It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Houston, we have babble

“Three little And my Uncle David monkeys ABCD jumping on two little ESG monkeys lives at Towonto swinging the bed one HIJSAY fell in a tree, in a house in Towonto along off and bumped ALLAMANAcame a and Auntie Ella lives crocodile as his head PEEas in Montreal and she quiet as can be and mama the talks French with everybody but first monkey said YOU can’t Auntie Ella says English at me catch called the doctor ME…. and the doctor said SNAP!!!”

No, I haven’t lost my mind (yet). I haven’t been drinking (too early). And never at work, anyway (for real). No illicit substances, either (no comment).

“That’s a couple of really special, special … Um, yum, that’s my … that’s yours, and this one is mine and that is ours … I have some hot chocolate and … ”

What you’re hearing are snippets from my day. That first paragraph is a re-creation, as near as I can manage it, of the babble that floated back to me as we walked down the street, two in the stroller and three outriggers.

“Do you want to be a princess? … And me, too! … I’m telling she, do you need this?”

They’re a louder group than they were a year ago. Assuming no screamers in the junior bunch, a group of two-year-olds can out-vocalize a group of one-year-olds hands down. There is little to compare with the babble potential of four two-year-olds.

Unless it’s the babble potential for four three-year-olds.

It’s going to be a loud (and entertaining) year.

November 14, 2007 Posted by | Developmental stuff, outings, the things they say! | Leave a comment

Risks and Risk-taking

Emily is done her lunch. I remove the tray to her highchair, and lift her. The entire chair comes up with her.

“Oops! Didn’t see the belt under your little fat tummy!”

Which tells you that I don’t always strap the children in, doesn’t it?

Well, not with Emily I don’t. Emily, who just sits and methodically munches through her meal, then says “DOWN!” and waits to be released. Now, Timmy? He gets strapped down every time. Every time. Otherwise, he’d be tap-dancing on the dining table in seconds.

Some risks are not worth taking, ever, of course. Children in my care are always put in CSA-approved safety seats, properly tethered to the floor of the vehicle. Even a gentle fender-bender can be disastrous to the child not properly restrained. Not an appropriate risk.

But, some days our societally-approved caution reminds me of a game you learn in drama class, “Mountain From Molehill”. Game in which someone starts with a mundane problem – “Oh no! I stubbed my toe!” Players take turns in compounding the gravity of the situation: “And if I stubbed my toe, I might have to limp.” And if this, then that, each one worse than the one before.

The limp makes you walk more slowly, and you miss your bus, which makes you late for an important interview, which means you don’t get the job, which means you have no money, which puts you out on the street, which means you have no food, which means you starve. Almost every scenario ends with

“And then I might DIE!”

Fun game, huh??? Well, yes, it is a fun game, when it’s a game. But we’ve turned every single moment of a child’s day into a potential life-and-death moment, and I, for one, am weary of it.

Don’t let your child play with latex balloons…
Don’t lose the corner snipped off the end of the milk bag…
Never leave your child alone with the family pet…
Never let a toddler hold an infant…
Never let the family dog come tobogganing with you…
Always stay within an arm’s length of your child at the park…


Honestly, it’s like living an episode of House.

Strap that child into his high chair or he might stand up and if he stands then he’ll fall, and maybe hit his head and maybe get a concussion or end up in a coma or break his neck…

Or. More likely, he’ll slide forward a bit, get wedged uncomfortably under the tray and learn it’s better to sit still.

It’s a matter of evaluating the likely consequences of a risk. In a car, the tiniest of bumps can have life-threatening consequences for an unsecured child. In my dining room, what are the risks? Really, actually, likely risks? I’m always within a metre or two of the child. I can see if he/she is trying to escape. I can intervene if the child is in danger – but I may very well choose to let the child be uncomfortable for a few seconds before I rescue him. I may even decide to let the child solve her own dilemma, knowing that the discomfort will teach her more than my careful explanations ever could.

