It’s Not All Mary Poppins

I’d Probably Make a Good Living as a Translator

…even without a second language.

Zach calls to me from the living room, as I am rinsing the lunch dishes. What with the two rooms between us, the noise of the water in the sink, and the chatter of the other children, and given that at two his diction isn’t all it could and will be, I hear something like this:

“Awiss…mrvigkdl…airp’ane… dkeibgymmble…dkeoppoel…yivvingwomb… mgirlbele…gone.”

To which I respond, “Did Alice take your airplane out of the livingroom?”


One word in ten is all you need, I’m telling you!

May 17, 2006 Posted by | Alice, random and odd, Zach | 15 Comments

Fortune 500 – Look Out!

“Hey, guys, let’s play store!” Emma has a PD day today. (PD means Professional Development day. Teachers go to workshops; children stay home and help their mommas in their daycares. I love PD days.)

“Yes!” says Arthur. “And will you buy one of us?”

“No, silly. I’m going to sell one of you to the gypsies.”

“Yay! I like gypsies!!”

“No, really, what we’re going to do first, is make ourselves some money.” Emma distributes squares of white paper to the boys. “We’ll make five dollar bills.”

“I wanna six dollar bill!” George is feeling a little competitive today.

“Sorry. There’s no such thing as six dollar bills. There’s five dollars, ten, twenty, and a hundred. No six dollar bills.” No fifty dollar bills apparently, either, but if Emma doesn’t know this, a bunch of three-year-olds certainly don’t need to.

“Can I make a two dollar bills?” Darcy asks as he takes his paper.

“No. There’s no such thing as that, either. I’m not making coins today.”

Emma hands everyone a blue crayon. “Here you go.”

“Can I have a green crayon?” George asks.

“What’s the number I wrote on your bill, George?”

“It’s a five.”

“Right. And five dollar bills are blue. If you want a green one, I’ll have to give you a different paper, and make yours a twenty dollar bill. So, do you want blue or green?”


Darcy wants green. “Because green is more than blue, George.” Not bad for three, to figure out that twenty is more than five. Not bad at all. He decides to pursue this notion. “What’s more than green, Emma?”

“Purple. Ten dollars are purple.” Arthur decides to make a purple bill.

The boys happily occupied, Emma turns to Alice. “Okay, sweetie, would you like to colour some money for our store, too?” Yes, Alice most certainly would!

Darcy looks up. “Alice should have pink money!”

“That’s a nice idea, Darcy, but there’s no such thing as pink money.”

George begs to differ. “Yes, there is! My mummy gots pink moneys.”

Emma looks to me. I confirm, yes, there are pink bills. That would be the fifty she didn’t know existed.

“Fifty? That’s a lot of moneys!” Darcy is impressed. “Alice’s favourite colour is the colour of big moneys!”

Big moneys. Way to go, Alice.

March 27, 2006 Posted by | Alice, Arthur, crafts, Darcy, George, socializing, the things they say! | 17 Comments

One Masterful Momma

Alice has had her hug and kiss goodbye from mummy and now sits on my knee as I kneel in the entry hall. Her mother and I exchange a few more bits of information. Alice stands, moves to go into the next room, then hesitates, changes direction, and moves to her mother, begins to hold up her arms.

“Time for you to start your day, love!” says mummy in a cheerful voice. “I’ll see you tonight!” Her smile is warm as she waves goodbye and leaves. Baby Alice turns to the next room and finds a toy. Everyone plays.

I LOVE this mother! Love her, love her, love her. You know why? Because what she did up there? That, my friends was perfect tantrum-avoiding parenting.

Did you catch what happened? It was so small, so innocuous, that you might have missed it. In fact, I’ll bet many parents would assume that the reason little Alice has so few tantrums is merely that she is the dreamed-of “easy child”. I don’t think so. Alice is a sunny child, but she’s just as capable as any toddler of having a full-throttle tantrum. Zach, another sunny one, has been having some doozies lately. So what happened?

We were in a transition. Transitions need to be handled with skill, or they become an outrage of tantrum in very short order.

Your child approaches you with their hands up. What do you do?

Alice’s mum did NOT pick her up.

Step #1: Do not pick the child up after you’ve handed them over to the caregiver. No second hugs, no extra smooches.

Ninety percent of my parents – of any parents – would, without thinking, scoop the child up. But what is your goal here? Your goal is to get out that door without tears or fussing. Your goal is to leave with your child happily waving bye-bye, or so involved in play that they barely notice your departure. If you pick that child up, you are taking several backwards steps on the out-the-door-and-on-to-work continuum. You are retreating from your goal.

