I had a birthday recently. A birthday ending in a zero, and thus a Significant Occasion. An occasion which we commemorated with a celebration in our favourite local pub, to which a few (dozen) people were invited, including my clients.
Now, my day-to-day persona is casual. Which is only sensible, given what I do. I wear the same pair of jeans all week. Well, barring truly revolting messes, that is. I suspect, mind you, that what I would term “truly revolting” is probably several orders of magnitude beyond what would preclude anyone else from wearing it. (Yes, indeedy. And people leave their children with me. I know!)
Yesterday afternoon I had the children outside, festooning my sidewalk with chalk. Which meant, of course, that they festooned their small hands and knees with the stuff also, with generous drifts of it scattered about their clothing as well. As each parent arrived, mindful of parental work garb, I dusted the child down before handing them over. Most of the kids go home in strollers or on bike trailers, but Tyler and Emily were collected by car.
We dusted them down, but Tyler’s hands were inches thick in chalk, enough to coat the entire back seat of the car, I’m sure.
“Here, sweetie. Use my jeans.”
Dad’s eyes widen. “Oh, no! You don’t need–” But it’s done. His face is a study of chagrin, which I hasten to assuage. “Oh, it’s no problem. I know, I know: normal people shower at the beginning of their day, but, for me? Well, what would be the point?”
So, yes. Casual. Jeans, turtlenecks and sweaters in the winter. Skirts (nice long, flowy ones for practicality and a modicum of modesty) and t-shirts in the summer. Make-up? Hardly ever. Jewelry? Equally rarely.
So, my birthday party. A casual venue, but still, an evening affair. For which I went to a certain amount of effort with my appearance.
A mother commented today. “So the husband and I dropped in and looked around for you, and we saw your husband, and he’s with this woman! And she’s wearing make-up, and her hair is all done nicely, and she’s wearing nice clothes, and we said to each other ‘Who is that sexy woman with Mary’s husband??’”
Hee. It seems I still clean up pretty well. (Even at my advanced age!!)
Lily, my challenge baby, arrived QUIETLY this morning. For the first time in months, she did not announce her arrival from the street with ear-piercing wails. She did not cry her way up the front steps. She did not turn and hide when her father opened the door.
She exited her car without a fuss, came up the steps calmly, stood quietly (albeit a little somberly) on the front step as her dad held the door open for her.
And then her dad said, “Okay, honey, we’re here. Do you want to go in the house?”
Does he have no sense at all? Does she want to? What do you think, you idiot man? She’s only cried at entry every day for three months. Every.Single.Day. And now, the first day she’s arriving calmly, and you REMIND her of her former distress. Worse, you let her think that coming in is OPTIONAL.
Does she want to go in the house?
No, she f*&ing doesn’t.
At his question, her quiet, sombre face crumples and the wails begin.
In fact, once her dad left (which, to his credit, he did quickly), she calmed very quickly. Even with that mis-step, it’s the best start to our day we’ve had since Christmas.
But, ye gods.
“Do you want to go in the house?”
I didn’t smack him. But, lordy, it was a near thing…
“My mommy is at work.”
First thing in the morning, and we have the usual busy scene: I kneel on the floor, greeting the child who has just arrived, the children who have already arrived trot over to greet her. One parent is just leaving, pulling the door shut behind him, another parent is hanging the snowsuit of the child I’m greeting.
Tyler is the one who’s just spoken. The parent hanging the snowsuit turns to respond. Her maternal heart pushes her to respond. The poor little guy, missing his mother already!
“Yes, mommy is at work,” she says, her voice warm and reassuring, soothing his anxieties, “but she will come back. Mommy always comes back, doesn’t she?” I wince at bit. I don’t see worry on Tyler’s face. I’m not sure why he’s telling us this, but I’d rather she weren’t projecting her assumptions onto the boy. Was he worried that mommy might not come back? Well, if he wasn’t before, he probably is now! There is such a thing as too much empathy. Mom is well-intended, but she’s leading the witness.
Tyler, thankfully, is made of hardier stuff. He gives her a blank stare, and repeats himself.
“My mommy is at work.”
“But she’ll be back at the end of the day, sweetpea. Don’t you worry!” And, giving her child a hug and kiss, off she goes. To work. From whence she, too, will return at the end of the day.
Tyler turns his attention to me. “My mommy is at work.”
Now, I still don’t know what, if anything, is his reason/agenda for his dedicated pursuit of this topic, but I’m not going to assume a negative emotional response. Let’s just chat with him about the idea and see where he takes it. When a child makes what could be an emotionally-charged statement without any sign of a particular emotion, my practice is to either be equally neutral, or to assume a positive emotion. I mean, really: If you’re going to project an emotion onto someone, why not make it a happy one?
In this case, I keep it neutral.
“Yes, she is. And Grace’s mommy is at work, and Rory’s mother is at work. All the mommies are at work!” Because they all are, and in our little world, this is perfectly standard. Nothing remarkable about it at all. Nothing exceptional, nothing worrisome, nothing negative. All the mommies are at work, all the daddies are at work, all the kids are at Mary’s. And the sun is in the sky, too. It’s just how reality rolls.
Tyler starts to grin. “Yes, all the mommies are at work,” he says, his eyes sparkling, “but MY mommy has SNOWPLOWS at her work!” His face breaks into a beaming smile. Oh, the wonder of SNOWPLOWS!!! “There are TWO snowplows! A yellow one and a big, big, big blue one!!!”
And for the next few minutes, Tyler regales us all with the wonder of the snowplows in the parking lot at mommy’s work.
So it turned out that “My mommy is at work,” carried no negative charge for him at all. It was merely a segue, his springboard to boasting. HIS mommy is at work, yes, and his mommy has the BEST WORK EVER!
Lesson for the day: When you read between the lines, make sure you’re on the same page.
Off to playgroup this morning. Oh, the joys of playgroup! Lots and lots and lots of space in our brand-spanking-new community centre. Space for the ride-on toys, space for the sand and water tables, space for a playhouse and kitchen, for some tumbling mats littered with baby dolls, for lots of running around and play.
It’s great. When, despite the brilliant sun, it’s still FREAKING COLD out there, the park an ankle-twisting maze of upchurned, frozen mud, the play structures frostbite cold, it’s bliss to be in this large, sunny room with lots of room for the kids to let loose and race around.
And there are lots of comfy benches around the perimeter of the room where adults can chat. Bliss. Adults. Not parent-adults, mind you, but other-caregiver adults. Parents, with their one (occasionally two) children, don’t really get it. Caregivers? Caregivers get it. I want my peer group. I want my colleagues. I want some support.
Because it’s March, the month that drains me. It’s March, the end of a looooong, cold winter. It’s March, and I still have Lily. The baby who has been a strain and a challenge all winter long. We’ve made some gains this week, mind you. I’ve seen the happy, sunny girl I so adore for two entire days this week! Hope rises… but not as much as it might have done once, for I am in no way sure these gains will hold. We’ve been through this loop a few times in the past few months already: I try a new approach, I see some improvement, my hopes rise… and then the improvement fractures, crumbles away, and we’re back to square one. Or maybe square negative three by now…
I am weary, is what I’m saying, and in need of supportive ears and encouraging words. And that bench of caregivers? It’s a beacon in a cold and dreary place.
Mom was intending to visit with us at playgroup, but when she arrived she let me know that she couldn’t stay after all.
I should have left then. Because how does this child react to changes in routine? Three guesses, first two don’t count. How to describe? We’ll just call it “not well”, and leave it at that, shall we?
But I stayed because I hoped she’d get over it. She used to love playgroup. I stayed for me. I’m wanting that beacon of support. I want to park my butt on the caregiver bench and be washed in empathy. The tots can play, the unhappy one can sit on my lap or play at my feet or even lie on the bench under my pashmina (she likes this, really), and I can relax in the company of Women Who Get It. I don’t just want this, I need it.
The other two trot off to play. Lily opts to stay with me, so I draw her onto my lap, kiss the top of her head, and rock her gently side to side. Her whining reduces in volume, but doesn’t stop. One of the caregivers nods at Lily. “It’s still going on?” She and I have spoken at length about this, me seeking ideas and a safe place to vent, she providing her solid, sensible compassion, and some damned good ideas. I talk to her because she’s got a wealth of experience, and because I know I can trust her to keep any confidences I tell her. She is the epitome of professionalism. No loose lips on this one.
I nod, adding a few carefully phrased, safe-for-public-venue details. The woman sitting to my friend’s left, a woman I’ve never met before, enters the conversation. She knows Just What To Do. In fact, as it turns out over the next highly informative five minutes, she knows… well, she knows EVERYTHING!
All this without asking a single question! She doesn’t know what I’ve tried, she doesn’t know how long it’s been going on, she doesn’t know Lily’s patterns or issues, she doesn’t know the parents, she doesn’t know me, the other kids, or… well, any details at all… and yet, SHE HAS THE ANSWER!
Gee. If only
we’d had this conversation I’d listened to her monologue months ago, think of all the grief I would have saved myself!!!
I’m sure if I told her I tried one strategy for six months, she would be sure the problem persisted because I didn’t try a variety of approaches, but since I have tried more than one, well, the problem is because I didn’t stick with one thing for long enough!!!
Consistency. You need to be consistent! If you are inconsistent ONE TIME in SIX MONTHS? All my fault.
You know, I give advice. I do. You might argue that parts of this blog constitute ‘advice’, and you’d be right. Of course, if you’re not looking for advice, you don’t have to read it. Skip that post. Easy. If you are looking for advice (and judging from my email, a decent number of people out there are) you might find what I have to say helpful. In real life? In real life, I am very cautious about giving advice. I wait until the person has asked for advice before doling it out, and, even when they do ask, I ask questions first. Because really, doling out advice when you know NOTHING about the situation is just plain arrogant. And rude. And totally infuriating.
We left playgroup early. I left in part because Lily never did settle in, and I’m always aware of the vicious, potentially bad-for-business tongues of the Earnest Mommies who believe that the sign of Good Parenting is a child who never cries. But mostly I left because this self-important, insensitive moron of a fellow-caregiver absolutely destroyed the empathetic, supportive oasis I had so looked forward to.
Ah, well. We got home, and Lily settled in. Now they’re all napping, and my home is… silent… And it’s Friday afternoon, and in three hours I will be opening the bottle of wine currently chilling in my fridge. Maybe I’ll sip that wine in a tub full of bubbles, too.
Sadly, YouTube doesn’t have a second track from this same CD, “Take Me Dancing”. My favourite line: “Miles to go, promises to break. Mess me up for old time’s sake.” Like “Heartbroken”, it’s misery with such a perky beat!
… nor, sadly, vacationing someplace fabulous.
Nope, it’s just March, and March is a long, weary month from me, the final installment of a long, weary winter. If spring came to Ottawa in March instead of April, I’d probably have been posting these last two weeks! My reserves of energy drop precipitously in March, and though I am managing to get lots of interesting things done — maybe I’ll show you some next week — I have to pace myself. Blogging has never managed to make it to the top of the day’s to-do list… which honestly seems to have worried a few of you. I am touched (and flattered!) by the emails of concern. Thank you!
However, the temperatures are much milder now, the snow is receding dramatically, and the sun is shining brilliantly, at least yesterday and today. I suspect I will be back to blogging next week.
Not Monday, however. On Monday I am taking the day off, and am going to a SPA with a girlfriend!!! I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard wonderful things. The perfect solution to the March doldrums, I’m thinking.
(Hm. That link takes you to the main page, which, the spa being in the province of Quebec, is in French. If you want to see more, but don’t read French, there’s an “English” tab at the upper right. You can also check out the Photos tab.)
You can never assume you understand the other guy’s assumptions…
I received a call last night from a couple I’d interviewed last month. They were very sweet, but before he’d finished his first sentence, I knew they were calling to say they’d found other care.
First, dad made the call. Well, hang on. That makes it sound like the moms are total weasels, leaving the dirty work to dad every time. Not true. Moms make the difficult call as often as dads, perhaps more often. It’s just that, when they’ve decided they want to sign on with me, mom always makes the call.
So when a dad makes that post-interview call, it’s to say, “No, thanks.” There’s the tone of voice, too, a little flat and unemotive. Or maybe it’s tentative, or (rarely, thank goodness) defensive. It’s the way they say nice things to start, but instead of sounding enthusiastic about these great things, they sound apologetic. You can just hear the “this was great, BUT…” that’s coming nest.