Of course, one measures the risks. Timmy is always strapped in. Emily isn’t always. In part, this is pragmatism, not risk management. Timmy is so much more likely to make for the hills, I don’t want to have to be lifting him back eight times a meal. But with Timmy, there is more of a risk, and I judge it necessary to protect him from himself, for at least a little while longer. I’ve been doing this for 12 or so years now, and my own kids over and above that. Not once in all this time, have we had a Serious High Chair Incident.

Risk is part of life. Kids have to learn to evaluate risk, take the ones worth the risk and manage them safely, and avoid the ones not worth the risk. Kids will grow to be adults, who will have to manage risk every day of their lives. Which means we have to learn to let them.

November 13, 2007 Posted by | parenting, socializing | , | 15 Comments

The Social Disconnect

George: Mummy, I made a new friend at school today!

Mummy: That’s wonderful! Wow, you made a new friend on the first day of school! A boy or a girl?

George: (incredulous) A boy, of course!!!

Mummy: What’s his name?

George: I don’t know.

Mummy: You didn’t ask him? Well, maybe you could find out tomorrow.

George: (puzzled) Why?

November 12, 2007 Posted by | George, socializing, the cuteness! | 5 Comments

It’s a sign of mental health …

… to take pleasure in small things. Witness the following example of my robust mental health:

Timmy walks by. A nasty huge green fog follows him.

The diaper reveals a small marble of poo. How something so small can pollute an entire room is beyond me, but Timmy’s little marbles are the atom bomb of stench.

Half hour later, another noisome marble.

Half hour after that, another.

At this rate, the boy is going to befoul the air quality through the entire rest of the day. I can already see a faint greeny-brown miasma clinging to the walls. The atomic bomb stench is close to becoming visible. Something must be done before we all keel over from lack of oxygen.

I offer him a quarter cup of prune juice. He’s dubious (and who can blame him? loathesome stuff, it is) but with a certain amount of coaxing, it goes down.

And I wait. Half an hour later, another noxious marble. And half an hour after that —

A HUGE poo.

And half an hour after that? Nothing. No marbles, no toots, no nothing. Fresh air regains its hold over the house.

I love prune juice.

November 8, 2007 Posted by | eeewww, health and safety, Timmy | 16 Comments

Vocalizing Reality

We are an auditory family. Well, my husband and I are, and it shows. Sound matters. Volume hurts. (Except the right kind of volume. Certain music just begs to be played at volume.) And, without even being aware of it at first, we both respond to the things that happen around us with sound. Not words, always. Sounds.

A toddler swings a toy up and whaps themself in the face with it.

“Bonk!” my husband carols, and laughs. (So does the toddler.)

We are putzing about in the kitchen, and we back into each other. One or the other of us is certain to say, “Boof!”

A child in a hurry out the door careens off the doorframe on their way out. That’s a “Gonk!”

If something makes a noise — the door in our bedroom that creaks, no matter how much oil is fed into the hinges (“greeeeek”), an electronic gizmo alerting us to something (“boop-boop-boop”), the guinea pig whistling for food (“wheek! wheek!”) — we’ll echo it as we deal with it. Not every time, but often. Consciously, unconsciously.

Mostly unconsciously, until the toddlers start in. Anna, in particular has latched on to the auditoriness.

She drops something on her foot. “Uh-oh! Boom!”
She falls off the bench. “Ka-BOOM!”
Another child knocks down a block tower, and a block bounces off her knee when she’s caught in the shrapnel. “Bffshhhhh!” (Some of these sounds just don’t transcribe well…)
She bounces off the doorframe as we muddle about in the front hall getting shoes on. “Gonk!”

And every time, she laughs. Because vocalizing reality makes it funny. Even when it hurts.

November 7, 2007 Posted by | Anna, quirks and quirkiness | 4 Comments

The Art of Toddler Debate

1. Pick a noun. Any noun will do: socks, mommy, kumquat.

2. Preface that noun with “My”.

3. State these two words as a declarative. “My kumquat.” This is your “first affirmation“, or “proposition“. (Note: the object in question does not have to be in view. The object in question does not have to be in the house. Heck, you don’t even strictly need to know what the object in question is.)

