It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Caught red-handed. Nearly.

The older children gather, three small heads bowed in fascination over my hands. Surprisingly, there is no food involved, to so draw their attention. No bread being kneaded, nor batter mixed, nor even apples being sliced. (RED apples, of course!)

No, today Mary is putting on nail polish!

In fact, it’s something I rather enjoy doing, but rarely do when the children are about. It is, after all, a bit of a handicap. Rather hard to step in and prevent death or dismemberment, or even garden-variety mayhem, if you’re fluttering about trying not to smudge your polish.

Oh, I know. If I REALLY had to put perfection of polish in jeopardy to keep my sweet charges safe, I would. But as anyone who wears the stuff knows, the precision required to get the nails, just the nails, no cuticle-splooshing or smudges anywhere… well, it’s just not something you get without great effort, and, once achieved, it is NOT something you put at risk lightly.

So, let me tell you, whatever you’re doing to to make me risk smudging my polish? It had BETTER be life or death…

But today I have little choice. In celebration of Anniversary Number Three, the husband and I are going to have our pictures taken this afternoon. Real, professional pictures! Pictures where you pay $95 just to walk into the studio, so you can be damned sure I am going to look FINE. Or as fine as I can manage.

I have not one, but two dresses picked out, all ready to go in garment bags. (He’s wearing a suit. Men have it so lucky.) The hair is done. The rest of me is buffed and plucked and smoothed and whatever. Make-up will wait till after the tots are collected. But, because I have several things lined up for this afternoon, and because my time-line will be tight, the only time to do my nails and leave adequate time for drying — ESSENTIAL, if you don’t want nail polish smeared on expensive dresses — is … NOW.

So, now it is.

And the kids? They are enthralled. Because it’s not boring clear (like normal), or pale pink or white… this is SCARLET. (Like one of the dresses I have chosen. The other is turquoise. Dress, not polish. The scarlet polish will work with both dresses. Because I say so.)

“OH! That is BEAUTIFUL!!!” Noah is in full approval.
“That is RED!!!” Tyler is factual.
“That is beeeeeeeautifullllll!” Emily is in heaven.

“Would you like to wear some?”

“Yes, but I want DAT colour.” Noah reaches into the basket and taps the bottle of blue polish. I bought the stuff on a whim and wore it only once because I find it distracting in an entirely unappealing way. I keep it because it might come in handy for a craft some day. You never know. But of course Noah would choose it. Blue is Noah’s favourite colour.

Tyler backs away, shaking his head and putting his hands firmly behind his back, lest I be taken by some uncontrollable urge to FORCE nail polish onto his reluctant fingertips.

“Oh, could I have the red, please?” Emily’s voice is filled with a girly yearning she doesn’t often evidence. Unlike Anna, Emily is not the ultimate girly-girl. But she does like the pretty once in a while, and the nail polish, the scarlet polish, seems to have captured her imagination.

“Sure you can, sweetie,” I say, reaching for her hand with my right hand and dipping the brush into the bottle with my left. “It’s a pretty colour, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is!” She nods her head in vigorous approval as her first finger is garnished in scarlet. “I really like it, and mummy says that little girls only get to wear pink or clear polish.”

The wand freezes.

“Mummy says that?”

“Yes.” Her face tenses and she realizes her faux pas. “Mummy says that, but…” She searches in her head for the resolution to his dilemma as I reach for the polish remover. “She does… but…” Her eyes widen anxiously… “But at YOUR house, YOU’RE the boss!”

Oooo. Smart cookie. This is my answer to those occasions when a child is hoping for something from me that’s only allowed at home, some concession that a parent with one child might be able to allow but an adult with five probably can’t. “I know you can walk around with your snack at home, sweetie, and that’s fine. At home, mummy and daddy are the boss, and they make the rules. But here, I am the boss, and my rule is we sit at the table to eat.”

And I am the boss, but that’s over things where the jurisdiction is clear, and limited to my home/time. But to knowingly flout a parent’s rule, then enable the child to do the same, and, moreover, send the child home with the evidence painted on her fingers? Emily, Emily, Emily… What do you take me for?

She went home wearing pearl white. And mummy greatly enjoyed the story of Attempted Scarlet.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Emily, Mischief, parents | , , , , , | 3 Comments


“Down! Doowwwwwn!”
She takes my neatly-folded jeans out of the laundry basket and dumps them on the floor.

She looks at the jeans, now on the floor.
“Uh-oh! Uh, oh, down!”

She crawls to my sweetie, fixes her enormous chocolate brown eyes on him, lifts her dimpled arms.
“Up! Up! Up! Up! Up! Up! Up!”

She stands at the high chair.
“Meh-meh-weeee! Meh-meh-weeee, UP!”

She crawls to where I’ve tossed her fleece jacket onto the floor, in preparation for going out. She picks it up and holds it out to me as I help Noah zip his jacket.
“Tang-oo! Tang-oo!”
(Who says little ones don’t ‘get’ “thank you”?)

Baby Lily has started talking, and it’s the cutest damned thing you’ve ever heard.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Lily, socializing, the cuteness!, the things they say! | , , | 2 Comments

I think it’s called the ‘placebo effect’

“I no yike green apples.” Tyler is firm. Doesn’t matter that he’s been happily devouring green apples for months. Doesn’t matter that “Granny” apples were his favourite until… um… a second ago.

“I no yike green apples. I just yike red ones.”

My standard tactic in this sort of situation is a chipper, “Oh, I guess you’re not hungry, then. That’s okay. Away you go and play.”

Because, as we all know, this is nothing about food preference, and everything about power struggles. I’ve waged this battle a gazillion times. My strategy is tried and true and really, puts the control in the hands of the child… while, at the same time, holding firm in my right not to become a short-order cook to the shifting whims of a power-hungry toddler.

Usually, before I’ve even set their feet on the floor, they’ve decided that, “Wait! I really AM hungry!!” They curl their feet up, even, so determined are they NOT to go and play but to EAT, thanks! But if they don’t change their minds, if they are perfectly content to leave the table, well, I’m fine with that, too. That’s their decision. When it comes to food, I follow Ellyn Satter’s guidelines: The child gets to decide how much — and yes, even whether — to eat. The adult gets to decide what, when and where they eat. I provide nutritious food at regular intervals, but it is not my job to get it ingested. That’s the child’s responsibility… which means I accept it if they choose NOT to eat. Because really, this is one a parent will win in the end: the child’s hunger is a good motivator.

But some days, some days it’s just nice to play with their heads a wee bit. Some days it’s nice to be devious. Some days, it’s nice to WIN that power struggle. And some days, it’s a whole lot of fun to win the power struggle they don’t even know they’re having. Well, it is for me at any rate. It could be that you are a person of higher moral fibre than me. No doubt you are, and never even have these urges, much less succumb to them. If you are such a superior soul, avert your eyes now, lest you be horrified and offended by the gross manipulation I am about to indulge in.

“You don’t like green apples?” I display mild, but supportive, surprise.


“You want a red apple?” More with the kindly supportiveness.


“Okay. I’ll be back in a minute.” I take the chopping board and bowl of apples to the kitchen. And there I peel the apples (not something I generally do for almost-three-year-olds, who get their apple cut into smallish slices, seeds and core removed). I peel the apples, the GREEN apples, and return them to the cutting board, and thence to the dining room table.

“Here you go! No more green apples!” (Note how, though I am perfectly willing to deceive and manipulate, I do try to stop short of a direct lie. These are not green. Any more. They are white. I do have my scruples. Shallow though they may be.)

“I yike dese RED apples.” He chomps them down with gusto.

My smile, as I pat his wee blond head, is not tooooo smug.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | food, power struggle, Tyler | , , , | 5 Comments

Why it’s called “home” daycare

“What is that baby doing in here?” Her middle-aged brows draw into a scowl of puzzled disapproval as she eyes the lone 16-month-old amongst the dozen 4-year-olds. She is an Inspector, and this is my first post-baby job. The baby is my daughter. My boss steps in adroitly.

“That’s the teacher’s daughter. Sometimes she comes in for a visit.”

Ooo, slick. In fact, she didn’t ‘visit’; she just stayed with me. (This only happened after my boss had assured herself of my ability to care for them appropriately. This was her policy with all staff with children; and no, not all staff were permitted to have their child with them.)

Fast-forward twenty years or so, to an interview in my home with prospective clients. The mom is a daycare-centre worker.

“How do you keep the toddlers and the babies separated?” she wants to know.

Short answer: I don’t.

Fast-forward to today. Composition of the household on this particular day: Emily, age 4; Tyler, 2.5; Noah, 2.75; Lily, 18 months, and New Baby Boy, 13 months.

“It’s okay,” Emily reassures a frustrated Noah. “Baby Lily can’t help it. She’s just a baaaaybee.” She pats Noah’s back, her voice rich and soothing. “She doesn’t know that hurts. I will kiss it better, okay?”

Noah beams. “Okay!”

“When you’re cleaning up the blocks, let the baby have one. That way he won’t take them out of the bin as soon as you put them away. When you are all done, then you take that last one away.”

Noah and Tyler carry the block bin together over the baby gate and into the kitchen.

“We are coming in here to play so baby Lily won’t keep smashing our building. But we left some blocks for her to play with.”

Emily carries the bin of playdough and playdough toys to the table. Baby Lily clutches one end and staggers with the bin. It looks a little awkward for poor Emily.

“Do you need help, Emily? Is Baby Lily being a problem?”

“No. She thinks she’s helping me.” She leans closer and stage-whispers to me. “She isn’t really helping, but I’m letting her think she is.” She nods wisely and smiles.

“I need that! Here, baby Lily, you can play with THIS!”

“Mary! Mary! Mary! Baby Lily said ‘DOWN!!!”” Noah’s small face radiates delight. “Did you hear? Her said ‘DOWN!!!’ ” He claps his hands. Baby Lily claps, too, and they laugh together.

Noah scoops a spoonful of stew into his spoon. New Baby Boy watches carefully, then picks up his discarded spoon and starts poking it around in his bowl. He doesn’t quite manage to capture anything on the spoon, but it’s clear what he’s trying to do… and equally clear what encouraged him to try.

“If you shout at the baby, you will frighten him. Tell him in a calm voice, ‘Those are my socks’, and then take them gently away from him… Good. Now you give him something else to play with… That’s it! Good for you! Now you are both happy!”

And THAT, Madame Inspector, is what that baby is doing in here…

May 11, 2010 Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, individuality, manners, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments


Busy weekend. Headed out Saturday to city three and a half hours away for a dinner. Stayed overnight for the wedding the next day. Home late last night. (Late by my early-to-bed standards.) Straight into work again this morning. Not a single moment to relax, decompress, not be “on”.

I want to go to bed now.

I woke up wanting to go to bed. This is not a good thing.

Three one-year-olds today, two of whom are experiencing a bit of “WTHAY(AWDYDWMM)”? Thankfully, their cases are mild, but still… It requires me to be caaaaalm, and yet PERKY!, soooooooothing and yet cheery!, reeeeeelaaaaaxed and yet upbeat… in just the right measure, the balance ever adjusting to their responses, so as to keep everyone cheerfully calm, perkily soothed, relaxedly upbeat.

I’m exhausted.

But we had a largely tear-free morning, and! they’re all napping now. 😀

And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I think I’m just going to make myself a nice, soothing, relaxing cup of tea, which I will drink cheerfully on the sunny porch.


May 10, 2010 Posted by | random and odd | 5 Comments

Every good gift needs a card

We did two Mother’s Day cards today. One, using construction paper, pipe cleaners and pastel-coloured muffin papers, for the older children.

Here, four-year-old Emily carefully traces over my lightly-pencilled “Happy Mother’s Day”.

Tyler’s finished product. Tyler, being two, doesn’t have the fine-motor control to trace letters. But he can glue! And tape! And splash stickers about!!

And for the babies, who can do none of the above? Baby hand-prints are always a favourite amongst mothers of babies, so why not turn a few into flowers?

Happy Mother’s Day!

May 7, 2010 Posted by | crafts | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mother’s Day Craft

Mother’s Day is on Sunday! Are you ready? WE are!

Taking a craft idea that is all over the internet, but which I originally found at that terrific craft resource, Frugal Family Fun Blog, I decided that we would make bath salts for all the mummies. Here are our ingredients:

Epsom Salts (ironic how BIG and BOLD the “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” label is, huh?) But it’s salt, people, not arsenic, and they were supervised. No ingesting, no rubbing into eyes happened.

Other ingredients: food colouring and essential oil. Not shown: the bit of baking soda we tossed in for good measure.

