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. 🙂