If you don’t pick up that child, how do you respond to the child?

Step #2: cheerful, casual confidence.

Of the 10% who don’t pick the child up, eight of ten of them evidence distress of some sort: they apologize, they worry. “I sorry, sweetie, but daddy has to go now.” You child has emotional receptors a hundred times more sensitive than yours. They hear sorrow, they hear anxiety, and they respond by – surprise! – getting sorrowful, or fearful, rapidly followed by rage that you would leave them in such a sad and scary place.

Alice’s mother did none of these things. Her tone of voice was cheerful and matter-of-fact, her smile warm. She did not evidence either anxiety, regret, or guilt. Her tone and manner conveyed her confidence that daycare is a happy place, and that her daughter has every ability to manage this transition.

Step #3: Leave promptly. With a smile.

And finally, of the 2 in a hundred who have managed a) not to pick the child up and b) to be cheerful, one of them will hover to see if the child can manage it, thus undermining the confidence they were attempting to provide their child. “I know you can do it — but I’ll just stay here in case you can’t.”

Alice’s mum left, immediately. She did not hover to see if the child managed it. She expressed her confidence by following through. “It’s time for you to start your day now.”

Alice heard her mother’s confidence, absorbed the atmosphere of cheer, and went on with her day in a wholly natural and unfussed way. There was no tantrum. Be aware: in that critical moment of indecision, when she turned back to her mother for the second hug-and-kiss, Alice was 100% primed for a tantrum. It was there, ready and waiting to happen. There was no tantrum because Alice’s mom is one masterful momma.

Is it any surprise I love this woman?

November 23, 2005 Posted by | Alice, parenting, power struggle, tantrums | 7 Comments

Craft Time

An architect friend recently gave me a box of scrap paper and cardstock in varying weights, from flimsy right up to foamcore. Another friend gave me a pile of neatly folded, used wrapping papers. I am, as ever, the grateful recipient of the effluvia of my friends’ cleaning efforts.

Today looked to be rainy and chill, so out came these donations, along with a pair of scissors for me, a box of markers, and a few glue-sticks, all arranged enticingly on the table.

“Hey, guys! It’s craft time! We’re going to make something today!”

With a whoop of approval, the children converge on the dining room table, now a cornucopia of colours and textures. Zach, Darcy, Arthur, and Katie sit at the table. Alice, who hasn’t yet gotten the hang of benches – they have no backs, dammit! – sits in her high chair, drawn up to the table.

The children watch with interest as I take a piece of sturdy white cardboard.

“I’m going to cut it out like this,” I say, scissors slicing decisively through. “It will be flat at the top,” I run my finger along the flat edge, “and curved on the sides, see?, with a point at the bottom. There! Anyone know what this is?”

We’ve been reading books and looking at lots of pictures about knights and castles lately, so the concept is familiar. Arthur recognizes it. “A shield!”

Yes, indeed! So what we’re going to do, see, is decorate our shield with the wrapping paper. Not authentic heraldry, true, but attainable individuality. And good fine-motor activity. Plus lots ot sticky glue. The children will tear off bits of paper, rub them with the glue-sticks, and apply them to their shields. They’ve used glue-sticks before, so only a few reminders are needed: apply the glue to the back side of the paper, hold the paper steady with your other hand while you rub, gently and in the same direction, and turn it over to stick it on. The basics. (More complicated than you realized, huh??)

I hand each child a shield. Katie and Alice, too young to do the next bit, are handed a marker apiece. Alice looks at the shield on her tray and the uncapped marker I’m holding out in shocked disbelief. Am I kidding her? She’s in a high chair! High chairs are for eating. What’s with the inedibles? She draws a deep breath, preparatory to full expression of her outrage. A quick scattering of goldfish (now trans-fat free!) on her tray amidst the craft supplies mollifies her. Chewing, she picks up a marker and happily scribbles away.

Tearing the paper bits is the new and tricky bit. I demonstrate the technique. “Just use your thumb and finger from each hand. Put them close together, and make a little rip, like this. That’s the hardest part.” I repeat this four more times, giving each one a paper with a tiny rip on one edge. “After that, it tears really easily. You try it.” Much gleeful tearing among the older four. Alice prefers her food-and-marker combo.

Bet you never realized that tearing had to be taught. Bet, in fact, you’re reeling in shocked disbelief that I’d do this deliberately! Rare indeed (or obsessively monitored) is the child hasn’t torn a few pages from a book or three by the time they’re two and three years old. No one had to teach them to do that! True. The brute force clutch, crumple and yank they have down pat. But a controlled tear, to actually create a wee shape in a piece of still-smooth paper? No.

