Tag Archives: Alex


Alex has been going to his nursery, Mother Goose, for almost four years now. As he has become more verbal, he’s brought nursery rhymes and songs home with him. Sometimes they’re the standard ones – “Baa baa black sheep” and suchlike. Sometimes, they’re not.

His favourites right now are “Heyyy, baby…I want to know-ow-ow….will you be my girl?” and “Jadda”, which is a string of nonsense syllables I can’t reproduce, but which does NOT finish “bing bop pop.” (I think it should and add it in when he sings that, to his massive indignation.)

He brought home another verse to “Row, row, row your boat” the other month. I understand that it’s become common, but I had never heard it before:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a crocodile
Don’t forget to scream

Now, this is the sort of thing that gets me going on inventing my own doggerel. I quickly added another verse:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a hippo there
Feed it some ice cream

He loves it. He’s tried to convince Goose that it’s an official verse, with about as much success as he had sellng this rewrite I did of Hey Diddle Diddle:

Hey Diddle Dat
The fiddle and the cat
The moon slid under the cow
The little dog cried ’cause he was sad
And the dish and the spoon said, “What now?”

I can’t wait to see him try to get them to accept my latest offering, invented last night with Fiona in my arms:

Rockabye baby, in your mom’s lap
When the wind blows, your arms go flap flap
When the bough breaks, it’s a good thing you fly
Since otherwise you’ll fall, and then you would cry

And yes, I know I am messing with my descendents unto the tenth generation with this stuff. But it’s so much fun!

Back from Worldcon

Martin posted a blog entry from our hotel room, in the middle of our attendance at Worldcon. I agree with everything he said. The con was exhausting, busy, and an intense family experience. Both kids wigged out from time to time, but also had some really good moments. I saw people from work, from our St Andrews days, and from previous social groups here in Edinburgh. And like Martin, I only made it to one event – in my case, an informal discussion on the future of the book, both as a concept and as a physical object. It was a great discussion, with plenty of debate and no actual conclusions. I wonder whether I would have enjoyed all the programme events I marked out and subsequently missed as much (I doubt it).

But I wasn’t just at the con as an attendee and a parent. I was also there as a bookbinder, and it was the culmination of three very intense weeks in that world for me.

As I noted in a previous entry, I spent a fortnight doing the binds for the Guests of Honour. This was more difficult than I expected. Not only did it take longer (of course – everything always takes longer than you expect it will), but it was also more emotionally challenging than anticipated. Unlike at work, I had no human contact to speak of. I found myself intensely lonely at times. I also found that when things went wrong, I was less able to keep a positive outlook and to develop alternative solutions to problems that arose.

Then we had a houseguest. Liza Groen Trombi, to whom I hadn’t even spoken for nearly fifteen years, came to stay with us for a weekend. We had been close in middle and high school, but gone our separate ways after that – me to Scotland, her to singing in a band, managing restaurants, and finally working as an editor for Locus. My instinct, when we got back in touch, was that I would like her again, and I invited her to stay when she was coming over for Worldcon. I think that was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. We spent the entire weekend chatting, and I could easily have spent a week or two more listening to her stories and telling a few of my own. She was patient about the fact that I was still binding (and gave very balanced feedback when things went badly). We rode bikes out to Craigmillar Castle, visited Mary King’s Close, drank whisky, and laughed a lot.

And, finally, the Sutherlands went to Worldcon. I was doing two things at once, as a binder. First off, I was co-ordinating the bindings to go to the Guests of Honour. Most of this involved being ready to meet the Publications manager, Steve Cooper, when he had gaps in his schedule and bindings needed signatures put in, or needed to be delivered to recipients. I got to see a lot of the Secure Storage area at the convention during this phase of things. At the same time, I was entered in the Art Show, hoping to sell some of my bindings.

I had four items entered: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, The Hobbit, Frankenstein, and a copy of the Worldcon Souvenir Book. And throughout the convention, I fretted. I went back and back to the art show, checking to see if anyone bid. I worried every time someone had moved a binding. I fussed at Martin (who has the patience of a saint for not throttling me!), at Liza (ditto), and at the boyfriend of the Art Show director, Pat (see previous comments). Two items got bids – the Hobbit and Frankenstein.

In the meantime, on of the Guests of Honour – Jane Yolen – had to go home early for family medical reasons. We arranged a swift presentation to her, and I got a chance to see her reaction to my book. She seemed to like it. (I will post photos of the presentation when I get them).

Thus matters stood this morning. Due to some significant sleep disruptions (thanks, Fi!), my memories of today are best summarised in list form.

  1. Alex and I, along with much of the Young Adult Fan Activities group, dressed up in masks and goggles and assaulted a panel on the Future of Fandom with inflatable weapons. The point was to remind attendees what the future of fandom really looks like, and perhaps to have a bit of fun on the side. Don’t pity the panel too much – they were forewarned, and forearmed with water pistols.
  2. Neither unsold binding sold during the after-auction sales. I collected them and left the Art Show. Then I rang Steve, the Publications manager, who immediately offered to buy the Souvenir Book binding. I was delighted, not only because I wanted to sell it, but because I wanted him to have it. After all the work he’d done on the book, I reckoned he would like something special. I understand he has all editions of Splitting Infinity now.
  3. The person who bought the Hobbit binding – Pat, who had been a friendly face throughout the con – asked me to sign it as the bookbinder. He then tracked down Alan Lee, the illustrator of that edition (and the designer who created the look for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films), and got him to sign the book while I was there. So I got to meet Alan Lee, an artist whom I respect greatly, not just because he does beautiful work, but also because he is so single-minded about doing it. We talked a bit about the binding, and exchanged email addresses. I even got a photo, with Fi in as well:
  4. During the closing ceremony for the convention, the co-chairs not only showed the entire audience one of my bindings, they incited them to a round of applause (mostly puzzled, admittedly) for me for doing them.
  5. I said goodbye to Liza – the only relatively down moment of the day. I miss her already.

Now I get to go back to real life. It’s been a good time, rather like being tossed up and down in a blanket while slightly drunk. In other words, I’ve been to Worldcon.

4-hour Flu?

You’ve heard of 24-hour flu. But these are modern times; everything is speeding up. No one has time to do things slowly. And, apparently, flu viruses have caught up to the trend.

Suddenly, at about 7:00 last night, I started shivering uncontrollably. I was already feeling wintry and depressed, but those are primarily mental effects. This was most decidedly physical.

I simply couldn’t get warm. My muscles started to ache, and my joints became sore. By about 7:30, when Fiona was ready for her feed down (time change, you know – she usually feeds down at about 8:30), I was feeling nauseous as well. So I took her into bed with me and fed her, and we lay there in a little pool of warmth while Martin put Alex to bed.

I was hallucinating by that point. I remember listening to them reading Sitting Ducks, in which the line “and suddenly the sky was full of ducks.” Suddenly I saw the ducks as being like autumn leaves, as though one could walk through a pile of them and kick them (non-cruelly) into the air in thick clumps, which then separated into individual flying birds. They filled the sky with gold.

After Martin got Alex to bed, he came for Fiona and I went for a hot shower. I shivered as soon as I got out of bed, though I was still fully dressed. Even the scalding hot shower couldn’t warm me up. It took a mug of hot broth and a hot water bottle to stop the shivering.

At the same time, Alex was screaming and crying hysterically in his bed, sobbing so hard we couldn’t extract from him what, if anything, hurt. He finally settled on it being his ear, and we gave him some Calpol. But I don’t think he was actually awake through either of the two iterations of screaming; I don’t know if his ear really hurt, or if he dreamed it.

When Alex was finally settled, and Fiona (who had awakened with the racket) was down again, I went to my bed. The shivering had passed off, and I was feeling fevered, so hot that the duvet was uncomfortable, my pyjamas unbearable, and my pillow too warm. I tossed and turned and drifted into a sleep full of fever dreams.

When I woke up this morning, I was fine.

Alex, where’s yer troosers?

Alex, where’s yer troosers?

OK, the short story is: Cameron (Martin’s cousin and a groomsman at our wedding) and Clare (a very beautiful woman) got married last weekend. We all went. Alex wore (in the loosest sense, at times) a kilt, which was cute and funny. We had a great time.

Below are some pictures, as evidence. They aren’t all the pictures from the wedding, nor necessarily the best ones. They’re just what I picked out to get something onto the web.

Dada and Alex

Kissing the Bride

All the kilted folk…spot the one whose shirt is coming untucked!

Mama & Fiona

Sharing a joke with grandda

“Everybody look left and laugh!

Family portrait 1

Family portrait 2: Kyle is ready to dance!

Family portrait 3

Cam & Clare under an onslaught of confetti

Kyle jumps the gun on tea

Swinging boy

William Wallace, eat your heart out

“Yeah, the kilt is a babe magnet. I know.”

Dada agrees about the babe magnet

Dancing with Grandma

Dancing with Beth and Anna…wardrobe malfunction immanent!

Needing a little help pulling the kilt back up.

Fiona takes a break

Tired after the party.


Alex wanted to go to our local play park today. Usually, we take the bus to play parks further in town, where there’s rather less broken glass and rather more takeaway coffee.

And rather less grafitti. Our local playpark is a hangout for teenagers after the little kids go away. I have some sympathy – there really isn’t a lot else to do in Gilmerton – but I do wish they’d leave the permanent markers at home. (Not to mention not wrapping the swings over the top bar of the swing set .)

As Alex was playing, I was idly reading the grafitti. There was a lot of “love” stuff (RM + KS 4EVR and its ilk), and some “fan” writing (EMINEM, HFC). The third class of inscription, the “insult” inscription, was also well represented. (name obscured) is a fat geek who muckz around wi an even bigger geek and Jonathan is a fat pie eater, for instance.

But among what I presume to be insults was REECE IS TIDY. There was also, just to be confusing, REECE IS UNTIDY. Two or three other people were also labeled as “tidy”, though only Reece seems to be untidy.


Alex and Food

Alex has an interesting relationship with food.

Yucky vs Yummy

Like most toddlers, he’s neophobic. No, that doesn’t mean Keanu Reeves in a black trenchcoat appears in his nightmares. He just doesn’t like new foods.

He has a clear understanding that there are foods one likes (yummy foods) and foods one doesn’t (yucky foods). As we often discuss at the dinner table, “Mama say yum, broccoli. Dada and Alex say yuck, broccoli.” He was discussing the different kinds of food with me yesterday, revealing his understanding of jobs in the process.

“When I’m a little older, I have a new job and you have a new job and Dada have a new job and we make big monies and we buy all the yummy food and we buy all the yucky food and put it in the bin.”

Real Food

Also like most toddlers, Alex loves his sweets. We’ve been drilling it into him that you can’t have dessert until you’ve eaten some “real food” (amount to be determined by the Court of the Parents, from which there is no appeal). We first introduced this in a restaurant, where he was angling to have a chocolate sundae for dinner. We explained that he had to have some peas, fish and chips first, because that was real food.

So one day last week, he brought home a square of the cake they’d made in nursery. He didn’t eat it after dinner (can’t recall why), but the next day I packed it, along with some sandwiches and fruit, for lunch while we were out geocaching. We stopped for lunch and I opened the box. He looked inside, inventoried the contents, and gave me a testing glance. “Sandwiches are real food,” he said. Translation: I eat the sandwich and I can have some cake, right? I agreed that sandwiches were real food, and he tucked in with enthusiasm, keeping an eye on the cake as he ate.

Even funnier was the pantomime he went through yesterday. I had bought a new pair of boots, and had just taken them off in the living room. He put his feet into them (a comic sight) and declared he was off to the shops to get some sweeties. He was halfway across the floor toward the dining room table (the shop in this game) when a thought struck him.

He turned around quickly and rushed back to the living room. Kicking off the boots, he turned to the TV table. “Real food,” he said, and started picking up handfuls of air and stuffing them in his mouth. “Eat, eat, eat…” Then he put the boots on and went to the shop for sweeties.

Rockin’ on the Potty

It’s been over a week since Alex has made any significant mistakes, so I hereby declare him POTTY TRAINED.

If you, gentle reader, are the parent of a recently potty-trained child, you will know the mix of delight, amazement, and exhaustion I’m feeling right now. Delight, because I don’t have to change his nappies any more. Amazement, because I see now what a fundamentally unnatural thing Alex has achieved. And exhaustion because potty training is hard work for a parent as well as a child.

If you are the parent trying to, or contemplating trying to potty train, a child, I know how you feel too. Curious, right? I used to read potty training books and websites, looking for some magic formula that would make the effort easier. Well, sadly, there is no universal magic formula, but let me tell you how we did it.

If you’re not a parent, you’ll have to find your own motivation to read this.

So how did we do it?

For almost a year, we tried rewarding Alex’ use of the potty with little toy cars, stickers, any little titbit that might get him interested in the process. Although I felt at the time that this effort was wasted – his success was sporadic at best – I have realised that this long run-up laid the groundwork for the present success. First of all, it clued him into the fact that potty training was a fertile area for rewards, and secondly, it started him working on his bladder control.

It did not, however, convince him to be clean and dry. None of the trinkets on offer were worth the effort of managing his wastes himself instead of lying there while we did it. Not even the thrill of “big boy underwear”, just like Dada’s was enough. So we found two things that he loves best, and used them as levers.

First of all, Alex is a very social boy. He thrives on interpersonal interaction, and values approval very highly. (I’d worry more about how this will leave him prey to peer pressure if he weren’t also stubborn as a mule.) So when his grandparents Sutherland started in on how important potty training was on his first overnight visit to their house, he began to realise that people in general were keen on the endeavour. I think he felt Martin and I were eccentrically obsessed before then. This social awareness also allowed us to use praise as a reward, and mild shunning as a penalty for failure (particularly poo failure).

The second lever we had on him was gaming. Alex loves Playstation and GameCube games. Even PC games, or the Flash games on the CBeebies website, can captivate him for however long we allow him to play them. So we started changing the rules. First, he couldn’t play anything until he peed in the potty once in the day. Once he was reliably peeing first thing, then he could only play until he was wet or dirty, then they went off until he asked to go to the potty and produced somthing, then on until the next mistake, etc. Finally, they were off after a mistake, with no reprieve.

It all took a week or two from the visit to his grandparents’ to being always dry. But poo was still a consistent problem. Then his grandma Foley came over and reinforced the social leverage about stinky poo. So instead of messing his underwear, he clenched. Like a drug smuggler refusing to produce the evidence for the customs officer, he simply held it all in. And we held our breath – would he ask to go to the potty when the peristalsis was too strong to overcome? Or would he let it all out?

He asked to go to the potty. And there was much rejoicing.

Now I’m trying to roll back universal games access, since I don’t actually want him to turn into a couch potato, even one with excellent bladder and bowel control. But I’m also so proud of my boy that I’m rolling it back gently…

My New Job (as explained by Alex)

We took Mom to Edinburgh Airport this morning. Martin dropped us all off, and Alex, Fiona and I then accompanied her to the security gate (via the exceedlingly long and slow British Airways check-in queue). Then the kids and I took a taxi back to Goose, where I left Alex behind and walked Fi home.

In the taxi, there were a couple of adverts for the manufacturer, Manganese Bronze. One of them showed a classic black cab in a shopping centre, which particularly interested Alex.

First, he explained that “naughty people” drive taxis in shopping centres, and “good people” don’t. When he was a little older, he continued, his new job* would be to tell them “NO” (said with The Admonitory Index Finger, heretofore to be referred to as the AIF, extended), and that I would stay at home.

Then he mentioned that there were sharks in shopping centres, which also needed application of the AIF and a good telling-off, and told me his new job would involve this as well. I pointed out that that was two jobs, and how would he find the time to do them both?

His solution was that I would do both jobs, presumably because as a Mom I have so much time on my hands. So I am now the Official Teller-Off of Sharks and Bad People Who Drive Taxis in Shopping Centres. Armed with my AIF, which I only have by marriage, I go from shopping centre to shopping centre, saying “NO” to large toothy fish and cabs.

The taxi driver was it stitches.

* Martin’s new job, according to Alex, is to fix robots. While being dropped off this morning at the airport, Alex was instructing his dad to fix two small robots first, in the secret area, before starting on the big robot. All this will come as a trememdous surprise to Intelligent Finance, which took Martin on as a contractor to help develop computer systems.


Alex has had a bad week or two.

Easrly last Wednsday night (March 3), he threw up at about 1am. He was distraught for the rest of the night, but felt pretty much OK the next day. Fine, we thought, he throws up randomly from time to time.

Then on Friday (March 5), he started again. He was sick through Saturday morning, but felt better in the afternoon. The barfing was worse – we ended up with towels instead of cushion covers on most of the 3-seater sofa (I love washable covers). But when it was over, we thought it was over.

So when he started crying at 3 this morning, we thought it was just a bad dream. Martin went through to him, then came to get me to do the long-traditional barf wash while he showered with the boy. This was made worse because we had Martin’s high-garlic garlic bread, and Alex had eaten rather a lot of it. I leave the fragrance to the imagination, dear reader. Trust me, though, imagination falls short – it took two washes, one at 90° C, to get the smell out of his bedclothes.

Now, the day after the night before, he seems better, but weak. We went out to pull my Dean Bridge for maintenance, and then go hunt another one nearby, but had to come home halfway through the project because he was so tired.

He doesn’t seem ill otherwise. After all the barfing he’s done over the years, we have learned that his digestive system is his “fuse”. When things go wrong, he throws up. I suspect that this is psychological rather than disease-related. More cuddles will be needed, clearly…

Two Go to Durham

With Martin out of the picture, I decided I would take Alex on an adventure – an overnight trip to Durham, where my Dad went for a day trip last month. This is not as insane as it sounds. I was worried that if we stayed at home, Alex would miss Martin terribly. But a change of scene might catch his interest, keep him from noticing that his Dada isn’t around.

Saturday, March 1

Ready to go!
  We booked train tickets all the way to Durham. There were engineering works on the way, so we could only take the train to Newcastle. The train company the laid on buses to Durham – about 20 minutes’ journey. But Alex was ready for anything.

  He fell asleep on the bus to Durham, and stayed asleep when I transferred him to the pushchair (with the kind help of the bus driver). So I explored the town a bit, found the tourist office, booked a hotel for the night, and (most importantly of all) found out where the play parks are on my own. Alex then woke in time to do some actual playing.

  We had a marvellous time, wandering around Durham that evening. We stopped in at the Cathedral just before it closed at 6, then set off in search of dinner. And Alex, impervious to the drizzle and the distance, decided to walk. He walked all the way to the restaurant, then (after eating very little) all the way to the hotel. It was about 45 minutes or an hour of walking, all told. I was amazed that his little feet weren’t sore!

Mine Bed.
  We did have a little dispute at the end of the day. I thought he should sleep in the travel cot the hotel provided. He clearly did not.

Sunday, March 2

Swinging with Tigger
  After breakfast on the Sunday, we wandered around Durham and found another play park. Alex wanted to try it out, and requested that Tigger give the swings a go beside him. (“Gigger ‘wing!”) I know my place, though I felt rather silly pushing the two of them in their swings.

Then we did a little sightseeing. We saw the Cathedral again, for Mama, and took the obligatory touristy shots.

Alex and the Cathedral

Mama, Alex and the Cathedral

For Alex, we visited the river. We fed the ducks, and waved at the boats.




Alex loved watching the boats off of the bridge.

Looking through the bridge rails

What a wonderful boy!