It’s Not All Mary Poppins


She sits on the end of a bench at the park, watching the children in her care. Her face is set in a frown, as it generally is. There is a quote, attributed variously to Coco Chanel, George Orwell and Mark Twain, which goes “Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. But at fifty, you have the face you deserve.” Very true.

I’m in my fifties. I hope — I believe — my face shows years of warmth, intelligence, and love. I don’t have a lot of lines and wrinkles yet, and those I have are light, not deep. (Thank you, mum, for those good genes!) There are frown lines there, sure. No one gets to be fifty without times of unhappiness and struggle, but there are others, too. I truly love the laugh lines at the corners of my eyes, and I hope they just get deeper and deeper as the years go by. You can read a person’s attitudes in their face in their sixties and up. I hope, when I get there, that mine shows peace, happiness, warmth, and kindness.

I look at my same-age friends, and see the same sorts of stories on their faces: kindness, warmth, intelligence, humour.

The wrinkles on this woman’s face tell the tale of years and years of negativity. Habitual frowning. Sneers. Contempt.

How she continues to get clients is a mystery to me. Surely one look at that scowl-draped face, at the permanently etched frown lines scoured into her skin, would send any loving parent looking elsewhere? I’ve often wondered: “Who’d leave their child with a face like that?”

She doesn’t often join in conversation, but when she does, it is one long litany of complaints. Complaints about the children in her care. Complaints about their parents. Complaints about life in general. Sometimes, for variety, she moves from complaints to sneering and sarcasm.

She is abrupt, sometimes harsh, with the children in her care. She tosses out orders — part of the job — but never pulls a child in for a snuggle. Although we all encourage our children to run around and play at the park, at points over the morning, we’ll all have a child in our laps, a child who has run over for a quick cuddle before racing off again. There may be a child who’s a little under the weather that day, and needs a warm, reassuring lap for the duration of our visit. That’s okay.

Not this woman. Her small charges never come over for gratuitous cuddling.

So. Not my favourite person. I avoid chronically negative people, and goodness, she exudes negativity.

But today? Today she’s had a personality transplant. She’s not sitting on the bench, scowling and immoveable. She’s getting up! And walking around! And she’s … I’ve never seen this before! She’s smiling!

(Of course, she’s one of those people whose smile turns down at the corners. Of course she is. But it’s a smile.)

She’s smiling, and calling out words of encouragement to her kids. Friendly, conversational words instead of barked orders. Wow.

And she’s chatting with people. With the other caregivers, with the parents. Chatting, and, moreover, listening ,instead of dousing you with a deluge of complaints and sneering.

It’s startling, it really is. I’ve seen this woman in the park for a good ten years, and I’ve never seen her so friendly, animated, engaged.

What gives?

She’s looking for kids, is what. Over the conversation, it emerges that her enrollment is down. She needs to fill some spaces, asap. Now, it’s a wonder to me that this isn’t her chronic situation. That this woman is able to fill spaces, and keep them filled, has always puzzled me.

But for whatever reason, two of her clients have decamped with little warning, a third will be graduating shortly, and she’ll be down to two children. The wolf is at her door, she feels its hot breath on her heels, and so …

And so she’s out there. Networking. Smiling. Being friendly to the other caregivers, being warm with her children.

Does this warm her to me? Do I feel the shields of my frosty reserve melting away in the sunshine of this new, friendly face?

Not so much. Instead, I think to myself: So this means that you know. You know you’re unfriendly. You know it doesn’t look best when you sit, arms folded, scowling on a bench. You know you should be smiling, engaging, warm, supportive.

You know all that, and you can do it. You know how. Even if it’s just an act, even if it’s entirely faked, you know how to go through the motions. (You could try to fake it till you make it. Put on a happy face, and it will improve your mood a bit, may even become how you truly feel. Do it habitually, and it becomes natural. Really.)

You know, and you can … but unless you must do it, unless you’re forced, you don’t. Instead, you choose to be hard, frowning, cold, and negative. All.The.Time.

Nope. Still don’t like this woman. And I hope those spaces stay unfilled.

November 27, 2012 - Posted by | individuality, manners, outings | ,


  1. I remember your other posts about this woman. How sad for the kids in her care! I wonder what they think about the “change?” 😦 I live in a small town and there have been times where I have seen other providers out on the town with their kiddos and wondered how the heck parents could send their kids to this person. And I always think that if they behave a certain way in public with their kids, how much worse it must be at home where no one is watching…

    Comment by Kate | November 29, 2012 | Reply

  2. Some days I have to fake it until I make it, especially in the wintertime,when we are hemmed in here together for days on end. But I do, because that’s the JOB, people.

    There’s a caregiver like that in our area. She is ALWAYS yelling. All day long. Her default volume and state of being is yelling. I feel sorry for the kids, but I feel sorry for her, too. Must be a terrible way to live your life.

    Doesn’t make me like her, though.

    Comment by Hannah | November 29, 2012 | Reply

  3. Oh, those poor kids. I hope they have wonderful parents at home.

    I’ve sometimes hoped desperately that I’d see the parents of some of the little ones I’d see at the playground with caretakers shouting at them angrily for asking for water, or ignoring them in favour of their smart phones while the tinies wander out into the parking lot, so I could say: ‘Look, your nanny is not watching them, she’s angry, she’s MEAN.’ I never have, though.

    Comment by Tam | December 1, 2012 | Reply

  4. It often makes me wonder why people like that even get into our business. Sure, we all have our bad days where we feel sick or tired and don’t really want to be at work, but to be like that every single day? And then to step up the cheerfulness and caring when she needs spaces? I hope she doesn’t get any other children, either. Ew.

    Comment by torontonanny | December 2, 2012 | Reply

  5. I know someone exactly like this who I’ve seen at “our” park many times…it is really interesting, and sad. There is just this hard look on her face, like you say that shows years of stress, bitterness, and just not happy but it isn’t fair for those kids, also she has a TON in her care which I cannot figure out.

    Comment by jbjokne | December 4, 2012 | Reply

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