Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Food is on my mind...

Food. I have been talking to so many people about food lately, that really I just have to write about it. I don't know where to start, so I'm thinking back to the table I left at home going to work the other day. A little table with a finished breakfast. Well, finished in our definition of what it means - there was still some food on the plate when Antek took his bib off, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, smiled and walked away. A few mouthfulls of scrambled eggs. A couple of bites of bread. Some tea on the bottom of the glass. Breakfast is finished. We don't go for 'One more spoon? For Mummy?'

My husband and I have been struggling with this ourselves for months now. We love eating, we love food, and we love spending time in the kitchen. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that, quite a while ago we realised that our eating habits are not what we want them to be, and that Pawel's portion of pasta would really shock you (and the fact that you can't see him from behind all this food). How can we know that enough is enough? How can we know if we're eating because we're still hungry, or because we simply don't know when to stop. Neither of us has a problem with obesity, but healthy eating habits are about more than that, you'll agree. So we mindfully worked through our eating habits, we slowed down and started listening to our bodies more. And we let our son do the same. Just so he maybe doesn't have to go through the same thinking we are doing right now, in the future. Fingers crossed.

Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat. (from an interview with Emmi Pikler, reproduced on Little River School blog)

As always, we have found that it's all about trust and respect. Trusting your child to know how much he needs, and respecting his decision to stop. Trusting your child that he knows his body better than anyone else, and respecting this body enough not to want to impose your will. All of this, if practices early, can lead to life-long benefits.  But recently I have been talking to so many people about food so many times, that it has led me to believe it's not only these kinds of benefits we are talking about here...

Know when to stop

The first years of life are all about learning. It's all one big experience (not that it changes much after that) and also learning how to learn. Learning what we like and what we don't like. Learning what we are comfortable with. Learning what is and what is not acceptable to us. But, as ever, this kind of learning needs to be done by the child himself.

In letting Antek eat  as much or as little as he wants, we hope to let him learn how his body feels about certain things. When he has enough, he gets up, takes his bib of and sometimes says thank you ( 'degyeeee') and hands me the plate. Or just smiles and walks away. Letting him stop when he wants to stop we are letting him walk away when he's had enough. And this does not only apply to food.

We want our children to know when to stop. To know when to say 'no' and walk away. I can imagine that when our son is a teenager, we will want him to know all of this even more. But for them to be able to do that comfortably, we also need to respect when they say 'no' to us. Especially, when it is about things they know better than we do - when it is about themselves.

Emotional experience

Just like anything else that goes on between our children and us, eating and feeding is an emotional time. For all those involved. I remember how hard it was for Pawel when he prepared a meal and Antek would not eat it. And of course 'I've made all this for you and you are walking away' is definitely something that was on his mind. But he never once let Antek know that he thought that, and learnt to trust Antek, and let go of the expectations. And that always pays off :)

We have this thing in Poland, where parents will sit down with babies and feed them spoonfulls that are always for someone (now, I have no idea if this is a universal thing or not?). 'One for Mummy. One for Daddy. One for Granny....' The list goes on, the child gets fed, nobody knows how much or how little he really needed to eat. But this, again, is not just about food. It's a pretty heavy load, now that I think about it, for a child to stop even when he is full. After all, if he's had one spoon for Mummy, will he not have one for Daddy?

Pawel has recently told me an adult version of this, which really is just the same. When you go out and don't want to have a drink with someone (and by drink in this situation we usually mean a shot of vodka) the 'normal' response is: 'Come on. You won't drink with ME?' well.... (beautiful recent post by Nadine about being able to comfortably say 'no' is here).

Trust me, you'll like it

Antek had a couple of months when he would not touch a carrot. That was just it. We didn't worry about it, but unforunately we mentioned it to someone, who seemed to find it a bit problematic. The advice which followed included things as varied as giving him only carrots so he had no choice, through to giving him other things mashed with carrots, so he would not notice. Now, needles to say, we did neither.

First of all, we don't think it's abnormal not to like something. We usually don't see it as something unusual when it comes to adults (think about having all your friends over for dinner at once... I would probably have to serve water). The problem with children is that we tend to worry that they will not get what they need, or that they are becoming 'picky'. Since we tend to trust Antek that he will know what he needs, we didn't worry about the first one. And we kept offering him carrots once in a while, and then patiently ate them ourselves. Until, of  course, one day he grabbed one, ate it, and has loved carrots since.

There are several important things we wanted to remember with the carrot 'situation'. It's ok not to like something, so if he ended up just not liking carrots in the end, we would also not have a problem with that. But more than that, we disagree with cheating anyone into doing anything - and in our ears 'mashing everything so he doesn't know carrot is there' is cheating. We don't want our son to  lie to us. We will not lie to him. And that goes far beyond carrots.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Emotional rollercoaster...

I recently realized that I might just be a bit boring sometimes. I don't like when things happen all at once and my brain can't quite cope. I don't like when things get too much. I vowed years ago never to watch another horror movie - I do not like being scared. I'm uncomfortable in situations where I don't know what is going on and so I don't know how to respond. I know these are all learning experiences, but if I can, I choose an attitude that is a little bit Zen, I guess - or at least, I try. And I keep reminding myself that I can always (well, almost always) opt out. Not everyobody can.

