It’s Not All Mary Poppins

In which Mary digs in her heels

Top of the top of the top of my pet peeves with parents. Bar none.

Worse than parents who…
… can’t say no to their child.
… are chronically late at the end of the day.
… don’t call when they’ll be late dropping off the child.
… call me “the babysitter”.
… refuse to leave before they’ve calmed their baby (and thus spend 15 minutes winding the poor child up)
… consistently forget to send diapers, changes of clothes, or other necessities
… are inexcusably late picking up a sick child
… send a sick child to daycare

I’ve seen all those, and yes, they’re annoying to one degree or another. But the thing that really, really annoys me, possibly because it’s the thing I see the most frequently, bar none…

Are the ones who expect me to pick up their napping slack. The ones who say that they’re SURE their child doesn’t need a nap any more. They’re sure, because if the child has a nap, the child “just won’t go to sleep” at night.

Which, on the surface of it, sounds reasonable enough. There does come a certain point where a child no longer needs a daytime nap. For some children, that can be as young as 22 or 24 months. (Not often, but occasionally.) Some children are still needing naps at four. (Not often, but sometimes.)

A lot depends on patterns at home, of course. A child with an early bedtime (6 – 7:30 or so) will be able to give up the afternoon nap before the child who’s up till 9:00. Only makes sense.

If I have a family who has always encouraged sane and sensible sleep patterns with their child, I am always co-operative. In fact, only last week, I was the one suggesting to that parent that her daughter probably didn’t need a nap any more. Mum was describing bedtimes which have become steadily later over the preceding weeks, greatly extended periods of chat and activity before sleep finally arrived. I know this family has always had a consistent bedtime. I know the child’s sleep quirks. She’s not a perfect sleeper, but she falls well within normal, and her parents have always responded sensibly, as they are now.

“Let’s try dropping the nap for a week, and see what happens,” I said. This is her fourth day without a nap. Mum, Dad and I are working together, noting changes in night-time sleep patterns, daytime energy levels, mood, appetite… all those things that can be affected by sleep. I suspect she will only need occasional naps from here on in.

So, though I do enjoy my quiet oasis of nap time, I don’t put my quiet hour or two above a child’s genuine need. Emily hasn’t napped in about a year; Tyler naps some, but not all, days. Child-free naptimes are WONDERFUL, but if a child genuinely doesn’t need a nap… well, they don’t. I deal.

I’m not talking about that kind of parent, though. I’m talking about the ones who have never managed to establish consistent, age-appropriate sleep patterns. Year-old babies go all weekend without a nap. Fifteen-month-olds go to bed at ten at night. Eighteen-month-olds are waking multiple times most nights. Bedtimes vary by as much as two hours, wake times are similarly unpredictable. These children arrive on Mondays with dark shadows under their eyes, irritable, whiny and either lethargic or in manic overdrive. They are obviously, chronically, consistently sleep-deprived. I hate this as much as I’d hate it if I knew a child weren’t being fed properly, and was malnourished. It’s not about convenience, it’s about health.

And, very often, sometime in the second year of these children’s lives, their parents get the brilliant idea that the reason their child won’t go to bed at a decent hour is not because of any of those things. No! The problem originates elsewhere. This poor, weary, sleep-deprived urchin makes bedtime a misery because they’re getting TOO MUCH sleep! And if I would only agree to skip the naps, everything at home would be perfect.

Bugs the ever-living crap out of me.

I don’t say so, of course. “You people are making me crazy!!!!” That would be unkind, rude, unprofessional, and unhelpful. I want this problem fixed. I just don’t agree that their solution will result in a well-rested child. And that’s what we all want, right?

So, instead of laughing in their faces and out-right refusing, I suggest that I would be open to eliminating naps if I had a better idea of what their current patterns are. Which is only true, and only sensible. “We can’t effectively alter the sleep patterns until we know what they are.” I mean that. I may believe that their current problems are only the result of a year or two of poor patterns… I may believe that, but I could be wrong. It’s been known to happen.

Therefore, I ask parents to keep a sleep log. I provide the charts to fill. They keep one and I keep one, for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, I say, we will combine our charts and see what they tell us.

A blind experiment, I call it, where neither side sees the data the other has, so expectations don’t skew perceptions. (And to prevent, as happened on one memorable occasion, the parents fudging their charting to get the results they wanted. Here’s a tip: It’s silly to lie about something like that when your regular evening babysitter is your childcare provider’s daughter…)

With the charting in hand, we usually spot the problem easily. And usually — not always, but usually — it’s nothing to do with daycare. The first time I did this with a family, they called me on the weekend at the end of the second week. “We don’t need to keep up with the charting. We thought we had a consistent bedtime with occasional exceptions. The chart’s shown us that it’s his bedtime that’s the exception!”

That was nice. Moreover, they were appreciative of the exercise. That was nice, too.

