A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Category Archives: Toddlers

It’s a Sunday night.  We’re driving out west to have dinner at a friend’s house.  The M4 is cruising along nicely.  Then the traffic starts slowing down a little.  Ahead, in the distance we can detect the blue flash of a police car but can’t see what’s going on.  We slow to a stop.  “Looks like there’s an accident up ahead,” I comment casually to my husband.  Time passes.  We’re not moving.  Whack.  Something smashes into the back of us.  “We are the accident,” I think, still not really registering what has happened.  After what seems an inordinately long time, our car crashes into the stopped car in front of us.  I have visions that we’re in one of those 20 car pile-ups that you see on TV.  Maybe somewhere at the back there’s a semi-trailor.  As I’m thinking that, a piercing scream cuts through the air.  It’s Birdy.  Is she OK?

The scream turns to a wail – a penetrating cry of distress.  I don’t know if she’s OK.  I can’t see her.  I can’t reach her.  I’m not thinking clearly.  She doesn’t say anything, just cries.  We’re all sitting there stunned and I don’t know what to do.  A man appears at our window.  “My foot slipped.  It slipped on the break.”

“We have an infant,” I say and then repeat it, like a broken record.

Eventually we realize that we need to move off the freeway into the breakdown lane.  I get Birdy out and hold her as she weeps.  I still don’t really know if she’s hurt, but after a time she calms down so I figure she must be OK.  It’s still a distressing situation – we’re standing on the edge of a freeway with trucks roaring past at 100 kilometres an hour.  The man who crashed into us introduces himself and inspects the damage to our car.  “I don’t care about the car!” I say, “as long as she’s alright.”  Fortunately, my husband was driving, so he deals with the business side of things, the swapping of numbers and addresses, the showing of licences, while I comfort Birdy.  After a while, it occurs to me that holding her on the edge of a freeway is probably not the safest option, so I strap her back into the car and after half an hour or so we’re on our way, the car thankfully still drive-able.

I’ve heard horror stories of people in car accidents having all sorts of medical problems later on, so all night at the dinner, I’m watching Birdy closely for any signs that something is wrong.  After all, she was in the back and took most of the force of the crash.  Later than night, we drive home cautiously, still feeling nervous.

Just a few days later, on Thursday, I collect Birdy from daycare and the staff tell me that Birdy didn’t play all day.  She just sat there.  They thought she had a bit of asthma and had given her ventolin at 12 pm.  When I pick her up at 1.30 pm, I can see she needs more ventolin, even though the normal recommended interval is every four hours.  I give her six puffs at 2 pm, then go home and let her watch television until we can get an appointment with the GP.  She is miserable the whole time, cries and complains of abdominal pain.  By the time we get to the doctor at 5.15 pm, she’s hysterical.  So hysterical that the GP can’t examine her abdomen.  I tell the GP we were in a car crash a few days ago in case it’s relevant.  I also tell her that Birdy’s had asthma that day.  The GP can’t figure out what’s wrong with her.  Birdy is crying so much that the doctor doesn’t notice how much her stomach is sucking in when she breathes.  I mention the asthma again before we leave.  The GP says that she can’t hear any wheeze and that she doesn’t think it’s asthma.  She suggests I give her Panadol for the pain, wait an hour and that if she doesn’t improve I take her to hospital.  I take her home and give her Panadol, but there’s no way I’m waiting an hour.  We go straight to hospital.  By this time it’s 6 pm and I’m stuck in a queue to turn west-bound onto Victoria road, where the traffic is crawling.  Birdy is growing more distressed.  I find my eyes welling up with tears.  I pray and ask God to clear a path for us.  Moments later, I turn the corner, and as far as the eye can see, for a kilometre or two, Victoria Road is empty.  At peak hour.  Heading out of the city.   It feels like a miracle.

Even so, it takes almost an hour to reach the children’s hospital.  We wait in line 20 minutes.  Then when the triage nurse see us, she looks at Birdy and says, “You’re struggling to breathe, little one.”  She measures her oxygen.  She doesn’t tell me the result, but takes us straight through to emergency.  A doctor sees us immediately.  She starts her on ventolin every 20 minutes and administers prednisole, a steroid that reduces the inflammation in the airways.  After an hour, I have a different child.  She sits up and starts colouring in.  Only afterwards does the doctor explain why we weren’t hearing any wheeze – she simply wasn’t getting enough air into her lungs to make an audible wheeze.  She explains that once the air passages open up, then we’ll hear the classic asthma wheeze.  That’s exactly what happens.   At the same time, the abdominal pain disappears.  The doctor explains that it was probably the effort of trying to breathe that was placing so much stress on her abdomen.

