carefully filed away in a green plastic ring binder.

Those were my loves. That was me, clinging onto a blanky, sucking my thumb, thinking stories. Loving my mum.

{Linking with Josefa for Conversations With My First Love and Grace for FYBF}

{Disclaimer: Although my mum was my first love, I am sure Dad, rather than blanky, was a close second. Maybe even equal first. But then that would be a different story.}

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Just one more fairy tale

This is the first post in the Nourishing Little Readers series, which will run on Fridays at Heart Mama. I want to use this space to review children’s books and talk about reading with children.

In our house, walls are lined with books, and we spend hours, some days, ensconced on the couch, reading book after book after book. Just one more. Just one more. We read picture books and classics, like Wind In The Willows, Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland. My husband reads books in Dutch.

Lately, my daughter and I have been sitting in bodies of water (the lake, the bath), facing each other, telling each other imaginary tales. We weave worlds from our imagination. She pulls an invisible book from the invisible shelf – Read this one. What’s it about? and she listens and asks questions and makes changes. Just one more, she asks, as the bath gets cold.

Her favourite tales are Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. We read so many books, but she so often asks for the classics. They are more than classics; they are archetypes; stories told by peasants in the middle ages. Stories that carried messages, passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter, like wisdom. Children sitting in bodies of water – Just one more.

I think I read my favourite Edenland post last week. The Red Shoes. She wrote about her red shoes, and about lying in bed with her sons, telling them the original story of the red shoes. She reminded me that the fairy tales we know are watered down.

The real stories were full of dark themes, complex, dark humanness. When the story was still passed lip to lip, it was Snow White’s mother, not her step-mother, who wanted her dead. Snow White was only sixteen; a ripening, sexual being. Snow White’s mother felt threatened by her sexuality. The Queen demanded that a huntsman take Snow White into the woods, and bring back her liver and her lungs as proof of her death. The huntsman couldn’t bring himself to do it, and brought back the liver and lungs of a boar, which the Queen ate.

Snow White lived with the seven dwarves who made her clean their house and cook as payment for their protection. The Queen attempted to kill her daughter three times. When she eventually succeeded in killing Snow White, the handsome prince found her coffin. His kiss dislodged the poisoned apple, which had stuck in her throat, and Snow White awakened. They married, and the mother was punished for her evil deeds. She was made to dance for hours in heated iron shoes, until she burnt to death.

There are different versions. Mostly gruesome. Mostly heeding a warning. Be ware of your jealousy towards your daughter.

When Little Red Riding Hood was a peasant tale, the little girl wearing a red cape was seduced into her grandma’s bed by the wolf, who ate her. Grandma didn’t survive. Red Riding Hood didn’t either. In other versions, she led the wolf into believing she needed to go to the toilet, and escaped. Little Red Riding Hood was first written down by French author Charles Perrault. In his version, Riding Hood was tricked and killed by the wolf. The story became a moral tale; a warning not to talk to strangers, and to warn villagers of the dangers of the forest.

These stories are tepid when they make it into our children’s books, though there is horror enough. Grandmas are still eaten by wolves. Girls are still led into the forest to be killed by hunters. My just-three-year-old lays against me on the couch. Just one more. Why isn’t she horrified?

These stories carry darkness. Maybe children aren’t afraid of death. Maybe it is something we learn to be afraid of as we age.

My daughter recites fairy tales. Her gaze fixes as her mind draws from the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks. The characters and events merge. Her versions are sweet and kind. Her little pigs build houses for the wolf after he tries to blow theirs down. Her Goldilocks leaves porridge for the three bears. I wonder about the morals to her stories.

Just one more, she says.

Do you read fairy tales to your children? Do you read the Disney version? Or glide over the horror, hoping your little one won’t notice? What is it about fairy tales that grip little imaginations?

{Linking with Grace for FYBF on With Some Grace}

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The Elka Book

I am tired… I can barely see. My eyes are fogging over. And yet Monday nights are the only opportunity to blog, so here I go…foggy eyes and all.

