It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Hello, goodbye

Malli and Nigel are graduating Mary’s house in September, on to greater educational adventures. I’m often asked how I feel when kids move on, and every time I wonder what response the questioner expects or desires to see: Mourning? Indifference? Agony? Wistfulness? Tears? Hopefulness? Like a piece of my life has crumbled away, never to return?

In truth, the answer is … all of the above, none of the above. Well, all except that last one. I’m quite sure that has never, ever happened.

Once in a while, a child leaves and my heart gives a little lift. My job becomes easier, my home a happier place, my job satisfaction goes up, up, up when that child heads out my door for the last time. That doesn’t happen often, but I’d be lying if I said it never did. Sometimes it’s the thought that I’ll be seeing a particular parent for the very last time that causes the lift to my spirits. That happens somewhat more often than with the children…

However, I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, in this as in most aspects of my life. I like change. I find new things inspiring and energizing. When a child moves on, I’m pleased to see them take their next step on their way, and excited for their newest venture. I will miss things along the way, but by then the next child will have arrived, with his/her needs, challenges, and laughter, and I will be too busy to spend any time pining. Such is my nature, and it certainly makes the job easier!

(And yes, I’m much the same way with my own children. I did not cry when my eldest left home; I consider my second child’s current hunt for an apartment with some pragmatic maternal worries, but no tearing pangs of abandonment. We’ll see how I do when my third, my ‘baby’, leaves the nest, but so far, so good!)

I am usually delighted to have a visit from a ‘graduate’, to see how much they’ve grown and developed in the intervening months/years.

So, Malli and Nigel are moving on, taking two sets of huge blue eyes, and, from one or the other, an impish sense of humour, a predilection for long, fanciful story-telling, a tendency to break unexpectedly out into dance … and an increasing urge to boss and/or tattle with them. Now that stuff is someone else’s problem! (See? It’s not all bad…)

And as they leave, Aiden and Noah arrive. Aiden is Emily’s baby brother, who’s been coming for two hours a week for some months now. A free service, this, for I view it as much a favour to myself as to his mother — our year-long maternity leave is a great thing for families, but has the tots being dropped into daycare well after separation anxiety has reared its troublesome head, which can make the first three weeks much more difficult than they were ten years ago, back when maternity leaves were only six months long.

So Aiden has been coming to see me, and a good thing, too! His first visit with me was not one I’ll soon forget: the boy has a scream that could shatter glass. It certainly came near to shattering my eardrums. Now, however, he transfers easily into my arms, and smiles bye-bye at mummy. It’s still likely that he’ll cry for some of his first days with me: eight hours is much longer than two — but at least he now recognizes me as someone who can provide comfort. It makes all the difference.

That leaves Noah as my total newbie. Noah, who signed up six months ago. I’d offered the opportunity of a weaning-in time (though, as I’ve discussed, I see this as primarily for the parents’ benefit, not the child’s), but since there was no further mention of it, I’d thought it wasn’t going to happen.

Wrong. An email this week informed me that Noah’s mother would like to have him attend on Thursday and Friday, for an hour or so. She believes it will help his transition … two and a half weeks from now, when he starts full-time. (The time gap because I will be taking those weeks off.)

It won’t make a smidge of difference, of course. Two hours spent with mommy while in the company of a stranger and some strange kids, then, two-plus weeks later, he’ll meet the stranger and her kids again, only this time mommy will leave. For eight or nine hours. For a 12-month-old, there is no relationship between these events at all, at all.

But, shhhh. We won’t tell mommy that. She’s leaving her baby with a stranger! Yes, we’ve met, we conversed at length. I made a good impression. She’s talked to my references, and they told her all manner of great things. She’s seen my home, she’s met my family. She’s signed a well-written, professional contract. She feels she’s made a good decision (and I agree!) but really? I’m still a stranger.

Her baby needs the transition? Perhaps. Mommy needs the reassurance? Definitely. Reassurance that she’s done all she can for her baby, that the other children in my care are happy, that I am what she thought when we met six months ago… and what does it cost me to provide it? Two hours of my time. I think I can manage that.

