The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska, is such a sweet, simple little book that speaks volumes (pun intended) about a subject that, until reading this book, I never fully appreciated as being so nuanced. It also delves into a state of mind and noise level that I am forever seeking out.
M received this book for Christmas from her cousins (a little birdie had put it on her wish list after reading a book review). It’s been hidden on the book shelf the past few months, but one recent morning before preschool we took it out to enjoy before heading out the door. We could not have stumbled upon it at a better time. Like most preschoolers, M is forever asking us to clarify and elaborate on differences–both subtle and overt–on subjects ranging from the mundane to the unusual:
“Did I do that on purpose or by accident?” (of course, I never know how to answer that one because she is usually asking about whether she did something on purpose or by accident…like standing on the couch, a no-no in our house, but I give her credit for trying to hoodwink us into trying to get away with something under the guise of fact finding)
“How many toes do pigs have? How many do elephants have?” (wishing I took zoology)
“What are pig’s feet called? Are elephants feet called ‘hooves’ too?” (again, no zoology, so typically when I work some Google magic)
“How many is ‘a few’? How many is ‘several’? How many is ‘a couple’? Is three a few?” (usually related to how many chick peas or bites of veggie burger she still needs to eat before we can get to dessert)
“Do I need this much toilet paper (2 squares)? This much (3 squares)? Is THIS (4 squares) how much I need?” (yet despite her, um, minimalist approach to TP, we seem to be going through a whole lotta rolls lately!)
And on and on.
The kid clearly likes detail, and this book does a wonderful job shhhhhh-owcasing the different scenarios of quiet–and the range of emotions leading to the quiet– that we all encounter every day. The text and the illustrations also do a really great job of putting these kinds of quiet into contexts that even young kids can relate to. My favorites are “coloring inside the lines quiet” and “jelly side down quiet” (showing a dropped PB&J on the floor). And M seems to grasp these differences, or at least asks a lot of questions if she doesn’t.
All in all, a good book that allows for a few three minutes of side by side quiet before starting or ending a hectic day. Perhaps we will also have to addThe Loud Book (just published April 2011) to M’s little library because I imagine that it will also be a scream.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
See that line? That’s the line I was walking along at 8:19AM this morning. The line that I was trying to balance on before I lost my cool and snapped at M, whom was screaming at me from the back seat of the car.
We had already begun to pull out of the driveway, on time but barely, when she suddenly gets a twisted, concerned look on her face and says, “I want to bring someone!!”. “Someone” meaning a doll, like her beloved Emma or Julianne. M has a habit of bringing, most days, a doll with her in the car on the ride to preschool. She’s not allowed to bring it into school with her (school rules), but every day I bring the doll in with me when I pick M up at the end of the day. Showing these dolls to her friends is a source of pride for her (despite the fact that there are only boys during the last hour of pickup and they are usually not interested). I get that.
But M has a habit, probably due to her age but particularly lately, of forgetting things. I try to give occasional reminders throughout the morning, though it is hard not to sound naggy all the time so I try to back off a bit. Sometimes she remembers (or I do) as we’re putting on coats. Sometimes it’s in the breezeway as we’re locking the door. Sometimes not until we’ve started loading the car. But today it was while I was driving in reverse, halfway down the driveway. And so I was irritated. At first I said gently, “No, it’s too late now, but I can bring your purse inside when I pick you up instead, OK?” (it happened to be in the trunk because it was what she wanted to bring yesterday). That’s when the screaming and crying ensued.
I quickly considered my options. Do I stick to my guns and say no, trying (but probably failing) to drive home the message of personal responsibility about remembering things? Do I just let her cry the whole ride to preschool, having her start off a 9 hour day like that without me because of my parenting agenda?
Or do I give in? Do I stop the car, take her out of the car seat, go back in the house with her and let her find her doll that she wants (which is not always the same one, so there will be about 2-3 minutes of decision making as well), buckle her back in and head on our way? And if I do, am I giving in and letting her “run the show”? Or am I giving in and just loosening up a bit to “go with the flow”, because in all honesty it will only add another 5 minutes and we’re late now anyway? Is there even a difference, to her or to me?
Tough call. Either way, I am not ending up happy. But one way, she will. It’s these kinds of pivotal moments that get the better of me once in a while, and sometimes I snap.
So I stopped the car. And I was huffy and took her out and let her get the doll. My words to her were not very nice and I was a bully about it. It was completely unnecessary, and I immediately felt terrible. I apologized to her right after it happened, but explained why I was frustrated so that she might realize that she needs to help remember the next time. Smiling, she seemed oblivious to what I was saying now that she had Emma in hand–so much for getting the bigger picture across. I am trying not to beat myself up about it because we all have bad days, but here I am, three hours later still thinking about it and how I could have handled it better.
This is where parenting becomes a tough balancing act, especially if you’re the over-analytical type like me. Trying to be consistent, yet somehow also live in the moment and make exceptions when warranted. Not always worrying about the long-term consequences of everything we say or do or every rule we bend, but not letting the child drive the bus, so to speak. Accepting that by just “giving in”–no matter what the motivation or what message we might be sending–is OK sometimes, but not doing it too much or else run the risk of a shriveling backbone. Trying to remember that one lapse, hers or mine, is not going to create a lifelong character flaw, but knowing that, cumulatively, there may be a point of no return.
