Tag Archives: parenting

The “How to be a Super-Hero” Party

130510 - The Batman

Like most boys his age, Big Brother loves super-heroes. He’s not too fussy about which ones, although Spiderman and Batman are probably his favourites. So his answer shouldn’t have come as a shock to me when, a few months ago, I asked the fateful question: “Shall we have a birthday party for you this year?”

“A super-hero party!” Big Brother said, with the type of enthusiasm usually reserved for… well, super-hero parties, I suppose.

“Sure,” I said, in that Mummy-tone way that actually means: “I’m not sure, actually. But it’s a few months away. And maybe you’ll change your mind between now and then.”

But he didn’t. So, two weeks before his birthday, I had to actually admit to myself that it was going to happen. We were going to have a super-hero party for him and his school friends.

The trouble is, I suck at children’s parties. I’m no good at running party games (as I discovered a year ago, when Big Brother turned five). And the idea of a group of five and six-year-old boys running pell-mell around the house without direction or parental control fills me with the kind of dread usually reserved for… well, children’s parties.

But do you what I don’t suck at?


So the challenge was: How do I turn Big Brother’s 6th birthday from a super-hero party into a super-hero story?

As it turns out, it was easier than it sounds.

We had the birthday party in a local park on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago. (Several hours after Big Brother woke me up by excitedly yelling, “Mummy! It’s my birthday! And I’m six years old!!) Four of Big Brother’s school friends were there, along with their parents and three little sisters.

“Do you like super-heroes?” I asked the children. “And would you like to be a super-hero?”

With two resounding answers of Yes!, we started the day’s activities.


All the children sat down, and I gave them each a plain white t-shirt and some fabric markers to design their own super-hero costume. When that was done, they moved to the next table to colour in their own super-hero mask.

The children loved it. So did the parents — some of whom spent more time designing the costumes than their children did. (If I did this again, I’d definitely have adult-sized shirts on hand as well!)

We had a Neo-Flash, a Neo-Batman, a Neo-Superman, Z-Man, and the Golden Arm of Justice. (Also a couple of Princesses and Fairy Queens.) When the children were dressed in their costumes, they super-heroed around for a while until everyone was done. And then we moved on to the next part of the party.

“Do you like stories?” I asked.

Another resounding Yes!

So I gathered the children together, and we sat down in a circle on the grass for a story.


“This is the story of Rocky the Rabbit,” I began. “Rocky the Rabbit was a very special rabbit. He wasn’t a flesh and blood rabbit living in a field. No, he was something much better. He was a money-box rabbit living in a playroom. And at night, when all the children had gone to bed and the toys came out to have their own adventures, Rocky the Rabbit dreamed of being a super-hero.”

And then I told them the story of Rocky the Rabbit — a story I wrote for the occasion.

Rocky the Rabbit wanted to be a super-hero, but he didn’t have any super-powers. But during the course of the story, he rushed to try to help everyone who needed him. And at the end of the story the toys all gathered together to throw a party of Rocky.

“But I’m not a super-hero,” Rocky said. “I’m not super-fast, and I’m not super-strong, and I can’t even fly.”

“You may not be super-fast,” said the toys. “And you may not be super-strong. And you certainly can’t fly. But when you heard someone calling for help, you hop-hop-hopped over as fast as you could, and you found a way to help them. And that’s what makes a real super-hero.”

And then the toys presented Rocky the Rabbit with his very own shiny cape. And from then on, every night after the children had gone to sleep, Rocky the Rabbit would put on his cape and hop-hop-hop around the playroom, looking for people to help. Because he really was a super-hero.

The children loved it.

And when the story was done, I presented each of the children with their very own shiny cape. We attached them to the back of the super-hero shirts, and off they flew to do super-heroic things.

Soon after, we gathered the children together so Big Brother could open his presents. And then we had cake.

130505 Or cakes. With an s.

For some reason, I decided on the spur of the moment that cupcakes would be a better idea than a large cake.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to decorate 30 cupcakes?

A long time.

But the children loved them, and that’s the important part. In fact, the hard part was getting the children to leave them alone until after the candles had been blown out and the birthday song sung. Then they attacked the cupcakes with gusto, everyone grabbing the symbol of their favourite super-hero.

So I count the decorating as time well spent.

After cake had been consumed, it was almost time to wrap up the story party. So I called all the children over and told them we had a little present for each of them to say thank you for coming to Big Brother’s birthday.


Once the children had all lined up, excited faces and hands outstretched, I tried to open the box of goodies.

But it wouldn’t budge.

“Oh no,” I said. “It seems to be stuck.”

I tried again to no avail. “Wait. There’s a letter here.”

The children watched with wide eyes as I read it out.

Dear super-heroes,
Ha ha ha. I have locked your presents away in this box and sealed them in there with my magic power ring. I’ve hidden all the other magic power rings in the world, so now you will never get your presents. Ha ha ha.
Your sincerely,
Super-villain X.

“Oh no!” I cried. “What will we do?!”

The littlest super-heroes got it straight away. “We have to find the magic power rings!”

And off they went, running as though their presents lives depended on it. They searched high and low, around trees and benches and fences. And before long, they all had at least one magic power ring to their name. (Some had as many as six. Trust me, you can’t have too many magic power rings.)

When the children were all back, I got them to all line up. “Maybe if we all point out magic power rings at the box and say the magic words really, really loudly… Does anyone know any magic words?”



“Please!” (Bless. Not my child, but he had the best magic word of them all.)

We worked out a combination of magic words, and then all the children pointed their rings at the box and yelled and —

130505 - Power Rings— it worked!


The box opened.

And I gave everyone their party favour: a real Rocky the Rabbit money-box.

Complete with cape.

The children flew their Rocky the Rabbits around for a while, and then it was time for everyone to go home.

It was a great morning, and everyone enjoyed themselves.

As everyone was leaving, one of the parents said to me, “This was great. I can’t wait to see what you do next year!”

Right. Next year.

You mean children have more than one birthday?!

What have I gotten myself into…

Have you had any particularly good (or bad) children’s birthday party experiences?


Filed under Life With Kids, The Inner Geek

Children and Guns

Water Pistol

Last night I dreamed my son was a Sandy Hook victim.

He’s six years old.

In my dream, I’d returned to Sandy Hook Elementary School for the first time since the shooting. I walked in the front, and there were photos of the victims, along with flowers and wreaths and pictures and poems. I approached the shrine set up for my son, and I felt my grief overwhelm my reason for a moment. Then I backed away, and I remembered why I was there.

Outside that front hall, school life had returned to normal. Children were in their lessons, or should have been. I spent some time there, wandering the halls, waiting in vain to see my son’s smile or hear his voice raised in laughter or argument.

I found myself on the grounds of a nearby high school. Much in the way of dreams, I don’t know how I got there. But I approached a young woman sitting at a table on her own. She would have been thirteen, and had dark curly hair and dark eyes. Ear-buds were jammed in both ears. She was reading a magazine.

When I stood next to her, she took out her headphones and looked at me. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I showed her a picture of my son. “This is Big Brother,” I said. “He died just down the road at the elementary school.”

“That’s sad,” the girl said. Then she shrugged. “But at least it wasn’t me.”

“No, you’re right,” I said. “It wasn’t you. You’re safe. But wouldn’t you rather it hadn’t been anyone?”

Her look turned guarded. “You’re one of those anti-gun crazies,” she said. “My Dad told me about you people. But guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Then she put her earbuds back in and turned away.


Last week in Kentucky, USA, a 5-year-old boy was playing with a child-friendly rifle he’d been given as a gift. He pulled the trigger. And in that simple action, he killed his 2-year-old sister.

When I read the story, my children were 5 and 2 years old. I tried to imagine handing my eldest boy a rifle. But I couldn’t do it.

I tried to imagine letting my eldest boy play, unsupervised, with a rifle. But I couldn’t do it.

I tried to imagine the grief of losing not just my youngest child, but both my children in a moment of negligent parenting. Because make no mistake, the little girl may be the one who died, but the 5-year-old is at least as much as victim in all this, if not more. But in this case, I didn’t want to do it.

Whether that poor boy is physically removed from the care of his parents or not, he will never be the same joyful, innocent child again. He’s too young to have understood what he was doing, and what it would mean, when he shot his sister, but exactly old enough to remember and regret it for the rest of his life.


I was driving Big Brother home from school two weeks ago when he asked me a question out of the blue. “Mummy,” he said. “If guns are so bad, why do policemen have them?”

A pause. A moment to gather my thoughts. And then, “Why do you think guns are bad, sweetie?”

“Because today at school I drew a picture of a hero shooting a bad guy, but my teacher told me we’re not allowed to draw pictures of guns at school.* And we’re not allowed to pretend sticks are guns and shoot at each other either.* So guns are bad.”

(* This is not uncommon in Australia, where most schools and child-care facilities won’t allow toy guns, and discourage gun-based pretend play. The majority of urban households won’t have toy guns at home for young children either.)

“Guns themselves aren’t bad,” I said carefully. “Guns are just pieces of wood and plastic and metal that have been turned into a tool. In some places, guns are very important and do a lot of good: like in the country where farmers need to protect their cows and sheep from predators.”

“Then why aren’t we allowed to play with them?”

“Well, you tell me what guns are used for.”

He thought for a few seconds. “Shooting people.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “And what happens if you shoot someone with a gun?”

He thought again. “They fall down.”

“Yes. And what else?”

“They die.”

“Yes,” I said. “Guns are used to shoot people or animals so that they die.”

There was silence for a good few minutes. “But, Mummy. After they die, do they get back up and be alive again?”

“No, Sweetie,” I said. “I’m afraid that when you shoot someone and they die, they stay dead.”

“Forever?” he asked in a tremulous tone.


Another moment of silence. “But… But we don’t have real guns at school. It’s only pretend guns. And it was only a picture of a gun.”

“I know,” I said. “But do you think pointing a gun at someone is a very friendly thing to do?”


“And it’s very important that we’re nice to our friends, isn’t it?”


“So that’s why there’s a rule about guns. Because it’s not nice to pretend to kill someone.”

“Okay,” he said. And then, “But why do policemen have guns?”

That was a trickier question to answer simply, especially on the spur of the moment. But I did the best I could. “Well,” I said. “Policemen have guns because it’s their job to protect people from criminals. Sometimes criminals have guns, so policemen have to have guns, too. But they don’t like having to carrying a gun and they really, really, really, really don’t like having to shoot at someone.”



“But if it’s a bad guy, then it’s okay.” Pause. A little less confidence in his voice. “Because it’s a bad guy. And you’re allowed to kill bad guys.”

“No, Sweetie. Policemen don’t even like to kill bad guys. Bad guys are still people.”

A long pause. “So… Are guns bad or not?”

“No, Big Brother, guns aren’t bad. But the only thing they can be used for is hurting and killing. They’re good for farmers to protect their animals from dingoes and other wild animals, but guns aren’t toys. And it’s never okay to point a gun at someone, even if it’s only a pretend one.”


I woke up this morning shaky and trembling all over. The dream left me feeling traumatised. Not, strangely, because of the death of my son. Rather, I was traumatised by the uncaring and dismissive reaction of the young lady I encountered. By the way she shrugged off an entire tragedy because someone else told her not to listen to the crazies. By the way that maintaining the status quo was more important than even acknowledging that lives had been lost.

Because she’s right: Guns don’t kill people without someone to pull the trigger.

But killing is the only thing guns are good for.


Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

Conversations with Children: When I Grow Up I’ll Be Rich

Dollar Sign

“It would be really cool to be a robber, wouldn’t it?.”

We’re in the car, on our way home from dance class, and Big Brother is thinking out loud.

“When I grow up, I’ll be a robber. Then I’ll be rich. Right, Mummy?”

“Yep,” I say. “You’ll be rich right up until they put you in jail.”

He thinks for a minute and then says, “No, it’s okay. I’ll be a Good Guy robber. And first I’ll tell the police that I’m going to help them.”

I have to admit, I’m intrigued. But I don’t quite understand the difference between a Bad Guy Robber and a Good Guy Robber. “How do you be a Good Guy robber?”

“Well… I’ll only rob from Bad Guys.”

He pauses, and I let him work out his plan.

“Bad robbers only rob people at night. Because they’re bad. So I’ll wait until the morning when the Bad robbers will have to be asleep, and then I’ll sneak into their secret hideouts and I’ll steal all their gold and money and jewels and crystals.”

I can’t help it. I have to ask. “And what will you do with the money you steal?”

He doesn’t even hesitate. “I’ll give it to other people.”

Awww… That’s lovely. “Anyone in particular?”

I glance in the rear-view mirror to see him shrug. “Anyone who needs to money.”

“Okay,” I say. “That’s really nice. And you think the police will be okay with that?”

“Oh, yes,” he says confidently. “Because then I’ll sneak into the police station and I’ll tell them where the Bad Guy Robbers have their secret hideouts. And then the police can go and arrest them.”

“But they won’t arrest you?”

“No. I’m a Good Guy.”

I’m glad he’s got it all worked out. But there’s one thing I’m still confused about.

“So, let me get this straight,” I say. “You’re going to wait until morning–”

“So the Bad Guys are asleep,” he interrupts.

“–so the Bad Guy Robbers are asleep. Then you’re going to sneak into the bad guy’s hideout and steal all the money and jewels they’ve stolen from other people–”

“And crystals!”

“–and crystals. Sorry. Then you’re going to tell the police where to find the Bad Guys, and you’re going to give all the money away to other people. Right?”


“So how is this going to make you rich?” I ask.

He sighs. That long-suffering five-year-old sigh I know so well.

“Oh, Mummy. I’m going to give all the money away to people who need it. But I’m going to keep the crystals. You know, like diamonds and rubies and emeralds…”


“Do you understand now?”

Oh yes, I understand. But we may need to move to a bigger house to accommodate his Merry Men.

And his “crystals”.



Filed under Life With Kids

Conversations with Children: I Want Candy!


This story begins, as many do, with me sitting at the dining table, exhorting five-year-old Big Brother to eat his dinner.

It’s not that he doesn’t like his food, or that he’s a fussy eater. He just gets distracted by all the thoughts and stories in his head. If no one reminded him to eat, I’m sure he’d just wander off and not notice his grumbling belly for days at a time.

“Come on, Big Brother. Keep eating,” I say.

“Mummy?” It’s the tone of voice that tells me he’s got an important question to ask. “Is this candy?”

I look at the food on his plate: Lettuce, cheese, green beans, broccoli, carrot sticks, boiled egg, and ham. You’d be hard pressed to describe any element of his meal as “candy”.

“No,” I say. “Eat up.”

He picks up a bean and slowly, carefully nibbles on it until he’s holding a stub between his fingers. He pops that in his mouth and his eyes refocus on me. “Are apples candy?”

“No, Sweetie. Apples are a type of fruit.”

“I know,” he says. “But something can be candy and fruit. Can’t it?”

“Well…” My first instinct is to say ‘No’. But then I think of candied apples, and I wonder what they’re made of, and if they’re really apple or not, and if they are, are they classed as fruit or candy, and… and… and this is exactly where Big Brother gets his wandering mind from. “Eat some more of your dinner,” I say to cover up the gap in the conversation.

This time it’s a carrot stick. He nibbles on it, his eyes unfocused and his mind far, far away.

“Then, what’s candy?” he asks.

I don’t even know what to say. First of all, I don’t like the word ‘candy’. It’s not a term we use in Australia. Over here, we eat lollies and chocolates and biscuits. If you’re particularly posh, you might even eat confectionery. But not candy. In my head, the word conjures up images of spoiled rich kids holding up Halloween bags and buckets and screaming, “I want more candy!!”

I know, it’s not the poor little word’s fault that I have negative associations. But still.

Big Brother picked up the word years ago,  back when he watched TV. And that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t really know what it means — it’s not a word he hears in the real world. But it is a word he likes the sound of.

“What do you think candy is?” I ask him in return. (Long-term readers may recognise the turn-the-question-back-on-you technique that is my parenting staple.)

“Well,” he begins, absentmindedly building a log cabin out of beans and carrot sticks. “It’s something yummy that you don’t get to have all the time. And it might not be healthy. Is candy healthy?”

“Not usually,” I say.

He thinks a moment longer, then nods. Answer given. Decision made. Conversation finished.

“That’s a pretty good definition.” When he has nothing more to add, I say, “Now how about you finish your dinner?”

He eats quietly for awhile. Then he looks up at me with a mischevious grin. “Mummy, do you know what my favourite candy is?”

“What?” I ask.



And you know what? I’m just going to go with it.

Bring on the candy!

What’s your favourite candy?


Filed under Life With Kids

Conversations with Children: How to Make a Movie

Making Movies

Saturdays are a big deal around here.

The kids run around in their pyjamas until after 9:00am. We chill out and snack instead of sitting down for a “real” lunch. We have an early dinner of fish & chips. And, most importantly, it’s Movie Night.

We only turn the TV on once a week, and that’s for our weekly family movie. Then we all sit around together, giggling at the funny bits and generally enjoying our special weekly treat.

Choosing the movie is generally up to five-year-old Big Brother. (Mostly because Little Brother is too young to care what we’re watching.) I usually give him some guidance, or a few movies to choose from, and let him pick. But last Saturday night, our conversation took a turn for the exasperating.

“What movie would you like to watch tonight?” I asked Big Brother when I picked him up from dance class mid-afternoon.


“Would you like something new, or something you’ve seen before?”

He thought for a few minutes. “Can we make our own movie tonight?”

“Instead of watching a movie?” I asked. Because I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Yeah, make our own movie. We can call it The Invincibots.”

“Um. Maybe.” And then I changed the subject. Because… Make a movie? Really? I didn’t even know what that meant.

Cut to two hours later. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s pick this movie for tonight!”

“No,” said Big Brother,”we’re going to make a movie tonight, remember?”

Oh, yes. How could I forget? “I don’t really understand what you mean.”

He put on his serious expression and looked at me steadily. “I mean, make a movie.”

“Yes. Okay. But what does that mean? Is it like putting on a puppet show?”


I was struggling to get a sense of exactly what he wanted to do. (Is it just me? Is this obvious to everyone else?) “So how is making a movie different from making a puppet show?” I asked.

He kept giving me that same look. “One of them is a movie,” he said. “And one of them is a puppet show.”

At this point, I poured myself a drink.

Of water*.


Then I tried again. “Okay. So when you say you’d like to make a movie, what exactly do we need to do? What steps do we need to follow?”

His plan was simple.

Step 1: Think of what you want to make.

Step 2: Make what you thunk.

Step 3: Watch it on TV.

I waited. Just in case there was more. But there wasn’t.

“So when you say ‘Make what you…. (I couldn’t say it) …thought’,” I said. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

He looked at me with his deadpan expression.

“Mummy,” he said. “Do you remember step one?”

* I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of this statement.


Filed under Life With Kids

What Colour is Skin Colour?

New Crayons

There are certain questions that our children ask that we’re ready for. And then there’s the other 99%.

That’s not to say these questions are entirely unexpected. Just that they’re unexpected in the moment.

And so you um and er and babble a bit while you desperately try to figure out the right thing to say. Because, above all, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and horribly scar your child for life, dooming him to a sad and degenerate life of poverty and drug-use.

Because one not-quite-perfect answer is bound to do that. Right?

Anyway, I had one of those questions the other day.

One of those questions that means nothing to the child, but hits a social or political nerve with the adults around him.

“Mummy?” Big Brother asked, not even looking up from the picture he was colouring in. “What colour is skin colour?”

“Um,” I answered eloquently. “It’s… um…”

My impressive non-answer got his attention and he looked up at me, all big blue eyes and trusting expression. Because Mummy knows everything, right?

Yeah. Right.

“Well…” I said, my brain running on overdrive. “What colour do you think it is?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why I asked you.”

Mutter mutter smarty pants mutter mutter.

“Well…” I said again. Then a moment of inspiration. “What colour skin do your friends at school have?”

He thought for a few seconds. “All different colours,” he said. “Some have blonde skin like me. And some have brown skin. And all sorts of different colours.”

He went quiet, and then looked at me with the intensity that says he’s just made some kind of intuitive leap of logic. “Can I look at your arm?”

I nodded and moved closer.

He put his arm next to mine. “Mmmm…” he said. “Your skin and my skin are a bit different.”

Then his little face lit up. He knew the answer. “Everyone’s skin colour is different!” he announced.

I smiled and nodded. I wouldn’t have thought of that answer myself, but it’s true. And you can always rely on a five-year-old to see what’s in front of him.

“Why did you ask?” I said.

He picked up a crayon and looked back at his picture. The conversation was done. “I just wanted to know which crayon to use for the boy’s skin.”

“Well, I guess you can use any colour you’d like,” I said.

And that’s why we have a picture of a blue-skinned boy on the wall.

Have you ever felt put on the spot by a child’s question?




Filed under Life With Kids

Lullabies are Creepy


Everyone knows that children’s songs are a just a little bit unsettling.

You’re either singing about children falling down a hill and cracking their heads open, or you’re glorifying the flooding of a tiny spider’s drain pipe home. And let’s not even touch on the macabre horror of telling an inoffensive ladybird that her house is on fire and her children are gone.

But it wasn’t until my first child was born that I realised exactly how creepy lullabies can be.

Rock-a-Bye Baby, in the Treetops
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks the cradles will fall
Down will come baby, cradle and all

Creepy, right? What, you don’t see it?

The rough translation goes something like this:

I love you dear Baby
So I’ll put you in a tree
And when the branch breaks
You’ll fall and die

Or I may be over-thinking it.

Either way, the first time I held Big Brother in my arms and started to sing him this lullaby, I was struck by the wrongness of it. It didn’t feel comforting to sing to him about falling out of a tree.

So I did what anyone would do. I changed the words.

Allow me to present, for the first time ever on the interwebz, the new, improved Jo-style Rock-a-Bye Baby.

Rock-a-Bye Baby, in Mummy’s arms
You close your eyes, you’ll come to no harm
When you wake up, I’ll still be here
And we’ll have fun tomorrow, without any fear

This is the verse I sang time and time again to both my boys, and so far I’ve only come across one downside.

Big Brother is quite vocal about telling everyone else that they’re singing the wrong words.

Have you ever changed the words to a song you’re uncomfortable with?


Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion