It’s Not All Mary Poppins

A Rather Shitty Situation

The sweet little birdies nesting in our porch? The birdies whose cheeping greets the dawn, whose wee fluffy babies’ pink-puffy-heart cheeping fills the early morning air? The mommy and daddy birds whose industrious nurturing entertains and educates the tots on a daily basis? Those birds?

They have developed diarrhoea. Yes. Birdie trots. Shit on wings.

I step out my front door first thing in the morning, and the shittage – it’s astonishing. The chair (metal, thank God) is spattered with white and black. The rail behind said chair is encrusted with a solid layer, and the porch deck? The porch deck has been strafed. White splats, each with its lumpen black nucleus, dot the entire porch.

Something has to be done.

Back into the house, haul out a rarely-used bucket. While it fills with steaming hot soapy water, dig out the rubber gloves and cleaning rags. Which will be turfed immediately after use. This is no time for environmentally friendly reusing, nuh-uh, but paper towels sure won’t be up to this job.

Pick up the bucket and swing it out of the sink, only to be reminded why this particular vessel has been unused for so long. It’d be that inch-wide hole in the bottom. Yes. The tots scamper into the kitchen at my cry of dismay.

“Why is your dress all wet, Mary?”

Quick empty foundering bucket into the sink. Mop floor. Go upstairs. Change. Return to kitchen with new, hole-free bucket (aka the plastic garbage bin from the bathroom).

Out we all go to the porch, tots, bucket, rags, rubber gloves, and cordless phone. “I’m going to clean this bird poop up, guys. You play on that side, all right?” (This is a treat. My neighbours have to put up with a lot without surrendering their territory to the marauding tots, so I’ve taught the children that they’re never to go onto the other side. No problem keeping them there, then – forbidden fruit, and all that.)

Don the rubber gloves (which will also be turfed immediately after this vile task is over), commence to scrub. As my avian friends chirrup happily overhead. While I’m scrubbing, Darcy arrives in his dad’s bike trailer.

“Hey, Darcy!” George’s clear, high voice carries effortlessly across the street. “Hey, Darcy! Wanna come watch Mary clean up the bird poop?”

Darcy doesn’t hear over dad’s snort. “WHAT?”

“WANNA COME WATCH MARY CLEAN UP THE BIRD POOP?”

This he hears. So do a couple of neighbours. Heads pop around porch railings. Ho, ho, ho. This is even better than the burning taco incident.

“Bird poop??? OH, YEAH!!!”

Do I know how to entertain the tots, or what?

A few minutes later, the task is complete. I throw now filthy water into the garden, toss rags and gloves into the bucket, herd the tots into the house, and reach for the cordless phone.

Which has a huge dollop of bird shit right on the earpiece.

Those sweet wee puffs of fluff just better get some feathers and flight lessons in pretty damned quick, because my clock, she’s ticking… Lucky for them that I am fundamentally incapable of harming a baby of any description. So far.

June 19, 2006 Posted by | Darcy, eeewww, George | 12 Comments

Journeying out of the Whinge Fringe

“Mooooommmmy! I can’t get my shooooooes onnnn! Moooooommmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee???
Daaaadeeeee! Mommy won’t heeeelp meeeeeee….”

Whining. Bane of parents everywhere.

Some kids, happy little sunshines that they are, never whine. Others seem to have “whine” as their default setting, launching into a prolongued bout at the smallest provocation. Most kids fall between, happy sorts for the most part, with only occasional forays into the whinge fringe.

No matter how often it happens, it’s annoying. They persist, of course, because it works. Eventually parents crack under the pressure, the Chinese water torture drip, drip, drip of their child’s voice, curling and curdling through the air, through their ears, boring into their frazzled brains. “Oh, all RIGHT!” we snap. “All RIGHT. Just stop that whining!”

We’ve all done it, and we all know it’s a bad idea. Problem is, how do you deal with this? (Even that old parental standby, duct tape, won’t work for this, because any whiner worth their salt can manage it with their mouth shut.*) That child does need help with the shoes, after all, so in the end, you’re rewarding the whine, right?

What to do?

A two-pronged approach is most effective. There’s the active and the passive approaches, both of which are used at different times.