There isn’t really much one can write about when one has foggy eyes, but I thought I would upload photos of a recent craft venture – The Elka Book. Essentially it is a quiet book – a book made of fabric, filled with activities and velcro bits. Of course the idea is to keep a child quiet, but Elka hasn’t quiet been absorbed enough in my efforts to remain quiet for long…

Still, I am proud of my creation, especially given the minute amount of time and energy I have for crafty things.

Here goes…

There are about eighteen pages of activities, like sticking the butterfly on a mushroom, or putting cars on the road, or dressing a dolly, or tying shoe laces. Surprisingly, it didn’t take that long to make. So…crappy photos of an excellent creation. The joy of The Elka Book lasted for about 5 minutes, until Elka took it in the car with her and for the first time ever got car sick, spewed pancakes and yoghurt all over the pages and I think a few pieces never made it out of the washing machine. But the process was fun…and well-intended. Just more inspiration to never attempt a craft project ever ever again.

On other Elka Book related news, we received a gorgeous parcel today from my friend Margot’s mother. Margot was my school friend who died in a car accident eight years ago. It was so awful to lose such a special person. Elka’s second name is Margot, so a little piece of her will live on to the next generation…Margot’s mother, who we are still close to, wanted to find a way to make Margot real for Elka. So she made a book. It is gorgeous. It is called Margot’s Farm and using photos, traces the life of the farm through the seasons and through different orchards. Molly, the boarder collie, features throughout, as does Margot, who plants the grapes with her dad and makes hot cross buns. We sat together tonight with “Dinie’s book about Margot” as it is fondly named, Elka reading along and pointing out where the doggy is and the rainbow, which she aptly called “Margot’s rainbow”. It is amazing how children are so receptive to ceremony and sentiment. Margot certainly became more real for Elka this evening.

The fog has cleared and I can see! Just in time to do the washing up…

A very tidy tree

In our little town, Tidy Town 1997, we have reading and craft at the community library every Tuesday morning. I went once last year, when Elka was fifteen months. She loved stories, so I was excited our own little tidy town offered a story reading event to keep us busy for half an hour each week. At the end of the session, the facilitator approached me, and asked me how old my daughter was.

“Fifteen months, ” I said.

“She is too young. Children must be at least two to attend reading. It is inappropriate for her to attend.”

OKAAAAY then. Weird.

Over a year later, my daughter is two, and I have heard good things about reading time. So we returned this week.

A sincere and middle-aged lady perched on a stool waiting for children to be still so she could begin to read. The theme was Valentine’s Day, so she had chosen books about kissing and loving ( in the most innocent, wholesome sense). She perched and waited. Children squiggled into place, and chatted animatedly to each other and to their mummies and grandmas.

“Shhh,” directed the mummies and grandmas. “Be still.” One woman clasped her hand over her child’s mouth in an effort to silence her.

At last, the sweet and innocent stories about loving and kissing began. One boy bravely got up off his bottom and walked over to stand in-front of the book. He was promptly ordered to sit down. He got up repeatedly, much to his mother’s dismay. Havoc reeked again when another little boy climbed on the table. “Boys,” a woman muttered.

“This book is about kissing,” the sincere and middle-aged woman proceeded. “Do you all kiss your mummies?”

“Oh, no,” announced the grandma. “Daniel doesn’t like kissing. Boys don’t kiss.”

The little boy, who previously climbed on the table, scrambled up to the sincere and middle-aged lady and planted a wet kiss on her cheek proving grandma wrong. Both women turned red.

“Now we will make Valentine’s Day trees for mum or dad. Does everyone want to come to the table?”

The picture the children were re-creating was very sweet.  Wool for branches and paper love hearts to stick to the branches. Each child was assigned a piece of paper, a glue-stick, a little bag of woollen strands and a little bag of paper hearts.

“This is how it’s done,” the sincere and middle-aged lady demonstrated, while all the mummies and grandmas watched attentively.

