It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Endless looping

“Boooob the Builder!” Tyler thunders south, from kitchen to living room.

“CAN WE FIX IT?” Noah thunders north, from living room to kitchen.

“Booooob the Builder!” Noah thunders southward.

“CAN WE FIX IT?” Tyler responds, northbound.

It’s a thunder-footed call-and-response, up and down the length of my house. But…

Booooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

only those two lines.

Booooob the Builder!

Can we fix it???

where’s the last line?

Booooo the Builder!

Can we fix it?

It’s kind of driving me crazy, a song that never gets to the final note, the first chord of a cadence, but no return to tonic. That lack of resolution, the dangling participle, the unfinished business, up and down my house, north to south, south to north, two gallumphing, bellowing loose ends.

Boooooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

Like a door hanging open, a book set aside one page from the end, a drawer half-pulled, a telephone call abruptly hung up… It’s rapidly becoming finger nails scraping down the blackboard of my mind.

Boooooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

Can they not FINISH?

Boooooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

Aagh!

Boooooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

I can’t stand it a moment longer. “YES WE CAN!!!”

Two small boys come to an immediate halt. Four very round, amazed eyes rivet on my face. (My smiling face, because, hey, I can see the humour in my own exasperation.)

“That’s the last line, remember? ‘Can we fix it? YES, WE CAN!’”

A moment more stare-age, and they’re off again.

Boooooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

And… can it be…

Boooooob the Builder!

Can we fix it?

No, they can’t.

Sigh.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Noah, Tyler | , , | 4 Comments

BREATHE, dammit!

One of the tykes has a cold, poor thing. Nothing serious, just a big, goopy, snotty head cold. No fever, no secondary infection… which means no reason to ask her parents to keep her home.

But oh, how I wish I could.

She’s eating lunch even as I type, and if breathing is difficult when she’s playing quietly (which it is) it’s next to impossible when she’s eating.

And you know? If I were a nicer, kinder, gentler, less Friday-afternoon tired woman, I would find her dilemma sympathetic. I mean, the poor little thing! She’s so congested that when she fills her mouth with food, she’s crowding her only source of air. (Mind you, if she didn’t stuff so much in there that it practically oozes out her ears, it would be a whole heckuva lot easier for the oxygen to get through.) And then there’s that

… paaaause …

followed by that …

GASP!!!

All that would make me go soft and goopy, and I’d be stroking her back and wiping her chin and “oh, you poor thing”.

And really, I should be doing all that. I really should. Because it’s not her fault, she’s suffering a cold.

Pause… … … … GASP!!!

Pause… … … … GASP!!!

Pause… … … … GASP!!!

Except that it doesn’t appear to be bothering her in the slightest.

Me? I am an empathetic person. I truly am. Picture me, sitting across the table from her, and when her breathing stops… so does my own. And when she does that GASP thing, I start breathing again. I’m so damned empathetic, I don’t even know I’m doing it, until I feel the wash of relief that comes over me when she GASPS.

All that breath-mirroring empathy? IT’S MAKING ME TENSE!!! And tired. And I think I’m beginning to feel a little light-headed…

So, call me callous, call me unkind, call me un-nurturing, but…

… what I really want …

…what I want most of all…

Is for her to go home…

… so I can breathe again.

GASP!!!

March 26, 2010 Posted by | health and safety, Peeve me | , , , | 3 Comments

beyond exasperated

FYI to Parent with a Mission…

IF your child, as you truly, truly believe, had actually been “ready” for potty training six months ago

then she would not

given your six months of unceasing effort…

still … be … wearing … diapers.

Thank you.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents, Peeve me, potty tales, the dark side | 14 Comments

Found her!

She came to the interview with not only her baby, but her 4-year-old. And no husband.

I winced.

NOT because she’s a single mom and I’m all morally outraged. Good heavens, no. I winced because one adut/two kids almost always means no interview.

What I get instead is “Can you tell me what your usual schedule is — oh, hang on a sec — sweetie, get down from there… Sorry about that… Where were we? Oh, schedule. Can you tell me — Oh, are you hungry, baby? Let mummy get you settled — So do you take the kids out every — Johnny? Come back where mummy can see you, please — Well, usually the children arrive between — No, honey. Put that down. I don’t think that’s a toy. — That’s okay, he can touch it. Everything’s pretty kid-friendly in here — You sure?”

