It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s my Christmas miracle

Nissa, as I’ve said before, is a busy baby.

And four-year-olds (as I know I have mentioned previously but can’t find the posts, dammit) have a fondness for the Rules which can make them a tad officious. Little police-men and tattlers of the daycare. Nigel, who is with us today, is very definitely four. He’s always been a bit anal, with a strong tendency to get anxious when things aren’t done PRECISELY as they have Always! Been! Done!!! Put anxiety-boy plonk in the middle of the RulesRUs stage, and you have a recipe for a day filled with tattling, power struggles, recrimination, finger-pointing, shouting, stomping..

I brace myself. Practice my deep breathing. Dust off my practiced anti-tattling sentences. (“Is anyone bleeding? Is it dangerous? No? Then you don’t need to tell me.”)


“No, Nissa, you can’t do that. Let’s colour.”
“That is too small to put in your mouth. You can have this crayon instead.”
“Nissa, I don’t think you’re allowed to stand on the couch.”
“Hey, Nissa. I can put your bib on for you.”
“If you spit out that playdough, I will make you a snake.”

Once in a while, you get that perfect, near-miraculous combination of the Rule-bound 4-year-old who can express the rules with sensitivity and respect (!!!) and a 19-month-old who has stars in her eyes and will do ANYTHING that Big Boy says.

And then, my friends? THEN you have achieved Nirvana. If only for the moment.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | manners, Nigel, Nissa, socializing | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

language is slippery

“I’m not as old as I used to be,” Nigel announces.

(Nigel, for those of you new to Mary’s place, is an alumnus. He headed off to Big Kid School a while back, but visits on PD days.) “I used to be four and a half, and now I’m four and three quarters.”

(Does he know the difference between one-half and three-quarters, I wonder? Does he even kinow what a half and quarter are? I doubt it, but he does know that three-quarters is more than one-half. Whatever they are. It’ll do for now!)

“I’m not as old as I used to be.”

He means, of course, that he’s not the same age as he used to be. He’s not somehow getting younger — show me how you do that, Nigel! — he’s gotten older. It’s a subtle distinction in vocabulary, but a world of distinction in meaning. A lot of language is like that.

Fascinating to watch them catch the nuances, and really, quite astonishing what we manage to figure out as young as we all do.

Slippery, and fascinating.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Developmental stuff, Nigel | , , | 4 Comments

I just work here

caution“FAAAAATTY-CAT!!” Timmy aims a two-handed shove at the substantially larger Nigel, and manages to set him back a pace. They grin gleefully at each other.

“FAAAAATTY-CAT” Nigel charges at Timmy, back arched, and they slam into each other, belly to belly. They both shriek with delight upon impact, staggering like a pair of miniature drunks around the living room.

“FAAAAATTY-CAT!!!” Nigel waits, tense with thrilled anticipation, for Timmy to take another almighty shove at him. They careen into a couch.

“Mary, we’re playing ‘fatty-cat’!!!” Timmy hollers at me.

Evidently. I have no idea what “fatty-cat!” means. Neither do they. (“Wherever did that come from?”, asked a bemused parent later that day. Only the depths of their imaginations, I’m sure, and the fact that “fatty-cat” is a collection of sounds that bounce nicely off the tongue, perfectly suited to a game where you bounce off your friend. Things don’t have to “come” from anywhere. A three- and a four-year-old are perfectly capable of making stuff up!)

(And who but a three or four-year-old could make this one up?)

I scan the room, assessing risk. The only sharp edges accessible to the kids are those of the brick fireplace. I shove a (soft, upholstered) chair in front of it. The worst that’s going to happen now is that they’ll fall over. I let them have at it.


Attracted by the uproar, the girls join in. Within 90 seconds, Anna is in tears.

“He pushed me, Mary! He pushed me and I fell dooooown!”

“Well, that’s the game, lovie. If you don’t want him to push you, don’t play the game. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But if you decide to play, you’re going to get shoved.”

Well, that settles that. Anna trots off to the kitchen.


Twenty-three more seconds, and Emily approaches, wailing.

“I fell down and hurted myself!”

“I see that. You landed with a bump on your bum. But you know what? That’s what kind of game it is. If you want to play that game, you’re probably going to get bumped. If you don’t want to get bumped, you don’t have to play. But if you want to play, you can’t complain about a bump.”

“I want to play.”

“Okay, then, but no complaining about a little bump.”


“FAAATTY-CAT!” Emily belly-bumps Timmy right onto his butt.
“FAAATTY-CAT!” Timmy hip-checks Nigel.
“FAAATTY-CAT!” Nigel shoves Emily who dominoes into Timmy. They cling to each other, teetering, and land in a heap.