We were at the nearby playground the other day. Antek is now just over 18 months old, and things that move have started to get exciting. And big vehicles. And also, running up and down. Somehow, not too many things in the playground itself are exciting for him, but lots of stuff around it is, so we go. He loves watching older kids play, and laughs out loud at lots of things they do. Like Leander, he's not too keen on slides - he climbs up, looks down, climbs back down and usually walks away. He doesn't cry anymore when too many kids run past him, but he just walks away and moves closer to us when he's uncomfortable. He doesn't seem to like when things get too much. When stuff is scary. When something is uncomfortable. He stretches his arm out and shakes his head. Like me, he prefers to opt out. I respect that. And I hope he too will respect other people's choices when he gets older.

We were looking at a little girl, maybe a bit younger than Antek, who was quietly playing with little stones. Her mum came over, picked her up and offered to carry her to the slide. The girl was trying to get back down and get back to her pebbles, but mum had decided that slide will be more fun. Once on top of the slide, the girl got scared and started crying. She was trying to get down. Her mum held her and showed her how much fun the slide really is. After about two or three times, the girl started enjoying it, and this time instead of protesting loudly, she laughed out loud and wante to go again, again and again. Until her mum got tired and took her back down to the pebbles. This time, there were tears and not wanting to leave the slide... There were a few times when the girl wanted to opt out, when the emotions were getting too much, when things were too scary to handle. Or too great to leave behind. It's all part of life, but it sure is easier when it's not imposed on you, and when you can at least have a little snippet of a possibility of opting out.

One of my most vivid memories from childhood is a water slide we were on ages ago in Hungary. It was huge. I didn't want to go, but everyone went and I was taken along. I remember standing on top of it, looking down and thinkng that I absolutely need to get down, get back to the stairs and leave. But everyone went, and everyone had fun, and so I did too in the end. I hated it. I remember landing in water convinced that I would drown. I remember being very scared and thinking that something surely must be wrong with me - everyone is having such a great time. This was the last time I have ever been on a water slide. I guess that's something Pawel will have to do with our kids. I don't feel comfortable in water either.

I might be a boring mum. But that day, walking home from the playground I decided (again) I prefer it that way. I prefer the quiet joys of playing in the pebbels, from the emotional rollercoaster of the tears of fear mixed with the tears of joy on the slide. I like peace. I like when things happen because they are naturally meant to happen, not because someone makes decisions for me. And I like my choice for not doing something to be respected. Sure, slides are fun. Water slides are probably fun too, but I never had a chance to have fun on one. Maybe we don't need an emotional rollercoaster to see how much fun something is. Maybe it's ok to wait until we are ready for the fun... after all, isn't that what makes it fun?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


I have been a bit sick recently, and have been home more, but also sleeping more and doing less. I hate being sick (who doesn't?), but, as always, if you let yourself just be, there are surprises around the corner. I had very little energy these past few days, and this helped me do what I have most trouble doing - slowing down...

I *know* of the benefits of slowing down. I really do. And I try. I try more now with Antek around than before. But more often than not, I feel like I start at the top of the hill every morning, and from there all you can do is just keep picking up pace. Until the evening comes, you crash, and tell yourself that tomorrow will be different. And then you wake up at the top of that hill again...

I was sitting on the kitchen floor and Antek wanted to go outside. It was this time of day when his energy was too much to keep inside, but it was a bit chilly and he needed to put on a sweatshirt. I held the shirt out, explained that if he wants to go out he needs to put it on. He turned his back to me and went back to looking out and pointing out the door. I knew he wanted to go and play. I was really tired and had a huge headache. So I sat there and waited. And then I waited some more. And some more. And more... I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again Antek was standing in front of me pointing to the shirt and stretching his arms up... we put the shirt on and he ran off. And I realized that I was feeling a bit embarrassed.

Had I felt better I would not have waited half the time. I probably would have found a way of explaining it again, or trying to convince him to put the shirt on. I would have come closer, and probably repeated what I had said. But was it really necessary? He needed to point at the window first, knock on the door, and then he was ready.

I have read and thought about what both Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler say about slowing down. I have thought about it a lot since Antek was born. I let him develop naturally, 'in time, not on time' (Gerber). I do not rush him into things he is not ready to do physically. I take time during caring moments - nappy changes, baths, feeding... why is it so difficult to do the same when it comes to all those simple daily things? Why is it more difficult to slow down when it comes to sitting at the table or putting shirt on, than it is when it comes to sitting up, crawling, or walking? I don't know. All I know is that slowing down should really be my matra, not just during caring moments.

When I opened the door and let Antek out, I heard this song on the radio (things like this really make me stop and think, I have to say...):

Slow down, you're doing fine, you can't be everything you want to be before your time...


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Revisiting our hands...

Recently, I have been struck with this thought of how quickly we learn, and how quickly we forget. Parenting is a wonderful journey, and every day we learn from our children. Every day, every moment even, we discover something about them, and something about ourselves, if we're open to it. But recently I have been thinking about all those thing we felt were very important in the beginning. All those things we felt strongly about. And how, with time, some of them have slipped away... so this week I have been trying hard to remember those first few weeks and what they taught us. One of the first things that came to mind was my hands.

