It’s Not All Mary Poppins

‘Cute’ doesn’t eliminate ‘Rude’

The Wonderful Husband and I have a date night each week. Thursday evenings we wander over to our local pub, sometimes just for a drink, most often for dinner. The server knows us, we often see people we know, but though we may wave a greeting to a neighbour, we don’t stop to visit. We go there to chat with each other. It’s quiet, it’s friendly, it’s our style.

This week we weren’t able to go on Thursday, so we deferred till Friday.

Well, now. Our quiet neighbourhood pub is a totally different place on a Friday at 6:30, let me tell you! We had to wait in line! Okay, only for maybe 4 minutes, but still: that never happens! And when we were seated, there were no tables in the front of the upper half. This means we had to sit in the back of the upper half. The section where they sit families with children.

My heart sinks, a bit. Are you surprised? You wouldn’t be alone. Lots of people assume I’d enjoy that. “You work with kids! You must love them!”

Well. I do love them, of course. But while it isn’t like many other jobs — it’s one of the few jobs where falling in love with one’s clientele is considered dedication, not a faux pas — it is also a job, like any other. Who brings their work to date night?

But you know, that’s not the key issue. Nope. It’s because they tend to behave so badly. And it is so hard, as a pro, not to be watching the bad behaviour and say oneself, “That? Is so UNNECESSARY!” Every time I see poor behaviour being ineffectively addressed, or, even more often, not addressed at all, I itch to get over there and FIX IT. Which I can’t, of course. So I sit there and twitch.

My expectations are reasonable. I’ve been working with kids for close to thirty years (if you include my own, and why wouldn’t you?). I know what one can reasonably expect of a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old.

I wish more of their parents did…

So. Friday night. Date night. Which also appears to be Family Dinner Out night in my neighbourhood. Now, I am not one of these people who says restaurants are for adults only. It depends on the restaurant, of course. Unless your child has absolutely impeccable manners, you don’t take them to a quiet, upscale, expensive restaurant, and spoil other diner’s evening. But a place like this, a casual, friendly, neighbourhood pub? Of course kids can be there.

Rather than refuse them entry, I think it’s important to get kids out and into the wider world. In fact, I take my tots out to lunch at a local restaurant about once a month. I do this for our enjoyment, of course, but also — perhaps even primarily — so they can learn and practice the expectations of dining out. We talk about the rules and regs on our way in. “Sitting still”, “inside voices”, “please and thank you”. All those things are reviewed prior, and practiced during. In a cheerful, upbeat, aren’t-we-so-BIG way.

They love it. And the other diners? Well, first, there aren’t a whole lot of other diners. I have Tiny Tots in Training here, so I choose times when the restaurant won’t be busy. But, the other diners, because they can see us cheerfully practicing, even when we don’t quite hit the mark, even when someone’s volume creeps too loud, or someone tries to slip out of their chair, or forgets a please… because they can see the calm, cheerful (and at least momentarily) effective reminders, because they can see a whole lot of social training going on, they generally cut us the necessary slack. And, we keep it brief. We go in, we order, we charm the server, we eat, we leave.

So, unlike the children at the pub last week, my tots do not leave their chairs to dance in the space between tables. (Any attempt to leave the chair is caught mid-slither!) They do not swing on the backs of other people’s chairs as they pass. They speak — at least, are consistently reminded to speak — in quiet voices.

Two tables down, two families were sharing a large corner table. Their two little girls, about 5, were obviously excited to be together, and excited to be out. They were very cute. They were also appallingly LOUD. They did not speak to each other, they shrieked.

I was annoyed, but not at the children, but their parents. Have you people never heard of INSIDE voices??

One little girl saw someone across the room that she knew. Grabbing the back of the chair of the diner at the next table — not one of their group — she slithers from her chair, and skitters across the room to say hi. A server does a quick two-step to avoid her sudden dart. No adult stops her, no one reminds her that “we don’t touch other people’s chairs”. Nor do they intervene when the other little girl joins her, similarly using the adjacent diner’s chair to steady herself. Nor do the parents at either table anything at all when the girls go back and forth between the two tables several times.

This is not the fault of the children. They appear to be good-natured, happy little people. But they are not being taught the parameters. No adult of the three families now involved took it upon themselves to give an elementary Civilization/Socialization 101 lesson.

But that wasn’t as bad as the family at the other end of the room, who had two adorable little boys, about 5 and 2, I’d say. It seems that the little boys had come to the end of their main course, and had decided upon ice cream for dessert. So dad sends them after the server.

Do you catch the inappropriateness of that? If you want something from a server, what is the protocol? Do you get up out of your seat and hunt her down? Well, perhaps, if the service were absolutely, utterly execrable. But under normal circumstances? You flag her down with eye contact, or a raised hand and an ‘excuse me’. And that is what he should be teaching his boys.

Dad, however, does not call the server over to the table. He does not call her over so as to have his little boys ask politely for their ice cream. So they can see how one gets food in a restaurant.

No. He sends them over to where the server is currently interacting with another patron. Me, as it happens. They tug her sleeve. Her sleeve, which is holding a pitcher of water. “Hey! Hey, over here!!” says the adorable 5-year-old, cheerful, lively, loud. And let me underline: these children were seriously cute. Which is why, I think, doting daddy thought their behaviour was cute, instead of what it was: abysmal.

The server looks down into his excited, smiling, face. “I would like ice cream!”

She smiles back. “You would? Well, sure. I will bring some to your table in just a minute.”

The boy beams up at her. “Thank you!” he chortles. I wish that were true. No, he did not. Instead, he looked at his little brother. “Ice cream! Ice cream!”, he bellows. Little brother, being two, thinks this is great. So now the two of them are leaping up and down in the middle of a crowded, busy room, screaming “ICE CREAM!!!” into each other’s faces. From his table at the far end of the room, Dad grins at them. Aren’t they just so cuuute?

Eesh.

Cute, maybe, but far from civilized. And, you know? You can be adorably cute and unutterably rude all at the same time. These two have that nailed.

But is it their fault? Of course not. How can they know, if they’ve never been taught?

I look at the server. “Excuse me. May I have some ice cream, please?” I say. The server knows I’m not asking for ice cream, and grins all over her face, grateful to have someone voice her feelings. Wonderful husband chimes in. “I can? Oh, thank you!” We all grin at each other.

It is entirely possible to take a 2 and a 5-year-old out to a casual restaurant and have them sit in their seat, not shout, and ask for things politely. They won’t manage it all the time, for the whole duration of the meal. That’s normal. They’ll need reminders. Those reminders? That’s called ‘parenting’.

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October 22, 2014 Posted by | manners, outings, parenting, Peeve me, socializing | , | 7 Comments

Vanity, Self-esteem, Tactlessness and more Self-esteem

I hear a roar of Righteous Indignation from Jazz.

“Grace! That is not a very nice word to say!!!”

Then pounding footsteps. Jazz thunders into the dining room, where Poppy and I are colouring. Jazz has been into the dress-up basket. She’s draped in two deep purple satin capes, tied at the middle to make a ‘dress’, with a shiny gold scarf wrapped around her above that, a bodice. It is her Princess Dress, of course.

Obviously, she did not get into this rig by herself. I’d helped tie the capes and wrap the scarf some while earlier, at her careful direction. Since then she has been alternatively gazing at herself in the mirror rapturously and wandering about the house rhapsodizing, “I am such a beautiful, beautiful girl!!”

Me, I am of two minds about this sort of thing. A basic part of me wants to repeat my grandmother’s words at her: “Beauty is only skin-deep, kiddo”, and expound upon the more important inner beauties to which we should aspire. But at the same time, I am aware that this is simply an unsophisticated version of self-esteem. It’s crude, it focusses on the wrong thing, perhaps — certainly the lesser thing — but she’s only four. She’s not denigrating anyone else, she’s not being rude or superior. She’s just feeling beautiful.

And really. Wrapped in a purple-and-gold Princess Dress who wouldn’t feel beautiful??

Which is why, even though I’m finding it pretty over-the-top, I let her keep on with it. Little ones are unsophisticated. This isn’t conceitedness, quite. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, though. A half-step in that direction, and she’ll be way over the line. Still, I’ve let her admire herself senseless for the past 20 minutes.

Apparently her own adulation was insufficient, because after a time of happy self-admiration, she sought some from her peers. She presents herself to them, whirling in her princess glory.

“Don’t you love my princess dress?”

They look up from the puzzle they’re doing on the floor.

I confess to a certain amount of wry gratification when, obviously far more interested in whether the piece with the blue bit goes with the piece with the yellow bit, they look up briefly. Grace is the one who speaks. Glancing quickly at Jazz, she says with minimal interest, “No, I don’t.” Then returns to her puzzle.

Ouch.

The score so far:
Tact: 0
Honesty: 1
Vanity: swift kick in the butt

Hence the Roar of Indignation, and the thundering to Mary for Justice! and Retribution!

“Mary, Grace said she didn’t like my dress!!!”

My tone of voice is emotionally neutral. Calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, maybe she didn’t. She’s allowed to say so, if she doesn’t.” (Because, my precious princess, you did ask.)

Jazz huffs in still more indignation.

“My mommy and daddy say you can’t say ‘no’!!”

Now, I don’t believe that for a minute, certainly not in the sense Jazz is using it. Jazz is simply using the age-old strategy of citing other authority figures in her life to try to get the world to cooperate with their whims and desires. (Of course Jazz cites me similarly when she’s at home. You would be astonished at what Mary thinks is A-OKAY!!!) It’s a red herring, and I know it.

“You know, sweetie, it really depends on why you’re saying ‘no’. If Grace said no because she’s feeling grumpy and just wants to be mean, that’s not okay. But if she really just doesn’t like that dress, she’s allowed to tell you so, especially if you ask.”

Jazz is not pleased with this dictum. “She was being mean! She said no!”

“No, I don’t think so. I was watching. Grace wasn’t making a mean face or using an angry voice. She just doesn’t like your dress, sweetie. Different people like different things. That’s okay.” Now, I may choose to address the whole concept of ‘tact’ with Grace later. Or I may not. For now, that’s not of great concern, and I’m certainly not going to reinforce Jazz’s idea that people MUST say what she prefers to hear.

“I want her to like my dress!”

“I understand that. However, it seems she doesn’t like it. That’s just what it is. Different people like different things. That’s okay. The important thing is, Do YOU like the dress?”

“Yes! It is beautiful!”

“Well, that’s what matters then. Grace doesn’t have to like it, so long as you do. So you can say to Grace, ‘You don’t like my dress? That’s okay! I do!’ ”

Heavy stuff, for four years old. Complicated, and Jazz is obviously dissatisfied with my pronouncement, my refusal to DEMAND that Grace stroke her ego.

It’s pretty tough for some adults, come to that. You know what it is, don’t you? It’s self-esteem. Real self-esteem, the type based on what’s on your inside, not your outside. Self-esteem grounded in your confidence in yourself, your worth, your decisions, not based on other people’s opinions and reactions.

I’m raising the bar for Jazz. She doesn’t get it yet, but hopefully, if everyone works at this for the next ten years, she’ll have it when she’s a teen.

When she’ll really, really need it.

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Grace, individuality, Jazz, manners, socializing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Return from the …

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.

July 30, 2013 Posted by | manners | 15 Comments

Sharing, sharing, sharing

Toys from home. Some daycare providers allow them, others don’t. When I first started daycare, I allowed them. Back then, my primary reference point was my own children, and I knew that kids like to show off their stuff. It’s fun to parade your special something in front of an awe-struck gathering. If that were all it was about, though, I wouldn’t have allowed it. Rubbing the other kids’ noses in My Special Something that Only I Can Touch is obnoxious and anti-social.

I never let my kids do that, and they were actually pretty good sharers. Toys in our home, with a few exceptions, were communal. Even the exceptions were mostly determined by the child’s preference. That enormous pile of Lego was Adam’s because Adam was the child who played with them most. (Hours and hours and hours.) The train set, though? Entirely communal. All three played equally.

That’s just what kids did, right? With a little bit of guidance, of course. Sharing is a challenge at first, and territoriality and selfishness need to be addressed, but it isn’t long before they figure out that it really is more fun with friends. Because that’s how it worked in our house. Easy-peasy!

So yes. Daycare kids could bring toys from home. The child would get the pleasure of showing it off, and then the more sophisticated pleasure of sharing that satisfaction, when they share the toys. Okay, so they’d have to deal with the whole “sharing” thing first, but hey! It’s fun to share with your friends!

Hahahah. Sweet, naive little Mary. (Thus proving that even three kids are not enough to make you Truly Experienced. You think you are, but you’re not…)

I hadn’t factored in three important realities:
1. My kids were not all two-year-olds at the same time.
2. My kids were siblings, and so were getting the same message re: sharing all.the.time.
3. My kids were siblings, and so had built-in sharers in their home. All.The.Time.

So, kids would bring toys to daycare and I’d be policing them all the damned time. Policing, negotiating, soothing, trying to coax compromise and unselfish behaviour. That stupid stuffed marmot that little Suzie loved so dearly became the focus of MY ENTIRE DAY.

It was exhausting. I discovered why daycare providers often disallow toys from home. Toys from home are a royal pain in the arse. Not to put too fine a point on it.

So. No toys. Enough!

Ah. The peace! The (relative) lack of conflict and strife! Lovely!

I’m not sure when and why I started allowing toys again. Probably some sweet, biddable child brought something, and I knew it would work with that child. Whatever provoked it, I came back to the other, potentially positive aspects of bringing toys from home: the practice of sharing, the cultivation of generosity, the opportunity for group play. A little Character Development!

Now, however, older, wiser, more experienced Mary has a slightly more pragmatic approach. Toys from Home offers the potential for Character Development, yes, but as any sane parent knows, toddlers (and teens) fight Character Development tooth and nail. They love their undeveloped characters. You have a problem with their character, well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? Sucks to be you, now leave me alone.

Like that. Yup.

So there are boundaries on the sharing. When a child brings a toy at the beginning of the day, they are asked, “Is this a toy you can share?” If the answer is ‘no’, then the toy is put away for the day. This is not a punitive thing, this is not expressed with anger or in a threatening tone. It’s simply fact.

“Not for sharing? Okay, then. We’ll put it in your bin for the day, and you can take it home at home-time.”

Of course, lots of kids, when faced with the disposal of their toy, will have an immediate about-face. “Oh! YES! Yes, I will share!” We all know this is a lie. They just want their toy. However, I take it at face value, and we work out how the sharing will occur.

If there’s any fuss at all when the time comes to actually share, the toy will, with no fuss on my part at all, be put away for the day. This is a one-strike-you’re-out offense.

If the owner of the toy is extremely obnoxious about the not-sharing, particularly if this is not the first time, and they understand the expectations and consequences, two things will happen:
1. The sharing will occur as laid out.
2. When everyone’s had a turn (except the possessive owner) it goes away for the day.

The one exception to this is lovies, those particularly precious toys that are needful for those particularly anxious children, or for naptime. A naptime lovie stays in the child’s bed. An anxious child can have their comfort object which does not have to be shared. However, it must be a genuine comfort object, a thing that’s used all the time, home and daycare, and has been for weeks, if not years. It may not be a different item each day. Generally speaking, a different-every-day ‘comfort object’ is merely power-tripping. “I neeeeed this! It’s mine! See how lovely it is? You can’t touch it because I neeeeed it!” A power-tripping scam.

With the one-strike-you’re-out policy, I am spared a wealth of squabbling. I still have to intervene from time to time, as I do with all the toys, but with the penalty of instant removal of the beloved object, the owner generally learns fairly quickly that if he/she wants to play with it at all, it’s in their own best interest to let it be shared.

And if they don’t, I put it away. Done.

Tantrums about this consequence are rare, but if they happen, they’re dealt with as I deal with all tantrums. By the time a child is old enough to want to bring toys to daycare, they’re usually old enough to not be throwing tantrums any more.

So, I do allow toys from home, and for the most part, it works just fine. The owner is pleased and proud of the attention they and their new toy get, and the other children are thrilled to have Something Shiny!! at daycare. Everyone shares, as best toddlers do, and it’s a lovely, communal, sharing experience. It’s all part of growing them up into the kind, considerate adults we want them to be, and I am pleased to be part of that process.

In the interests of my sanity, I reserve the right to forbid toys to a particular child for a season. I reserve the right to put a toy away without a sharing trial.

Because, for all their manifest benefits as Teaching Opportunities, toys from home really are a royal pain in the arse.

May 2, 2013 Posted by | daycare, manners, power struggle, socializing | , | 5 Comments

In which Mary is Most Pleasantly Surprised

It’s birthday season here at Mary’s. Jazz first, three weeks ago; she’s now four. Then Poppy, a newly-minted 3-year-old. Grace turned four last week, and, after a few weeks’ lag, Daniel will turn three.

Jazz brought her birthday fixing with her. Cupcakes! Icing — in a separate container, so the kids could ice their own, what a cute idea! Pretty little cupcake toppers, little wee princesses on toothpicks.

And, and, and … she brought PRINCESS DRESSES! All shiny and ruffly and sequinned and pretty, pretty, princess.

Two of them.

TWO.

Let’s see. We have Jazz, Grace, and Poppy. Three little girls, all very interested in ALL THINGS PRINCESS. Thank goodness Daniel was not here that day, or there’d have been a fourth contender for two dresses. Josh and Rosie don’t care yet. (Another heartfelt ‘thank goodness’.)

Now, at the point it would be easy to mock dad. What were you thinking, to allow this? You can’t see the problems this would create? Had he allowed the dresses to make their way to my house merely because he lacked the parental balls to say “no”, I would have been annoyed. But this dad? He’s quite skilled. He can say no, and there will be no tantrum. Jazz being Jazz, there might be flouncing and fussing, but no tantrum, not with dad.

Parents who can’t say a firm, unapologetic ‘no’, and make it stick … well, they’re one of the more aggravating realities of life as a daycare provider. Parents who allow kids to bring things because they ‘can’t’ make the child not bring a thing? It happens a lot, and though I find it annoying (because seriously, your life would be SO MUCH EASIER if you just got yourself a pair) it doesn’t cause me any practical grief. Child comes with ENTIRELY INAPPROPRIATE FOR DAYCARE item — a jackknife, once, if you can imagine! Just a little one, but, people? A KNIFE? To DAYCARE??? Are you insane? And when she stabs someone in the eyeball with it, your excuse will be that you ‘couldn’t’ get her to give it to you? “Couldn’t”? As if it’s optional? It’s a weapon, woman. You are sending an armed child to daycare. You don’t want her to have a knife? You take.it.away.from.her. Yes, she’ll yell and fuss. The kid she stabs will yell louder — and with better reason.

Honest to pete. Boggles the mind.

Another time, it was a teeny-tiny china tea set. “This was my grandmother’s; it means a lot to me; I didn’t want him to bring it, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer; please see it doesn’t get lost or broken.” He ‘wouldn’t take no for an answer’? Oh, honestly. From weapons to precious family heirlooms.

It doesn’t cause me any practical grief, because the parent hasn’t hit the sidewalk before that item is in my hand, and the child being informed, as I put it away out of reach, that they can have it back at the end of the day. No screaming, no tears. It’s gone for the day, end of story. And even if there were screaming or tears, that wouldn’t change the fate of that coveted item, not for a nano-second. (Which, if you can logic it out that far, hapless parent, is precisely why there are rarely screaming or tears at Mary’s: they don’t work. If you don’t reward a behaviour, it goes away. It’s not so complicated.)

Sigh.

However. That’s them. This parent is not ineffectual or hapless. He is not off-loading his incompetence on me. In fact, he’s quite respectful of my authority and my capabilities. He explains carefully to Jazz that although she’s brought them here, it will be up to me whether they get played with here.

I know, some of you are wryly shaking your heads and accusing him off off-loading his problem. Sure he’s telling his daughter I have the final say … how does that prove that he has any say at all?

Here’s another story in dad’s favour: Jazz arrived with a ring not long ago. Just a bubblegum ring, but it was Precious. Her Favourite. “Do you want me to take this with me,” he asked, “so you will not lose it?” (Subtext: like the identical bubblegum ring you brought and lost last week?)

Jazz declared that she would keep it, and she would NOT lose it. Uh-huh. Wise daddy followed up, “Okay. That’s your choice. But here’s the deal, Jazz: if you do lose it, there will be no tears, because you knew the consequences. Understand? If you lose it, no crying. You may be sad to lose it, but that is the risk you’re taking. You’ll have to deal with it quietly and calmly.” He’s not saying this in a mean or aggressive voice. He is simply stating fact. If this, then that. You sure about this?

“I will not lose it, Daddy!” Jazz was supremely confident, cheerfully reassured her poor, worried daddy. In other words, she totally didn’t get it … but you know what? When she lost the ring — we knew she would — she did get it. His arrival reminded her of her Terrible Loss, and she raced to him with tears a-streaming. Daddy followed through on the morning’s conversation, calmly reminded her of her choice … The tears did not last long, because Dad was calm and matter-of-fact. Though he was supportive of her feelings, acknowledging her genuine disappointment, he was not supportive of the self-pity and melodrama. All this done is a quiet, soft voice, and very gentle movements, soft touches. It was masterful, frankly.

So, no. I don’t think this particular parent is wussing out and giving me his parental slack to pick up. Which is not to say those damned dresses don’t cause problems. Within five minutes of his departure, there has been one squabble and a fit of tears. It’s drop-off time, more kids and parents are arriving. I don’t have time to deal with this at the moment. The dresses, in their bag, are hung on a hook.

“We’re going to the park in a few minutes. We’ll sort out the princess dresses at lunch-time.” This also buys me some time to strategize, but there is no magical way out of this. Someone is going to have to — brace yourself here — one of those princess-obsessed, willful toddler/pre-schoolers is going to have to COMPROMISE.

Yeah. I know.

Upon our return, they are presented with Jazz’s princess dresses and another flouncy sort of dress from my dress-up box. Three dresses, three girls! Who wants to wear the one from Mary’s dress-up basket?

Yeah. Like that. NO ONE. Mary’s dress was most excessively coveted yesterday, before the advent of Jazz’s shiny new dresses, but now? Now it is Old News. No one wants that dress.

What to do?

I give them an opportunity to choose to wear Mary’s Boring Dress. Nope. Predictable, but it never hurts to give them the opportunity to surprise you. (As I’ve said before.)

Next stage? I pull Jazz aside.

Now, I know some people have the attitude on birthdays that the Birthday Girl gets whatever her little heart desires. It’s Her Big Day, so everyone defers to her wants.

I don’t.

Now, there are birthday treats, of course. The birthday child generally gets their favourite meal for dinner, and there is dessert — cake’n’ice cream, OF COURSE!! There are also balloons and streamers in the birthday child’s choice of (two) colours. There are lots of ways in which the birthday child is made to feel special.

But does the birthday girl get to run roughshod over her friends, because it’s HER DAY?!??

No, she does not. In fact, rather the opposite. When my children were having their birthdays, they were reminded that, as the host, it was up to them to make sure their guests were having a good time. So, if we were one balloon short … guess who was expected to fork over their balloon?

You got it.

[An aside: Is it any wonder that girls brought up with this mindset turn into Bridezilla on that other “Big Day”? Those people sitting in the church are not your ‘audience’ sunshine, they are your ‘guests’. Your job is not to flaunt your specialness in front of them and demand their servitude to your preciousness; your job is to see that they enjoy themselves and thank them for being there.]

I pull Jazz aside. “You know what I think? I think that YOU are the birthday girl. You have those pretty princess dresses at home, all the time. So YOU can wear them any time you like. But Grace and Poppy? They can only wear the dresses today. So I think it would be very nice if you would let your friends wear your special dresses today.”

And I wait. Because this, what I am asking, is hard, and I know it. I wait with a hopeful, encouraging, warm smile on my face. “What do you think, sweetie?”

Now, I am absolutely prepared, if she refuses, to lay down the law. “I know it’s hard, my love, but that’s what we’re going to do.” With recourse to the quiet stair and various other consequences if her objections are too boisterously anti-social. But I’m giving her the opportunity to surprise me! (I think I’ve said this once or twice already, huh?)

I wait, doing my damndest to radiate good will, and confidence in her generosity and …

Jazz, my prone-to-petulance, my little prima donna … totally goes for it. Her eyes widen, and with a dawning smile, she nods. “Okay!”

I am surprised. The congratulatory hug she gets is tinged with glee. I am SO PROUD of her!

And, because she made this choice graciously and without any hesitation whatsoever, she is rewarded. A trip to Mary’s bedroom, where she gets to choose Special Princess Accessories. Being four years old (she’s FOUR now! FOUR!) she chooses a black made-in-India shawl with long fringes at the end, covered with a swirling whorl of red sequins. Because when you are four, BLING is good. And for her skinny little four-year-old arm? A very sparkly bracelet.

a3

She gets these things not because she is the Birthday Girl. She gets these things because she was Kind, Considerate, Unselfish, and Gracious.

She is growing up.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Developmental stuff, Jazz, manners, socializing | 6 Comments

Unconvinced

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 | , | 5 Comments

You want to make Mary twitch?

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

IT’S EASIER OH MY GOD.

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.

Every time.

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.

October 17, 2012 Posted by | manners, parenting, Peeve me, power struggle | , | 7 Comments

Personal space? What is this thing?

Poppy fondles my right breast.

Of course she does. Are there any mother-type people out there who have not been fondled by their little one? Or someone else’s? It’s happened to all of you. I’m quite sure of it.

Put a baby or toddler on your left hip, and sooner or later their little hand just creeps across your body, reaches the slope, rests there and … enjoys the softness. Cups it, caresses, fondles, whatever. I’ve been groped by more small hands in my life than I can possibly recall. I don’t even have to think as I grip their wrist and place their hand gently-but-firmly down at their side. The fending-them-off motion is almost entirely reflexive.

Could I be so very inured to it that I let it continue without noticing it’s happening? Well, given that I notice and stop it in one half-conscious action, with my brain only ever half-engaged… Could there have been times when I simply haven’t noticed at all, when my brain never did engage, not one little bit? Entirely likely.

Has it happened in public? It happens all the time, after all, and I scarcely notice when it does. Happened in public? It is, I am darkly afraid, pretty near a sure thing that I’ve stood in line at a coffee shop while some teenage barrista tried not to notice my breast being stroked and squeezed right before his pimpled face. It’s a wonder my husband’s indulging in pretty much the same activity has any impact on me at all any more, poor man.

But today I noticed. Because today Poppy started with the generic fondle but quickly moved to a precise and painful pinch. Of the nipple. I yelped.

“Ouch! Poppy! Don’t pinch me there! That hurts!” Yes, I said she’d pinched a nipple. She bloody well had, and hard. There is no way, however, I’m giving her that word in context of my body. She knows she has nipples, of course. She knows her mummy and daddy and the other children have nipples, too. But you know, I just don’t want to be there at the end of the day when she tells her daddy, “I pinched at Mary’s nipple!!” as if it’s some sort of Terrific Accomplishment.

Because Poppy? That’s exactly what she’d do. With an “aren’t-I-just-so-smart?!” look on her round face. Poppy’s poor dad, unlike his chattering, decisively enthusiastic daughter, is a very quiet fellow. You could assume he’s unfriendly, but that would be unfair. The man is shy. Shy, shy, shy. Presented with a) his daughter, declaiming about Mary’s nipple and b) Mary, complete with nipples … he just wouldn’t know where to look. Not in my face — the eye contact just then would be excruciating, but — NOT DOWN! DON’T LOOK DOWN! AVERT EYES FROM NIPPLE AREA!!! Must look, um, UP! Yes, UP!

Poor man would try to exit while staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. He’d probably end breaking an ankle, tripping over the door sill. So, no use of the n-word in front of Poppy.

“Ouch! Poppy! That hurt! Don’t pinch me there!”

If I can be fondled and only be half-aware of it, so can toddlers half-consciously fondle. Poppy startles a bit and stares at her hand on my breast. “Oh. I sorry, Mary.”

And then, in a burst of sweet empathy and compassion, the wee toddler on my left hip cups my breast in both pudgy hands, leans forward,

and plants a kiss,

right on the nipple.

“There! All better!”

YOU try telling her that was inappropriate. I dare you. 😀

October 10, 2012 Posted by | manners, Mischief, Poppy, quirks and quirkiness, socializing | , | 6 Comments

Not too little!

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.

October 4, 2012 Posted by | manners, our adoring public, outings | | 9 Comments

Would you, could you, please?

“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…

“Mary…?”

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’m thirsty.”
“I did a poo.”
“I’m hungry.”
“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…

September 19, 2012 Posted by | eeewww, Grace, manners | 12 Comments