In Splendid Isolation

Autumn wonderland

Autumn wonderland

“He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.” Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

I drafted this a week ago…little did I know that life would throw up complications and we’d be looking at a minimum of fours weeks in isolation.

Today marks the end of two weeks of isolation leading up to Miss 2’s surgery. She spends the night in my bed (she’s refused to sleep in hers since we were rushed to hospital by ambulance for Mother’s Day) and is awake all day with it just the two of us. There is a distinct lack of personal space and it’s challenging for both of us. The only time that I have to myself is an hour or so in the evening, after finishing up cleaning the house, before collapsing into bed beside her.

Week 1 was a particularly vicious head cold with rivers of snot that covered her face no matter how often I wiped it away. Her facial dermatitis was miserable, her already swollen airways blocked up, and she’d give up on sleep entirely somewhere between 2am and 4am when the fluid build-up got too much (and she needed to be upright to have it drain away). Being awake around the clock was beyond exhausting, I got sick too, I dragged myself through each day, I was grateful whenever she was willing to listen to audio stories that might give me a break for twenty minutes.

She hit rock bottom after about 7 days and then slowly started to improve. Her doctor advised that with her surgery so close we were best to spend another week away from playgroups, Sunday School, gatherings of kids, and, well, anywhere germy, to try and prevent her from catching a secondary infection. Historically. her compromised immune system has meant a rolling series of viral infections for weeks at a time.

She missed her friends. She missed her rountines. She stomped around the house (literally) telling me, “I’m a grumpy old troll! I’m ANGRY! I want (insert names of friends)”. I’m proud of her emotional recognition and expression; I’m glad that teaching her to stomp (as opposed to kick, hit, bite, or throw) as a healthy way of venting her feelings seems to be helping. It’s exhausting and it sucks for both of us.

It’s been a mental challenge each day trying to work out where we can for the morning that ideally doesn’t cost money, will interest her, doesn’t involve kids, and can’t be an indoor playground / attraction (because let’s face it those things hardly ever get disinfected!). Oh, and it’s winter, cold, and rain keeps threatening on the weather forecast.

Each day I have to try and be cheerful, positive, and zen. Some days I do better than others. Some days I’ve burst into tears in public toilets while she just keeps tantruming and I can’t even have 30 seconds to pee in quiet (not alone, just peacefully). Some days it feels overwhelming that not only do we have to get to the surgery but then we’re still going to need to be careful about post-op infection. Some days the logistics of our upcoming hospital stay, needing to take all our food with us, needing to look after her alone (and just physically carrying everything!) seems overwhelming.

So I’ve tried to find the beauty in each day for us. She delights in the small details – the differing colours and shapes of leaves, throwing seed cones into the ocean and watching them bob like boats, stopping to listen to birds sing.

Autumn dreaming

Autumn dreaming

Autumn explorer

Autumn explorer

We’ve walked through parks of imported oak trees with their beautiful autumn leaves still covering the ground like snow.

We’ve spent hours exploring Botanic Gardens admiring the hidden mazes and the surprise of colourful roses even though it’s winter.

New Zealand beaches in winter

New Zealand beaches in winter

What is New Zealand like in winter?

What is New Zealand like in winter?

We had one morning that saw me teaching her chess in the library while the wind and rain swirled outside, only for it to suddenly be replaced by a little beachside microcosm of warm blue skies and sunshine. We walked on the sand, splashed in the waves, and drew pictures in the sand creating beach art.

Being isolated was anything but splendid (although it makes for a catchier title) but looking for the beauty in each day and seeking a positive focus made it more bearable. We can’t always change our circumstances, we can only change how we choose to view our circumstances and how we react within them.

Making a mermaid’s magical pool (or pirate’s treasure trove)


Mermaid’s magical pool

A few things from the craft box can be a fun way of transforming a paddling pool for an afternoon. We picked up all the shells scattered round the garden, sprinkled in magic dust (blue and silver large-cut glitter), and added glittery-fluffy-balls as treasure.

Making play dough is easy

Home made play dough

Home made play dough is super easy to make. It’s cheap, keeps well, you can choose what colours you want, and it doesn’t colour little hands the way commercial play dough often does. It also retains its colour much better if you’re using more than one colour rather than turning into an amorphous purple-brown.


  • 1c plain flour
  • 1/4c salt
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 1T oil
  • 1/2 tsp food colouring
  • 1c boiling water

Note: This makes a small batch, just double if you want a big batch.


  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Mix in oil.
  3. Slowly add boiling water. (You may not need all of. It should be smooth and pliable not sticky).
  4. Store in air tight container.

Orange play dough

Combining colours

How to make a simple spider

Thankfully toddlers are not art critics. They take joy in simple pleasures and aren’t going to worry if your arts and crafts skills aren’t going to get you a gallery listing.

You can make a simple spider using:

  • Cardboard inner tube
  • Scissors or sharp knife
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Marker pen or felt tips (or buttons or googly eyes).
  1. Cut your paper tube to size (toilet rolls are a good size but a paper towel roll will need cutting in half or thirds).
  2. Make eyes. The simplest option is to draw then on but googly eyes are great if you have a packet lying around.
  3. Make 4 holes on each side of the paper tube (roughly parallel).
  4. Push 4 pipe cleaners through the parallel holes so they stick out each side. You now have 8 legs!
  5. Draw a web for your spider or print one out from Worksheet Fun.

Watercolours are great for indoor painting

Watercolours are a great form of indoor painting. They’re much less mess than poster paint and easy to wipe up if you’re using a plastic mat or lino. They also handily come with a whole palette of colours!

These are great for encouraging creative messy play, colours (and colour mixing), fine motor control, and learning a process. Encourage them to go: paint, paper, water, paint etc. I find an old glass baby food jar ideal for washing brushes. It’s best to put only a tiny amount of water and change it frequently (that way there’s less to clean up if it gets knocked over!).

Watercolours will often come with a small brush. You can also experiment with other brushes, fingers, even a wet wipe will provide cool textures and colour mixing! If you’re toddler loves painting themselves and is going to do so anyway, why not support them in their experiment and try putting our a hand mirror so that they can see what they’re doing.

Supervision, support, encouragement, and modelling is important for toddlers. It can take a while to learn that the brush needs washing or that it’s not a good idea to smear black paint over all the other paint colours on the palette. On the bright side, they’re easy to wipe with a tissue or wet wipe to get back to a ‘purer’ colour.

Wet wipe watercolour painting

Art Gallery

Rainy days can sometimes seem endless with an active toddler. One place to go is an Art Gallery – though it pays to get there early if you’re driving as many other families may have the same idea! They’re often free to enter which makes them budget friendly 🙂

Find out information about your local art gallery before you go and consider how this will work best for your children in terms of timing, naps, snacks, and transport. Do they allow prams or do you need to check them in? Can you eat anywhere in the building or do only in designated areas? Do they have parking on-site or validate parking nearby? Do they have activities for children?

Auckland Art Gallery for instance will validate an hour’s free parking at Auckland Transport’s Victoria Street carpark when visiting on weekends or after 6pm. They have a free bag check and big clean bathrooms for disabled access or pram & baby changing. They also have creative family activities (currently origami), a storybook nook, and an interactive Creative Learning Centre for kids with an installation that changes annually. In 2017 the installation is titled “Once Upon a Time in Art” and has a Cabinet of Curiosities type theme inside. There is paper and drawing materials to encourage children to draw – either a still life from what’s displayed or to draw on the room for inspiration. They can then hang their artwork inside one of the frames on the wall if they want.

If you’re going to an art gallery with a young child then go with the mindset that you’re there to help them have a positive experience (and stretch their legs); have reasonable expectations about their tolerances. You may find that they only last an hour (including bathroom and snack) and you’re more likely to get cursory glances at the artwork then lengthy appraisals.