the dead? Evidently not.
No, just returning from the disinclined. The otherwise occupied. The “this blogging schtick is beginning to feel like work“. So I gave myself a break.
And now I’m back. I’ve lost a few readers, for sure, vanishing like that for weeks (months?) without warning, but that’s okay. While I do like the idea of readers, and I certainly like interacting with my commenters, I blog for my own entertainment.
What have I been doing?
Just little things, domestic things, family and friend things.
My big girl recently visited from the states (Missouri, specifically), where she now lives. That was a big event in the Mary household! My big girl has had a big year, too, with some huge changes on the personal front — good and healthy changes! — a change of jobs, a new career, a new boyfriend, and, most recently, a new home. That’s a lot! She’s thriving, and I’m so proud.
My wonderful husband is travelling a lot this summer for work. We’ve had a few visits from our grand-daughter, always a delight. My baby turned 20 earlier this month. I am now the mother of twenty-somethings. No more teenagers!
So, this and that, and none of it exceptional, just normal family stuff.
The daycare is in a season of transition. Right now I have Jazz and Grace (both 4) Poppy and Daniel (both 3) and Rosie (will turn 2 late August). In September, Jazz and Grace will move on to Big Kid School, and Daniel’s baby sister (12 months) will join us. The fall enrollment is Poppy, Daniel, Rosie, and Daniel’s baby sister. Four children. Two of them part-time. (Which I thought would be full-time until quite recently. Mom found a job-shre. Good for her, bad for me.) Eep.
This leaves me with a space to fill. Only once in the 17 years I’ve been doing this have I not had all my spaces filled four to six months in advance, and that last time? It took me four or five months to fill it, because that’s how far in advance people find care in this neighbourhood. So that has me worried, though not overmuch… yet. The wolf is not at my door. I can still house, clothe, and feed myself… for a while. But the belt-tightening starts now. No more impulse purchases of pretty sundresses for me! Nor even pretty nail polish. Nor even coffee, come to that, unless the couch-mining is sufficiently bountiful.
So there’s that.
But all is well in the Mary household! I’m back, and glad to be here.
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.
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.
A mother stands in my front hall at the end of the day.
Her daughter reaches for the latch of the front door. Now, this is Not Allowed at Mary’s house. Children are never, ever to open the front door. Never, ever, ever. I shudder to think of the chaos and potential tragedy that could result from children wandering out the door. Most of the time, the screen door is kept locked to prevent escapes, but this is the end of the day, parents are coming and going. The door is unlocked.
Nonetheless, locked or not, the door is Off Limits to the children, and SuzieQ knows this. However, she has obviously weighed our respective authorities (who’s the boss? mummy or Mary?) and our potential to act (who’s standing closer to me?), and figures it’s a risk worth taking. Mother notices.
“Suzie. Leave the door, please.”
Suzie looks at mum, and puts her hand on the door knob. Without breaking eye contact, her jaw set, she carefully places her hand on that knob. OOoooh, the defiance! I’m itching to take action, and I would, I would, were mother not standing between us. But of course, mum won’t let her get away with that, right?
“Suzie. Leave the door and come here, please.” (And I sigh, inwardly. Here we go!)
Suzie unlatches the door.
Now, her mother is within arm’s reach. There is absolutely nothing to prevent mother from stretching out her arm — she wouldn’t even have to lean! — and pulling the door firmly shut. Instead, she merely tosses more words, more pointless words, into the air. Tosses them into the air, where they dissipate into nothingness. Ineffectual, meaningless nothing.
“Suzie. Leave the door.”
Suzie opens the door.
(Gee. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?)
“Suzie. I said leave the door.”
Suzie steps out onto the porch.
“Suzie. I said … oh, okay. Okay, you can go out, but stay on the porch!”
We’ll stop here, shall we? You can see the trajectory. I think none of you will be surprised to know Mum and I didn’t get to finish that conversation.
Suzie’s mother is impressed (and truth be known, I think also a little pissed off, some days) at how readily, and without any fuss, her daughter does as I ask. Had I been standing between Suzie and the door, there is absolutely no way at all that she would have touched the latch.
What’s the difference? Is it that “children always behave better for others than their parents”? Suzie’s mother’s been known to cite the truism.
Oh, puh-lease. No. It’s because Suzie’s mother does not consistently monitor and maintain the boundaries she attempts to set. I do. I do, not just with Suzie of course, but with all the children. I do, because I’ve been doing this for years, because I know the enormous difference it will make and because, as Hannah expressed it so well not too long ago
I do it because I’m in the business of raising adults. I do it because I want these children to become all they can be.
But I also do it because if I didn’t, I would have FIVE children all ignoring me and dashing every which way, doing exactly what they wanted in every moment, all day long. Can you imagine? The chaos, the noise, the screaming, the violence, the mess?
That? Is my idea of hell on earth. Lordy.
If I had issued the directive, Suzie would have dropped her hand. Period. I might, because her mother was there, have gotten a considering look as she weighed the possibility that Mummy might trump Mary, even in Mary’s home, but even so, I am reasonably confident she wouldn’t have. Had mum not been there, there wouldn’t have been a second’s hesitation. The hand would have come down.
Suzie, however, is three and a half, and well schooled. Cast back a year and a half, though. A year and a half or two years. Cast back that far and re-run the tape with an un-trained Suzie.
Suzie stands in the front hall as we all get out coats on to go out. She’s ready first, and reaches for the door.
“Suzie. You don’t touch the door knob, remember? Only grown-ups open that door.”
Suzie, being the feisty little thing she is, gives me a considering look and grabs the door knob.
“Suzie. I said no. Only grown-ups open the door.” And as I speak, I move close, lift her hand off the knob, and, if she seems inclined to reach for it again, lift her to a different area of the floor.
Suzie, being the feisty little thing she is, would probably kick up a bit of a stink at this point. I suspect it was all the stink-kicking a year or two ago that now prevents her mother from taking firm, decisive action. Mum doesn’t want to provoke a fit. (A wry comment about letting the terrorists win flits through my brain…)
Which is why, when I take that essential firm, decisive action, I reward her with a very warm and sunny “Thank you!” and a distracting task.
“Thank you!” because it’s good manners to thank someone when they help you out. The fact that the help wasn’t voluntary is completely irrelevant. The point here is not to punish her for her attempted disobedience, the point is to teach her a Better Way. So, a warm and sunny thanks. Which very often throws them off their disgruntled emotional trajectory, and they’ll smile right back at you.
And then, quickly, give her a task. “Here, sweetie. Would you give Sam her hat, please? Sam needs her hat so she won’t be cold!”
That usually does it. Usually, but not always. If Suzie were determined to throw her fit, if she refused to be distracted from the joy of rage, then I would move into my standard tantrum response. (If you are interested, check out the Tantrum Series tab at the top right.)
So. Issue an instruction, make sure it’s been heard, then FOLLOW THROUGH. Calmly, firmly, politely, implacably.
That’s it, that’s all. The caregiver’s “secret” to co-operative children.
Follow through, physically if necessary, and it often is at first. (By ‘physically’, I mean hand-over-hand helping or preventing whatever it was, of course. I do not mean spanking. If you can produce considerate, obedient, kind children without it — and you can — why would you?) Follow through despite the protests, despite the tantrum. Follow through, every time, and it will not be long before there are no tantrums because they just don’t work.
I’m sure a lot of the time when I see lack of follow-through, it’s happening because the parent doesn’t want to subject the caregiver (and themselves) to the struggle that might ensue. But please! Don’t fret! Don’t worry! She won’t criticize, she will applaud! Go for it, because I promise you: When you tell your child to do something and then don’t follow through? You are making your caregiver twitch.
It’s a long, long, sloping sidewalk that challenges us as we make our way over the bridge on our way home from a lovely long outing on this beautiful fall day. A sidewalk with clear boundaries: on one side, the decorative concrete wall preventing us from plunging into the water below, and on the other side a 20-cm drop to busy street beside us. (As in, the sidewalk is raised, not broken.)
I am pushing a single stroller with New Baby Girl — now with the new, improved blog name of Rosie! — while the other three hold on: Grace and Poppy hold on to the stroller itself and Jazz holds on to Grace’s hand.
(All this finely calculated: Poppy is the second-youngest, and so must hold on. Grace is a terrible dawdler and would end up a km behind in about three minutes. It’s astonishing how far back she gets. Oh, the irony: dawdling is the one thing Grace does quickly. Jazz does not normally have to hold on at all, as she keeps up and stays close, but when on a busy street or a crowded sidewalk, she’s required to.)
All this careful arrangement does mean that, small as we are, we string out across the entire width of the sidewalk.
Now, one thing that truly annoys me is oblivious sidewalk-hoggers. These are generally groups of children and teens, though adults do it on occasion too. Once a child is 9 or so, I start to expect some sidewalk awareness. Three six-year-olds are strung across the sidewalk, meaning that me, walking on my own, am going to have to slide sideways around them or walk on the street? I cheerfully call out “beep, beep, guys!” Three fifteen-year-olds do it? I square my shoulders and refuse to budge an inch. This usually means that the one closest to me — who fully expects this mild-looking middle-aged lady to MAKE ROOM for his/her stupendousness, the only real, significant person in the universe, after all — this usually means that the one on my end careens off my shoulder. Only, I was expecting it, see, so I am unfussed, whereas little Lady (or Master) Self-Absorbed often actually staggers a pace.
“Oh, gracious!” I’ll say, as if I hadn’t been expecting it at all. “Sorry!” Which is a bald-faced lie. I’m not. At all. I hope that this has taught them a lesson, if not in manners and consideration, at least in self-preservation, which will result in the same behaviour: pay attention to oncoming traffic, and make room.
So, since this inconsiderate behaviour annoys me so very much, I’m not about to tolerate it in my kids. Yes, they’re only toddlers and cannot reasonably be expected to figure this out themselves. Not the point! Pro-social behaviour training starts NOW!
So as we climb this long, long sloped sidewalk, I keep an eye out for oncoming pedestrians, in both directions. When someone comes up from behind, I simply stop and gently pull the child-obstacle out of the way. (We are slow-moving traffic, after all, and it’s a long section of sidewalk where no one could feasibly pass by stepping into what is usually a busy street.) When someone is coming from in front, however, the training begins.
“Jazz, honey. There’s a lady coming. See her? When she gets close, you’re going to have to squish into Grace a bit, so she can get by.” This said, you note, when said woman is well ahead. All this talking takes some time, and toddlers? They do not have lightning-quick reflexes.
As the woman gets closer, I remind Jazz. “Okay, Jazz, time to move over. Come this way a bit.”
And the woman, she smiles down at the four little faces, says, “Oh, that’s okay! They’re fine! Don’t worry!”
People do that. They think they’re being nice. They are being nice, but I sigh a little sigh each time it happens. ‘I don’t have to move because I’m little and cute’ is not the lesson I want these children learning. I usually just smile back, but today Jazz notices.
“Why did her say ‘don’t worry’?”
And I pause to consider. Why did she say that? It’s not too hard to figure: She’s probably seeing a woman with a lot on her plate, and is trying not to add more to it. She’s being considerate, is what she’s doing. Besides, there’s another explanation which is likely also part of it, that these children are too little to be aware of traffic, too young to be held culpable for their oblivion. Which is true, but…
But not forever! They get a free pass for now, but when do we expect these things to magically kick in, if we don’t actively teach them? Judging by the number of adolescent shoulders I knock into in a month, this is not something that just happens.
So I have to think of an explanation that will, well, explain what she just said, but without undermining my long-term agenda.
“You know what? I think she might have said that because she thinks you’re too little for good manners.” And you know what? Sometimes that is what it is. The follow-up comments tend to give it away. “Plenty of time for that!” or “Oh, it’s okay. They’re just little!” Well-meant, but unhelpful. And false.
I had chosen my words carefully, and I hit the mark. Jazz rears back in indignation. (Jazz is a champion indignation-rearer.)
“I am not too little! I am a big girl!”
“Yes, you are, and you have good manners. You have good manners, and you are learning more every day.”
“I have my good manners! I can say ‘please’!”
Grace is catching the drift now. “I can say ‘please’, too!”
“Yes, you can. You say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ and ‘I’m sorry’. All those good manner words. You’re learning to say “would you, please’ when you ask for help, and today? Today, what are we practicing?”
Blink. Blink. Blink. Mary and the trick questions. Geez. A hint is required.
“Just now, when that lady came, what did you do, Jazz?”
Oh, now that she knows. “I squished into Grace!”
Grace echoes: “She squished into me!”
“Yes. Why did you do that?”
A few more exchanges, in which it is determined — because this is in no way obvious to a toddler — that had Jazz not ceded a sliver of sidewalk the woman would have had to leap either into oncoming traffic or the canal. On or the other. But she would not have been able to walk on the sidewalk.
This is subtle, people, subtle. For toddlers (and, it seems, for many teens).
And so, when the next woman approaches, and we are in this process again, I call out to her: “We’re just learning our Sidewalk Manners!”
To which Jazz adds, “Because I am a BIG GIRL!”
And we are all very proud.
“I have a runny nose.”
She does indeed. Two thick yellow streams descend from Grace’s nose toward her upper lip. As they have done all day long for the past three days. Ick.
“You certainly do.” I turn my attention back to the book I’m reading to NBG and Poppy. (Poppy will now sit right beside NBG!! Only if she’s in my lap, but it’s all progress!)
“But Mary, I have a runny nose.”
I look up again. “Uh-huh. It’s pretty gross.” Back to the book. Grace stands in front of me, looking at bit at a loss. What to do when the adult is being inexplicable?
Why, repeat yourself, of course. Endlessly, if need be.
“I have a runny nose.”
Now, I shouldn’t have to give her a clue. We’ve been through this endless times over the past two or three days. Each time it goes the exact. same. way. I shouldn’t have to give her a clue, but I do.
“You have a runny nose.”
She nods, expectant.
“Is there something you want me to do about that?”
She nods. I wait. She waits. I wait some more. And then…
I wait some more, an encouraging smile on my face. A smile which masks the moan of boredom in my brain. How many times? How many, many times?
“Mary … would you wipe my nose, please?”
And then, as if I hadn’t had to pry the phrase from her reluctant lips with a crowbar, I reward her with a warm and delighted smile. NOTHING could please me MORE than to get my fingers oh-so-slightly damp with the gallons of yellow snot pouring from her nasal cavities.
“Sure I can! Bring that little nose here!”
I object, I really, really object to a child imparting what is in fact information, and expecting me to leap into action.
“I have a runny nose.”
“I did a poo.”
“I can’t get my shoe on.”
It’s the sort of thing you often step in to solve without even thinking about. Maybe I’m persnickety. Maybe it’s because, with four or five of them doing this to me all day long, it’s harder to be oblivious. But, really? To me they feel like orders, orders which display a fundamental lack of respect, that the orderer can’t even be bothered to ask politely.
Of course, that’s not it. I know that. These little ones intend no disrespect, they just don’t know the polite forms. Nonetheless, it’s a bad habit. If they don’t learn manners now, they may never learn them, or at least, they may not become second nature, which is the goal. It may not be disrespectful now, but it will be when they’re 12 or 22 or 42, and people will be less and less likely to cut them any slack for it. They’ll just be that obnoxious person who expects everyone to serve them. The person people avoid or, if avoidance is impossible, they’ll resent.
Good manners start NOW.
It’s like driving a car. At first, you have to consciously think of every single action. In time and with practice, many of the tiny decisions involved become second nature, and your driving becomes smooth. Beginner drivers get into more accidents not just because they make poorer decisions, but because their reflexes are unpracticed, slowed by the split-second of hesitation. I’m striving to produce smooth social drivers, who can manoeuvre the trickiest situations aided by their second-nature reflexes. (Kids who, if I’m entirely honest here, are more skilled than me. Sigh.)
So the rule is, “If you want me to do something for you, you start, ‘Would you’ and you finish with ‘please’.”
“Okay. Would you wipe my nose, please?”
“Sure I will! Here you go! There, feel better?”
“Yes! Mary? I’m thirsty.”
One step at a time. One step…