It’s Not All Mary Poppins

No Idea Why…

…but this strikes me, the eternal optimist, whose glass is almost always half FULL, as very funny.

(And yes, you can actually get yourself one of these things here.)

February 19, 2006 Posted by | quirks and quirkiness, random and odd | 13 Comments

It’s Your Child, It’s My Life, part 2 (updated with picture)

“How was his day?” Laughing Mommy asks. I like this woman. She’s cheerful, upbeat, sensible. She loves her children, but doesn’t idolize them, nor has she made herself their servant.

A few weeks back we discussed a neighbourhood school whose parents, every year, line up from mid-afternoon the day before to register their children for kindergarten. Laughing Mommy’s little boy will be starting Jr. Kindergarten in the fall, and they’re considering which of the neighbourhood school to send him to. So, there’s this school five blocks away, and it’s supposed to be a good one; in fact, it’s so very good, that all the Earnest and Anal Mommies and Daddies, who want to make sure their wee ones are solidly on the Ivy League track when they’re three, line up OVERNIGHT to get first dibs on the spots. Let me explain that this is a public school. If you live in the cachment area, your child WILL get in. Guaranteed. If they have to hire another teacher, that’s what they do, but they don’t turn kids away.

But these aggressive, intense parents line up, nonetheless. Overnight – 18, 22, 26 hours. In FEBRUARY, people! February in Ottawa, it gets COLD overnight. All this just to make sure their precious baby gets into MORNING kindergarten, and, better yet, MORNING kindergarten with the RIGHT teacher, oh, and maybe in FRENCH IMMERSION. I have always thought these people were nuts, but my parents, tending to be an Earnest bunch all in all, don’t necessarily see it quite like that. “I wouldn’t do it,” they say, “but you can see why some people do.” Um, no. We’re talking KINDERGARTEN here, and JUNIOR KINDERGARTEN. It will not make a life-long different. It really won’t. (And I did, briefly, teach kindergarten, so this isn’t disrespect. Just facts.)

Laughing Mommy, though, said, “Those people are NUTS! Like it can make that much difference. As I was saying to HirsuteDad last night, ‘I really don’t think they have any axe-murderers on staff’.”

Well, exactly.

A happy, sensible momma. Relaxed. Grounded. So when I answer her by saying, among other things, that I’d had my final physiotherapist appointment that afternoon, and that an adult friend had sat with the kids during nap/quiet time for an hour and a half, I had no idea I was dropping a bomb.

That night I get a phone call. She wanted to let me know that she was concerned that I’d done that. She didn’t feel comfortable with anyone but me caring for the children.

I reminded her that this option is in the contract. She’d forgotten. I informed her that I’ve done this before. She was surprised. (I don’t always mention it to the parents when I’ve been out – it’s not something their child did, and often I don’t think of it during the buzz of hometime, which is more focussed on how Junior ate and slept and diapered, and whether she’s bitten anyone again, and how the potty training is going, and how good he’s getting at sharing, and all the new words she’s learning… That kind of stuff.) Still, her son has been with me close to three years. I’ve popped out during that time, and I must have told her at least a couple of times.

“Well, I’m okay with you leaving someone else for a short time.” Oh, phew. I was beginning to worry a bit. This sounds more like the sensible mom I know and love. “Like if your husband watches them while you take out the garbage.” Hello? Do YOU hire a sitter to take out the garbage if YOUR husband isn’t home? Oh, dear. Perhaps not as sensible and grounded as I’d thought. However, professionalism doesn’t allow me to snort at something a client says, and her feelings are real and sincere. It is not for me to mock her. (To her face, anyway. I ask you, Internet, do you hire a sitter when you’re alone and need to take out the garbage? Remembering that we are city folk, and it’s probably a 30-foot round trip.)

We resolve this issue with a compromise. She allows me my right to arrange suitable back-up when necessary; I agree that I will let her know in advance so that she has the option of keeping him home at that time. She’s happy with this. I’m all right with it, too. I’m surprised that it was an issue for this mother in particular, but we’ve come to an agreement that accommodates her needs and doesn’t discommode me.

Ten days later, my son is home during exams. There are only three children here, and they’re all napping. “I’m going to pop out and get myself a coffee,” I tell Adam, almost 17, and, what with having grown up living in a daycare, a boy with more baby experience than most first-time parents. “You mind keeping an ear open for the kids? I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” And out I go.

Mine is an isolating job. You know how much effort it can be to get out with one child. Imagine how much more constrained you’d be with five. My parents can all have one or two coffee breaks a day – coffee breaks where they can leave their office and stretch their legs, and get a bit of fresh air. I’m lucky – very lucky – to do this once a month. I don’t think I’ve ever done it twice in one month. (Without the kids, I mean. I take the kids to coffee shops all the time…) So here I have an opportunity to take my once-in-four-to-six weeks coffee break! Wahoo!!

Halfway to the coffee shop, I realize, “I’m out of the house, and I didn’t call Laughing Mom!” Damn! Thank God she works in a suburb way to the west. But now I’m all tense and nervous. Jumpy. “What if she calls while I’m out? What if one of her friends sees me?” This was supposed to be a little treat! Now it’s a subversive venture, fraught with peril. I then realize, “This alerting her to my every absence is a pain in the butt!”

This is why it’s in the contract. From time to time, I will have necessity, or simply, as in this case, opportunity, to be out of the house during daycare hours. I put it in the contract that I may arrange substitute for myself at my discretion so that it can be done easily. Yes, they hired me, and trust me to care for their child. They did not hire anyone else. But, I reply, they hired me and trust me. This could – should?? – reasonably include trusting my judgment as to appropriate back-up, trusting me not to endanger their child.

If I allow them input, then I will be stuck wrangling who is appropriate, and for how long, and how much notice do they need, and can Mary sneak out for a coffee during naptime… This would be running my business by committee, and you know, you just know, that in every bunch of parents, there’s going to be one neurotic, over-protective parent who would have me chained to their child, interacting, stimulating, soothing, educating, at all times. Even though I, the queen of benign neglect, believe that’s actively bad for a child. I’ve never much liked committees.

This is one of the many reasons I’m self-employed.

So now I’m in a bit of a bind. Do I go back to Laughing Mommy and renegotiate (or perhaps it’s only “clarify”) the terms of our agreement, or do I say, “Nuts to this!” and pop out for a coffee when I have opportunity?

If she were going to be with me for another year, I’d talk to her for sure. However, she’s only going to be with me for another three and a half months. So we’re talking, at most, three coffee breaks. I’m not sure it’s worth potentially upsetting her. Do we have the conversation, and risk upsetting her? (It’s only three months.) Do I say nothing and just go? (It’s only three months.) Do I pretend I thought our agreement only meant longer outings? (Because I’m not entirely sure about this. But no. The woman who thinks I should have back-up for a trip to the curb with the garbage probably hasn’t even considered a quick trip to the coffee shop – even with a sitter.) Course, if I go and I’m caught, that will definitely upset her.

These are the horns of my dilemma.

Related posts:
It’s Your Child, It’s My Life;
Holiday Hassles, Boundary Disputes.

February 18, 2006 Posted by | controversy, daycare, parents, power struggle, the dark side | 21 Comments

You Know You’ve Been in the Biz too long when…

…you’re frantically pounding out Boggle words (love that game) and argue when you’re told “gots” isn’t a word.

February 17, 2006 Posted by | random and odd | 10 Comments

Happy My Birthday – to the Woman who Deserves the Credit

February is birthday month in my family. When we were very young, my mother used to throw one birthday party for the three of us in the middle of the month, to which we could invite two friends each. Good strategy, mum!

Now that I, too, am a parent – of three, even – I look back on the young woman my mother was with a mixture of awe and astonishment.

Imagine, if you will. You are twenty-one years old, pregnant. You give birth in February. Then you do some mommying. Mommy, mommy, mommy. You are a good mommy, too. Mommy, mommy, mommy. You must do some wifing in there somewhere, though, because by May, you’re pregnant again! Woo-hoo! And you have baby number two the following February, eight days after your oldest’s first birthday. And now you do lots and lots of mommying. Double-duty mommying.

Mommymommy, mommymommy, wifemommymommy. Oops! How’d you let that slip in there? How’d you have the time? Too tired to argue, I’m thinking, and now it’s May, and you’re pregnant AGAIN!! And the next February, along comes baby number three, ten days before your oldest’s second birthday and 18 days before your second’s first birthday.

Four months before you turn twenty-five, you are the mother of THREE children, the oldest of whom is TWO!!!

You know, I’m thinking never mind the birthday card for ME. I’m thinking that in about the middle of February, my brother, sister and I should get our mother something. Like a medal. Or a certificate of gratitude that she didn’t lose/throttle/forget/maim one of us in the blur that must have been those early years.

So, for my birthday, Mum?


February 16, 2006 Posted by | commemoration, parents | 19 Comments

Daycare Pajama Party

Proving that I am, indeed, the caregiver you all dream of having, even if my rates are highish, my late fees exorbitant and strictly enforced, and my holidays generous… Okay, so maybe that all combines to “uppity nightmare” in your minds, I don’t know. This post, however, should redeem me a bit: proving that I’m pretty all right, I celebrated Valentine’s Day, the Most Romantic day of the year, by throwing a pajama party for the daycare!!

Yes, indeedy, on this night of all nights, I voluntarily surrounded myself with the same tots who fill my days with love, laughter, mayhem and snot, UNTIL EIGHT O’CLOCK IN THE EVENING! So that their parents could have a few hours quality couple time.

It wasn’t so bad, all in all, except that little Nigel, normally a pretty happy guy, decided, starting at 9:30 this morning, to morph into the screaming baby from hell. Oh. My.

He hated me all day. Hated, hated, hated me. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mary P, you b*tch.

Except when I was holding him. Holding was good. Mary was nice, daycare was nice, the other kids were nice, the sun was shining, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world when Mary held him. But when she put him down, the other children turned potential baby-killers, Mary had moved to the dark side, and life was not worth living any more.

When I picked him up, I was rewarded with silence. Blissful, blissful silence. Or I think I was. It was hard to tell, what with all the ringing in my ears.

It was good that he could take comfort when it was offered. And take comfort was what he did. Seems when he’s astride a woman’s hip and is feeling a little agitated, it brings him peace to clutch the surface nearest his pudgy little talon-tipped fingers and dig his claws in. And twist. I had to check, but my left nipple is still attached. It was a near thing, though.

So, while holding Nigel on one hip – down-filled vests offer soft and fluffy protection from nipple abuse – I cooked dinner (put frozen lasagna into the oven) and helped everyone into their jammies. Then I wrestled him into a high chair and held his head still while I popped in that first mouthful over his heart-felt protestations. “No! No! Don’t make me eat tha–gulp.” And then? Then the sun came out and the angels sang, and Nigel was happy once more as he scarfed down that meal in 3 minutes flat.

(And no, all the fussing was NOT because he was hungry. The boy had been eating – lots! – then refusing to eat, then eating – lots! – all day long. No, he was just playing with my head. They do that, you know.)

Here, Nigel does a victory dance, having successfully divested the chair of its seat cushion. The papers you see on the floor are his doing, also. But he was HAPPY, people, HAPPY, so we just let it go.

We made valentines for the mommies and daddies. We danced. We read stories. We took pictures of ourselves and looked at them in the camera. We made cinnamon buns.

We did all that in the 40 minutes Nigel was happy and both Mary’s arms were free. Then Nigel started to holler again. And then the mommies came – early! Yay for mommies who come early!

And the mommies gave me presents! Yay for mommies who give presents! Chocolates! Swiss chocolate! Belgian chocolate! Milk chocolate truffles and candied orange slices dipped in dark chocolate!

And now all the children are gone (yay!) and I’m going to bed. As soon as I eat some of this yummy chocolate.

February 15, 2006 Posted by | daycare, holidays, Nigel, quirks and quirkiness | 15 Comments

The Adventures of Nigel, first canto

George and Darcy are sitting on the piano bench, “reading” the music on the stand. George runs his finger along the staff, following along as they sing. The tune is a fairly high-pitched monotone, the rhythm very avant garde, the key signature variable, the song wends along for page after page and minute after minute…and the lyrics?

“…Baby Nigel’s mummy and daddy came back, oh, they came back, they came back and they taked baby Nigel home…And Baby Nigel was pooing at the market, and he got a present, he got a present, and then he had to go to the hospital because he brained himself with the present and it was some ABC puzzles…and they said at the hospital and Nigel’s mummy and daddy said to the nurse ‘Nigel brained himself right on his head with the ABC puzzle’…And the sun came out…”

February 14, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Bilingual Blove

“I can speak French!” declares George, who has hitherto displayed absolutely no bilingual propensity.

“You can!” declares Mary, ever supportive. “What can you say?”

George’s eyes flicker. “When my mummy teaches me, I will.”

“Can you say anything now?”

His eyes fall. His voice lowers. “Je t’aime.”

“Oh, George! What a nice thing to say. Je t’aime, aussi, George.”

“What was that? What did you say?” Arthur can’t bear to know there are words happening, and he’s on the outside.

I explain ‘Je t’aime’. Great approval all round.

“Je t’aime, George.”

“Je t’aime, Arthur.”

“Je t’aime, Darcy!”

“T’aime, Dah-see!”

“Je t’aime, Zach!”

The boys aimer all over. I love my job.

February 14, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Time for a Bath for these Babies…

“I’ve been using my red mittens a lot,” says Arthur. “You can tell because they’re getting darker.”

I look at the red mittens, exactly the same make and style as Darcy’s. Not too long ago, they were the same colour as Darcy’s too, but now they are, undeniably “darker”. Dark with grime, dingy with use, oddly crinkly as well.

“And those dried bits?” Arthur waves the blackened mittens under my nose. “That’s my old snot.”

You know, I’m thinking Arthur’s parents need to invest in a washing machine…

February 13, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments


I love this time of year! Go downtown, and the sidewalks, particularly in the area close to the canal are unusually crowded. People wander by with skates strung over ther shoulders, family groups, and sports teams in their matching jackets wander by. Lots of tourists, identifiable by the cameras, huddle over their maps and brochures in inconvenient spots. But we natives are indulgent: they’re discovering a lovely city that we have the privilege of living in!

Why the hubbub on the streets? Because it’s Winterlude. What do you do if you live in one of the coldest capitals in the world, buried under heaps of snow for months on end? You clear the snow off the canal, you make snow sculptures, you have an ice-carving competition, you create huge ice slides for the kids (check out the slide show and the video clip on that page) – in short, you make lemonade from all those lemons – you have a festival in the snow!

Ottawa makes a big deal of the Rideau Canal (pronounced Ree-doe, accent lightly on the first syllable): “The World’s Largest Skating Rink”, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (If you click that link, you’ll be taken on a “virtual tour” of the canal: you’ll see a sketch map of the canal with little skater icons along it. Click on each of the skater icons, and you’ll see a different bit of the canal. This is a ten-minute walk from my house, folks. I am so lucky!)

Every year, I make a point of going down to Confederation Park to see the ice sculptures. This weekend, the weather is perfect for Winterlude: -7 and gloriously sunny during the days; – 15 or so at night. Perfect!

Last weekend, the weekend of the judging of the sculptures, wasn’t so good. Several degrees above freezing, the poor artists were in a race not only against the clock (the competition has a time limit), but against the forces of nature.

I think the forces of nature won…This sad specimen is the First Prize Winner in the Single Block Competition, a mere 18 hours after it was carved… You have to feel for the artists, don’t you? (The single block entries are all carved from a block of ice that would fit neatly on top of the average coffee table.)

Just to show you what’s possible, this is an entry from a previous year’s Single Block Competition:Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Here are a couple from this year. The human figure is not finished yet: you can see the shapes of the blocks from which it’s being carved. The boat is finished. See how dull it is, the lines of the blocks obvious, and the ice milky white? That’s because it was too warm.
The teams worked like banshees on these pieces, trying to complete them in the time allowed by the competition, and before they melted away. Lyrical, ethereal sculpting was precluded by the mild temperatures. Anything that survived had a leaden, earth-bound quality to it. Too Bad!

Again, just to give you an idea of what’s possible when the weather co-operates, are entries from previous competitions: astonishing what they do, isn’t it?

And my absolute favourite:


February 12, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

When Silence Isn’t Golden

“Hey, everybody! Dinnertime!”

Silence, except for the thunder of racing feet.

“Cover your mouth when you cough, please.”


“In this house, we do not say ‘Shut Up’.”


“Do not run inside! Walk in the house, please.”


“What a nice day it is out there!”


“Girls! Will you please stop shouting?”


“It’s time to do the dishes.”


“Hello! Welcome home!”


A fundamental of good manners, which can be started as soon as the child can lisp out “mama” and “dada” and “carcar”, is acknowledgement. A wise older woman once advised me to insist that when I’d spoken to my child, they acknowledge me. Even if they were silently complying with whatever I’d said, the verbal acknowledgement, she said, is simple good manners.

My two children were four and 15 months at the time. I sat down and explained that from now on, when mummy said something to them, they were to say, “yes, mummy”. The fifteen-month-old wasn’t really talking yet, but that didn’t stop me. He understood what I was saying. In time he could follow his big sister’s example.

Of course, it should be reciprocal. Respect and good manners are best taught by example, after all. When they spoke to me, I needed to acknowledge them, too. Never fear: One does not need to be held hostage to an endlessly verbose three-year-old! A simple “I hear what you’re saying, but right now mummy’s busy. I won’t be answering any more questions now,” followed by completely ignoring the child not only falls within good parenting manners, but is also an essential teaching tool.

Acknowledgement: “Okay.” “Yes, momma.” It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s just good manners.

February 11, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments