It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It only seems obvious

Subtitled: Cause and Effect? What’s that got to do with Anything?

You can’t take your socks off if you’re standing in them.

I can’t open the door if you’re standing right in front of it.

If you feed all your Cheerios to the dogs, there will be none left for you.

Your shirt is wet because you (deliberately, ahem) poured your water down yourself.

If you want to be in your highchair, you have to let go of my knees.

How many gazillion times a day do YOU say something like this?

June 29, 2011 Posted by | Mischief, random and odd | , | 7 Comments

Canada Day craft: Triangle Card

Back in the dark ages — but still within my lifetime!! — this baby country that is my home had its 100th anniversary. I can still recall some things from back then. Fireworks. Our village’s brand new Centennial library!!! (No more every-other-week library bus: we had a BUILDING!) That song. The stylized maple leaf that was the logo for the Centennial celebrations.

Oooo, that leaf! Wouldn’t that leaf make a cool craft, I thought? So EASY!

It was. I happened to have sheets of sparkly foam on my craft shelves. Sparkly RED foam with peel-off backing. Couldn’t get easier than that! (If you don’t have foam stickers, you can use construction paper and glue, of course.)

I even had a heap of blank cards!


Word to the wise: these are equilateral triangles. (Remember your grade ten geometry? Each of the three angles is 60 degrees.) I actually used a protractor, though that’s not the only way to get the triangles even enough for this craft. Even with the measuring, they’re not perfectly identical… but, since you’re going to leave space between them, that doesn’t matter. This is not a persnickety craft.

You’ll need eleven triangles per maple leaf, and I’m sure you can figure out the how-to’s from the pictures.

After I made this one, I decided I didn’t like the lettering on the front. I think the leaf stands best on its own.

I can hardly wait to show this to Emily tomorrow: She will LOOOOOOVE it!

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Canada, crafts, holidays | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten Nine Tips for Choosing Daycare Parents

Here’s the first list of tips I promised. I didn’t quite make ten items, but this is a good start, I think! I’m sure there are more. In fact, I know I had a couple more ideas which slipped completely from my mind (never to return, it seems) before I could write them down. Hate it when that happens!

When parents interview, they are looking for a good caregiver, of course, and me, I’m looking for Good Parents. You may be surprised to find I am not so concerned with the child. Children, you see, are young and malleable, whereas adults are much more set in their ways. While I always enjoy meeting and playing with babies, my focus during the interview is on the parents. A baby and I can grow into a relationship; I need to find parents I can work with As Is.

Now, childcare is a personal and personalized business. A parent I think is wonderful may leave another caregiver cold. For what it’s worth, though, here’s my list of What Makes A Good Parent.

(To avoid confusion, remember that this list is aimed at caregivers, not parents. In this post, “You” means “caregiver”; “they” is the parent! If you’re a caregiver, feel free to add any tips in your comment.)

Good parents…

1. Cover the basics in the phone call before the interview. There is no point in wasting everyone’s time if my hours or rates make me a non-starter. Now, a sensible caregiver makes sure those standard things get covered in the phone call. If, however, a parent knows something non-standard is a non-negotiable — they’re very firm vegetarians, or they don’t want their child exposed to any television at all, or they want their religious holidays celebrated in the daycare, or any of gazillions of other possible things — it is up to the parent to raise it during the phone call. If the wrong answer means they would never consider leaving their child with me, a good parent gets that sorted out before we go through the time-waste and inconvenience of a pointless interview.

2. Show up on time. Arriving late to an interview is a giant red flag! (They’ll blame it on the baby, probably, forgetting they’re talking to a woman who works with five or six of them and still manages to get to places on time.) We assume that parents are trying hard to make a good impression during an interview. What happens after that contract is signed, and they’re not trying so hard?

(Tip: If you really like them otherwise, and would like to take them on despite this red flag, seriously consider raising your late fees just for them. If you normally charge two dollars a minute, tell this family it’s $5/minute. Yes, really. If they are routinely tardy, such steep fees will either make them choose someone else — which is fine! — or they’ll work very hard to arrive on time!)

3. Understand that not only are they interviewing you, but that you are interviewing them. They will come with their questions prepared; they will not be surprised if you have questions of your own. They also know that when the interview is over, they will be making a decision and so will you. (They will not, for example, expect the spot to be open after four weeks of full radio silence.)

4. Don’t blink at your fees and benefits. Good parents know that good care is worth the price. If they quibble about your fees, sick days or holiday time, don’t take them as clients. You do NOT want to be constantly fighting for your pay, your paid days off, your vacations. You just don’t. No matter how nice they seem otherwise, no matter how sweet their child, it’s NOT WORTH IT. It’s not worth it, but YOU ARE.

I once had an interviewee ask if the down-payment I ask (one month’s fees) was really required. I sort of blinked, looked him dead in the eye, and said in a perfectly pleasant voice, “I’ve never had anyone ask me that before. Yes, it is.” A pleasant voice, but quite, quite firm. He wrote the cheque on the spot, and turned out to be a perfectly nice, no-problem client. Don’t, don’t, DON’T feel guilty about asking for your pay!!!!

4. Appreciate the professionalism and clarity of a contract, and treat it with respect. Good parents appreciate the mutual respect and clarity of expectations a contract provides.

Bad parents see a contract as an obstacle to getting what they want. If the parents pressure you to make exceptions to policies and practices written in your contract, don’t take them. (Discussion of whys and wherefores is fine; pressure is not.) You’ve put these things in your contract for a reason. If you give these pushy types the impression that one thing in your contract is negotiable, then everything will be up for discussion… and if you’re doing that, why have a contract at all? (Corollary: for those things which are negotiable, don’t put them in the standard contract; write them in as required.)

6. Speak respectfully of you and others. If they bad-mouth the other caregivers they’ve been interviewing, proceed with extreme caution. You may be able to forge a decent working relationship with them, but don’t be naive: if they bad-mouth other caregivers, they will bad-mouth you.

7. Are like-minded, or at least open-minded. If you’re an arts-and-crafty, two-outings-a-week caregiver, you may not be a good match for an athletic, outings-every-day family whose ideal family time is a day of cross-country skiing followed by a winter camp-out. (In this situation, make sure the family gets a clear and accurate description of your typical day, so they can make an informed decision. They may decide that your program offers a nice balance to their lifestyle, or they may opt to keep looking for something livelier. Both are good outcomes!) If, however, they’re a low-key, artsy family whose idea of family time is a sing-along… you have a good match!

And finally, two more about the caregiver, not the parent:

8. Know Your Tolerances. (This one comes with experience, usually with bad experience!) What can you not live without; what do you refuse to live with? This will be different for each person. For example, I am very noise-averse.

Yes, small children make noise, and I don’t expect the poor monkeys to tip-toe all day long and speak in whispers. I provide rhythm instruments, we play noisy games, they can run in the house (within limits). I expect a certain amount of bedlam. I do not expect unlimited bedlam, and CONSTANT SHOUTING drives me In.SANE.

I have learned (the hard way) that LOUD parents are more likely to produce LOUD offspring. (It’s not that quiet parents don’t sometimes get a LOUD child, of course, but when they do, they are equally invested in teaching them an inside voice as I am, if not more so!) Bottom line? A LOUD parent is far less likely to get the spot in my daycare than a quiet one. Fair? Perhaps not 100%, but this is my home and my working environment. I have to choose what works for me.

9. Trust your gut. If there’s just something about that family, that mom, that dad, that niggles, if you feel tense or uncertain… don’t tell yourself you’re just being silly. Keep looking. Similarly, if you just get a really good feeling about this family, even though they appear to be exactly the same as the other family you interviewed last week… go with the one you feel best about.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , | 8 Comments

The boy needs a memory aid

Tyler is still not 100% potty-trained. In fact, given his withholding of bowel movements and our increasing worries about the possibility of him developing encopresis, we’ve put him in Pull-Ups and backed right off the entire issue. He’ll get there sooner or later — peer pressure will do it when adult expectations won’t — and we don’t have to worry about him permanently damaging himself.

At first, he regressed entirely to the diaper. More recently, though he still refuses to do a bowel movement anywhere but in a diaper or pull-up, he has been keeping himself dry, doing all his pees in a potty. We’re calling it progress.

And even more recently, he has become very particular about the placement of the boy bits post-pee. I am usually there to help lift the pull-up onto his hips. You’d think this would do the trick, but no. He must plunge his hand in there and rearrange things. “My penis is pointing up!” Rummage, rummage, rummage…

Yes, well, whatever. He’s not indulging in lengthy sessions of fondling re-arranging, so I’m pretty sure this is nothing more than him being persnickety. Heck, what do I know? I don’t have one. Maybe it really does require this sort of careful adjustment.

Anyway. The children have been industriously building enormous and complicated Duplo creations in the kitchen for most of the morning. When lunch is ready, they are called to the table. The littles go in high chairs pulled right to the table, the bigs sit in regular chairs.

Tyler sits in his chair, then gets up onto his knees and leans into the table.

“Sit on your bottom, Tyler. We’re eating.”

Wiggly children lead to dining table spills. Children have far less wiggle room when they’re firmly seated. Tyler knows that he’s expected to keep his bottom in his chair. He sits.

And then he’s up again.

“Tyler. If you want your lunch, you need to sit. Bottom on the chair, please.”

He sits. Winces. And he’s up.

Winces? “Tyler, is it hurting to sit?”

“Yes.” Huh. We determine that no, he does not need to poo. Nor has he pooed recently. He doesn’t have a cut or a rash or a sunburn. Now, Tyler is three and a half. We are determining this through question and answer. Clearly, though, I need to investigate.

“Hop down, lovey. Let’s check that Pull-Up.”

A startled look crosses his face, and he suddenly stands on his chair and plunges his hand well past his belt buckle, down into the depths. From whence he pulls a duplo block. A hard plastic thing with eight pointy corners. Which had evidently been nestling right under the family jewels. No wonder it hurt to sit.

“Good heavens, Tyler! What on earth was that doing in there?”

“I think when I peed and I fixed my penis, I forgot I had a block in my hand.”

And you just left it there? And didn’t notice? For, oh, two hours?

Boy has balls of steel. Clearly. Balls of steel.

June 24, 2011 Posted by | eeewww, potty tales, Tyler | , , , , | 9 Comments

Ten Tips

I was recently provided a link to an article offering Ten Tips for Choosing Childcare. Perhaps I might like to share it with my readers? It’s a decent enough list, as these things go, covering the basics quickly and efficiently. Nothing new and radical in there, but choosing childcare, while an important task, is not one which requires radical creativity. Just good communication, common sense and a gut feeling.

The wasn’t of great interest to me, mind you. I’m on the other side of that equation. And then I had my creative notion: it occurred to me that since you come here to get the inside scoop from a daycare provider, you might be interested in the other side. What’s your daycare provider thinking during that interview? How do you make a good impression?

Because an interview’s a two-way street, of course. Not only are you deciding whether you want to work with this woman, she is making the same decision about you.

Maybe I should be writing a list of tips, tips from my side of the babygate. A few lists occur to me, right off the top. Which would you like, I wonder? Ten tips to make a good impression at an interview? Ten tips to ensure your provider love you? Ten tips for dealing with conflict with your provider? (All this assuming I can think of ten discrete things, of course…)

Are there any tips you’d like? Things you’ve been curious about, but didn’t know who to ask?

And, I know! The lists won’t be just my opinion. I will solicit the opinion of two other caregivers I know, one a fellow home provider and one a nanny, all of us with 15+ years experience.

So, ask away. Which of the lists I suggested would you like to see — or are you interested in something else entirely?

June 23, 2011 Posted by | daycare, parents | , | 11 Comments

Filth beckons

A park. A good-sized park. A large park with two separate play structures, a playhouse, two sandboxes, two bouncy toys, a lovely grassy field, half a dozen benches, swings, slides, ladders, and a dozen children, at least. Is she interested in any of that?


June 22, 2011 Posted by | Mischief, the cuteness! | 7 Comments

Word girl

“Look, Mary.” Emily points, interested. “That cyclist is standing up on her pedals.”

‘Cyclist’, she says. Not ‘bicycler’ (incorrect but common amongst pre-schoolers), ‘bike-rider’, or even ‘girl’. But ‘cyclist‘. The best, most accurate word. The English teacher in me is thrilled.

“What a good vocabulary you have, Emily!”

“What’s that?”

“‘Vocabulary’, you mean?”

“Yes. What’s a vo-ca-blue-airy.” She frowns. She knows it’s not quite right, but not sure where she’s gone wrong.


“Yes! What’s a vocabulary?” She enunciates slowly and carefully. And accurately.

“It’s all the words you know. If you know lots of words, and many of them are big words, and if you can use them properly, you have a good vocabulary. YOU have a good vocabulary. There are lots of interesting words in your vocabulary, and you use them well.”

“I have a good vocabulary!” She’s quite pleased with the notion. Her eyes widen and sparkle. “And it’s even better now?”

“It is?”

“Yes, because ‘vocabulary’ is in my vocabulary!!”

Love that kid.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Emily, the things they say! | , , | 4 Comments

Learning never ends

Remember the potential paradigm shift I was considering a week or so ago?

The comment that provoked my train of thought was Angie’s comment, number 9 on my Just an accident! post.

As I read her comment, I was nodding my head. “That makes sense,” I thought, “and so does that, and, oh, that’s a nice way of going about it!” I liked it. She didn’t agree with me, but she was thoughtful and respectful, and her ideas just plain interesting. I rather admired her courage, coming in with a dissenting opinion, knowing that someone, or several someones, might jump all over her.

Now, Angie was just as guilty as I had been of either-or thinking. My either-or was framed “either you expect/nudge/even force the proper words/social forms, or you get rude and disrespectful children”. Her either-or was “either you let them learn by observing/being part of your good modelling or you end up with children with no empathy.”

Neither is accurate, of course, and I think if she and I were to sit down and have a face-to-face chat, we’d explore all manner of nuances, variations, and exceptions to those positions.

But her approach? Would it really work? How lovely if it would! I mean, really: Does anyone enjoy the sight of an increasingly exasperated parent demanding of their silent child, “Say Sorry! We’re not going anywhere until you say you’re sorry!” The longer the child stays silent, the more the parent insists, and around and around they go.

Are you cringing? I always cringe when I see that. Now, you all know I believe it’s absolutely all right to expect the appropriate words (please, sorry, thank you) without worrying if the child is feeling sorry or grateful or whatever. Even so, I avoid being in that situation like the plague. I think it’s safe to say I haven’t done that in 23 years. (My oldest being 25, you see, and she was two when she taught me the futility and mutual humiliation of that approach.) Besides, you can’t win. You can’t force a child to say words he/she doesn’t want to say. You put yourself in a battle of wills that will only make you look foolish, aggressive and ineffectual.

And what is the child learning from that? Nothing positive! So if you could teach the child the forms without such stand-offs? If, moreover, you could teach the child the forms and the empathy all at once, without ever even nudging? Wouldn’t that be lovely?

I do teach empathy, of course. However, I believe that sometimes we learn the form of something first, with full comprehension following. Empathy is a complex, layered, subtle thing and develops more slowly as the child matures. The verbal forms — please, thank you, I’m sorry, excuse me — are straight-forward, and can be taught sooner.

Which is where some parents probably run into difficulty. They teach the form, so that their kids, (as Angie so accurately noted) can “rattle off a muttered ‘soorrie'”… and they think they’ve succeeded. They think the job is done when in fact only a fraction of the task has been completed — the less significant fraction, too.

That’s no good.

We need to keep the goal in mind. The goal is not children who can voice the appropriate words with none of the accompanying feeling. The goal is kind, considerate, respectful children — and those things all require empathy.

How to achieve that is the question! Yes, let’s do it without the humiliating stand-off. I am in full agreement with Angie on that.

I am in equally full agreement with her on the importance of good modelling. You simply cannot teach either manner or empathy without the modelling.

I know. I do it the time. It’s my job, isn’t it? I probably do it more consciously than most humans on the planet. I almost never miss a chance to say please or thank you. I almost never forget to say excuse me. And on the rare occasions when I slip? I acknowledge it, and say “I’m sorry”.

And so all of my children learn empathy and manners without being nudged, right? Here’s where Angie and I diverge.

I am very, very consistent in modelling. And yet… 98% of the kids I work with do not connect the dots. “Mary always uses that word, I think I will, too.” Nope. Some kids do, for sure. There are the occasional children who are exceptionally empathetic.

They are wonderful. Angie’s daughter is obviously one such child. They are also the exception.

So a nudge here and there, an encouragement, a refusal to hand over the cookie until you hear the “please” and the matching refusal to let go until you hear the “thank you”? Pretty much essential for most two-year-olds, at least for a season.

The belligerent stand-off, however? Nasty and pointless. So what do you do when you have a child who should be saying sorry but won’t? Angie has the answer! I love her idea, and will be using it from here on in.

You approach the injured party, and with your own child under your arm you ask the other child if they’re okay. You say sorry on behalf of your child, you give the injured child a hug. In short, you model the behaviour and ensure that your child is part of it. No punishment, no recrimination, no escalating exasperation and embarrassment. We’re not being parental weenies, either: no wandering off and ignoring the situation for your child! But lots of good modelling of both the form (are you okay? I’m sorry) and the substance (empathy/concern/remorse) of an apology.

I really, really like that. It’s brilliant! If you’ve ever found yourself staring down at a child who will not say sorry, a child who will not deal with a situation that really needs to be dealt with… if you as the parent have felt frustrated and helpless and embarrassed — and who hasn’t, at least once? If you’ve ever been in that situation, this approach is a gift. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago! Well, probably because I’ve had a difference approach which generally worked… but I like this one much much better. I will be using it from now on.

So, Angie. It’s clear you didn’t affect a paradigm shift, but you did make me think, and you did teach me something new and valuable. Thank you!

June 20, 2011 Posted by | manners, parenting | , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Nature is not a delicate flower

The snapping turtles are coming up from the river, looking for places to nest. They do this every year. They lay eggs on the verge of roads, in the playground sandbox, beside a busy footpath, in the middle of the bicycle path. How even a few eggs survive to continue the species is beyond me. But they’re here every year. Every morning when I walk the dogs, there are a few, here and there.

Indie finally noticed one this morning.

You can see the curiosity, caution, and confusion.

What IS that thing?
What is it doing?
Can I eat it?
Can it eat me?
Do I need to be afraid of it?
What’s it for?

And the obvious solution to a dilemma like this, is to BARK AT IT!!!

bark-bark-bark-bark WHAT ARE YOU?
bark-bark-bark-barkWHERE ARE YOU GOING?
bark-bark-bark-barkWHAT ARE YOU?
bark-bark-bark-barkARE YOU DANGEROUS?
bark-bark-bark-barkWHAT ARE YOU?
bark-bark-bark-barkARE YOU EDIBLE?
bark-bark-bark-barkWHAT, WHAT, WHAT ARE YOU????

This from a dog who barks maybe twice a week. Maybe.

Still, she was keeping a cautious distance from the turtle. The puppy I kept with me, as I continued my walk around the park. Indie would bark a bit, charge around the park, and then go back to THAT WEIRD THING to bark some more, from a suitably safe distance. The turtle’s not being harmed, the dogs are safe, we’re a long distance from any homes which might be annoyed by the ruckus. No harm done, I figure.

Some might differ.

A woman approaches, frowning.

“That’s got to be stressing the turtle out.”

A snapping turtle… stressed? Okay, so stress is a physiological thing and perhaps it is having a physiological response to the dog. I don’t know. It’s certainly not giving any indication of even being aware of the dog.

But stress? As in psychological distress? She’s anthropomorphizing an amphibian. Not quite reptilian, but close. Have you ever looked at a snapping turtle? Those things are primordial. It doesn’t have a psyche to distress.

Only a city girl would look at a snapping turtle and see “poor delicate expectant momma, all stressed ooooout”. Okay, then, city girl. If it’s stressed, pick it up and cuddle it, soothe it back to an unstressed state. I dare you.

“I dunno,” I say. “Do snapping turtles feel stress?”

“Well, she’s looking for a place to lay her eggs!” Harrumph. Guess that puts me in my place.

She proceeds without giving me opportunity to respond. Not that I intended to. I’m amused, not irked, and I grin at her receding back. A fellow dog-walker pulls alongside me, also grinning. Evidently we’re sympatico.

I shrug. “Seems to me that even if she is stressed, it’ll teach her this is a bad place to lay eggs.”

At that he laughs outright. “I don’t think those things can learn. Where our cottage is, you get dozens of those things. One morning we hit one with our car. Really big one.” He gestures a good metre across. “We didn’t run over it, but we dinged it with the bumper and just drove it into the dirt. Ground her right down. We got out to make sure she wasn’t injured. She took another five steps, stopped right there in the road, a foot from where she’d just been hit by a car, and started laying her eggs.”

Well. Exactly.

An animal that can be unfazed by a hit-and-not-run is not going to be “stressed” by a bit of noise.

Nature. Red in tooth and claw, people, red in tooth and claw.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | random and odd | , , | 6 Comments

Life’s little outrages

Rory lifts a tray puzzle from the rack, and then, on his way to the table, tips it upside-down. He stares in astonishment at the pieces strewn across the floor. “Uh-oh! Puzzle!”

Jazz sticks her hand into the mouth of the sleeping puppy. The puppy wakes and takes an enthusiastic nibble of this tempting morsel. Jazz is outraged! “Puppy! Puppy bite!”

Did you know that when you tear pages from a book, you can’t read it any more? That the pages WON’T EVEN TURN??? Like, really, what’s with THAT???

Did you further know that play-dough taste just as bad on the third mouthful as it did on the first??? (Shall we pause for a moment to savour the irony that the same child who persevered to the third bite of play-dough adamantly refuses to ingest a single pea?)

How about this one: when you feed all your pasta to a begging dog, there is NONE LEFT FOR YOU TO EAT? I mean, really, who could have predicted that???

Did you know that when you poke your sister for the eleventy-third time, even though she has told you eleventy-two times to stop, she will POKE YOU BACK? I know! How dare she, right???

Did you know? Did you know any of this stuff? I mean, really, WHO KNEW???

June 16, 2011 Posted by | aggression, Mischief, random and odd | | 4 Comments