Every mummy and grandma hung over their child, carefully directing the glue stick. They laid the wool to make branches. The paper hearts they stuck to the branches in appropriate places. One child hastened to stick a heart in an incorrect position. The corresponding mother promptly corrected the fault. Another child turned his picture side-ways so the branches hung in the wrong direction. The sincere and middle-aged woman reached across to turn the paper the right way. She then snatched a glue-stick from a child who was getting a little glue happy on the other side of the table.

Daniel’s, or his grandma’s, picture of a Valentine’s Day heart was clearly the best. The branches stood straight and strong, and the hearts hung perfectly. Daniel in fact had very little to do with the creation, as his grandmother leaned over him, clasping the glue-stick, the wool, and each little heart, her tongue stuck between her teeth. Daniel sidled away from the desk without a word.

“Boys,” Grandma said, “boys just don’t like craft. What can I do? Daniel doesn’t like craft. Never has, never will.”

The only wobbly and strangely shaped tree, with love hearts falling in odd directions off the page was Elka’s. “This is for Daddy,” she announced proudly. And then did a pee on the carpet.

Craft for children had become about creating the best replica of the model Valentine’s Day tree. Being two, three or four, the children depended on their doting mothers and grandmas to make the best tree. I’m sure all the daddy’s were still very proud.

Putting on writing shoes

Writer's Shoes

I feel estranged from my little girl. For this last week, I have diverged from my life as a mother into my other life…I have not only studied this week, but I have also attended a Life Line interview to become a telephone counsellor, a fiction workshop with MJ Hyland,  I spent today at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival and my husband and I went out to a movie…on our own to see the final Harry Potter instalmentAll with the help of our wonderful Granny Annie.

For those of you who also love to write, I want to share some of my experiences from the fiction workshop and from the festival. I am fortunate to live near Byron Bay and have access to this great event once a year.

Doing the workshop with MJ Hyland made me realise that I have never really been given any writing tuition. I don’t know what syntax is, or exactly what passive voice means. Apart from one class in Year 5, I have never formally been taught grammar. I have learnt to structure an essay simply through osmosis, and have applied the same learning technique to creative writing. All I know about the structure of a story has come from reading books.

We were asked to send a 1000 word piece to Maria (MJ Hyland) by email, and she and all the other class members would critique it. Usually, my short stories are received very positively by friends and the writer’s workshop I attend regularly in Bangalow. I was certainly flattered by Maria’s use of the word ‘talent’ when describing my work…for she was ferocious when it came to dishing out criticism. If I was getting a little concerned, all was relieved when she then ripped into me for using stuffy high diction, amorphic adjectives, over summarising and words like “Hellish” instead of explaining what was so hellish about the situation. She told me I need to trust my writing style, and trust my narrative, and then I would have a good story. Above all else, avoid clichés.

The workshop was fantastic (amorphic adjective). For the first time, someone gave me straightforward advice about how to improve as a writer. And she’s a famous author.

At the festival today, I went armed with pen and paper, instead of nappies, and got as much from every session as humanly possible. I saw MJ Hyland speak again, Fiona McKintosh, Paul Kelly, Stephanie Dowrick, Bob Carr, Wendy Harmer, Benjamin Law, Richard Glover, Kate Vietch, and many others. From every session I took something, whether it was how the author plots their narrative, constructs their character, finds inspiration, investigates the dark side, utilises comedy or overcomes writer’s block. I learnt I need to read more (I don’t read at all) and if I want to be a writer…surprise surprise…I need to write more. My brain is fried banana this evening, but I am full to the brim with inspiration and excitement about all the possibilities that can come when these little fingers begin tap tap tapping away at the key board.

We live in an age when there is so much more to being a stay-at-home mum. Life is rich, and full of interest. Mummies have talent, skills, run businesses…They might not clean as much as they used to, but somehow still manage to be caring attentive mummies. Full to the brim.

[Note} You may have noticed a significant drop in blogging activity recently. The ability to sit down at a computer to write waxes and wanes. For the next week particularly, my blogging will certainly be waning, as two Psychology assignments and their impending due date have reared their heads, and any time spent blogging (as is my addiction) will be accompanied by extreme guilt. Stand by.

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