It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Ditherers and Decision-Makers

I told you yesterday of the my two interviews. Two interviews, two very different family styles. One couple, soft-spoken, a little reserved, cautious. The other high-energy, cheerful, gregarious. One couple dithered and dithered and could not come to a decision. The other took a day to think about it, then decided!

Yay for people who can make a decision!

We agreed to two probationary weeks, because of their child’s difficult experience in her first daycare. During the first week, mom would spend part of some days with us. Two hours the first day, half hour the second, then a regular drop-off (2 minutes) the third and final day.

During those visits, I am reminded that mom is loud, which, as long-time readers know, I find wearisome. But she’s so full of positive energy, I can put up with the loud. What is harder to take is that she interrupts constantly. Not only is that rude/aggravating, but she’s interrupting me while I’m answering questions or passing on information, so she’s only getting half the information she has requested and/or needs. Then she’ll ask me a follow-up question. A follow-up question which would have been answered already if she hadn’t interrupted me in the first place. She also doesn’t remember things we’ve agreed to, because, I suspect, in her head she’d already raced on to the next thing and had ceased to listen to me even as I was speaking.

People like this are exhausting. I make a mental note to follow up any conversation with an email, so we have necessary information in writing.


But that concern aside, the week goes well. Her little girl is a charmer — interested, easy-going, easy to soothe, curious, prone to smiles and laughter even when mummy isn’t around. She’s going to be fine. I’m really looking forward to having her in the group!

At the end of the first week, I get an email from the ditherer. The one who’d interviewed with me a month before, who now has a little over two weeks before first day at work. She’s wondering how the probationary weeks went with the other child.

Why? She still hasn’t signed with anyone! I am flabbergasted. This woman really can’t make a decision! I’m flabbergasted, and also a little concerned for her. I reply, explaining that we’re only partway through the probationary weeks, and suggesting with as much tact and kindness as I’m capable (not to worry, I’m good at tact and kindness!), that she needs to choose from amongst the available options, or she may find herself with no daycare at all.

Wow. Decisions are so hard for some people. Thank goodness for my almost-signed-on parents, and their ability to come to a quick, firm, decision!

A day later, I get an email from the probationary parent. Over the weekend, their child had been to the emergency ward with trouble breathing. It turns out she has cold-induced asthma. Alarming, to be sure, particularly that first time, but not something that can’t be safely managed. I’ve had kids with this condition before. For some it’s more intense than others, but it’s always been manageable.


Except, these parents, the ones who, you know, can MAKE A DECISION!!! Well, they’ve made one. Another one. They have decided … that they will not put their child in daycare at all.

Boom, done. Guess that’s the flip side of all that decisiveness, huh. Could they not have dithered, just a wee bit?

But, wait! I still have the ditherers, the ones who told me “I kept coming up” in their discussions of caregivers, the ones who, only the evening before, had not yet chosen a caregiver!

Feeling a tad sheepish, I send them an email. Are they still … ?

Guess what? The ditherers finally made a decision. In less than 24 hours since our last email exchange, they have signed on, paid up, and have a start date.

I am impressed by the dark humour of the universe.


November 29, 2013 Posted by | daycare, parents, the dark side | , | 4 Comments

Changing Dynamic: the prequel

Today will be the first day without Jazz.

Jazz is having her family summer vacation now, and from there will be heading off to Big Girl School. Jazz has graduated Mary’s. No, I do not do a cap-and-gown ‘graduation’. You get one of those when you graduate university. As in “have done something to merit the ceremony”. A ‘graduation’ that requires nothing more than reaching legal school age? Not even to have stopped picking your nose and eating it? Pfft.

Now, she got a trip to the local gelato store, and had an ENTIRE small serving of chocolate ALL TO HERSELF. (The small servings are quite large enough that two kids can share, and so they do. Always.) An ENTIRE cup of gelato, and to NOT SHARE?!? Is a Big Deal. Specially when the other kids still did have to share. “This is Jazz’s last day, so she gets a very special treat.” (Which was accepted with nary a blink. They’re such good well-socialized sweet well-trained all of the above little kids.)

So there was that.

