It’s Not All Mary Poppins

From the Archives: Why I love dads

I’m still on holiday this week and feeling distinctly lazy. There’s a lot of good stuff in the archives, though. Here’s one.

A while back, Noah started showing some reluctance at drop-off. It doesn’t matter that he’d been coming for well over a year and has been just fine for all but the first month. No, there’s no reason for it. It’s just one of those two-year-old things.

There probably was a reason, initially. Maybe he’d had a bad dream just before waking. Maybe he was coming down with a cold, or had had a squabble with a fellow-toddler, or was sprouting yet another tooth, or hadn’t eaten breakfast, or was under-rested, or, or, or…

There are any number of reasons for a sudden change of attitude, and you know what? Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t matter what the reason might be. One time in ten, it does: on that occasion, you deal with the issue — maybe another child is routinely picking on the reluctant one, maybe the parents are too often fighting in his presence on the way to daycare, maybe a child is chronically under-rested. All those things can be dealt with direct, but generally the adults involved do the figuring. We grown-ups put our heads together to see if there’s a preciptating cause, and, if so, to see if there’s something we can do to eliminate it.

There is almost no point at all in asking a two-year-old “Why are you sad?” They don’t know. They just are. If you press them, they get confused, and it makes the anxiety worse. If you try to help them out by making suggestions, they’ll either just wail harder, or latch onto something at random. “Yes! I’m sad because gramma went home! Yes!”

Is that really it? Who knows?

And really, it rarely matters. What always matters is how you respond.

And Noah’s dad, GOD BLESS HIM, responds well. So well. This guy is a master of managing the drop-off uncertainty that Noah was evidencing for a bit there.

After getting his customary good-bye hug, Noah was not trotting off to see what the others are up to — which used to be customary. Now he was turning back to daddy.

“Nuther hug,” he said, a tremor of anxiety in his voice.

“I get ANOTHER hug?!?” daddy exclaims, with great enthusiasm. “Boy, am I lucky!” And he would scoop his son up into a wild and happy embrace, swinging Noah’s wee body from one side to the other, laughing all the while. And Noah laughs, too. How could he not, with dad injecting such positivity and fun into the proceedings?

And then, when dad set Noah down the second time, he cheerfully announced “Have fun today!” — and left. Immediately. He didn’t wait to see what Noah does next, he didn’t make eye contact, he didn’t linger to see Noah settled. He just left.

And Noah? Noah was now in my arms, off to get a book. Which we read on the couch, and by the time the book is done — and it always involves at least three enthusiastic verses of Old MacDonald — Noah has made his transition. He is here, and he is happy.

In fact, the second hug/book/sing-song has become such happy part of our morning ritual that I’d forgotten it orginated in drop-off anxiety. It’s just what we do. Noah hasn’t shown any concern for several weeks, but he’s still getting that second, swooping, laughing hug. It’s just adorable.

And then, today, Mummy did the drop-off.

And when Noah evidenced that tiny smidge of anxiety, which hadn’t been obvious for five weeks or more, mummy squatted down and made eye contact, stroking her son’s shoulder, calming him.

“It’s okay, Noah. You know you have fun at Mary’s.”

Whimper.

“It’s okay to be sad, sweetie, but I know you’ll have a good day.”

Whimper, sniffle.

“Oh, honey. Come and give mummy a big hug, and then try to smile, okay?”

And the dam bursts. There are tears everywhere. He is clinging to mummy, wailing. She is patting and soothing.

And I am wishing Daddy had done the drop-off this morning…

August 29, 2011 Posted by | manners, parenting, parents, Peeve me | , , , | 3 Comments

Goodbye

Yesterday I said goodbye to Emily and Tyler.

It’s probably my social ineptness, but I find these goodbyes really awkward. You say goodbye, you say you’ll miss each other, you say you’ve enjoyed getting to know each other… and then…

You do it all over again. You say those things again, and the parents don’t leave, and they say them again, and I feel like I can’t go in the house until they do, and maybe they feel like they can’t leave until I go in… and we keep saying all those things all over again.

I know what it is. Nobody quite knows how to turn the page on this chapter in our lives. We all sort of want to say something more, something that will sum up two or three — or in this case, almost five — years of relationship. So we all stand around, each wanting to say the One True and Meaningful Thing that will make it real, sum it up, draw it neatly to a close… and at the same time, we don’t want it to draw to a close.

(Okay, so that’s not 100% true 100% of the time. Once in a while there is a client (usually the parent) I am DELIGHTED to see the last of. In one sense, those are even weirder goodbyes because I still say the same things (because I am a professional who doesn’t believe in burning bridges). I say them, but I don’t mean them. I just want it OVER. However, in those cases, after I’ve said it once, I generally smile, wave goodbye, and close the door. So it’s weird, but at least it’s quick and efficient.)

It’s when the affection is real, and the regrets sincere that it gets truly awkward.

I wish I knew a better way. Now, I’ve let them know they’re invited to the next daycare social event. And they’ve invited Wonderful Husband and me to dinner in a week. But still, that final goodbye, when we know their children will never be coming here again. It’s awkward.

This morning, I peel Tyler and Emily’s names off their storage bin, and off their coat hanger. I peel them off, and put another child’s name in their place.

And I feel … disloyal.

August 19, 2011 Posted by | daycare, Emily, parents, Tyler | , , , | 6 Comments

Hello, Goodbye

Children come and go in a daycare. Typically, they start with me at 12 months, give or take, and leave when they start junior kindergarten, about three and a half. Kindergarten in this city is half-day. Many of my clients would have been happy to keep their children with me during junior and senior kindergarten, except that I do not go to the bus stop. Lots of caregivers do, I know, but the thought of getting the other four children out the door to trudge ten minutes up the street so we can stand at a bus stop for ten minutes in the frigid February gloom before trudging the ten minute home, does not appeal to me in the slightest.

So I’ve never done it. A couple of parents opted to leave their children with me until grade one. Two extra years of full-time daycare. But mostly, when they get to junior kindergarten age, we say goodbye.

People have asked me, “Is it hard? Do you miss them fiercely? Do you cry?” And I have to say… no. Not usually. I know when they start that I’ll have them for a couple of years, and then they’ll move on. I enjoy my time with them, I grow fond of them, and then I say a fond goodbye when our time together is over.

I often stay in touch with a family for two or three years after, but eventually the ties fade. That’s just normal, and I don’t fret over it.

I am much the same way with my own children, for heaven’s sakes. I didn’t chase after the train as it took my eldest off to university. There were no tears of regret, no maternal angst, no panic about how I’ll SURVIVE WITHOUT MY BAYBEEEEE. I keep saying “We’re not raising children, we’re raising adults”, and I mean it. The whole point of the parenting endeavour is to get those kids launched into fully functioning adulthood. I’m supposed to crack, inches from the finish line, pulling them back, “NOOOOO, I’M NOT REEEEEEADY!”?

That’s just silly.

I want them out there. I want them forging ahead, forming their own lives. Lives in which, if I’m not a neurotic, needy lunatic, I’m much more likely to be given a space. I’ll still be their mother. To lose that role would indeed rip me asunder. I’m their mother until one of us dies, but eventually they won’t need a mommy any more. And that’s as it should be.

If I have that attitude about my own, much-beloved children, I’m going to have much the same about my daycare tots. Except that I’m not their mother, and I never anticipated being invited to their weddings. I love them when they’re with me, and then they move on to the next stage in their lives, and I love the ones who take their places. Which is as it should be.

But it is true that some children get under your skin and into your heart. Emily is one such. I love Tyler, too, but it is with Emily that I have a particular bond. Tyler is a fun, busy and friendly, bytimes moody and contrary, little boy. I’ve enjoyed my time with Tyler. He’s sweet and loveable, if a tad memory-challenged. But Emily…

Emily, who has been with me for a full five years. Emily, whose mother took on the school bus company, campaigned for an entire summer, and had them make a stop at my home so the children could be with me for an extra two years.

Emily the silly talker, the kind talker, and the Very Good Talker. Emily the hard-ass big sister, the helpful big sister, the big sister to the masses. Emily the cruise director, the realist, the artist. Emily the empath. She’s a really nice kid, even when she’s ‘bad’.

Emily’s giddy cheerfulness has pulled many a whiny toddler out of the doldrums. She has distracted many a distressed baby, soothed many a bump, organized many games. She keeps me on my toes! She’s good company. She’s just a plain old, genuinely nice person. Smart, funny, creative and kind.

I love Emily. To bits. And in two weeks, she and Tyler will move on from daycare, Emily to start Grade One and Tyler to junior kindergarten in the same school. I will miss them very much.

*sniff*

August 5, 2011 Posted by | daycare, Emily | , , , , , | 8 Comments