It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Weird vs Weird

Playgroup. I take the children there so they can run around on a day when we can’t get to the park, when it’s too cold or rainy or mucky to even let them charge around my yard. A day when they’d normally be stuck indoors. They love it, of course. New toys, lots of space, lots of other kids.

But me? Generally, I’m not so fond of playgroup. Once in a while, I go there for me, but usually, I’m going strictly for the kids. Playgroup is crowded; I’m claustrophobic. Playgroup is LOUD; I’m noise-phobic. Not a happy experience for Mary. I do have a particular friend whose company I enjoy when I’m there … but I’d far, far rather meet her at the park or the coffee shop!!

As a caregiver, playgroup is also advertising. I am quite, quite aware that I am on display. When I walk in with my five small charges, I am immediately identifiable as Not a Mummy. I am a caregiver, a paid professional, and as such my talents, skills, attitude, nurturing capacity are visible for all the Real Mummies to evaluate. I am exposed. Fair enough. It works both ways. I will deliberately frequent playgroups more often when I know I have an upcoming space opening, hoping to impress one of those Mummies enough to get a new client. It does, however, mean I have to be “on” the whole time, and makes the event a little more tiring than it might otherwise be.

So, yeah. Pretty ambivalent about playgroup, all in all. However, with all the people and personalities gathered in that large room, sometimes interesting things happen. Sometimes weird things happen. Last week, something interesting and weird happened!

I was hoping to see a friend, but, sadly, she is not at playgroup today. (I really should get proactive about these things and, you know, phone her. I tend to be a bit vague, socially…) Even more sadly, really annoying caregiver is there. Gah. Happily, she has a friend with her, so I can sit a small distance away and not be drawn into conversation.

A Mummy approaches. She is young, late twenties, early thirties. Her long blond hair falls midway down the back of her tidy black dress, under which she is wearing black tights and black shoes. Her eyebrows are black, too, and are currently set in a firm, straight line across her face, mirroring the firm, tight line of her lips.

This is an Earnest Mommy, and she is Worried. Very, very worried. She approaches Very Annoying Caregiver’s friend. The caregiver friend is in her mid to late fifties, I’d say, with shoulder-length straggling grey hair, parted in the middle, falling alongside her face. She’s dressed casually, loose slacks in a nondescript colour, beige t-shirt. If she’s wearing a bra (and I think she is), it’s not up to the job… Caregiver is as loose, pale, and unfettered as the Earnest Mummy is tight, taut and tense.

“That baby over there,” she says, indicating a little boy some distance off, about ten months old, I’d say. “Is he with you?”

Other Caregiver acknowledges that yes, he is.

“Well, he has a runny nose.” Caregiver looks at Worried Mommy. Worried Mommy looks at caregiver. As the silence lengthens a bit past the norm, Worried Mommy actually wrings her hands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that before. You read about it, you never see it. Now I’ve seen it. After letting the pause last a moment longer than natural, Caregiver responds.

“Yes, I know. He has a cold. His nose runs.” Her tone is polite and factual. She knows what the unspoken request is, and she’s not budging.

Wait. You’re probably all having a WHAT THE FUCK? moment. I know I was. I mean, WHO REFUSES TO WIPE A CHILD’S RUNNY NOSE? That is just bizarre.

But if you want to understand someone, the best way is to try to get into their thinking, see it from their perspective. So, okay. I’m a caregiver. I can do this. Even though I am a caregiver who wouldn’t hesitate for a second before wiping the child’s nose. Who would, in fact, thank the mummy before heading off with my kleenex.

Although, truth be told, I’d also be a bit annoyed with said mummy. Hm. Let me dig around a bit. Why would I be annoyed?

Well, first, because she had to hunt me down. She didn’t know which adult was with that child. So, rather than doing a quick scan for a likely adult, she’s been asking around, getting people to point fingers. (Yes, yes, I know. I shouldn’t have been that far away from a crawling baby, but we’re working at getting into the perspective of the caregiver here.)

Second, she chose to hunt me down rather than do something radical like, oh, I dunno … wipe the offending nose herself? If it really is so gosh-darn offensive?

Third, because, come on, people, it’s a runny nose. There’s no blood. There’s no immanent danger of physical harm. It’s snot, is all. And wait! As I run through those objections, I see my description of tattling. Oh, now I get it. This mummy has just tattled on me. Tattled on me to me, but still. Tattling is tattling. And caregivers? We haaaaaaaate tattling. Hate it, hate it, hate it. And what do you do with tattling?

Well, you don’t reward it, that’s for damned sure!

Okay. I get it now. I still think it’s weird and stupid (because, hello, bad advertising!, and hello! inconsiderate to smear snot at playgroup, ewww), but I get it.

So now there’s a pause. Worried Mommy is flummoxed, you can see that. But she’s not going away. This is unacceptable !! Totally unacceptable!

“But his nose is running!” Her voice rises slightly with anxiety.

“Yes. He has a cold. His nose runs.” Calm, level, matter-of-fact.

Well, now. I’d say their positions are well-established. Worried Mommy takes another run at it.

“Well, my son accidentally touched your baby’s face, and now he’s going to catch that cold!”

Wait. What? All right, the snot is unsightly. And the caregiver really should get up off her annoyed and defensive ass and deal with it, despite her desperate urge to smack this woman. But does this mummy honestly think that it takes direct contact with snot to spread a cold? Anything that child has touched is now seething with cold viruses. And what of the other dozen or so children out there with colds whose noses are scrupulously wiped? You don’t know which ones they are, because their more conscientious adults are hiding the evidence keeping them clean, but you know they’re out there. You know they’re there, and every time they wipe their own nose with the back of their hand and then touch something, every time they cough or sneeze and don’t cover properly — or at all — those germs are being wantonly disseminated everywhere.

This particular snotty baby is unsightly, but only marginally more verminous than any other germ-ridden child in the joint. So that’s just silly. And weird.

In the weirdness stakes, these two are in a dead heat.

They have another exchange or two which I don’t hear because I’m off tracking down Grace, who seems to have vanished. I find her lying on the floor behind the play kitchen. Eesh. I sure will be glad when hiding behind things loses its appeal. I chat with Grace for a moment, give Rory and Jazz a quick pat on my way by, manage not to be tripped by a commando hug from Daniel.

As I return to my seat, I see the Very Casual Caregiver walk over to her baby and give his nose a wipe with a largish square of brown paper towel, the kind that you find in public washrooms. Guess Worried Mommy won that round.

But wait. A brown paper towel? Oh, how rough and uncomfortable for the poor baby. Why does this woman have no tissue? I know. I take absent-minded to entirely new heights (or is that depths?) of muddle-headedness. I cannot claim never to have left home without kleenex for a snotty child. It’s happened. But still, you put this unpreparedness together with her initial refusal to deal with The Nose, and … it just doesn’t look good, you know?

Worried Mommy heads out the door with a slender, blond two-year-old, heading for the bathroom where, presumably, the boy shall be thoroughly scrubbed.

Wait! She was THAT WORRIED about her child’s health, yet she chose to duke it out with the caregiver before disinfecting washing his hands (face, entire body)??? One begins to wonder whether it was concern for her son or simply self-righteousness that prompted the tattling. Hm.

And that was that. Caregiver retreated to her bench to chat with her annoying friend. Worried Mommy returned with her scoured child, retreating to the far side of the room.

My weird-quota filled for the day, I gathered my children and headed off to Starbucks. Where happily caffeinated people slurp coffee and look at laptops, and worry not about snot.


May 8, 2012 - Posted by | health and safety, outings, parents, quirks and quirkiness | , , , , ,


  1. People ARE weird. I’m not nearly as introspective as you and I still think the whole situation is bizarre. (Of course, my son has allergies, so he seemed to always have a runny nose. Perhaps I’m immune to the site?)

    Comment by ccrot | May 8, 2012 | Reply

  2. Gah! I mean, “sight”!

    Comment by ccrot | May 8, 2012 | Reply

  3. I was so hoping you would post the story after your tweet!! And it was worth the wait!

    As a caregiver, even though I would be annoyed with earnest mommy, my only sentence would be a sincere “thank you so much for letting me know!” as I got right to it. I’d save the annoyance for my twitter peeps 😀 Cause you know earnest mommy is saying to the other mommies “and you know, she just looked at me like I had SIX heads! Can you BELIEVE it? Meanwhile that poor baaaaby has snot all over!!” While the other earnest mommies shake their heads in disbelief. Bad, bad advertising…

    EXACTLY! That’s exactly how I would react, and with precisely that train of thought in mind. She may be annoying, but one of her friends could now be the client you’ll never get… No, it’s not negligent to refuse to leap up and wipe that nose the second you’re told about it — because for all we know, she’s been wiping that nose every 90 seconds for the past three days and is giving the kid’s lip a break (though, frankly, I doubt it) — but it is terribly, terribly bad PR. Goodness. And really, to let a kid go snotty at playgroup is inconsiderate, if only because anything he touches will be slimed, and not only is that genuinely unhygenic, it’s gross. So yeah. You swallow any mild annoyance you might be feeling, which is only about your own ego, anyway, and you do what’s necessary.

    Comment by Kate | May 8, 2012 | Reply

  4. People are crazy!

    Comment by IfByYes | May 9, 2012 | Reply

  5. I have to say, my antipathy for Earnest Mommies is so great that I side with the caregiver. It seems ludicrous not to just wipe the nose, but at the same time, Earnest Mommy should just MOVE if she’s offended by snot. Also, why was she letting her kid touch the baby’s face?! That’s Of course, I’d have been following the baby and getting wiggy about toddlers manhandling babies.

    Comment by barneyneuberger | May 9, 2012 | Reply

  6. Ok I guess I will be the other side of the fence. Here’s why, My little guy had a liver transplant and is now on anti rejection meds. THese meds make his immune system very weak. To the point that if we go to the playground, the outdoor one, and he ends up sliding with a kid with a cold, or in the sandbox with one sick I can guarantee you he will be sick within a few days. So from that stand point it is very frustrating to have parents bring obviously sick children around other children. I had one set of parents tell me one day “oh yes the daycare wouldn’t let her come today she is too sick so we brought her here for something to do” ummm no, too sick for daycare too sick for park. So I guess I can totally understand the alarm and frustration of earnest mommy at seeing a sick kid (or what she assumed was sick, maybe it just had allergies) in a play area

    Comment by hdperkins | May 18, 2012 | Reply

    • I don’t think you are on the “other side of the fence.” Most of us agree that it’s rude of the caregiver/parent to bring sick kids anywhere – or if they are not sick and it’s allergies (which really, they are still exposing everyone else to the germs in their snot) they should have mulitple tissues (not hard brown papertowels) to keep after the child and keep them wiped up. At the same time, if I have my immune compromised kid out and about, and I see a clearly ill child running amok, I’m taking my kid outta there (and letting whomever is in charge aware of the situation) before I leave. I think what makes it odd is that she ran the parent/caregiver down *before* she took her child out to be cleaned.

      Comment by Kate | May 19, 2012 | Reply

      • Oh yeah we regularly leave places. It is just hard to explain to a 3 yr old “you have to leave the park because somebody brought their sick child here” and often it is too late by then. And yes cleaning my kid would have been first priority.

        Comment by hdperkins | May 22, 2012

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