And she got a big card that all the children had decorated. And t-shirt that we all made together. And, best of all!!!! (at least as far as Jazz was concerned) a mermaid doll. OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG! MERMAID! DOLL!!!! (To say it was ‘a hit’ rather understates the case. Hee. Go, Mary!)

So, it’s not as if her departure had gone un-feted. But cap and gown? Puh-heeze. No.

Off she goes, then. Some quality family time ahead, and then the big, broader world of Junior Kindergarten. Where I have no doubt she will thrive. A fish to water. All that.

And meantime, back here?

Well, though I will miss her endearing giggle and impish sense of humour, her funny turns of phrases and her mothering of wee Rosie …

I will not miss the petulance. The tattling. The constant jockeying for top dog position. The whining. The insta-tears. The flouncing. The righteous indignation. Many of those are pretty common to four-year-olds, of course, but all of hers were exacerbated by her state of near-constant sleep deprivation. She’s four on steroids, that one.

Grace is with me for another couple of weeks, before she heads off to her own Big Girl School. Without another four-year-old to bounce off and react to, and, in particular, a four-year-old dedicated to the pursuit of being the first, the best, the strongest, the prettiest … I predict Grace drift away from certain contentious patterns and will happily settle into her more-natural state of easy-going placidity. I predict this will happen pretty much instantaneously.

Except for the whining, mind you. Grace does have a tendency to whinge. But she does not have a tendency to push to the forefront, to trample others to achieve superior status. Not at all. So I predict a lovely, lovely summer wherein I do not hear “Why does SHE get to…”, not even once.


What of the others? Poppy and Grace will continue to mother Rosie. Rosie will, for a short while at least, continue to allow it. Soon enough her two-ness will have reached the point where she will resist such importunity, but for now, it’s all good. Poppy and Grace will play as they do when alone together: calmly, cooperative, and with a constant, never-ending, ceaseless stream of happy chatter (90% Poppy’s).

Daniel? A bit of a wild card. He hasn’t been around much this summer, it being the final couple of months of mom’s maternity leave. The two 4-year-olds tended to resist and exclude him. With a certain amount of just cause, mind you: the boy is loud, very physical, and blundersome, but there was an edge of social cruelty to it I didn’t like to it. They weren’t objecting to just his behaviour: “Don’t push me!!”, but his person, “You go away. We’re not playing with YOU.”


Without the four-year-olds, will Poppy pick up that torch? I’m hoping not. She’s more physical, for one, and finds Daniel’s physicality less troublesome. She’s also more cheerfully social. She’s also not four. Without the fours to lead the way, and in particular, Jazz, I’m hoping she will — or can at least be taught — to engage with Daniel in a way that’s satisfactory to both of them. And of course we’ll be steadily teaching Daniel to not bang, bump, blunder into, blunder through and otherwise manhandle his peers.

(Good luck with that, I sez to myself. Nonethess, ‘gently, gently’ is going to be a prime interaction with that boy for the foreseeable future, I’m quite sure.)


Those are some predictions and some concerns. Some will manifest immediately, some over time. I’m sure there’ll be surprises.

I’m looking forward to it!

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Daniel, Grace, individuality, Jazz, Poppy, Rosie, socializing, the dark side | , | 1 Comment

Refreshed. Aaaah.

How rude! Mary vanishes for a week with nary a word of warning. Sadly, I have no excuse. Nothing dire happened, except plain old bad manners: I had a week off!! I also, without any advance planning, too my week off immediately before two short weeks, given that I also take Good Friday and Easter Monday.

And now I am all refreshed and ready for action, and I have a gentle return to regular-type work. Love it when holidays work that way.

I knew I was ready for work on Sunday because I was able to sit down that night and come up with a list of activities and crafts for the week in about ten minutes. The previous week took an hour, and my list was mediocre. So sad.

I knew I was ready for work on Monday, because the kids were just so CUTE, and FUNNY, and SWEET!!! … all day long! A week ago Monday, they were cute, yeah, but they were also WHINY and SQUABBLY and just a bit EXHAUSTING, frankly. All day long.