Getting to know each other is of course mutual. As we get to know the child, he begins to know us, and this happens through our hands. Hands constitute the first relationship for the baby with world beyond breastfeeding. Hands pick him up, lay him down, wash, dress and feed him... What difference it makes when gentle, patient and peaceful hands, which also convey safety and clarity, take care of him. How different the world seems if these hands are impatient, rough, hasty, restless and nervous. In the beginning hands are everything for the infant. They are the person, the world... (Dr. Emmi Pikler, 'Peaceful Babies - Contented Mothers')

Our first few weeks were all about connection, relationship, getting to know Antek, and letting him get used to the world to which he was so new. We were very aware of our hands, of the way we touched, dressed, changed and hugged him. Our hands were his world, just like he was our world. We made sure to slow down, stop for a moment before touching him, let our hands be as respectful and loving as we were towards him. Slowly, with time, he became more aware of other things, our hands became one of the many connections with the world. He became more aware of other sensations, other senses. We still paid attention to being careful and respectful. But slowly, with time, I seem to have lost track of my hands. They became just hands - those tools for picking up, hugging, dressing, changing.

As I was thinking about those first few weeks of our parenting journey, I came across Katrina Kenisson's piece about touch. And I realised that I lost track of my hands, of the powerful message they are sending. That I lost track of the power of touch. I can really understand her, when she says: 'we are a hands-off culture, and to reach out in this way, human to human, hands to body, almost always means crossing some kind of barrier. We may feel free to talk about anything, but to lay our hands on another person is not something most of us do regularly or casually.' Though I come from a slightly different culture perhaps. I often hug my friends, kiss them. I like to touch the person I am talking to. I believe our bodies need the connection too, not just our minds.

So much recent research talks about the importance of touch for such physical things as development, growth and weight, but also for such emotional things as happiness and attachment. All people need to be held, hugged, kissed. But while we talk about touch and its importance when it comes to caring for infants, we sometimes forget that it is also about the quality of that touch. That our hands might be sending a powerful message. That it is different to be holding a baby while watching TV or reading a book, and to be holding a baby with fully attentive hands. Magda Gerber says we should 'unbusy our minds' when we are around children. I think we should also 'unbusy' our hands - from everything they are doing, everything they will be doing, those things they should be doing or that they have done. And just like trying to be fully there with our minds, giving children our undivided attention, maybe it's also worth fully giving them our hands when we touch them...

As I woke up this morning, I heard Antek waking up in his bed. Before I went to pick him up I stopped for a moment. I though about my hands, and remembered how Maureen Perry talked about touching babies, during our training. I thought of how I love Antek's little hands when he suddenly runs to hug me out of nowhere; how I love Pawel's strong touch when we walk holding hands; my Dad's hand on my hair when he talked to me; my Mum's hand on my forehead when I was sick; my Brother's strong hug. I shook my hands a bit to get rid of the sleepiness and leftover dreams.

When I finally got out of bed and went to pick up Antek, my mind and my hands were ready. Just like when I touched him for the first time. After all, every morning is a new beginning...

[Photo with thanks to Mary Sadowska]

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lessons from the box of crayons

"... Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of the river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point." (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Imagine this is your world. The world of great unknowns, of all the magical things, of all these possibilities for discovery. Imagine nobody is telling you what to do with what, what will 'work best', or 'be easier this way', or that 'it should be done this way'. This is, I want to believe, what all artists and scientists do daily - discover; explore; wonder; test; hypothesize; try again and again... and this is what we admire them for.

Recently Pawel bought Antek a box of lovely beeswax crayons. The boys then came home, Pawel showed Antek what was in the box, and put the crayons with his other toys. Where they happily stayed, forgotten, for the next three days. Now, weeks later, the crayons have been around for a while, Antek takes them out now and again and uses them quite a lot in his play. He has not drawn a single dot or line. In our house, crayons are not for drawing. Not right now, at least. What are they for? Now, did you know that:

1. Crayons roll when thrown on the ground.
2. Crayons roll faster when thrown on the ground, than when placed carefully and pushed lightly.
3. Crayons roll faster and in one direction when put on the ground and pushed hard
4. When thrown, crayons may roll fast, but not always in the direction intended (this may also result in lost crayons, misplaced crayons, wet and dirty crayons)
5. Rolling rocks (sic!)
6. Crayons looks lovely when put on the floor, but much more impressive when put on a box, one next to the other (the effects often produce applause)
7. Crayons make a very good sound when you bang them on the floor
8. Crayons make an excellent sound when you bang them on the fridge door
9. The sound when crayons are banged on the pillow is not exciting at all
10. Some crayons float
11. Crayons are not delicious
12. Pink and red crayons look lovely when put  next to herbs in the garden
13. Blue crayons not so much
14. Crayons don't really fit into the box they came in. No matter how you try. (They do fit in the bowl though, perfectly)
15. The cat in the garden is not happy when crayons fly in his general direction

When I told a friend we will not really be 'teaching' Antek what crayons (and other things) are for, she was surprised. 'It's like trying to break in, when the door is wide open' she said. 'He will learn to draw eventually anyway.' Sure he will. The important point though for us is - HE will LEARN. WE won't TEACH him. And also - when he's ready he will. And I want to be there to see the smile on his face when he finally DISCOVERS that crayons make colourful marks on things (and I will make sure to do what my Mum did - cover the walls within Antek's reach with paper).

Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.  (Magda Gerber)

There are oodles of recent studies that have demonstrated, over and over again that children are more creative, more involved and more persistent when allowed to EXPLORE toys without instructions, than when told what to do with them. We see it daily.

In our house, now is not the time for drawing. Now is the time for rolling, throwing, pushing and pulling. The time for drawing will come. But in the meantime, its a lot of other learning that is going on.

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself. (Jean Piaget)

In all of this crayon business, I can't help but admire how creative and resourceful our son is. How much he is like a scientist or an artist, or both, in his explorations - in experimenting, discovering, hypothesizing, testing...

We admire creative thinkers. We admire their ability to think outside the box; to put old things to new uses; to come up with innovative solutions. We are amazed how some people are ahead of their times in their view of the world. We want our children to be all these things in the future... why not let them start now?

[somewhat related, very thoughtful and wonderful posts from Janet Lansbury and Teacher Tom]

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My feelings are REAL !!! (or the day all hell broke loose...)

He screamed and screamed and screamed. He even kicked his little legs quite hard. I sat close, very close, offered my hand but was rejected. He screamed more. I stayed close. 'You are really upset' I said, trying to use a gentle voice. 'You are really upset, I can see that'. When the screaming stopped (and it lasted for ever...) we looked each other in the eye and hugged. We both needed that hug and we were both exhausted. Antek is now 16 months old. His feelings are REAL. Some of them are more than he can handle. And he wants to tell us about them. Sometimes all of them. 

This was the first tantrum in the house. It followed a few days of some viral infection and a dinner that was slightly too late. Not letting Antek throw food around was that last straw... and frankly - we had it coming. So I stayed calm, acknowledged his feelings, let him know I won't let him throw food around. Being close by and letting him scream it all out allowed me to see that he actually may have been more scared of these emotions than I had thought he would be... and made me realize how much more he needed me to be there for him than when he is happily exploring the world around.

There were three things I wanted to try hard and make sure that we get from this loud expression of ... anger, I guess:

1. ALL feelings are fine. And they are all real. And they are all yours, and you have to learn to live with them for the rest of your life (and it's a wonderful thing!). And once they're gone, life goes on (and that is a wonderful thing, too)

2. Not all actions are fine. There are all the feelings that you will live with, and sometimes it will be hard. But there are things you can do and things you cannot do. For various reasons.

3. You are great and we love you. No matter what.

Korczak writes so beautifully about the importance of all feelings, and the need to understand, but also to accept them all: How can we know happiness if we don't know sadness? How can we know love if we can't recognize hate? Sometimes in my head I try to name all the feelings and emotions I experienced during the day. Some of them are easy to admit to, some not so easy, but togther all of them are a full picture of who I was during that day. If we don't allow the children to get to know those feelings when they first encounter them, how can they move on and continue to get to know themselves?

'When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality.  Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche.  A child running is a living globe of energy.  We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball.  They said things like: “Can’t you be still?” Or “It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.”  Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag.  By the time we go to school our bag is quite large.  Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little things.”  So we take our anger and put it in the bag... Then we do a lot of bag-stuffing in high school.  This time it’s no longer the evil grownups that pressure us, but people our own age... So [...] out of a round globe of energy the twenty-year-old ends up with a slice... We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.  Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed' (Robert Bly, "The book on the human shadow")

I know I have a bag. I know my husband has a pretty big one too. I know I have been trying hard to find some things in that bag when I needed them and because of all the clutter that's there, I couldn't find them (you know"good girls" don't really get angry, even when they feel they should). And I know that the bigger my bag got, the harder I found it to live with only that one slice that I had left - after all, it's nice to have a choice and lots of possibilities handy.

Not knowing all of the feelings we have, not understanding them may sometimes lead us to "get upset, when it's enough to ignore, feel contempt when [we] should have compassion" (Janusz Korczak)

But there is another thing that scares me about these bags that we drag around with us. When I looked at Antek after he screamed his anger out, I realised that it was all gone. All of it. Life was back to normal. We learnt a couple of things, but the anger was no longer there. If instead of letting it out we stuff it in a bag, surely it doesn't disappear there, does it?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Day in the Life of a Scientist

picture of emperor penguin chickMagda Gerber encourages us to 'observe more, do less'. While I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of observation, I also think it's not as easy as it sounds. Particularly when it comes to children. Particularly, when we are not sure what it is we are supposed to observe...

When I first started working with language and recording people I realised how difficult it is to just (!) listen. I set out to record people's conversations, and all (!) I had to do was sit there quietly, let them talk. And bite, bite and bite my tongue over and over again. Not to interrupt. Not to have hours of recordings of myself talking (that I can get, anytime I want:). It's not about pretending you're not there and if someone asks you something pretending you haven't heard. But it was about simply giving the people I was working with the time, space and floor to talk, and about quietly observing the interaction... like I said, easier said than done. But practice made it easier, after a few weeks I was enjoying it so much more, and noticing so much more than in the beginning (when all I could focus on was not to talk;) After a while I was getting so much into these conversations that were unfolding in front of my eyes (and ears), that every movement of the head, every laugh, every different tone of voice seemed (no, sorry, WAS) significant.