And in fact, Arthur is the only one who can yet manage the starter tear, and even he prefers that I do the tearing.

They work away at this for much longer than I’d expected, a full 40 or more minutes. At the end, we have five wee shields, each a cheerful blaze of seasonal colours: birthday red, Christmas green, baby shower pink and blue, anniversary silver. Shields for every occasion!

As the tots sleep, the shields are lined up before me, each labelled with their owner’s name and honorific. We have:

Sir Arthur the Inquisitive
Sir Katie (equal-opportunity knighthood in this realm) the Vocal
Sir Alice the Radiant
Sir Zach the Joyous
Sir Darcy the Unyielding. (He may be quiet, but he’s adamant.)

September 23, 2005 Posted by | Alice, Arthur, crafts, Darcy, George, individuality | 9 Comments

Where have all the Timbits gone?

We generally make a Tim Horton’s run when Liam is with us. He loves to go – as do the rest – so why not? A coffee for me, a box of Timbits to share, and all for less than $4.00. Can’t beat that for an outing!

We assemble ourselves around the table, Alice on my lap. I dole out the timbits. Two each, your choice of sour cream or chocolate. The older boys, predictably, wolf theirs and look for more. Being in the business of civilizing them, I tell them they will have to wait until everyone is finished their first helping before we get seconds. They subside, and mournfully watch the slower chewers.

A reasonable interval later, I begin to pass round their third and final timbit. But what is this? I’m two short! How can this be? The answer is right under my nose.

Alice beams up at me – as much as any girl can beam with a face smeared with chocolate, dusted with sugar, and cheeks bulging with doughnut contraband, one timbit on each side!

Good thing extra timbits only cost 12 cents apiece!

July 26, 2005 Posted by | Alice, food, Mischief, outings | 10 Comments


Alice was home yesterday, having had a bout of diarrhoea the previous evening. No more explosions yesterday, though, so she’s back to me today, her usual beaming-with-glee-and-good-humour self. She plays, she naps, she eats just like normal. She has a messy diaper. Soft, but normal. She plays some more, eats some more, passes some gas, starts to fret. I scoop her up to remove her from the high chair, and am well into the motion, too committed to stop, when it hits me: acidic, foul miasma emanates from the child and envelopes us both. My right wrist, under her bottom, feels damp and slimy. Oh, damn, that wasn’t gas. Not even close. This is an occupational hazard; I’m not at all squeamish, but I don’t have to like it.

In less than two seconds she’s on her back, waiting to be changed. I use a baby wipe on my arm before starting on her. It’s everywhere: front, back, sides, legs… Her bright yellow shorts are lined with darker yellow slime; brown spots blossom between the pink and yellow flowers on her shirt. Way up past her belly button, down almost to her kness. The girl is thoroughly beshat.

She’s very compliant, laying still and smiling at me as I use up wipe after wipe on her little body. A bath is probably required, but other children are stirring from their naps, and there won’t be time. This will have to do.

Alice dealt with, I turn to myself, and scrub my hands thoroughly. Rinse off the lather. No, I can still smell it. Back I go again, another thorough scrub, this time right up to the elbows. I can still smell it. Next time, the “anti-bacterial” soap and the nail brush. No.

Why can’t I shake the stench? I’m staring at my hands in consternation, when I see it. Camouflaged by my black tank top’s swirly textured pattern, a wide, shimmering swathe of watery shit meanders all across my left breast. How fast can a woman strip off a shirt? Not fast enough, when she’s trying not to get toxic waste on her face in the process.

I admit my hypocrisy: there was no time for Alice to have a bath, but plenty for Mary to have a shower.

There are limits.

July 15, 2005 Posted by | Alice, eeewww | 17 Comments

Diaper Maelstrom

Now that she is mobile, Alice has discovered the nice little wooden end table in which I store diapers. Two shelves, each with three stacks of, oh, twelve or fifteen diapers. (In behind is another such stack, so I can tidily store a couple weeks’ worth of diapers in there.) Normally when she’s here I pivot it so that the solid back faces out, but today I forgot. I stepped into the kitchen for a moment to stir a pot, and when I return, my livingroom is a maelstrom of white! Diapers fly left and right, shrieks of delight puncture the air — and my eardrums.