As we sit there in the asthma bay, families in the same situation as us trickle in.  We hear our story told over and over.  Sydney’s mid-spring winter has taken it’s toll on the asthmatic children in town.  Thinking winter was over, the parents have all stopped giving their children preventer medication.  Then along comes a second winter during spring.  The air is freezing but loaded with pollens.  The asthma ward is filling up fast.

At around 10.30, the doctor tells us there’s no way we’ll be going home tonight.  Birdy is still only just coping on hourly Ventolin and they won’t let us out the door until she’s down to three hourly.  So at 11pm they show us to our cosy little private room.  Before we bed down for the night, I call work and tell them I won’t be in the next day.   We won’t be released from hospital until mid-morning at the earliest.  It’s bright and I can’t sleep, but I’m happy that Birdy is already improving.  Through the night, the nurses come in and check on her and administer ventolin every two hours.   Only the next day, when her oxygen is back to 100 do they tell me her oxygen had been 93 the night before.  That’s the lowest you go before you’re into the danger zone.  Or that’s what they told me.

The next morning, sleep deprived, messy, still wearing my jeans from the day before, I load Birdy into the car, thankful she’s recovered so well.  I’m relieved Birdy survived both the car crash and the asthma attack.   I’m thrilled to be finally heading home.  But I still can’t bring myself to take the M4.

Have you ever been concerned for your child’s safety?  Have you seen your child suffer an asthma attack, anaphylaxis, convulsions or some other frightening health problem?  Have you ever had a car accident with your child in the vehicle?  How did you cope when your child was in danger?


Last week I wrote about Free Range Kids and the idea that parents these days can be a bit too paranoid and overprotective.  But that whole conversation made me realize that there are some things we’re probably not protecting our kids from that we should be.  And the thing that springs to mind is advertising.

I’ve noticed the negative effect advertising can have on children in quite a dramatic way this week.  You see we recently painted our mailbox, (it’s now a lovely purple colour) and in the process our No Junk Mail sticker got moved to the side of the mailbox.  Which means that if the person delivering the junk mail comes down the hill, we’re spared the junk mail.  But if they come up the hill, we receive copious amounts of it, mainly in the form of catalogues.

The first time we received a catalogue it was kind of a novelty. I thought it might be fun to cut out the pictures of bikes and dolls as a little activity. But what happened almost immediately was that Birdy started browsing.  “Mum, can we get this nightie?”  “Can I have that doll?”  “I don’t like my blue bike, I want that pink one with Barbie on it!”  And it wasn’t just for five minutes.  A whole week has gone by and she is still asking for the Dora Explorer nightie she saw in the catalogue.  Advertising turns our kids into little consumers who think that they need all this stuff.  And it’s also an introduction to the power of branding because they don’t want just any bike it has to be the one with the Disney Princesses.  And that’s all just the ripple-on effect of one Big W catalogue!

So other than a No Junk Mail sticker, what are some ways to protect kids from the power of advertising?  Well, I would just avoid all magazines and commercial television.  There are so many good shows on ABC2 and on DVD that you never have to go near a commercial channel.  But even then, the ABC puts their entire product catalogue in the DVD jacket, so the minute you bring home a new DVD you start getting requests for another one.  Of course the other thing we can do collectively is try to hold accountable corporations that target children with their advertising.  For example, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the latest Witchery clothing campaign aimed at children because it makes the kids look like adults.  If parents actually start to speak up about advertising aimed at kids, we might be able to encourage a bit more corporate responsibility.  One way to do that is through grass-roots organisations like Collective Shout and Kids Free 2 B Kids.

There’s a book by Tanya Adrusiak called Ad-proofing Your Kids that talks about the importance of being media literate and talking through with your children what the advertisers’ intention is.  She says you should discuss things like: Who created this message?  What is the point of view?  What does it want me to do?  How does it make me feel?  Why is it on during this program?  She says most advertising is designed to make us feel that we’re lacking, particularly in the area of beauty and body image, so the less children are actually exposed to those messages in their early years, the better.

However, Tanya also points out that while children are very influenced by advertising, until the age of 8 they just don’t have the capacity to understand the persuasive intent of advertisers.  And she argues that if people are being advertised to, they have the right to be aware of it.  And for that reason she feels any advertising aimed at young children is wrong.  I couldn’t agree more.