And Emily laughs into Timmy’s gleeful face.

It’s a seriously weird game, but they’re having fun. And learning to assess a small risk while they’re at it. (In case you’re wondering, Babies Noah and Tyler stayed with me. Gravity alone is enough of a challenge to their powers to remain upright just yet.)

I figure the Big Kids can play fatty-cat for another 4.3 minutes until I just can’t stand it any longer. Not the risk. Not the falling down. Not the crashing to the floor. Goodness, it’s only a bump or two at issue. No, no, it’s the NOISE. My LORD, the NOISE!


Because, worthy as it is to let them evaluate and experience risk, the risk to my sanity is even more real and immediate.


Four point two minutes…

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Emily, health and safety, Nigel, Timmy | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’m so proud

blocksNigel is visiting this week. Nigel, Timmy, Anna and Emily are building with blocks in the kitchen. A howl of protest from Timmy surges into the dining room, where I am setting up a craft.

“Nigel! Don’t knock down my tower!”

“Oh, sorry Timmy. I didn’t mean to!”

“Nigel, you shouldn’t knock his tower down.” Emily is concerned with The Rules.

“Yes, but I said I was sorry.”

“Okay.” So long as protocol has been observed, Emily is satisfied. Timmy, however, is NOT.

“Nigel! Don’t knock down my tower!”

“He SAID he was sorry, TImmy!” Anna is concerned with the social facts.

“I said I was sorry!” Nigel is concerned with justice. And freedom from the indignation. Mostly, he’d like to get back to building, thanks.

“Nigel! Don’t knock my tower down!”

“I SAID I was sorry!”

“Nigel! Don’t knock my tower down.” Timmy is not letting go.

Anna has had enough. She lays an authoritative hand on Timmy’s shoulder.

“Timmy. It was a accident. He didn’t mean to knock it down, and he said sorry already. That’s all he can do. This conversation is over.”

(Heh. ‘This conversation is over’ is not something I say. I hear her father in that sentence. I’m sure it’s a sentence she’s had cause to hear a great deal. As measured as our Anna is being here, she’s more than capable of great heights of righteous indignation and equally vast depths of hard-headed self-pity.)

“But he –”

“Timmy?” Her tone is full of warning. “This conversation is O-VER.”

“Oh, all right.” He picks up a block.

Play continues, towers are (re-)built, there is the hum of happy conversation. All without a single interjection from me. They didn’t even know I was listening.


March 11, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Emily, Nigel, socializing, Timmy | , , | 6 Comments

When all else fails, confuse them

skuut1“Timmy, please walk in the house.”

Yeah, Timmy. We don’t run in the house.” This is Nigel, visiting for the day. (And don’t you just HATE that “yeah” thing they start to do around the age of 3 or 4? Isn’t it just too totally obnoxious for WORDS?)

“Nigel, you are riding a bike in the house. I don’t think you can talk.” (Which is not entirely fair. The bike is a Skuut, and they’re allowed to ride it in the house, whereas they are not allowed to run. Why yes to the bike and no to the running? Remember that “pitter-patter of little feet” thing? Running is MUCH, MUCH louder. So, not entirely fair, my comment, but still. The irony of his position is unavoidable, to everyone but him.)

Of course, Mr. Literal three-and-a-half year old takes this … literally:

“Yes, I can talk. See?” He opens his mouth wide, the better to show me his talking apparatus.

“No, I mean, because you are riding a bike in the house, you are not in a position of moral superiority.”

. . . . . . . . . . . “Oh.”

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Nigel, Peeve me | 4 Comments

Without a tree to pee on

Earlier this summer, Emma took the tots on an outing. (So mum could have a morning off!! SUCH a lovely girl. I’m sure the ten dollars an hour had nothing to do with her enthusiasm. Well, not so very much.)

They were in a downtown park when Nigel announced an urgent need to pee. Of course. Because that is what toddlers do. That is particularly what little toddler boys will do when confronted with a whole bunch of trees.

I can understand. I cross the threshhold of the kitchen door, I’m hungry. Immediately and without any warning. I’ve learned not to go in there without a focussed purpose — a quick dart in, do the job, and get out — otherwise I find myself, vacantly, automatically, how-did-this-happen-anyway, staring into the fridge. It’s programmed into me, and it gets worse the older I get.

I know some women who are like that with shoe stores. Go into a mall, intending to make a quick trip into the drug store for a few stamps — JUST STAMPS! $5.00, tops! — pass a shoe store … and it’s all over.

Toddler males are like that with trees.

