This has been a terrible year for enrollment and space-filling. Just terrible. I will tell you the Tale of Mary’s Rotten Year some other time, but for the purposes of this post, it’s enough that you know that I was pleased to have only one and a half spaces yet to fill for September. (Yes, September. In this area, spots fill that far in advance.)
My enrollment for the fall is: Rosie (who’ll be 3); Gwynn (who’ll be two); Poppy’s little sister (a year); and new baby girl (also a year, signed the contract six weeks ago). Three full-times and a part-time. Now, I would prefer five fill-time children, but I can get by on three and a half. And I have lots of time to find another to start in the summer.
And then, on Friday, at pickup, Rosie’s mom comes through the door with a bottle of wine.
No, that didn’t raise any suspicions. No need to cue the sinister music. Rosie’s parents bring me bottles of wine with delightful frequency, for one thing or another. This time, it was because Rosie had taken a tumble a day or two earlier, resulting in a bruise on her forehead.
Well, no. I didn’t get a bottle of wine because I let their child suffer an injury. I got the bottle of wine for what followed. Apparently, mummy asked daughter, “And when you fell, did Mary give you a hug?” To which Rosie answered, accurately, “Yes! And a kiss!”
The bottle of wine, mum explained, was for the love and care I give the children, for the warm and safe environment I create here.
Oh, that’s so lovely. Thank you!
And that’s why they’re moving her to preschool in September.
Okay, so she didn’t put it quite like that. But that’s what it amounts to.
They’re putting her in preschool this fall to “get her ready” for school the following year. Because my home is such a safe, protected, nourishing environment, you see, and they think she should be exposed to something a little bigger, a little more like the school that will follow the year after.
(Huh. Call me cynical if you will, but I’m thinking the bottle of wine is not strictly about the kiss-and-hug.)
My environment is warm and loving. Safe, secure. And that’s exactly why their little girl needs to leave it! Because goodness knows a two-year-old can’t be doing with all that love and security! The girl needs to be toughened up! By September she will be a newly-minted three-year-old. Time for some Hard Knocks, kid.
Am I feeling a tad bitter? Yes, I am. Not just because my projected income is taking another (yet another) hit — though I can’t pretend that doesn’t factor in — but because this is just … silly.
Let’s back it up a bit, shall we? There was a time when children started school in first grade, when they were about six. That’s why it’s called, you will note, “first” grade. Then we invented kindergarten, designed to get them ready (socially mostly, though for some kids the academic aspect was significant as well) for grade one. Then we invented junior kindergarten, to get them ready for the rigors of playdough and circle time.
And now we’re sending them to preschool, to ready them for JK, to ready them for SK, to ready them for Grade One? Does this not seem a tad overwrought? Just how demanding do we imagine this transition to be? Just how frail do we think our children are? And what’s next? Are we somehow going to get right there into the womb to prepare them for the challenges of outside living?
Oh, well. I’m exasperated, not panicked. I think they’re over-reacting, but they’ve always been a little anxious, and it’s an anxiety driven by emotion, not careful thought, so this is not out of character. Though they’re very nice people — really nice! warm, kind, friendly, appreciative — their anxiety has made them a little troublesome as clients. So I won’t be sorry to see them go. I will be sorry to see Rosie go. She’s quirky, funny, smart, and all-round adorable. She’s also a follower and an echo-er. She doesn’t originate much. She doesn’t think of things to do, she just follows. I was very curious to see how she’d evolve when, in September, Daniel and Poppy head off to Junior Kindergarten, and she emerged as The Big Girl. I was curious. More, I was looking forward to it. I thought it would be good for her, encourage the development of a more active part of her character.
Guess I won’t be seeing that after all … sigh…
I would have told them this, had I realized they were considering this course of action. Had I been consulted. Which I wasn’t. Now, I may still try to make these points, but I fear that they will fall on deaf ears, or, at any rate, ears already convinced of the rightness of their chosen course of action, and unlikely to be dissuaded.
I’m not even sure I want to dissuade them. As I say, they’ve been a mite troublesome as clients. And Rosie won’t be injured by their decision. She’ll just — maybe — develop a little differently, not get to develop/explore a potential strength. Maybe.
Preschool to ‘get her ready’ for Junior — JUNIOR! — Kindergarten?
Today is my last day of work until the New Year!! (Can you hear the whoops of celebration from there?)
Today is my last day of work, and two of my three families are already gone on holiday!!
Today is my last day of work … and on Friday, when Daniel’s dad found out his were the only kids coming, he apologized. With energy and remorse. Of course, I was all professional and “No, no! I’m open for business, and you have to work! Don’t worry about it.” And then he was all, “Oh, but no, you almost have a day off! I feel bad!” We chatted a bit more about the kids’ day, and then he was off. “We’ll have to see what we can do about Monday!” were his parting words.
Because most families wouldn’t be back on Monday, I give the parents their children’s gifts from me at home time. I send them home so the parents get the pleasure of seeing their children open the gifts Christmas morning. In so doing, I am depriving myself of seeing them open my gifts, true, but I’m being considerate here. The family Christmas is the most important thing.
Friday after work, 15 minutes after Rosie’s departure, Wonderful Husband and I walk to the pharmacy on the corner, passing Rosie’s dad, out playing in his drive with Rosie and Rory. (I’d sent a gift home for Rory, too, even though he’s no longer in my care. Rory comes bombing over to see me.)
“Thanks for the flashlight!!” he says. “I can make it go really bright!”
He’d opened it already? “Oh, yes,” says dad. “We like to spread the gifts out a bit. They can get overwhelmed on Christmas morning.”
Blink, blink. Fifteen minutes? They’d opened their gifts within 15 minutes of leaving my house.
You know, he’s quite right. Little kids can be overwhelmed by the enormity of Christmas. Opening the odds-and-ends gifts from neighbours and friends — and caregivers! — when they arrive makes good sense.
If that’s the case, don’t you think it would have made even more good sense to let her open it RIGHT THERE IN MY HOME so I could see her???
The weekend proceeds. I do some last-minute dashing about, go to a Christmas party, decorate our tree. (Very late for us.) The weekend proceeds … without a phone call from Daniel’s parents about Monday morning. So I assume I’m working today.
Opening time… no Daniel.
8:00… no Daniel.
8:30… no Daniel.
No phone call, either.
9:00… I check my answering machine. Did I miss a message? No.
9:15… Okay, they’re toying with me. This is just cruel. (My rule is, if you’re going to arrive after 9, give me a call so I can accommodate it, since we generally head out at nine for our outing.)
9:27… Can it be true? Am I getting a freebie, unexpected, extra Christmas gift of a day off? I won’t believe it, I tell myself, beating down the hope, until after 9:30.
9:30… no Daniel… I’m still hesitant to believe it, but hope is rising!
Ads. Internet ads. There’s no avoiding them. They’re in your gmail account, they’re on Facebook, they’re at the top and sides of almost every page out there. For the most part, I ignore them without difficulty.
Except for the ones that bounce and flash and jiggle. Lordy, they’re annoying. You can’t ignore those ones, but who in their right mind would reward those morons by clicking that link, or, worse, purchasing the product? Ugh. Mostly, I leave that page immediately. (Hear that, Internet ad-purchasers? Those jiggly, flashing, bouncing ads DRIVE ME FROM THE PAGE!) If I must stay on that page, I usually put a sticky note on my monitor to block them out.
So, those are annoying. But the ones — it’s a genre, I guess — that have been irking me lately are the ones that promise to tell you THE ONE SECRET YOUR DOCTOR DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW!!!
Because your doctor, you know, keeps secrets from you. Secrets that, so it’s implied, could improve your health. Your doctor, see, even though she’s a health-care provider, a person who studied bodies and health and how to make/keep people well for the better part of a decade … she really, in her secret heart of hearts, wants you to be sick.
It’s part of a massive medical conspiracy!!!
Like, the average eating and exercise habits of the average North American are not enough to keep a doctor busy for the rest of her natural life. Like, the regular routine bumps and bruises, accidents and disease that befall all of humanity are not sufficient fodder for her talents.
NO! A doctor needs to make sure YOU — you there in your armchair, sitting at home, thinking you’re healthy — she needs to make sure YOU get and stay sick.
Hippocratic Oath? Pshaw!
Honest to pete. And you know those ads must work, because they just don’t go away.
There are some dumb people out there. Lordy.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
Three-year-olds are fascinated by genitalia.
What they have, what the other guy has. It comes up in conversation, casual conversation, all the time. I don’t get flustered, I just deal in facts. Well, facts and appropriate social boundaries. Truth be known, I actively enjoy these conversations. They’re funny and sweet, charming and utterly innocent.
The cutesy-prudery that is endemic in our society irritates the ever-loving crap out of me. We cringe at the thought of having “The Talk” with our kids. We wince when they mention their genitalia. We moan together about how embarrassed we are about our children’s perfectly normal (and perfectly innocent) curiosity about their own bodies.
“Oooooo!” some mommy-blogger writes, “My little boy asked how long it takes to make a baby!” (The child, elementary school age, I gather, had enough of the facts that he wasn’t asking about gestation, you understand. He wanted to know how long The Act took.) This mother dedicated a thousand words (some of them, I admit, kind of funny) to describing how she didn’t answer her son’s honest question, but did manage to convey a whole lot of embarrassment, unease, and shame.
Or the daddy-blogger who waxed lyrical (and, yes, he was funny, too) about how HIS precious angel is not going to be allowed to have a boyfriend until she’s 30, and that all prospective suitors will have to run the gauntlet of his protective manliness to achieve their virgin princess in a tower.
Irritates the SHIT out of me, people.
Because God forbid we produce children who grow up into ADULTS. Adults who have the information, attitudes and resources to have, among other things, a healthy adult sex life. They don’t get there because we had one squirming, cringing, stilted conversation, aka “The Talk”, or, worse, just had a leaflet thrown at them when they were thirteen or so.
Do we want kids who have confidence and self-respect? Teens who will see us as trustworthy resources, and come to us with questions and concerns? Adults who choose loving and nurturing partners? Then get over yourself and talk. to. your. kids. Talk sanely, calmly, sensibly, respectfully. Your children is much more likely to achieve healthy sexuality when their parents answer straight questions with age-appropriate information. When their parents are relaxed and matter-of-fact about this topic.
Our children stand a far better chance of getting to be healthy adults with healthy sexuality if we act like adults ourselves, instead of sniggering 9-year-old boys or simpering 9-year-old girls. Grow up, people!
So when the topic of genitalia comes up here, and it does, routinely, we use medically accurate terms. No “pee-pees” in this house. “Down there” means “on the floor”, not a body part.
Boys have a penis and testicles. Girls have a vulva and a vagina. Those are the words we use. We use them quite a bit these days, because there are two three-year-olds in the house.
Jazz and Grace stand over Josh, who is being changed.
“He has a penis,” Grace observes.
“Yes, and tessacles,” Jazz adds. They nod, sagely pleased with their observations.
When Poppy is being changed,
“Her vulva gots poo on it.”
“Yes, Jazz, it does. I’m cleaning it now.”
“And you gots to be careful and not get poo in her vagina,” Grace adds.
“Smart girl! You’re absolutely right. I have to make sure her vagina stays clean.”
See how easy it is?
I have done my best to put this exciting vocabulary in the appropriate social context. These are private areas of the body, and so we don’t talk about them just anywhere. I’ve explained that it’s okay to talk about these things with me and with mummy and daddy, but not just anyone.
This morning I had some wiring replaced in my basement. The electrician is also a friend, so he stopped to chat with the tots. Being a sensible man, he admired Grace’s dress.
“Yes, I have a pretty dress, and Mary has a skirt!”
“So she does,” he nods.
“Mary has a skirt and she has a shirt and she has a sweater and she has tights and she has unnerwears, and”
Uh-oh. “Unnerwears” was already too much information, and my electrician friend is snorting into his beard. He thinks that’s the punch line. He thinks the joke is over, but I know better. I can see the trajectory here, and it’s not heading in a G-rated direction. I don’t interject quickly enough, however.
“… unnerwears and she has a VULVA!” Grace stops, pleased to have gotten the Topic of the Month into conversation.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Only a three-year-old could put you in the position of encouraging your electrician to consider your nether regions. (Is it better or worse that he’s a friend, I wonder?) So much for “private things talked about in private”, huh? Except, from the perspective of a three-year-old, we’re IN THE HOUSE, and he IS A FRIEND, so we’re discussing private things in private, amongst friends. What could possibly be wrong with that??
What’s a little genital consideration amongst friends, anyway? We do it ALL THE TIME around here!! Hee.
Thankfully, my friend the electrician is, like me, a grown-up about these matters. He also has children of his own (children old enough to be producing grandchildren, but still, children). He’s been here. He barely blinks. Well, unless you count the wink he threw my way.
“Medically accurate, huh? Good job!” He raises two thumbs as he heads out the front door.
Me and my vulva, we go make lunch for the children.
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.
She was sitting under the play structure, busily playing with and directing the play of the small boy beside her. “Is that ice cream? Yum! I love ice cream! Do you like ice cream? What flavour is it? Should we put some chocolate chips on our ice cream? These little rocks, they can be the chocolate chips!”
The small boy was happily involved in the deliciously imaginative play. They made pies and soup, then back to ice cream. They stirred and built, ‘tasted’ and cooked. And all the time her words swirled round and round.
He was probably two. She was probably 32.
Three of my four children eventually joined her. They formed a circle of delight around this adult, who bathed them all with the loving beam of her full attention.
So why was I so damned annoyed?
At first I scolded myself. She’s not doing anything wrong. She’s enjoying herself, they’re enjoying themselves. The negativity, the (yes, I confess my darker side here) the outright hostility I was feeling was unworthy. It was pure ego.
I felt uncomfortable. She was making me feel like I should be doing something. But, wait. She was “making” me? Really? She wasn’t doing anything she hand’t been doing before I arrived. In her heart of hearts, was she judging me for my lack of interaction? Was she feeling superior to me, and pitying my poor, neglected charges? Why would I make that assumption?
Even if you figure the answer is “Hell yes, she was”, the fact of the matter was that she wasn’t doing or saying anything to or about me whatsoever. Any assumptions I’m making about her motivations are just that — assumptions.
I get tired of people projecting assumptions and motivations on other people, and then reacting negatively to their own projections. This happens all the time. A mother talks with pride of her child’s particular accomplishment, and the mother beside her, whose child has yet to do whatever it is, reacts with angry defensiveness. “She thinks her child is so superior. God, I hate this damned parental competitiveness!” Um, who’s being competitive here? Really?
People who get all offended over imagined affronts annoy the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be one of the people whose real problem is their own thin skin. If my annoyance was nothing other than ego, I just needed to get over it. Let it go, get over myself. So I didn’t intervene to pull my kids away.
Mind you, I didn’t let any implicit pressure provoke me to go over there and start playing with them, either. Because, really, once in a while I like playing with them, but I’m surely not going to do it all.morning.long, and I sure as hell am not going to start because I think someone I’ve never met before might be judging me for not playing with them. That would be adolescent silly. I don’t do peer pressure any more.
But, goodness, I was annoyed. So, in the spirit of all those mindfulness books I’ve been reading, I noted the annoyance without trying to do anything with it. And then the wheels start turning.
I usually find playing with the children boring. I know that, and I’m fine with that, because I also believe play is the child’s work, not mine.
Ah. And now, as my children continued to stand in an enthralled ring around the young mother, it started to come together for me.
My children had been happily playing a game, several games, all morning. They’d been running hither and yon, up ladders and down slides, happily occupied with each other the the opportunities of the play structure. Now they were standing still and talking. Nothing wrong with that. They often play that way, too.
But now they were playing a game of someone else’s devising. Nothing wrong with that, either. It’s good for them to learn the social give and take of initiating, then following, throwing ideas out, cooperating with someone else’s ideas.
Except there’s a power imbalance when one of the players is an adult. This was not a game amongst peers. This was five children vying for the attention and approval of a single adult. Now, she was managing the play well … but make no mistakes, she was managing it.
And that’s okay for a while. That’s good, as an occasional enrichment/enhancement of the children’s typical level of play.
But all the time? For the entire 90 minutes I was there, her little boy was not allowed to play by himself for one single minute. Until my children joined him, his only company was his mother. When my children joined in, they were not joining him, anyway, they were joining his mother. She was the attraction, not him, and not the game he was playing.
How will this boy learn to manage the playground? To manage social interactions without a protective, buffering, facilitating adult?
Furthermore, the play was all of one type: imaginative and verbal. They sat in one spot and played one game for an hour and a half. Perfectly good form of play, and one all children need to master, but what of charging around like mad, noisy fiends? What of learning to climb ladders and climbing walls, to scramble onto, and jump off, a rock?
When will this child learn to see a task through, from beginning to end, without constant input, probing, encouragement, and praise? He’ll accomplish his mommy-led tasks well, no doubt, but what of autonomy? Of pride in a job well done, with only the reward of the job done well
Involving yourself with a child’s play to achieve a specific goal, to help them over a particular social or emotional bump, to enrich things a little … that’s good parenting. But to play with them every waking minute? Contrary to popular opinion, that’s not good parenting. And in the long run, it’s bad for the children.
So this morning I let the children stand and chat with the mother for a few minutes, and then I called them away. We wandered to another play area, and there they resumed their former style of playing: running, climbing, calling to each other, sometimes stopping to chat and pretend, sometimes tearing around for the sheer joy of being physical.
All this without a single instruction, piece of encouragement, question or direction from me.