Such fine distinctions. Such great distractions.
Clearly, there are greater problems in the world than this and perhaps my main motivation in even writing about it is to let it go. But I wonder how much of these moments are felt by other parents, and to what degree? It is the rare occasion that I see a parent lose their cool with their own child. (Except at the grocery store for some reason–indeed, what IS it about aisle 9 and a freezer full of waffles that just causes the parent-child dynamic to completely break down?) Do we not see these moments because the child is on their best behavior in front of others? Perhaps the parent is. It almost seems taboo to talk about these less than finer moments, or at least that’s my impression. I think that is also what makes it seem weightier than it is when you’re going through a rough parenting patch. With no one ever admitting to being a jerk to their kid sometimes, you wonder if you’re overdue for a swirly* and what all of these other parents know that you don’t. It seems to create a bit of perfect parent-perfect kid pressure, albeit self-inflicted.
But since I don’t anticipate scheduling my right-brain lobotomy anytime soon, I’m sure there will be many more moments of walking the tightrope in my days ahead. Hopefully, there will be some good company on the ground when I land and dust myself off.
* A term used–but thankfully not practiced!–by my parents, referring to sticking one’s head into a toilet and flushing.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
Recently I read The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids by Tom Hodgkinson (who is also editor of The Idler). I must say that the messages throughout this book really resonated with me because I identify with so much of them (or at least aspire to live that way). It is a must read for any parent who feels like there must be a better way than all of the over-scheduling and worrying about our kids’ futures that so many of today’s parents are inclined to do.
It is a humorous and lighthearted, but simultaneously serious, look at how children can and will do so much better if we just ratchet down and simplify our daily lives. If you were looking for “permission” to back out of the chaos that sneaks up on a family’s free time together, you will find solace and a kindred spirit in this book. One of my favorite examples was how the author paints the picture of the modern family going to a theme park (or similar venue) on a weekend in a great (and often failed) attempt to have “fun”. The expense, the drama of getting there and back and then milling around with other equally bored/frazzled/irritated families – I knew exactly what he was talking about. The panacea, the author repeatedly suggests, is to just hang around the house together and just be. Make things together. Enjoy and explore nature together (even in your own backyard). Gather the neighborhood families together and let the kids just run around and be kids, while the adults just chill and enjoy beer and wine on the sidelines. The author champions that this can and should be done!
The author does a good job of also reminding the micromanager parent (like I tend to be if I am not careful) to let kids fend for themselves for certain things so that the adults can have more adult-minded pursuits…like (gasp!) reading a book in the next room. Don’t hover, don’t offer too many choices and don’t coddle is what I took away from this book. One example he uses is how he and his wife (they have three kids) essentially claim mornings as a time to sleep in and that the kids will be just fine getting their own bowl of cereal. The kids will eventually learn to become self-sufficient if you give them opportunities like this throughout their young lives. Fostering independence should be an overarching goal for today’s parent. Obviously a certain aged child is needed for some tasks, but I get what he’s saying and, since reading this book, I have tried to make a conscious effort to do more of that while M is playing or if she wants something. My personal time for indulgences like reading books or cooking has increased not only because she’s 3.5 years old and developmentally more able to play independently for longer stretches, but because I’ve learned that it’s OK imperative to have your own time during the day, not just when the kids are asleep. It’s good for them and it’s good for you.
The book’s message is not about neglect or transferring your parental duties onto the television, but rather about doing, organizing and scheduling less around keeping the children happy, entertained and satisfied. If given the opportunity, the kids will find those things for themselves. And during those times where you want to be doing things together with your kids, keep it simple. A boatload of toys, events and myriad choices of things to eat are just not necessary. Create, imagine and get dirty outside instead. Less is more, so to speak.
One thing that I was not entirely convinced of (and some of my fellow book discussion group members also said this) was the idea that parents should quit their employment almost entirely so that they can be home more and live a fuller life. Most families need at least some consistent source of revenue if they want to feed their kids, and being stay at home working parents is not necessarily a viable option for many or most. But I did like his implied message that, if you live simply and have less material things, you might not need to make as much as you do (and therefore perhaps can work less). That kind of message does force you, even if only briefly, to look around and question “what exactly am I working for?” Is it to have the latest and greatest gadgets, a closet full of clothes, big expensive vacations, or fancy cars? Do we need all this “stuff”? A little values check-in from time to time is good for all of us no matter how you ultimately choose to live.
Overall, I recommend this book to any parent questioning whether there’s an easier way to make it through the week. The author’s humor alone is almost worth it. (Although I am not sure that I would have appreciated this book as much when M was first born, so it may be that really new parents will not be able to relate to a lot of it, yet.) If you don’t get your hands on a copy of the book, at least take a peek at The Idle Parent on The Idler website for some ideas and food for thought.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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