It’s Not All Mary Poppins

At least it’s a quiet one

Nissa is a boomer.

No, not the demographic. The volume. It’s a term I adopted from a previous client who, when I told her that we’d been working on her son’s “inside voice” (which was ear-shatteringly non-existent), chuckled and said, “Well, we’re a family of boomers, so it’s not surprising.”

In fact, the dad in that family was pretty soft-spoken. Perhaps the others were all too busy booming to notice? Maybe he boomed more in private, but I always kind of pictured him at the edges of things, ducking around the waves of volume surging through the air.

Nissa’s parents, too, are boomers. Both of them. They are cheerful, enthusiastic, energetic… and LOUD. The only time inside voices happen with them is when a child is sleeping upstairs. I have to be quick with the announcement. Dad has woken a sleeping baby within 45 seconds of arrival.

They may not have noticed, but children have been sleeping upstairs a LOT lately. In fact, it is possible that Mary has, on occasion, when seeing them pull into the drive, quickly bundled a baby into a highchair out of sight in the kitchen, tossed a handful of Cheerios onto the tray, and hoped that would keep him/her quiet enough to fake a nap… I’m not saying it has happened. I’m just saying it could’ve.


So Nissa booms. And Mary teaches inside voice. And Nissa booms some more. We have had some success. Nissa now understands the concept, at any rate, and does actually apply it from time to time, but you can see it’s not natural.

BOOMING is her natural state.



We’d just finished baking biscotti, and the children were all going to get a piece to dunk in their milk. Of course, as with every social interaction, this is a Teachable Moment.

“Emily, would you like some biscotti?”
“Yes, please.”
“Okay. Here you go!”
“Thank you!”
“You’re welcome.”

(You start with the kid you KNOW is going to do it right. Peer pressure/modelling. Very useful tool.)

Then you go on to the second-most reliable.

“Noah, would you like some biscotti?”
“Yes, please.”
“Okay. Here you go!”
He reaches out. I hang on, don’t say anything, but don’t let go, either. He pauses, a little puzzled, then comprehension dawns.
“Thank you!”
“You’re welcome.”

And so on through the children, with varying degrees of prompting, until…

“Nissa, would you like some biscotti?”
“— —–”

Puzzled? It’s just that I’m not sure how to write ‘air’. Her lips moved, but no sound emanated. At all.

“Pardon, Nissa? Did you say something?”
“— —–”

The creativity of the power struggle never ceases to amaze me. If she’d been a normally quiet child, I’d have lip-read and accepted this. But this is Nissa, a confirmed boomer. Nissa, who has trouble with ‘inside voice’, has now damped it down to air-and-lip-movement.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but if I can’t hear you, I can’t give it to you. Let’s try again: Would you like some biscotti?”

“— —–”

Little so-and-so!

“All right. I guess you don’t want it, after all.” I scan the room and see that Tyler has almost finished his piece. “Tyler, would you like some more biscotti?”

Tyler can hardly believe his good fortune. “Yeh, pliss.”
“Here you go!” I move my arm with the treat in it toward him.

“NO!!! THAT’S MINE!!!”

Nissa is OUTRAGED.

I turn to her, my face radiating surprise. “Oh, you do want some?” Now I’m radiating pleased warmth. “Well, that’s good, because they’re very yummy.” And then, as if we haven’t been through this before, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, “Nissa, would you like some biscotti?”

“— —–”

Nissa did not get any biscotti.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | food, Nissa, power struggle | , | 8 Comments

Dropping like flies

Nissa stayed home Wednesday and Thursday. Tremendously restless nights, though with no obvious reasons. She may be in today.

Tyler stayed home Thursday. Cough and fever.

The new baby — her name is Lily — was home Wednesday and Thursday, and won’t be back until next week. Tummy bug.

Which left me, yesterday, with only Emily and Noah. Two kids? Four and two and a half? That’s pretty much a day off by my standards!

So when Emily got off the kindergarten bus, I made my Big Announcment.

“Hey, guys! We’re going to a restaurant for lunch!” Because, why not? It’s fun to be able to give them a special treat. The main street just a few blocks away from my very quiet one has several decent eateries on it. I choose my favourite pub, and we head off.