So, you get these calls. And you know. Besides, I remember this couple. They were nice, their child seemed normally cute. It was a decent enough interview. The usual things were covered, there were no surprises or mis-steps. Nothing went wrong, but there was no spark, either. I told my husband afterward that it could just be that they are very low-key people, and in their quiet way thought I was FABULOUS… but I didn’t think so. I don’t think they disliked me. But that warm connection I feel when the interview is going very well and they are liking me a LOT? Wasn’t happening.
And for my part? A similar sort of response. These were nice enough people. A little boring, maybe, but they didn’t strike me as the sort who’d be difficult clients. If they’d wanted to put their child in my care, I’d have cheerfully signed him on. I didn’t dislike them… but, well… meh.
And that’s okay. I listened while dad listed off the things they’d liked about the care I offered, and then went on to explain why they made the decision they had.
Now, most people don’t do this. In fact, most people don’t make the “thanks but no thanks” call at all. They just vanish. Which is okay. I’m still looking, after all, still interviewing. When I have a space opening up, interviewing is an ongoing process. I’m not waiting with bated breath for their particular phone call. If they don’t call, my working assumption is they’ve found other care.
Now, that’s come as a surprise to the occasional client. They know they’re looking, but, even though here we sit in an interview for a space I have coming open, they somehow assume that I’m not … looking. It’s the same sort of mindset we all had in grade three, when we were SHOCKED to see our teacher at the grocery store. (With a HUSBAND?!?! Buying FOOD?!?! Bizarre!!!) It’s like we all assumed that she lived in some sort of static limbo when she wasn’t teaching. We walked out the classroom, went back to our lives, and Mrs. Baird? She sort of froze there in the school, until we returned the next day and she came back to life.
Some parents seem to have that view of me. Yes, we interviewed, yes, I have a space open, but when they leave my home, I go into that same static limbo with all those third-grade teachers. So then, when they get back to me after two weeks or a month of silence and find the space filled, they are shocked and offended. (Would I have the right, I wonder, to be shocked and offended that they’d chosen someone else instead of waiting for me to offer them my spot?) The problem, of course, is that they don’t really grasp that an interview is a two-way exchange, with two equal parties. They are looking, I am looking. Just as they may choose for or against me, I might choose for or against them. These days I am careful to let interviewing clients know that, just like them, I am in the process of interviewing. I am looking to fill the space, as expeditiously as possible.
And as it happens, I filled the space this couple interviewed for. About ten days ago. But I don’t tell him that, because it’s clear where he’s going with this. They had chosen a different caregiver, you see, because when their 12-month-old starts with her, she will be caring for four other children between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Whereas I will have an almost-two, two twos, a three and a five-year-old.
Blink, blink, blink.
That’s what I mean about assumptions. When they asked about the other kids in care, I thought they’d be worried about the number of two-year-olds. That’s a lot of littler kids. I assumed they’d be concerned their precious snookums wouldn’t get enough one-on-one with me, with all those other babies competing for my attention. I have a response to that concern, of course, but it’s not an unreasonable one.
But no! They WANT their child to be duking it out with a gazillion other same-age infants.
Well. What do you know about that?
Of course, I think they’re whacked.
Assumptions. You just can’t rely on them. Not one little bit.
“Mary, Rory has the sparkly flowers!”
“Mary, Rory is going to take the scissors!”
“Hey, little man. The glue is not for eating. Here, use the brush.”
“Rory, that is my crown. You have your own.”
“Rory, the beads do not go inside the pasta, or we can’t make it into a necklace.”
Emily looks at me as she shakes her wise, five-year-old head and smiles fondly. “That Rory. He gets into EVERYTHING!”
“Yes, he does. It means he’s smart, you know. A smart brain is interested in everything. Smart babies like to explore. That’s how they learn.”
Emily nods, pleased with my perspicacity. “Babies. It’s those smart ones you really have to keep your eye on.”
I nod and smile. I keep my eye on Emily.
One of you asked how it was going with Tyler.
Well, has not yet pooped at my house, after last Friday’s dramatic episode. HOWEVER, he is pooping at home in the evenings!!! Are we out of the woods with this? Since it’s been less than a week, it’s too early to tell, but it’s clear that he did NOT make a connection in his head between pooping and puking, thank goodness. I’d say things are looking hopeful.