August 12, 2008 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , | 10 Comments

My little secret

How does Mary do it, really?

Five toddlers, all day long. The daily — hourly, minute-ly — negotiations, conflicts, explanations, directions. The relentless activity. The noise. The ceaseless energy.

We all know she talks a good line, all that stuff about consistency and expectations, follow-through and the willingness to let a child suffer the consequences of misbehaviour, of firmness and kindness and consequences and motivation. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But how does she really do it? You asked? Okay. I’ll tell you…

No wussy Time-out chair in this house! Here at Mary’s we have…

The Cage.

Not just for two-minute time-outs, either. If they’re very, very saucy, the little so-and-so’s can darned well have their nap in there, too!

Ready to behave? Good. You can come out, then, because …

the dog wants her crate back.

And that’s my real secret surprise: We have a new dog. Isn’t she cute?

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Mischief, my kids, random and odd | , , | 11 Comments


In a previous post, I discussed the widely-held parenting myth that “children behave better for others than for their parents.”

I noted that it was important to distinguish between “stranger” — for whom kids generally will behave better, at least until a certain age — and “others”, anyone else, no matter how familiar. I stated my belief that a child’s better behaviour for a familiar other person is nothing magical or mystical — it has to do with something the parents are/aren’t doing. If the parent and the other person were consistently doing the same thing in the same way, they’d get the same response from the child.

I gave you an example, and asked you to deconstruct it. You did very well! Yes, the issue was that the mother didn’t follow through.

She called the child to her. The child paused. At this point, mom could have gone to get her, but what she actually did — Calling a second time, to see if she’ll come — was reasonable parenting.

The critical point, the crux of the matter, was what mom did when the child SMILED AND TURNED AWAY. No matter how cute and charming the little girl was at that moment (and she WAS, the little devil), that’s deliberate, conscious defiance, people, and needs to be dealt with instantly. At first glance of that smile, mama should have marched over, taken the child’s hand, and explained the situation: “When mama says ‘come over here’, you need to come.”

Clear and effective.

If that happens every single time this direction is issued, the child will be coming, reliably, within a couple of months. (Depends on the child, of course. But by 21 – 30 months, sometimes earlier, you can expect to be heeded with reliable consistency.)

And the problem of running away, which some of you rightly noted might be the child’s response when she sees mama bearing down on her? I say that’s precisely why you need to nail this behaviour now. There is nothing more humiliating than chasing a laughing child when it’s not a game. And talk about undermining your parental authority! Ugh.

There are a couple of ways of dealing with this behaviour, and which you choose will depend on the personality of the child involved. However, not wanting this post to get unduly long, I’ll put them into another post.

Do children automatically behave better for other familiar people than their parents? No. My three (happily secure) children almost always behaved as well for me than for others. Sometimes even better, because my expectations were often higher. My five step-children behaved just as well for their parents as for anyone else they knew. (And even reasonably well for me, the step-mother, though not as well as for their dad. The difference there had to do with how I behaved and certain other political factors that we don’t need to get into here…)

Mamadragon says it well. With toddlers, it’s Tell, Show, Do.

Tell them what you want. “Come here.”
Show them. The mother could have beckoned and pointed to the ground beside her.
Do. See that the requirement happens. Go get the child.

And I would add another “Tell” at the end, when you explain the expectation. “When I say come, you come.”

Do this, and your child will behave as well for you as for anyone else.


August 8, 2008 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | , , , | 10 Comments

You’re outta minutes, son

“In a minute!”

It sounds polite. In fact, it’s a strategy that I carefully teach the tots. When someone asks/demands a turn, they can hand the toy over immediately, or they can choose to defer for a minute or two. (The demanders are required to adhere to the rules of Making Civilized Requests first. Of course.) Sometimes we actually time the minute; often, it’s a fairly nebulous bit of time.

