It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Ring, ring… wrong

The other day, one of the tots came in wailing. Not sure why on this particular occasion, but this particular child (*cough*Jazz*cough*) has a flair for the dramatic, and I think it’s just dawning on her that drop-offs have ENORMOUS drama potential.

I heard the wailing a couple of minutes before she arrived. She arrives, coincidentally, with Grace and her mummy. Goodbyes are said, and I whisk the children to the far end of the house, far away from the Evil Parent-Eating door. Within a couple of minutes a minute and a half 45 seconds about 20 seconds seconds of the mummies’ departure, all is cheerful again.

Until we go out to the living room ten minutes later, that is, and Jazz spots her mummy standing in my drive, chatting with Grace’s mummy. Now instead of four happy children, I have two crying children (Jazz, because, duh, and Poppy, who is an extreme and hair-trigger empathy cry-er), I have one uncertain child (Grace, who is wondering if she should be upset, too, because her mummy is also still out there), and one happy child. (Rory, bless his heart, generally remains cheerfully oblivious to the sturm und drang around him.)

I cast an exasperated look out the front window at the two nattering women before shepherding the children back to the kitchen. Honestly. You know your child is having a tough transition, and then you position yourself in view but out of reach? What are you THINKING?

Frankly, I’m not surprised by Jazz’s mum. It’s totally in keeping with her hale-and-hearty, no-sentimentality, and, if we’re honest here, teeny bit… oblivious… outlook on mothering. Once Jazz was dropped off, mum would work on the assumption that her daughter would be fine, just fine. (And she’d be right, of course. But she’d be finer if she couldn’t SEE HER MOTHER OUT THE FRONT WINDOW!!!! Gah.) I am a little astonished by Grace’s mum, who usually has more emotional sensitivity.

Oh, well. It’s another matter of seconds before Jazz (and by default, Poppy) is calm again. It’s over 15 minutes before the Oblivious Mummies finally leave (and yes, I’ll be talking to them about it this evening, yeesh), and I just make sure to keep the kids out of view of the window until the mothers are safely vanished.

We have our morning outing, we have our lunch. It’s only when everyone is settled down for nap that I see the message light blinking on my phone.

It’s Jazz’s mum, passing on her number for today, not the same one as usual. “Because Jazz was so sad when I left this morning, and I just thought you should have the number in case she needed to phone me or anything.”


Wait. You were worried about the tears? Really? So that’s why you tantalized her for 15 or more minutes this morning, staying in sight but out of reach? Really?

And your solution is a phone call? Which will render you in hearing but out of reach???

Okay. This could just be me, but to my mind (and in my experience), phone calls do not help toddlers. What a distressed toddler wants is mummy’s (or daddy’s) physical presence. They want the arms around them, they want the lap to sit on, they want the hugs and kisses. Words are secondary to the physical. While I always talk to a distressed toddler, I know that I don’t need to say anything at all to them. Just hold them. Hold them and kiss them and rock them. Murmur soothing noises, but it’s the comfort of my arms and my touch that they crave. It’s the soothing of touch that speaks most. Words are secondary. I use words when I comfort a child, because I want them to learn to associate words with comfort, but I am scaffolding here: I am using the reality of physical comfort to teach them that words can comfort, too.

And really. When you are truly, truly distressed, don’t you find yourself craving a hug? The comfort of the physical never goes away. For toddler’s, it’s primary.

But a phone call? Which is only verbal and no physical at all? For the vast majority of two-year-olds — and I am quite sure that Jazz falls into this group — phone calls are… are… just as comforting as seeing mummy through a window, but not being with her.

I read a story, can’t remember where, about a man who was worried that his puppy was at home alone all day. He worried that his puppy would be lonely and anxious. So his brilliant solution to this was to phone home and talk to the puppy via the answering machine!!! Anyone who knows anything about dogs can guess how well that worked. Dog heard the voice, couldn’t find the person, went INSANE, chewing everything its poor, stressed-out puppy teeth could find. (I’m gathering he was also one of these sentimental, anthropomorphizing folk who thinks crates are ‘cruel’.) Yup. Helpful, all right.

Dogs are not toddlers. However, I have two dogs and a whack of toddlers, and I can tell you that they have a number of striking similarities. One is this: when they’re stressed, they want a body, not words. Words are just the soothing sound that accompanies the REAL comfort: a body.

(Oh, and treats — liver chews or ice cream — they help, too…)

Perhaps that’s another conversation we need to have. Sigh. For now, I think I’ll stick with “If you want to socialize after drop-off, could you please do it out of sight?”


July 25, 2011 Posted by | parents, Peeve me | 7 Comments