It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Why Wouldn’t I?

I consider myself a happy person. I’m an optimist. My glass is half-full, I’m more likely to laugh when something startles me than scowl. I’m a quiet person, mind you. You’re not going to hear me roaring exuberantly around, tossing belly laughs hither and yon. I’m not jolly. But I am, quietly, happy.

Happiness is an interesting subject. Moreover, happiness does ebb and flow. Mine ebbs in the winter. I’m quite sure that, like many of us in the sun-starved northern latitudes, I suffer mildly from the fading of the light. Do I have full-blown SAD? No. But I do use a therapy light every morning, and it does help.

February and March are my lowest-energy months. Everything’s a little harder in March. I don’t feel sad. My life is absolutely worth living. I take pleasure in things each day. But I’m weary. Weary and very impatient for spring, for the end of snow, slush, grit, snow boots, snow pants, snow suits, hats, scarves, mittens, neckwarmers, and scarves, longing for the beginning of warmth, for the return of sunshine and long daylight hours.

Weary and impatient people do not make good caregivers. Now, I don’t take my weariness out on the children, I’m not snapping at them six times an hour, I’m not … but that takes restraint these days, restraint which takes effort, and only adds to my weariness.

I’m not getting a whole lot of fun out of my job these days. That’s not the kids’ fault. It’s all me. I know that.

One of the things that lifts my spirits is to read self-help books. They’re just so full of cheery potential! Even if I never adopt a single one of a book’s suggestions, I just love the potential in each of these books. Recently I bought myself a copy of “The Happiness Project“, the recounting of the author, Gretchen Rubin’s year-long account of her quest to increase her own level of happiness. There I found the idea of coming up with Happiness Resolutions.

Oh, now this resonated with me. I am a total list-and-chart girl. I’ve made charts to organize my thoughts, make decisions, plan projects, and pack for holidays all my life. A chart for resolutions is TOTALLY my thing. I make lists these days because I have no memory. None. Lists for memory, charts for organization. Love it. I can do this! I am excited to do this!!!

Rubin asks four questions to help you determine what your happiness objectives could be. It was her thirds question, “Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change jobs, cities, family situation, or other circumstances? Are you living up to your expectations for yourself? Does your life reflect your values?” that really hit home for me.

The middle question about changing things, that didn’t resonate. I like my home, I like my job, I like my family situation. But… “Am I living up to my expectations? Does my life reflect my values?” The best I could say was, “Well. Kinda-sorta.”

Not at home. I’m doing fine with husband and children. I’m doing fine with friends. I am treating myself well, too.

But at work?

There, I was undoubtedly falling short of the mark. Short of my own standards. You all know me well enough to know that I don’t encourage people to have unrealistic standards and goals. I think it’s good mothering to be a bit of a slacker, to indulge in a little benign neglect. I don’t hold myself (or anyone else) to an impossible parenting standard.

Here’s the hard truth: My standards are reasonable, and I am not meeting them.

Oof. It’s hard to look at yourself that clearly.

The children are being lovingly cared for. They are not at risk, they are not being neglected. But I know I am doing the bare minimum these days. I know I am not doing my best. I know it.

So I made for myself a list of seven Work Resolutions. Do I believe these will increase my personal happiness? Yes. If I am performing to my own standard of professionalism, I will be happier. Moreover, if I’m happier myself, I will be better with the children. It’s a virtuous circle.

My professional resolutions are:

1. Get outdoors every day. If someone needs a morning nap, the rest of us can play in the back yard. If it’s raining, my stroller has a rain shield. It’s just not that cold any more. There is no excuse but inertia, and I know that if I get out, I feel happier. Pretty much instantaneously. So. Go outside? Why wouldn’t I? (See? I can do something that is really totally about me, and it’s also good for the children! Again: why wouldn’t I? I think “why wouldn’t I?” will be my mantra for overcoming winter-induced inertia. Why wouldn’t I?)

2. Fifteen minutes of story-time before naps every day. They like hearing them, I like reading. It segues them neatly to naptime. It’s good for their language development. Why wouldn’t I?

3. Crafts, twice a week. I like doing crafts. Most of the children enjoy them, and all the parents do. It’s a way to engage with the children, foster fine motor control, make something pretty. Why wouldn’t I?

