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

No such thing as too much preparation!!!

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.

But seriously?

Preschool to ‘get her ready’ for Junior — JUNIOR! — Kindergarten?

Honestly.

February 26, 2014 Posted by | daycare, parents, Peeve me, Rosie | , , | 6 Comments

Oh, honestly…

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!!
(More cheers!!!)

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???

Oh, honestly.

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!

9:32
They arrive.

Oh, honestly…

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Christmas, daycare, holidays, parents, Peeve me | 8 Comments

None so dumb as folk…

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.
Mahatma Ghandi

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Peeve me, random and odd | , | 6 Comments

My Grandmother would call it “Giving Them Ideas”

We went to the library yesterday. Brought home a great heap o’books. Now, when at the library, I do generally glance through the books they toss on the table, and discreetly remove the ones I know I would find mind-numbing beyond belief, or simply annoying. When Poppy tossed in a Caillou book, I let it stay without reading through. I know some people love to hate Caillou, but I find him generally harmless. Insipid and whiney, perhaps, but harmless.

Until today, that is.

And this book? Was Caillou: Baby Sister, which is VERY COOL, because Poppy is getting a baby sister in the summer. (We all found out it was a sister a week or so ago.) So, can Poppy bring home a book about getting a baby sister? Of course she can! How fun!

So I sit down with the children, and we start reading through the mondo pile o’books. We get to Caillou. I begin. Caillou pats his mummy’s big tummy, and looks forward to baby’s arrival. Mummy and Daddy go off to the hospital, leaving Caillou with gramma.

Is he excited about the even he’s awaited so long? Is he eager? No. He sticks his thumb in his mouth and he “feels lonely”. (Yes, Caillou’s a bit of a sap.)

Mummy and Daddy return, and Caillou is surprised. The baby can’t walk or play. “She’s just a baby.” Um, did no one tell him this? Yeesh.

Next page, Caillou is jealous.
Then he pouts.
The he refuses to look at the baby.
Then he regresses.
Wets the bed.
Wants a bottle.
Wants to be rocked to sleep.
And then, in a startling bit of active aggression (instead of his usual passive version) he
BITES the baby.
Then he goes into his room and beats up on his baby doll.

And then, on the very last page, after a whole book of Caillou being a little shit, he hands the baby her bottle, and discovers she is funny! She is very small and smells nice.

Last sentence of the book:
“Caillou likes being a big brother.”

Um, really? You know, I am not convinced by this. I very much doubt your toddler would be, either. I did not finish reading the book to the tots. After two or three pages of negativity, I had had enough. (I read it later, on my own, to discover what I’ve just shared with you.)

“Goodness, Caillou is being mean, isn’t he? I don’t think I want to read a book about someone being mean to a baby.” The children all nodded sagely, because a guiding principle at Mary’s is “Big people take care of little people.” Being mean to a baby is shocking, people! Shocking and utterly reprehensible. And then I hid the book.

Of course it is important to prepare a child for a sibling’s arrival. Let the older one know how helpless the baby will be. Disabuse them of any idea of being presented with a fully-developed playmate. Talk about crying and pooping and sour milk. And also talk about what they might do with the baby. Pat her head, fetch burp cloths, jiggle a toy…

Of course it is important to acknowledge a child’s feelings, both positive and negative, as they arise. A new baby very often does make the older child feel displaced. An older child can feel resentful, jealous, might indeed wish to be a baby again, and cause reams of delighted laughter, from the entire world, for farting. I mean, really!

But!

But while you can and should prepare the child for the helplessness of a newborn, and you can and should suggest ways that they can be involved, I do not for one second think you should be telling the child how they might respond emotionally in a negative way. Small children are extremely suggestible. Tell a child, “You might feel jealous. You might think that everyone loves the baby more than you,” and you will pretty much ensure that your child does just that.

If you’re going to plant seeds, why not make them positive ones?

“You will spend the night with grandma. Won’t that be fun? You LOVE sleepovers at Grandma’s house!”
“The baby will be soooo teeny, it will be like having a doll that wriggles and makes funny noises.”
“When the baby cries, we will try things to make her happy and stop crying. Maybe you could tickle her toes.”

I find it interesting that the author of Caillou has decided not to make these types of positive suggestions, and thus plant seeds of resilience and possibility. No, she has decided that it’s more helpful to tell your child all the ways he might hate the new baby.

Honest to pete.

(And don’t even get me started on how Caillou’s parents respond when he bites his sister. Actually, that part is screamingly funny in a dark, dry way, and deserves its own blog post.)

If, in fact, your child responds in a negative way to the new baby, you deal with those feelings as they arise. A wise parent is prepared for that eventuality … but why would you suggest to your child that you expect those behaviours? You, the adult, may indeed be expecting them. You probably should anticipate some negativity, at least for a while. For that matter, Caillou’s lengthy list of rotten behaviours is good preparation for the parent. (But, whatever you do, don’t use Caillou’s parents as role models for how to respond. Lordy.)

But to plant the seed for your child? To, in essence, actively make suggestions for how to respond negatively?

That’s just nuts.

My fall-back New Baby book is Mercer Mayer’s “The New Baby“. I don’t always like the sibling dynamic in the Little Critter books, but this one is very good. The older brother does discover that babies don’t do much on their own, that they cry a lot, and don’t play like older children do, but he makes all these discoveries in a cheerfully exploratory way, as he tries to interact positively with his new sibling. Then mom makes a bunch of helpful suggestions which he tries, and on the last page, the big brother is showing his wee sister off to his friends, who think he’s “SO LUCKY!”

Accurate information presented positively (imagine!) with a believable happy ending. Much better.

How about you? Any “New Baby” books you particularly love? Or loathe?

February 22, 2013 Posted by | aggression, books, parenting, Peeve me, socializing | , , , , | 10 Comments

Tattling Strategy

Tattling and whining, the two banes of life with toddlers. Worse than power struggles over veggies and naps, worse than dawdling and contrariness, worse than snot, spit, puke and shit.

Of those two, tattling and whining, for me at any rate, whining is worse. Now, I loathe tattling. I loathe it almost as much as I loathe whining, but on balance, there’s just something about that off-key, see-saw, drawn-out tone of voice that just grates, you know? Gets right under the skin. So hard, nigh impossible, to tune out. (Which is THE WHOLE POINT of whining, of course.)

I have a tattler in the ranks. Ugh. All toddlers tattle at one point or another, but some kids? Some have an absolute passion for it. It’s their damned vocation. That’s what I’ve got these days. A dedicated, passionate tattler.

The only thing worse than whining is tatting done in a whine. Guess what? My current tattler is one of those. (Making her, as Hannah suggests, a whinitter? a tattlewhinge?) I think I’m going to adopt “tattlewhinge”. So evocative.

And these days, the tattling-whinging is constant. Absolutely constant.

“Grace is sitting on the beeeeh-ench! Daniel hit meeee-eee! Poppy won’t shaaaay-yare! He’s too cloooo-ooose! She’s too faaa-aar! They won’t… they will… they aren’t… they are…”

Whine, tattle, whine, tattle. All.Day.Long.

Aside: Now, some tattling is appropriate, of course. I just don’t tend to hear it from this child, but when I do, you can BE SURE that I am warmly appreciative!

“Rosie is standing on the table? Oh, no! That is dangerous! Good for you for telling me, so we can keep Rosie safe! Good job!”

I have strategies for tattling, of course. Strategies which will work, in time, so long as I have the persistence (which I do) and the patience (less bountiful some days) to see it through. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it. Not obsessing! I swear. Thinking. Mulling it over. Running scenarios through my mind. (Scenarios which do not include duct tape, I swear.) Musing. Cogitating.

Okay. Maybe obsessing, just a bit. But from much thinking comes actual insight! The insight came as I was ranting venting obsessing talking it over with Emma.

“She’s not trying to solve a problem, she’s just trying to get someone else in trouble, or use me to get herself some vengeance. I refuse to be her Enforcer.”

Suddenly I heard what I was saying: “She’s not trying to solve a problem.” I heard, and I had my lightbulb moment. When you have a problem, what should your response be? Why, to solve it, of course. To fix it. Make it better.

So, with that tiny bit of insight, I can reframe my response to a tattle into a clean, methodical, logical set of steps. It goes like this:

Kid tattles.

1. I ask “What’s the problem?”
Note: this is not said in a sarcastic tone. The question is quite sincere. Let’s get to the root of the problem — let’s identify the problem that needs to be fixed. Toddlers are often surprisingly poor at this. They know how they feel about what’s happened — NO LIKE IT!!! GRR! — they usually know what they want done in response — GIVE IT TO ME! NOW! — but they often can’t identify what event caused their feelings. And they very, very rarely manage to understand that the other party has a similar and equally valid set of needs.

So the first step is to identify the problem. Which, even if they can identify it, is often not quite as they see it. (The problem, stupid Mary, is that HE WON’T SHARE!!! No, actually, my little dumpling of sweetness, the problem is that he won’t abdicate the toy the second you demand it.) The problem, from my dispassionate adult perspective, is that you both have equally valid, conflicting desires.

I try to be sincere and kind about the problem, from their perspective. “You really, really want that toy! But you know what? She really, really wants that toy, too! And you can’t both play with it at the same time.” (We’ll assume it’s a toy that doesn’t lend itself to co-play.) “That’s a big problem!” Because, really, from their perspective of self-focus, immature empathy capabilities, and general life inexperience, it is a big problem.

All right. Having identified the problem, we go on to step two. “That’s a big problem,” I say,

2. “How can you solve the problem?”

The first proposed solution will be obvious: “He has to GIVE IT TO ME!” (Duh.)
“Yes,” says kindly party-pooping Mary, “but if we do that, you will be happy, but he will be sad. We need to try to fix this so you’re both happy.”

We continue, with me trying to draw it out of them, rather than impose it upon them. Sometimes this step is done with all children involved, sometimes with just the tattler. It depends on what the precipitating CRISIS!!!! was. (I treat their event as a Big Problem when I discuss it with them out of respect for their developmental phase. This does not mean I actually believe it’s a Big Problem. Because WHO CARES if the pink shoelace is beside the book or on top of it? Me?? I think not.)

2b. What happens if that doesn’t work?
This is preparing them for the future, when (as a result of my diligent and skilled assistance!) they are solving problems BEFORE they come tattling to me. Or even — and oh, my heart beats a little faster at the thought — INSTEAD of coming tattling to me. [Insert giggle of sheer giddiness.] So what if they come up with a solution, and it doesn’t work? They tried something, and there’s still a problem?

Because these are toddlers here. Even if, by some sudden burst of maturity, one of ’em actually manages a constructive, calm, co-operative response to a conflict/problem, that is no guarantee at all that the other kid will be equally sensible. In fact, odds make it strongly unlikely. So. If their wonderful fix-it idea doesn’t work? THEN they can come to me for help.

However, I expect them to try to fix it before they ask me to help.

So. When the child has come up with a solution that seems viable, I

3. See that it happens.
I don’t implement the solution. I watch and support the implementation, stepping in only when absolutely essential.
.
.
———————
.
.

There. That’s the initial response. Emphasis on identifying shared problem, and the expectation that they try to fix it on their own.

When we’ve been through this enough times that the drill is understood, I retreat even further from involvement, hand over even more of the process to the child.

Kid Tattles, Phase Two.

1. What have you done to solve the problem?
“You know you are supposed to try to fix the problem first, before you talk to me about it. What have you tried?” Again, not angrily. Just asking. Because of course they have tried to fix it!!!

If they have tried something, they get much praise for this. Then I help them brainstorm another response. I will intervene if their solution was perfectly appropriate and the real problem is that the other child is acting like a two-year-old. (It’s a chronic issue with two-year-olds…)

If the response is “nothing”, I instruct the child to think of some ideas to fix it, and get back to me. I often look puzzled as I say it. “You haven’t tried anything yet?

If the response continues to be “nothing” many repetitions later, well after the expectation is 100% established, the tattler will be In Trouble for not trying to solve their own problems. Now I am no longer puzzled, but annoyed.

“You know you are to try to solve your problems. You know the rule: Try to fix it first! Off you go to the quiet stair and think about how to solve this.”

I like it. It gives ownership of the problem to the child, it teaches them some clear steps for resolution, it has a trajectory of decreasing adult involvment/increasing child autonomy.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Peeve me, socializing, whining | , | 4 Comments

There are no secrets

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.

Oooooh, lovely.

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.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Grace, Mischief, parenting, Peeve me, sex, the things they say! | 12 Comments

Everything I needed to know I learned in…

Two mothers stand in my front hall.

“So glad you can come!”
“Oh, yeah! Wouldn’t miss it!”

They chat for a minute or two longer. Discussing the party they’re both attending. To which I am not invited.

This has happened from time to time down through the years, and every time, it just floors me.

It’s just so damned rude. It’s the kind of rude you should have learned to avoid in Kindergarten. Clearly these two missed that lesson.

It’s two kinds of rude, in fact. First, it’s bad manners to talk about a party in the presence of someone not invited. But there are parties and parties. There’s the party thrown by a co-worker, say, a party that I would not have the remotest expectation of being invited to. Then they’re being rude by talking about something that excludes the third person. Same as it would be rude for them to stand in my front hall and talk about their workplace politics, discussing people and events I have no connection to, in a way that precludes my participation. (Which, come to that, they have also done!) It’s rude primarily because this kind of conversation excludes others, treats them as if they were wallpaper.

It’s additionally rude in this particular situation because it’s the end of my work day. If you want to have a private social conversation, ladies, take it outside and off my clock!

It’s rude to talk about something that excludes someone in the room. But it gets worse. This party is a Halloween party, being thrown by the first parent. So, not only are they talking about a party to which I was not invited, in my presence, but they are talking about a party to which I might reasonably expect to have been invited!

That, my friends, is mind-boggling.

Now, I’m not particularly insulted. I’m not a hugely social person, and would not want to be invited to every party thrown by every daycare parent. Truth be known, over the years I’ve thrown parties myself to which some, but not all, daycare parents were invited. I’m not so hypocritical that I can deny them the right to determine their guest list, when I’ve done exactly the same thing.

But here’s the difference: I didn’t talk about it in front of the uninvited. In fact, I gave the invited parents the heads-up that not all the daycare parents had been invited, to avoid awkward moments.

Like the moment I’m currently experiencing.

Bizarre.

I opted to ignore them. Ignored them and took their children out to the front porch. Then came inside after a minute, pretty much forcing them to go outside before their tots made a break for the street.

In my darker imaginings, I didn’t respond quietly. Nope! In my fantasy, I smiled perkily.

“Oh! You’re having a party? When is it?” And in my fantasy, they’re stunned into mortified silence, suddenly aware of how selfish their behaviour has been.

Of course, this assumes that people so oblivious could be embarrassed by anything short of a two-by-four upside the head. Unlikely, I know.

Telling them they’re being rude is itself rude, so I’m not going to do that. I certainly don’t want to provoke the guilt-invitation, which is a mortification all round, and which I’d not accept anyway. Besides, that’s not the point. I’m not annoyed I wasn’t invited, I’m annoyed they’re taking my time and treating me like a non-entity by discussing it as if I weren’t there.

(And let it be noted, they’re great clients. They really appreciate what I do. They speak very highly of me to their friends. It’s just clear that in their minds I’m “My Daycare Lady”, not, you know, a regular human being.)

Is there a polite response to such rude behaviour?

What would Miss Manners say?

What do you say?

October 30, 2012 Posted by | parents, Peeve me, socializing, the dark side | | 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

Let them play!

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.

Imagine.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | parenting, Peeve me | , , , | 14 Comments