It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Good thing I’m self-motivated

The truck trundles up the street as I load the children into the stroller. As I snap the last buckle, it pulls up in front of our house, and the driver hops down. Nodding at the stroller, he comments,

“That’s a helluva job.”

It’s not an unusual reaction, so I’m able to reply with a grin. “It sure is, but I love it!”

“It would drive me crazy!”

I’ve had this exchange, or some variant of it, with dozens of people over the years. To date, though, they’ve been grinning right back at me. While they couldn’t imagine doing it themselves, they admire the work, and who can argue the cute factor? This guy? He’s not smiling. This isn’t a light-hearted conversational gambit. He’s dead serious.

“Different strokes, I guess. It suits me.” I shrug and grin again. Come on, guy, lighten up!

“My wife does that. There are SIX of them in my house right now.” His lip curls in revulsion. “Six. And today’s my day off!”

You know, I’m really not sure what to say to this. Not that he’s really listened to anything I’ve said so far anyway. So I don’t say anything at all.

“Today’s my day off, and I decided to take another shift, because, it would drive me crazy, be around that all day.” He shakes his head, annoyance writ clear on his face. “Helluva job. Helluva job.”

And with that, he picks up our garbage cans and empties their moldering contents into the filthy back of the reeking truck he drives.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | eeewww, our adoring public, random and odd | 7 Comments

Paradigm Shifting, maybe

Or at least an adjustment, I think. Before I can explain that, I want to give you an example:

When my Wonderful Husband first moved in with me, he was bemused by my parenting style, particularly my discipline methods. Interested, mind you, but bemused. He’d been brought up, as had I, with the discipline methods of the day: clear expectations, scoldings when necessary, and the occasional spanking.

When my children came along, I started off as an occasional spanker, but soon discovered that clear expectations, firm follow-through, consistent consequences, and praise for the good stuff was sufficient to achieve the behaviour I was striving for. If I didn’t need to spank, why would I? My first was spanked perhaps a half-dozen times; my second once or twice, and my third, not at all.

I don’t think spanking is abuse. I don’t think parents who avail themselves of it — within certain very careful parameters — are bad parents.

It’s just unnecessary.

But this isn’t a post about spanking. This is a post about the evolution of thought and attitudes. Spanking just happens to be the example.

Though we’d started out in the same place on our parenting journey, my husband and I diverged when we began parenting. His first marriage was, by mutual consent, a very traditional place. He went out to work, she stayed home with their children and did the bulk of the child-rearing. Discipline involved spanking.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable with spanking, but he didn’t see what their options might be. The parents he knew who didn’t spank were entirely at the mercy of their unruly children. His children were cheerful, lively… and well-behaved. So for him the choice seemed to be “Spank, or Have Brats”.

Then he moved in with me. A non-spanker… with cheerful, lively, respectful, well-behaved children.

Huh.

He moves in with me, and he observes parenting and discipline that deliver the results we want — cheerful, considerate, well-behaved, nice people — without that form of discipline that he had always believed was, while unpleasant and regrettable, the only viable option.

End of example. Now on to the philosophical musings that are the real point of this post.

My husband had one set of experiences resulting in a certain perspective, and even though he wasn’t entirely happy with his conclusions, the alternative didn’t seem viable. He was making a pragmatic compromise with reality in a way that seemed reasonable.

That’s what people do, don’t we? We develop a perspective, we evolve into a way of doing things that seems right and reasonable to us. And then, often without being conscious of it, we downgrade the other options. “It’s the way I do it,” we think, “or that other, silly, ineffective way.”

I don’t think most people are trying to bolster their position by making the other options out to be stupid. It’s just that the way we do it makes such sense to us. And of course, you can always find examples of people doing it some other way, and it not working so well.

(A small tangent: In my husband’s defense here, I will add that he is a man of enormous integrity, remarkably open to new perspectives. He has had a full-on paradigm shift in his life where, after much careful thought and no little gut-wrenching anguish, he changed his world from top to bottom, to bring his life into alignment with his new perspective and convictions. This takes more courage than most of us possess. Rather than make those sorts of wholesale changes, most of us would settle for being disgruntled and increasingly depressed. We’d grumble to our friends, but we’d stay in that rut. He made the changes, and the process was agonizing. As I say, courage and integrity.)

Back to the main topic: I am beginning to wonder if I’ve been guilty of that myself. I’ve been framing a certain parenting pattern as an “either-or”, where the “either” is the way I do it, and the “or” is that other way which doesn’t work. You get polite children my way, and ill-mannered self-centred rotters the other way. No middle ground.

When in fact, there’s a range of options between my way and the other way. When in fact, the other way may very well work, or at least have aspects I could incorporate into my familiar way.

I’m finding it all very interesting, and when I’ve sorted it out a little more in my own head, I’ll tell you about it.

How about you? Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been quite contentedly muddling along in your own way, happily convinced the way you do things is reasonable and effective, and then experienced a shift of perspective? Where you’ve started with one set of attitudes and then realized you could, if not change them outright, maybe adjust them?

June 14, 2011 Posted by | controversy, parenting | 8 Comments

People are weird

We generally create a stir when we go places. Four toddlers in a stroller, with a puppy alongside. It’s some damned cute.

Most people smile. Many laugh outright. Children point. People do double-takes, nudge their friends, roll down the window of their car…

I don’t necessarily enjoy all this. I’m a pretty private person, and an introvert to boot. I’m not shy, mind you. There are times and places where I can thoroughly enjoy being the centre of attention. I don’t crave the spotlight all the time, though. The feeling that just by walking down the street I’m making a spectacle of myself? Not one I enjoy.

Most days I can enjoy the stir, because people are getting such pleasure out of us. We’re provoking smiles and laughter, after all. Smiles and laughter are a good thing. The other days, the days I really would rather pass unnoticed, I endure it. (With a smile, of course. People are being nice, I can at least smile. It might be a weary smile, but it’s a smile.) But escape it? Not really possible.

Now, a small percentage of people don’t notice us at all. One might wonder how four toddlers in a super-long stroller with a puppy alongside could pass unnoticed, but it happens, every day. One might condemn those people for their lack of observational skills, if not their lack of heart… one might, unless one were me. I know I’ve been that preoccupied. You could have passed the entire Mulberry Street parade under my nose at certain points in my life, and I’d not have noticed.

I had my reasons. These people probably do, too.

The people who truly confound me, the people I find it hard to forgive or even excuse? Are the people who see four toddlers and a puppy…

and scowl.

Really. That happens, not every day, but probably most of them. Passing down a city street, there will be one person every day or two who scowls. Not because we’ve crowded them, not because their passage has been halted to make room for four toddlers and a puppy, but just because…

I don’t know.

If they looked sad, I’d think maybe they’re missing their child who is at his/her daycare somewhere, or maybe that their family pet died recently.

But a scowl?

What’s with that?

Bizarre.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | our adoring public | 9 Comments

Button-pushing. Not just for toddlers!

“Oh, look at all the babies!”

We’re out in the mega stroller, of course.

“Goodness, are they all yours?”

(Of course. I’m always asked that.)

“Oh, dear. Can you see, honey? This one,” the sweet white-haired woman straightens to tell me, “this one can hardly see.” Her brow furrows, and suddenly she’s not sweet. “Her hat is almost entirely covering her face!” Not sweet at all. I am being reprimanded. For being negligent. Shoddy caregiving, that’s what this is! Harrumph.

Her companion, a woman I would judge to be her daughter (and about my age), also straightens. Goodness. Am I going to get it from the both of them?

I could point out that the child is question is not complaining. I could point out that, given my so-responsible sun-shade, I can’t see the children’s heads from where I stand at the back. (Not without tilting 45 degrees to one side to peer underneath, that is — which, I might add, I do at least once per block.)