The passive approach: ignore it. I know, I know, it’s like ignoring the whine of a mosquito as you try to fall asleep, like ignoring the fuzz of a radio tuned just slightly off the station. It’s hard to tune out. However, ignoring it is a valid and, in time, effective tactic.

But to ignore it, you have to truly ignore it.

One of my former clients, little Colin, was a default whiner. Everything that came out of that boy’s mouth was a high and grating nasal whinge, the kind to set your teeth right on edge. His well-meaning dad would respond to everything Colin whined, in a cheerful, polite, and upbeat voice. Dad was modelling great non-whine behaviour, but he was not, as he thought he was, “ignoring” the whining. He was responding as if his son wasn’t whining; he was not ignoring it. Ignoring means to pretend you can’t hear it. At all.

So that’s the passive approach.

The active approach is to teach them. I don’t know how a child discovers the whine, but just because they do it doesn’t mean they know what it’s called. They may not understand when they are doing it. They need to be taught.

So first: Identify the whine. This stage takes 1 – 3 days, usually.

“Daaaadeeee? My truck is stuuuuuck.”

“That was a whine, son. When you said ‘daaaaadeeee’, you were whining. Now I’m going to say it in a happy voice: [insert calm and cheerful rendition of child’s exact words]. I like the happy voice much better. I don’t like to listen to that icky whiney voice.”

A little drama works well here. When you whine, put on the whiney face, the whiney body, the whiney voice. When you use your happy voice, you sit up straighter, you smile a huge warm smile, you are happy!! Perky, even! Which often makes the kid laugh – a good thing!

Spend a few days labelling the whine whenever it occurs. Repeat the whine, just as they said it, so they can hear it. Label that as a “whiney voice”. Then repeat the same phrase in upbeat tones. Label that a “happy voice” (or a “calm voice”, or something else, just be consistent in the term you use).

All you’re doing yet is identifying the phenomena and giving them the vocabulary. When you think your child understands the concept, move on to stage two.

Step Two: Label the whine and have them repeat the phrase in happy voice.

“Mooommmeeee. I can’t find my booooook.”

“That was a whiney voice, sweetie. Say it in your happy voice, please.” If they look at you blankly, repeat the phrase in a happy voice, and ask them to repeat it like that. They don’t have to nail it the first time, but if they make an effort to say it without the whine, that will do.

This stage will probably last a week or so, as the child gains in the ability to state his/her problem calmly, without the whine, and, increasingly, without your prior modelling. When the child can usually say it without whining, and without your modelling, go on to stage three.

Let me clarify: A child is entitled to their feelings! I am not saying they are not allowed to be sad or angry. Of course they can! They are entitled to their feeling – but they can (and should be expected to) moderate its expression. They can be upset without whining. They can be angry without hitting. They can be frustrated without throwing things. If the whine is caused by an emotion, get them to state the emotion. “Nooooo, it’s miiiiiine!” can be a firm, “No. That’s mine!” If they are angry, they can say it without the whine. “I don’t LIKE that!”

[An aside: the “use your happy voice” instruction cannot be used on a child in the midst of a tantrum. To demand that a child in the storm of tantrum rage speak in happy tones is simply too much to ask. Tantrums require a different approach, which I’ve covered here, here, and here.]

Step Three: Refuse to hear the whine.

“He hiiiit meeeee!” (Oh, this is a tough one! I picked it on purpose!! Don’t you just want to leap right in and deal with the aggression? If it’s an either-or, then, yes, deal with the aggression and not the whining. But usually it’s not either-or. Usually you can do both. (Thinking analytically while under pressure – a huge parental skill.))

“I’m sorry, did you say something? All I heard was a weenyteeny whiney noise!” I often say this with the hint of a smile. They know I’m teasing, but they also know I mean it. If that’s too subtle, I’ll follow up with “Maybe if you said it again in a calm voice, I might hear it.”

Remember, by this time the retraining has been going on for about two weeks. They know what you mean. And in this particular instance, the child is well motivated to get you to HEAR him – he wants justice!

By the end of three weeks or so, the incidence of whining should be greatly reduced. For some children, it may be entirely gone. For others, when it does occur, you should be able to get a them to use their calm voice with a simple, calm reminder:

“Pardon? Did you say something?” (and wait for the calm repeat)
“Was that a whine I just heard?”
“Happy voice, please.”