When I read about the importance of observing a child, and giving him the time, space and floor to interact with his environment on his own terms - in other words, giving him the opportunity to PLAY - I remembered how I learnt to do this for all the people whose conversations I recorded. And I decided to do just that. It made a world of difference.

So here is what I like to do, and if you have a moment, try and do the same - I promise you, you will get addicted to watching your child at play.

When I first started practising observation, this is what I saw: Antek is standing on a box. Now, he's getting down to the floor, picking something up. Now, he's playing with the boxes... not very exciting, I know. Bear with me.

Pawel and I like to watch things like 'Planet Earth' and other docummentaries about animals. It's fascinating, probably because, at least to me, I realise how much I can learn about them, and how wonderfully the are adapted to living in the environment they are in. I started observing Antek in the same way, as if I knew nothing about him. After a while it was much more fascinating than the secret life of penguins ;) The trick is also in realising that we really don't know what the penguins are trying to do. We can guess, and hypothesize, but we might be wrong. Which is why, it might be better to let penguins do what they're doing, and carefully observe, without trying to interfere...

The things I looked for in the beginning to help me focus on something were:

1. What is going on with his body?
2. What is going on emotionally?
3. What kind of learning is going on? (this one I owe to Polly Elam and Maureen Perry)

So, going back to Antek standing on that box... here is what I see:

Antek is now 15 months old, just learnt to walk. He is standing on a box - it's not too stable, so he has to be very focussed on not loosing balance. He is shifting his weight very slowly from one leg to the other, as if trying to see what difference it will make to his centre of gravity. His arms are slightly raised, but he is very stable. Slowly, very slowly, he lifts one foot just above the surface of the box, and regains his balance by firmly putting his weight onto the other foot. He bends his knee very carefully as if he didn't know where his left foot is going to land. Continuing to bend his right knee he places his left foot on the floor. He looks up at me and smiles :) Next, ge slowly gets down to the floor and picks up one of the empty cups. He looks around, as if he knew exactly what the plan is. He finds a bowl with a lot of little plastic caps in it and moves it closer, next he picks up a spoon (not an easy task, the spoon is big and he has to work hard to hold it in his hand) and carefully looks at it. He decides on a task: he starts transferring the caps from the bowl to the cup. Very slowly he keeps transferring the caps, one by one (working hard on something that resembles a tripod grip!!!). All of a sudden he stops, lowers his head and using his left hand removes the only green cap (all the other ones are white - that is pretty cool, you have to admit :) from the bowl. He puts that one aside. Clearly, this one was not part of the plan. He then finishes the task and when all the white caps are in the bowl he looks up and smiles at me again. He slowly grabs the cup full of caps in his right hand, moves carefully from sitting to squatting, and then, very slowly, still holding the full cup in his hand, straigthens his knees and stands up. He looks around the kitchen, balances on both feet, and with one sudden movement throws the cup up in the air and all the white plastic caps are flying everywhere! Well, that was unexpected :)

If you think you don't have time, your life is busy, you have stuff to do - I understand, so do I. But...this took about 5 minutes. It's not a lot, but a lot was going on. The great things about it is that you really learn so much about the penguins, pardon, your child... we learnt what kinds of things he liked to engage with (which helped in choosing toys that he would like), what he liked doing at that stage (which helped in deciding whether what he needed was a bowl full of small objects, a set of cups to stack, or a large box to push around the room), what he was working on physically (does he need a box to climb onto, or do we need to go to the playground more?). But above all, we realised that all he does is really pretty impressive - all the things we observed made us appreciate how wonderfully capable (and focussed!) he is :)

I enjoy watching Antek play, mainly because, at least to me, I realise how much I can learn about him, and how wonderfully he is adapted to living in the environment he is in. Once I got into the habit of quietly looking at his play, I realised that all the time, continuously, without a break, he is discovering something, working on something, mastering something, perfecting something. He is testing hypotheses, experimenting, exploring the world and all its wonders. And I realised that he is like a scientist at work - constantly looking for new things to try, to do and to experiment with.

If you can spare 5 minutes a day to do that, it will be worth it. These days, we hardly ever watch 'Planet Earth' anymore...

Foto from:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Freely moving babies - we need your help!

Dear All,

This will be a slightly unusual post, as I have a favour to ask of you. ANd hopefully, you will agree, you will e-mail me, you will forward this to whoever else you think can participate in this, and we will all learn and share the knowledge we gain from this. So this is what it's all about:

A few days ago a friend of mine expressed her concern about her daughter's motor development. She said she was a bit worried that her little girl didn't sit up on her own until she was almost 10 months old. I thought about this, and realised that our son sat up about the same time. Only, we were not too worried.

There is very little information about the age, or rather age range, for when babies who are allowed to move freely achieve certain milestones - rolling, crawling, sitting up, standing, walking. The study done by Emmi Pikler, who observed 722 babies over time, shows that overall the age in which 'Pikler babies' achieved these milestones, was not much different from the other babies.

Still, we worry. That's what we do, we are parents, after all ;)

So, I thought about gathering information that would let us see what the age range is (after all, what are the chances of all babies reaching the milestones at exactly the same age?). And here is where I am asking for your help:

If you are raising your child allowing them to move freely, and if your child reached each of these milestones on their own (that is, without sitting them up, teaching them to walk etc.), please share with us. If you have any date recorded for the age when your child reached any of the milestones, please e-mail us and tell us about it.