Instead, I opt for a subtle reprimand back. “If it bothers her, she’s perfectly capable of moving it. She’ll never learn if I do it for her, will she?” And I smile. I’m aiming for warm, but I may only have achieved a semi-savage baring of teeth. I suspect the latter, because the sweet/stern/scolding woman’s condemning frown turns uncertain.

Her companion leaps in.

“It’s what I always say, mother!” (Called that right!) “We need to let kids learn things themselves.” I shoot her a grateful glance, which she doesn’t notice, as she’s only beginning. “You’re always complaining, mother, that kids these days expect the world to bend over backward for them. Well, who do you think taught them that? There’s a time and place to just step back and…”

She’s still gaining momentum as their voices fade into the distance. Oops. I didn’t mean to trigger a mother-daughter spat… but I rather suspect this particular one has been going on for decades…

June 10, 2011 Posted by | our adoring public, parenting | , , , | 4 Comments

The things you hear yourself saying…

“Rory. We do not sit on people’s heads. Off, right now.”

“Please do not pick the baby’s nose.”

“Because she is a dog. People clean their bums with toilet paper.” (This, I hasten to clarify, was strictly a theoretical question. No one had actually tried to implement canine-style personal hygiene.)

“Rory! We certainly don’t BOUNCE on people’s heads.”

Those were mine for today. What were yours?

June 8, 2011 Posted by | eeewww, health and safety, quirks and quirkiness | 14 Comments

She’s her mother’s daughter

Emma is reading The Hare and the Tortoise to the children. We own a version illustrated by Brian Wildsmith, and it’s quite lovely.

She reads slowly, and lets the children chatter about each page. It’s a British imprint, which becomes obvious at the start of the race.

“What’s a ‘cock’, Emma?”

Showing remarkable aplomb for an almost-eighteen-year-old, Emma answers the question simply. Nary a snicker to be heard.

“It’s the rooster, sweetie. In some places, they call a rooster a ‘cock’. See him standing there? The rooster is going to start the race.”

She continues with the story. A line later, she stops.

“You know, it’s pretty hard to read this and not hear something entirely different.”

I haven’t been paying attention. “Read what?”

Emma clears her throat and repeats the line with Import and Drama.

“The cockswelled upready… to give the signal.”

Not nearly as aplombish as my daughter, I snicker. May even have sniggered like a nine-year-old schoolboy.

“You, young lady, have a filthy mind.”

Aplomb gone to the wind, she snickers right back.

“Uh-huh. And where did I get that from?”

Touché.

June 7, 2011 Posted by | books, my kids, sex | | 2 Comments

Risk me not

“Mary, my hood!”

Tyler struggles to pull his hood back up over his head. It’s a blustery day, and though the sun is warm, the wind is not. He needs his hood up.

Only it won’t stay up. Over and over again we pull it up over his wind-tossed blond mop, and over and over it’s quickly blown back off again. On a windy, blustery day, when the warmth and protection of a hood would be greatly appreciated, it won’t stay up. It can’t. It has no drawstring.

There are few things more pointless than a hood without a drawstring. Why bother? Really? Why tantalize us with the possibility of a hood? Because that’s all a hood without a drawstring is — a theoretical hood. A virtual hood. Looks like you have one, but really? You don’t.

I know why hoods for toddlers no longer have drawstrings. It’s a strangulation hazard, particularly on slides. Now there’s an unpleasant image: your poor little guy/girl halfway down the slide, with the toggle of the string wedged somehow at the top.

Ick.

Not something we want to happen!

So the solution is to ban drawstrings altogether? Not to take the hoodie off, wear a different sweater, tuck the strings inside? No, none of that! We just WON’T HAVE THEM AT ALL!!!

And so Tyler is chilly and uncomfortable, because his parents naively thought that his hood was, well, functional.

If there’s anyone reading this whose child has died tragically because of a drawstring, you have my heartfelt sympathy. My complaints are not intended to diminish anyone’s loss, nor to put blame where it doesn’t belong. Any parent who has lost a child in such a way is probably putting all the blame required, and then some, on themselves anyway. I can’t imagine the devastation. When you balance the inconvenience Tyler is experiencing against true tragedy… well, there’s no comparison, is there?

“If it would save even one child’s life, it’s worth it!” we declare. And who can argue with that sentiment? Well, the sentiment is sound, but…

But what are the risks, really? In 2004 in the US, six children died, and 673 were injured in cars EVERY DAY. Every.single.day. I don’t see anyone banning children from cars. Whyever not? It would save far more than ONE child’s life; we could be saving hundreds. Thousands, over time. But, every day, we keep putting children into cars. Every time you put your child in a car, you are putting him/her at risk.

And do we give it a second’s thought? Nope. Do we hesitate in the driveway, pause before we pop the child in, feel that frisson of worry, of unease? Do we take a second to consider if this trip really is worth the risk? Nope. We pop the child in the carseat and drive off in complete expectation of arriving at our destination without incident.

We don’t think about it, and we don’t ban kids from cars. Instead we have rules. Rules against drunk driving, rules about car seats, airbags, and where children can sit in a car. In short, we manage the risk. The not inconsiderable risk.

But those DRAWSTRINGS???? Do away with them! Totally and forthwith! Far too risky!!!

Methinks we are not being entirely rational or consistent here…

There have been approximately 22 deaths by drawstring in the US… since 1985. I’m not sure when that stat was published but that’s probably in the order of one a year… vs six per day for cars.

Hm.

I am not saying we should ban children from cars. (Though you might consider walking anyplace less than a mile from home. Just a thought. Good for you, good for the environment!) Cars are not just a fact of life, they’re very often essential. So we do what is sensible, and manage the risk.

Why not let us manage the risk — the far, far, faaaaar lower risk — of drawstrings?

Tyler would be very grateful.

I’m curious. This is a pet peeve of mine. Are there any risk-avoidance strategies that drive you crazy?

June 6, 2011 Posted by | controversy, health and safety | , , , , | 18 Comments

A senior moment?

Until about 7:15 this morning, it was Saturday.

I got up (having ‘slept in’ until 5:38!!), pulled on a pair of jeans under my nightshirt, and took the puppy out for her first pee of the day. No need to get fully dressed, as I would on a weekday, because who’s going to be outside at 5:39 on a Saturday morning?

Oddly enough, my neighbours to the west were out, just getting into their car. And dressed rather nicely for a Saturday morning. Maybe they had a wedding to attend, or something?

I come back in. My husband wanders through the living room, a little early for a Saturday, but Saturday is one of his running days, so maybe he’s just going to get an early start on what promises to be a beautiful day.

I putz about on Farmville for… a while… while I sip my first cup of tea of the day. (For such a low-key game, it sure can eat up a lot of minutes. I make no apologies. As vices go, it’s pretty mild.)

I go outside with the puppy again.

I wander into the kitchen and scratched a line through yesterday’s dinner menu, and checked tonight’s entree. (Yes, it has the days of the week written on it…) Took the ground turkey out of the freezer.

And still, it was Saturday. Saturday at 7:12. My first child arrives at 7:45.

And I’m still in my jammies.

Here’s where good karma comes in. I go upstairs to the attic to where my Wonderful Husband is watching sports highlights, a morning ritual for him. I go upstairs to the attic, intending, it being a Saturday and us having NOTHING on the agenda (which is how we prefer our weekends), to jump his yummy bones.

(TMI? Mary has a happy marriage.) 🙂

Before I make my agenda clear, he says something about having a shower. “Before you take your run?” I say, somewhat surprised. See, my plan was to get him all sweaty before he took his run, knowing he’d be taking a shower after that. Aren’t I just so efficient??

“I’m not taking a run this morning.”

Now that’s just weird. My sweetie is a creature of habit. Run days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. I am thrown into further confusion when he asks whether I’ve taken the dogs for their morning walk. Well, no. He always takes Indie with him when he runs. I walk the puppy later.

“But I’m not running today. It’s Friday.”

Friday?

FRIDAY???

I’m dressed, properly dressed, in less than three minutes. I’m drinking my second cup of tea in less than seven.

And I greet the first parent — fully clothed, face washed, teeth brushed — twenty-three minutes after that. Because it’s Friday, and I’m working.

Thank heavens for naughty intentions.

June 3, 2011 Posted by | quirks and quirkiness, sex, the dog | 8 Comments

Just an accident!

Child A smashes into Child B. Tears and mayhem ensue. Adult intervenes and suggests that Child A owes Child B an apology.

“It was an accident!!” Child A declares.

“I know, honey. Next time, be more careful.”

This is not an unusual scenario. Have you seen it? Have you ever stopped to consider how wrong it is? Do you stop, stare, and scream (quietly to yourself)? I hope you do!

I spend so much time with small kids I see it a lot, and every time I see it, I sort of reel inside. What is that adult thinking?

Let’s extrapolate this reasoning a bit, shall we?

A nine-year-old spills paint all over a schoolmate’s science project. He doesn’t have to apologize, doesn’t have to offer to.. I don’t know… help colour in the graphs the friend will have to re-draw… because it was an accident?

Wait. I bet this happens all the time… Try again…

Your teenager’s Limewire habit has your computer crawling with viruses. He/she doesn’t have to spend the time to clean the computer… because the infestation wasn’t intentional?

Huh. I’ll bet this happens all the time, too. (Probably the kid in my first example six years later…)

Okay. How about this one? You knock down a pedestrian while driving. You don’t have to hire a lawyer/talk to a judge/pay a fine/do jail-time… because it was an accident? Yup. That’ll do. Because you know what? I’ll bet the judge and the victim don’t figure the fact that it was unintentional totally absolves you of accountability. It might mitigate the severity of the consequences, but there will still be consequences.

When you hear “It was an accident!!!” there are a couple of things to consider.

First, it’s entirely possible that the child may be LYING to you. Children are developmentally capable of lying sometime around the age of three and four. (You thought you just had one of the only delightfully honest two-and-a-half year olds on earth? Nope. They just haven’t figured out that YOU can believe something THEY know to be false. It’s a developmental thing. Don’t worry. In another year or so, your little sweetie can (and will) lie to you. Yes, it is disillusioning. Even after all these years of working with toddlers, I still feel a little crushed when I hear that first lie. I know it’s inevitable, but that loss of innocence still grieves me, just a bit.)

So there’s that. It could be … no, you know what? Given how often “It was an accident!!!” is used as a defense, it’s probably a lie. Statistically, I’m betting there just aren’t that many ‘accidents’, particularly if the child in question is over six or seven years old, and even more particularly if “It was an accident!!” has gotten them off the hook in the past.

Sigh.

Even if it’s true, though, even if it genuinely was an accident… um… so what? When a child tells me that “It was an accident!!!!” I generally respond with, “Well, goodness, I sure hope so! I wouldn’t like to think you’d do that on purpose!

Duh.

I then point out that, accident or not, Child B is hurt and some reparation — an apology and/or a hug and/or some other nice deed — is required. The point is that, intended or not, your action had a consequence and you have some responsibility to deal with that consequence. The fact that it was accidental does not absolve you of accountability any more than it eliminates the other’s pain/embarrassment/whatever.

“I know it was an accident, but Grace is still hurt. You need to say sorry and give her a hug.”

So they say sorry, they give the hug…

And then we get on with our day.

June 2, 2011 Posted by | aggression, manners | , , | 9 Comments

Just say Yes!

“Husband told me Jazz was a bit of a handful yesterday.” Mom is smiling, her demeanor relaxed, but she would like more information. This is one of those many mom-dad (aka male-female) differences. Dads get the facts, moms want the details. Moms want the nuance. I’m betting dad said, “Jazz was a handful today,” and when Mom pressed for details, he shrugged and said, “Mary said she was pretty negative.”

End of story. Which, for pretty near any woman out there, would only be the beginning of the story.

I know a woman whose son had open-heart surgery when he was about a year old. Everything went just fine (the son is now a thirty-something adult who works for a high-tech company and travels the world for fun), but for a few years after that, the family had to make the trip to Sick Kids in Toronto for an annual check-up. One year it looked like mom couldn’t make it. Dad didn’t see this as a problem. Everything was going well, they didn’t anticipate any bad news, he could take their son. Not an issue.

This wasn’t good enough for mom. “I know what will happen,” she laughed. “I’ll ask him what the doctor said, and he’ll say ‘He said everything’s fine’. Fine? Yeah, fine. End of story. I’ll want more!” Here she started to laugh at herself. “What was his tone of voice while he said that? How did he hold his head? Did he clear his throat? Did he look relaxed? I want details.” Details that she knew her husband wouldn’t even see, let alone be able to convey to her. A level of detail she knew was extreme and would tell her nothing of significance — but she needed it anyway!

She made it to the appointment.

Return to my front hall. Dad told mom something last night. This morning, Mom wants details. I’m a bit puzzled, though, because Jazz wasn’t a handful yesterday.

“No, she was fine.”

“He said she was very negative.”

“Ah.” Okay, I understand. I know what I said, and I now know what he heard — and they’re not the same thing. I didn’t convey my message well. “Yes, she was, but not in an obstreperous way. She wasn’t misbehaving. It’s more that she has a mental habit of negativity.”

We talked about it — in some detail. A child with a habit of negativity tends to regard the world with a certain level of suspicion. Interactions are viewed as potentially threatening, other children are impositions, daily events are to be resisted, not embraced.

Some examples from the previous day:

— Rory offers Jazz a toy. (Well, actually, it was half an empty CD case. No idea where he found it, but it was Special, and he was Sharing.) Jazz scowls, draws her arms close, turns away from Rory and grunts something grumpy over her shoulder.

— Emily stretches her arms wide and tries to draw Jazz into a hug. Jazz howls as if Emily had wallopped her. (And no, Jazz is not autistic.)

— Another child wriggles onto the couch beside Jazz and looks at the page of the book she holds. The other child does not attempt to take the book, nor even to touch it. They’re just looking at the pictures.

“No! No book! No!”

If this happened once in a while — heck, if this happened six times a day (we are talking two-year-olds here) — I wouldn’t think much of it. But these days it’s been happening with almost every interaction. All interactions are viewed with suspicion. Everything is bad, or potentially so … until you tell her it’s good.

— “Rory is giving you a toy! Isn’t that nice? Say, ‘Yes’, Jazz. ‘YES!’ Say, ‘Thank you, Rory!’ ”

“Yes! Sank you, Orry!” She favours him with an enormous full-voltage Jazz-special smile.

— “Emily wants to hug you! She loves you! Say ‘Yes’, Jazz. ‘YES!’ Give Emily a big hug back!”

“Yes, Emmy!”, breaks into that smile again and snuggles into Emily.

— “Say ‘yes’, Jazz, ‘YES!!’ Grace likes the elephant in your book. What’s your favourite picture, Jazz?”

“Butterfly!” (What comes out sounds a lot more like ‘bar-fly’, much to my entertainment.)

“The butterfly? It is pretty. Show Grace the butterfly.”

Jazz plonks a skinny finger on the page. “Bar-fly! Bar-fly, Gace!”

Default for Jazz, at least this week, is negative, suspicion, and withdrawal. It doesn’t seem to be borne of fatigue, hunger, illness, change, teething, any of the usual suspects. It’s just a habit. It’s not a habit I want to linger. I want to replace it with a habit of openness, positivity, cheerful expectation. She needs to say “yes!” to the world.

“Just say YES!”

I can see it’s going to be my mantra for a while.

Yes!

June 1, 2011 Posted by | Developmental stuff, individuality, Jazz, manners, socializing | , | 5 Comments