I had all ingredients but the essential oil at home. The oil, after a bit of floundering, I found at a local health food store. That stuff ranges hugely in price, so I chose one that I liked but wouldn’t break the bank. (Rosemary, at about $8 for a small bottle that, at 5 drops a year, is liable to last me a hundred years. Much better than the rose scent at $45 a bottle!)

We put two cups of salt into a bowl, and then we counted!
One… two… three… four… five drops of food colouring, and
One… two… three… four… drops of oil.

And then you stir it up. It takes quite a bit of stirring, to get the colour evenly distributed. There were still darker bits flecked throughout when we were finished, but I liked that look. I don’t know how long you’d have to stir it to eliminate those. I don’t even know if it’s possible.

And then you pour it all onto a cookie sheet, and smooooooth it out. This takes a surprising amount of fine motor control, I discovered, to make a nice, smooth sheet instead of a tray of humps and bumps.

You leave it overnight. This helps the scent dissipate a bit. (Even with only four or five drops, I found it a bit overwhelming, but I’m sure that’s a matter of personal taste.) It also helps it to dry out, so as to avoid clumping.

But really, so you have a clump in your bath salts. You’re only going to toss it into a tub, so this step is not essential. Given how damp this week has been, I was in no way convinced that setting it out overnight was going to dry it much. I was almost convinced I’d come downstairs in the morning and see big pink and green stinky clumps.

But no! Just nice, smooth, pretty salt, smelling lightly of rosemary. Pretty, scented salts which we poured carefully into our pretty jars. (I picked those up at the dollar store at Christmas. I KNEW they’d come in handy for something!) (Well, actually, they did, briefly. They were filled with gorgeous cranberry relish, which I was going to give to the neighbours. Except I let them sit on my counter for too long, and… geez, cranberry relish develops mold REALLY fast, you know? So anyway. The bottles have all been disinfected, not to worry. The mummies are not being given mold spores in the bath salts.)

Using the funnel was a lot of fun. The kids were mesmerized. They also helped each other: one would hold the funnel so another could pour. (No, this picture doesn’t show that. Noah was being Independent.)

A pretty ribbon around the top…

Some tissue paper and a sparkly pipecleaner… and…


They were VERY proud.

And, once again proving my gift-giving acumen, the children have not spilled the beans to their mothers. The mothers know they are getting a gift. The mothers know it comes in a jar. But we have never used the terms ‘salt’, ‘bath salts’, ‘essential oil’, ‘perfume’. Not once. So, lacking the vocabulary, they’ll only say inexplicable things like, ‘white stuff’ and ‘jars’ and ‘pink and green’.

Oh, and ‘stinky’. (Because I used THAT word, yes, I did. Just to play with the mummy’s heads a wee bit…)

Happy Mother’s Day!

May 6, 2010 Posted by | crafts | , , , | 3 Comments


A few of you have asked about how to deal with whining. A couple of years ago (good heavens, I just checked, and it was FOUR!!) I covered this in some detail. If you are curious, follow the link for Mary’s three-step, thee-week program to (virtually) eliminate whining.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | parenting, whining | 2 Comments

A professional question

Any career nannies reading this? Not temporary or part-time nannies, not nannies who are doing this until they graduate, or until they buy their first house or whatever, but people who have been a nanny for at least five years, and — this is the important part — intend to be at it another 15 or 20 years from now.

I know a few nannies. Being professional childcare providers, we tend to meet up routinely, in the park, at playgroups, in community centres. When we meet, we talk, and, as with any group who share a profession, we often end up talking shop.

And when we do, I am always left wondering: Why would anyone choose to be a career nanny?

Oh, wait. That sounds horribly judgmental. It’s not meant that way at all. This is an utterly sincere question. I am not being sarcastic, I am not belittling the profession. I know that there are women who do choose career nannying, and I am honestly, genuinely curious.

I can certainly see doing it while you’re a student, making your way through university or college. I can see doing it when you’re living in an apartment. I can see doing it for a specific season of your life. None of the women I know want to be career nannies. They are all in transition from one thing to another, and nannying fits the employment bill — for now.

Which makes sense to me. Because I always wonder… when you have a home of your own, when you have an established life of your own — as opposed to the transitory nature of life as a student, betwixt your education and your future — why would you be a nanny?

And again, I know, if you are a career nanny, that question is going to sound so awful. It’s just that when I talk to nannies, you see, the downsides seem to overwhelm the upsides to such an overwhelming degree, I wonder why you’d do it once you had options. Even if, like me, you want to make childcare your life’s work: why as a nanny?

When I talk to nannies, I hear about:
– parents who hover in the background, over-riding your decisions
– parent who come home from work, and ask you to stick around so they can… what? … putz around doing not much of anything, to hear the nannies talk
– parental micro-managing
– having to do housekeeping as well a childcare (beyond cleaning up after the children)
– not getting sick pay
– not getting paid if they cancel on you
– parents who come home later than agreed (and don’t pay overtime)

The list goes on. Though I would never ask directly about finances (to me, that’s bad manners), I do wonder about pay. It stands to reason I can make significantly more caring for five children than a nanny can caring for one or two.

Autonomy. I have lots. Ditto privacy.

The downsides of my kind of childcare? It’s in my home, so the mess is in my home. But then again, it’s in my home. I have no commute — and on a bleak and frigid February morning, that counts for a lot. Isolation — but nannies suffer that to the same degree. In fact, I can’t think of any other disadvantages of my profession that aren’t shared by nannies… but nannies seem to suffer quite a few negatives that I don’t share, or suffer to a much lesser degree.

I have four or five families, so if I lose one family, it’s not the end of the world. It’s significant, of course, but it’s not my entire income stream.

I think the biggest benefit, to me, is psychological. When I care for a child in my home, I am my own boss, and (most of the time!) all parties understand this. Parents, it seems to me, are much more likely to view their nanny as their employee, and, because they know they are the nanny’s sole source of income, there is a tendency to abuse their role. (My apologies to all the marvellous, considerate, nanny-employing parents out there. I know there are lots of you, and this post is NOT directed at you. I don’t want this aspect to be the focus of the post. I am only reporting what I hear — and I recognize it’s from only one half of the equation.)

I’m curious. Any career nannies reading this? Have I got it entirely wrong? Is there a big piece of the puzzle I’m missing?

What are the advantages to being a career nanny? Why did you choose it? Why are you happy to continue in the profession?

May 4, 2010 Posted by | controversy | , , | 17 Comments

Lessons in Mud

We’re talking about all things spring here at Mary’s house. The wind! The flowers! The baby animals! The wamer weather! The rain! And rainy skies!

The mud.

Oh, the mud.

Which is why last week, at the park, we MADE mud. Fun, fun, fun. Why did we not just find some mud, you ask? It being spring and all, surely there is ample mud about without having to manufacture the stuff?

Quite true. Unfortunately, the real, nature-made mud is … muddy. Really, really dirty. An hour spent putzing about in THAT mud would almost certainly mean grime of a nature that would challenge the most efficient detergents out there. Though I am of the “the more dirt, the more fun” school of parenting, I do try not to make their parents’ lives toooo difficult.

Moreover, most of that mud is down by the river. The water levels are bizarrely low this year, and there are mud flats out there. Ankle-deep, toddler-sucking mud. By a river. A real one, with, you know, lots and lots and lot of water, and a current, and everything.

So no. We are not investigating THAT mud. We are making our own. Our own nice, safe, clean, controllable mud. First you pour the water into a little hole…

Stir it up a bit, and play, play, play.

Tip: If YOU decide to make your own mud, this is not how you do it.

See, because when you pour your two cups of water into AN ENTIRE SANDBOX of sand, the water, it doesn’t go so very far… You get mud, yes, you do… for about 48 seconds. And then you just have a little heap of damp sand.

Which was okay with Noah and Tyler! They loved it! But next time we do it, we’re doing it in a big bowl or something. (Just like cake batter! Only not.)

Inevitably, a baby will crawl through your tiny drizzle of not-quite-mud… and, amazingly, manage to get REAL MUD all over his pants. I wish I knew how babies did that… (Yes. Someone at his house is a Yankees fan. He also has a weeny little Yankees ball cap. Hee.)

And this picture? This one has nothing to do with mud or mud-making. I just loved those two little crawling baby butts, making their way off, side by side, into the distance. Mud to smear! Sticks to eat! Mayhem to create!

The one on the left is Baby Lily. The one of the right is my new, un-named baby. I’m thinking Benedict, Ben for short… but I haven’t decided.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | outings | , , , , , | 2 Comments