4. Sing for 15 minutes after nap/before snow suits every day. I love singing. They love singing. WHY WOULDN’T I???

5. Avoid ‘no’. I am not afraid to give the children a clear and unapologetic ‘no’ as required. But too often, caregivers (and parents!) fall into the knee-jerk no trap. There is no good reason to say no … but we do, anyway. Why? I picked up a terrific quote by Samuel Johnson (via Gretchen Rubin): β€œAll severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.” There is a time and place for firmness, even for severity. But it should never be unthinking or habitual.

6. Keep a smile on my face, and in my voice. I’ve said it before, and Ms. Rubin cites the studies too: We often feel the way we act. We tend to think it’s the reverse, that we act the way we feel, but in fact, if we act a certain way, the feelings will follow. So. Smile. And keep that smile not just on my face, but in my voice. I can say the same thing in forbidding or stern tones, or I can say it with a smile. Why wouldn’t I smile?

7. Hug each of the children once an hour. I’ve heard it said we need four hugs a day for survival. I work with little people who would, if I let them, hug me four times a minute. Why wouldn’t I? (Well, because I’d never get anything else done, and could quite feasibly end up peeing on the living room floor. But once an hour, each, seems entirely doable. Which could give me, over the course of my workday, an average of 42 hugs per day. I think I’d be meeting the quota for survival…) πŸ˜€ In truth, it sounds entirely delightful! Why wouldn’t I?

I’ve made myself a chart. Because I’m starting mid-month, it goes through the end of April. Each day I’ll evaluate how I did on each of the seven items, and will award myself with either a check (yes! did it!) or an ‘x’, (missed the mark today). Since lists and charts are motivating for me, I know that I’ll be striving for a column of check marks in every category. I know it.

Inertia is a killer. It sucks a lot of the joy from living. As I composed this list and thought about it, my response of “why wouldn’t I?” got more and more insistent, until it now seems to me that to not do any of these things is sheerest perversity.

So yes, winter robs me of energy … but each of these things is so easy, and will bring me happiness, while at the same time improve my work environment, give me job satisfaction and make the kids happier (and thus easier to be around).

Why wouldn’t I?
Why wouldn’t I?

How about you? Anyone care to join me? What would your list be? I’ve had a week or two to think about my list. You want to prepare a list to start April first, and join me? My list is about my job. Your list may be about something different.

If the whole idea of increasing your level of happiness intrigues you, check out Gretchen’s website, look into her Happiness Toolbox, and maybe you’ll want to make yourself an account there.

Who doesn’t want to be happier? Why wouldn’t you?

πŸ˜€

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 6 Comments

You might be a daycare provider if…

It’s been over ten years since you’ve peed with the bathroom door entirely shut during working hours.

You habitually come out of the bathroom still zipping up, so as not to waste a single extra second in there.

You wash your hands in the kitchen sink instead of the bathroom, so as not to waste a single extra second in there.

You have ever restrained someone and it was not a sexual experience.

Your idea of a good time is doing a potty dance because of a steaming pot of poo. In your living room.

Discussing the bowel movements (neither your own nor your children’s) over dinner seems perfectly normal to you.

You find humour in snot, boogers, vomit and poop.

Every time you go out, every time, someone will ask you, “Are they all yours???”

Your alarm bells start ringing when you suddenly realize, “Gosh, they’re quiet,” and you know they’re awake.

Whenever you phone someone, it immediately either gets very quiet (cf “alarm bells”, above), or VERY VERY LOUD.

You never, ever have a drink (alcoholic) during your work day… but you probably need one more than any other profession.

You sniff butts at work. Every day.

You have ever wanted to hold a seminar entitled, “Saying No is Easy. Just do it, dammit!”

Your favourite hallucinogen is exhaustion.

You find yourself writing the word “gots” and wondering why spellcheck won’t accept it.

When a parent calls to tell a child is sick, you commiserate verbally while doing a fist-pump in the air.

Okay. I know there are other care-givers out there reading this. Anything to add, ladies?

January 28, 2010 Posted by | daycare, eeewww, health and safety, random and odd | , , , , | 13 Comments

Yes, yes, no: Picking a daycare family

I’m interviewing again.

778240_little_matheus_5In September, Timmy, Anna and Emily will be old enough to go to Junior Kindergarten. Imagine that! My babies are heading off to the Big World Out There! So teeny to be going. School starts TOO YOUNG. I will miss their little faces.

I have three spaces to fill. Three. Sixty percent of my income heading off to JK.

So far I’ve met with three families, representing four children. (Emma is so excited about the possibility of “Twins, mom! So CUTE!”) I have another interview schedule early next week. By then I should be in a position to offer a position to an interested family. Or, if all goes well, two families!

Let’s recap:
1. Family one. LOVELY people. Soft-spoken, easy-going, sort of granola (as am I — “sort of” rather than “fervently”). Warm smiles, apparently respectful and affectionate marriage. Introverts, (as am I). Both of them interacted equally with the baby. I just got a good, good, good feeling about them. We “clicked”. I hope they felt the same way!

2. Family two. Nice enough people. Mother wants long, long weaning-in, assurances about the number of other same-age children I’ll be taking on, assurances that I will pick up her child when she cries. Mother came with checklist on a clipboard. I don’t recall if dad spoke during the interview.

3. Family 3. Only met the mother, in fact. Dad was home with the twins. LOVELY woman. Warm, ready laugh. Extrovert. Anxious about finding care, but sensible, balanced, relaxed. A slightly irreverent sense of humour when it comes to her kids, a thing I love to see.

My preferences are, in this order:

Family 1, Family 3, Family 2.

Family one is just a good fit. The parents and I are on the same page about any number of things, beyond child-rearing. This is what I look for. It just felt right, and I would have no hesitation at all in offering them the space.

Family 3 is lovely, but they’re my second choice. Not because of the twins, but because there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding how she came to me. She needs care SOON, as in, five or six weeks, and with year-long maternity leaves, people just don’t leave it that long.

I get the impression, based on something she didn’t quite say, that she had someone lined up and bailed on them. (Or, worse, she has someone lined up now and will bail on them if she finds something better.) While I totally understand why a parent would feel the need to do this, particularly a parent of twins, who has much more difficulty finding a spot, it makes me a smidge uneasy. If she’d do that to someone else, would she hesitate to do that to me? Obviously, if I decide to take her on/she decides to go with me, I’d have to ask the direct question.

They may not opt for me anyway. It was clear that my closing time is an issue. Nothing she said, but she sorta winced when I told her. So I may be excluded on that very pragmatic logistical basis.

And Family 2? I will not take on Family 2, even if the others don’t opt for me. Now, the mother seems to be a nice person. Our child-rearing styles are not too dissimilar.

By the end of the interview, though, there were just too many red flags.

She’s too Earnest. Now, almost all first-time parents are Earnest, so in and of itself that wouldn’t be sufficient to exclude her from consideration. However, she’s Earnest with a large side of Controlling.

Not because of the clipboard and checklist. I have a terrible memory. My home is rife with checklists. Checklists are my friends, and I’m not about to deny one to the sleep-deprived mother of a brain-sucking 5-month-old.

But…

– The so-lengthy weaning-in, where she’d be in my home for part of the day for weeks on end? Not happening. It’s a huge imposition on my autonomy. Yes, I will wean in if the parents want, but for a week or two, not months.

– The expectation that she can tell me how to respond to her child — not that what she wants is unreasonable, but the point is it’s my decision to make on my time. (She can find out what my philosophy on these things is, looking for a good match to her own. She cannot dictate.)

– The request for assurances that I will limit the number of other year-old babies in my care? Well, I’d like to. Three year-old babies is a PILE of work. However, the reality is that I have three spaces opening simultaneously, and that most parents looking for care are bringing year-old babies.

In short, she wants too much control over my work environment.

She also doesn’t understand that the interview is a two-way evaluation, she of me, and me of her. Though she is continuing with other interviews, she requested that if anyone else expressed interest in this spot, I would let her know so that she could have it first. No recognition that the spot would have to be offered to her, that there are two equal parties to the decision. This is the woman who perceives her caregiver as her employee, not (as I am) an independent contractor. This perception of the balance of power matters enormously.

Moreover, she’s not the best communicator. (Not, that is, if you understand communicating as including listening). When I underlined that I could give no such assurances re: ages of children in care, it obviously didn’t ‘take’. In her re-capping of the interview, she listed that as something we’d agreed upon.

I didn’t correct her, because I’d already decided I wouldn’t take this family.

Most of these are things I would not have picked up on 15 years ago. Even if I had, I’d not have seen the significance of them. But now I know that it’s these emotive, relational things that make the caregiver-parent relationship live or die. I can predict with some assurance that within six months, this mother and I would be driving each other nuts.

So, no.

But either of the others? Yup! We’ll see.

January 14, 2009 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , , , , , , | 22 Comments