Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Old Red and White

Tomorrow is Canada Day, the 138th anniversary of Confederation, and (praise be!) a national day off. Today we are making flags in honour of the event. For those of you who haven't seen this daycare-nursery school-and kindergarten staple craft, it's blessedly simple: Take a rectangular sheet of white paper and paint a strip of red along the short ends. Then cover the child's hand in red paint, either by using a paint-saturated sponge made of a few layers of paper towels, or, my preferred method, simply painting the little palm. The hand is pressed onto the white space between the two red stripes, and, Voilà! You have a pretty decent impersonation of the Canadian flag, with your child's handprint as the maple leaf. Cute, no? Anyway, we produced quite a few of these today, one for each of the six children here, and a few extra to decorate my front porch. Zach was particularly enthusiastic about this craft, and gleefully made half dozen on his own. I assisted in the stripes on either side, and then he would slam his hand with great emphasis onto the middle of the flag. Such fun! After we were done, I took the flags out to pin them to my porch until the parents come. Foolish me, I left the paint on the table while I did this. In my own defense, there were several older children in the house, three of whom are teens. I should know better. Teens, when involved in their own activities, are every bit as oblivious to their surroundings as toddlers. Thus, when I return, a laughing Zach greets me at the door, his dancing green eyes nicely set off by the daubs of red paint decorating his cheeks, chin, nose, and upper lip. "Mahwee! I paintin'!" He holds his hands up to me, intending to show me the paint brush he's waving, but also calling my attention to the great ruby swathes sweeping down both arms. He's a festival of red and white. Oh, well. At least he's patriotic.

Inverse Definitions 2

George has let Harry play with the truck he brought from home. I comment George on his "good sharing". Wanting to share in the praise, Harry pipes up. "I'm good at sharing!" I like to give praise where earned, but, to be frank, Harry has a ways to go on the sharing front, and I never give out false praise. I try to be kind in my response. "Well, you're learning to share. You're getting better every day." Harry knows he's being short-changed, and will have nothing of it. "No, I'm good at sharing!" he insists. "See? I'm sharing George's truck!!"

The "Why's" have it

Harry:  Why do I have paint on my hands? Mary:   I gave you paint, and you're a messy painter. Harry:  Why did you give us paint? Mary:   So you could have fun. Did you like the painting? Harry:  Yes. Mary:   Well, then. Mission accomplished! Harry:  Yeah!!

There Are Limits

George approaches me, his little face tipped up, blue eyes wide under his dirty blond flip of hair. (My kids, incidentally, call that upswept bangs thing a 'whoop'.) "Mary, I got boogers." Not one of my favourite things to hear, but I am, as I've said before, A Professional. "All right, my dear. Here's a kleenex. Blow." George performs an exceedingly ineffectual little puff, which I suspect came out his mouth, anyway. He confirms its inefficacy when he says, "They're still in there." "Well, George, you blew and they didn't come out. I think that's all we can do about it." "No-oo!" he is insistent, perhaps even a little indignant. "You gots to get it." I give him a look, let a beat go by so he'll understand that what I'm about to say is a complete and absolute non-negotiable. "George? George, I don't pick noses."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Inverse Definitions 1

Thomas and Harry have a tussle over a toy, which suddenly escalates into violence. I had turned quickly enough to see Harry shove Thomas, just before Thomas roared his disapproval and turned to me for justice. "Harry hit me!" "Yes, I saw him push you. Well, talk to Harry about it. Tell him what you think." Thomas approaches Harry, puffed up with righteous indignation. "Harry, I don't like it when you hit me. You don't hit. Hitting is bad. You never hit! Even when I hit you!"

You Want to hear about Me?

I've been tagged to write about five things I miss about childhood... (This is the second tag in a month: I'm warning all potential taggers that this would likely be my limit in any given month, assuming any more come my way.) What do I miss about my childhood? I rarely miss anything. These are more a list of things I remember with pleasure from my childhood: 1. The smell of something being scorched in the kitchen. Always reminds me of my mother, whose motto for food preparation was "If it takes 40 minutes at 200, it'll take 20 minutes at 400!" I was fourteen before I realized that I actually quite liked tapioca pudding: I'd just never tasted it un-scorched before. My mother always had plenty of time for us kids; for peripherals like food prep and housework, she had very little patience. 2. Snuggling in bed with my grandparents for that 6 a.m. cup of tea, specially on cold winter mornings in the still dark. I was raised in an extended family. After my mother was widowed (at age 25), with three children (of whom, at four years old, I was the eldest), my grandparents built a duplex. We lived in one side, my gran, grandad, and aunt lived in the other side. While the adults always treated the homes as separate dwellings, we children had free reign of both homes. I'd hear my grandmother get up in the morning, and I'd be out of my bed and over to their side, clambering into bed with my grandad. When gran returned with the teatray, there'd be a cup of very milky tea for me. 3. Trees, fields, sand, river. We lived on the last street of a village. Behind us was a wood, which we called "The Forest", then a field (tobacco and potatoes), then a river with a high sandy "cliff". Lots of time spent roaming barefoot, climbing trees, making forts, jumping down the bank to the river -, which we did not go in, as everyone knew there were eels in there - (I think my mother originated this rumor, the better to keep us out of it), spying on the tobacco pickers from the safety of the woods - with whom we were not to speak, as they were "rough". They were pretty scarey. 4. Chasing the garbage truck. Yup, us, the flies, and the village dogs... A hoard of kids racing barefoot down the pea-gravel and asphalt street after the garbage truck, which was just a giant pick-up with wooden slat sides. Can't remember the appeal, but remember finding it very exciting. It always got away on us. 5. Getting lost in imaginery games. The hoard of us would play long, involved, constantly evolving games for hours and hours in the summers. I would, in my mind, "become" my role, lose all sense of time and immediate place. Fantastic. I remember, too, when I lost this ability; I'd have been about eleven, and all the kids were playing cowboys and Indians, and suddenly, I just couldn't "be" that Indian princess. I was just a kid with a bent-stick bow, and I was bored. I regretted it immediately, but it was irretrievable. Now I have to do the chain letter thing. Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog's name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect. 1. Redhead Mommy 2. Baby Lauren 3. Babbling Bente 4. Sharkey Malarkey 5. It's Not all Mary Poppins Next: select new friends to add to the pollen count. (No one is obliged to participate!!) I select: Bill Q snaars

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

She's Got to be here Somewhere

Hide and seek is a great game to play with two and three year olds. Great, that is, if you're not too hung up on rules, and make sure your bladder is empty before the game begins. Darcy, Thomas, and George were the seekers. They would lurk in the kitchen, diligently counting to ten by various and sundry routes ("one, two, free, sebben, free, nine") while Emma (my eleven year old) hid. She would then call out to tell she was hidden, at which point the boys would thunder around to find her. Yes, she had called to them, but with tots this age, that doesn't constitute either help or cheating, since it has less than no effect on their strategy, which generally amounts to looking wherever she hid last time. For a while the boys hid while Emma counted. This is where the "not being too hung up on rules" became important: I would tuck each of them into a hiding spot - where they would commence to count loudly to ten, and then bounce out into the room!! "Founded me!" They loved it. After a few rounds, they wanted to be the seekers again. In the kitchen, the three little boys line up. Thomas puts his two hands over his eyes and counts; George put his hands over his mouth. All we needed was for Darcy to cover his ears as he counted, and we'd have the three little no-evil monkeys... Emma decided to hide in the front hall, between the internal wooden door, and the outside screen door. Naturally, this meant the inner door couldn't quite shut. When the other three came to hunt her out, speedy Thomas was in the front (surprise!). Strangely, she was not crouched beside the couch where she'd been last time. Hmm... He darted out into the hall. Being an observant little guy, he immediately noticed the front door was ajar. Aha! He dashed over to it, shouting. "Hey! The door's not shut! We need'a shut the door!" he declares, and gives it a mighty shove. Of course, with Emma tucked behind it, it doesn't shut. "Mary!" he bellows, looking for assistance. "The door is stuck!" Having given me my task, he races off to continue his. Wherever could she be?

Mistaken Identity

My eldest daughter, Haley, was in town visiting, and popped over this afternoon. Young Zach toddles over and tugs on her pants. "Mary! Mary!" She looks down and greets him, at which he stops dead and stares at the not-Mary for a minute. But he does want adult assistance, so... "Uh... mama!" She's female, she's a grownup - what else would he call her?

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Things You Hear Yourself Saying...

part one of a million, I'm sure: We don't drive cars on the piano. Thanks. He doesn't like it when you stick things in his ear. If you need to touch that, go to the bathroom.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Forging a Family

Note: this post speaks to the Canadian maternity leave, which is, in most cases, a full year. Additionally, many families can choose to split the leave between both parents. I am not talking about those unfortunate folk who are allowed a paltry and inhumane six or so weeks off. If that was/is your unfortunate situation, you have my sincere sympathy, and you may skip this post! (Grammar note: Lacking a neutral person in this language, I am choosing to use the grammatically incorrect "they/their" instead of the cumbersome "he/she - his/her", or the dated pseudo-generic "he/his". Grammatically suspect though it may be, it seems the best available option.)

A child has been in daycare with me for a year or two, when the family tells me they are expecting baby number two in a few months. At one time, I would immediately assume I would thus have a space to fill, but I know better now. Most of my clients will keep child number one in daycare throughout their entire year of maternity leave. This always makes me sad. There are good reasons to keep your child in care: parents want to keep the space open for their child. Good childcare (the kind I provide!) is hard to come by. The family and I have a long-term relationship we don't want to curtail. If the child is old enough - generally 18 months and over - and social, they will miss their friends. And a break for the at-home parent is also a good thing. These are all good reasons to continue with childcare. So, yes, send the child: a couple of days a week. It makes sense. But all day, every day? When there's a parent home? It seems such a wasted opportunity! This is a time to forge that family bond, to build the foundation of the team that will carry your children till their adolescent independence. To teach your older child to share you, to give them opportunity to learn to be compassionate and nurturing, to experience the joy of seeing your children become friends. So often I hear parents regretting the fact that their child - their young child, five, six, or seven years old - would far rather spend time with his/her friends than his family. Can this truly come as a surprise, when the child has never known it any other way? Parents regret that their offspring don't get along better, when siblings have never spent whole days over weeks and months together, creating and developing their relationship. Very often, after the initial honeymoon phase, the "old baby" sees the new baby as an interloper. The prince or princess has competition, may even feel like they've been completely deposed, and it's tough! It takes time for the family to weather the transition and become a greater whole. It takes time, time together, living it out. And many of us have a whole year. It is such a privilege, and it should be treasured! Why do they send them? The reason I hear most often is not the concern about keeping the space, or maintaining the child's friendships, which have some merit to me, but that "it's just so hard with two". They say this to me. They say this to me as I stand in the writhing midst of a half-dozen little bodies. It never ceases to astonish me. It is hard with two. Probably double the work of one. But you live, you learn, you adjust, and a Family is created. It's hard, it's messy, it's noisy, it's chaotic, it's fun, it's rewarding, it's stimulating: it's a family. I wish more would try it!

Parenting Tip: Health and Hygiene

Public Service Notice: Learned from a fellow kindergarten teacher years ago while working for the Waterloo District Board of Education. (Thank you, Lois!) If children cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbow rather than their hand, far fewer coughs and colds get passed around. Elbows are much less likely to come into contact with toys, doorknobs, and other children than are hands, and are just as easy to wash. It made a huge difference in my classroom; I teach it to all my daycare tots - and now you know, too!

Friday, June 24, 2005

You Can Pick Your Nose...

You know that saying, popular amongst teens: "You can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your friend's nose"? It's not true, you know. George approaches me. "Mary, I need a kleenex. I gots a booger on my finger." So he does. Thick, green, good consistency, a little crusty on one side, it sits solidly atop his pointer finger. "Yuk, George." Probably a little rattled at having this thing waved too close to my own nose, I ask what would appear to be a completely foolish question as I hand him the kleenex. "Where did you get that thing?" "Baby Alice."

Lost in Translation

Harry:    Wha' these crackers cold? Mary:     Cold? Are they cold, Harry? Harry:    No, wha' they cooolld?" (Enunciating carefully for the thick one.) Mary:     I don't think they are cold, just normal. Harry:    No, not cold, cold!! Wha's the name of these? Mary:     Oh. They're called Saltines, my dear. Just normal crackers. Harry:    And what are they going to turn into?

The Eye Has It

Poor Thomas! I have no idea how he's managed it, but thus far, knock wood, he does not have a black eye.

A howl of protest draws me to Thomas and George, who had, till that moment, been happily playing with a large exercise ball. (You know the type: also called "therapy balls", designed for adults to torture themselves upon.) Made of some sturdy vinyl/rubber stuff, bouncy, and brilliant red, it's attractive and lots of fun. For them, at any rate. It comes a little past my knee - pretty much the height of most of the children in my home. However, the game seems to have devolved a bit. Thomas is trotting down the hall exuding indignation. "George took the ball from me and poked me inna eye!" My concern is first for his eye, and only secondarily with the territorial dispute. His eyelid is a bit red, showing signs of having been properly poked, indeed. "What did he poke you with, Thomas?" "The ball."
An hour later, it's a wail of genuine distress. Thomas very rarely actually cries. He'll howl, fuss, and foment like none other, but real tears of anguish or pain? Hardly ever. He's a resilient little dude. His tears are always genuine. His eye is quite red, above and below, and he's almost unable to open it. No matter how he tries, it keeps twitching involuntarily shut. Ow,ow,ow. Oh, dear, oh dear. As I apply ice, we debrief. "What happened, love?" "George kicked me inna eye!" *
Another howl, this one of outrage. "Goodness, you're having a rough day, Thomas! What happened this time?" "Harry poked me inna eye - wiv a book!"
It's nap time now, and barring a sudden bout of sleepwalking, I think Thomas's eye is safe for the moment. The boy is on some kind of a roll, though, and I will count myself very lucky if he manages gets out my front door this afternoon without a black eye! * In defense of poor George, who is a largely peaceable little man, I hasten to explain that this happened while they were rough-housing, head to toe, on the couch. I am quite sure it was inadvertent.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Work with Me Here

Harry has a wheelbarrow, brought from home, which has been at our place for a few days now. It's a popular toy, probably by virtue of its novelty. At the moment Harry has it, but George comes and tries to pull it from his hands. It's not as rude as it sounds, rather a matter of poor co-ordination of words and action: George asks for it while he reaches for it instead of before. Harry, not surprisingly, resists this importunity. I remove George's hand from the wheelbarrow, and commence to facilitate negotiations. Harry is not averse to sharing, merely to being presumed upon, and so it only takes a moment before he decides that George may have a turn. George stands and watches while this occurs. Now it's George's turn to observe the social niceties: "There, George! Harry says you may play with his wheelbarrow now. What do you say to Harry?" "I want to play ball with Darcy."

Logic Alert

Me: Thomas, we don't stand on the couch. You may sit on it, or you may lie on it, but please keep those feet off the couch. Understand? Thomas: But that ball is red!

PBJ, Okay!

Thomas requested peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. A pretty mundane, kid-friendly, unexceptional request, right? Ha! If you think that, you haven't lived in urban Canada recently. I don't know what it's like in other places, but around here, peanut butter is next thing to a toxic substance. Peanut butter has moved from a simple, inexpensive, and nourishing food for children to a probable poison, to be treated with utmost caution. If I were to feed these children peanut butter and then take them to the Tot's Time at the library, no matter how thoroughly I washed their hands and faces, an Earnest Mommy who smelled it on their breath would be appalled at my willingness to put other children in such clear and immanent jeopardy. (People honestly believe that smelling peanuts on someone else's breath can cause a deadly reaction in allergic people. Urban myth, according to allergy specialists at CHEO, our local and highly-regarded Children's Hospital.) I do take it seriously when needful. I've had at least one allergic, or potentially allergic child in care at any point over the last seven years, and so it has been seven years since I have been able to serve peanut butter to the tots. Seven years! Suddenly, it seems, there are peanut-allergic kids everywhere; nuts and nut products are banned from all the local elementary schools; everyone knows someone who carries an epipen. (An automatic injector filled with epinephren, an adrenaline derivative, I think, to be used in case of serious allergic reactions.) At one point, four of the five children in my care had epipens: three for peanut butter, and one for beestings. In truth, despite all the hullaballoo about peanut allergies, the beesting one worried me more. Peanut butter sandwiches don't fly. George's mother has a strong peanut allergy, and so had asked that I not give any to him until he'd been tested. He was tested a couple of weeks ago, and was declared a peanut-safe zone. So, today, when Thomas asked for peanut butter sandwiches, I decided we'd take a walk on the wild side. May not seem like much to you, but me? A restriction has been eliminated. Daring daredevil that I am, defier of social conventions, risk-taker par excellence, we're having peanut butter sandwiches for lunch!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Give that Girl her Beauty Sleep!

Upstairs, a baby cries. My quiet time is over. I can tell by the voice that it's Zach, but when I open the bedroom door, Mia's head pops up over the crib rail. Nuts! I've opened the wrong door. However, the damage is done, and Mia has had a reasonable amount of sleep, so I bring both of them downstairs. Zach doesn't generally like to eat directly after a nap, but Mia does, so into the high chair she goes. She complains throughout snack time. She complains even more loudly through the diaper change that follows. She complains a little when I set her on the floor to play. She is quite manifestly not adjusting well to having been woken prematurely, but I decide to give her another few minutes. I head upstairs to wash my hands. While I'm there - this takes, what, 90 seconds? - I hear an ungodly wailing from the dining room. A pause, then a scream, a pause, then a scream. Awful screaming. Ear-piercing, bone-chilling, nightmare-inducing, fingernails-down-the-blackboard screaming. When I race downstairs, at speeds that put my life, or at least my ankles, in serious jeopardy, tiny Mia somehow towers over the much larger boys. All 27 inches of her are rigid with rage. Her face is red and tear-streaked. One might reasonably imagine that one of the boys had injured her in some way, but not once one had seen the boys' faces: Every one of the three are wide-eyed, horrified, pictures of shock. They're a metre away and backing slowly further from the tiny inferno in front of them. There is no doubt in any of their minds that she is about to explode, or that her head is going to swivel completely round any second. This girl is dangerous and they are getting out of her way! Nope, no injury, just a good old-fashioned temper tantrum. I scoop her up and cart her back to bed. She wriggled into the sheets, her little bottom up in the air, her thumb securely in her mouth. A deep sigh escapes her. This is where she should have been all along. Phew!


It's nap time, and all is quiet. Yes, there are construction noises outside, but inside, all is calm. Thankfully. My ears are still ringing with Harry. Harry has been with us a week now. It's not been difficult, exactly, but it's been tiring! He's a very verbal child. Oh, come now, let's not use insipid euphemisms: the boy is verbose. He talks non-stop, and he talks loud. What he says is often interesting, frequently funny, and occasionally exasperating. It's also completely, absolutely, unstoppably incessant. Prior to being with me, Harry had a nanny. This year, though, Harry's family thought that a larger group would be good preparation for his entry to school in another year. I think they're absolutely right. Harry has very little tolerance for sharing. Not sharing belongings - he's not bad at that. Not great, not as good as many three year olds, but no worse than many others. What he hasn't a clue about sharing is time, space, and attention. He expects my attention non-stop. Obviously, he can't have it, and we'll train him into more realistic and less self-absorbed patterns in time, but in the meantime, it's exhausting: "Not right now, Harry, I'm talking to Thomas." "Harry, you must stop talking now. George is trying to speak." "What did Darcy say, Harry? He has an idea, too." I wonder what would happen if I burst out with, "Oh, for heaven's sake, Harry, shut up a minute, will you?!" Of course, I won't. But I do get my moments of delerium, where the fantasy has a lot of appeal... He doesn't share space well. This morning he called me over in great indignation, "Mary, they're not giving me any roooom!!" Thomas, George, and Zach were standing at my window, watching the construction. There was ample room for Harry there, and in fact, George had shifted down to make space for him. This was still, as far as Harry was concerned, "Not making room", for what Harry expected was for everyone else to move out of the window. He is simply unused to the bit of jostling that's a normal part of living in a group. He doesn't share time. When he's got that conversational ball, he doesn't let go of it for love nor money. On and on and on he goes. So, of course I'm devising strategies to help him to learn, and even to enjoy, being with others, to see them as enhancers, rather than detractors of his days. I'll teach him to cooperate with them for time, space, and attention, rather than constantly competiing. He'll get there: he's a cheerful, willing, straightforward little guy. It will also take a fair investment of my energy, and rock-solid consistent treatment, and steadily increasing expectations. Phew! Can I have a nap, now, too?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


We've clearly been exposed to too much heavy machinery this month: whenever I back the stroller up (my super-deluxe four-seater stroller), we all spontaneously burst out with: "Beep...beep...beep...beep..."

Cleaning Questions

Musing about the process of keeping small faces clean. Why... they fight a nose wipe like you're threatening to rip the nose from their face? they hate having a tissue within a metre of their nose, but love having their finger at least that far up it? they always pick that particular moment to swing their face suddenly to profile, causing a trail of snot to disappear into their left ear? ...does the tongue come out whenever you try to scrub their chin? the eyes shut when you say, "Close your mouth, please"? ...does the mouth shut when you say, "Close your eyes, please"? ...will they happily play in filthy puddle water, but when you present them with clean water, they suddenly develop intense fear of the stuff? ...when you put a tissue to their nose and say, "Blow!", they sniff, but when there's no tissue in sight, they blow like blazes? they only get those huge "blow-out" projectile snot sneezes when someone, or someone's food, is directly in the line of fire? Just wondering...

Monday, June 20, 2005


Thanks to Simon over at Upright and Breathing for this peek into my book life. If you find it the least interesting, you may thank him; if you don't, you may go over there and spam him. :-) 1. Total Number of Books I Own: Very rough estimate, seven hundred. Quite possibly a couple hundred more, probably not less. Most of them are still in boxes, awaiting the time (six years or so in the future), when the attic will no longer be required as a bedroom, and can assume its proper use as spectacular library!! 2. Last Book I Bought: two, in fact. "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child", by Marc Weissbluth. It's full of good advice, although its very poor editing makes that information quite difficult to dredge out. And "ish", a children's book, by Peter H. Reynolds. I bought one for each of my daycare kids last Christmas, but liked it so well I had to buy my own to keep! 3. Last Book I read: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. My son had to read it for English class, and I picked it up. Sad to say, I didn't enjoy it much at all, though it was an easy enough read. Atwood, as it happens, lives in the town that houses the hospital where my mother, a nurse, used to work. But I still didn't like this book, though I've quite enjoyed others of hers. 4. Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me: this one was much harder. I am a voracious reader, going through 4 to 7 books most weeks. With that kind of volume, it makes it difficult for any one book to stand up too much above all the others. Let's see... "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", by Steven Covey. I love his notion of the space between stimulus and response that allows us our choices. I love a lot of things about this book. I like "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen. It's my favourite of all her books. For a while, I would read "The Egoist" by George Elliot about once a year. For professional reading, I love Barbara Coloroso. My favourite is probably the first I read: "Kids Are Worth It". I am a "backbone parent". And, although my beliefs have changed a lot in the intervening decades, I'd probably have to put the Bible in there, too. When I was a teenager, in the heart of my formative years, I read it every day, memorized huge chunks of it, and tried to live by its precepts. It's undeniable that the skills of evaluating, digging into a text, looking for layers and picking things apart for deeper meaning that I learned then, stand me in good stead now. 5. Tag five people: The people I tag, I'll tag by email.

Vicarious Learning

A forklift passes us, and rounds the corner. This is unusual: thus far, all the machinery has been staying on our block. Thomas, of course, notices. "Why'd that forklift go there?" "I don't know, Thomas," I reply, and, predictably now, turn the question back to him. "Why do you think it went there?" "Because...because it was going...because it needs..." he flounders a little more before giving it up. "I don't know!" George has seen this played out too many times not to see what's coming next, and beats me to it: "Well, Thomas, neither does Mary."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Matter of Emphasis

As we drive, I notice a billboard advertising a video store in an upcoming village, with, among other attractions, a "Huge Adult Department". Emma, who is eleven, must have been idly reading it as well, for her voice comes over my shoulder. "What's that mean, mummy, 'huge adult department'?" "It means they have lots of pornography." "Oh, yuck! I thought it was clothes." "Clothes for adults, you mean?" "Yes. Really big adults."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Mechanical Man

Harry is one mechanically talented little dude. Yesterday he discovered our non-spill container of bubble stuff. This kind has a tray for the soap at the bottom, with a high domed lid that screws onto it. Three bubble wands fit into slots in this dome. Harry was intrigued by this thing. He noted very quickly that it wouldn't spill - most tots take this entirely for granted - and wanted to know How it Worked. In very short order he had the thing unscrewed and was investigating its innards. (It had very little soap in it, thankfully.) And, to my even greater surprise, he was able to put it back together! Wow. Yesterday, we went for a walk, and when someone, noticing a fire hydrant for the first time, asked about it, Harry interrupted my explanation to make a clarification: first the firemen have to unscrew the blue nut at the top, Mary, before the water will come out the sides. Now we all know! Thank you, Harry! We have an apple peeler at my place, one of those fancy-schmancy ones that screw onto the tabletop. Once it's secured on the table, you impale an apple onto the prongs at one end of its central wand, then start to wind it towards the peeler/slicer/corer mechanism at the other end. When finished, the apple is - surprise - peeled, cored, and sliced. Sliced into a spiral slinky, actually, much to the children's delight. We had apples for snack yesterday. Harry was completely fascinated by this thing. He spent quite a bit of time, cranking away at the empty machine, just to watch the central wand move forward. This morning, Harry strides in and makes his way almost immediately to the kitchen, where he finds an apple on the counter. He trots out to see me in the dining room, holds up his apple, and says, "Let's sharpen this apple!"

Applause, applause

Sitting at the computer, listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan's rendition of "Voodoo Child". If anyone other than Jimi Hendrix could do it, Stevie's yer man... I had been listening to a Bruce Cockburn disk, much mellower and more suitable for nap time one would think, but it had some live tracks, and even though I had it turned down really, really low, every time one of those tracks ended, the little lad who was supposed to be sleeping on the couch in the living room would burst into applause along with the rest of the fans. Next disk!

Tough luck, indeed

The thread about non-meat eating children reminded me of a conversation that once occurred in my home, years ago. Picture a family meal, with mother, father, eldest daughter (then 4), and baby brother (then about a year). Baby sister wouldn't make her appearance for another three years or so. It's a standard meal: meat (pork chops), various vegetables, a basket of rolls. Eldest daughter, who is past her no-meat phase, is nonetheless asking probing questions about meat in general. Where does it come from? she wants to know. Mummy explains: animals. Oh. That requires some mental digestion. After considering a moment, she pursues the matter: And this particular bit of meat in front of her? Which animal does it come from? "Well, dear", says mummy, hoping that we're not about to plunge into a second, more substantial non-meat-eating phase, "that's a pork chop. It used to be part of a pig." Another pregnant pause. Daddy chips in, solicitous of her feelings, "Does that bother you, sweetie?" "Nnooo..." She pauses, considering the slice of pig on the plate in front of her. Then she lifts her head and says, quite matter-of-factly, "Tough luck on the pig, though!"

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Can I Irk You? Yes, I Can!

Today, I had seven kids. One expects a certain baseline cacophony right there. Sheer numbers will do it. On the way back from the park - three in the stroller, four outriggers - the four three-year olds all started singing the "Bob the Builder" theme song. Thomas, the original and true Bob the Builder fan, who has even been to see Bob at a large local mall, and who owns every Bob marketing gizmo out there, started the song and lead the choir. The only problem is, none of them know more than the first two lines: "Bo-oo-ob the Builder. Can we fix-it? Yes, we can!" Over and over. Not very melodiously, but lots of rhythm in our four-man choir. Strong, firm, and positive: "Yes. We. Can!!" Out from the tumult comes the occasional "No, we can't!" Equally firm and just as definite. This would be George, ever the individualist. This blasphemy would win him a severe look from Thomas, which George returned each time with a small, satisfied grin, delighted to have achieved the desired effect.(Hmmm... Individualist or shit-disturber? I'm quite sure his father would opt for the latter, with no little parental pride.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Food Expectations

A small chunk of kiwi, speared on a fork, hovers in front of Alice's mouth. She closes her mouth and tips her chin down and away, in that totally adorable way she has. All I can see is the curve of one chubby cheek under that amazing nimbus of tight blond curls. But, cute or not, I decide I'm going to see this through. Because she is now completely comfortable here, and is almost a year and a half old, I decide the time has come to begin to initiate her into my Food Expectations. The first: "You can't decide you don't like something if you haven't tasted it." Note, they only have to taste it. This means it merely has to get into her mouth. She doesn't actually have to swallow, nor even chew it. If it sits on her tongue for a nano-second before she spits it out, that's acceptable to me. It's the principle of the thing. A first step. Of course, the initial challenge is, how to get it in? In this case, as often happens, Alice makes it easy for me. "Alice," I say slowly, in tones heavy with portent, "You need to take one bite. Open your mouth." Then I press gently on her lower jaw with my fingertip. Alice is highly offended at my presumption, and opens her mouth to express her displeasure. Perfect! That kiwi is in there! Alice is outraged. Her eyes widen, she takes a deep breath, she begins to roar. She is Not Happy with Me. At All. I commiserate with her. "That was a dirty trick, wasn't it? What a thing to do to a girl!" From here, it doesn't much matter to me what happens next. She has tasted the thing, that's all I ask. If she spits it out, I will praise her for tasting it. If she actually eats it, even better. I wait for a moment. It doesn't come out instantly, at any rate. What happens next is something that I've come to expect a goodly percentage of the time: Alice suddenly looks surprised, stops crying, and becomes aware of the taste of that thing in her mouth. "Not so bad, now, is it?" I lilt encouragingly, warmest of smiles on my face. "How about that?" It goes down. Success! And then... she voluntarily takes a second piece from her tray! Ha! Stage One of Food Expectations has gone like a charm.

Life Begins at... Three!

I was preparing lunch in the kitchen as the children played in the next room. Construction noises wafted in from the street, obscuring the beginnings of this conversation between George and Thomas, so we will join it at the moment I became aware of it. The requisite background for the story: Mary is 40-something, Emma, her daughter, is eleven, George is three, Thomas almost three, Zach just turned two, and Alice is not quite a year and a half old. "Everyone is a adult: Mary is a adult, Emma is a adult, George is a adult." Thomas is most insistant. "I am an adult?" George is a bit surprised, but open to the idea. "Yes, everyone is a adult." "But not Zach." They turn to look at Zach, happily driving small cars along the hallway wall. Alice watches him with interest. "No, not Zach, or Alice, either." They agree to this with great solidarity. This causes George to consider the heirarchy, however. He is three already, whereas Thomas won't be three until August. "And not you, either, Thomas." "Yes, I am a adult." Thomas isn't defensive here, just stating a known fact. "No, you're not." It seems to cause George some regret to have to disappoint Thomas with this sad truth. He pauses, thinking, and his face brightens. "Unless: did you have your birthday?" So there you have it: adulthood begins at three.

Swab those Decks

Boys, I tell ya... I now have three toilet trained boys. I've dispensed with the potty in the living room. Anyone needing to answer the call of nature has to trot upstairs to the Real Toilet, do the necessary, and return downstairs again. I generally confirm the cleanliness of the hands in the downstairs sink, but apart from that, they're autonomous. (You've heard of cleaners who don't Do Windows? Well, I don't Wipe Bums... They manage perfectly well.) I've been at this job a few years now, and I still haven't come up with a definitive answer to the Sit or Stand question. They can sit comfortably. We have this little toilet ring, a little padded toilet seat that sits on top of the regular one, making a smaller and nicely secure spot for tiny bottoms. So getting on and staying on isn't a problem. If they sit on the seat, however, they often forget to angle their equipment down, and the pee gets under the toilet ring. Then, when the ring is lifted off, there's a ring of urine along the front of the adult toilet seat, which I have to clean off before I can sit. Lovely. If they stand, they tend to get distracted, or to step away before that last drop falls, and the rim of the bowl, or the floor in front, or in dramatic instances, the wall or even the toilet paper roll, get liberally sprinkled. I dunno. No matter how we try this, I end up having to swab something. I think back to a story of an uncle, now a highly respected forensic psychiatrist. When, at the age of four, he was scolded by his mother for getting pee all over the toilet, he looked up at her with indignation and asked, "Have you ever tried to steer one of these things?"

Monday, June 13, 2005


Harry, who is three, will be joining our days soon. Today he accompanied us to the park as a taster of things to come. During snack, being the good role model I am, I offered Harry some apple slices. "No, thank you..." he says. Cheerfully calm tones, small smile, steady eye contact. All this is highly impressive for a three year old. I am delighted by his demeanour, and hasten to tell him so. "Well, that was very polite, Harry" I respond - oh, but I'm interrupting him - "...but thank you for offering!" he finishes. Not mere manners: this boy is positively courtly. Should I curtsey?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Prune Juice and Parental Validation

Alice suffers a bit from constipation, and so each day that she comes, I give her four or five ounces of prune juice. She generally drinks it right down, and it helps quite a bit. Alice's parents are delighted: so simple, so effective! This recalls to mind a child I cared for some while ago, who had, according to mother, suffered dreadfully with her bowels since birth. As a result, she often had fissures around her anus, was beginning to get hemmorhoids, and routinely was given suppositories to help her pass a movement. (Sorry to the squeamish among you, but these are the realities. The child was genuinely suffering) Nothing they did seemed to help, doctors had been consulted to no avail. The poor thing would probably suffer with it for life. Mom knew she didn't drink enough - many young children don't - and that perhaps she could eat more vegetables. Many young children could! I decided to try the obvious, and bought a jar of prune juice. Half a cup the first day, then increased by an ounce each day. I discovered that if she was given 6 or 7 ounces in the morning, which was easily done, as she liked the stuff, she passed a perfectly normal movement mid-afternoon. Now, 6 or 7 ounces is a lot for a child that age; clearly she did not have standard-issue innards. How nice to know she could be helped so easily! I told mom. She looked disgruntled. I hastened to assure her that this was in no way denying the reality of her daughter's problem. Were I, as an adult, to regularly imbibe that much prune juice, I assured her, I'd be suffering the opposite problem! She admitted that her daughter hadn't been complaining about BM's lately. I encouraged her to try it at home. They never did. Every Monday, she'd come constipated. By Tuesday afternoon, with two days of prune juice inside her, she'd be flowing comfortably again. For weeks this went on, and nothing I could say could encourage either parent to try my very simple prescription. There were no grandparents to consult. I was stymied. Let me emphasize that they were loving parents. They adored their little girl. She was likely to be the only one, and she was doted upon. However, she was also Special. She needed Special Care. She had a Special Problem. I've seen this before, I'll probably see it again: parents who get some sort of validation by having a child with special needs, whether behavioural, physical, or emotional. These parents don't really want a solution, or, if there is a solution, they want it to be big and dramatic. Prune juice, I'm afraid, was far too mundane. Poor little girl!

Friday, June 10, 2005


Oh, my Lord. It's 28 degrees, with a humidex of 35. THIRTY-FIVE. It's too hot to move. Too hot to think. Certainly too hot to be sitting in my steamy (that word's for you, Kevin) hot kitchen typing... Everything is so still, even the air doesn't want to get breathed. Time for a cool soapy shower, then I'll just sit in front of the fan in the living room and go catatonic until the tots wake up. I do have stuff to say, but it can wait till that thunderstorm that's brewing hits and clears the air a bit. Later!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Hello, hello?

Thomas sits on the living room floor, with a large brown oblong block against his ear, conversing animatedly. George sits at the dining room table, doing the same with a tiny red block. "Are you two talking to each other?" "No," George explains. "I wanted to use the phone, but Thomas had it, so I had to use my cell phone instead."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

I love music. We play a lot of music during daycare days, and not all Raffi or Sharon, Lois, and Bram, either. (And no, not the Wiggles. I don't like them. Yes, it's true, and stop it: I can hear your gasps from here. I'm an iconoclast, I know.) And don't even talk to me about cutesy-poo singing animals and all other licensed auditory drivel. I am an unashamed kid-music snob. How can we expect them to develop musical taste, (or expect to have the right to criticize their adolescent musical tastes!), if we weaned them on a diet of musical junk food? I mean, really... Okay. Enough ranting. Here, the children listen to all sorts of music. This weeks we've heard a lot of: Raffi's Bananaphone, Proclaimers, Sunshine on Leith, Beethoven's 5th Concerto, first movement, Mozart's Horn Concertos (particularly allergo movements) Harry Manx, Wise and Otherwise Mediaval Babes, Worldes Blysse and a little Pete Townshend and Bruce Cockburn. And then there was that day I decided I'd listen to the Lucille Bogan disk I'd been given. I had been amused that it had a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label on it. I expected some raunchiness: it is an old blues album, after all, but I've listened to lots of that stuff: it's all double entendres and innuendo. Not generally very subtle ones, no, but I had no fear that the children would understand any of it. For most of the album, it appeared I was right.

There's stuff like “Barbecue Bess” on it:
I'm selling it cheap Cuz I got good stuff, And if you try one time You cain't get enough. I'm talkin' 'bout barbecue - Only thing I sell. And if you want my meat You can come to my house at twelve.
It ain't subtle, and it's pretty rude, but there's nothing there that would corrupt the children, horrify their parents, (we hope!) or embarrass anyone were they to start singing it somewhere public. Though it might draw the odd quizzical look, I grant you. So there we are, working on some jigsaw puzzles, with Lucille grinding away in the background. Suddenly, I become aware of the lyrics of the last track on the disk. Is she saying what I think she's saying?? Good Lord!! Did she just sing “f*k? Was that “c*k that just rolled out of my speakers? And I can do what to it?? (Hint: rhymes with f*k.) This song - “Till the Cows Come Home” - was written in what, 1928? 1932? Who used those words back then? Heavens. I absolutely don't want anyone leaving my house having learned those words at daycare!! Therefore, I am very careful not to react out loud. You know what happens if you make a fuss over something, don't you? One squawk of alarm from me, and it would have been a matter of seconds before every verbal kid in the house had made a few interesting additions to their vocabularies. With no fanfare at all, I very quickly and just as quietly flipped to the next disk; the soothing strains of “Only Then will Your House be Blessed” wrapped around the room (thank you, Harry Manx). I've since learned that this song, written in 1933, was done for the musicians' own amusement in studio, never imagining that it could ever be sold to the public. Time rolls on, and now it's for sale - but I think we'll keep it from the tots' ears for a decade or two yet!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Why, why, why?

The "Why Stage" is upon us. Specifically, it's upon George. I find that "why" questions fall into three main types: Genuine requests for information; Stalling/obedience evasion/to hold your attention; Reflex (a.k.a. nonsensical). I have endless patience with the first. I'm a born teacher, and give me an enquiring mind and you've made me a happy woman. The second class I largely ignore. The third class can be the funniest by far. We approach the post office, and I announce the obvious: "This is the post office." To which George responds with a knee-jerk, "Why?" Completely nonsensical, of course. But it amuses me, so I decide to prod him a little on this one. I echo his question back to him. "Why, George? Do you mean 'Why is it the post office?'" I expect that he'll see it as a bizarre question, but no, he's still in reflex-why mode. "Yes.Why?" I decide I'll throw it back to him and see how he fields it. "Good question. How about you tell me: Why is it the post office, George?" He pauses, and a look of consternation crosses his face. I think he's suddenly actually heard himself. Then his face clears and confidence returns. "Because it just is."


Zach finds a blue bear made from a balloon. "Ah-wuh-da-wah, Beh!" Later, having dismantled the bear so that it is now simply a long blue balloon: "Ahwuhdawah. Ba-oon!" Ahwudawah? I think it's just filler, a very frilly "um".

Vocabulary Quiz

Thomas: I have an extra gator at my house! Me: You have an "extra gator"? Thomas: Yeah! For the foundations! Oooohhh... I get it! Do you?

Monday, June 06, 2005


Thomas is leaving at the end of June! Although I've been "doing daycare" for over ten years now, I still heave a sigh at the departure of certain children. Thomas is one of them. He's been so much fun: articulate and funny, stubborn, creative in his mischief. I love the feisty ones! Now, I am gaining more patience with the ones who start out meek, weepy, and clingy, because experience has taught me that with love and support, the odd challenge, and steadily increasing expectations, they generally evolve into delightful, thoughtful, calm and happy children. Their shaky beginning is well worth the outcome. Still, I have to admit that my heart prefers the in-yer-face and up-yer-nose ones with lots of spirit and bravado. The ones who start with me roaring their displeasure. It's so much satisfaction to roll up my sleeves and meet them head to head, and come to a state of mutual respect. He's one of that band, for sure! Yes, I'll miss him. (He's also very loud, and so is his mother... I won't miss that at all! It's really the only downside I can think of, though. Not such a small one for me, though, because my tolerance for noise is low. A strange quirk of character for someone in this biz, I know, but it does mean that my home is generally very peaceful, despite the mobs of children in it!) I need to plan a goodbye party for Thomas! Today, we were visited by a new child, a three-year-old boy who will start the middle of next week. I think he'll be fun. He spent a good two hours with us at the Park by the River, and meshed very well with the boys. I'm looking forward to it! Alice's mother has told me she's expecting baby number two. This doesn't always change the status of the elder child, but in this case, Alice will be at home with mom as of the end of December. Lots of time to find a replacement, though, and a good time to be looking. The two surges in people looking for care occur in September and January. George's younger brother, Dwayne, starts in September. He'll be a year old by then. They come in, they become part of the family, they roll on out again. My fluid daycare family. Such fun!

Definition, please...

Thomas plays in the sandbox with a large toy backhoe. George comes over to get some of this action. "No, George. You can't play with it. I'm sharing it right now!"

Does She or Doesn't She?

You know how, on a starry night, you sometimes see stars in your peripheral vision that vanish when you look at them directly? Listening to Mia can be a similar experience. If you're paying direct attention to her, it's just babble, but if you're only paying partial attention, you hear a complete sentence! Really. I'm beginning to wonder if Mia is saying a whole lot more than I'd realized, if some of that vigourous and enthusiastic babble is in fact English, words and even phrases, just at lightning speed. This morning, as I spoke to dad, I'd swear I heard her say "Mia comed in daddy car." When I repeated that back to her "You came in daddy's car?" she squealed and grinned. My daughter Emma, who had been talking to Mia (i.e. paying direct attention) asked me later: "Do you really think she said that, Mom?" I heard a sentence, she heard babble. So who's right? This has happened to me often enough that I'm Just. Not. Sure...

Friday, June 03, 2005


Children don't always see things the way adults do. (No, really?) Take, for example, the stereotypical gift to a loved parent of a fistful of dandelions. Sunny delightful posies to the child, pernicious weeds to the adult, their saving grace being that they will rot so quickly. (The dilemma this can present to the parent involved - and its only humane resolution - has been dealt with very nicely in this post.) But children can and do mature in their perceptions. Young Thomas (three in August), happily squats in a field of dandelions, and chooses, with delicate precision, all those flowers which have gone to seed. He only wants the powderpuff dandelions, and, from his perspective, you can see the appeal: clean and white, ethereal - and they fly away when you blow on them! Flowers and entertainment in one sweaty fist! "I will give these to my mommy. She will yike dem." It's a twenty-five minute walk home, though, and dandelions are not the most hardy of plucked posies. We're not quite home when Thomas stops dead. Looking sadly at the withered, drooping, and now completely bald former dandelions in his hand, he declares, "My flowers are Dead. They are all squooshety. They won't make my mommy happy any more." With a sigh, he drops them on the grass. Poor little man! Discernment: what a wet blanket it can be!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Game, Set, and ...Missed

Thomas doesn't want to wear his hat. No, scratch that: Thomas wants to wear his hat - he doesn't want to wear the hat I provide him. He's brought a baseball cap from home, but I want him to wear his daycare hat. I have a set of half a dozen identical hats that we always wear on outings. In part this is because they provides better sun coverage than ball caps, but primarily because my set of very bright (one might even say garish) hats makes the head count so much easier. Given that when we're in public I do a head count roughly every 14 seconds, this saves me a lot of time and mental effort. But Thomas wants to wear his baseball cap. Hereafter follows the discussion that took place as we strolled down the street. He is already wearing the despised hat. Not once does he get whiney or petulant. It's all in tones of great earnestness. It's very important that I understand. "This hat," he says of the blue-green item adorned with red, yellow, and purple fish, "is not mine." "No, it's mine, but you wear it at my house." "Mommy says I can wear my hat." Oooo...trying the Higher Authority card. Mommies would be astonished the things they approve or veto. I've heard this one too often not to have a good answer. "At your house, mommy is the boss" - sorry, dad - "But at my house, I am the boss. You know that, my dear. Mommy has told you that, too." "This hat is not good to play baseball." "Well, no, but we're not going to play baseball. That ball in your hand? It's a basketball." "This hat is not good to play basketball." "Why not?" He has no quick answer for this, so he shoots off the one that's clearly intended to be the final and inarguable defence of his position: "This hat is not good for my allergies!" He looks at me in triumph and expectation. Allergies! No one argues with Allergies, and he knows it. I burst into laughter. Thomas grins sheepishly. He's shot his last arrow and missed the target, and he knows it. "Allergies? Your allergies?? Thomas, you monkey, you don't have any allergies."


A lovely stroll along the path by the river today to my favourite park (which the children have christened "Mary's Park", much to my delight). On the way, we pass a wooden fence, painted in broad black and white stripes. We've always passed it, but today Thomas notices for the first time, and asks why it's there. I explain that because the road ends at the river, the fence is to warn drivers that they can't go any further straight ahead. Trying to let him discover the safety concern for himself, I ask, "What would happen if a car didn't turn, Thomas? Where would it end up if it went straight through?" He doesn't miss a beat: "Wet."