Part of that is perception, of course. When I’m happy and energized, the bad stuff doesn’t grate, and I can see the good stuff. When I’m tired and irritable, I feel the bad stuff, and it’s the good stuff I gloss over. It’s not that they’re doing anything different, it’s just what resonates most with me.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. I noticed this when my kids were little, I notice this in the daycare: So much comes down to me. The truth of the matter is that the adult in the room, to a very large degree, sets the emotional tone of the daycare. If I’m happy! and friendly! and funny! … so are the children. If I’m gloomy and cranky and thin-skinned … so are the children.

It’s not a 100% correlation, of course. They are human beings, not programmable robots (darn it), human beings who come with their own moods. Sometimes a kid is stuck in “funk” and no amount of jollification in my soul is going to shift them out of that. (In that case, I put them in bed. A kid stuck in funk is almost always tired.) But it’s the rare child whose chipper happiness can survive in the face of adult surliness, and that’s a sad, sad thing.

Generally, though, children want to have happy interactions. They thrive in emotional sunshine. Have you ever seen a bunch of toddlers fake-laugh with each other, just because they love to laugh? They want to be happy. (This week, that’s ADORABLE! Last week? It was just LOUD.) If I’m upbeat and positive, the whole tenor of the room changes.

And when I don’t feel all sunny? Then I do my damndest to fake it till I make it. Did you know that studies show that when you put a smile on your face, no matter how cranky you feel, your mood improves? I noticed that for myself years before I read those studies. So, to the very best of my ability I smile, and I am gentle, and I am kind. A lot of the time, it works (remember my Happiness Project?). It works to the point that my mood genuinely turns around, and the smiles and laughter and play are not fake at all.

Sometimes it doesn’t, and the smiles and laughter and play are borne of effort. Effort that must be maintain All.Day.Long. In the face of the constant demands and emotional volatility of the average toddler — times FIVE. That’s exhausting. I had reached that point the week before last. But!! A week off, with a little travel, a lot of friends, a little shopping, a bit of sewing … and I am happy once more! Genuinely. No fatigue.

And the kids?


Love my job.

Now I just need to arrange to have a week off, oh, every other month. That’d be perfect!

March 26, 2013 Posted by | daycare, holidays, socializing, the dark side | 4 Comments

It was a moist day at Mary’s

Baby Josh reels by. He’s still not walking anything like steadily, that boy. The girls knock him over just by passing too quickly. They don’t even have to pass close, just whip by fast on the other side of the room. Maybe it has more to do with him looking one way — at the racing children — while attempting to continue in a different direction. Or maybe it’s just vagrant thoughts, neurons colliding in his wee head, which are knocking him over. The boy is unsteady, I’m saying.

He’s also, at this moment, foul. There’s a thick green cloud of toxic sludge wafting from his butt end, I’m sure. So nasty in the air you can practically taste it. Gah.

When I lay him down on the floor — all diaper changes happen on my hardwood floor, easy to access, easy to clean — I discover the foulness has escaped the confines of the diaper. Out the legs, up the back pretty much to his armpits. It’s gross, and it’s everywhere. Really, he needs a bath, but that’s very hard to do with four other children toodling around.

(And if you think I could just bring us all up to the bathroom, you have not been around long enough to have heard me note how very small my home is. There is not room, and I do mean that quite literally — there is not sufficient floor space in my bathroom — for four toddlers and an adult.)

So, no bath for Josh. Just diaper wipes. Lots and lots and lots of diaper wipes. Well over a dozen. Five for the butt. Three for the stomach. Six for the back. Oh! One for his left armpit. So charming. They just keep piling up on top of the diaper that lies on the floor beside me, off-gassing toxic fumes into my home.

If you’ve been around for long enough, you also know that Grace and Jazz are poo-vultures. The are drawn to the stuff, in an utterly morbid (and revolting) way. Usually I shoo them away before I begin with a poopy diaper, but for some reason, this time I didn’t. So there they are, peering in and chatting about it between themselves.

“Josh has a big poo!”
“Does Josh have a big poo, Mary?” (This, I ignore.)
“Look! He has poo in his bellybutton!”
“Oh, no! He stuck his foot in the poo, and now his sock gots poo on it!”