Okay, I exaggerate a tad. It’s not quite that bad, but it can sure feel like it. Our ‘interview’ degenerates into a steady stream of distractions interspersed with quick apologetic smiles tossed my way, tiny fragments of information shot out at each other between interruptions.

So, yes, I winced.

(She’s not a single mom, as it happens. About 70 – 80% of moms come on their own, and even when dads appear, it’s 99% clear that his is the support role: Mom is the decision-maker on this one.)

But instead of chaos, I got calm. Instead of interruptions, we simply settled in. When the 4-year-old needed direction, it was done in a very quiet, calm voice. And it only needed to be said once. When the baby got fidgety, she was dealt with in the same quiet, efficient way.

You all know how I haaaaate working in a LOUD environment? Loud parents very often engender loud children. Soft-spoken parents — particularly quiet, efficient ones — tend to produce quieter children. There are no guarantees, of course, but it’s a good sign.

(And no, the kids in my care are not expected to tiptoe and speak in hushed tones. But there’s a wide range between whisper and BELLOW. Where it’s within my control, I avoid bellowers like the plague.)

And that calm efficiency? There will be no whine-and-coax scenes at my door with this mother. Let me tell you, there is not a caregiver on the planet who doesn’t loathe whine-and-coax scenes with a cold, implacable hate… or a fiery passion… or both. I am 99.9999% sure I will never see one between this mother and child. Bliss!

I don’t think we were eight minutes into the interview before I knew: I WANT this family. (I’ll only be getting the baby. Big Brother is going to a preschool in the fall.) The rest of the interview proceeded smoothly, all the standard questions covered with that same quiet and friendly efficiency, me warming to her all the while.

Then came the stealth question:

“Do you write those daycare pieces for the neighbourhood paper?”

THAT was unexpected. Though (obviously) my parents know about my monthly column, and eagerly look for their child’s exploits, and a bunch of my neighbours have figured it out, none of my incoming parents has ever known that anonymous provider is me. Besides, it’s just a week neighbourhood paper with a readership of… 12.6? What are the odds anyone’s read my stuff?

How does she feel about it? Her face is giving nothing away. Is this a good thing for her, or a bad? She’s very quiet; maybe privacy is important to her? Maybe the idea of exposure, even though I don’t identify anyone, is unnerving? Oh, well. I’m not about to lie. If I’m now about to lose the BEST POTENTIAL CLIENT IN YEARS… so be it.

“Yes, that’s me. However did you know?”

Her face suffuses with relief. “Oh, I hoped it was you! I asked the editor of the paper, but of course he couldn’t tell me. And then I was talking to a friend who’s a provider, and said she thought it might be you.” (I know this provider: she knows it’s me. Discreet of her, no?)

Well. Whaddaya know? I have a Fan. (A nice, quiet, sane, non-stalker fan.)

Turns out my style, as evidenced in my writing, feels just exactly right for her. She wanted her baby with THAT provider.

And now she has. She was ready to sign right then, right there, but as per my custom, I sent her home with the contract.

Which was returned two days later, signed, dated, and accompanied by its nicely bulging envelope filled with post-dated cheques.

That’s it! My spaces are filled. No more interviews, no more nagging worries, and (I hope!) one of the most calmly effective parents I’ve seen in a long while.

Colour me happy.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daycare, our adoring public, parents | 10 Comments

You have the power

Really.

A couple of mothers stand chatting on my front sidewalk, their children in their strollers. Just as one mother is about to wheel her child homeward, the child spies the small nugget of sidewalk chalk left over from this afternoon’s play. Spies it and hops out of the stroller to continue his artistry.

His mother sighs, and I know what she’s thinking. Yesterday, the mother had “been stuck” playing chalks for a full hour after she’d intended to leave, you see, held hostage by a not-quite-two who couldn’t be coaxed back into the stroller and homeward.

(One might think this would be an argument in favour of buckling the child securely into the stroller, but that doesn’t seem to have occurred.)

I was not aware of her prolongued tenure of my front yard, having gone inside and busied myself in the kitchen at the rear of the house once I’d said my goodbyes at closing. I wasn’t aware, that is, until this morning, when I saw the extra artwork and heard the mother’s resigned complaints.

Complaints which, if someone doesn’t take immediate action, are only going to be repeated this evening. Even as mother is sighing in preparation for the prolongued coax-and-negoatiate session she sees ahead, I reach for the bucket which houses the rest of the chalk.