It’s a nice, largish downtown park: groomed grass, shrubbery amongst a rock garden on one side, a fountain surrounded by benches at one end, and, dotted all over the lawn, trees.

“Emma, I need to PEE!”

Of course, Emma tried to suggest that he didn’t need to pee right now, that there would be a perfectly good toilet available when they got to the museum, a whole three minutes away. Maybe five. But no. He had to pee RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!!

And he is only three. It’s entirely possible. Even if the idea only came onto him through the power of subliminal tree suggestion, maybe the power of subliminal tree suggestion is strong enough to make him pee in another 90 seconds.

Emma balances the possible ramifications of an accident with no dry clothes on hand (what were we thinking??) and the subsequent bus trip home with a soggy, pee-stinking toddler vs the possible humiliation of a toddler taking a quick pee in a public park. Well, okay. So long as he’s discreet.

“Oh, all right. But be quick.”

It’s nearing lunch time. There are office workers with their coffee, some with their illicit cigarettes, there are elderly people sunning themselves on benches, there are joggers, there are a pile of construction workers preparing to eat. There are a lot of people. So of course, a little discretion would go a long way for poor Emma’s adolescent comfort levels.

Nigel races from one tree to another. “I’m going to pee on THIS one!”

Emma suggests that rather than a tree smack in the middle of the wide-open lawn, he choose one closer to the shrubbery at the side. Where the rummies hang out after dark. A little toddler-pee will probably improve the ambience over there…

But there is so much choice! Trees everywhere! How can a boy possibly choose?

“I’m going to pee on THIS one!”

Zip, dart, race.

“I’m going to pee on THIS one!”

Nigel’s hearty declarations have now caught the attention of the construction workers, all decked out in their grubby workin’-mens blue jeans and the yellow and orange vests with the reflective tape. They’re having lunch, coffee mugs and sandwiches set on a couple of benches. They chortle amongst themselves at the little guy, males sharing the pride of their shared manly-bits.

I have no doubt they’re checking out my daughter, too. A male bonding experience Nigel hasn’t yet attained.

Nigel races past them. “I’m going to pee on THIS one!”

“Nigel, will you just pick a stupid tree and get it over with, please?”

The chortles turn to outright laughter. The hottie is feisty, too. Better and better.

Perhaps drawn by all that fellow-manliness, or just the possibility of the attention of amiable adults, Nigel darts over to the guffawing group, and points to the tree nearest their food-bench.

“Okay, Emma. I’m going to pee on THIS one!”

Now the guys are killing themselves. This kid is a scream, he with his mini-manlybits and ready hosepipe. But hey, pee is pee. The worker-dude nearest Nigel looks down at his wee blond head.

“Not there you don’t, son.”

So he ran two metres over
dropped his drawers,
and peed.

In the very middle of the lawn,
on the grass,
not a tree in miles.

Emma thinks one of the guys may have snorted his pastrami-on-rye right out his nose.

September 9, 2008 Posted by | manners, Nigel, our adoring public, outings, potty tales | , , | 7 Comments

Do I really need this?

“But I WANT to!!!!!”

Nigel’s outrage is heartfelt. And more than a little exasperating. It doesn’t matter what it is, these days. When he’s told no, or that he’ll have to wait, or that a plan will be changing …

“But I WANT to!!!”

As if the world must needs stop and deliver precisely what he desires, simply because he desires it. In and of itself, this position is not noteworthy. All toddlers feel that way.

“I WANT!!!”

… is all that matters. Other peoples’ needs, the pressures of time, the realities of space, season, logistics, the laws of physics … none of this matters at all, all of these are mere distractions from the almighty…

“I WANT!!!!”

Except that this has never, not once, EVER worked at my house. Yes, it works in other sectors of his reality, but it does NOT work here. Give me a petulant foot-stomp and “I WANT” and you’re far more likely to get a rousing rendition of

You can’t. Always get. What you wa-ah-ahnt…

than you are to get you what you want. (Which reaction is, of course, exactly what they need. They don’t want it or like it, but, my job is to see that they get, like the song says, what they need. Caving in to a petulant “I WANT” is precisely the opposite of what they need. At the very least, they can ask politely.)

And so, though he did of course try it on me when he entered the turbulent storms of toddler-hood a year ago, it took only three or four weeks to eradicate that delightful little quirk. Oh, well. He’s a smart lad. Another couple of weeks of diligent, consistent, re-training, and we’ll have it out of his behavioural repertoire. At my house, at any rate.

But, ugh.

Why has is come back? It’s obnoxious. It’s petulant. It’s exasperating. It’s LOUD.

I don’t WANT it. Booo…

Maybe it’s for my sake? Maybe the fates have determined that Mary needs a little character-honing? Maybe Nigel’s regression is a sort of professional development?

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need.

(For your entertainment: that’s a YouTube link to a very old recording of the song. Craggy old Mick looks as fresh and dewy-faced as he probably ever did.)

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Nigel, power struggle | 10 Comments

Saved by the …

Nigel has taken a tumble. Normally he recovers pretty quickly from these things, but he’s very obviously tired today. His parents have been having trouble getting him to bed at night, so I’ve been cooperating (with some internal doubts) with their request that he not have naps for a week. He is three now, so it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t need afternoon naps. It could be that without naps he’ll fall asleep sooner in the evening.

It could be, but I have my doubts. Nigel has never slept well at home. Is the problem age-appropriate changes to his sleep patterns, or the ongoing issue of poor patterns at home? The only way to find out is to try it out. So we’re giving it a week.

It’s not going well. Not only are his bedtimes getting later rather than earlier, he’s also waking earlier i the morning, bringing his night-time totals down from nine hours at night to seven. This certainly confirms my suspicion that he still needs those naps. But I promised a week, and a week I’ll deliver.

And what a week we’re having! The boy is whiny, irritable, prone to pick fights and tattle. He’s bossy with the other children, pushing and shoving at them to ensure they do as he dictates. He’s uncoordinated, taking trips and tumbles at a far higher rate than normal. The bags under his blue-smudged eyes droop down to his chin, poor lad. Every time he has a setback, he falls apart. And he’s having lots of setbacks, given his pugnacity and reduced coordination.

His latest tumble? He went to sit down on the step and missed. So his butt hit the floor five inches lower than he’d expected it to. It was a bit of a jolt, but the boy is not hurt.

Try telling him that.

He’s whimpering on my lap, threatening to veer into full-fledged roars any second. We try distraction, cheerful reasoning, firm words. None is effective. Oh, I just want to put the boy to bed! And then…

A slight little noise. A small squirm. I rear my head back and look at him with eyes wide with astonishment and horror.

“NIGEL! Did you just FART???”

He looks up and gives me an almost-grin. He’s rather proud of his little self.

“You FARTED???” I am milking this. Farts are very funny.

“Yeah.” And that was a small smile.

“You FARTED??? On my LEG????”

“Yeah!” A real smile.

“EEEEWWWWWW!!!!” And if “fart” is funny, a heart-felt “EEEEW” is hysterical. Now the other tots have gathered around.

“EEEEWWWWW!” They have no idea what’s so gross. They just love saying the word. “EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW!”

And Nigel is happy once more.



May 21, 2008 Posted by | eeewww, Nigel, sleep | 8 Comments


Nigel: My teeth are growing up.
Mary: Your teeth are growing up?
Nigel: Yeah. And down.

May 20, 2008 Posted by | Nigel, the things they say! | 4 Comments

Reality is in the eye of the beholder

“Mary! Mary, Nigel is taking my teddy’s bear’s blanket!”

They all have a bear-in-a-bag, so there is no reason for someone to take someone else’s. Malli is not distressed. She is p’d right o. I launch into the practiced pattern, the brilliance born of inertia.

“Did you tell him that was yours?”


“Did you give him a different one to play with?”

“He only wants MINE!”

Well, that’s a problem. I meander over casually to investigate. Timmy has a bear-in-a-bag, Anna has her bear, who is covered by his teddy-bag turned blanket, Emily is sitting on her bear in its bag, and Nigel? Nigel appears to be playing with the blocks, his bear lying to one side on the kitchen floor.

“Nigel, you don’t play with my bear’s blanket!” Malli stands before him, small fists planted on her skinny hips. “That’s MY bear’s blanket!”

Nigel looks up from his construction, about as confused as me. He is building with blocks. Anna’s pink teddy bag lies on the floor at her feet.

“Malli, I don’t understand. Nigel is playing with the blocks. He is not playing with any of the blankets.”

“He is taking my teddy bear’s blanket!”

“No, he’s not. Your teddy bear blanket is right there.” I point to the extra one, lying, empty, on the floor. Empty, because Malli’s teddy is, unaccountably, sitting in the large bin of blocks, half-buried under the heap. Doesn’t look like she’s playing with it at all. Her blanket’s on the floor, her teddy’s buried under a …

Ah. The light dawns.

Her teddy’s buried under a veritable blanket of blocks. Nigel reaches into the bin for another block.


The wonders of imagination, huh?

April 30, 2008 Posted by | Malli, Nigel | 1 Comment