It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Honesty is the best Policy

In fact, I have an ambivalent response to that quote. I’m not a believer in the inviolable sanctity of honesty in the pantheon of virtues. Too often honesty is nothing more noble than cruelty, dishonestly masquerading as a virtue.

But that’s the stuff of another, more philosophical post.

This one is from quite a few years back. Twelve or thirteen, I figure. Among the children in my care at the time were two small boys, whom we’ll call Riley and Paul. I’d been caring for Riley (then about 20 – 24 months) for a shortish while, a couple of months or so, when Paul (9-ish months) entered my care. Riley and Paul’s mothers were good friends, and I gather all Riley’s mom’s ravings about the wonderfulness of Mary encouraged Paul’s mother to leave her son with me.

All was going well. Riley, though a lively, accident-prone little punkinhead, was the cheeriest little dude. In fact, he was that one-in-a-thousand child who enters daycare cheerfully, and just stays that way. There was no separation anxiety, there were no tears at the door, there was no hesitation. Riley just trotted through the door, made himself instantly at home, and dismissed his loving parents with a happy wave. Insouciance itself, our Riley.

Paul was a little more standard. He was troubled when maman and papa left, but he was consolable. And it did help that his buddy Riley was there. Nice to have a familiar face close to hand in an unfamiliar environment. Despite the age difference, they did play together. Riley was cheerfully interested in ‘baby Paul’s’ doings, happy to help him with stuff, eager to play. It was very cute.

Which was why I didn’t hesitate to go into the kitchen for a minute or two, leaving Riley and Paul together in the living room. The living room and the kitchen in that house (I’ve since moved) both adjoined the dining room, each room connected to the other with an archway. There were no closed doors between us, and it was a matter of two steps to my right and a peek around the doorframe, and I could see the entire living room.

Seems safe, doesn’t it?

You’d say that if you didn’t know Riley. This was accident-prone, shitpalooza Riley, the boy to whom bizarre things happened, and through whom bizarre things happened. It always seemed like a good idea at the time. Riley did not (nor does he to this day) have a malicious bone in his body. He was cheerful — I keep using that word, because it just fits. Cheerful, eager, willing, energetic, friendly… and a disaster waiting to happen.

I love that boy. 🙂

Anyway. I’m in the kitchen, just for a minute, and Paul and Riley are in the living room a few feet away. And from the living room, I suddenly hear a rhythmic thudding. “Bump, bump, bump.” I don’t know what it is, but I don’t hear any cries of pain or alarm. Nonetheless, this is Riley. I’d learned, even at that early date, to check into anything out of standard when Riley was within three metres a mile or two.

I pop my head around the corner, and there is Riley, squatting on the floor in the way of toddlers. Squatting on the floor and bouncing up and down. “Thud, thud, thud.” That noise is not his diapered butt hitting the hardwood. No. Would that it were.

That noise was Paul’s forehead. Paul’s head, which Riley is straddling as he squats. And with each bounce of Riley’s padded butt, Paul’s wee forehead is knocked into the floor.


The telling of this story takes faaaaar long than the actuality. Paul’s head probably got no more than two or three bounces before I’d swooped in with a cry of alarm and tossed Riley to one side lifted Riley off.

The damage was (hallelujah) not severe, but Paul was definitely going to have a bruise at home-time.

How to explain this one?

This is one occasion where I was seriously, severely, sorely tempted to lie. In that home, I had arranged the baby gate on the third step up, so that small children could practice going up and down three stairs. It would be an easy thing to say that Paul had crawled up three stairs and tumbled down. A tumble of three stairs is a minor thing. Having your head bashed into the hardwood floor by your bouncing buddy because your lame, inattentive caregiver was in the next room?


Never mind that I regularly walk from room to room. Never mind that they were out of sight for perhaps a minute, and never out of hearing. Never mind that parents let their children play together in the basement playroom while watching television in the living room upstairs all the time.

This just sounded sooooooooo bad.

I even practiced my Lie, so I could say it with a straight face. I rehearsed it in my mind so it would sound believable. I’m telling you, I was seriously tempted.

But in the end, I couldn’t do it. I ‘fessed up. Told the truth. And waited … for the shrieks of horror, for his super-nice mother to grab her bruised baby and storm off, never to be seen again. If I was lucky, I’d avoid a law suit. I hoped.

Because you just don’t know, do you?


His mother looked at her baby, eyed up the bruise. She snuggled him close, kissed his poor wee forehead.


“Oh, thank goodness!” she said. “I was afraid you were going to tell me he’d fallen down the stairs. I am so paranoid about stairs!!!”


Holy Hannah. In opting not to fudge the facts lie to dodge a potential bullet… I dodged a bullet. A real one. Honesty really is the best policy! Who knew? Wow.

The next day, I hear from Riley’s mother that the two women had chatted about it that evening. Riley’s mother was cheerfully (Riley comes by that trait honestly) apologetic.

“I warned her that she’d be taking a chance, leaving her poor baby in the same house as Riley. I did truly warn her!”

Paul’s mother concurred. “Yes, she did. ‘You never know, with Riley’, she told me.”

We all shared a fond laugh at the mayhem that is Riley. Because — who knew??? — it is far better to be bounced on the head by your friend than tumble down two or three steps. Far better.

But I will tell you this: from that moment on, Riley never, not once, not ever, left my sight. Well, except when he was sleeping… and we know where that led. (cf, ‘shitpalooza’, above)

Riley and his mother came to my birthday party last winter. They’re still two of my favourite people. Paul’s parents live a few blocks away, and we always take a few minutes to chat whenever we meet. Sometimes Paul, now a rapidly-sprouting-up young man, is with his parents. Hale and healthy, and always with his shy smile.

All’s well that ends well.


August 2, 2011 Posted by | health and safety, quirks and quirkiness | , , | 1 Comment

Judging Parents

Here we have a video clip. Title: Parenting FAIL. Which kind of says it all right there.

(The clip is from YouTube; the commenters I mention are on the Failblog site.)

Updated to add: The event in the video is sudden, unexpected, and, though inadvertant, shockingly violent. If you have a tender heart, you may opt to skip it.

Most of the commenters (who appear to have a mental age of 14 or 15 — with apologies to my very sensible and decently sensitive 15-year-old), are completely oblivious to the fact that this involved Real Human Beings, one of them a baby, and are either titillated (nasty children that they are) or just exchanging irrelevant nonsense amongst themselves (inane but harmless). A few of them, however, come out with the Judgements:

She should have been hanging on. (She probably was, dipshit; you’ve obviously never tried to hold the hand of a squirmy, sweaty two-year-old determined to be somewhere else.)

She should have been hanging on; I’m INSANE about hanging on to my child in public. (And she’s never, not once, slipped your grip? Come on, now.)

She should have the kid on a leash. (Oh, yes, so you could then slam her for treating her child like an animal; can’t win for losing on this one.)

If more parents and fewer 14-year-olds read that blog, you can be sure there’d have been more condemnation. Why do we parents do that?

Well, sometimes it’s appropriate to note where someone’s doing it ‘wrong’. That’s a politically incorrect thing to say these days, but nonetheless true. Some parenting actions you see can serve as useful object lessons in how not to do it. But let’s stop at thinking, “Hm. That doesn’t seem to be effective because of a, b, c; this other approach would be better.” We do not need to move from a thoughtful analysis to judgment, “And what a CRAP parent he/she is for doing that.”

Or, if you do go that extra step (and who among us doesn’t, at least once in a while?), keep it to yourself. Given what I do for a living, I find myself analysing parents all the time — and not always kindly. Just like a financial planner might take a look at the general public’s retirement “plans”, and shudder. Or a nutritionist watch how families eat and want to get in there and MAKE THEM EAT SOME VEGETABLES, DAMMIT! (Oh, wait. That’s me, too…)

Everyone knows the savage pleasure of a catty conversation. It’s not the most honourable of human impulses, but many of us have it, and I confess I am in this group at least once in a while. So enjoy your internal slice-and-dice, but keep it to yourself. You’re doing it for fun; this hardly makes you morally superior.

We can savage for personal entertainment; we can observe, analyse, and learn. We do not need to judge, but often we do. Why?

Mostly because it’s comforting, I think.

– Nothing like that could ever happen to MY child, because I would never make that mistake. No, I would never lose my grip (physically or mentally), never have that split-second of inattention, never make the wrong judgment call. Nuh-uh. So my baby will always and ever be 100% safe.

– Nothing like that ever HAS happened to my baby, so I must be a Good Parent. Phew.

– I may not be a perfect parent, but I’m better than THAT loser. Phew.

All those assume that it is reasonable to think that a child will always and ever be 100% safe. It just ain’t so. The sooner we give up that idea, the sooner we can lift a weight of unnecessary guilt off our shoulders.

My thoughts were:

Well, my first reaction wasn’t a thought, just a jolt of startlement — which, in some people might come out as a shout of laughter, but that doesn’t mean you found it funny.

Then concern for the child:
Oh, my GOD! Is she alive? Did she break her neck? Is she just bumped and bruised?

Followed by:
Oh, that poor woman.

Because, if you’ve ever held the sweaty hand of a struggling toddler, you know those little hands are hard to hold; you know they can slip out of your grip; you know they can make a sudden, unexpected dash. You know, because it’s happened, and most of the time, it doesn’t matter. Most of the time, you lurch forward and grab the little bugger darling by the scruff of her neck and haul her back, no harm done.

But once in a long while, once in ten thousand impulsive toddler dashes, something potentially tragic can happen. And it’s nobody’s fault. Nobody’s fault at all.

Just try telling the mother that, though.

That poor, poor woman.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | parenting, peer pressure | , , , , , , , | 17 Comments