Yes, indeed. Rivetting stuff, poo. The fascination never ends. In fact, the fascination of Josh’s shit-smeared body became so engrossing for Grace that she managed to sit in the growing pile of excremented diaper wipes on top of the poo-filled diaper.

“GRACE! Don’t move!” Because there’s nothing I can do about it right now, is there? I have Toxic Boy in front of me, and if I let go, he will immediately make his speedy and shit-strewing way across my home. Immediately.

Grace, however, is capable of sitting stock-still for a couple of minutes. Bless her heart. Not so blessed is the smear of poo on the side of her tights. Urgh.

Josh de-toxified, I turn my attention to Grace. We peel the tights off, thankfully the only item of clothing befouled, and as I lift them away, she pauses, her face twitches, and she sneezes. Directly onto my shirt. A fully loaded sneeze. Yellow snot adorns the black wool.


And if I’d had time to write this post yesterday, that would be where it ended. You’d think that was enough, no? Poo in glorious abundance, with a chaser of snot? I’d say that was enough.

The Fates disagreed.

Later that same day:

Baby Josh discovers the potty. (Poppy is being potty-trained; more on that another day.) There is not much in the potty. With two dogs, three toddlers and couple of 14-month-old babies in the house, I’m careful about these things. But the last pee has not been dispensed with yet.

The last pee was, thank GOODNESS, a small one. (Most of them are. Poppy very quickly registered that if you dispense your pee in many small increments, you get MORE SMARTIES!!!) THANK GOODNESS, I say, because Josh has not only discovered the potty, which he has never really noticed before, but he discovered that “HEY! This inside part LIFTS RIGHT OUT!” Whee!

So he whips out the pee-laced bowl and waves it about a bit. With predictable results. Waves it and, because he’s sitting right there, his kicking feet smear the small puddle around a bit. It is my sudden dart across the room that catches Jazz’s attention, and I’m sure that’s why she had to run in the same direction. Only, starting from a different angle, and a little closer, she got there first.

And soaked one foot of her tights. Happily, Jazz does not have a cold. So I managed to change her without getting further besmirched.

Pee, poo, and snot. All over bodies, all over clothing, all over my living room floor. Guess I should be grateful no one added vomit to the day, huh?

December 4, 2012 Posted by | eeewww, Grace, Jazz, Joshua, potty tales, the dark side | , , | 9 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.


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

Fingers Crossed

This week, having just regained her equilibrium after the introduction of Rosie (former NBG) Poppy meets her next big challenge: New Baby Boy (NBB) starts today.

I’ve arranged with the parents that Poppy will arrive about half an hour before NBB, so as to be established before …

well, before the crying starts. Because, unless NBB is the paragon that Rosie was, there will be tears and wailing.

Poor Poppy. Poor empathetic, anxiety-prone Poppy.

Am I nervous?


In fact, I am writing this Monday evening (Thanksgiving holiday Monday here in Canada) and setting it to publish Tuesday morning, because I am quite sure I will have little time to fritter on the computer once NBB arrives. I fear I will be up to my neck in wailing and/or clinging and anxious children for much of the day, if not NBB, then Poppy. I am hoping against hope that Rosie does not join in the storm of tears, neediness and worry…

I have some small hope that the lessons she’s learned so far will help Poppy weather this new source of stress more smoothly than the last, but that hope is minimized by the undeniable fact that Rosie’s was a supremely easy transition. If Poppy found that difficult, then a normal transition — and really, what are the odds of two supremely easy transitions in a row? HA! — will be orders of magnitude more challenging for her. For me. For all of us.

So, tomorrow morning (Tuesday, when you read this), I will be far, far, faaaar too busy to tell you how it’s going.

Keep your fingers crossed for us!

(Re: that picture. Fear not! Confidentiality is being respected. Most pictures of toddlers I use come, as did this, from stock.xchng. It’s being used legitimately, and is not of any child in my daycare.)

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Poppy, Rosie, socializing, the dark side | , , , | 5 Comments

Thoughttus Interruptus

I don’t really get a nap time any more. Daniel and Poppy nap, but Grace and Jazz don’t, generally. Still, we do have a Quiet Time, during which the big girls lay on cots, one in living room, one in kitchen. They don’t have to sleep, but they do have to Stay On The Cot … along with a pile of books, a dolly, a few puzzles, a container of blocks.

Really, what they’re getting is an hour of free play. They may not play together, mind you, because then they get loud. But they may play, with — bonus! — no tedious interruptions from me about tidying, putting things away, taking out only one book at a time. None of that stuff. In return for which, I also expect no interruptions from them of my precious quiet time.

They are allowed to use the potty, but it’s carefully placed so as not to allow interaction between the two girls, and to be as boring as possible. No faking out Mary by asking to go to the potty when really you just want to whoop it up with the other gal, or to have a change of scene.

I expect an hour. I get an hour.


Today …

12:45 Quiet Time starts. Both girls on their cots, with their heaps o’entertainment mounded around them. I sit at computer to type long-overdue email.

12:48 Grace asks to pee. I don’t even look up. I’m looking for a word, it’s not quite coming, and this is a no-brainer. “No. You peed not four minutes ago.” I keep typing, leaving PUMPKIN in bold block caps where the missing word needs to go. It’ll come to me if I forget about it for a bit.

(This is a variant of a strategy I learned in teacher’s college for helping young readers develop fluency. Rather than stumble and stutter over each unrecognized word, have the child insert “pumpkin” and keep going. If the sentence still makes sense, you didn’t need that word. If it doesn’t make sense, you’ll have to stop and figure it out … but a lot of the time, you won’t need it! It’s great for reducing frustration and increasing success.)

My slightly different application is enormously helpful for the aphasic tendencies of the forgetful 50-something brain. Never mind that word! Just keep going, and get the thought down. Because we know, we tip-of-the-tonguers, we know that if we stop and stumble over the one particular word, we’ll forget what the rest of the sentence was supposed to be. This is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario, which the PUMPKIN technique very cleverly sidesteps. Mwah-ha. Me so smart. (Forgetful, but smart.)

12:51 Aha! The word comes to me. I knew it would. I seek out my marker PUMPKIN. There it is! Just as I’m about to drop the correct word in, Jazz’s tower of blocks falls with a resounding crash, scaring the bejeezus out of me. I suggest that from here on she build walls, not towers.

That word? Is gone again. Damn.

12:59 Emma returns from class, chats for a few minutes.

1:12 I return to my email, still with its PUMPKIN poking out of the text. I manage another sentence before the dogs suddenly leap up from the depths of slumber and roar to the back of the house, Daisy barking, Indie yodelling, both tails wagging madly. (Indie’s part husky; she doesn’t often bark, but she does ululate. Most endearingly. And distractingly.) Something wonderful this way comes, evidently.

1:14 The dogs were right! Wonderful Husband enters the house, having cycled to the dentist and then downtown for a chiller. He hands me mine. Aaahhh… And of course, I have to at least talk to the man who brought me an unasked-for treat.

1:22 Grace asks to pee again. This time I give her the nod. I begin another sentence. The last one still has a PUMPKIN in it.

1:23:04 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”
1:23:15 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”
1:23:42 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”
1:24:03 Daisy is on the dining room table! “DAISY! Get DOWN!”

1:24:05 I go look at the dining room table. Wonderful Husband has left his fanny pack there. Which contains, as it always does, a small handful of dogs treats. I put them where they belong.

1:25 Jazz needs to pee.
1:27 Jazz has done enormous poo. I wipe her bottom, empty and rinse the potty, wash my hands. I return to my email. Reread and delete the prior sentence.

1:29 Put that sentence back in. Change three words.

1:31 The phone rings. I check the call display and ignore the telemarketer. Erase those last three words.

1:37 I have written three more sentences!!!

1:39 A knock at the door. Neighbour child has set up lemonade stand. I promise to bring the tots when they’ve woken from their naps. “Right now it’s Quiet Time,” I lie say, delusionally tell her hopeful face.

1:42 I delete half the previous sentence, replace it. Like that much better.

1:45 Quiet Time is over. I am out of time for this email, and it’ll do. I hit send.

“Okay girls, you can get up. Let’s put your toys away, and then we’ll go paint on the porch.”