“Oh, look! You found a piece of chalk! Good work! Now you can help put it away! Put the chalk in the bucket, please.” All said in tones of hearty good cheer.

And in it goes.

“Thank you! What a great helper!” And then I pick the child up, pop him into his stroller… and snap the belt. The other two mothers applaud and praise his helpfulness. Tot beams widely.

“YOU are the master,” says mom. To me, not the child.

I grin. “You don’t realize how much control you have over their emotional reactions to things. If you radiate confidence and cheerfulness, they will very often go along with you.”

That is all true. There is more to the equation, though. This child is fully aware that if he balks, it will happen anyway. If required, I will take his hand, wrap it around the chalk, shake it loose into the bucket and then thank him with a big beaming smile, as if all that ‘compliance’ was totally voluntary.

In fact, that’s the first step in a process, a process which we’re (mostly) done with these days. The second step, when resistance occurs, is to remind them. “You can do it on your own, or I will help you do it.” Independence is important at this age — that’s why you’re getting all the resistance in the first place. If they can assert their independence by doing what you ask, well heck. They soon decide they’d prefer to do it on their own, thanks.

It takes a few (or more) repetitions to get to the point of (mostly) cheerful compliance… but get there, you will. (The stuff in brackets reflects the reality of working with toddlers, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect cooperation most of the time, with resistance being the exception.)

This child is 20 months, and he’s been cheerfully cooperative for two months, at least. He’s not cowed, he’s not fearful, he’s not resentful. It’s just that we’ve been through this loop — polite request, hand-over-hand ensuring it happens, copious thanks — we’ve been through it so many times that it is no longer automatic to resist. In fact, it’s (mostly) automatic to go along. It’s been a while, two months? four?, since I’ve done a hand-over-hand with him. It simply hasn’t been necessary.

Resistance? Argument? Defiance? Nope. He doesn’t need to do that to assert his independence. He can assert his independence by doing what he was asked on his own! He just plops the chalk in the bucket — and then, in this case, reaps the reward of the smiles and approbation of not just one, but three adults!

What’s not to like?

March 12, 2010 Posted by | behavioural stuff, parenting, power struggle | 10 Comments

Looking for Ms. Right

You recall I had a very, very early start to yesterday morning? Happily, the day went well — no screaming, no hitting, no tantrums — because, you know, it only seems right to practice what I preach.

And then, midway through the afternoon, I remembered: I have an interview tonight!

Because you know? When all that nonsense was happening with the parents who don’t communicate? The very same day I found out the first mother was five months pregnant, another mother told me she was pregnant! So that means I had TWO spots to fill. This second mother, though — the one who didn’t have to be asked?? — she told me when she was ten weeks along. (Ten weeks, ladies and gents. That would be normal. Ahem.)

Interview tonight means a bunch of logistical things. I need to tidy the house more than is standard after a workday. I need to organize dinner so that it’s consumed and tidied away before the parent arrives. I need to make sure my interview paperwork is in order.

I’m pretty practiced at this by now, but still, it’s a push of energy at the end of what was already an awfully looooong day.

But it’s not so bad. Interviews only last 45 minutes. (I don’t know why. I don’t set a timer, I don’t even watch the clock. I let the parents set the pace… and, over 15 years, it’s something I’ve noticed. Interveiws take about 45 minutes.)

This is, as it happens, the second interview I’ve had for the position, which opens up August 1.

And, in comparing Candidates A and B…

I think I want Candidate C.

Let’s see…

Candidate A.

Pros:
- this is her second child. Second-time mothers tend to be less… fraught, less intense, less earnest than first-timers.
- she’s had her child in care before, and so doesn’t worry overmuch about transitional tears.
- she can obviously afford me.

Cons:
- I didn’t warm to her. There was no meeting of the minds. Now, there was no discord either, but that certain spark was missing. She was… cold. No, that’s too strong a term, making her sound disdainful. Nothing like that. She wasn’t hostile or unfriendly, but sort of aloof. Distant.
- She’s a bit negative, a bit stern. From time to time I got the impression she disapproved of me. I don’t think she did… but she made me feel that way.
But the kicker:
- Her child is a maniac. Now, this is going to come as a shock to many of you lovely mothers, but normally? Normally I am not all that focussed on the child during the initial interview. In fact, to my mind, the child doesn’t strictly need to be in attendance. Recall that I am often interviewing parents of 4-month-olds for a spot they’ll take when the child is twelve months old. There is a world of difference between a four and a twelve month old. The bundle in mommy or daddy’s arms will bear little resemblance, behaviourally, to the small person who will toddle (or crawl) through my front door six or eight months later.

No, I want to meet the parent(s), I want to get a feel for them, for our compatability, for their style. Because children? They can be trained. Parents? Much more set in their ways.

Thus, I can work with just about any child. I cannot work with just about any parent. But this one…

This one was ten months old, looking to start at 16 months. And this child? GO! gogo!gogo!! GOGOGO!!GOGOGOgo!go go!!!gogo!gogo go!!!gogogo GOGOGO!!Gogo!gO! GOGOGOgogogogooooooooooooooo…

“Active” does not begin to describe the energy level. Phew. I’m really not sure I’m ready for this child … AND four others.

Parent B:
Pros:

Um… I can’t think of any. Okay. That sounds like I HATED her, and that’s not true at all. It was a perfectly comfortable interview. The chat was easy and, for the most part, flowed like water. But there just wasn’t anything I could point to and say “THAT was nice!” Which, I suppose, is sort of a “con”, isn’t it?

Cons:
- A total fanatic about hygiene. Hand-washing and hand-sanitizing and did I wear gloves and how often did I disinfect the toys… Not that any of those questions is unreasonable, but the focus on this area was intense, to say the least. Though my answers seemed to satisfy, I did warn her that I was not as neurotic obsessive careful about all this as she evidently was.

In fact, I am of the “a little dirt is good for their immune system” school of thought. Which I did tell her.

Strangely, she thought my house was acceptably clean. Me, I tend to think my house typically squeaks into “clean” by only the narrowest of margins, and its tenure there is an uncertain thing. Maybe it helped that I let her keep her shoes on…

- She has been interviewing since early January. It is now mid-March. I’m thinking she’s probably awfully picky…

- She was very negative about some of the other caregivers she’d interviewed. (And the list is obviously a loooong one.)

In my mind, it is bad form to bad-mouth people to a stranger. Moreover, they’re in the same profession as me: some of them could be my friends. And, I wonder, what will she be saying about ME to the next interviewee?

- (Nor did I agree that all the things she was so very appalled by were all that awful. Yes, it is possible to safely manage a kiddie pool with five toddlers. Make it a small pool, ensure that everyone is in arm’s reach, and it can be done. The sneering about how outrageous that was? Quite unattractive.)

- And the interview? I told you I don’t watch the clock, but I had an idea it was longer than standard. When she left, and my exhausted head fell back against the couch, I cast my weeeeary eyes to the clock…

TWO HOURS.

A normally 45-minute event went on for TWO HOURS.

Holy Hannah.

But really, it was all the sneering about the other caregivers that really stuck in my craw. It’s not appropriate, and, really — I know I’m wonderful and all that — but realistically, how long would it be before I’m the one she’s sneering about? Not long, given how arbitrary and unyielding were her sneer points.

So…

Given the choice between a rather stern and aloof, but easy-going parent with a maniac child…

And a sneering, judgmental hygiene-obsessed parent with a child I haven’t met yet…

I think I’ll keep looking.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents, the dark side | 8 Comments

Win some, you lose some

The laundry is washed and now hangs on the line — first outdoor laundry since last fall! A Sign of Spring! This makes me happy.

A batch of biscotti has been finished. (Didn’t get its second bake yesterday.)

A couple of emails have been written, two others replied to.

A new batch of playdough is done.

The bathroom has had its quick morning scrub.

The dog has had a 45-minute walk.

I chatted with the husband and the youngest daughter while they had breakfast. (We all make our own; I eat later.)

I have — OF COURSE — had my morning cup of tea, though. Maybe even two of them… :)

Last night’s dinner dishes have been taken from the drying rack and put away.

Dinner is made and in the slow cooker.

And it’s… 7:42.

In the MORNING.

The SAME morning.

This is AMAZING!

This is PRODUCTIVE!!
.
.
.
This is what happens when you wake at 4:15 a.m.

I’m guessing all this amazing productivity will be stone-cold dead about 6:30 this evening. The only question is whether I’ll make it to bed before falling asleep, or whether I’ll be face-down in my slow-cooked dinner…

March 10, 2010 Posted by | random and odd, sleep | | 4 Comments

Toddler Glossary

Officious: With 146 gazillion blocks stewing every floor in the house, the 2-year-old charged with picking them up must start with the ONE block currently in the baby’s hand.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Peeve me | | 5 Comments

Looking ahead…

To St. Patrick’s day!

Which, to my mind, is a big fat ‘so what’, being as I’m neither Irish nor Catholic. But still, green is my favourite colour, and in my job, I’ll take any excuse for a craft!

And THIS, this is a fine, fine St. Patrick’s Day craft. Go have a look. Aren’t they lovely?

Coffee filters, water-soluble markers, pinking shears, cardstock and glue. We can do that! It’s even educational. “Yellow and blue make green, kids! Isn’t that COOL??”

There are other ideas for children’s crafts on this site, which I discovered through One Pretty Thing, a fabulous resource for craft ideas.

I am so going to make these with the kids. I may even send some to my kids, just for the fun of making more! Heck, it’s almost enough to make me start drinking coffee at home…

March 8, 2010 Posted by | crafts | , , , , | 3 Comments

Done

Last step in the process: Inform the Parents.

It’s been a long-ish haul, from my first inklings that one couple wasn’t dealing straight with me, through further nigglings, to confirmation of my suspicions. The past month has been a whirlwind of interviews. The universe was sympathetic to my plight: I’ve never had so many interviews in such a short period.

And this week, I signed a contract with a lovely couple. Lovely, I think. So far, so good, anyway. My first impression is positive — that counts for something, right?

Yes, it does. Though I’m not 100% — goodness knows this current situation proves that! — my intuition has been honed down the years, and I’m a decent judge of who will be a good fit.

So. All my ducks are in a row. Now to deal with the one remaining detail: the conversation.

She’s due “in June”. I don’t know when her due date is. The new couple wants to start in the third week of June. So I can give Outgoing Couple till the end of June, maybe even a week past that. Let’s hope she’s due toward the beginning of the month!

But how to tell them? Where to have this conversation? I worried this one over for a couple of days — coffeeshop? my home? theirs? — before my husband made his observation.

“You know, it doesn’t have to be a Big Conversation. In fact, I’m not sure that it needs to take more than 15 minutes.”

And I thought … he’s right. If I set it up as if it’s a Big Deal, it will become a big deal, and I really don’t want that. How about I deliver it in a matter-of-fact way. In fact, how about I deliver it to them as they delivered their news to me: as if they were in the loop, as if they knew all along what was happening, as if it’s no big deal at all.

Brilliant. And all because of that “15 minute” comment from the Wonderful Husband.

So I mulled it over and came up with my starting sentence. (Do you do that? It’s hugely helpful in starting a difficult conversation. I actually memorize and practice my first sentence.)

It’s a good thing she’s usually the last parent to arrive. I don’t have to worry about a private conversation being interrupted by other parents. When she arrived, we chatted for a few seconds and then I smiled brightly and said,

“So I just thought I’d bring you up-to-date about what’s happening in June.”

And she smiles back and says, “Oh, yes.”

“I’ve found another child to fill the space. He’ll be starting June 16. I’m not sure when you’re due, but you can certainly have till the end of the month.”

“I’m having a section on June 12.”

[Section? This baby has been scheduled! She probably knows to the hour when her baby will be born, and she hadn't bothered to tell me??? Oh, why am I surprised any more?]

“So we can send her till the end of June?”

“Yes, and if you wanted the odd day after that, we could arrange that at the time, and do pay-as-you-go.”

Her face moves from smiling to puzzled.

“But we can’t have full-time in July, even if we wanted it?”

[Oh, so that was an option you were considering, then? And it didn't occur to you it would be wise to run it by me?]

“No.” (Oh, that felt kinda good…) “Not after the end of June.”

The puzzlement grows.

“But we haven’t given you your notice yet.”

And now it begins to feel really, really good, so I can smile gently as I say, matter-of-fact, gently, calm,

“No, I’m giving you notice.”

There is a moment where her face goes totally blank, blind-sided as she is by this completely unexpected turn of events.

“Oh.” There is a pause. Her mouth opens, then closes. She’s still processing, but she’s taking it very well, really, given it’s such a radical and completely unpredictable outcome. She nods. “Well, okay then. I guess I can work with that.”

I guess you can. And you’re getting… April, May, June, end of June… over three months’ notice. Much more than you intended to give me.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that. Bring on June!

March 5, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents, Peeve me, the dark side | , , | 27 Comments

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