Noah chatters away in the stroller to Emily, walking beside. Emily chatters right back. Chatters for two blocks, until she starts waaaaaailing.

Cold? Pinched finger? Stubbed toe? Nope.

“I’m to tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired to waaaaaaaaaaalk!!!”

Hm. We’re about halfway there, but then we have to eat, and then we’d have to walk home again. I am not a masochist. This was supposed to be a fun outing. If I proceed, it will be an ordeal. We turn around.

Back at the house, Emily eats a decent helping of her rice and beans, but while Noah opts for a second helping, she opts to lie on the couch. Before I can transfer her to a bed, she is SOUND asleep. And stays that way for three hours.

Noah is perfectly chirpy. he chirps his way through lunch, he chirps his way through story-and-snuggle, he chirps his way through producing an enormous and exceedingly liquid poo. Ew.

And when he wakes up? Cough and fever.

Follow the saga of Plague at Mary’s. How quickly can it spread? How many children will it infect? Will Mary’s family be spared?

And, even more importantly…

Will Mary get today off?

February 5, 2010 Posted by | health and safety | 8 Comments

Where all is revealed

I know you’re all waiting with bated breath for the denouement. But first, a brief recap:

I have as clients a couple who opted to sign on for less than a year initially. Then — major red flag — they didn’t sign the renewal contract in a timely fashion. Correction: they STILL haven’t signed.

Additionally, they pay month by month instead of post-dates, and then, most recently, I began to wonder if mom is pregnant. Far enough along to be visible under a bulky winter coat would mean she’d left it far longer to inform me than is standard. Far longer.

All of which adds up to enough unease that I decided to address it. It may mean nothing, but it may be significant. Either way I need to know, so I can a) relax or b) address and correct.

Okay. That brings us to yesterday evening, when I planned to ask mom my Question: “Is there a reason you haven’t signed the contract?”

Cue sinister music.

So there we are, she and me, in my front hall. She’s the last to arrive, so I don’t need to worry about being interrupted. She’s cheerful and chatting, as usual, and I’m waiting for a lull. When it happens, I pop out my prepared question.

She doesn’t even blink. She simply waves her hand down toward her belly and says,

“Well, it’s the baby.”

“It’s THE BABY?” WHAT FREAKIN’ BABY?? Iwasright, Iwasright, Iwasright, IwasrigthtIwasrightIwasright… dammit… “It’s the baby”, she says, as if I’ve been informed, as if I knew all along. Which I was NOT, and we both know it.

But we’re not done yet. Just wait till you hear what came next.

“Well, it’s the baby,” she says, “And we just haven’t figured out what we’re going to do!”

YOU haven’t figured out what YOU’RE going to do? As if this doesn’t concern me at all? As if this isn’t an issue of joint concern? As if — and you’d think sheerest self-interest would have brought them to this conclusion — informing me wouldn’t have made it easier for us all to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution?

You KNEW you were pregnant and DELIBERATELY avoided signing the contract because you were uncertain about your choices… and you DELIBERATELY chose not to inform me when I gave you the renewal contract back in December. The brazenness with which she blurts this out takes my breath away.

“We were going to tell you as soon as we’d figured out what we were going to do.”

Blink, blink. I think that’s supposed to reassure me, or something. Reassure me of what? That they haven’t behaved in a devious, dishonest way?

You know, after your baby is born you have (because this is Canada) a full year of maternity leave… during that year childcare is a luxury, a convenience. And you have a full year to sort out the details of the necessary childcare for two children. But — and this is something that has obviously completely and utterly escaped these people — after your baby is born, childcare is still MY FUCKING LIVELIHOOD.

I am astounded.

You know, maybe I’ve been lucky over the last FIFTEEN YEARS, but my clients have always, always seen this as a joint concern. After they tell their parents, they tell me. Because we want as much lead time as possible to work things out. Because there are possibilities and variables that concern ALL of us, and they know and respect that.

Because, frankly, it’s in everyone’s best interests. The more lead time we have, the more likely it is that we can come up with a solution that is satisfactory to everyone.

