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


  1. You know what, I probably would have been the mother chatting in the driveway. I know the value of disappearing. Heck, a couple of years ago I took a German class where my class room was next door to the child care room. My 18 month old wailed and screamed and clung to me as the teacher had to physically restrain him when I left. And you could hear the screaming, poor boy, he was being TORTURED. But, within a minute, he was perfectly happy and I couldn’t hear him any more. I knew better than to go to the bathroom during class because that meant walking past the child care room, which had a big glass window.

    Anyway, when I went to go get him, if he wasn’t facing the door, I could watch him happily playing, but as soon as he saw me, he would start in on the “how could you have abandoned me, you evil mother!” wail.

    So, my point is, I know all this. But, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me that I shouldn’t chat in the driveway, especially if I couldn’t see my wailing child.

    They couldn’t see or hear them at first, but when we’d gone into the living room, Jazz called through the window and started crying, before I whisked her away again, so both mothers were aware, and in her phone call, mom did make mention of the tears at drop-off, though perhaps she didn’t mean the through the window ones. I don’t know. Now that a few days have passed, I’m not exasperated any more. I’m just finding it… odd.

    Comment by Suzanne Lucas | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  2. Gotta love that. We have windows in the doors of the nursery at our church, and it always bugged me when parents would peer into the window forEVER before they spotted their child, just to make sure they were ok, and their child, who moments before was calmly playing with a toy, and happy with the world, would see their parent and LOSE their MIND. GRR.

    I make it a point to glance in the window quickly, and if I don’t see my child in the glance, and I don’t hear crying, then he’s good, and I’m satisfied.

    “…see their parent and LOSE their MIND. GRR.” I’m still giggling at that one. Been there, been there, been there!! In that kind of setting, one-way glass would be good, wouldn’t it? Except that, as a worker, I’d feel tense all the time, knowing I could be under observation without knowing it. It would sort of creep me out…

    Comment by MJ | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  3. We had a puppy (well, still have her but she’s no longer a puppy) who was every bit as good at drop-off drama as a toddler. After we we had her spayed, she acted like she was in horrible pain (crouching, occasional whimpering and whining, etc.), and after cajoling our vet for a while they agreed to keep for observation for the afternoon. At the end of the day, we checked in with the vet and they said she was fine. As my wife walked up to the office she could see the puppy through window who was happily playing with the vet techs. As soon as my wife walked in the door, though, it was back to whiny-pain-drama puppy. Now that she knew it was just an act, my wife ignored it and soon she was back to happy puppy. But when she got home and saw me, she tried to pull the whiny-pain-drama puppy act again, in front of my wife! We just laughed at her and that was the end of it.

    I like how the nursery in the Disney cruise ships handle. They have the room set up so you can walk in and talk quietly with the front desk person without the kids seeing you, and have signs making it clear not to stick your head into the nursery to avoid making the kids upset. They also keep the front desk area dark so that there’s a one-way mirror that allows helicopter-inclined parents to check on their kids without the kids seeing them.

    Ha. Another toddler-puppy similarity: You reward something, you get more of it! I’m sure we all know toddlers who’ve put up the same “Oh, I’m so sick!” ploy, for exactly the same reasons.

    I just made mention of the possibility of a one-way mirror (though I called it ‘glass’) to the previous commenter. Not that, as a worker in that setting, I’d be a huge fan, but I suppose you’d get used to it. I can see where it would be particularly welcome there, where your child is in a strange setting being cared for by strangers, and among strangers. A lot of adjustment for everyone.

    Comment by Matt C | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  4. When I was a young mother, I treated my children like dogs (I’m kind to dogs, by the way). There seemed to be a lot of similarities. Although Alex, when little, could cope better with being left at preschool if he could wave to me until I was out of sight – about 300 yards away! Even so, I wouldn’t have stood talking, that would have been too much to ask.

    I once read an article where a woman was accused by her step-son, “You treat the dog better than me!!” She put some thought into it and realized her nervousness about the role had made her appear cold, and the boy was right. She started treating him as she did her dog: smiles, praise, ruffled hair to show affection, and treats for good behaviour. Their relationship, so she related, improved dramatically. 🙂

    Comment by Z | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  5. The kids aren’t the only ones who need training, are they? I probably would’ve been one of the oblivious who wouldn’t’ve noticed that my kid was at the window howling if I couldn’t hear her.

    And, honestly, I really didn’t know that I should just drop her off and run. I think I felt like the people at daycare would want me to calm her down before I left. It seems a little silly now, but it wasn’t in the manual (ha) that came with her when she was born!

    I say that in my interviews, you know: “Children are easy to train. Adults are much more set in their ways!” It usually gets a laugh. (If it doesn’t, I begin to question whether we can work well together. If they obviously disapprove, I don’t take them.)

    There was a manual?!? I must have lost mine on the way home from the hospital…

    Comment by katkins | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  6. Hahaha. I’m dying over here. What do you call… a group of lions? a pride. a group of monkeys? a troop. a group of toddlers? a whack.

    That’s so fitting

    Heh. Glad to know I’m killing my audience! (That’s a new one to you? Or you just like the application to toddlers?) 😀

    Comment by ktjrdnktjrdn | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  7. A friend of mine is a dog groomer, and the worst situation is when the dog owner hangs around for a while trying to calm their dog. Or in another case, the owner walked around the parking lot until Puppy was done. It was a nightmare.

    Okay, back to kids. Thanks for the heads up for my upcoming year of Pre-K parents being hard to train, though it doesn’t surprise me. 🙂

    Comment by Carole | July 26, 2011 | Reply

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