Are you concerned about the effects of advertising on children?  How do you protect your children from it?

I never pictured myself as a ballet Mum.  I never intended to enroll my daughter in ballet at all, let alone at 3 and a half.  But like lots of things in parenting, my child had other ideas.  So I had a choice: either to stick with my own pre-conceived ideas about what I expected my child to be or to throw the book out the window and go with the flow.

Ask my daughter what she’s going to be when she grows up and the answer is the same every time:  A ballerina.  I don’t think there’s much chance she will be an actual ballerina (Hey, my niece wants to be a mermaid, so she’s one up on that!) but as she’s been giving the same answer for about six months I figure it’s time my husband and I stopped rolling our eyes and smirking at each other every time she says it.

Birdy’s favourite game is to play ballet lessons.  When my sister was visiting recently, I would come home from work everyday to find them playing ballet lessons, (which was rather hysterical, considering my sister’s never even done highland dancing, let alone anything resembling ballet).  Finally I found a class that fit with our schedule and we went to our first real ballet lesson this week.

First we had to buy a leotard.  Well even before that, Birdy had to learn how to pronounce it.  She practiced saying it even though she didn’t actually know what a leotard was.  She just knew it was something you had to have for ballet.  Then off we went to the shops.  While we were there, Birdy told every person we passed that we were going to buy a ballet dress and a leotard.  I mean every person.  Other mums.  The 21 year old guy serving in the bookshop.  People waiting in the toilet queue.  Her excitement was completely uncontainable.

When we finally found the dance clothes and tried them on, she was beside herself.  Captivated by the image of herself in the leotard, ballet dress and slippers, she clapped her hands together with joy.  “Oh Mum I will be so beautiful at my ballet lesson.  I’m so excited.”  From then on, she proceeded to tell every person we passed that we had just bought a leotard and ballet slippers.  She couldn’t have been more excited if I’d just bought her a trampoline.

And so finally we made it to the magical world of the ballet class.  I was immediately drawn into the theatre of it all.  The costumes, the fancy French words, the play-acting.  Even the teachers’ New York accent added to the sense that we were being drawn into an alternative reality, where jumps are referred to as something that sounds like a cooking method, and where grace, elegance, gentleness and patience are the most prized virtues of our time.  And it dawned on me that ballet offers something that modern life lacks: ritual, ceremony, peacefulness, repetition, the joy of doing something just for the sheer pleasure of doing it, a chance to concentrate on nothing but physical movement.  Both the girls enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment they got from taking part.  As soon as the class was over my niece asked me “Can we come back to this ballet class again tomorrow?”  She’d sensed that she was part of something special.

I still don’t really think my girl is cut out to be a ballerina.  But I love the fact that her eyes light up just at the sight of her ballet slippers.  And isn’t that what we all want for our kids?  To help them find the thing that lights them up on the inside and lets the authentic them shine out.

What gets your kids really excited?  Have they found an activity or interest they really love?  Have you had to change your ideas and expectations of what you would like them to do?  What was your favourite activity or interest when you were young?  Has it influenced what you want for your children?

Photo by C. Roe

We had a disaster last week – a disaster entirely of our own making.  A disaster that, with a little more resolve, could have easily been prevented.

We know it’s a bad idea to let Birdy take Teddy out in public places.  Normally when we go to the shops or a cafe or to church, we insist that Teddy stays in the car so he doesn’t get lost.  But last week Teddy went to daycare.  And as anyone, even an Octopus, could have predicted Teddy was left behind at daycare.  I know.  Shocking case of parental neglect.  But wait, it gets worse…  It was a FRIDAY!

You know what that means, don’t you?  Two long days and three long nights without Teddy.

But hang on, why am I calling him Teddy, like he’s just some home brand generic teddy?  He has a name.  It’s January.  Birdy named him herself when she was two years old.  My husband and I were quite impressed.  Birdy was born in January, so it’s a pretty cool name for her teddy.

I bought January when I was pregnant.  My husband, who has a more pessimistic mindset than me, wouldn’t let me buy any baby things for about the first six months, in case it didn’t work out.  But I was so excited I just had to get something, so I allowed myself to buy just one teddy for my unborn baby.  That teddy turned out to be January.   That baby turned out to be Birdy.  I’m pretty attached to them both.  So naturally I was quite pleased that January became the teddy she bonded with and cuddles every night.

I was very attached to my teddy as a child.  He was blue with hardly any hair and he was called Peter Bear.  I remember a few distraught times (after I’d got in trouble for something) when I was genuinely convinced that Peter Bear was the only person in the world who really understood me.  Fortunately that conviction never lasted too long.  But he was there for me when I needed him.  That’s why I always hoped that Birdy would also have a special teddy to be her unconditional friend.

Well,  you’ll be glad to hear we survived the weekend without January.  Birdy even managed to sleep OK, but not without a few tears before bed each night.  Any time she got upset about something, she’d ask for teddy and then cry even more because he wasn’t there. And I actually found it harder to calm her down her without that simple, dependable comforter that I automatically turn to when she’s upset.  I felt almost as pleased as Birdy when January finally came home again.  I’ve made him promise to never run away again.

Do your kids have a special teddy or comforter? Have you ever left it behind in a hotel, playground or at a friend’s place?  Did you have a special soft toy as a child that you still remember?

I saw a status update on Facebook that amused me recently.  My sister-in-law (Aly) described how her 3 year old climbed into their bed in the early hours of the morning and they grudgingly allowed her in.  After lying still for about a minute she started bouncing around.  They told her to keep still and she said, “But I’m a froggy.  I want to hop, hop, hop like a frog.”  So her Dad said, “We don’t want any frogs in our bed.  No more froggy jumps please.”  After a short pause a little voice piped up, “Can I leap like a deer?”

I can relate to this story, especially lately.  Last night I said to Birdy, “Night, night, mind the bed bugs don’t bite.”  And she said, “Well if they do, I will just crawl into your bed!’  And I said, ‘Yeah, I bet you will.”  I think because the weather’s been so cold, a certain little person keeps turning up in our room at about 4 am.  And I must say it’s quite convenient because it’s a lot warmer if she curls up with us than if I have to go and settle her in her bedroom!

We’ve come full circle on this one, but it’s partly an age thing.  When Birdy was little we had a rule that she couldn’t come into Mummy and Daddy’s bed until the birds were singing.  This was mainly because she’d wriggle and squirm so much that none of us would get any sleep.  I was pretty firm about it, because I thought that if she came into our bed I’d never get her out again.  But there was one day a few months ago when neither my husband or I noticed that she’d got into bed with us until we woke up and found her asleep between us in the morning.  And I thought, well if it’s not disturbing anyone, then what’s the problem?  So now we let her stay there as long as she doesn’t start doing the cha-cha in the middle of the night.

Last week on my radio show I interviewed Rozanna Lilley from the Children and Families Research Centre at Macquarie Uni about the way children and families sleep around the world.  Her point is that in most cultures, some form of co-sleeping is the norm.  Not necessarily bed-sharing, but sleeping together, rather than expecting infants to sleep alone.  The idea that children have problems sleeping is a relatively recent phenomenon in western cultures, and it may be that our expectations of children have changed, rather than that their sleeping has become worse.  To hear the full interview click here.

Anyway, we actually quite enjoy it when Birdy comes to snuggle up with us.  So far she hasn’t vomited or wee’d in our bed, though I’m sure the day is coming.  Obviously I might feel differently if I had four kids, but with just one, she’s actually quite a good hot water bottle.  I’m sure I’ll have second thoughts about it when summer rolls around though!

Do your kids climb into bed with you?  What time of morning is OK?  Do you let them sleep in your bed, or is it strictly a kid-free zone? What rules do you have to make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep, or as good as possible?

When you become a parent you have to learn a lot of new skills.  Besides the obvious things like learning how to change nappies and bath a baby, you also learn to be patient, to problem solve, to multi-task and to show leadership.  But there are some things you never really master no matter how hard you try.  And for me that something is CRAFT!

I’m not sure why I hate craft so much, but I think it goes right back to the third grade, when I was actually awarded the craft prize at school.  I probably would have been quite happy about that, except that my teacher told me that I should have won the academic prize, but because I already had the craft prize, they had decided to award the brainy prize to somebody else.  Hello?  Why would I want a dumb old ‘you’re good at sticking’ prize when I could have had the smarty-pants prize?  I know I really should JUST GET OVER IT, but ever since that moment I have struggled to enjoy craft.

Of course, now that I am a parent, I can no longer avoid it.  For her last birthday, Birdy was given a whole stack of craft things including a brightly-coloured assortment of pipecleaners, pom poms, paddlepop sticks and goggly eyes that you are supposed to make into creative critters.  On the packet, there are all these inspiring-looking pictures of giraffes and cats that you’re supposed to create.  But from the first moment I looked at those animals on the packet, I knew there was no chance that anything we made would even vaguely resemble one of those pictures.  But Birdy really wanted to do it, so the other day, I gritted my teeth, got out the craft glue and unpacked the pipe cleaners.

Needless to say the final result was disastrous.  Disastrous. What I want to know is… is it really possible to stick two fluffy pom poms to each other without first setting them in wet cement overnight?  Cause frankly, I just can’t see how it is physically possible for two fluffy things to stick together.  There’s no surface to attach to.  I held those pom poms together for about ten minutes, and they weren’t even slightly stuck.  Then I tried to put the paddle-pop legs on and again, I can’t see how you can attach the end of a stick to a pompom without a staple gun.   So after half an hour of sticking and glueing and reattaching and holding and trying to break paddle-pop sticks into two equal halves, all we had were two uneven legs that looked completely deformed and a pair of goggly eyes that wouldn’t stay on.

When Daddy got home from work and asked Birdy if she did some craft, she actually sighed and said, “No, Mummy couldn’t do it.”   So I’m very sorry Birdy, but “I will not ever NEVER be good at craft.”  But that’s what pre-school’s for, right?

Do you enjoy doing craft with your kids?  Are you naturally crafty or have you had to learn the hard way?  Do you have any helpful tips for me and all the other un-crafty parents out there?  Are there other activities that you have tried to master for your kids, but just haven’t been able to get interested in? (eg baking, sports, keeping pets, painting?)

Photo by Lisa Jay

What has happened to me?  At the moment I spend about 50% of any given day making inanimate objects talk.   It doesn’t matter what activity I do with Birdy, whether it’s play-dough, swimming or playing with dolls, within the first minute or so she will say to me, “Mum, can you make the frog talk?  Mum, can you make the penguin sing?  Mum, can we be mermaids?”

The first time your child engages in symbolic or imaginative play it’s soooo endearing.  I don’t know if you remember the first time your child fed a dolly, or turned a toilet roll into a telescope, but I remember thinking, “Wow, my baby is turning into a real little person.”  It was like a whole new world of play was opening up to us.

Now I’m totally over it.  The other day, when Birdy was in the paddling pool I spent an entire hour simulating a fictional conversation between a fish and a baby boat.  (I was the fish, she was the boat!)  At the end of the hour I was exhausted.  I was tempted to say, “Let’s go inside and watch TV”, but she would have happily kept playing out the fish/boat drama all afternoon.

The thing is, I know that this kind of imaginative free play is really important to children developmentally.  So much so, that some early childhood experts are expressing concerns that kids are spending too much time in structured activities and not enough time in free play.  The reason it’s so important is that we now understand that the early childhood years are formative years, in which future abilities for self-expression, problem solving and communication are developed.  In play, kids can use their imagination to solve problems, to understand different social roles by acting them out and to learn and practice self-expression.  (If you have trouble understanding how kids can learn through play, try this simple exercise.  Roleplay your child’s bedtime routine, but you play the child and let your child act as the Mummy or Daddy.  You’ll soon get an insight into how your child perceives your parenting role.)

So how can you encourage imaginative play?  Here’s a few tips.

–       Create a nice play area but don’t have too many toys available at once.  Cubby houses and other special places can also encourage children to create their own worlds.

–       Limit time spent watching TV, playing computer games and other noisy, flashy, over-stimulating toys in which a child’s interaction is limited to just pressing buttons.

–       Spend time telling stories, both from books and from real life.

–       Try not to interrupt your child when they are involved in imaginative play.

–       Get outside and into nature – sticks, stones, shells and sand can be the best playthings.

–       Provide open-ended toys that can be used in more than one way.  Like farm sets, tea sets, blocks, train sets, dolls, hand puppets.  And try not to correct or limit your child’s interpretation of those toys.  (If they say the teacup is a swimming pool, then let it be a swimming pool!)

So, it turns out I’m not wasting my life by spending half my day as a talking fish.  There is more at stake.  Like, my child’s whole future.

Do your children engage in imaginative play?  How have you encouraged them to be creative?  What are their favourite scenes or stories to act out?  Has there been a particular toy or theme that has captured their imagination?

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