I am a low-key person. I do not rant and rave. I do not shout. I do not go off half-cocked and react impulsively. This serves me well in situations like this, because while internally I’m reacting with “WHAT?!?!? Are you out of your MINDS? Do you have ANY idea how SELFISH you’re being?”, externally my face is impassive. Because I need time to process this.

“We’ll give you your two months’ notice, of course.” Which is all they’re required by the contract, so one might say ‘fair enough’. In fact, given that we now have no contract, one might even say that’s more than fair… except that spots in this neighbourhood fill sixish months in advance. Often more. They signed their child five months in advance.

I manage to spit out the relevant question. “When’s the baby due?”


June. She is five months pregnant, and had not yet told me. Five months. FIVE MONTHS! I did tell you that my clients have always, always told me about ten minutes after they inform the grandparents? I am used to finding out when mom is 12 weeks along. Five months.

We chat idly a moment or two longer, and mom and tot leave, smiliing and waving, with no idea of the turmoil they’ve caused. Which is a very good thing.

Five months pregnant with a baby they hadn’t told me about. A contract deliberately, consciously left unsigned. And no communication with me about it whatsoever. Because THEY hadn’t decided what THEY were going to do.

It could be that they didn’t bring me into the loop because they wanted their asses thoroughly covered first. But now, what they’ve guaranteed is that if it’s in my power, I will kick their asses to the curb. BEFORE they can give me notice.

It could be that they did this to preserve their sense of control. But now, what they’ve guaranteed is that I am going to do my utmost to take control.

We haven’t decided what we’re going to do.”

Good lord.

February 4, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents, the dark side | 23 Comments

The unease grows…

Those clients I was musing about on Monday, the ones who just give me the impression they’re not quite on board here?

They don’t pay, as all the others do, with a series of post-dated cheques, given to me upon signing of the contract. They pay by electronic transfer. This is not a problem at all. In fact, being able to plop the funds into my account while sitting in my living room all warm and cosy is a distinct convenience this time of year.

It has crossed my mind, however, what with all the niggling going on in there anyway, that this arrangement makes it easy for them to abscond, leaving me with no recourse. But then, it’s a small matter to put a stop on a cheque, so having those extra pieces of paper doesn’t really make me any safer. Though it feels that way.

But at least they have it set up that the money is transferred to me automatically every month. Except this month, when it hadn’t arrived on the usual day. When I tell mom the bank must’ve messed up the transfer, I discover it isn’t an automatic transfer; she’s been doing it manually every month.

Manually every month rather than automatic? I don’t even have that much security. Huh.

But that’s a small issue compared to the most recent concern. It’s February, and it’s cold, and we’re all bundled up all the time, but…

I think she’s pregnant.

Now, it could be the bulky winter coat — hers is down-filled, and you know how puffy they are. It could be bad posture — she does tend to slouch with her belly pooched forward. But… it could also be that she’s pregnant.

Pregnant enough to be sort of visible under a down-filled coat would be pretty damned pregnant.

Okay. I need to ask her. I need to sort this out.

Except, every woman knows you don’t ask “Are you pregnant?” unless you’re SURE she is. Because what if you’re wrong? You’ve now got some poor woman having to admit that no, she’s just put on a little weight, and then you know she’s going to be all “GOD! How fat do I LOOK???” That’s a rotten thing to do to someone.

But I need to know. It may be rotten to embarrass someone, but it’s rottener to find yourself high and dry and income-free… Okay, not income-free, but a twenty percent drop in my gross income is not a small matter.

I need to ask, but I need to ask kindly. Because, you know, while I have my suspicions, while my alarm bells are thrumming a steady, low-key buzz and my intuition is niggle, niggle, niggling at me, I don’t KNOW anything. If I blurt out something prematurely and too forcefully and it turns out to be unfounded, I could damage a perfectly satisfactory association.

I could even precipitate what I fear: insult her so badly she decides to pull her child from care.

So… I need to get the information, but without being confrontational.

Got it! What’s my issue here, really? It doesn’t really matter how they pay me, and it’s not a sure thing that she’s pregnant. The one thing I do have, and is a clear and tangible issue, is the damned contract, which is now six weeks past due. I’ve reminded them, and even sent a second copy, in case the first was misplaced. And still no contract. Hmph.

So, what I will ask is this:

“Is there a reason you haven’t signed the contract yet?”

That’s good. If I say it in a politely enquiring way (which I will), not a dark and sneering way (not my style), it’s a perfectly reasonable question, innocuous even. It’s also open-ended, so it’s impossible to answer just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Hopefully I’ll get a fuller response, more information for me.

“Is there a reason you haven’t signed the contract yet?”

Yes. I like it.

I’ll do that tonight. And keep you posted. Wish me luck!

February 3, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents | | 13 Comments

Six more weeks?

So it seems the rodent crew are all agreed. Wiarton Willie, Schubenacadie Sam and Punxsutawney Phil all saw their fuzzy shadows this morning, meaning that there will be six more weeks of winter. Had they NOT seen their shadows, spring would have come early.

To which I say, “???????” Is there a more pointless event for Canadians than Groundhog Day? Why on earth do we bother?

Six weeks from today is March 16. March sixteenth! If spring were to show its delicate face in these parts on March 16?

That would be early. And March 16 is the later option?

Jeez. I hope the hairy little wretch is right.

But I has ma doots…

February 2, 2010 Posted by | Canada, commemoration, random and odd | , | 12 Comments

Niggle, niggle

I may have mentioned this here before — if I have, I’ve forgotten — but I have a really bad memory. A really, really bad memory. I’ve taken absent-mindedness to new heights of vagueness. In conversation I’m sharp: my intelligence is not in doubt, but… remember that I have a phone call to return? where I put that damned soother? that I’m pre-heating the frying pan for my egg? HA!

As a result, I have long since made all my contracts come due at the same time. Because me? Remember that your contract comes due for renewal in March, and yours in July, and YOURS in November? HA!

So they all come due at the end of the year. No matter when you sign on, the expiry date is December 31. So, if you sign on in September, say, you have the option of setting to renew in December of the same year, or of the next. Most people go for the next, because a) they’ve decided they love me and like the idea of being able to relax about childcare for a year and a bit and b) that means their fees won’t go up for over a year. (Though really, for current clients I raise the rates only every other year. New clients come in at the higher rate.)

Anyway. So I have a client come in four months before the contract expiry date. I offer them the extra year.

“No, we think we’ll let it expire in December, just to see how things go.”

Okay. Not the norm, but understandable. They may think they love me, but I could turn out to be awful. They don’t know. Or their child might not mesh with the daycare. Or some other thing might come up. A four-month testing-of-the-waters is not unreasonable, though I don’t like the uncertainty. In this neighbourhood, daycare spots get filled six months in advance. If I’m going to have a space to fill in four months, I’d normally be looking now. So that does niggle a bit.

I know it makes them uneasy that I do on occasion get out of the house, leaving someone else in charge. The mom met me one day, after she’d signed the contract but before her child started care, taking the dog for a walk. She was also taking her dog for a walk. She asked if I was taking the day off. I said no, but as it was naptime and Emma was home, I was giving the dog a mid-day 20-minute pee walk.

I found out later that she subsequently chatted with a neighbour of mine, worrying about my tendency to go out during the day. She’s worried about something, but chose to talk to my neighbour rather than me? That niggled a bit. (Yes, we did then talk about the issue. She accepted my position, which is covered in the contract after all and shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it makes her a bit anxious. Another niggle.)

But we proceed with daycare. Her child is no problem at all. The parents are… all right. They’re nice, well-intentioned, cheerful people. I deal with them in a friendly, professional manner, but they sort of grate on me. That, however, has nothing to do with the care I provide, or our professional relationship, and I’m quite confident they have no idea. Their personal style just doesn’t mesh with mine. It happens, and it’s no biggie.

Maybe I annoy them, too. It’s possible, and also no biggie. These are clients, not friends. We require professionalism, good communication, and good manners. It is not necessary to want to become bosom buddies. (Though it has happened. Two of my favourite friends are former clients.)

But I just get the impression that they’re not quite 100% sure of this situation, that they kinda-sorta have one foot out the door, maybe thinking of moving on. Nothing tangible enough to discuss, really, just my intuition.

But it niggles.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents | 4 Comments