Reasonably often, the children will hand the toy over immediately, but it’s nice for them to have a little time to adjust to the notion of giving it away. “Finishing up” is rarely an issue at this age. Their play is so loose, there is hardly ever never any clearly defined “ending” they’re working toward. It’s mostly a matter of giving them the mental space to change gears.

And then there’s Timmy.

“In a minute.”

It sounds polite, but it’s his only answer. Ever. A playmate asks, is told “in a minute”. The playmate asks in a minute or two, and is again told “in a minute”. No matter how much time elapses, Timmy will always share “in a minute”. In short, “in a minute” does not mean “in a minute”, it means “over my dead body”, or perhaps even “&%^ off”. The fact that it’s said with a cheerful smile and a encouraging nod does not alter the reality.

It’s a bit of a dilemma, though, because of course I’ve taught him to say this. I don’t want to discourage the boy from using a perfectly acceptable social tool. It’s just that he can’t be using it to dodge sharing entirely. It’s a helpful phrase, a little verbal grease to the social wheels. I don’t want to tell the boy not to say it, but he just can’t be doing this every time. The devious little wretch.

Well, with Timmy, I doubt it’s deviousness. He’s just discovered “in a minute” is a terrific way to make that whole problematic “sharing” business go away. Simple!

I mull it over a bit … then the answer hits me like a 2×4: “He can’t be doing this every time.” Simple!

“In a minute.”

“You know what, Timmy? You’ve said that to Anna three times already. You can’t say it every time. Now you need to give it to her.”

“In a minute.”

“No, Timmy. You said that last time. Now you have to say, ‘Okay, Anna’.”

He pauses, considering whether I really mean this, and if there’s any way out. I wait a beat, then repeat.

“Last time you said ‘In a minute’. This time you have to say, ‘Okay, Anna’.”

I really mean it. You can see the mental gears whirring as they shift. He smiles and holds out the toy.

“Okay, Anna!”

Simple! Good start, Tims.

August 7, 2008 Posted by | manners, socializing, Timmy | , , | 4 Comments

Feeling hungry?

I’ve compiled the list of recipes, and, for a bunch of people who profess not to cook much, we haven’t done too badly…

K @ the Homestead hasn’t given us just one or two, but a whole mini recipe book of quick, easy, cheap and healthy meals.

Jessica provides a recipe for Frito Salad. (In my house, we’d call it a taco salad, and yummy no matter what it’s called!)

Bermuda Onion gives us Zucchini with Sea Shells.

Ever had Pasta with Trees (and cheese)? Check out Zayna’s Garden for full instructions.

Our sole male contributor gives us KD Casserole.

Mamadragon gives us two recipes: Fried rice, and Quesadillas.

A few others opted to leave recipe instructions in the comments of the Edible Meme post, so scan down through the comments to find:

Karin‘s recipe for mini pizza;
Marie’s for vegetable soup;
Dana’s “pickies lunch”;
Altissima guides us through stuffed baked potatoes;
and Tammy, instructs us in the art of making a “cheese sandwich”… without the sandwich part.

Thank you for your tasty contributions!

August 6, 2008 Posted by | food, memes and quizzes | , , | 7 Comments

Out of the mouths of babes…

Four children sit around the table, their bowls full of warm-but-not-hot pasta. (All pasta, after being drained, is immersed briefly in cold water before being drained a second time. Toddlers prefer room-temperature food, and I prefer no accidental burns!) I sip a cup of tea, overseeing but not eating.

(Many caregivers eat with their charges. Me, I prefer to eat my meal uninterrupted — and finish it before it goes stone cold. So I sip my tea whilst encouraging basic civility amongst the barbarian hordes, and defer my own food for nap-time.)

The tepid food notwithstanding, Emily is industriously blowing on her spoonful. She instructs Timmy to do likewise. He ignores her counsel, and stuffs a large spoonful into his mouth.

“NO, Timmy, you gots to go like this!” And she leans over and blows vigorously into his bowl.
“No, Emily!” Timmy is not pleased.

I’m on-side with Timmy. Anyone who’s spent any time around toddlers knows that all exhalations are loaded. She may think she’s just cooling it down … and perhaps she is, but we’d prefer it to be accomplished with air, not spit. Thanksomuch.

I have tea in my mouth, though, so before I can redirect her eager efforts, Timmy bursts out again.


Oh dear. The boy needs a new bowl now. It may or may not have Emily-spit in it, but it certainly has tea in it. Really, really unhygenic tea.


August 5, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

No-theme meme

Today is a holiday here, so a lazy meme post, swiped from KathyHowe (all one word, just like Sinbad or Madonna)…

What is your salad dressing of choice?
Sundried Tomato

What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
The one I go to most often? Patty’s Pub, our local.
I also like Mexicali Rosa’s and The Siam Kitchen. Spicy, mmmm…

What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick of?
Hot pepper rings – with pepperoni on crackers, diced into an omelette, on top of grilled cheese sandwiches, minced into salad… you name it, I’ll love it.

What are your pizza toppings of choice?
Depends on my mood. Extra cheese, feta cheese, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, bacon, green peppers, onions, sometimes pineapple, black olives, and of course, hot pepper rings. (I wouldn’t want all that meat on the same pizza, though.)

What do you like to put on your toast?
I eat toast about twice a year. Probably just butter.

What is your wallpaper on your computer?
A sweetly PG picture of my sweetie and I on our honeymoon last year.

What color cell phone do you have?
Black. They tried to sell me a pink one. Black.

Are you right-handed or left-handed?

Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
Stray hairs probably don’t count, huh? Nor children? (The kids were more work.)

What is the last heavy item you lifted?
Two toddlers, one on each hip. That’s 65 pounds. Up a flight of stairs. Me strrong voman.

Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
No. Except for my wisdom teeth extraction.

If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
Absolutely not.

If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
I’ve already changed it twice. That’s two more than I’d do it now, if I had it to do over.

Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
No. It would cost more than $1000 to buy me a new stomach. Duh.

How many pairs of flip flops do you own?

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Not poor.

Favorite Season?
Fall. I’d like it even better if winter didn’t come right after.

Favorite Holiday?
Used to be Christmas, but not so much any more. I dunno.

Favorite Day of the week?
Thursday. Date night!

Favorite Month?
Gee. I HATE November and March. Let’s see… September, I think. Except for the whole end-of-holidays, back-to-work thing.

Missing someone?

What can you not wait to do?
Not to have to work. Time to think. Time to create. But only if I don’t have to be poor.

What’s the last movie you saw?
Love, Actually. (On DVD, about six months ago. No, eight. It was over Christmas.)

Do you smile often?
Depends on the time of the month. And whether I’ve been drinking.

August 4, 2008 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 2 Comments

Dipping sticks

Nothing rude, just what we had for lunch today! First off, they each received about a half cup of cucumber and orange pepper slices. When those were done (never put the rest of the meal on the table until the vegetables have been ingested; very motivating), I brought out the main course:

Dipping Sticks.

It occurred to me as I served it that this would be another good entry in the Quick-and-Healthy toddler food sweeps. (Recall that I’m hoping for lots of good, healthy recipes for small children?)

I’ve long said that kids will eat styrofoam if they’re allowed to dip it, and today’s lunch proved the point. Because Dipping Sticks? Really? They’re firm tofu, cut into fingers and deep-fried in an inch or two of oil, lifted out with a slotted spoon, cooled for a minute or two on paper towels, then served with … this is the important part … a tablespoon of plum sauce each for dipping.

They devour them, and ask for more! Of course, deep-fried anything is just about the very least healthy way to serve it, but I do use olive oil, and I do blot them thoroughly before serving — and it’s tofu!

And why do I not call them that, instead of with the cutesy euphemism? Because some of them are convinced that they DO NOT LIKE TOFU. If I call them tofu sticks, it would be a struggle to get them to eat it. Call them Dipping Sticks, though, and they vanish in the burp of a toddler.


August 1, 2008 Posted by | food | , , , , | 6 Comments