Because it’s not intended as a trick to trip them up. Truly, it’s not, though I suspect some parents see it that way, as a test they can pass or fail. It’s not a test. It’s information-seeking. I want to know what we’re dealing with here, what the baseline is so that we can evaluate if our actions are resulting in the desired changes. If you don’t know what your starting point is, how do you know how far you’ve travelled? If you don’t know what the current situation is, how can you plan your strategy and evaluate its efficacy? Has the situation changed? If so, by how much? If not, why not? How do you answer any of these questions without information? You need DATA.

But do you know what? When I suggest the charting, about 80% of the contenders drop out of the race. Keeping a sleep log for three weeks is too much work? Or they know in their hearts the data wouldn’t support their position? Or it’s that fear of failing the test? I dunno. I just know that my suggestion, which is made quite sincerely, almost always results in the issue being dropped. I genuinely find that odd.

(Gratifying in some instances, she chortles evilly, but odd nonetheless.)

I want the child to be happy and healthy, and part of that includes being well-rested. I will work with the parents to achieve that. I will not, however, do the work for them.

It genuinely distresses me to see pale, weary, unhappy sleep-deprived children. If a parent’s strategy for getting their child to sleep at night is to drive them to the point of bleary-eyed, blithering exhaustion… well, don’t expect me to co-operate.

And if they expect me to make such changes without any data, and only on their say-so?

It won’t happen.


July 15, 2011 Posted by | parents, Peeve me, sleep | , , , , , | 22 Comments

Oh, Ergo, how I love thee

I have a new baby. (I know, I KNOW! I haven’t yet named the old new baby! I’m behind before I even start.) New New baby comes three days a week. After a week of so of visits, he has now begun his first week in Daycare. Mummy and Daddy are both back at work. This is the real deal now.

He’s not doing badly, all in all. In fact, he’s doing very well. The key to his adjustment? Unlike many newbies, he’s turning to me for comfort.

This, ladies and gentlemen? This. is HUGE.

Virtually all babies, for that first week or two, are sad and disoriented. They are in a strange environment (a week or two of visits does not make it familiar), and mummy and daddy, their sources of comfort and security, are nowhere to be seen.

No wonder they cry.

But until they view me as an alternate source of comfort and security, they are ALL ALONE IN THE WORLD!!!!

They are all alone, and VERY VERY LOUD.

Poor mites.

Now, this is normal. This is what I expect when I take on a new baby. (Remembering that babies, when they start with me, are a year old, well old enough to have expectations of the world. Expectations in which I most certainly do NOT figure. Expectations which I am, not to put too fine a point on it, royally forking up…)

But New New Baby is not that way. From the very first minute alone with me, he knew my purpose in his life. “OH! You WONDERFUL not-mama! You are HUMAN! You have ARMS! You can PICK ME UP AND HOLD ME TIGHT!!!”

And by tight, I mean tight. This boy clambers up my torso so as to bury his face in my neck, and clings like a little baby ape whose mummy is swinging through the tree-tops. It’s rather endearing. Sweaty, but endearing. The moment he has achieved full-body cling, the tears cease. Instantly, and for as long as he’s in my arms.

After a while of uber-clinging, he’ll sit back on my lap, start to take in his surroundings, and even make cheerful commentary on it.

“Dit! Dit, dah! Dah, dah, dah, dzat!” (‘D’ appears to be the consonant of the week.)

This, too, is very endearing.


New, New Baby is a Big Big Boy. I don’t know his weight for sure, but I’m guessing a solid 14 or 15 kg (30 pounds). The boy is a TANK.

A cuddly, needy tank. Who wants — needs! — to be held all.the.time.

And so I say again, Ergo, how I love thee. I’m still sweaty, but I can move. I can interact with the others. And my home? Is howl-free.

I am a happy, albeit sweaty, woman.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | daycare | , , , | 9 Comments

Just another Saturday morning…

One of the many things I love about living in this city. The Wonderful Husband and I were on our way out of town to a friend’s cottage last weekend, when a motorcycle police officer zipped into the intersection and stopped the traffic going north. A moment later, we heard the music and saw the red blur approaching.

But of course! It’s the Changing of the Guard. These soldiers were on duty on Parliament Hill. They’ve been replaced by the next shift of guardsmen (and women), and are now marching back to the parade ground. (Which is right next door to my kids’ high school, if that isn’t also very cool?)

We natives tend to forget about these things. 🙂

But though I can forget these everyday details, I refuse to be so blase that I would grouse about sitting there through a change or two of the traffic light, while deliberately choosing not see the fun in the pomp and tradition.

Because, really! That’s POMP! And TRADITION! Right there out my car’s front window! Isn’t it cool to live in a city where stuff like this happens?

July 13, 2011 Posted by | Canada, Ottawa | , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy Birthday!

Eighteen years ago, as of the moment of typing, I was in labour. At 11:46 a.m., after a pretty much perfect nine and a bit hours of labour, I delivered a perfect baby girl, eight pounds, one ounce, blue eyes.

Here she is at four. Is that not the most freaking ADORABLE mop o’curls you’ve ever seen???

And here she is at 17 and 5/6. Still with the curls, but now they’re all grown-up and gorgeous. It’s the puppy who’s freakin’ adorable. 🙂

Happy birthday to my baaaaybeee… who is now an ADULT.


July 12, 2011 Posted by | my kids | 8 Comments

Keeping it balanced

I learned something from a friend and neighbour yesterday. I was venting to her about a family I know in which a teenage son had held an emotional gun to his father’s head: “Do X for me, dad, or I’ll never speak to you again.”

Many parents of teens have heard that threat, or some variant of it, at some point. Lots of teens make such declarations when in the throes of righteous, self-absorbed indignation. They issue their Big Ultimatum, fuming and frothing, and, if you’ve had a teen long enough to develop the parental savvy, you ignore it, because, really? The next time they need something, they’ll have to talk to you. It’s an idle threat. The teen in question might not see it that way, but it inevitably is. You may get a few days of silence — oooo, punish me more!!! — but eventually they start talking again.

(In fact, in this situation, X was not a big deal, involving a small amount of money; the issue was primarily how it had been requested. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was extortion. Not nice. The secondary issue was whose responsibility X was: child’s, mother’s, or father’s.)

In this case, however, it wasn’t an idle threat. The parents are divorced, and another sibling had already broken off contact with the father. The son knows that, obviously. For him, never speaking to dad is not only a real threat, but entirely do-able. Dad was in a dilemma: He didn’t want to succumb to emotional blackmail, but he didn’t want to lose another child, either.

What to do?

There were many parties to this debate. Too many. It is often that way in this particular family: EVERYONE gets involved in all conflicts. (You can imagine how helpful and constructive that is… One might argue that conflict resolution by committee is not the most efficient way to proceed, but one would be wasting one’s breath.) Anyway, one of the many parties suggested that for the demanding teen, the issue wasn’t the presenting issue, but whether dad loved him “unconditionally”. Son wanted proof that dad loved him unconditionally, you see.

I was talking about this with a friend. She snorted. “‘Money’ is not the same thing as ‘love’.” Too often kids get that muddled, and their muddled parents go right along with it. If you don’t buy me this, provide those lessons, pay for that outing… then you don’t really love me.

Which is total crap, of course. That part of our conversation was simple and easy. It’s where she went next that I found interesting.

“Kids have to learn that sometimes in order to get something you have to give something. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — when my boys (she has two, 17 and 15) ask me to do something for them, I say ‘What’s in it for me?’ Because kids, they need to learn love is not just about getting. It’s about giving. For little kids, love is mostly something they get. But when they get older, they have to learn to give, even to their parents.”

“What’s in it for me?”

It’s not how I’d phrase it, mind you. I find that a bit crass and abrasive… but I really, really like the principle.

It’s akin to the analogy developed by Stephen Covey, of the “emotional bank account“. In every relationship there’s an emotional bank account. You make deposits with each kind word and helpful deed, each respectful action, every thoughtful interaction. You make withdrawals when you’re rude or irritable, when you forget an anniversary, fall short of a commitment. Deposits and withdrawals can be large or small, but the key is to keep the balance. You can’t make ceaseless withdrawals and expect a happy relationship.

“What’s in it for me?” I think I’d be more likely explain the emotional bank account idea, and suggest that a deposit of equal value would be required before they’d have the funds to make that withdrawal.

It amounts to the same thing, though, really.

Balance. Give and take.

More give than take.

Takes a life to learn.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | 4 Comments

Happy Canada Day!

I’m not working today. It’s a holiday!!! And one for which I really, really, reeeally appreciate living in Ottawa. Where better to celebrate the country’s birthday than the capital?

The Snowbirds perform over Parliament Hill. (And when they do, they’ll almost certainly fly over my street, too. Takes a while to turn one — eight! — of those things!) Very cool.

Guess who’s in town?

I just happened to be walking home from downtown yesterday as the cavalcade went by, coming in from the airport. And guess what? Kate waved at me. (Yes, she did. I was the only person on that stretch of the canal. It must have been me!) Either that or she was just stuck in auto-wave, poor girl. Entirely possible.

Later, there will be fireworks over the Hill, and if I feel like it, I can walk a few blocks over and spot them from the grassy verge of the canal.

From the canal, where I won’t get quite that view… but I also won’t have to contend with these crowds:

(Been there, done that, loved it then, not so much now. 🙂 )

Happy Birthday, Canada!

July 1, 2011 Posted by | Canada, commemoration, holidays | , , , | 2 Comments