It’s a game: what’s your totem animal? And what’s mine?

Brothers with Snakes

From the source of all current knowledge, aka Wikipedia: totem is a being, object, or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a familyclan, group, lineage, ortribe, reminding them of their ancestry (or mythic past).[1] In kinship and descent, if the apical ancestor of a clan is nonhuman, it is called a totem. Normally this belief is accompanied by a totemic myth.

Although the term is of Ojibwe origin in North Americatotemistic beliefs are not limited to Native Americans and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Similar totem-like beliefs have been historically present in societies throughout much of the world, including Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the Arctic polar region.

Ender’s is a Bear. “You’re sure it’s not Cthulu?” Flora asks—I shake my head, “A Bear, for sure, I know this,” I say. “No!” Ender interrupts. “My totem animal is a reindeer.” “Really? A reindeer?” I ask. Yup. He’s sure. Reindeer. OK. Flora’s might be a unicorn. Or a frog? A frogi-corn? (“Mom! Stop writing now! I’m still thinking!”). OK. She’s still thinking. And Cinder doesn’t want anyone to know what his is, although he knows. He gives me an evil grin. I bet it’s something venomous… or stinky… Probably both…

Sean’s is… a whale. “Really?” “Yup. A humpback whale.” “How do you know this?” “I just know.”


Me, I’m with Flora. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I think… maybe… um… no. I don’t know.

“Blue-green algae?” I ponder.

“Mom! That’ not even a plant!”

I feel rather primitive at the moment. And it doesn’t have to be an animal, does it?

But. For the game, it does. So—go. What’s your totem animal? And why?

And if you think you know me well enough to hazard a guess—tell me what you think mine might be.

And look how low I’ve set the bar. Blue-green algae? You can all do better than that.

Happy Friday. Hashtag  #whatsyourtotemanimal if you’re tweeting.


P.S. My IRL friend Dr. Christopher Gibbins, a psychologist who specializes in the assessment of neurodevelopmental disorders of early childhood, was on CTV news last week talking about tablet use and young children. If you’re a thinking parent, you’ve thought–and overthought–this subject ad nauseam, and probably feel guilty non-stop about whatever it is you’ve chosen to do. Have a listen to what Chris has to say: Interview Clip. Key line: “Parents don’t need to be perfect.” Chris’ other qualification: he’s a daddy too. So nothing he’s telling you is just theoretical. (Although it’s always backed by research…)

P.P.S. YYC Floodster? You’re looking for this: After the flood: Running on empty and why “So are things back to normal?” is not the right question. I’d encourage you to read the comments… because see, it’s not just you and me. It’s all of us.

P.P.P.S. Two of my cyber-friends have put together, and more are featured in,  The HerStories Project, Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship. Sarah of Left Brain Buddha reviews it, as well as a few other “end of the Mommy Wars” initiatives here, if you want to have a gander.

On wanting to eat cake, magic pee, fairies, adult temper tantrums, and sub-performing grey matter


Flora: Blow out your candles, Ender, blow them out and make a wish! … And what did you wish for?

Ender: I wished that I could eat some cake!

See? Wishes do come true. And I suppose this is the point at which I should make the obvious sappy comment about how maybe happiness is just about … wanting what you can get.

Maybe. But how incredibly boring and safe would such a life be? If all you ever wanted was the cake that was put, that moment, in front of you?


“To ensure peak performance, your mom needs eight hours of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep each night. This will never happen, but it’s important to set goals.”

“Remarkably, despite their size, moms can sleep on as little as three inches of bed. Science has no explanation of this.”

from M.O.M.* (Mom Operating Manual),
written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Laura Cornell
*batteries not included


Flora: I really hate the people who think science explains everything.

Jane: Really? Why?

Flora: What about all the things science can’t explain? Like unicorns? And fairies?

Jane: Um… well…

Flora: Don’t you dare give me another evolution lecture. I WILL believe in fairies.

All right, my beloved. Believe. Believe.


My brain is slow. The hamster that operates the wheel is lazy. The machinery is worn out. I’m grasping for words, simple words, all elusive, out of reach. Clumsy sentences. Awkward paragraphs. Lack of motivation, desire, ability to finish, to start. Nothing is working. Nothing is right. I’m stupid. Incompetent. I poke at the keyboard. Stare at the screen. Howl.

Cinder: See, and this is why I don’t think it’s fair when you lecture me about getting mad at the computer when I play Minecraft.

Jane: I want you to be better disciplined and better behaved than I am.

Cinder: Probably not going to happen.

Probably not. But. We always hope, don’t we. We always want them to be better than their imperfect parents.


“Should your mother be experiencing a minor malfunction, your best option is simply avoidance. Tiptoe quietly to another part of the house until the coast is clear.”

“If you cannot leave the room, camouflage can be very effective during minor malfunctions. Silence is key. … Take your surroundings into account. If you are behind the sofa, a tall leafy branch is probably not a great idea.”

from M.O.M.* (Mom Operating Manual),
written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Laura Cornell
*batteries not included


Ender: Mama, I did it! I peed in the potty!

Jane: Oh, Ender, that’s… there’s nothing here.

Ender: It’s imaginary pee. Flora can see it.

Of course.


I do all the things that need to be done. Always. I force that goddamn hamster in my brain to perform, no matter how lazy he’s feeling. Meet every deadline. Then, do all the things that didn’t get done while I was doing all the things that had to be done. Well, maybe not all of them. But—a few.

And now, I’m trying to get hamster to get this post across the finish line—even as he tries to convince me that his higher purpose right now is to have a nap. And that while he naps, someone—the fairies, maybe?—will come and oil his wheel and the rest of my machinery, and everything will magically work better soon.

I scowl at him. Eat cake. But then—choose to want more. Always.

Because life is supposed to be full. Interesting. Hard.



photo (11)

P.S. M.O.M.* (Mom Operating Manual), written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Laura Cornell is a brilliant picture book, targeted I would say at four to six-year-olds, but my entire crew howled as we read it. Check it out. If you’re in YYC, we’ll be returning our copy to the library shortly. But you probably don’t want to wait for that. It’s $14 and change at Chapters-Indigo.

*batteries not included

There is magic everywhere…

English: A unicorn.

Flora: What’s that, Mom? And don’t say gasoline floating on top of a puddle!

Jane: Um… well… that’s kind of what I thought it was. It isn’t?

Flora: No, that’s just what it looks like to the uninitiated. But you know what it really is?

Jane: What?

Flora: Unicorn pee.

There’s magic everywhere.

And in the above spirit, a Facebook meme a friend passed on to my lovely Flora earlier this year:

Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then always be a unicorn.

Now off you go and be yourself. Or a unicorn.

Don’t preach–HELP me get outside

I missed Nature Play Day.

If you missed it too—mark your calendars for 2013: June 15, 2013. It’s an event sponsored by Child & Nature Alliance of Canada,  a network of organizations and individuals who are working to connect children to nature through education, advocacy, programming, policy, research, and the built environment, and part of the “get thy child back into nature” movement inspired by, among others, Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.  The idea behind it is to raise the awareness around outdoor play and the need to get our children outside to play. From the CNAC website: “Make Nature Play Day a day to invite someone out with you who may have forgotten how wonderful it is to play outside — help them reconnect with nature by planning a great day outside!”

It’s a good goal, right? There’s a… typical… post here  by Jill Sturdy from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society about why Nature Play Day is important and how one can celebrate it.

So why does reading about Nature Play Day… and the goals of organizations such as Child & Nature Alliance of Canada leave me so… uncomfortable?

Same two reasons that had me cringing through parts of Louv’s book. First, it’s just kinda sad that we need this. Right? That we, as parents, in a pretty affluent, aware society, need to be reminded that it’s a good thing to take our kids outside. That we need Nature Play Day. And organizations dedicated to promoting this idea. Shouldn’t we just know? Should we just do it?

The thing is—of course we know. But here’s the second reason for my heebee-jeebies when we start talking about this topic. Of course we know our children need to—want to, until we unlearn them of the habit—to be outside.

But it’s frackin’ hard, in 2013, to give them as much outdoor time as they ought to have.

Of my three children, all love to play outside, at manicured playgrounds and in wild spaces. They love to climb trees, throw rocks in rivers, build dams, dig pits, hunt for bugs, build forts… and just run, run, run. The two boys, moreover, need to be outside. We cracked the code with Cinder when he was two—requirements for a happy, stable Cinder included a minimum of four—count them, four—hours of outdoor play. Could be substituted for with some intense physical indoor activity in part… but outdoors was better. His little brother apparently read the same baby manual.

So we’re outside a lot.

And it costs us.

It’s a price I’m willing and able to pay—I freelance, my husband works from home, we homeschool, and we live in an area around a safe, large “Common” space, complete with playground, wild spaces, and lots of families and adults trading off active and passive child watching duties. But I’m hyper-aware that our lifestyle offers flexibilities most people do not have. My kids are outside every day; most days, they play outside almost as much as they need to (if not necessarily as much as they want to).

But it costs us. For every hour that my kids are outside is an hour that their parents don’t—the list is long—don’t earn money. Don’t clean house. Can’t prepare supper. Don’t do laundry. Don’t run errands.

Because we can’t just let them outside, right?

Even with the gift that is our Common, I sit at the playground watching my two-year-old climb the ladder and go down the slide—again and again and again. An hour rolls by, maybe two. He needs to do this. And I need to watch him.

Paid work doesn’t get done during this time. Supper doesn’t get prepped. The dishes don’t get done.

My elder two are, at 7.5 and 10, able to fill some of this need on their own. They can play on the Common, and venture within a certain boundary of the neighbourhood on their own. But they need me to take them to the wilds, to the rivers—or even to the outdoor spaces that a generation ago they could have run off to alone.

They need my supervision not because they’re less competent than children of an earlier generation. Nor because their world is a less safe place. I need to be there because it’s an emptier place. That’s the real danger of our streets and neighbourhoods: not lurking criminals, but the lack of benign adult presences. The grandmas peeking out the windows, the neighbours hanging out on the porch, watching the kids scooter or run by between playgrounds and parks. Available to help if needed—and helping just by being, just by having eyes.

Even in our inner-city neighbourhood, considered one of the most vibrant in our city, the residential streets are empty, and most of the time, our parks and playgrounds are very, very quiet.

It’s easy to tell parents to get themselves and their children outside. It’s easy to make parents feel guilty about not being outside enough.

It’s darn hard to create neighbourhoods, communities and societies in which it’s easy for parents to let their kids have as much outdoor time as they need—without the parents needing to be present in the outdoor time with them all the time.

A water-based playground in Germany

A water-based playground in Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do your children play outside as much as they need to? And what’s the cost to you?

Here is a great source of inspiration for getting outside in small doses (and what to do once you get here): The Outdoor Hour Challenges.

“But I don’t want to marry a handsome prince!”

Setting: Playground.

The Players: Ursa, 3.5, as the Princess. Flora, 7.5 and “in charge” of Ursa, as the Mother. Ender, 2.5, as Everyone Else.

Ursa: Save me, Mother, save me!

Flora: Mama to the rescue! Where is that fiendish dragon?

Ursa: Is Ender the dragon?

Flora: Yes. Ender! Come and guard Ursa!

Ursa: He’s not coming.

Flora: Well, toddlers are like that. Not very obedient. Ender! Come attack Ursa!

Ender: OK!

Ursa: Aaah!

Flora: It’s okay! I’ll save you, darling!

Ursa: Now that you’ve saved me, you have to marry me.

Flora: I can’t marry you! I’m your mother!

Ursa: But you saved me.

Flora: You’re supposed to marry a handsome prince, my darling.

Ursa: But I don’t want to marry a handsome prince.

Flora: Oh. Do you want to marry a handsome princess?

Ursa: No, I want to marry you. Because you saved me.

Flora: How about we replay the game, and Ender saves you? He can be the handsome prince.

Ursa: Who will be the dragon?

Flora: That rock over.

Ursa: Save me, save me!

Flora: Ender! Go save the princess!

Ender: Attack!

Ursa: He’s attacking me!

Flora: Just pretending he’s attacking the dragon. Now, Ender, kiss her and save her.

Ursa: I don’t want him to kiss me. I just want him to save me and marry me.

… For “Ursa,” and her mom, who didn’t get to hear it. Thanks for visiting with us. We love you.

English: Ursa Major, Astronomical chart showin...

“He was not sentimental about children…”

“He was not sentimental about children. It wasn’t that he disliked them, for he usually found their rascally ways to be rather charming. He felt a pang of remorse that they would have to change or be forced to change into something else, something more socially acceptable.”

Martha Grimes’ character Ned Isaly in Foul Matter.

And again:

“He was watching a woman with light hair watching the little girl, who, with great care, was transferring earth from ground to pail. It was one of those childhood activities that adults can never understand because it’s pointless. But then that was its attraction–to be doing something where the point lay simply in the doing of it.”

And there ends life’s lesson for today. Now off to do something with the kinder just for the point of simply doing it.

Cover of "Foul Matter"

Pink and loyal, like Wilbur

Flora: Isn’t Ender just like Wilbur, Mom?

Jane: Wilbur? Like Charlotte’s Web’s Wilbur?

Flora: Aha.

Jane: Um… I don’t see it. How is he like Wilbur?

Flora: Well, he’s pink. And he’s loyal. And he’s downright terrific.

And when you can say that about a two-(and-a-half)-year-old pesky brother who’s just peed in your shoes, eaten your art work, flushed your dance leotard down the toilet, and gleefully smashed your tea set with a meat mallet—that’s love.

An iteroparous organism is one that can underg...

Charlotte’s Web has been a constant companion here for months–here’s another, more serious, post about it.

“Get back home Loretta!”

Flora’s Orff Music class wraps up for the year today, so I’ve got music on my mind. Now, Flora loves music. She always has, even though her mama and papa—not really. Although her mama remembers just about all the Beatles, Rolling Stone and Dylan lyrics that were her “Raffi” when she was the babe of flower children. I weaned Flora by singing her Yellow Submarine at night. After she committed Yellow Submarine to memory, she focused on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, She Loves You, and It’s been a Hard Day’s Night.

At three and a half, she became fixated on Get Back. How fixated? A vignette: she’s playing with her dollhouse, and just as her daddy wanders out to see what she’s doing, one doll is saying to the other, “Get back home, Loretta! Your mama’s waiting for you. In her high heeled shoes and her low cut sweater… Get back home, Loretta!”

Later, a dinosaur named Sweet Loretta Martin tells a dinosaur named Jo-Jo that he isn’t really a loner, and they should go to the park together because it was full of California grass.

She’s seven now, and it’s been a long time since she’s grooved on the Beatles. They were replaced by Johnny Cash for a long while. Then (really) Weird Al—specifically The Saga Begins although Flora always called it That Anakin Guy and preferred the Lego version. And now—Minecraft video parodies (this is her favourite one). But when she’s out of sorts, and she can’t sleep, I can still usually soothe her with Yellow Submarine… and Ender’s now playing with a dinosaur that still goes by the name Jo-Jo.

Sweet Loretta Martin, I’m sad to report, has been eaten by a voracious Boston Terrier.

Photograph of The Beatles as they arrive in Ne...

Get Back vignette from Life’s Archives UC, August 26, 2008

Writing For Children

Anybody who writes down to children is simply wasting … time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. Children love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention.

E.B.White, “The Art of the Essay” (Paris Review, 48, 1969)

… and therein, you have, I think the secret to why E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web continues to delight children (and their parents) more than 50 years after its debut. Reporting from a household where there’s a cardboard box labeled “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig” in the kitchen, a two-year-old who thinks he’s Wilbur, a seven-year-old playing Fern, a dog cast as Charlotte, and a “I’m too cool for this” almost 10-year-old who drops everything and sits down to listen the second “Fern” starts playing the audio book of Charlotte’s Web for the one-hundredth time.

Here, by the way, is a great story by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan about how the book was “spun.”

Charlotte's Web

Who’s The Craziest Person

Austen: Mom, S, J, L, T, M, Flora and I are all making this reality tv show, called Who’s the Craziest Person. So we’re taking the crash mats.

File the above under: “Things 20th Century Parents Never Heard.”

File under  “Daddy’s son”: Austen: I get to be the cameraman, isn’t that great? But I was really the only one qualified to do that.

File under “Babi’s granddaughter”: Flora: The Craziest Person? It’s probably going to be me.

Greek Gods

Today, Flora is Hermes, messenger of the gods. Austen is Hades. And we are all agreed Ender is Chaos personified.

Yesterday, Flora to Austen:  “I bet if we were demi-gods, our father would be Ares.”

In other God news, Flora has now completed “The Twelve Labours of Flora,” and has been promoted from demi-god to minor god. All this time I thought I was raising good atheists, I was apparently just sowing the field for Greco-Roman pagans…

Swear of the day: “By Hades’ gym shorts.” Replacing “By Zeus’s third testicle.” Which, in case anyone’s interested, replaced “By Zeus’s left testicle” as the expletive of choice sometime last week. And for the really curious, it was on June 29 that our family formally  voted 3-2 to replace random ejaculations of “OMG!” with “By Zeus’s left testicle.”

Sometimes, I do think we’re a little weird.


Flora: Mom, do you think Ender will still want to marry Baby M now that she gave us all stomach flu?

Jane: Um… I don’t think Ender has any plans to marry M.

F: Oh, I know, he’s too young to think of such things. I’ve arranged it for him. But do you think it will happen now?

J: When… how… why…

F: It’s good to get these things taken of early, you know, and then you can get on with life. I’m worried about Cinder: I really don’t know who he’s going to marry. Jade and Skye are definitely not interested. Maybe Moxie: she has an obnoxious older brother too, so she’d be able to deal with him.