If you are willing to participate in this, please send us and e-mail to: with the following information:

1. What week of pregnancy was your baby born in?
2. What age did s/he learn to do the following for the first time:
(i) roll to the side
(ii) roll to their tummy
(iii) crawl
(iv) sit up
(v) stand up unsupported
(vi) take first step unsupported

We hope to get as many parents involved as we can. If you know anyone who can help, please forward it to them. We will be grateful for any information you can share with us, even if you remember only one or two of these (we actually have absolutely no idea how old our son was when he started crawling. We know it was around Christmas :)

After we get a reasonable number of responses, we will share our results. We will have your e-mail addresses, so all of you will get an e-mail from us, telling you what we have found out.

And, of course, if you have any questions, please e-mail us as well!

Looking forward to hear from You,

Ania, Pawel & Antek @ Every Moment Is Right

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

You just sit back and watch...

Some time ago I went to a yoga workshop with a teacher who started the class by saying something like this: 'So, I could make you do all of these really difficult poses. I could put you all into headstands. Or I could just stand there and repeat: harder, harder, harder, more, more, more...and you would all do it. But then at the end of the class would you understand any of what's just happened to your body?'

I also once went to a dance class where the teacher was making us do a whole lot of really cool stuff. Really showy, difficult stuff. Right from the start. I never went back. Sure, it was kind of fun. But I really like understanding what's going on with my body. That's just me.

People interested in movement (at least people I talk to) spend a lot of time trying to unlearn things they have acquired throughout their lives. I'm trying really hard to unlearn a number of habits that my body developed over the years. I'm working on sitting, standing and walking comfortably and with awareness (some thought on 'undoing' from a wonderful Alexander teacher here). And I remember that a lot of times wen I was talking to people about movement, the advice you often hear is: look at the children. So I do.

I look at my son how he is learning to feel comfortable in his body. I look how he is developing all the amazing skills, necessary for him to roll over, crawl, sit up, pull himself up... I wait (im)patientkly for the first step he will take (when, oh when?!). I watch all this, but I bite my nails and almost never interfere.

I remember the learning to crawl phase - it was long. It lasted and lasted and lasted, and we really could not wait for him to finally get it (yes, we know all about the being here and now and enjoying the moment, but...). He would get on all fours, move his pelvis back and forth, back and forth, back and forth... look at the toy in front of him he was trying to get to, then fall down and complain. Back up. Back to all fours. And the pelvis... oh dear.

When he finally got it, he was the happiest person on the planet, and so were we.

We could have helped out. We could have followed the advice we hear all too often: come on, help him out. If you show him he'll get there faster. Look, he's struggling...

Yes, he's struggling. But if you think struggling is all bad, have a look at this great post from Janet Lansbury!

So here is how I see it: imagine you're doing a crossword (sudoku, solving a problem - whatever it is that you do). Imagine you have gone through all those moves, words, you have looked them up. You've tried all combinations. In fact, this is a hard one, you've been working on it for days. You KNOW success is near. Sure, you are frustrated, but you KNOW it will feel so good when you finally do it. You're almost there. There is just one word missing. It's on the tip of your tongue, you almost have it...when a helpful friend creeps behind you and whispers the word you have been trying to figure out.

How does this make you feel?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Our needs, their wants...

Everyone who knows me knows I am passionate about movement, in a lot of different ways. So this one will be about movement (yes, again ;), about freedom (again...), but maybe less about the joints and muscles, and more about this mind-reading game we are trying to play with our children...

I recently had a conversation that got me thinking (again) about movement, and how much of it can really be free. Free from the things that surround us, free from our own needs and wants, but also free from the expectations of those that surround us. We were sitting among the lovely autumn leaves one Sunday morning (yes, it's autumn here on the southern hemisphere...), and our son was happily crawling around, checking everything within reach. There was a lady sitting next to us with a little boy, about Antek's age. She kept looking at Antek doing his usual Antek dance, and finally commented: 'He's one acrobat that boy!'. This was not the first time someone made a similar comment, so we smiled and kept looking at Antek falling, crawling, turning and testing the legth of his arms and legs. The lady looked at him again and said: 'My grandson doesn't want to crawl. He only wants to walk. It's probably because he sees all these people around him walking all the time.' I looked at the boy  and honestly he looked like the last thing on his mind was walking. He also, to be entirely honest, looked like the last thing on his mind was sitting. He was trying to reach for things around him, but couldn't. He had that look on his face that I have often seen on children who are sat up and have no idea what to do next. Finally, when he stretched his arms again to reach for something the lady looked at me and said: 'See? Here we go again, now I have to walk him.' And so she did. Neither of them looked particularly comfortable.

Before I go further with all of these thoughts that were dancing in my mind at that point, I just want to say that we also tend to walk a lot around Antek. Sure, we crawl with him sometimes, but more often than not I walk to and from places. Is our son different? Does he not 'want' to walk?

I have already posted a bit about free gross motor development, and about letting our children develop at their own pace, on their own terms, in their own time. But this situation seemed a bit different. I realized that what that lady was doing is what we often do as well, although we try hard not to. We also sometimes measure our son's needs and wants by our own needs and wants, simply because that is all we know. We know what we want. We think we know what we need. So we take what we have and put it over our children's actions. It takes a lot of observation, patience and letting go to understand that our children are really separate people. Separate from the rest of the world, but also (maybe sometimes more importantly) separate from us.