4. Wait. If there is another toddler within a mile and a half of your declaration, the debate will proceed as follows:

“My kumquat.”
My kumquat.”
My kumquat.”
My kumquat.”
My kumquat.”
“MY kumquat!”
“MY kumquat!!”
MY kumquat!!!!

For variety, you might try a rebuttal:
“NO, my kumquat!”

Or a counter-proposition:
“Not YOUR kumquat. MY kumquat!”

Or even a riposte:

Continue with debate until Mary starts banging her head into the wall again. Then you declare the debate closed, and all go watch.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | aggression, power struggle, socializing, the dark side | 7 Comments

And the day ground on…

I don’t think I will have much to say today. I woke up at two this morning. I tossed around for a while, and when it became clear I was not going back to sleep, I got up. That was at three. It is now 6:30. In the evening. So, if I’d gotten up at my usual 5:30 or 6:00, it’s now ten or ten-thirty to my brain. My brain which has had something in the order of four hours of sleep. Perhaps.

My eyes itch.

So what can I tell you about the day? Except that it passed in a bit of a blur? There were only four tots here today, because Emily doesn’t come on Mondays. Which is too bad, because Emily’s daddy forgot to sign Emily’s monthly post-dated cheque. I need the man’s John Henry.

(Which means SIGNATURE. Sheesh. What ARE you sniggering about?)

Malli has decided it’s time for a little shake-up to the group dynamic. It was her self-appointed mission today to single-handedly change it from one of cheerful co-existence and even co-operation to a heirarchy: big kids (she and Nigel) on top, little kids (Anna, Timmy, and probably Emily, when she’s here tomorrow) on the bottom.

“Mary! Mary! Anna pushed Nigel!” I glance over at Anna and Nigel, who appear to be playing happily. Independently, and happily.

“If Nigel wants to tell me, Malli, Nigel can tell me. You don’t need to.”

Humph. I am not doing my job. Malli trots over to Nigel. “Nigel, you need to tell Mary –”

“Malli. Let Nigel decide what he wants to tell me.”

Nigel sets down the toy he’s been playing with for the past ten minutes, and walks into the next room. Timmy picks up the toy.

“Nigel!” Malli calls. “Timmy has your toy!”

Nigel charges back to rip the toy from Timmy, but I trip him before he gets there.

KIDDING. I divert him back to the other room and reprimand Malli. “Nigel was done with that toy, Malli. It’s fine for Timmy to play with it now.”

Malli and Nigel play side-by-side in a large pile of blocks. Anna attempts to join. Malli shifts her body so Anna can’t reach the blocks. Anna moves around to Nigel’s side.

“Nigel, these blocks are just for us. You don’t let Anna touch them.”

“You can’t play with that dolly. It might choke you.”
“Malli, that’s just silly. That dolly is half the size of Timmy. He couldn’t possible choke on it.”
“Malli, here is a book. You can sit here and read it to Anna and me.”
“I will read it to Nigel. Anna is a baby.”
“Yes, and babies like books.”
“Not Anna.”

“I am sitting here. You can’t sit here. You sit over there.”
“I am reading the story to all of us, Malli. I would like Anna to sit here.”

“Mary, Timmy bumped Nigel at the bottom of the slide.”
“Malli, if Nigel wants to tell me, he will tell me.”
“But Nigel doesn’t like Timmy. Nigel wants Timmy to go away.”
“If Nigel thinks that, he will tell me. — And Malli? I want you to play on the bouncy toy now, not the slide.”

“This soup is only for big kids. It is just for me an’ Nigel. You can’t have any.”
“This soup is lunch for all of us, Malli. Would you like to pour it, since you’re a big girl?”
“I will pour for Nigel.”

“I am reading this book. You go away.”
“He’s nowhere near you, Malli. Read your book and leave Timmy be.”
“I don’t want him in the living room with me.”
“If you want to be alone, Malli, you can always sit on the Quiet Stair.”

(The Quiet Stair is not only a time-out spot, but also a place where the children can have some desired alone-time. Malli will quite often sit there with a book or a toy, voluntarily, when she has had enough of all this damned interacting.)

“Nigel, you don’t want Timmy in the living room with you, do you.” (It’s not a question. It’s a directive.)

“I am only sharing my dolly with Nigel. I am not sharing it with you, Anna.”

“Bring me the puzzle, Nigel. We don’t want Timmy to touch it.”

“You don’t like Anna, do you Nigel?”

She’s unrelenting, no? And, frankly, not all that appealing in this mode. Little Miss Discord, sewing seeds of resentment and conflict, all day long. Her attachment to Nigel would be endearing if it were expressed as a positive rather than a negative, if it were inclusive rather than exclusive. Her desire to be big would be sweet if it weren’t accomplished by putting the younger children down. Of course, we will work on these things: giving her a sense of accomplishment and competence that’s not dependent on negative comparision or belittling with the smaller tots; ensuring she gets some personal attention each day; praising her for constructive interactions with the smaller children; giving her small responsibilities for them which she can take pride in — all that good stuff.

But … yawn … I’d be tired by now even if I’d had a full night’s sleep.

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Malli, power struggle, socializing, the dark side, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

I Generally Manage these things well…

(An interview from a year or so ago, which I’m only just getting around to hauling out of the draft files for your entertainment.)

It was an odd interview. I never did hear back, and doubt very much I will. (Nope. Never did!) In part, this was because they found my rates too high. You can tell, you know, by the way they don’t look at each other when you quote your price. Very stiffly don’t look. The eyes flicker towards each other, but they don’t want to do the tell-tale meaningful eye contact thing. Then there’s the little eye-twitch thing, where the eyes are trying to bulge in shock, but are sternly kept in the eye sockets through the force of the iron will of face-saving.

And then we discussed my holidays. More stiffness. More eye-twitching. More eye-contact avoidance.

Doesn’t bother me. If those things are an issue, it’s best to know up front. We’re better off not trying to make a team of ourselves. I don’t argue about my fees and benefits. Happily, I don’t have to, since most of the time, I have a waiting list.

But it was clear they didn’t like my fees, they didn’t like my holidays. And then, for the trifecta, there was my very own moment of lunacy.

They were sitting on the couch, mom holding baby. I was sitting across from them. They’d been here 20 minutes or so, baby had had a chance to scope me out. I generally make a point of asking to hold the baby at some point in the interview. Some babies you just can’t wait to get your hands on, they’re so sinfully adorable; others, not so much. I always ask; I get a teeny sense of the child (though their friendliness at six months has no predictive power over their attitude at twelve, when they’ll start with me, and I know it), but more importantly, the parents get to see me in action with their baby.

So I’m going to ask to hold the baby. I always do. If nothing else, it’s good PR. Everyone wants to know that their caregiver loves children. And that they particularly love theirs.

I’m going to ask to hold the baby. Except something weird happened in my brain. Some bizarre neuron mis-firing, because I don’t ask. I mean, I’m still intending to ask, but somehow I found myself upright and looming over mom with my arms outstretched before I said, “May I hold the baby?”

Mom, not surprisingly, cringed away from the looming lunatic before saying, uncertainly, “Yeeess?” Poor woman’s probably afraid to say no. God knows what I might do next.

(My brain. What happened in my brain?)

Instead of showing them the respectful, loving, skillful baby person I am, I proved myself to be a potential baby-snatcher… And now I sort of want to step back, away from the mommy and say, “Never mind”, but then I’ll show myself to be a potentially schizophrenic baby-hater.

Eesh. Not one of my finer moments.

And no, I didn’t get that baby. Hardly surprising. But given that I turn away far more than turn me down, I’m confident that I manage these things all right. Just not every time…

November 1, 2007 Posted by | daycare, parents, the dark side | 5 Comments