When this is well-established, and the child is fully capable of reframing his/her words in calm tones, I’ll even tease a bit. “Oh! There’s that mosquito again! I thought maybe it was Suzie talking, but no, Suzie doesn’t make that teeny mosquito voice any more. It must be a mosquito. Where is it? Where is that mosquito? I need to squash it!”

By which time the kid is usually dancing around my feet laughing. “No! It was ME! I wanted…” and it comes out happy. (You don’t tease before they understand the vocabulary and expectations, though, because that would just confuse and humiliate them. It has to be a shared joke.)

There you go. A month to whine-free living. It’s yours!


*I don’t really need to explain that I’m kidding here, do I?

Just in case: duct tape is NOT an appropriate parenting tool. Please do not duct tape your children. Ever. No matter what the provocation. Thank you.

**Like the shirt? The picture is a link to the site where I found it.

June 18, 2006 Posted by | behavioural stuff, eeewww, parenting, power struggle, socializing | 17 Comments

Fart Boy

I’m learning my way around my little Quirky Boy, Sam. Sam, who is nine, comes for a couple of hours a day, after school. Those who have cause to know about this stuff suspect Sam has Asperger’s. He has no official diagnosis, however, and for the most part, he’s doing just fine without one! Whatever his diagnosis, he is one quirky kid.

Sam has a driving need to sort, order, and categorize. He likes to know the parameters. Every interaction is cause for a barrage of questions. Sam is a nice boy, well-meaning and smart as can be, but he can be intense. A couple of hours a day in question-boy’s presence give me an intense respect for his parents and teachers.

A couple of weeks ago, while sitting at the table eating his snack, Sam emitted a sharp and tidy little fart. “BRAP.” For which he immediately apologized, quite obviously embarrassed. I assured him that it was all right. Everyone farts now and then. Not to worry.

Since that day, Sam has farted a minimum of eight or ten times every single afternoon. I had thus far opted to ignore it – this is, after all, the socially approved way of dealing with someone else’s unsolicited and uncontrolled bodily outbursts. (With one obvious exception, I know. He’s much too young for that. Minds out of the gutter, please.)

Today I was sitting beside him on the bench. The tots are all having a long nap after their busy morning, and Sam is doing his homework as I type. He shifts onto one cheek, strains a little, and fires a tight fart right at me. All right. I’ve about had enough of this.

“Sam.”

He looks up, expectant. He knows what the stimulus was; he’s curious as to the response.

“Ever since I said that you didn’t need to apologize for farting, you have farted ten times a day. Now, you never did that before, so I know you don’t have to do it now. This is getting silly.”

“Okay.”

Two minutes later, another fart. A little more discreet, and on the side away from me.

“Sam.”

“I didn’t do it towards you this time.” He’s not defiant, just informing me.

“That’s right, you didn’t. I still think you don’t need to do all this farting, though.”

“How about if I go into another room? I could go into the kitchen.” Again, not defiant, just sorting out the parameters.

“Good idea. Except I want you to go out on the front porch.”

Two minutes later, Sam is standing on the porch.

Two minutes after that, he toots on the bench again. What has this boy been eating?

“Sam. Outside. I mean it.” This is defiance, and I am a little stern.

“I think that’s a little silly, you know.” Very polite. He’s telling me what he thinks, but he also completely understands he chose to defy a direct instruction. I am unmoved and unmoving.

“I agree. It is a little silly. So is all this farting. Next time, out you go.”

(Inside, you understand, I am finding this rather entertaining. I have learned that I dare not show the smallest glimmer of a grin, though, or Sam will not understand that I am serious. It could be that he takes advantage of my sense of humour; it could be that stern directives given with a smile mix the message and confuse the boy. Whatever the cause, I will.not.smile. Even though all this serious discussion of fart-rules is kind of funny.)

Heavy sigh. “All right.”

It’s been ten minutes, and there’s been neither fart nor quick trip to the porch. Are we all sorted yet? We’ll just have to see…

June 16, 2006 Posted by | power struggle, quirks and quirkiness, socializing | 10 Comments

Like Father, Like Daughter (Except I thought the Daughter was the Two-Year-Old)

My parents are arriving at the end of the day.