“Yay! Painting!” As they scramble off their cots and start putting books away, I give the sent email one more read-through.


But of course…

July 5, 2012 Posted by | the dark side | , , | 5 Comments

Why I Love My Husband (reason # 57368932)

I put on my boots.
“Mary, you is putting on your boots?”

I put their bowls on the table.
“Mary, you putting bowls onna table?”

I change Daniel’s diaper.
“You is changin’ Danny’s diaper, Mary?”

The Onslaught of the Obvious Questions continues unabated. I answer them straight, I dodge them, I divert them … but still they come. Again and again and again. More and more and ever more. Every.Single.Day. I will freely admit that my patience with them is wearing a smidge thin, and that, from time to time, my answers to the incessant deluge of obviousity has been the teeniest bit edgy. Not enough to alarm a toddler, which would be not only unprofessional but unkind. No, my edginess is carefully calibrated to go right over their innocent wee heads, but be enough to ease the pressure of exasperation, before the top of my head blows right off.

“We is having soup for lunch?”
“Jazz is wearing a hat?”
“The doggies has a ball?”

(Why yes, I am looking forward to my Christmas break. Why do you ask?)

“That is a garbage truck?”
“We is painting?”
“You is playing the piano?”

The Wonderful Husband has been off this week, and so has heard (and answered!) many, many, many obvious questions of his own. He is a master of patience with them, and I am supremely grateful for his quiet, gentle presence. And also for his Distraction Factor. Given a choice between hanging with boring old Mary, who they see every day, or Fascinating New Person (aka Wonderful Husband), the choice is clear.

“I put on my coat?”
“Poppy is inna high chair?”
“You gets your mail?”

(It may even be that once in a while someone has sent the tots to the other end of the house, just to see what he’s up to. Not to get rid of them, of course. Just so they can bask in the wonderfulness of his presence.)

“Grace has a sparkle in her hair?”
“It is lunch time?”
“Rory is reading a book?”

This is my last day of work until January and, really? Since it means several gazillion more of these BLOODY STUPID OBVIOUS QUESTIONS before I’m done, today CAN’T END SOON ENOUGH.

“You is banging your head inna wall?”

Yesterday, I dropped oven-dried bread crusts into the food processor. Certain people in this house won’t eat crusts. I will confess this quirk annoys me. I expect the toddlers to eat their damned crusts (and so they do), but… husbands are a different matter entirely. Sigh. However, as he is an otherwise Perfect Human Being, I let the crust thing go. I’m magnanimous that way.

Besides, bread is easy to recycle. Easy, easy. Toast them crispy in a low oven (preferably one you’re already using to cook something else) let them dry completely, break them into bits to feed through the tube of the food processor, and, a few noisy seconds later, bread crumbs! Ta-dah! I haven’t purchased the things in years. Mine are also low-sodium, low-fat, and waaaaay cheaper.


I am running the food processor. The children are napping. For the next couple of hours, I will be blissfully free of stupid obvious questions.

“You makin’ a big noise, Mary???”

I turn to see the much-beloved face of Wonderful Husband looming over my shoulder, his eyes artificially wide and round, the very picture caricature of innocence.

“You makin’ a big noise?”

I give him The Look. The Look with a twinkle. And a fake scowl.

“Don’t you start with the stupid obvious questions!”

“You not like stupid obvious questions, Mary??” Blink, blink, blink go the big brown eyes.

I point a finger, bring it perilously close to the end of his nose. “You want to lose a limb, sir, you keep that right up.”

(It’s loving exchanges like this, people, that build a long and happy marriage.)

It’s another half-hour or so before I am back in the kitchen, and at first I’m working at a counter with my back to the stove, so it takes a minute before I notice.

I’m thinking of having it framed.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Peeve me, the dark side | , , , | 4 Comments

Gathering up that loose end

A couple of you recently asked “whatever happened to that difficult baby?” and only this morning I stumbled across a partial post in the draft files addressing that very question. Karma. For those of you who weren’t around (or just don’t remember — it was a while back!), I have a very challenging child a while back. I started out hopeful. After all, I’ve been doing this for sixteen years. I have a wealth of experience, lots of confidence, and, if not patience, the perspective that comes with experience. We could work this out! I was sure. Never doubted it for a moment.

But, when the situation dragged on for months without improvement, the hope receded. What follows is a post from my draft file, written in some month ago, and a good six months after the situation began.

Unhappy baby: I’m not so hopeful any more. She is still whiny and needy, she continues to demand far more time and attention than I can give her and still be at all present for the other children. She arrives wailing… but it’s not sincere, heart-felt unhappiness. It’s a habit. It’s just what she does when she comes up my front steps.

And I just. can’t. shake her from it. It’s a habit, but it appears to be 100% intractable. I can’t break it, I can’t distract her, I can’t provide alternate patterns. Crying is what she does. That’s it, that’s all.

She arrives, wailing. Every day, wailing. We go for an outing. She wails as we get ready to go, but calms as we proceed down the street. By the time we’ve passed a few blocks, she’s cheerful and chattering. A normal child having a normal, happy day. And when we return to the house? The wailing starts again. The second she sees the front steps, the wails commence. It’s positively Pavolvian.

Everything I’ve tried? Nothing. Or, it will work for a day or two, or even a week or two, but only that long. For a while, we used a book of nursery songs. She’d arrive, wailing, I’d put her on my knee to sing songs to her. By the time I’d sung three or four songs in the book, she was happy, ready to slide off my knee and play. After a couple of days, she’d enter, wailing, but crying for her “songbook! songbook!”

Well, that’s a good sign, right? She recognizes the tool which helps ease her into daycare. It gives her security, stability, consistency, to help her weather the transition. This has got to be good.

You’d think that. You’d be wrong.

After a few days, she would not just wail for the songbook, but she’d wail the entire way through it. Another couple of days, and she’d burst into tears whenever she saw the damned thing lying around. Instead of positive associations, it was now associated with her anxiety. Instead of reassuring her, it freaked her out.

I hid the book.

And so it went with each transitional strategy I tried: a few days of success, then decreasing success, and then, oh the bitter irony, the new strategy would become a source of anxiety. And without that transitional activity, the entire day — the entire day — was one long, long, long, long, long, long round of whining, wails, clutching, and tears. All hers, but I will tell you that at the end of a week of days full of this, some of them are mine. After hours, when I release it all to my ever-patient, wonderfully supportive husband. It’s hard.

I am at a loss. I am also, and this is more immediately worrying, out of patience. I can’t work with a child I am not liking, and I am finding it increasingly difficult to find much to like here. I feel badly for her, I ache for her misery and wish I could do something to make it right for her. But I am not liking being with her.

I am not behaving badly: no tantrums, no shouting, no freaking the kids out. I haven’t, and I won’t. But each workday is becoming more and more of a strain, I am more and more often weary to the bone at the end of my day, my work environment becomes less and less satisfying, as each and every thing I try seems to be working, and then… fails.

I have had challenging children before. I have had truly obnoxious parents more often. On one notable occasion — the only occasion on which I gave a family notice — I gave them a scant week’s notice. In this case, however, though the child was a challenge, it was the parents who were the problem, bullying me when things didn’t go their way. Despite his challenges, I didn’t feel like I couldn’t help their child. It was the parents I refused to work with.

But in this case, I love the child and quite like the parents. They are lovely people. But their child is not happy with me.

I am meeting with the parents early next week. Barring a miracle between now and then, I will be giving them notice. This is the first time in close to sixteen years of childcare that I have reached that point with a child. I am not happy about it.

That’s the end of the draft. What happened was that I met with the parents (this would have been at least our third private, after-hours meeting), and gave them notice. They were disappointed, but I think we all knew we’d reached the end of our road together. Lily was not happy with me. And I, increasingly, was not happy with her. (Though I didn’t say that last part to the parents. With them, the focus is on their child’s needs.)

“In another situation,” I said, “without the triggers and associations that she’s developed here, she will probably start afresh and do very well.” I said that as much because I wanted to believe it than because I really believed it. It was plausible, at any rate. At this point, the parents needed some hope. It was the best I could do.

She was with me for a further few weeks as her parents looked for other care. Eventually, they put her in a large-group daycare. And my hoped-for, semi-wishful-thinking outcome… happened! It’s been six months or more, and Lily is thriving in her new large-group daycare.

Why didn’t she thrive here? Damned if I know. Wish I did. I wracked my brains for months trying to sort that out, and never did come to any confident conclusions. Still, I’m happy for her… and, truth be known, relieved. Those last few months, she was hard work, that girl. It’s not the ending I’d have chosen. I wanted the original, sunny, so-delightful Lily back! But in the end, it’s a happy ending for Lily, and that’s what matters.

And am I enjoying my two new babies, who are the very picture of mellow, low-need, happy, go-with-the-flow children?

Damned straight I am. 🙂

September 30, 2011 Posted by | daycare, individuality, Lily, the dark side, whining | , , | 5 Comments

What would you do?

There are many caregivers in my neighbourhood. We offer a variety of styles of service. Some start earlier, some go later. Some are heavy on the crafts, others are all about the outings. Some are French, most are English, a smattering have another language. There are caregivers for every style of parent.

There are those who, in my estimation, are better than others. There are the truly great: appropriately attentive, but not helicopter; a nice way of interacting with the children; clear and sensible consequences and expectations for the children; true professionalism when dealing with parents.

There are the middling ones, like the one who’s great with the kids, but just a tad less attentive than makes me comfortable — not, I hasten to add, that any of her children has ever suffered anything more than the standard bumps and bruises so common to this (uncoordinated) age, nor in excessive numbers. She just lets the kids wander a little further than I would, doesn’t check on them as often as I do. More of a style difference, but… it makes me a smidge uneasy, her style.

And then… then there’s that one that I just don’t like. Not as a person, and even more, not as a caregiver. There’s a saying that you don’t deserve the face you have at 20, but at 50 you have the face you’ve earned. I look at her, the lines of her face drawn severe and scowling, and wonder, “Who would leave their child with a face like that?” A face that so clearly reflects the years spent scowling and stern?

When I see her as I approach the sandbox, I sigh inwardly, knowing that I’m in for a morning of sharp complaints and negativity, without even the (unworthy yet occasionally satisfactory) pleasure of a vent-and-gripe session, for she doesn’t listen, she only talks.

She doesn’t like the parents, she doesn’t appear to enjoy the children. She doesn’t say anything positive about her job, her days, her family, her activities. Though I’ve never seen her say or do anything inappropriate with her kids, she’s never warm with them, either. No laughter, no spontaneous hugs, kisses or cuddles from this one.

And once in a while, a parent looking for care will ask me, “Do you know X? What do you think of her?”

I hate that question.

“I think she’s awful!” would be the 100% accurate response. But that, friends, is unprofessional. You don’t backstab colleagues, and though I don’t like her, she’s never done anything that crosses any legal lines. (To my knowledge, of course, but I really don’t think she has. She’s not abusive, she’s not a psychopath… she’s just not very nice.)

Now, when I’m asked that question I tend to assume that they have a negative gut feeling already, and want confirmation of it. Because you know what? No one’s ever asked about any other caregiver. Just her. Isn’t that telling?

Which is why, the first time I was asked, I answered with a question of my own, “Why do you ask? Do you have a concern about her?”

Another time I had a different question. “Well, that depends. What, would you say, is your parenting style?” Because, you know, there are families out there who are looking for someone with her style. What I might call ‘authoritarian’, they would call ‘firm’. Different strokes.

In essence, I’ve opted not to answer the question directly, but instead encourage them to express their feelings. Another way to deal with it would be to evade it directly, “I have a policy not to discuss other caregivers with parents. It might be best for you to arrange to meet her so that you can form your own opinion.” (Given that I don’t say, “I think she’s wonderful!!!”, which I would if I did, I’ve pretty much answered the question right there, haven’t I?)

Gah. I still don’t like it.

The most recent time this happened, I was tempted to avoid the whole dilemma with a lie: “X? Nope, never heard of her.”

But I’m curious. Have you ever found yourself in a parallel situation? How would you respond?

July 28, 2011 Posted by | controversy, daycare, the dark side | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments