It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Out, Damned Spots!!!




I never used to have Spots in my home. Now, suddenly, I seem to be rife with them. And they are all VERY IMPORTANT spots. Vitally so. So very precious, that one person can stake a claim on one which will last IN PERPETUITY. Like gold mines or some damned thing.

There is a particular chair in the living room. It, in fact, has two Spots on it, which is a problem given how often the child in possession of said chair positions her tiny butt so as to cover BOTH! OF! THEM!

Outrageous! Insupportable! Untenable!

I say “her” tiny butt because only Jazz and Grace are inany way concerned with Spots. I pray to whichever gods oversee such things that none of the other tots are infected with Spots, because they are a damnable nuisance.

I never know quite where a Spot is going to manifest. There is the grey chair in the living room. It’s consistent. (Strangely, the chair across the room from it contains no Spots, possibly because it usually contains a dog, and dogs do not concern themselves one whit with the pleadings of small girls re: Spots.)

Apart from the grey chair, Spots seem to shift. So far, we have had Spot sightings on both of the benches in the living room, on the chairs at the dining room table, and particularly those at the ends of the table, for some reason. There’s a small end table that is a Spot. This despite the fact that they are not to sit on that table. Because it is a table, not a chair. Matters not. It harbours a Spot.

There is a Spot on both of the chairs that accompany the New Toddler Table (VERY EXCITING!!! HIGHLY PRIZED!!!). Not too surprising, those. Rather more surprisingly, the Quiet Stair has on at least one occasion been a Spot. A sleeping cot, a blanket, a particular corner: they have all been Spots.

How do I recognize a Spot? Well, to be honest, I can’t tell a Spot from any other, perfectly innocuous, part of my home.

Grace and Jazz, though? THEY KNOW SPOTS!!! And, from what I can make out, a Spot is always, always, AL-F8#@ing-WAYS inhabited by SOMEONE ELSE. Someone else WHO MUST BE EJECTED from that Spot.

What makes a spot a Spot, far as I can make out, is that YOU DON’T OCCUPY IT. If someone else is in that spot? It is a Spot. And you MUST HAVE IT! At all costs! Accompanied by great squawking, squabbling, shoving and indignation!!!! EVERY! DAMNED! TIME!


Spots, if I can be so blunt, are a royal pain in the arse. I am thinking of making a new rule: There are NO SPOTS at Mary’s house. Corollary to that rule: If you see a Spot, you will spent the REST OF THE DAY on the Quiet Stair.

Because, really?

Out, OUT damned Spots!!!

May 10, 2012 Posted by | Grace, Jazz, Peeve me | , , | 4 Comments

Easy Friday

Three of the five children currently on the roll here are part-time. While this plays some unfortunate havoc with my bank balance, it has at least one fortunate consequence. On Fridays and Mondays I have only three children! (Yes, “only”, though my husband comments that I am one of a rarified number who would consider three under-twos to be an easy day.) Three, the three youngest — Grace, Lily, and Rory.

I call them Baby Mondays and Baby Fridays.

For now I do, at any rate. It won’t be too much longer before they’ll all turn two, and won’t be babies in that sense any more. Right now, though, they’re babies. The two-year-old drive for autonomy, and with it the two-year-old negativity, hasn’t yet appeared. They bumble about in the same room, each doing their baby thing. They interact a bit, though as yet it’s mostly in terms of watching what the other guy is doing — and occasionally deciding it’s interesting enough to commandeer the toy in question.

And when this happens, when Grace decides Rory’s toy is so interesting that she’s going to take it now, thanks… well, Rory just watches it leave his grasp, and then watches Grace play with it. It’s all good.

Such is the way of the 18ish-month-old. It’s quite lovely.

There are two-year-old clouds on my baby horizon, though, in the form of Lily. Only Lily has a significant vocabulary. In contrast to Rory and Grace’s mostly-silence (punctuated by babble and the very odd word), Lily is a chatterbox.

“Sunny! Cloudy!” She’s really enjoying our weather calendar.

She loves her compatriots. “Wo-wee! Gace! Mawee! Emma!”

She loves identifying things, generally: “Umbagumba cookie!” “Poon!” “Eye-cheh!” “Boot!” “Soo!” “Sippuh!” “Gox!” (She’s into footwear.)

She loves giving directions: “Up, pee!” (This would be a polite request, not a urinary order.) “Sit yap, sit yap!” “Door sut!” “Doggie down!”

Life with Lily is one constant cheerful stream of words, words, words, words. All with exclamation marks! Because why speak at all, if you’re not going to be decisive! And excited! And Full of Purpose!!!

And increasingly, in contract to Grace and Rory’s equanimity in the matter of toy possession, when someone takes a toy from Lily?

Most of the time she responds as do the others: placidly unruffled. “That’s an interesting toy, and now it’s being interesting over there. How interesting.”

The rest of the time, however, you’ll see the gears shift. The toy will leave her grasp, there’s a pause as she becomes aware that it’s gone, and then a “what the hell” expression will flit across her face. And then… does oh-so-verbal Lily launch into vigorous and shrieked verbal protest?

Sort of.


She has “vigorous” and “shrieked” down pat. Sadly, she does NOT use her words, though we all know they are many. Nope. Just shrieks of outrage which quickly settle into grizzles of tears. (She’s more of a grizzler than a passionate cry-er, our Lily.)

It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s happening more often. We all know what’s coming. Soon it will be the default response — for Lily, and most likely for Grace and Rory, too. Though if I were to indulge in a little prognostication, I would say that Lily will be the worst for this, her negativity the strongest and longest-lasting of the three. Rory will go into and out of that phase less deeply and more quickly, with only moderate training needed, and little Grace will, as much as any toddler does, skip the “MINE!!!!” phase altogether, continuing to be as calm, level, and curious as ever. (Feel free to ask me about this in three months. It could be I’ve just publicly and totally blown any credibility I’ve ever had.)

But for now, the babies are still (mostly) babies, I have two calm and quiet Baby Days per week, and I’m loving it.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | aggression, Developmental stuff, Grace, Lily, Rory | , , , | 3 Comments

It’s not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’

Sometimes, in my job, the trick is to look beyond the facts under my nose to the larger picture. Seeing the forest for the trees, as it were. Nowhere is that more obvious than in conflict.

Because toddlers and conflict? People have done studies to track the number of conflicts a toddler has in a day. Staggering. And also inevitable. The thing we’re after is not conflict avoidance (no, no it’s not), but conflict management. Not me managing them, either, but them managing their own selves. Stop snorting. We’re in the business of raising adults, remember? It’s a long-range project, with long-term goals…

My old mantra: “You may be angry, but you may not [insert anti-social behaviour here],” which I start when they’re about 15 months old, and which, applied unceasingly over the years, reaps enormous benefits when they’re 15 years old. Trust me on this.

Whereas once I might have tried to explain how they didn’t need to be having this particular conflict, maybe even that it was a silly thing … waste of air. And not in the best interest of the larger picture, which is to teach them how to manage their anger and to manage their behaviour in conflict.

I’m sure there are things I get annoyed about that wouldn’t bother you at all. I’m quite sure that if you tried to tell me why I didn’t need to be annoyed, I would probably only get annoyed…

So. We don’t often get into the substance of the conflict. But we do worry a lot about the style.

Noah and Nissa are squabbling over toys. This is routine. Nissa is a strong-willed little thing and Noah much milder, but even mild-mannered Noah can be pushed only so far. Today he’s decided to stand his ground.

“No, no, no! It’s mine!”

Nissa’s response is instantaneous — a long, loud howl. She is not saddened, she is OUTRAGED. She wants the toy he is playing with, and she wants it now! How DARE he thwart her will???

The howling is all the more aggravating because this girl has been talking in sentences since she was 16 months old. Sentences of three and four words. Now she’s up to… um… lots of words. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lo…

Let’s just say that, for little Ms. Articulate, the issue here is not an inability to express herself verbally.

“Nissa. Use your words.”


It takes four and a half minutes on the quiet stair, during which time Noah gets to play with BOTH toys — both toys directly in her line of vision — (what? twist the knife? me???), but she does finally concede to speak rather than shriek.

“I can has a toy, Noah, please?”

“Sure!” (Told you he’s a mellow little dude.) “You can have this one.”

“No. I want DAT one.” (And Nissa’s not. She’s made one concession already, dammit, she’s not making another!)

Noah looks at the toys in his hands.

“Okay. Here you go.”

She snatches it. I take it from her and give it back to Noah. “Take it gently, Nissa, and say thank you.”

We try again. A civilized transition is accomplished. Each tot settles in to play, Nissa with her blue plastic wrench with a yellow screw mechanism… and Noah with… his blue plastic wrench with a yellow screw mechanism.

Yes. Yes, I know.

Big picture, big picture, big picture…

January 5, 2010 Posted by | aggression, manners, Nissa, Noah, parenting | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Your baby cries: Gut and Head duke it out over Tears

tears1“Can I wear your lion hat?”

It was October, a long-ago daycare Hallowe’en party. Adults with wine glasses mingle whilst toddlers rampage at knee-level. The tots are in their Hallowe’en finery, among them a lion, whom we will call Cecily.

“No. I don’t want you to wear it.”

Clear enough. He does have a costume of his own, after all. Complete with headgear. Mind you, if Cecily hadn’t been empowered by parental presence, she would have been much more likely to try the old Mary’s-house stand-by “In a minute”. Had I not been politely deferring to parental presence, I might have, while acknowledging her right not to share her costume, encouraged her to be a little more solicitous of his feelings. However, parental authority trumps Mary’s (which is as it should be), and in this case, allows the child to be the autocratic despot in my home that, by all parental accounts and available evidence, she is at home. (Which is not as it should be. Oh, well.) And even at Mary’s, Land of Sharing, it is understood that you don’t have to share things that you wear.

“No, I don’t want you to wear it.”

Other child, who we’ll call Ralphie, bursts into tears. Cecily is irked.

“I’m allowed to say no!” (Funny how they can apply the principles from Mary’s house when it suits them. Sharing goes out the window when parents hover near, but the right to say no? That one is never forgotten.)

Ralphie’s tears spur Cecily’s mother to action. She swoops in, squats beside her daughter. Ralphie’s mother tries to deflect, “No, no, it’s okay.” Cecily’s mother wants to do this, though. Needs to.

“Oh, honey. Don’t you think you could let him have a little turn?” Sweetly coaxing, gently solicitous.

Cecily’s eyes dart, a little anxious, a little defiant.

“I don’t want him to wear it.”

“Oh, but sweetie, he’s sad. Look.” Hearing the sympathy oozing from Cecily’s mummy’s voice, little Ralphie’s tears double in volume. As does his volume. Cecily is not unmoved by the tears, but she’s holding firm.

“I’m ALLOWED to say no!” And then she bursts into tears.

Trapped between two wailing children, Cecily’s mother is flummoxed. No matter what she does now, someone will be unhappy. The children, perhaps sensing her uncertainty, or maybe just hitting their stride, get even louder, and, if possible, wetter.

(This sort of thing happens at virtually every single “let’s have mommy and daddy come!” party I throw. This is why, though I continue to host these gatherings, I always do it with an inner sigh.)

Cecily’s mom attempts further appeasement. She is not successful. Cecily’s dad, with the male “can we please solve this and get back to the party” directness, intervenes.

“I think she’s made her point of view very clear. She doesn’t want him to wear the hat.”

“You think?” Mom wavers, uncertain. She casts a sorrowful glance at Ralphie and his copious tears. “But he…” Her glance shifts to her still-wailing daughter (though the intensity is decreasing now that she senses dad is in her corner).

Ralphie’s mother, relieved, steps in. “He’ll be fine. He has his own costume. Come on, sweetie. Why don’t you show me the craft you did today?”

Crisis averted.

Now for the analysis. Why did this situation arise?
– because a child wouldn’t share?
– because another child wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer?
– because the children were overstimulated?
– too much sugar? party excitement?
– too little sleep?
– the disruption of routine?

While any or all of them could be factors, none of them were the root cause. This situation went from tense to tsunami because a parent fell prey to tears.

There were other issues at play, of course. We do want our children to share, we don’t want them to be selfish. We do want them to develop generosity and empathy, we do want them to be gracious. We want these things for many noble reasons, and we REALLY want them EVEN MORE when we’re in PUBLIC, thankyousoverymuch.

But once again: Where it all went off the rails was not with the children’s behaviour, but with the parent’s response to the tears. None of the larger, more important parenting concerns got a second’s air-time, because the mom was high-jacked by the tears.

Let me underline here that I have a great deal of sympathy for her response. It’s utterly visceral.


The urge to leap in and soothe the tears away is as basic, gut-level a parental response as there is. It’s not about being “nice”, about being “responsive” and “sensitive”. Those are things we tack on after our response to the tears. At base, this urge is about the survival of the species.

Think about it.

You have a newborn. If parents (mothers in particular, being the ones with the food delivery systems implanted on their chests) weren’t hard-wired to respond to baby’s cries, I figure it would take two weeks, max, of severe sleep-deprivation before the poor exhausted woman wouldn’t just soundproof the door and go to sleeeeeeeep. And baby, deprived of those necessary night-time calories, would at the very least be in serious risk of dehydration, if not outright malnutrition.

So. That gut-level “FIX IT!” response to your child’s wails is a biological imperative, put there for the preservation of the species.

Ah, Gut. Remember Gut? We talked about him a few posts ago. Your Gut, which is faster to react than your brain; your Gut, which is PASSIONATE and POWERFUL in all its responses; your Gut does not know that this is not life-and-death, not a matter of survival, not necessary for the continuation of the species. Nor does it care. Your Gut only knows that “Baby cries = Bad. Must stop now.”

And humans, when we have a Gut-level response, we react out of that response. We may rationalize our responses, we may come up with reasons that we’re doing what we’re doing, but in fact, we’re responding from our Gut, not our Head.

However. There comes a time for your Head to over-rule your Gut. It is possible, though it takes focus and determination at first — and the courage of your convictions.

A newborn whose cries for food are ignored is in a life-threatening situation. A toddler who has been refused a lion hat… is not. Just not. (No matter how passionately Gut tells you it is life-and-death! It is! IT IS!) A toddler who is encouraged required to share the damned thing is not going to drop dead from the trauma, either. (Which is not to say that she should have been required to share it. Just that it wouldn’t be life-and-death.)

So, in a clearly non-critical situation like this (and most of them are), you need to step back a pace and consider. Since it’s not life and death, what exactly are the issues?

-The base conflict: your child doesn’t want the other kid to wear her hat; this upsets the other child.
– Social pressures, real or perceived: If you support your child, will that make you look like you’re encouraging selfishness? If you support the other kid, will your child humiliate you in public by throwing a full-blown hissy fit? Will either option make you or your child look bad?
– Character-development/parenting issues: You want your child to be kind, considerate, generous, empathetic.
– Competing character-development/parenting issues: You want your child to be confident and self-assured with clear personal boundaries.

It’s complicated! It’s not simple, and I’m not suggesting there is one right resolution to the situation. There are several, each based on different situational realities and parental priorities. Each response has pros and cons, each response will satisfy some and aggravate others.

So. No one perfect response. (There rarely is, darnit.) What I am saying is that you can’t come to a clear and reasoned response, a response which will address even one of the issues listed above, if you’re reacting out of your Gut-level “RED ALERT!” reflex.

What I am saying is that “Good Parenting” does not necessarily mean soothing the tears away. In the process of raising a happy, responsible, well-adjusted, just generally nice-to-be-around human being, tears are pretty much inevitable. A lot of the time, they’re not (or needn’t be) the focus of our attention. A lot of the time, in fact, they’re a distraction from what really needs to be accomplished.

Get high-jacked by the tears, (as we all do, at least sometimes!), and you miss the real parenting opportunities.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | manners, parenting, power struggle, socializing, the dark side | , , | 11 Comments

Better parenting through laziness

“Mary! Anna hit me!”

Entirely possible. Anna’s a dominant little thing, and when her excellent social skills and superbly infectious chortle don’t soften up the opposition and get her her own way, she’s not above popping someone. She is, after all, two years old.

The temptation is to march off to investigate. Did Anna actually hit him, and if so, what, if anything, had been the precursor? Not that there’s a valid reason for slugging a friend, but oftentimes the culpability for these little exchanges is shared. The involved parties are not so much assailant and victim as they are partners in mayhem.

But … Timmy is awfully prone to this behaviour, this seeking adult involvement, demanding redress from a Higher Authority. (In this case, me.) He’s not a tattle-tale yet, but he’s heading in that direction, and I’ve been down that road in the past. The constant demands of a tattler for justice is very, very, very, very, very, very, very tedious. Mind-numbing. The persistance of a steady drip-drip-drop of water that turn a rock into a few grains of sand. Tattling, for me, is right up there with whining as the Chinese water torture of parenting.

I simply do not get paid enough to accept that level of boredom ten hours a day. I don’t know if there is an amount that would make it tolerable to be that bored ten hours a day.

But if you don’t do something, violence is liable to break out, right? There’s been an aggression. Tot A, who perceives himself (rightly or wrongly) as victim, is bent on justice/vengeance, and if you don’t provide it, they’ll get it themseves. And then you’ll have Tot B at your elbow, complaining that she’s been wallopped.

I confess that my response to this sort of tattling was born of sheerest laziness. I did not want to deal with this, I did not want to have to go and hunt out both parties and sort it through, I did not want yet another he-said, she-said” exchange. But you can’t just say “Sort it out”, because two-year-olds “sort” with their fists. If they’ve never been taught to “sort it out”, they have no idea how. You can say that to seven-year-olds. With two-year-olds, it’s a cop-out that’s only going to end in escalating violence.

So, much as I’d like to say “sort it out”, I won’t be doing that. But do I have to get up, when I just poured myself a cup of tea? Because if I leave that thing sitting there, we all know what will happen. Do I have to forfeit my paltry-but-treasured three minutes of relaxation? Do I have to?

No, I don’t. I don’t have to charge into the next room to sort it out for them, either; I don’t even have to help them sort it out. I certainly don’t expect them to be able to sort it out themselves. But what then? Aren’t those all your options?

Read on, my dears, and bask in my words of brilliance.

I lean forward, with a look of sincere concern on my face, take his hands in mind, and say with warm supportiveness,

“Timmy, did you use your words?”
“Did you say, ‘Anna, don’t hit me’?”
“Yes. I say, ‘Anna don’t hit me!’ ”
“And is Anna hitting you any more?”
(Obvious question. Timmy is here with me, and Anna, whatever she may or may not have been doing three minutes prior, is in another room, not hitting him.)

I sit up straight, and fix a beaming, joyous smile upon his earnest visage.

“Well, good for you! It worked! Anna hit you, and you used your words, and now Anna isn’t hitting you any more! You used your words, and it worked!! Good job!”

I smile, I clap, I am practically delerious with joy at the boy’s accomplishment. Timmy trots off, happy, Anna is playing with the blocks in the next room. And I don’t have to get up and let my tea go cold.

Sheerest laziness brought me to this strategy. Inertia, even. But when you examine the response, it’s excellent.

The child who comes to you is seeking any number of things: justice, vengeance, comfort, indignation, attention, reassurance. If you charge in and sort things out, a few things happens:
1. You become his enforcer. With that kind of reward, why would he stop coming to you? You’re creating the very thing you’re trying to avoid: a tattler.
2. You’re showing him you don’t expect him to be able to do this on his own, or that
3. His attempts to solve his own conflict were inadequate.

However, when you outline what has already occurred, and frame it in terms of conflict-management, you are:
1. Giving the child support, attention, and reassurance, all worth emotional goals.
2. You make sure you are not integral to the process. (So you’re less likely to be called in next time!)
3. You are reinforcing the child’s strategy.
4. You are supporting the child’s own efforts at conflict-resolution.

(Now, if the child has not used their words, then you have to get involved to get the child to talk to the other child, etc. But generally, as soon as a child is verbally able to tell you about it, they would almost certainly have lodged some sort of verbal protest with the aggressor before coming to find you. “Hey! No! Stop that!” is perfectly reasonable use of words.)

And yeah, I’m likely stretching the facts just a little, because we all know that if the child hadn’t charged off to find me, the other child’s response to his howl of protest would probably have been to pop him one again. But that’s okay. We’re working on principles here. We want the child to understand what the process is, that he’s done things correctly, and know that he can be the agent of his own conflict resolution, not you. When he can routinely and effectively resolve conflict on his own (which will take years, of course), you can put one tick on your Successful Parenting checklist.

Because really, what is effective parenting but working yourself out of a job?

April 21, 2008 Posted by | aggression, parenting | , , , | 16 Comments