In interfering with our children's motor development when there is no medical need for it, we are showing our children that we know better than they do what they should be doing with their bodies. That may be a dangerous thing. In the long run, they are the ones who will have to live with their bodies, accept themselves as they are, learn what they can and cannot do. I want my son to be happy the way he is, accept the way he looks, walks and moves. But for him to get there, I need to remember that my body is mine, and his body is his. And that he is the only one who knows (or is learning) how it works.

Letting go of our needs and wants (to have our child already sitting, walking, standing) is important on a number of different levels. To me it's a first step in realizing Antek's independence, but also realizing how wonderfully capable he is. Letting the children discover gross motor development freely is important to them, and not only on a physical level. It's a first step in connecting emotions with the physical. It's a step in understanding what we can and cannot do. In estimating our limits and realizing our potential. If we paste our needs and wants over those of the child, we effectively exercise our potential and not let them exercise theirs. As Magda Gerber put it children should be able to experience the world 'on their own, with our help'. 

Our bodies are an important part of who we are and how we are in the world. Being comfortable in our own bodies and with our own bodies seems to be a gift. We can make sure that our children get this gift very early on. How? By doing very very little. By not reading their mind and guessing what they 'want' to do, just because we do it. By observing. By not interfering if we don't have to. By not sitting them up, walking them, and 'helping' them in a number of different ways. Their lives will be so much easier, if so early on they get to figure out on their own (with our help) how their bodies work. For some people it takes a lifetime. Here, we can give them a head start.

A great post by Janet Lansbury about why we should not walk our kids can be found here.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Patience on a Spoon

This post is about Antek's eating, my patience and our expectations. And it all starts with a spoon...

Until recently Antek was not really interested in trying out what a spoon can do. He sat down to eat, one of us would show him the food, tell him what's for breakfast, lunch, dinner, then he would keep waving his spoon around when we were feeding him with another spoon. But recently the same spoon became an object of oh so many possibilities.

It all started with one lunch, when Antek suddenly grabbed his spoon, put it in his small bowl with soup, scooped some out and carefully put it in his mouth. WOW I thought to myself and had to bite my tongue so very hard not to call out for Pawel to come see this, and for Antek to 'do it again, do it again!' So this was fun, he was trying to get some soup straight into his mouth with a spoon - yay, so cool.

Next meal we did what we always do and I sat down all ready for Antek to 'do it again, do it again!'. And, of course, he didn't. He sat down, grabbed the spoon, banged it around happily and waited to be fed. This, I have to say, was a moment of test for me - how easy would it have been to just put the spoon into his hand and lead it into his mouth. My patience was tested and my expectations were taking over, while Antek was happily drumming the spoon on the table, closing his eyes with joy. I slowly fed him with one hand and sat on the other.
Some time ago I was reading about schemas, and how children develop different abilities by endless practising and mastering of the same thing in different contexts, situations and using different tools. That week, it turned out, was a week of banging. The spoon on the table; wooden spoon on the floor; teddy on the floor - oh, teddy doesn't quite make a sound; back to the wooden spoon then - on the rubbish bin; on the fridge door; Next week, as it happens, was a week of putting things into other things - so spoon happily landed in the bowl over and over and over and over... and never went anywhere near the mouth. And bread went into the cup of cammomile tea, followed by a piece of broccoli. In the evening ducks in the bath were put into a little box for endless minutes. And finally I realized that it's a good, long path that will end in Antek grabbing a spoon and eating his soup, but so many things are happening on the way I should probably start paying attention to them rather than waiting for the 'right' moment. (because, that's right - every moment is right:)

A friend of mine recenly introduced me to Jon Kabat-Zin and his work on mindfulness. He says: '... there is no need to be impatient with ourselves because we find the mind judging all the time, or because we are tense or agitated or frightened, or because we have been practicing for some time and nothing positive seems to have happened. We give ourselves room to have these experiences. Why? Because we are having them anyway! When they come up they are our reality, they are the part of our life in this moment ... Why rush through some moments to get the other, “better” ones? After all, each one is your life in that moment'. And I guess the same goes for our kids - why rush them into a moment they will get to anyway, a "better" moment, rather than letting so many different experiences be part of their reality? And again - just like with so many other things - I'm sure if he gets there all by himself, the success will be so much sweeter. I am trying my very best to let him discover as many things as possible all by himself...even if it means broccoli in the tea for a while.

So, I continue feeding Antek with one hand and sitting on the other, or hand over to my husband who is a much more patient man than I sometimes am. And Antek is happily picking out raisins from his oatmeal and putting courgettes into his tea. Well, if he likes it that way, why not? :)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dealing with change

There have been many changes in our lives recently - we have moved to New Zealand for a few months. We had to pack our lives into boxes (again). We were on three planes within 24 hours. We had to adapt to a huge time difference. Weather difference. New homes. We're fine now though. All three of us, believe it or not.

Antek was set in his ways, and his days looked all similar and he was a happy little boy discovering the world around him when the opportunity knocked on the door. Auckland, New Zealand - amazing option for me, where I would be able to teach and maybe finally finish my dissertation, enough income that my husband would be able to stay home and look after Antek for four months (and I wish every Dad could have that opportunity even for a short time). All well, but on the other hand - end of the world, time difference, 24-hour flight, summer in the middle of winter... a lot to take for a 9-month-old. We thought and thought and thought. Finally we decided the pluses far outweigh the minuses, and decided to go for it. Only, we made sure to take it easy.

We told Antek what would happen. We talked to him about planes, and the world and far away places. About time difference and how it may be summer somewhere else, even thoguh it is winter in Scotland. Some people probably thoguht we were a bit strange - after all what can a baby understand about all this, right? Right? Wrong, we thought, and kept doing what we thought was right.

We had a couple of rough days packing (when friends came over to help and Antek didn't take it too well), but generally it all went smooth. Antek's days looked the same, excpet there were boxes around, and tape, and fewer and fewer things on the shelves. We showed him what the boxes were for - he crawled into one and sat there  for a long, long time looking around. We showed him how things were packed into boxes and you could no longer see them. He was interested for a while, then turned around and went back to playing on the floor, so we continued packing quietly, not to disturb him. His naps, meals and sleep time looked exactly as usual, so with the exception of the boxes we made sure nothing changed.

We were worried about trains and planes, but then decided not to worry ahead, and not to worry about things we could not change. Over and over we explained and told him what would happen. When we got to the station, my husband went to get some water and I showed Antek what a train looked like: 'Here, this is what I told you about. These are the windows, smaller than in our house. These are the doors. Here is where we will get in'. I got the look from a couple of people, but Antek was happy and interested. We got on the train and we made sure to show him what was around - we can see everything and it's so easy to forget that babies' perspective is different. So we made sure that we wandered for a coupls of minutes so he could see the train inside. We did the same with the plane afterwards. And he was fine. He looked around, than smiled and was happy to play on the floor or sleep.

On the plane he got cranky a couple of times and cried. I got a bit tired too, and complained a little. 'That's his way of complaining' smiled my husband. Who wouldn't be tired during a 24-hour flight? We told him we knew he was tired, and that we were tired too. And everyone else. The lady on the next seat looked at us and made sure her daughter's pacifier was in place. Antek complained for a little longer, then looked at us, smiled and started babbling away happily. The lady on the seat next to us smiled at him, but her daughter's pacifier stayed in place.

We did the same thing with all the new places we were in - we explained what was going on. We walked around with Antek to show him what was where. We told him things were different than what he was used to, and that we knew it might take time for him to settle down. For all of us. When we finally got to where we are staying now, Antek smiled and crawled into every room of the house. This time he did it all by himself - checking where what was, and how it was different to all the other places we knew. Together we unpacked the toys. Decided which room to put the cot in.

Ten days later he was back to his routine, days looking similar to one another, toys all over his playing space. Only this time playing space is mostly outside on the deck and so much bigger than before. And all of us sleep through the night again.

Change is difficult to deal with, for anyone. We knew what was going on, and we wanted our son to be a part of it as much as possible. But we also didn't deny the fact that it might be hard. It was so much easier for us to cope with once we admitted it to ourselves. And I really believe it made a difference to the whole experience of travel - it's hard for all of us. We know. But we did it. All three of us. There will be a number of times when Antek will have to deal with different kinds of change. But maybe learning to cope with it slowly, taking it easy and without worrying too much beforehand will make those changes just another part of life for him. Just like it is for us right now.

Monday, 24 January 2011


I was on the bus the other day with my son and a woman standing next to me pinched his cheek. He didn't like it. When she leaned over to do it again I looked at her and said: 'Please don't do it again. He doesn't like it'. I got 'the look' from most people who heard what I said...

Imagine, though, that it is a slightly different scenario: I was on the bus the other day with my husband and a woman standing next to me pinched his cheek. He didn't like it... I find it hard to even finish the story without it sounding ridiculous in my head.

I started wondering why is it that some people feel free to do things to babies they would not dream of doing to ... other people? It is probably especially visible with regards to strangers - I don't think anyone would ever stroke, touch, poke, pinch (the list goes on) another person on the bus. Unless that person is a baby. Why is it then? Is a baby not a person?

This goes along with all the thoughts on interrupting babies (see Janet's, Nadine's) - I don't think anyone would want to (seriously!) interrupt me while I'm trying to work something out, but I constantly see people picking up babies, who are clearly in the middle of something, without a word of warning leaving them with their mouth wide open... this also goes along with all the thoughts on talking and informing your child on what you're doing - I can't imagine anyone getting up and leaving a room full of people looking at him without a word (how rude would that be), but we constantly do it to babies and wonder why they're upset...

I think this goes along with having our world clearly divided into 'children' and 'people'. And I think I finally understand what Janusz Korczak might have meant when he said: "There are no children; there are people' (although I'm sure he meant much much more that just that).

So when do we start treating children as people? When they start walking? Talking? Go to school? Leave the house? When we need their help?

In our road through parenting so far I think what has helped us immensely in treating our son with the respect he deserves as a person, was to always ask ourselves: would I do it to another adult? And yes, children are not adults, they are different in more way than we can count. But they are also similar in more ways than we are normally aware of.

This might be a bit more thinking than a simple pinch on the cheek should get, but I have found that respecting a baby is often not the most natural thing to do. And respect is most definitely something we all deserve.