Monthly Archives: July 2012

An open letter to the Sock Phantom.

Dear Sock Phantom

Some years ago, coincidentally with the arrival of my first child, you apparently took up residence in my house. I have never seen you, but I am certain that you exist. I have the following questions for you:

  1. Why is it that you feel the need to leave your droppings all over the house? I find stray socks in the oddest places and cannot account for any other way they may have reached these places if it is not you moving them around.
  2. Why is it that you persist in tormenting me by following me around the house as I collect stray socks for the washing and depositing new socks in places I have already cleared?
  3. I am concerned about the unfeasibly high rate of divorce amongst socks. Rather than mating for life, many of you choose to transport yourself through the washing machine portal to parts unknown, leaving your partner to live out the reminder of their lives as a solitary single in the sock bag. Does this worry you too?
  4. I do appreciate that with eight people in the house, there may potentially be as many as fifty-six pairs of socks in the washing on any given week. But why must you use your special phantom powers to ensure that of the one hundred and twelve socks which go into the washing, inevitably only eighty-two return, and those eighty-two seem to bear no relation to each other? I can only assume that there are some returns through the washing machine portal as individual socks realise that life without their partner is, in fact, empty. How sad they must be when they are returned to the sock bag to discover that their partner has been donated to the sock glove puppet production line, or indeed the big green rubbish bin.
  5. Can you please explain how it is that socks are able to change their size on a whim? There are many so-called “pairs” which cannot possibly fit on one person’s feet by the disparity in their size.
  6. Lastly, sock phantom, why must you rip the heels out of perfectly decent socks? This is cruel and unusual punishment and provokes outrage in the sock wearers.

Thank you for your consideration of these matters. I would prefer that you vacate the premises immediately and forthwith, but understand that this request does fall outside the bounds of probability. If you could do your best to reduce the incidences of the above, I would be very appreciative.


An over-worked mother

PS If you could see your way to having a conversation with the Shoe Phantom about its need to leave a trail of shoes up and down the stairs and in the hallway for people to trip over, and its reluctance to keep the shoes on the shoe shelf where they belong, I would be very grateful.

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My favourite Margaret Mahy story

New Zealand lost a wonderful literary character today, as Margaret Mahy died. I have enjoyed Mahy’s picture books as well as her Young Adult fiction for a very long time now. She pops up all over the place – in the children’s school journals and learning to read books, as a performer, librarian, and in well-worn stories on the library shelves and private book shelves all over the country (and world). When sending books to children overseas, I’ll often choose Margaret Mahy.

But which story is my favourite? For younger children, I love A Lion in the Meadow. This was Mahy’s breakthrough story, first published in 1969, and like many of her picture books was a triumph of imagination. The language is wonderful, and the expressive reading possibilities are endless. When my older children were 5, 7, 8 and 9, I went to their school during Book Week. I dressed up as a fairy and took a selection of books and spent the afternoon reading to the children in the school. I started with the New Entrants, Year 1 and 2 children, and to them, I read A Lion in the Meadow, and a Lynley Dodd book. For the years 3 and 4, I read A Lion in the Meadow and The Witch in the Cherry Tree. For the oldest children, I read The Witch in the Cherry Tree and Captain Abdul’s Pirate School.

I think that The Witch in the Cherry Tree is probably my most favourite Mahy book to read. The imagery is fabulous, and worked well for the middle school kids and was useful for the older children who’d been talking about similes and metaphors. The image of the witch whirling into the sky like a cinder is one which strikes me as fresh every time I read it (and I have read it hundreds of times). The rhythm of the language means that it reads well every time, and it is easy to believe that the witch is real.I am a big reader of Young Adult fiction, and have enjoyed many of Margaret Mahy’s young adult stories. From the eeriness of Kaitangata Twitch to the chilling The Tricksters with its entwined story of family secrets to my favourite, The Changeover, I have read and re-read these stories until my copies of the books are battered and torn.

Margaret Mahy has given me hours of enjoyment with her books, and helped us build a love of words and books in our children as well. We’ve spent many happy bedtimes reading her stories together, with the children at first memorising and gradually learning to read them for themselves.

RIP Margaret Mahy, and thanks for all the wonderful words.

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Children and the death of pets

I have always felt that it was a really good idea for children to experience the benefits of having pets, and also the loss of pets. Small losses give them some coping mechanisms for the large losses they may face as they grow older. I’m a farmer’s daughter, so I’ve seen (and eaten) birth, life and death of animals, even pets. So we’ve had pets; guinea pigs and cats being the chosen ones, given that we live in the city and not on a farm.

The first guinea pig death was hard, but OK. We hadn’t had the guinea pig long, the children were upset, but not inconsolably so, and we replaced the guinea pig. Then one escaped (or was let out by a neighbour’s child). We’d had this one for longer and it was a lovely guinea pig. Friendly, tame, and the child who belonged to it had spent a lot of time holding it and making it extremely tame. That was a hard loss and it took time to get over it. Then there were the inexplicable deaths – guinea pigs are apparently fragile creatures. There have been a lot of rose bushes planted in our garden over the corpses of our beloved pets. I was reasonably OK with all of this, although I cried with the children and sympathised with their losses.

Every now and again, an animal comes along who has a strong bond with a child or a person. One of my sons had a guinea pig with whom the mutual admiration society didn’t ever stop. They played together, watched TV together and spent lots of time together. Midnight was lovely and calm and tame, and they simply clicked from the first moment they laid eyes on each other. We had Midnight for 18 months and she was a much-loved furry friend. One afternoon we came home from school and she was lying in the cage twitching and if she was a person, I would say she had had a stroke. With many tears, and hugs, my boy said goodbye to her. Even at the end, when he was holding her, she was chirruping up at him as if to say “It’s OK, I’ll be OK”. Her death resulted in tears from all of us, not least because our boy was so upset.

And then there was our lovely cat, Pharaoh. He was originally a flatmate’s, but I’d inherited him, and he’d been around for as long as any of the children. He was tolerant of small children, active, affectionate, an excellent hunter and very loved. And then he got sick. We had to make the heartbreaking decision to put him to sleep.  Again, part of the depth of my upset is because of the level of  hurt and upset the children felt. We are still not entirely over it, despite the addition of two lovely little bundles of fluff who have made their own places in our hearts.

I find I am very anxious about our new arrivals. We kept them inside far longer than I ever have done before with new cats. We nervously search for them if we don’t see them for a few hours. I worry about them constantly. And then I worry about children. If the death of our loved pets is this hard on me, how hard is it on our children? Yes, these small losses help to prepare them for the bigger ones, but are they either making them scared of death, or is it teaching them to put a small wall between themselves and those they care for with every loss? Or is that just a part of life? That we gradually grow a thicker shell to cope with the ups and downs so that we don’t feel everything so passionately and intensely.

My only consolation in this is that when I look back to my own childhood, I remember the joy and love I had with my pets, and I don’t seem to remember the loss of them. So I’m hoping that the kids  will be the same. And that I will survive the next loss we have, because the older I get, the harder it gets to say goodbye.

How do you feel about pets? Do you have any? And have you had to deal with the loss of pets with your kids – what did you do or say?

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10 things I’ve learned about gifted children

Here are 10 things I’ve learned since becoming the mother of a pile of gifted kids!

1. All gifted kids are not created equal.

2. Just because your kid is gifted does not mean they will succeed academically. Or that they will give a shit about succeeding.

3. Just because your kid is gifted does not mean they will fail academically. But it might mean that they obsess over getting their answers absolutely right.

4. Some gifted kids are rule followers (these are the ones who often do OK at school).  Some gifted kids are rule breakers.

5. Just because a kid is gifted and capable of discussing advanced concepts does not mean that they are emotionally mature enough to deal with the concepts in practice.

6. When a gifted kid takes a long time to make a decision, it’s not because they’re trying to annoy you or not focusing. Sometimes, it’s because they are considering not just the immediate decision, but the knock-on effect for the universe and will this cause the end of life as we know it?

7. Gifted kids are all intense. Even the quiet well-managed ones – those ones just internalise more. Gifted kids are challenging, wonderful, amazing, outstanding and often downright frustrating.

8. A gifted kid can be perfectly happy at an ordinary school.  But they can be ecstatic, passionate and inspired when they get to go to a school for gifted kids.

9. Just because they’re gifted does not mean they should be entitled to special treatment; it does not make them better than anyone else and it certainly does not mean that they can treat anyone in their lives as worthless.

10. And the top thing I’ve learned since becoming the parent of gifted children? No matter how gifted, how much they succeed academically or how many imaginary universes they save, destroy or build, they are still just children.  I want them to be happy, compassionate, contributing members of society. But most of all, I want them to be happy.

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