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Let’s Talk About Tintin

TintinIf I had to choose a theme for our house over the past three or four months, it would be Tintin. We have borrowed every copy of Tintin our local library has on the shelves multiple times, we have borrowed copies of Tintin from the city library and we have printed Tintin colouring pages off the internet. The girls made a few attempts to draw their own Tintin comic strips, and Claire now adds speech bubbles to all her drawings. Claire even made a stop-motion animation using characters cut out of a piece of paper and various speech bubbles to go with them. The girls have read Tintin in the car, on the couch, at the beach, and late at night in bed with a headlamp. I have listened to Claire narrate back every Tintin story she’s had read to her or that she’s decoded on her own by looking at the pictures. We translated Captain Haddock’s swears in the french version and discovered that they are radically different from the english version – “A thousand millions of thousand portholes!” – and that they don’t actually make any sense. They’ve even watched Tintin cartoons in the evenings with Tom – I always excuse myself and go elsewhere when they’re on though, because I don’t particularly like Tintin.

There are many reasons not to like TinTin.

Being written in the 30′s and 40′s, they are enormously dated in terms of political correctness. Some are straight-out propaganda, written for the purpose of convincing the French that colonialism in Africa was acceptable (as in TinTin in the Congo). Others hit a little too close to home in terms of cultural and political realities, which may or may not be suitable for children (as in The Land of Black Gold). They are violent (all of them have some degree of semi-slapstick violence, others contain gangsters and criminals), contain scientific errors (as in Explorers on the Moon) and exploit cultural stereotypes for fun (just about every character is a stereotype, except for TinTin himself, who doesn’t seem to fit any kind of category.) TinTin is, I suppose, living every teen or young adult’s fantasy of being well-known, accomplished, travelling extensively, having adventures instead of working the daily grind and having no parents or family ties to restrict him.

And yet, the kids don’t care. I do my duty by explaining that the way some of the characters are treated or portrayed is inaccurate because people had different attitudes and understanding about cultures back then, just like they didn’t understand how space travel worked. They accept my explanations and lecturing with patience, then go back to examining the comics closely on their own for hours at a time.

What is it about TinTin that kids love so much?

- Tintin contains a quality of dense, interesting writing at various reading levels alongside colourful and engaging illustrations that I don’t see anywhere else. And trust me, we have looked at a LOT of other graphic novels and comic books over the past few months, looking for something else that would satisfy this desire for Tintins. I think the combination of text and illustration found in Tintin supports developing reading skills for kids who have some ability to decode words phonetically but aren’t yet reading fluently. The kids can dip in and out of the text, reading words that they are able to while skipping over the more challenging words and still being able to mostly follow the story with the help of the pictures. As they re-read them, they pick up more and more of the words and meanings.

- Tintin is not dumbed down, sanitized or “childish”. So much of today’s children’s literature is mind-numbingly dumbed down and sanitized, which makes adults feel safe but makes kids feel bored. I remember being a kid and being hungry for any information that gave me clues about how the adult world worked. Tintin is ripe with this kind of information: that people sometimes say or do things to trick others, that situations are not always what they seem, that a person may be very attracted to someone who can’t stand the sight of them, that true friends look out for each other.

- Tintin is funny. Despite the violence, racism and cultural stereotypes that make adults cringe, Tintin manages to be funny in a fairly non-threatening way for kids. We also looked at two of today’s most popular graphic novels, the Amulet and Bone series, and both of those were scary to the point of making it hard for Bea to fall asleep at night. Tintin is generally silly and lighthearted, and doesn’t have any scary monsters that prowl through the night.

- Tintin indulges the fantasy of being powerful, adventurous, well-respected and in relationship with a few close friends that many kids seek. Heck, many adults are still working on those things. It’s fun to see a character live out your dream life in a book.

- Maybe, just maybe, kids love Tintin because their parents don’t like them so much. Tom loved Tintin as a kid; now he’s bored with them. I never liked Tintin much, and when the girls brought them home I was uncomfortable with the racism and violence. And maybe, just maybe, the kids pick up on that and are curious – why doesn’t mom like these? I have to find out! They must be really good!

At the end of the day, Tintin is just another phase in my children’s interests.

I can see the shift coming already. Other books are starting to be more interesting. I’ve heard the words, “Tintin is boring now that I’ve read them all,” come out of Bea’s mouth. And the sun is starting to return and the days are longer and we are spending more and more time being active and outdoors.

Tintin was the catalyst for a lot of learning around here: Bea essentially developed from a non-reader to a kid who can read independently and fluently by spending many, many hours reading Tintins. Claire explored the joys of narrative, cartooning and slapstick humour – she loved the silly visual jokes of people slipping on icy boat decks or bonking their heads on things.

Have my kids absorbed any harmful attitudes towards African people or alcoholic mariners? Maybe. Claire mentioned to me that she thought one of the kittens on her pajamas was drunk because it had a swirly line near its head, and I know for sure that idea came from how Captain Haddock is drawn. But I sincerely believe that no matter what books they read, they will treat other people the way they’ve been treated by me and the other people they spend a large amount of time with.

In any case, I’d rather limit and control the real-life situations I think are harmful than the books I think are dated and politically incorrect. Maybe someday they will want to read Mein Kampf or To Kill a Mockingbird or The Lord of the Flies, and I hope they will have the wisdom and empathy that comes from real interactions with real people to be able to interpret what they read there with grace and sensitivity, and that they won’t be afraid to read books that deal with things that are unfamiliar and challenging.

Do your kids read Tintin, or other books you don’t particularly like? Or do you carefully vet the pile of library books before hitting the checkout? How did you come to that decision? I’m curious about how other families deal with this issue.

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Something interesting happens when I’m learning something new – I start applying it to the many different areas of my life to see how it fits. How do these new ideas explain or inform what I’ve already been doing all along? Can I see my choices or experiences in a different light, with more clarity, with less reactivity?

sock puppet

Yesterday I had a challenging morning. The day before I’d powered through the morning chores quickly so that I could do a kind of involved craft with the girls before our friends came over for a playdate. I was pretty on top of things and everyone was dressed and the house was tidied up in record time. Then we moved on to making sock puppets, and the sock puppets were a hit too! I felt like a homeschool/homemaking superstar! I was in control and it was AWESOME! I wanted more of that.

And so I started the next day with some more awesome ideas, thinking that we’d zip through morning jobs and violin practice before shifting seamlessly into a super-cool experiment to try and generate electricity with a coil of copper wire and a magnet. I was excited to get going and the girls were, well, not. My zest was met with the brick-wall response (surely well known by all you other mamas, right?) and the girls obviously had other plans, which involved reading the entire stack of graphic novels that Tom brought home the other day.

graphic novel

Now, the ideal unschooler’s response here is to recognize that the kids are obviously learning valuable skills by spending three hours reading. They’re solidifying reading fluency, strengthening their ability to concentrate for long periods of time, to know and choose what is interesting to them, and even potentially learning some second language skills by comparing the french tintin with the english edition of the same volume. And yet, I flailed. I was flooded emotionally, then I over-reacted to my husband’s unrelated grumpiness and ended up hiding in bed until I could operate as a fully functional human being again.

So what’s the NVC/neurobiology/somatic based empathy response to this? Clearly I have some issues about being in control vs. not being in control which rear their ugly head when my attempts to be in control are thwarted. There’s probably also some unmet needs of my own going on here – I know that whenever my kids have tantrums there are unmet needs behind that and I’m no different. The need to matter, to have something valuable to contribute. And probably the dopamine hit we get from achieving what we set out to do in goal-oriented behaviour (or the pain of NOT receiving that hit of dopamine) factors in there too.

I think this is why so many unschooling parents have some other outlet in their lives where the need to contribute and control can really shine. Some skill we pursue doggedly on our own, a home-based business or a role we take in the community to work or volunteer aside from the work we do supporting our kids. Because if that need to contribute and control is unmet, it will push itself in where it’s not really wanted or needed, creating rigidity and reactivity where flexibility and responsiveness are wanted instead.

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The Evolution of A Mama’s Workspace

In every house I’ve lived in I’ve carved out a little space for myself to write, sew and retreat to. In most houses it was tiny. A corner of the dining room table. A desk set up in a corner of the bedroom. A stack of books at the end of the couch. Before we had kids I usually set up some kind of space for myself in the spare bedroom, with my little university dorm room desk serving for both computer work and sewing.

prekids workspace

Once the kids arrived my spaces grew smaller and more transient, moving around the house as our need to use the space changed with each age and stage. Tom took over the desk when he started working from home and I worked more often in the main shared areas of the house, either cluttering up the space for everyone else or having to set up and pack it all away every time. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.

I’ve long dreamed of having a space where I could have both my sewing machine and my computer set up for immediate use at the same time. A space where I could be separate from the rest of the house while I worked. A space that was mine. A space with bright windows and a nice big surface to work on.

When we moved into this house I assumed the basement room would be used as a family room, somewhere to store all the toys and art supplies that wouldn’t fit upstairs and where we might have a couch and a space for the kids to hang out when they didn’t want to be upstairs. I set it up with a writing station and a bunch of shelves, put the couch in Tom’s office instead and did my own writing on the dining room table or in Tom’s office as before.

But the kids didn’t use the space. It was too cold and too far away from everyone else. The writing station got filled up with clutter that didn’t belong anywhere else and eventually the whole room devolved into a giant pile of stuff that needed to be dealt with. I realized that I could claim a corner of this room that nobody else wanted.

early workspace

I moved in a small table, put my netbook and sewing machine next to it and hung some art on the walls. The piles of clutter remained, but I started to realize that this space was really going to work, and we started gathering a few other things to make it more comfortable. We got a small ceramic heater when the weather turned cold, Tom worked some computer magic on an old desktop computer that we had, and I nabbed a friend’s old computer chair when he went travelling and got rid of all his stuff.

Yesterday I finished another iteration of the evolution of this space, cleaning up the last of the piles of random stuff, setting up another freebie table and shifting everything over to this new workspace. The room has truly been transformed from a massive junk bomb explosion to gorgeous studio, and I am SO HAPPY with it.

michelle_workspace_larger

 

Space is an important element of many educational philosophies, including Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and Montessori. In these philosophies, the space itself is seen as a teacher, which sends messages to the children about what is valued. I remember reading something about Waldorf that went something like, “If there is disorder in the child, first attend to the disorder in the space.” The older I get, the more I appreciate this interplay between the physical environment and the mental one. It’s not always possible to have a beautiful, sun-filled atelier for ourselves or our children, but we can always make the most of the space we do have. Eventually, we may just discover a beautiful sun-filled atelier had been waiting there all along.

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Right now I am…

Listening to podcasts while I cook, clean or knit. Why it took me so long to get on board with podcasts I have no idea, but cleaning isn’t quite so boring anymore, and knitting while listening to a podcast in the evening is a delight. I’m especially enjoying Radiolab.

Running, running, running. And stalking the lovely (and uber expensive) technical running gear on the Icebreaker website, but not buying anything, because really? $85 running shorts? But I still look.

Going out and about with Little Miss here. As she says, “Mama, I like my fashion.”

little girl dressed up

Starting a new sewing project: a dress for myself. I haven’t sewn a dress for myself in YEARS. Definitely not since I had kids. It’s time.

On a spring cleaning kick. It is amazing what a difference some decluttering, rearranging and better storage can do.

Supervising slime experiments. We’ve done this science project many, many times over the years and it isn’t boring yet. The older the girls get the more they learn about it, and the more they engage by doing things like taking notes and making labels.

slime experiments

Working with Tom. We’ve started having weekly meetings where he explains to me what he’s working on and I help him plan, prioritize and stay on track with his goals. Both of us benefit from this, I think.

Listening to the rooster crowing from our neighbour’s yard where he’s (hopefully) fertilizing some eggs which will (hopefully) grow into some cute, fluffy chicks. After he’s done his job he’s destined for the soup pot.

Watching spring unfurl in the rain. We now have crocuses and a couple of daffodils and salmonberry blossoms, and the cherry blossoms and thousands of hummingbirds are on their way soon.

Reading. I’m currently alternating between The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Both giant tomes with blue covers that explore the way we live in the world, but pretty much complete opposites in style and content.

Making stop-motion animation films with Claire. They are silly and fun and feature people doing things like getting off the bus or walking across a field.

claire_stopmotion_bus

Dreaming of summertime. Camping in the Catbus, eating cucumbers off the vine, swimming in the ocean and waking up to the sweet smell of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest in the summer, which smells something like warmed up cedar, lichen and moss.

Not stuck. And marvelling at the magic that is figuring out what you’re feeling and naming it to yourself. They say you’ve got to name it to tame it, and feel it to heal it. It’s true.

 

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Review of The Whole Brain Child

whole brain child

One thing I love about learning the brain science behind relationships is that it brings parenting advice out of the “tips and tricks” realm. Really understanding the processes behind your relationship with your child helps you make good decisions on your own, while you’re in the thick of daily life.

I personally love to geek out on neurobiology stuff. Still, I think everyone should be able to read and benefit from a brain science based approach to parenting, without needing a psychology degree to understand what you’re reading.

Parenting The Whole Brain Child

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind is written by Interpersonal Neurobiology experts Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. The Whole Brain Child sets out to be the book that will teach brain-friendly parenting strategies to everyone, no matter whether you have any experience reading about brain science or not.

Siegel and Bryson cover a lot of ground in a short, easy to read book, and they present the material in a way that makes it easy to understand and relate to for most parents. Each chapter focuses on strategies that work with a specific element of the mind/brain/body connection, such as integrating the left and right hemispheres, integrating the prefrontal cortex with the emotional centers of the brain, or using body sensations to inform us of our thoughts and feelings. Each strategy is cleverly named so it will be easily remembered, like Connect and Redirect or Engage, Don’t Enrage. Each chapter also includes illustrated comic-book style panels for parents and kids, with examples of the strategies in action for the parents, and a kid-level summary of the brain information for kids around 8-12 years old.

Learning to be a Whole Brain Parent in the Real World

My favourite part of the book is the example dialogues – there are lots of them and they use real-world parenting examples that everyone will be familiar with to show what the strategies sound like in action. I know for me, the hardest part of changing my parenting strategies is not knowing how to translate my new found understanding into words in the moment. Reading the example dialogues gives me a few phrases or strategies to have in my pocket for when I need them.

Still, learning people skills from a book is a little like learning to swim from a book. It’s enough to get you interested and introduce you to the specific language and concepts, but the real learning comes from actually getting in the water and splashing around. When you start getting water up your nose, it is so much more wonderful and reassuring to have a more experienced swimmer there to help you.

I recently started practising empathy and NVC skills with other experienced adults instead of only practicing by myself with my kids, and I noticed a huge change in the quality of my understanding and learning. So while I would recommend this book as a introduction to whole-brain parenting, I would also hugely recommend attending a workshop or other face-to-face learning environment where you can practice with other people. Feeleez is currently touring around doing workshops, and both Dan and Tina are also doing speaking tours where you can hear them in person. And I am sure there are more local resources for you, depending on where you live!

 

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