It’s Not All Mary Poppins

In which Mary is Most Pleasantly Surprised

It’s birthday season here at Mary’s. Jazz first, three weeks ago; she’s now four. Then Poppy, a newly-minted 3-year-old. Grace turned four last week, and, after a few weeks’ lag, Daniel will turn three.

Jazz brought her birthday fixing with her. Cupcakes! Icing — in a separate container, so the kids could ice their own, what a cute idea! Pretty little cupcake toppers, little wee princesses on toothpicks.

And, and, and … she brought PRINCESS DRESSES! All shiny and ruffly and sequinned and pretty, pretty, princess.

Two of them.

TWO.

Let’s see. We have Jazz, Grace, and Poppy. Three little girls, all very interested in ALL THINGS PRINCESS. Thank goodness Daniel was not here that day, or there’d have been a fourth contender for two dresses. Josh and Rosie don’t care yet. (Another heartfelt ‘thank goodness’.)

Now, at the point it would be easy to mock dad. What were you thinking, to allow this? You can’t see the problems this would create? Had he allowed the dresses to make their way to my house merely because he lacked the parental balls to say “no”, I would have been annoyed. But this dad? He’s quite skilled. He can say no, and there will be no tantrum. Jazz being Jazz, there might be flouncing and fussing, but no tantrum, not with dad.

Parents who can’t say a firm, unapologetic ‘no’, and make it stick … well, they’re one of the more aggravating realities of life as a daycare provider. Parents who allow kids to bring things because they ‘can’t’ make the child not bring a thing? It happens a lot, and though I find it annoying (because seriously, your life would be SO MUCH EASIER if you just got yourself a pair) it doesn’t cause me any practical grief. Child comes with ENTIRELY INAPPROPRIATE FOR DAYCARE item — a jackknife, once, if you can imagine! Just a little one, but, people? A KNIFE? To DAYCARE??? Are you insane? And when she stabs someone in the eyeball with it, your excuse will be that you ‘couldn’t’ get her to give it to you? “Couldn’t”? As if it’s optional? It’s a weapon, woman. You are sending an armed child to daycare. You don’t want her to have a knife? You take.it.away.from.her. Yes, she’ll yell and fuss. The kid she stabs will yell louder — and with better reason.

Honest to pete. Boggles the mind.

Another time, it was a teeny-tiny china tea set. “This was my grandmother’s; it means a lot to me; I didn’t want him to bring it, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer; please see it doesn’t get lost or broken.” He ‘wouldn’t take no for an answer’? Oh, honestly. From weapons to precious family heirlooms.

It doesn’t cause me any practical grief, because the parent hasn’t hit the sidewalk before that item is in my hand, and the child being informed, as I put it away out of reach, that they can have it back at the end of the day. No screaming, no tears. It’s gone for the day, end of story. And even if there were screaming or tears, that wouldn’t change the fate of that coveted item, not for a nano-second. (Which, if you can logic it out that far, hapless parent, is precisely why there are rarely screaming or tears at Mary’s: they don’t work. If you don’t reward a behaviour, it goes away. It’s not so complicated.)

Sigh.

However. That’s them. This parent is not ineffectual or hapless. He is not off-loading his incompetence on me. In fact, he’s quite respectful of my authority and my capabilities. He explains carefully to Jazz that although she’s brought them here, it will be up to me whether they get played with here.

I know, some of you are wryly shaking your heads and accusing him off off-loading his problem. Sure he’s telling his daughter I have the final say … how does that prove that he has any say at all?

Here’s another story in dad’s favour: Jazz arrived with a ring not long ago. Just a bubblegum ring, but it was Precious. Her Favourite. “Do you want me to take this with me,” he asked, “so you will not lose it?” (Subtext: like the identical bubblegum ring you brought and lost last week?)

Jazz declared that she would keep it, and she would NOT lose it. Uh-huh. Wise daddy followed up, “Okay. That’s your choice. But here’s the deal, Jazz: if you do lose it, there will be no tears, because you knew the consequences. Understand? If you lose it, no crying. You may be sad to lose it, but that is the risk you’re taking. You’ll have to deal with it quietly and calmly.” He’s not saying this in a mean or aggressive voice. He is simply stating fact. If this, then that. You sure about this?

“I will not lose it, Daddy!” Jazz was supremely confident, cheerfully reassured her poor, worried daddy. In other words, she totally didn’t get it … but you know what? When she lost the ring — we knew she would — she did get it. His arrival reminded her of her Terrible Loss, and she raced to him with tears a-streaming. Daddy followed through on the morning’s conversation, calmly reminded her of her choice … The tears did not last long, because Dad was calm and matter-of-fact. Though he was supportive of her feelings, acknowledging her genuine disappointment, he was not supportive of the self-pity and melodrama. All this done is a quiet, soft voice, and very gentle movements, soft touches. It was masterful, frankly.

So, no. I don’t think this particular parent is wussing out and giving me his parental slack to pick up. Which is not to say those damned dresses don’t cause problems. Within five minutes of his departure, there has been one squabble and a fit of tears. It’s drop-off time, more kids and parents are arriving. I don’t have time to deal with this at the moment. The dresses, in their bag, are hung on a hook.

“We’re going to the park in a few minutes. We’ll sort out the princess dresses at lunch-time.” This also buys me some time to strategize, but there is no magical way out of this. Someone is going to have to — brace yourself here — one of those princess-obsessed, willful toddler/pre-schoolers is going to have to COMPROMISE.

Yeah. I know.

Upon our return, they are presented with Jazz’s princess dresses and another flouncy sort of dress from my dress-up box. Three dresses, three girls! Who wants to wear the one from Mary’s dress-up basket?

Yeah. Like that. NO ONE. Mary’s dress was most excessively coveted yesterday, before the advent of Jazz’s shiny new dresses, but now? Now it is Old News. No one wants that dress.

What to do?

I give them an opportunity to choose to wear Mary’s Boring Dress. Nope. Predictable, but it never hurts to give them the opportunity to surprise you. (As I’ve said before.)

Next stage? I pull Jazz aside.

Now, I know some people have the attitude on birthdays that the Birthday Girl gets whatever her little heart desires. It’s Her Big Day, so everyone defers to her wants.

I don’t.

Now, there are birthday treats, of course. The birthday child generally gets their favourite meal for dinner, and there is dessert — cake’n’ice cream, OF COURSE!! There are also balloons and streamers in the birthday child’s choice of (two) colours. There are lots of ways in which the birthday child is made to feel special.

But does the birthday girl get to run roughshod over her friends, because it’s HER DAY?!??

No, she does not. In fact, rather the opposite. When my children were having their birthdays, they were reminded that, as the host, it was up to them to make sure their guests were having a good time. So, if we were one balloon short … guess who was expected to fork over their balloon?

You got it.

[An aside: Is it any wonder that girls brought up with this mindset turn into Bridezilla on that other "Big Day"? Those people sitting in the church are not your 'audience' sunshine, they are your 'guests'. Your job is not to flaunt your specialness in front of them and demand their servitude to your preciousness; your job is to see that they enjoy themselves and thank them for being there.]

I pull Jazz aside. “You know what I think? I think that YOU are the birthday girl. You have those pretty princess dresses at home, all the time. So YOU can wear them any time you like. But Grace and Poppy? They can only wear the dresses today. So I think it would be very nice if you would let your friends wear your special dresses today.”

And I wait. Because this, what I am asking, is hard, and I know it. I wait with a hopeful, encouraging, warm smile on my face. “What do you think, sweetie?”

Now, I am absolutely prepared, if she refuses, to lay down the law. “I know it’s hard, my love, but that’s what we’re going to do.” With recourse to the quiet stair and various other consequences if her objections are too boisterously anti-social. But I’m giving her the opportunity to surprise me! (I think I’ve said this once or twice already, huh?)

I wait, doing my damndest to radiate good will, and confidence in her generosity and …

Jazz, my prone-to-petulance, my little prima donna … totally goes for it. Her eyes widen, and with a dawning smile, she nods. “Okay!”

I am surprised. The congratulatory hug she gets is tinged with glee. I am SO PROUD of her!

And, because she made this choice graciously and without any hesitation whatsoever, she is rewarded. A trip to Mary’s bedroom, where she gets to choose Special Princess Accessories. Being four years old (she’s FOUR now! FOUR!) she chooses a black made-in-India shawl with long fringes at the end, covered with a swirling whorl of red sequins. Because when you are four, BLING is good. And for her skinny little four-year-old arm? A very sparkly bracelet.

a3

She gets these things not because she is the Birthday Girl. She gets these things because she was Kind, Considerate, Unselfish, and Gracious.

She is growing up.

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April 30, 2013 - Posted by | Developmental stuff, Jazz, manners, socializing

6 Comments »

  1. WOW. Good for Jazz! I have a “no toys from home” policy because inevitably, the toys are Something Precious that the child in question doesn’t want to share… or something breakable… or something not safe for babies & pets… one too many sob-fests at the door (from one kid in particular) prompting incredibly ineffectual parenting in response to the meltdown and my tolerance went away.

    I’m *very* impressed with Jazz’s dad, though. So many parents either don’t try that approach at all, or if they do, they don’t follow through. Good for him.

    Comment by Hannah | April 30, 2013 | Reply

  2. Well done Jazz and well done to her Dad!!

    We have the same policy about play dates at our house. When guests come to visit, they get the first turn at your toys, on the play equipment, first pick of what game to play etc (except if the guest is being particularly bossy) because, they are your guest and your stuff is here every day for you to play with.

    I do allow my six year old to choose to put in his room his favourite/newest one or two toys before the guest arrives though, so that they don’t get broken or lost.

    Comment by Tammy | May 1, 2013 | Reply

  3. Congratulations to Jazz, first on her birthday but moreover for her kindness and generosity towards her friends. Dad sounds like he’s got his head on straight too and isn’t at too much risk of raising a “Bridezilla”. :D

    You too though Mary, should be congratulated on your efforts to assist in the nurturing of future compassionate, empathetic and socially responsible adults.

    And a jacknife? A fine china tea set? Wow, just wow.

    Comment by Sheri | May 3, 2013 | Reply

  4. This honestly made me a little teary. SO PROUD! Glad she did the right thing. What a good friend :)

    Comment by Brooke | May 6, 2013 | Reply

  5. WELL DONE. I think you’re totally right about the Bridezilla thing!

    Comment by IfByYes | May 6, 2013 | Reply

  6. “Kind, Considerate, Unselfish, and Gracious.” Exactly like what we should be teaching girls that real princesses are! Love it so much.

    Comment by Rebecca West | May 7, 2013 | Reply


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