It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Gathering up that loose end

A couple of you recently asked “whatever happened to that difficult baby?” and only this morning I stumbled across a partial post in the draft files addressing that very question. Karma. For those of you who weren’t around (or just don’t remember — it was a while back!), I have a very challenging child a while back. I started out hopeful. After all, I’ve been doing this for sixteen years. I have a wealth of experience, lots of confidence, and, if not patience, the perspective that comes with experience. We could work this out! I was sure. Never doubted it for a moment.

But, when the situation dragged on for months without improvement, the hope receded. What follows is a post from my draft file, written in some month ago, and a good six months after the situation began.

Unhappy baby: I’m not so hopeful any more. She is still whiny and needy, she continues to demand far more time and attention than I can give her and still be at all present for the other children. She arrives wailing… but it’s not sincere, heart-felt unhappiness. It’s a habit. It’s just what she does when she comes up my front steps.

And I just. can’t. shake her from it. It’s a habit, but it appears to be 100% intractable. I can’t break it, I can’t distract her, I can’t provide alternate patterns. Crying is what she does. That’s it, that’s all.

She arrives, wailing. Every day, wailing. We go for an outing. She wails as we get ready to go, but calms as we proceed down the street. By the time we’ve passed a few blocks, she’s cheerful and chattering. A normal child having a normal, happy day. And when we return to the house? The wailing starts again. The second she sees the front steps, the wails commence. It’s positively Pavolvian.

Everything I’ve tried? Nothing. Or, it will work for a day or two, or even a week or two, but only that long. For a while, we used a book of nursery songs. She’d arrive, wailing, I’d put her on my knee to sing songs to her. By the time I’d sung three or four songs in the book, she was happy, ready to slide off my knee and play. After a couple of days, she’d enter, wailing, but crying for her “songbook! songbook!”

Well, that’s a good sign, right? She recognizes the tool which helps ease her into daycare. It gives her security, stability, consistency, to help her weather the transition. This has got to be good.

You’d think that. You’d be wrong.

After a few days, she would not just wail for the songbook, but she’d wail the entire way through it. Another couple of days, and she’d burst into tears whenever she saw the damned thing lying around. Instead of positive associations, it was now associated with her anxiety. Instead of reassuring her, it freaked her out.

I hid the book.

And so it went with each transitional strategy I tried: a few days of success, then decreasing success, and then, oh the bitter irony, the new strategy would become a source of anxiety. And without that transitional activity, the entire day — the entire day — was one long, long, long, long, long, long round of whining, wails, clutching, and tears. All hers, but I will tell you that at the end of a week of days full of this, some of them are mine. After hours, when I release it all to my ever-patient, wonderfully supportive husband. It’s hard.

I am at a loss. I am also, and this is more immediately worrying, out of patience. I can’t work with a child I am not liking, and I am finding it increasingly difficult to find much to like here. I feel badly for her, I ache for her misery and wish I could do something to make it right for her. But I am not liking being with her.

I am not behaving badly: no tantrums, no shouting, no freaking the kids out. I haven’t, and I won’t. But each workday is becoming more and more of a strain, I am more and more often weary to the bone at the end of my day, my work environment becomes less and less satisfying, as each and every thing I try seems to be working, and then… fails.

I have had challenging children before. I have had truly obnoxious parents more often. On one notable occasion — the only occasion on which I gave a family notice — I gave them a scant week’s notice. In this case, however, though the child was a challenge, it was the parents who were the problem, bullying me when things didn’t go their way. Despite his challenges, I didn’t feel like I couldn’t help their child. It was the parents I refused to work with.

But in this case, I love the child and quite like the parents. They are lovely people. But their child is not happy with me.

I am meeting with the parents early next week. Barring a miracle between now and then, I will be giving them notice. This is the first time in close to sixteen years of childcare that I have reached that point with a child. I am not happy about it.

That’s the end of the draft. What happened was that I met with the parents (this would have been at least our third private, after-hours meeting), and gave them notice. They were disappointed, but I think we all knew we’d reached the end of our road together. Lily was not happy with me. And I, increasingly, was not happy with her. (Though I didn’t say that last part to the parents. With them, the focus is on their child’s needs.)

“In another situation,” I said, “without the triggers and associations that she’s developed here, she will probably start afresh and do very well.” I said that as much because I wanted to believe it than because I really believed it. It was plausible, at any rate. At this point, the parents needed some hope. It was the best I could do.

She was with me for a further few weeks as her parents looked for other care. Eventually, they put her in a large-group daycare. And my hoped-for, semi-wishful-thinking outcome… happened! It’s been six months or more, and Lily is thriving in her new large-group daycare.

Why didn’t she thrive here? Damned if I know. Wish I did. I wracked my brains for months trying to sort that out, and never did come to any confident conclusions. Still, I’m happy for her… and, truth be known, relieved. Those last few months, she was hard work, that girl. It’s not the ending I’d have chosen. I wanted the original, sunny, so-delightful Lily back! But in the end, it’s a happy ending for Lily, and that’s what matters.

And am I enjoying my two new babies, who are the very picture of mellow, low-need, happy, go-with-the-flow children?

Damned straight I am. πŸ™‚

September 30, 2011 - Posted by | daycare, individuality, Lily, the dark side, whining | , ,


  1. PHEWFH!


    Comment by Darcy's mom | September 30, 2011 | Reply

  2. I did wonder how this worked out. Sounds like everyone is much happier now. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

    It’s funny, I read this and then went to drop the older kids off at preschool. The community’s large daycare was also in the building today – and sitting with that group was my own challenging child who just never, ever fit in no matter what I tried. What made me chuckle was that they took him from my dayhome to stay home with his grandmother (and I said at the time “I give it two months”). Two months later – he’s in a large daycare. And they are welcome to him. πŸ˜‰

    At first, I was convinced she needed the extra one-on-one of a nanny at home, but when a friend suggested that a larger centre had the advantage of multiple staff, both to spell each other off and to give the child more than one focus of attention, I reconsidered. In this case, a large centre is working perfectly. Phew.

    Comment by hodgepodge | September 30, 2011 | Reply

  3. I think some kids just need the change of setting a large daycare provides to distract them from not having mom (or dad) around. When it’s a small home daycare, it reminds them too much of THEIR home and – “surprise! Mary isn’t mom” hits them all day long. My youngest was a little like that. She got homesick at Grandma’s house a lot, but never did at day care. It’s just enough of a dissimilar an environment that she could “let go” and enjoy the difference.

    I’m glad Lily found someplace she could settle in.

    That’s certainly as good an explanation as any I was able to come up with. Who knows if it’s true, but if it is, I can be happy for Lily without feeling inadequate, myself. I like it! Thank you. πŸ™‚

    Comment by ktjrdn | September 30, 2011 | Reply

  4. We’ve been at our daycare center for 7 years now. It’s a small place, only two rooms, one for older and one for younger. Of course people have come and gone for various reasons but I’ve only seen one child that these teachers simply could not make happy. I know the parents in passing socially and they seem reasonable, but there child was miserable in the place that his peers largely adored. They also switched and their child was also fine after the switch, but who knows why? Sometimes kids are mysterious.

    As an aside, I find it so helpful and interesting when you write about some issue that you have trouble with. I love your blog but you so often seem to have it all together!

    Sometimes kids are mysterious. It’s true. As for having it all together… well, after 16 of working with toddlers, if I didn’t have it mostly all together, I’d be in the wrong profession! Either that or a really, really, reeeeealllllly slow study… πŸ™‚

    Comment by Sarah | September 30, 2011 | Reply

  5. I operate an in-home child care, and this year I have two babies (my own and an additonal) the same age + preschoolers…This is my hardest year and I attribute it to the babies…and let me tell you some days baby does cry a lot and when this happens it is so hard to do anything. Their needs are so great and it really does pull all your attention from the other kiddos. I feel so bad by the end of the day for both the baby, but also the other kids who are not getting as much of my attention as they deserve. Sometimes I think that taking babies into family childcare can be counter productive…I am still struggling to find a good balance between babies & preschoolers. I’ve thought ending the contract with the baby, but fortunately for me the “crying” days are becoming less and less. I would love to hear some words of wisdom on operating a curriculum around two babies needs!!!

    My kids always range between one and four years old. At three or four, they start junior kindergarten, and as I don’t pick up from bus stops, the children usually move on at that point. I’m guessing that for you, “baby” means under a year old! (I used to take kids at six months, but our maternity leaves have been a year long for … ten years? twelve? now.)

    As for “curriculum”, well, it depends on how you define the term. We’d have to chat privately about that.

    Comment by =9o]0]]0o]\[Jesse | October 2, 2011 | Reply

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