How, you might wonder, could such a tiny child strew that many diapers in the nine seconds my back was turned? (Though you all have tiny children. You probably aren’t wondering at all…) Because GEORGE was helping her!! Three-year-old, responsible George, is merrily flinging diapers all over the living room!! Woo-hoo!! This is what happens when energetic toddlers stay inside all morning…

Of course George must help clean it up. He’s a little miffed that baby Alice isn’t expected to put any away, but is mollified when Thomas volunteers to help. Yay, Thomas! What a good friend you are! In fact, this task is right up Thomas’s alley. He’s absolutely terrific at puzzles, and what is this but a giant, practical, super-absorbent puzzle? The diapers must be sorted by size and brand – which means sorting them by the pictures on their waistbands. The plain white Sesame Street ones are Alice’s; the Sesame Street with the green stripes round the legs and big bird on the back are Zach’s; there are diapers with bears and diapers with flowers, all to be stacked and returned. Thank goodness for branding, say I!

It takes almost twenty minutes, but they are twenty happy, productive, and most importantly, quiet minutes…

April 26, 2005 Posted by | Alice, George, Mischief, Thomas | Leave a comment


Zach is learning his manners. I hand him his cheese and crackers. “Dan-goo, tah-tah!” he says, and then proceeds to eat his cracker – with a spoon!

George: Thomas? Thomas, what time is it?
Thomas: Ah… it’s two, six.
George: Okay.

Who says the preverbal can’t communicate? Alice waves bye-bye to mommy through the window, then speed-crawls to the high chair, kneels up, and smacks the foot rest, making anxious/instructive noises. The message is clear: it’s snack time!

George: Thomas, what time is it?
Thomas: It’s eight, four.
George: Pee-pee time!!

April 21, 2005 Posted by | Alice, George, the things they say!, Thomas, Zach | Leave a comment

Optimism and Ear Plugs

Alice’s mother liked her feature post. (I’d hoped she would!) But she gently suggested to me (as others have also done), “You know, you needn’t feel that you must always be positive.” A tactful way of suggesting that should their little angels display a pair of horns from time to time, I should feel free to say so!! I will, but I confess it doesn’t come naturally…

I am by nature an optimist. I see the bright side as clearly as the dark. Always. This is not a mental exercise I consciously perform, but rather a wholly natural way of perception. So, if a child has had their ups and downs over a day, I will naturally recount the ups. I know the downs happened, but, for most children, the downs are minor blips, and the ups are the bulk of the day.

Of course, if a child is unusually fractious, in a way that might suggest illness or the need for some kind of intervention, I will discuss it. But the normal type of misbehaviour and fretfulness simply isn’t of adequate interest to me!! Unless, of course, it’s funny – and so often it is!

As to Alice…

When loading the children into the stroller, I am quite calculated in the order in which I do it. Until today, Alice has been loaded in first, the reasoning being that she frets if left behind, and as the youngest, it’s harder for her to wait. So she sits in the stroller on the front walk, while I bring the other children to it, one at a time.

Until today.

As of today, the street – no the entire block! – must surely be fully and painfully aware of just how thoroughly Alice detests waiting, even in the stroller! And that hat?? We won’t even talk about how she hates that thing…

Tomorrow, she’ll be loaded in last!

April 20, 2005 Posted by | Alice, our adoring public | Leave a comment


Alice, the newest addition to the daycare, is coming into her own. It often takes three weeks to a month or so for a child to become completely comfortable at daycare, so that the child I see during the day is the same child the parents know at home. With part time children, this integration can take even longer. Generally, apart from the obvious symptom of tears, children are quieter than they would be at home, more solemn. They are observing and evaluating their new environment.

Alice had a very easy transition, and relaxed quite quickly, with only a few sporadic clingy-uncertain days. These days, she’s blossoming into a much more extroverted child than I’d seen thus far. She’s finding her world here increasingly interesting.

She’s interested in her peers. Over the last week or three, the very quiet baby girl who sat at the edges and watched with interest has become an exuberant baby who cheers the action with delighted, and loud, squeals. She sits in a high chair at lunch time and bounces with such enthusiasm at the antics of the others that her cup flies from her tray, and a few stray peas and bits of chicken threaten to follow.

She’s interested in the environment. She’s now mobile, and will vigorously chase down a ball, the other children, and most especially, the cat.

She’s particularly interested in the cat!! Generally he stays well out of it when the tots are about, but these days I’m almost ready to believe he’s posing deliberately for her. Every morning when she arrives, there he is, on the fourth step up the stairs, awaiting his audience. Alice does not disappoint. She greets him with whole-body enthusiasm, squeals of excitement, and a beaming smile.

In fact, her smile graces most of her day. What a happy addition to the crew!

April 19, 2005 Posted by | Alice | Leave a comment