The Importance of Watching

I think, sometimes, as an ECE, I forget to use what I know about children in the context of my own home. I have all these play experiences set up, pretty much any kind of toy you can imagine, but I forget to do the rest of it – observing, documenting, reflecting, planning.

Take this week. We were home all week because L. was a close contact to someone with Covid. So, I plan for all this time home. We have sensory bins, cars, blocks, a play kitchen, a ball pit, all these wonderful things. L. just wants to sit and drive his cars, and that’s what he did. G. just wanted the sensory bins. And good lord. I drove myself absolutely nuts with the idea of “She isn’t playing with it right!”

Seriously. What the fuck?!

Apparently there is a right and a wrong way to play with water beads. Who knew?!

After several days of constantly saying Please stop pouring the water beads on the floor! and You’re getting sand everywhere, try to keep it on the table at least!, I gave in and I just watched and I discovered she was baking. She was filling small containers with sand and making cupcakes with bead sprinkles, she was making donuts with and without play dough icing. She made coffee to drink with our sweet treat. I was so obsessed with the mess (that piece of anxiety has a whole other post hahah) that I almost missed what was really going on.

So, I decided fuck it, if she wants to bake, let’s do this thing. That afternoon, I left the kids with the hubby and I went to the dollar store. I bought flour, salt, vinegar, baking soda, baking powder, lemon juice, corn starch, vegetable oil, plastic condiment containers, spray bottles, and little bowls. It was the best 20$ I ever spent.

Of course, I began with the carefully laid out materials, set out attractively, with the mixing bowl and the spoons. That lasted about 36 seconds. Once she realized that she could just do whatever she wanted, it was on. The first round, she mostly just mixed liquids. She added different food colourings, she wanted the oil and water bubbles dance, then she added in some of the dry ingredients and watched how the colours swirled and how the textures changed as she added different ingredients to the mix. In the end, she used every bit of her “science”. Thank god I bought doubles of everything.

The next day, she went with the dry ingredients first, then experimented with how the different liquids interacted with each other. She was thrilled when she learned that lemon juice reacts with baking soda the same way vinegar does (same reaction, less smelly). As she mixed everything together, she told me that it felt like dough, and asked if she could eat it. I told her to go for it, but she didn’t really want to follow through. She watched how the coloured liquids made the dough have different layers of colour throughout, she felt the difference between the gritty salt and the soft flour. It was a full sensory experience.

And that was it. She mixed and she kneaded, and she was so involved in her play that an hour and half went by before she was ready to move on. And honestly, the mess took less than 10 minutes to clean, so I don’t know why I was so fixated on that. Today, she was playing with a set of stacking rings – again, they were donuts. Maybe this week we’ll try to make our own donuts; I’m pretty much down with anything that ends with donuts. Maybe we’ll make our own bread. Maybe she’ll be over it in a few days. Who knows?

I just know, the next time I’m obsessed with the mess, with them not playing with things “right”, it’ll be my reminder. Just watch. Just wait. Something amazing will come, just wait and see.

Anxiety and Cheerios

It’s a quiet Sunday morning, my coffee is hot, and my kids are doing sensory play. You would think this would be a lovely little morning but my anxiety is off. the. charts.

G. keeps taking her brother’s toys directly from his hands, he’s freaking out, she’s screaming when he tries to take them back. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I tell her that she can’t take things away from him, that he has a right to play with toys too, she just keeps grabbing. If I give him something, she immediately “trades” with him so she gets the new one. It’s like she doesn’t think he’s a real person, that he’s ‘just a baby’ and so what he has and wants doesn’t matter. She is the important one. We’ve had talks about how she would feel if her friends at school behaved like this with her, I’ve done it to her (lovingly, and with an explanation after the freakout) and she just doesn’t get it. She doesn’t care. Everything is hers, and he can just deal. So I’m constantly wranging at her, telling her to stop taking things from her brother, to share, he can play too, etc etc etc. It ended with ultimatums, that if she couldn’t play nice then she couldn’t play. Makes for a real relaxing play experience.

And then he starts to eat the “sand” (ground cheerios, because I’m not a masochist hahaha) and so she does, then she gets pissy because I told her to stop eating the sand, because when he sees her eat the sand then he thinks he can eat the sand and I don’t want him to think that, the next sensory bin might not be edible. Now the powder is getting every where. You would think as an ECE I would be able to relax and see the learning in this but there’s no learning, just snacking. And messing.

Why can’t I just relax and let the play happen?! Why must I be so in control of it all the time?!

My girlfriend has been posting all this stuff on Insta, like she’s trying to start an educational mom blog there, and she talks a lot about letting go and letting experiences happen. I admire that. I want to be like that. I can’t quite get there yet. A lot of my PPD was wrapped up in the idea of control, that I needed to be in control all the time, if I lost control of the situation, of the kids, everything would fall apart on me. With my hubby being gone so much of the time, I always needed to be in control, I always needed to be on. If I let go, things would spiral and I would never be able to get things under control again.
This obviously is not what would happen, but in my mind, I needed to be on top of everything always. So now, part of what I’m trying to do is let go. Not control everything. The outcome is what it is.

It’s an especially hard pill to swallow, because I used to BE that mom. The one that let messes happen, the one that made ooblek and did science experiments, and just let it be. I remember sitting with some moms at out local Parent Link, silently judging them because they all agreed that they hated playdoh, that it was something that could be done at daycare, they hated it because it got everywhere and then they were forever cleaning it. And all I could think was Playdoh? Really? That’s where you draw your line? THAT’S too messy? They’d hate my house!

And now I hate my house 🤣 That’s a little extreme, but it is what it is. I hate that I’m not fun anymore, that I can’t let play happen. Let mess happen. They’re only little once, mess can be cleaned, blah blah blah. This is why this morning I decided I needed to let it happen.

Fuck me, it’s hard work. It feels like exposure therapy, and I’m ignoring the mess and the fighting and the crying and the eating by blogging and deep breathing. Makes sense, right?! If I can’t see it, I can’t stress about it 🤣

While I typed, the play calmed down. G. found a pot and started to ‘cook’ with the powder. L. started to just scoop it on to his body. I could see what was starting to form.

And then L. grabbed the towel I placed underneath to help with clean up (baby steps haha) and dragged the powder all over the kitchen and living room. Cue the deep breathing, pull out the vacuum. We’re getting there.