It’s Not All Mary Poppins


One of the tykes is a bit of a scruff. Cute as a button but nowhere near as neat. She’s a generally spillish, fallish-in-the-puddles and smearish-all-over-herself sort of child…

Not surprisingly, she occasionally not infrequently pretty well daily goes home in a different outfit than the one in which she arrived. I might point out that my standards are a little reasonably extremely relaxed. I don’t change a child just because there are grass stains on their knees, or a dollop of lunch on their shirt. Dirt’s not dangerous, and there’s only going to be more before we’re done. If they spill water down their fronts on a hot summer’s day, I might dab at them with a towel, but I leave the clothes on the kid. It’s just water. It’s a hot day. They’ll dry. Heck, I’ll do that with juice, too. As long as the child is warm and comfortable, I don’t worry much about mess.

(On one occasion some years back, I bathed a couple of particularly grubby children one afternoon. At the end of the day, the mother of one said to the mother of the other, through a river of her delightful laughter, “And if Mary bathed them, you KNOW it had to be bad!!” She wasn’t sneering, and I wasn’t insulted. It’s only the truth.)

But this one, she goes well beyond grubbiness and into filth. When she really extends herself, she manages Assaults Against Hygiene. A virtuoso of grime, this sweetie.

All this is fine. Kids get messy when they play, I’m prepared for this. I have bins for each child, and the parents provide an extra outfit or two for spills, leaks, mud, paint and mystery smears. When an outfit is soiled, it goes home that evening and is replaced the next day.

In theory.

However, some parents are a little less reliable about this than others. Anyone can forget once in a while, of course, which is why I also have a small stash of spare outfits. However, some parents have been known to go several days without returning a clean outfit. Which means that the offspring of these particular parents sometimes ends up going through my spare outfits — because we all know Grubnik’s not going to wait until there’s a fresh outfit to grime themselves up again. And sometimes, when it’s been days and days since the original outfit went home, when my extra outfits have been consumed, some parents’ children even end up going home with other children’s spare clothes… (and yes, I make sure they know these are now SOME OTHER CHILD’S clothing) …

and those don’t come back in a timely fashion, either.

Okay. Now it’s a problem.

(There was that time a few years back, when the family of a particularly grime-prone little boy was this kind of disorganized. I had asked, and reminded, and sent notes home, had even phoned them at home … and still no clean clothes or return of the FOUR outfits they were hoarding. I didn’t care if they’d been washed. I just wanted them back! Eesh. And on the umpteenth day of this, Junior needed another outfit. I rummaged through the bins, and I found one.

Pink tights, purple shirt with ruffles and sequins, red tutu … and My Little Pony underwear.

They returned the clothes — all FIVE outfits (and all still dirty) — the next day. Thankyouverymuch.)

It’s not a new problem, and it happens often enough over the years that when I discover I’m dealing with one of THOSE families, my response is practical and practiced.

“Another day, another outfit!” Mom chortles as her daughter trots toward her in her spare outfit. I laugh. It’s true. This child canNOT keep one outfit clean — even to my admittedly relaxed standards. Mom looks around. “Where’s the bag?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I was doing a load anyway, and just tossed it in with my family’s laundry. No problem.”

“Oh, that’s so nice! Thank you.”

Nice? Nothing like it. Total self-preservation. The tiny additional work of a wee pair of pants and socks is nothing balanced against aggravation of chasing them for days on end to return a clean outfit.

“You’re welcome. It’s no inconvenience, really.” (Subtext: FAR less than you’ll inconvenience me if I sent that outfit home with you…)

“Well, it’s very thoughtful of you, anyway.” And off they go.

Now that’s a win-win outcome: I’m spared a heap of aggravation, the child will have a clean spare outfit the next day and I get consideration brownie points for what is really nothing but sheerest self-interest.


May 30, 2011 Posted by | daycare, parents, Peeve me, the dark side | , | 2 Comments

And this is one of the GOOD ones

I wish to diverge a little from my usual topics so that I may mock my youngest child.

My youngest child, who is, I remind you all, a MODEL teen. I mean that quite sincerely. At seventeen she is sensible, respectful, polite, cheerful, easy-going. She does her homework without reminders or monitoring. She cooperates cheerfully with her tutor, and does the extra work he assigns without complaint. Her teachers like her, the neighbours like her, her babysitting clients adore her. She dresses fashionably yet unskankily. She has nice friends, and her romantic taste improves with each boyfriend. (Don’t let us linger over version one. I was horrified and, three years later, she is appropriately mortified by the very thought of him. So it’s all good.)

So, what I’m describing is a paragon, pretty much. I have nothing to complain about with this child. I know that, and am suitably proud/grateful.

However, she is seventeen.

For a while, when there were more of us living in the house, we were each doing our own laundry. However, there are only three of us now, and, as it happens, I actually like doing laundry. (Yes, yes. Weird, I know. We all have our quirks.) But since I do enjoy the task, and having assured that my children know how to do it, I am quite happy to do the family laundry. It’s not total altruism, either: taking on this task allows me to hand off tasks that I loathe. (A little quid pro quo and I am free of dishes. For the rest of my life, if I’m lucky.)

Normally I do a load every couple of days, one person’s laundry at a time, so that we each get a load done per week. An extra load every so often for household things — linens and whatnot. There are no set days, so the night before I will ask whoever it is to please leave their laundry in that hall in the evening so that I can scoop it in the morning. Because I, you see, get up at the total butt-crack of dawn, long before it would be reasonable to expect people to be bringing me baskets of laundry, even if I am going to be washing, drying and folding that laundry for them.

Emma’s offering last week looked a tad… meager. I waited a while to start the load, double-checking with her when she woke. “Is this all your laundry?”

Yes, it was.

“For the entire week? Are you sure?” My obvious skepticism riled her a bit. Yes, it was, for sure, the tone making it clear I was being foolish to even ask. I could cease forthwith with the impertinent questions, thankyousoverymuch.

Call me crazy, but I’ve been doing laundry for a lot of years, more years than the girl has been alive, and I know when I’m seeing a full week’s worth of dirty duds. And in this particular basket? I was not seeing them.

But she had declared herself, with some indignant vigour. This was indeed her full week’s complement of laundry. I needn’t trouble myself further. Really.

So I didn’t. I’m rather a fan of natural consequences. One doesn’t need to argue when one has natural consequences on one’s side, and I could feel them all, jostling around behind me as they lined up in my corner. When this spartan smidge of laundry was completed, and the girl ran out of something critical before next week, or wanted to wear something that was still mustily lingering in some dusty corner of her room? Oh, well… Natural consequences rock, I tell you.

So when I came to hang that laundry? There was: one pair of jeans. Barring spills, stains or obvious dirt, we do wear our jeans far more than a single wearing. And there was a dress in there, too, so only six days required jeans. But still… six days on one pair of jeans? Eeeeeh. Possible. Unlikely, but just barely possible.

There were five pairs of socks. Did she go sock-free inside her slippers all weekend? I’m doubting it.

There were six shirts. Hm. I will wear a shirt more than once. But I am in my late forties. I do not reek like unwashed goat have the body odour challenges of even the sweetest adolescent. Six shirts for a week is highly unlikely.

And the final, damning bit of evidence: There was one pair of underwear in that basket. One. Time to call the girl out.

“Emma, there was only one pair of underwear in your laundry.”

“Oh.” I can hear the defensiveness rising. She’s caught, and she knows it. She decides to add a smidge of aggression, hoping, I’m sure, that I’ll just go away and cease with the embarrassing … facts. “Yeah?” It’s not a full-out attack. We don’t do that, Emma and I, but I can hear the edge. I’m sure I disappoint her by persisting.

“So, you think that’s an unreasonable question? To wonder why you only had one pair in an entire week’s laundry?” (Particularly since I expressed doubt when you gave it to me? Ahem. I don’t say that, but she hears it anyway. We also don’t go for “I told you so’s”, Emma and I. But she knows she’s earned one.) My voice is mild, but she knows I’m not going to go away without an answer.

“No.” She pauses and it all comes out in a rush. If you’re going to eat crow, there’s no point in lingering over it. “Okay, you’re right. I didn’t look hard enough when I brought you my basket.”

That’s good enough. I don’t need her to grovel. She’s acknowledged my point and her error, and I hand her the folded laundry without further discussion. (Is it my fault if the ONE pair of underwear is in the VERY CENTRE of the VERY TOP of the meager pile?

Okay, yeah, it is. Heh.)

And you know what? She is my third child. She is the seventh of eight children in this blended family. I am so used to teens and their ways that I didn’t even consider the implications of her statement until much later that evening.

“I didn’t look hard enough.” I took that statement totally at face value, because I know what her room looks like. I know what her six older siblings’ rooms looked like at her age. I know what her younger sibling’s room looks like. I took her statement at face value because I am inured to adolescent household incapacity. Barring outright department of health violations, I leave an adolescent’s room to the adolescent. They can live in whatever kind of swamp they choose to live in, so long as they keep the door shut. Emma, as it happens, voluntarily cleans her room — about once a week! Voluntarily!!!She doesn’t maintain the clean worth beans, but she cleans. And did I say she does this without being told? So, again with the “nothing to complain about”.

But really? If this were NOT a teen we were talking about, but a NORMAL person? “I didn’t look hard enough?” How hard does one have to look to find laundry in a laundry basket???

There does come a point in a mother’s life when she wonders why she bothers with fripperies like laundry baskets. Why not just a garbage bag hung from the bedroom doorknob once a week? Because really, it would save valuable floor space, not having that laundry basket lying around empty. Valuable floor space, which could be much better used storing, oh, I don’t know…

dirty laundry, maybe?

February 16, 2011 Posted by | my kids | , , , , , | 3 Comments