A Pleasant Life

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honourably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honourably and justly without living pleasantly.”

-Epicurus

Is there such a thing as too tidy?

As every parent to ankle biters know, tidiness takes a back seat to cooking, laundry, storey time, laundry, fixing school bus’s perpetually breaking door, laundry, sleep, laundry. I mean we have it easy because we don’t own much ‘stuff’ to even try to tidy. Cutesy trinkets, glamorous flower vases, magazine subscriptions, furniture: we bid you adieu when we moved pre-kids. So yes, keeping the home tidy hasn’t -knock on wood- been too much of a hindrance for this family.

Still, this week’s book is a joy: Tidy by Emily Gravett. Pete the Badger is the Marie Kondo of the forest. He tidies everything and everyone in his wake. Scrub, sweep, discard. To a point where a tidy landscape for Badger meant nary a tree in sight. With no trees to help divert the pouring rain, floods and mud ensue to the bane of Badger’s existence. ‘Concrete over Everything,’ becomes his battle cry to maintain pure, unadulterated tidiness. With a satisfied contentment and associated hunger, Badger seeks respite. Shock horror. His home is buried beneath the concrete. With his forest friends at hand, they replant trees and return the forest to its natural untidiness. The illustrations are lush and unfold across two page sceneries.

I won’t lie, Ankle Biter 1 appreciated this story because of the DIGGER that makes an appearance. “Why is he brushing the birds?” “Where will all the garbage bags go?” “Why is it flooding?” “What are the worms doing?” “Are they eating the worms?” So many questions and only a good book can not only instigate this line of inquiry but help answer them as well.

This book brought back to mind an undergrad class where I learned that while COE meant Corps of Engineers to some, it meant Concrete over Everything to others. So with memory in hand, I chuckled over this book and cherished the complexity emanating from its simple yet engaging story. Yes, everything is connected to everything else. (I’m looking at you fallen leaves, thank you for your mulch).

And Yes, I think there is such a thing as too tidy.

Forget about house tidying.

Stop trying to tidy up the great outdoors off our children.

Uninspired playgrounds, structured play, even our involvement hinders their growth. Play is MESSY. Get outside, dirt beneath the fingernails (of course I bought a nail brush), my goodness, what’s that in your hair, hours in the sun/rain mixed with earth parfum GRUBBINESS. For in all this glorious dirt, the ankle biters learn about movement and imagination and smelling the difference between soil and scat and whole host of other things that I’m sure manifest themselves as the days go by.

Support untidy play.

Bicycle, Airships and Things that GO! A sustainability primer

Sustainability.

Do the ankle biters know what that means? No.

Do they know the watershed from which the water filling their evening personal pool originates? Certainly not.

Do they know that 90% of the things they own are preloved? Maybe the younger one, but he’d never say.

Do they know that their veg is a little less than perfect or their fruits a bit wonky? No way.

But ask them about their favourite way to get to school and from both you’ll get an enthusiastic ‘BIKE.’ Or jogger pram. Sometimes bus. And before they could speak, trams. Do they know that these forms of transport are better for the environment? No. They just know what they like. And they like the freedom and the speed and seriously the wind on their face. “I like the fresh air, mum.” To inculcate sustainability, or preservation for the future, such a concept needs to be incorporated into their daily lives. They know no other and that they have fun doing it, so much the better.

Thus, this week’s book is a special one. Bicycles, Airships and Things that GO! weaves a sneaky spy tale set against a futuristic sustainability backdrop. Written by Bernie McAllister, this book follows a family of four bears on an excursion from their eco-village to deliver an LED light suit created by Momma Bear to the Sunnyside Science Museum. Along the way they embark upon various forms of transport: bicycles, air ships, bike buses, high speed trains and ferries. A mischievous pair, Monkey and Toucan, are out to steal Momma Bear’s invention. Will they succeed? Think of it as a triple scoop delight of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that GO!, Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded and Hanna & Barbera’s the Jetsons. It certainly gives a nod to Scarry’s animal anthropomorphism, explanatory captions as well as the loveable Goldbug (here represented by solar hornet). With its display of wind turbines, solar power plants and electrical vehicle charging stations, it resonates with Friedman’s clean technological breakthroughs. And the Jetsons? Well, the future awaits and we have the inspiration and technology now. The story isn’t overtly about sustainability but it’s easy to convey as much or as little as necessary if you are reading to ankle biters as I do.

Source: Press Kit | Kids Future Press

Ankle biter 1 sat intently through an online viewing* of this book. His favourite page features balloon cars. I think it’s because, other than the bikes, it was one of the few tangible things he recognises. “How do they move?” Silence and then “Do the balloons move the cars?” A nascent STEAM wonder on our hands.  He also asked about the wave energy machines. “What is THAT?” I thought they were large ocean snakes. (Are they? *ACK* I had to look it up. Perhaps during later readings, I could talk about biomimicry???  Floating snakes could feasibly inspire wave energy collection, hey?) Given the digital nature of this experience, finding solar hornet was a buzzkill- all pun intended. Rather than the glowing solar entity it should be, solar hornet is a difficult shadow to uncover. As for the story in of itself, it’s agreeable akin to this book about public transport or this book about cross-town adventures. Although when Momma Bear recognises the precariousness of Toucan’s and Monkey’s situation, I expected a tiny act of kindness.

I do adore this book because it provides an opportunity for the ankle biters to envision something different. We can’t expect change- sustainable, resilient, healthy, stimulating, whatever buzzword we want- if we can’t envision alternatives. This book helps depict an urban that I can imagine. I delight in the overflowing bike parking garages, vertical gardens, rooftop gardens, indoor urban farm and most especially the interactive public art installation inspired by this. Building an ankle biter’s budding vocabulary with ‘bus-top garden’ and ‘interactive tiles’? Yes, please. This book is gracious enough to include real world inspirations for each page. As such, there is much that can spark the urban imagination.

Whew. Will you read it? We will, again and again.

*For this review, I was generously given a digital, watermarked copy to review. The opinions here, as always, are my own.

Loose parts

“A castle, made of cartons, rocks, and old branches, by a group of children for themselves, is worth a thousand perfectly detailed, exactly finished castles, made for them in a factory.”

-Christopher Alexander, A pattern language

Whistle while you work

Ankle Biter 1 attends daycare in the mornings. Dad cycles him en route to his work. At least once a week Ankle Biter 1 proclaims proudly , “I’m going to work.” Adults may scoff and placate by thinking, “how cute.” But really, play is work for children. Somewhere along the way, we as adults have forgotten the importance of work: maintaining our sustenance in the fullest sense. If you take ‘work’ from the perspective of a child, it is explorative and frustrating, cacophony and symphony, intense and joyful. Even in the resting, it is productive. Play is work and work should be play. Goodness, Peter Pan was on to something.

Anyways, with this little soap box rant, I bring you this week’s book, Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats. The endearing protagonist, Peter, spies a dog running to another boy after a whistle. This spectacle prompts Peter to begin his best efforts at whistling. Despite his trials, no whistle emerges. In the interim, he plays outside, in boxes, with chalk, skipping on cracks and jumping on shadows. After all of this ‘work’ he sees his dog Willie and hides in a box. Triumphantly, Peter whistles and Willie follows. Peter returns home to share his new found talent. Pleased as peaches, his mum then asks him to whistle all the way to the grocery store for some goods. He does so, happily and with Willie by his side.

Ankle biter 1 likes the story because of the chalk drawings. “Look, he’s drawing, why isn’t he using orange?” Both ankle biters like to hear me whistle and they in turn try to imitate. They have yet to plead for a canine. I enjoy the story for the great independence that Peter demonstrates whilst walking. Even today, when children walk (if allowed to do so), they experience their surroundings in the most physical and engaging way. A type of ‘work’ that everyone should encourage.