TallDarkDad parks his station wagon on my side of the street – which, I might add, he shouldn’t do. There is no parking on my side. Dad in his I Have-Money-to-Burn-on-Gas SUV pulls up on the other side. Quiet Mom arrives with her stroller.

I chat with Quiet Mom while TallDarkDad and SUV Dad load their offspring into their cars. I notice that a neighbour is stopped in the street, unable to pass between illegally parked TallDarkDad and the door of Honkin’Big SUV, which is opened on the street side. Now, by rights Illegally Parked Dad should move, but as he’s on the sidewalk side of the car, my neighbour would have to wait till he finished with the carseat. SUV dad, meantime, will only have to shut his side door for a sec. I call across to SUV dad, indicating the waiting car. He nods, the neighbour releases brake – and he goes back to putting his child into the car! Neighbour brakes, hardish.

I am a little astonished by the rudeness. All that was required was for him to swing the door shut for the .62 seconds required for her to pass. “That’s my neighbour, you know!” I call. With a smile, but also with just a teeny bit of an edge in my voice.

He looks up and shrugs. “I was here first.”

Gee. Toddler logic in an “adult” mind. He’ll go far. Any way I can put a 6’3″ man in a time out? He has SO earned it.

June 15, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Sweet Relief

The bathroom doorknob is slimy. The inside bathroom doorknob is slimy. This is not good. This is so very not good. I stare at my hand in dismay. The stuff is translucent. If it has a colour at all, it’s whitish. (NO, it’s not that. Don’t be ridiculous. They’re none of them old enough.)

Who was in the bathroom last? I see no drips on the floor, no smears on the sink, toilet, or tub. More hand-staring. I rub thumb and forefinger together. It’s slick, it’s not sticky. No idea.

Now, I deal with slime of any number of descriptions every day in my job, and I am not squeamish. However, snot is snot is snot. Pee is pee. Barf is barf. Even liquid poop is just that. When you know what it is, you can deal with reality, no matter how redolent. And, of course, I never touch it. Not without a cloth, or gloves, betwixt me and it. Mystery slime, when you weren’t expecting it, all over the bare skin of your hand, is quite different. Even though it’s almost certain to be one of the above, it’s different.

Move my hand gingerly up to my face. I want to smell it, but God help me if it accidentally touches my lip. It smells… it smells…like not much, really. I bring it gingerly a little closer. It smells…nice. It smells nice! It smells like…

Soap.

Liquid soap from the pump dispenser. I think I’ll just go sit down now.

June 14, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 14 Comments

The Things I Hear…

George, Darcy, and Arthur walk by with bulging t-shirts, various stuffed toys stuffed up their fronts.

George: My baby’s going to pop on on Thursday!
Darcy: Mine will pop out today!
Arthur: Mine, too.
George: But first I have to go to the hospital, so they can get it out.
Arthur: Mine, too.
Darcy: My baby will pop out at home.
George: You can’t have a baby at your house! Only at the hospital!
Darcy: Yes, you can. My Auntie Katie’s baby came out at home. Inna bafroom.
George: Was the doctor in the bathroom, too?
Darcy: No, just my Uncle Frank.

!!!

June 13, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

A Trip to the Museum, and Some Socio-Cultural Non-Education

Last Wednesday, the children went to the Museum of Nature with Haley. We all headed down there on the bus together, then I departed for Errands to Run. (Errands! Without toddlers in tow! How exciting!! The bank, the post office, the hardware store await! Woo-hoo! And then a quiet coffee. Imagine the bliss.)

By all accounts, they had a great time. As is often the case with the tots, the parts most entertaining for the adult in charge were not the educational focal points of the trip.

The children had enjoyed their trip – and they were given BUTTONS!! With this engineer dino guy on them!!! They had left the museum, and crossed the street when Darcy announced his need to pee. What else can they do? Back they go. Back into the museum, up the steps, into the bathroom. Everyone into the large wheelchair-accessible stall. Darcy does his bit, but, now that we’re in here, eveyone may as well have a turn, or you know what’ll happen, don’t you? They’ll all be across the street and the next one will have to PEE, NOW!! As George pees, Zach wonders what that thing on the wall is.

“That’s a thing for grown-up women,” Haley explains, factually if uninformatively.

“Yadies?” – Zach. “Just for grown-ups?” – Darcy.

“Yes. Just for grown-up ladies.”

Arthur, of course, wants to know how it works.

“Well, you put your money in here, and turn this knob.” More non-information disguised as a straight answer. It makes a mother proud, truly it does. You realize this is not squeamishness on either of our parts, only the belief that this stuff should generally come from the parents when possible. Also a disinclination to start running sex ed. classes for toddlers in the museum toilets. We have a bus to catch.

Besides, Arthur is perfectly satisfied with this answer. Turning a knob is more than adequate compensation for such coinage as is required. He has no trouble with this. Who wouldn’t pay to turn a knob?

Except…”It’s only just for ladies?” Arthur’s voice is tinged with a mixture of incredulity and disapproval. Why are the men are being ripped off? Completely unjust discrimination. (I know more than a few women who might agree with him on this, as it happens.) But that’s okay. Next trip to a public washroom, the daddies can explain all about the condom-dispensers! See how helpful outings are for the social education of one’s children?? My only regret is I’m unlikely to be there when it happens.

George, meantime, is facing the bowl, his back to the focus of interest. “What’s only for grown-up ladies?” He turns to look – and a glistening arc turns with him.

“ACK! George! Don’t turn around! Get that pee in the toilet.” Haley’s agitated directions bounce off the tiled walls. Further production lands in the bowl. Phew.

Mission accomplished, the troop out. Past the security guard stationed at the entrance to the washroom, a security guard who meets Haley’s eye with an amused grin, a security guard who has quite obviously, heard every word.

Tots are such fun!

June 12, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 18 Comments

We Aim to Please

The umbrella stroller has been sitting open on the front porch for the past couple of days, instead of being folded up as usual. Predictably, Elegant Cat discovered it, and now it’s a kitty lounge chair.

“You wanted something?”

June 10, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Morning, Already?

Normally I’m a morning person. You may have noticed the time stamps on my posts are generally early. It’s when I do my best thinking.

But some mornings? Some, I’m just not quite there. This morning I get up, pull on a skirt and shirt. Button the shirt, starting, as is my habit, in the middle. (Women readers of a certain upper voluptuity will likely recognize this manoeuvre: you start at the breasts so the rest of the shirt falls properly.) Then down to the bottom, then the button or two above the middle where I started. It may seem unnecessarily complicated to you, but I’ve done it this way for about three decades (like, since I got breasts), and it works just fine.

Until today.

“Hey, mum,” says Emma from across the breakfast table, as Arthur, first child to arrive, plays at our feet. “You’re flashing the planet.”

I look down. Seems, in my atypical morning muddle-headedness, I got distracted partway through the proceedings. (Distraction during the rest of the day, well, given that I work with a half-dozen toddlers, could it be otherwise?) I’m buttoned from the middle down, but not from there up, resulting in a generous display of flesh and an indiscreet, though not unappealing, sweep of rose and chocolate lace.

Which would account for Arthur’s dad’s odd behaviour at the door this morning…

June 9, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Mr. Liberality

The children surround the table, each with a lump of yellow playdough.

“I’may-en pagutti, I’may-en pagutti.” Arthur has the garlic press. Multiple strands of yellow playdough ‘spaghetti’ appear as he squeezes.

“I’may-en pagutti, I’may-en pagutti.”

George looks at his spaghetti, comments positively. The others join in with talk about their creations.

“I’may-en pagutti, I’may-en pagutti.”

Zach pokes the spaghetti with his finger. He giggles; Arthur grins.

“I’may-en pagutti, I’may-en pagutti.”

Darcy looks up from his playdough, a steadily increasing pile of tiny yellow playdough nubbins under his plastic knife. “Arthur, you only need to say that once. I heard you.”

“Yes, but I’m tellin’ Mary.”

“And she heard you, too.”

“And I’m tellin’ Katie, and I’m tellin’ Zach, and I’m tellin’…”

Oooooh! No need to share, we get one sentence apiece. He’s not repeating himself, merely making sure everyone gets their fair share.

Such a generous boy.

June 8, 2006 Posted by | Arthur | 4 Comments