Friday, April 29, 2005

Yeowch!!

Thomas, we all know, is a boy in a hurry. He uses the potty, then comes to me, quite distressed. "Mary, my pants is hurting me!" I can't see anything wrong on the surface, so I check underneath... The broad black elastic waistband of his teeny white spiderman briefs sits neatly on his hips at side and back, but is firmly wedged underneath his apparatus at the front. Ouch! You know, little man, there are times when it pays to take things slowly...

Cop Talk

George and Thomas play a very involved game involving the play house and two ride-on toys. During this game, Thomas backs into baby Alice. George observes this and notes, very matter-of-fact: "You are a terrible driver." "I am?" Thomas is not offended, only interested. "Yes. You just bumped into baby Alice." "I did?" He pivots to look at Alice, who smiles at him. "Yeah, and now I will go call the police." "The police?" "Yes." This with great authority. "That's what you do when you bump someone in a car."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Singin' In The Rain??

Whoo-eee! Probably spurred by the need to avoid a second Inside Day in a row, the tots and I forged out under dubious skies. Usually I can see the forecast written in the sky outside my front window, but this morning, I just couldn't tell. To my right (SE) the sky was grey, but light; to my left (SW) dark and forbidding. What to do? It should have been easy: we all know that the weather comes from the west... A quick call to Sophie (my caregiver friend) allowed us to encourage each other in a decision borne of imprisonment and lunacy. Yes! We would go out, and yes! we would meet for a coffee, and yes! we'd take the tots to the park... Two outta three ain't so bad. Yes! We went out. Yes! We arrived our meeting place, an indoor courtyard behind the coffee shop. And NOOOOOoooo....look at that rain!! Thankfully, our coffeeshop backs onto the courtyard, because the patio out front was definitely not the place to be. Out came the trucks intended for the sandbox, and the children managed to have a happy playtime while Sophie and I sipped our coffees. Today was Sophie's turn to buy, and, creative woman that she is, she emerged from the shop not with the usual dark blue mugs, but with a tray containing two lovely bowls of steaming café au lait...perfect for warming hands chilled by gripping damp stroller handles. It was quite a nice way to spend a morning, really. As they played and we sipped, we kept an eye on the sky, waiting for the weather to clear. The sky would lighten, the rain abate somewhat, and then suddenly darken as another cloudburst plummeted earthward. Back and forth. Back and forth. We waited with increasing agitation: maybe we should just stay all afternoon and have the parents pick them up there?? Finally, when it seemed that it had settled into a steady light rain, we decided to brave it. Had I had only four children today, so that none would have needed to walk, I might just have missed that last cloudburst... As it was, we were about a km from home when it hit. Saturated only begins to describe us. But you know, it wasn't cold, so once I'd made the mental adjustment that we were all going to be drenched, raincoats or no, it became rather fun. Darcy, in the front seat of the stroller, just laughed. When Thomas complained that his pants were getting wet, I took a peek at his legs and made a great fuss of scolding him for being so silly as to have a bath with his clothes on. Now that's funny! By the time we got home, everyone was in the mood: giddy, laughing, shrieking, and wet, wet, wet... Serendipitously, my eldest daughter had arrived just moments before we got to the house. She's nineteen and, not surprisingly, very experienced with tiny tots, so it was just a matter of a very few highly efficient minutes before the two of us had the five of them stripped to their diapers (or underwear, or doodle shorts) and seated in front of a plate of scrambled eggs on toast. (Warming and FAST.) The clothes are now tumbling in the dryer, the children all fed and now napping, a hot cup of tea at my elbow. All in all, a pretty good day!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Toddler Support Group

Today's meeting of the Potty-Training Support Group, Sunnyside Branch, took place in part at one of our favourite parks. While at the park, George felt the need for an emergency meeting, and, informing Nona of the situation, repaired to the shrubbery. Members present included George, Darcy, Thomas, with one guest, Zach (who must needs come along so as not to be left unsupervised on the play structure). One might consider this his early induction to the art, but Zach appears largely oblivious of the point of the exercise. While one little boy pees, the other big boys lean forward and peer at the stream, making observations and offering encouragement all the while. "There it goes! Your pee is coming!!" "Look. His pee gots that pine cone all wet!" (This is very funny.) "Don't get that pee on your pants!" "Don't stand there. You might get his pee on your foot." "Are you done? Is it my turn?" Darcy is wearing yer basic training pants: little pale green underwear with the padded section in the middle. He largely ignores his audience, focussed as he is on the engrossing task of producing and aiming. (I have them sit down. It's simpler.) Thomas has on his teeny tiny grey briefs - of which he is overwhelmingly proud, because they have Spiderman on the backside!!! Thomas revels in his audience. After he's watered the shrubbery, he makes a point of ensuring that everyone sees and appreciates his posterior artwork, wiggling that little bum for all to see. "I gots Spiderman back there, Darcy! George, see my Spiderman?" And George? George, too, prefers production over playing to the audience. He doesn't at alll mind that they stare at the stream of pee, but he's quite modest about his undergarments. In my position as overseer of the event, however, I can clearly see that George, who prior to this had worn sweat pants over nothing at all, is wearing...... boxers! Eentsy-weentsy plaid cotton boxers!! How delightful! Who knew they made them so small? Everyone considered themselves highly satisfied with the outcome, and thus this meeting of the PTSG, Sunnyside Branch was called to a close.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Diaper Maelstrom

Now that she is mobile, Alice has discovered the nice little wooden end table in which I store diapers. Two shelves, each with three stacks of, oh, twelve or fifteen diapers. (In behind is another such stack, so I can tidily store a couple weeks' worth of diapers in there.) Normally when she's here I pivot it so that the solid back faces out, but today I forgot. I stepped into the kitchen for a moment to stir a pot, and when I return, my livingroom is a maelstrom of white! Diapers fly left and right, shrieks of delight puncture the air -- and my eardrums. How, you might wonder, could such a tiny child strew that many diapers in the nine seconds my back was turned? (Though you all have tiny children. You probably aren't wondering at all...) Because GEORGE was helping her!! Three-year-old, responsible George, is merrily flinging diapers all over the living room!! Woo-hoo!! This is what happens when energetic toddlers stay inside all morning... Of course George must help clean it up. He's a little miffed that baby Alice isn't expected to put any away, but is mollified when Thomas volunteers to help. Yay, Thomas! What a good friend you are! In fact, this task is right up Thomas's alley. He's absolutely terrific at puzzles, and what is this but a giant, practical, super-absorbent puzzle? The diapers must be sorted by size and brand - which means sorting them by the pictures on their waistbands. The plain white Sesame Street ones are Alice's; the Sesame Street with the green stripes round the legs and big bird on the back are Zach's; there are diapers with bears and diapers with flowers, all to be stacked and returned. Thank goodness for branding, say I! It takes almost twenty minutes, but they are twenty happy, productive, and most importantly, quiet minutes...

Holiday Hassles/Boundary Disputes

I admit up front that, as far as caregivers go, I am likely in the top two percent. My pay is in the top bracket for the province, probably. I get sick days, I get holiday pay, I get late fees, I have a well-written and clear contract. In other words, I act like a professional, and get treated accordingly. I am, a qualified teacher, with ECE experience and courses, and have even taught parenting classes. The parents pay well, and they get good value. I am also in my forties, with a busy life, adolescent children, and notably less energy than I had ten years ago. Am I still up for the job? Absolutely! Do I earn my holiday time? Do I earn my holiday time?! And here's the issue for today's blurb. Holidays. I am self employed. I do get some paid holidays, but for the past couple of years I've needed more. However, I feel that the time I already get is as much as I can reasonably expect any of my clients to cover. If I want more, I have to take them without pay. And for two years, I have been unable to manage it. This year I made it a firm priority, setting aside a certain amount each month, so that instead of the two weeks in my contract, I could take an entire month off at the end of the summer. I have to have it. If I don't get it, I will burn out. None of my clients would argue that mine is a demanding job. All of them have said at some point or other that they could never do it, and/or that they don't know how I do. So a few weeks ago, I sent them all four months' notice that I'll be taking the time, and offering to provide the names of a couple of caregivers who'd provide back up. All but one are just fine with it. But that one... the one who was "disappointed" in me; who would be "highly inconvenienced" by this, for whom it "was not what we expected when we signed up". (Is that last a veiled threat??) I explained my rationale, and we left it that he'd be letting his wife deal with it from here on. Seems he's somehow seeing it as her responsibility, or at least, her problem. I don't know, I didn't ask, I don't really want to know... It seemed that, having shared his feelings with me, he was ready to move on, and so we discussed other things for a couple more minutes before he proceeded home with his child. So why did he tell me? "Communication" he says, but to what end? Am I supposed to change my holiday time to suit them - and inconvenience others instead? Or decide not to take holidays (and risk burn-out) so that they not be inconvenienced? Or just feel guilty? This is one of those blurred boundaries I fumed about in my last post. Professionally speaking, unless this issue is causing you to consider pulling your child from my care, I don't really need to know how you feel about it. Would he, I wonder, feel it necessary to tell his mechanic how he feels about not having a car for a week? Or his accountant how he feels about making that quarterly payment to the taxman? But what really, really annoyed me was his refusal to take the names of the other caregivers who have agreed to back me up. He cited "continuity of care", a noble sentiment, to be sure. However, since it is his choice to adhere to this ideal, then the responsibility for the inconvenience is his, not mine. I am not inconveniencing him; he is inconveniencing himself. There is no inconvenience that I can see in taking his child to Susan, three blocks from me, for the two extra weeks in the summer. The inconvenience is his choice! His. Choice. Why should I be made to feel guilty for this?????? Argh. And there is no lack of continuity here: both the other caregivers are women with whom I routinely meet! We go to the park, we go to playgroups. We interact with each others' charges. His child knows these women, and knows all the children in their care. (Moreover, this particular tot is an outgoing, very friendly little person - not a trace of shyness. This would not be difficult for this child at all.) So what's the problem? There is none, none at all beyond dad's unwillingness to have anyone but me care for his child. Should I feel flattered? Or imprisoned? And once again, I'm back to repeating: It's your child, It's my life!

Friday, April 22, 2005

It's Your Child, It's My Life

It's my home, but it's my place of business. It's a business, but it's a very personal business. They are my clients, but they feel personally towards me. They are not my friends, but I'm involved in an intimate endeavour - raising their child - with them. There's always that push-pull, that sometimes too nebulous boundary between the professional and the personal in this business. I've had parents try to tell me what I may and may not feed the children (not just their own child), whether I may let them watch television, or take the bus, or go out in public. I've had parents who wanted me to drive their children places, and parents who didn't. Over the years, I've become better and better at keeping the delineation clear, but sometimes it still blurs. A couple of months ago, I pointed out a mark on a child's shirt, confessing that the child had managed to spill my tonic water down his shirt, and that it had managed to turn his blue shirt pink. Nothing exceptional in this, except that the next day, dad felt it appropriate to make sure that there had been nothing in my tonic water but tonic water. Which there hadn't been. I often drink the stuff from the can with a straw, and it had been a can the the child had upended. But still. What if there had been? What if, during naptime, while reading a book, I'd decided to slip some gin into that tonic. Do they never have a glass of wine with their dinner? Do they routinely hire a babysitter to care for their child when they decide to have a cold beer on a hot Saturday afternoon? As it happens, I don't drink at work. But lots of people do have a drink with their lunch during their work day, after all. A single drink is not the sign of a sot. I wasn't offended at the time, I didn't resent the question, and I haven't had to alter my normal behaviour in any way, but it's stuck with me as a sign of the difficulty of keeping the boundary clean. It just ain't so obvious.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Snippets

Zach is learning his manners. I hand him his cheese and crackers. "Dan-goo, tah-tah!" he says, and then proceeds to eat his cracker - with a spoon! George: Thomas? Thomas, what time is it? Thomas: Ah... it's two, six. George: Okay. Who says the preverbal can't communicate? Alice waves bye-bye to mommy through the window, then speed-crawls to the high chair, kneels up, and smacks the foot rest, making anxious/instructive noises. The message is clear: it's snack time! George: Thomas, what time is it? Thomas: It's eight, four. George: Pee-pee time!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Optimism and Ear Plugs

Alice's mother liked her feature post. (I'd hoped she would!) But she gently suggested to me (as others have also done), "You know, you needn't feel that you must always be positive." A tactful way of suggesting that should their little angels display a pair of horns from time to time, I should feel free to say so!! I will, but I confess it doesn't come naturally... I am by nature an optimist. I see the bright side as clearly as the dark. Always. This is not a mental exercise I consciously perform, but rather a wholly natural way of perception. So, if a child has had their ups and downs over a day, I will naturally recount the ups. I know the downs happened, but, for most children, the downs are minor blips, and the ups are the bulk of the day. Of course, if a child is unusually fractious, in a way that might suggest illness or the need for some kind of intervention, I will discuss it. But the normal type of misbehaviour and fretfulness simply isn't of adequate interest to me!! Unless, of course, it's funny - and so often it is! As to Alice... When loading the children into the stroller, I am quite calculated in the order in which I do it. Until today, Alice has been loaded in first, the reasoning being that she frets if left behind, and as the youngest, it's harder for her to wait. So she sits in the stroller on the front walk, while I bring the other children to it, one at a time. Until today. As of today, the street - no the entire block! - must surely be fully and painfully aware of just how thoroughly Alice detests waiting, even in the stroller! And that hat?? We won't even talk about how she hates that thing... Tomorrow, she'll be loaded in last!

Pep Talk

Thomas does not like vegetables a whole lot. He sits on the bench and peruses the vegetable stew he's been presented for lunch for a moment, then heaves a deep sigh and bravely declares: "I can eat it all up, and I can be happy!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Alice

Alice, the newest addition to the daycare, is coming into her own. It often takes three weeks to a month or so for a child to become completely comfortable at daycare, so that the child I see during the day is the same child the parents know at home. With part time children, this integration can take even longer. Generally, apart from the obvious symptom of tears, children are quieter than they would be at home, more solemn. They are observing and evaluating their new environment. Alice had a very easy transition, and relaxed quite quickly, with only a few sporadic clingy-uncertain days. These days, she's blossoming into a much more extroverted child than I'd seen thus far. She's finding her world here increasingly interesting. She's interested in her peers. Over the last week or three, the very quiet baby girl who sat at the edges and watched with interest has become an exuberant baby who cheers the action with delighted, and loud, squeals. She sits in a high chair at lunch time and bounces with such enthusiasm at the antics of the others that her cup flies from her tray, and a few stray peas and bits of chicken threaten to follow. She's interested in the environment. She's now mobile, and will vigorously chase down a ball, the other children, and most especially, the cat. She's particularly interested in the cat!! Generally he stays well out of it when the tots are about, but these days I'm almost ready to believe he's posing deliberately for her. Every morning when she arrives, there he is, on the fourth step up the stairs, awaiting his audience. Alice does not disappoint. She greets him with whole-body enthusiasm, squeals of excitement, and a beaming smile. In fact, her smile graces most of her day. What a happy addition to the crew!

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Quick Trip

What a glorious day it is out there! Seventeen degrees, and an entirely cloud-free sky. A few vapour trails. It's a park day, must be a park day. No point in languishing indoors, nor even the library. Quick! Let's go out. After we: pack a snack; change a diaper; oops, make that two; send a big boy to the potty; gather the sand toys, unused since last fall; take off four pairs of slippers; put on four pairs of shoes; four jackets; four sunhats; and one pair of sunglasses (George's); send another big boy to the potty; fill four water bottles, plus my big one; gather my cell phone, sunglasses, purse; throw in a bottle of sunscreen, just in case; wipe a nose; send the first big boy to the potty, again; answer a phone call; get the stroller out from the back yard; pack the spare diapers and wipes; pack one pair of dry pants, just in case; answer the call of nature (mine this time); put diapers, toys, snack, etc into the bucket on the stroller; put four children in the stroller (yes, it seats four); snap up four safety harnesses (three snaps each); release the brake; and, forty minutes later, awaaaaay we go!!

Hugs are Contagious

There has been an altercation, and Zach is crying. Darcy stands to one side, looking very guilty. Even had I not seen what had happened, the evidence is clear. Nonetheless, I play dumb in an attempt to coax Darcy, normally a very gentle and taciturn soul, to understand and express what has just happened. I draw the sniffling Zach onto my knee and put one arm around Zach. Darcy was the aggressor, though, so I'm not about to give him the first and best attention. I speak to Zach, but of course Darcy is really the intended audience. "I bet that hurt, didn't it, Zach?" "Yeah," a self-pitying whimper. "It's not nice when you get hit. Do you want me to kiss it better?" "Yeah," a little perkier now. "Feel better?" He nods. "Darcy is a big boy. Soon Darcy will remember to use his words when he's upset." Then I turn to Darcy. "Were you upset with Zach?" "Yes. He sat onna rocking chair, and that was my chair." "You wanted him to move?" "Yes, and he didn't move!" "Did you ask him to move?" "Yes, but he wouldn't." "So then what did you do?" Long pause. He looks down at the floor, he looks up to the level of my chin. "I hitted him." "You hit him. Was that the best thing to do?" "No." "What else can you do when you are upset and someone doesn't listen to you?" (All right, so maybe Zach doesn't have to vacate the chair just because Darcy demands it of him, but we're looking at it from Darcy's perspective just yet.) This is not the first time Darcy has participated in, or overheard, such a conversation, so he doesn't have to be prompted for the response. "I can talk to you." "That's right. You can come get me for help. That would be a good thing to do." Time to wrap up. Zach is ready to move on, and Darcy has walked through the process with me. I smile warmly at the two of them, snuggled within my arms. "Okay, Darcy. I think Zach is feeling better now. Now tell me, what are hands for?" "Hugging." "That's right. Hands are for hugging. Much better than hitting!" "I can hug Zach." "What a good idea!" Darcy wraps his arms round Zach, and they share a smiling hug. I give Darcy a hug, and then he trots off to play. Zach is unwilling to give up such a good thing. "I hug Arthur now?" he asks, the first time he's spoken since he was walloped. "Sure, if you like." They hug and laugh into each other's faces. Arthur looks down at Zach, playing the kindly big brother to the hilt. "Did that make you happy, Zach?" "Yes!"

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bad Parents #1 - The Rip-off Artists

I started this blog as a repository for the nasty, bitchy stuff that I can't say to very many people. So far, I've been pretty nice. Because I am, in fact, a nice person. Kindness is one of my virtues. Even when I think I should be, for my own self-respect, a bit harder, I always err on the side of kindness. So you might even say kindness is one of my flaws... Last year I started a child. His parents were affable, the child, unexceptional, either for good or ill. I had no trouble with them. After he'd been in my care for a few months, dad, who was the primary parent, tells me that he's changed jobs, will only be working three days a week, and that they were wondering if their son could move to part time. Now, I have a policy that I don't take part-time children. Or, rather, I do if the parents are willing to pay full-time fees. They knew this. A space is a space: if I can't take on a full time child because little Joey is coming MWF, then I'm out a chunk of money. And, as I'm the primary wage-earner in this household, that matters. However, these parents had some history with me, and appeared to be in a bind. So I very graciously bent my policy, and took a $300/month pay cut. I felt badly for them. Dad was now underemployed, clearly they were in a financial bind, we had a good rapport. In other words, I was kind. Two months later, dad approaches me to tell me that they're giving me two weeks' notice - two weeks, when my contract stipulates two months' - in order to put their child in "Ritzy-tots Daycare Centre"! Now, I know that there's a waiting list for The Ritz at least a year long. In other words, they almost certainly had him on the list before they came to me. Do I feel taken advantage of? Yes, I do! Furthermore, the fees at Ritzy-tots are half again to double mine. When they gave me their notice, I reminded them that since they hadn't given me two months' notice, they would forfeit their deposit and that I'd be cashing the next month's cheque in lieu of notice. No problem, said dad. Didn't even blink. So, not only can they obviously afford a much more expensive daycare, they can, for one month at least, afford to pay fees for BOTH places!! I took a significant pay cut for two months to accommodate people who can afford over two thousand dollars in day care fees!!!! DO I FEEL TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF??? Damned straight I do.

Cute Bum!

George lays on his back on the couch, his little knees beside his ears, his bottom (decently attired in sweatpants) on display to the world. "Cute bum!" I sing, and give it an affectionate swat. He giggles. Thomas sees this, flops himself over beside George: "Do me a cute bum, too!!"

Friday, April 15, 2005

Risk-taking

In my last blog, I suggested that children don't need incessant adult hovering to be safe. In fact, my belief goes further than that: incessant adult hovering increases the risks to that child. I began to develop this idea some years ago. I had a friend who micro-supervised her two children. When in the park, she was never more than a foot away, helping, guiding, assisting. "Put your foot here." Every movement they made, there she was. "Careful, careful". If they overreached, she caught them; if they slipped and fell, she picked them up. If they wanted to climb a structure and couldn't manage it themselves, she'd lift them up. Her monitoring was diligent and unceasing. When she wasn't around, which wasn't often, this woman's children were two of the most accident-prone I'd ever seen! Clearly, they needed that tight supervision. Or did they? As I watched her children, and compared them to other, less tightly monitored kids - the kids of those "unaware" moms, nannies, and caregivers who sat on the benches, sipped coffee, chatted with friends, or even read a book (shocking!) while their children played. These children weren't constantly falling, slipping, landing badly after dropping from a platform, as were my friends'. It became very clear to me that because her children were never allowed to take a risk, no matter how small, they had no capacity at all for judging them. In her very caring efforts to protect and encourage her children, she was actually robbing them of the ability to care for themselves. They call themselves "involved", and "caring" (which implies that the rest of us are 'uninvolved', and 'uncaring'.) I would call them "overinvolved", and "untrusting of their childrens' capacities". They see themselves as protecting their children. Perhaps they are, in the very short term; in the long term, they are endangering their children. So, give yourself a break, Earnest Mommy and Daddy. Take your kid to the park, then park yourself on a bench. Enjoy the sunshine. Chat with a friend. If your child says "I can't reach this tire!" , don't jump up to lift them! Just call back, "Well, if you can't manage it by yourself, it's not safe for you." Let them take a tumble now and then, and let your comforting be calm and matter-of-fact. "Whoops. Sometimes that happens when you swing by your arms, doesn't it?" Dust them off, give them a kiss, and send them back to try again. Trust them.

Parenting Styles - Different Can Be Good

At the park yesterday. What a beautiful day! There with a caregiver friend, and together we watch over our small charges. We sip our coffee, chat, and intervene with the children as necessary. Everyone is content. Another woman - mother? grandmother? - enters the park with a little girl of four or five. The child trots into the sand and onto the play structure. The woman follows. For the next 45 minutes, she trails this child wherever she goes, talking, encouraging, advising, warning. My friend and I continue in our pattern: occasional forays into the sand to dissuade, explain, answer a question, or assist, but otherwise leaving the children to their play. This is perfectly acceptable, each adult interacting with their child(ren) in their chosen manner. Well, it was perfectly acceptable to my friend and I, but clearly not acceptable to the other woman, who, after shooting us unfriendly glowers for a quarter of an hour, starts to call out warnings and advisories on our childrens' activities: "Your little boy is climbing this ladder!" "Should she be up there?" "Did you know that little girl is on the bench?" Our answers were polite, though increasingly, we were annoyed and offended. "Yes, it's all right, he's safe. Yes, she's fine. Yes, we see her, thanks." Eventually she gave up on us, and we know that there went a woman who is inwardly disparaging us for our poor supervision of the children. She sees it through the window of her expectations: to properly supervise children, you must be within arms' reach of their every action. We see it through ours: that children who are playing happily can be allowed to do so unhindered. It's a matter of respect for the child, and a little bit of adult humility. I don't believe that the only quality interaction for a child is with an adult. Yes, adult perspectives can enrich a child's life, but they're pretty good at discovering things themselves. They don't need incessant adult hovering. Our children were happy, they were safe. I've noted that, generally speaking, people with only one child make a few, often unconscious, assumptions: that their nurture will determine the nature of their child in a direct and encompassing way; that the way they do things as parents is the right way; and the way their children were at a certain age is the way all children of that age are (or should be). People who have reared more than one child discover that children raised by the same parents in the same way turn out quite, quite differently; that in fact, there are almost as many good ways to raise a child as there are parents and children; and that there is huge variation in what is "normal". So, glowering woman in the park: Piss off. Take your judgments elsewhere. Open your mind to the concept that differences can be good, that different is valid. And learn to trust your child a little more.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

On Being Angry

This scene has played out any number of times with parents of both genders, though I've noted that more of them are women than men. A parent stands in my entryway. Their child has decided that they don't want to come to daycare, or that they do want that particular toy - which is at home - or they don't want to put on their slippers... You get the picture. The child takes out their frustration on their parent, and smacks them, or screams, or head-butts their chest. Again, you get the picture. The parent looks at me. I smile supportively, but until I'm given the go-ahead to deal with it, I'm very reluctant to breach parental authority. That's the situation, but what is the emotional reaction of the parent? I'm sure it varies from parent to parent.They're sometimes embarrassed, because they have this notion (not entirely inaccurate) that their child never does this to me. Perhaps they're embarrassed because the child doesn't do this at home, but is playing to the audience. Or embarrassed because it happens too often. They may be impatient to get on with their day and past this little scene. And not infrequently, they are angry with their child. If they are angry only because they are embarrassed, I am only semi-supportive. However, if they are angry because they have been hit or screamed at, I am very supportive. I've regularly had parents look at me and express anger at being treated this way by their two-year-old. This doesn't surprise me. However, they further express tremendous guilt at being angry. The first time I heard this, it truly surprised me. It does no more, because it's happened so many times. Let's examine this. Someone has struck you, you instinctively feel anger at being so treated - and then you feel guilty for the anger. Why? If that someone was thirty-two, would you feel guilt? I doubt it. We have such difficulties with anger. Despite common opinion, anger is not wholly negative. In fact, anger, appropriately motivated, directed, and channelled, can be a positive force. It is not wrong to feel anger when your child aggresses against you. It would be very wrong to aggress in response; it would be wrong to hit them back, scream in their face, or shake them. Wrong, dangerous, and in some instances, criminal. However, none of my parents has, to my knowledge, ever responded like that to their anger. They just feel anger - and for that they feel guilty! Stop it, I say! You have a right to feel anger when you are aggressed against. It is not your pride or your ego reacting here, it is your self-respect. You have a right to expect - and see to it that you receive - respect. You treat your child respectfully. Your child needs to learn to treat you this way also. Respect in the best relationships is mutual. So, what to do? First, accept your response. If you're feeling anger, because someone has hit you, it's more than likely appropriate and justified. The question is not, "How do I not be angry?" but rather, "How do I respond constructively to this situation"? You are, after all, in exactly the situation your child is in. He or she is angry, and so has lashed out. You are angry. You, however, choose not to lash out. You choose to react in a different way. You don't have to pretend not to be angry. In fact, what you can choose to do is model appropriate ways to deal with anger. Not only are you resolving this particular situation, you are teaching your child how they can deal with their anger. Don't be afraid to let your child know you are angry! Use it as a teaching moment. You are not trying to frighten or browbeat the child into submission. You are trying to express anger constructively, so your child will know how it's managed! 1. Stop the physical aggression immediately. If your child has hit you, don't let him/her hit you repeatedly. Grip their wrist firmly, and say with equal firmness, "No hitting. You do not hit me. You can be angry, but you may not hit." (With a verbally capable child, this might be the time to encourage speech. "When we're angry, we don't hit. We talk. Tell me what's wrong." However, if the child merely struggles to be free so that they can wallop you again, save the debrief till the emotions have receded and internal order is restored.) 2. Expect compliance. Do not let go of the wrist until you can feel the tension leave the child. If you misjudge, and they swing at you again when you let go, repeat the step above, and hold longer. Wait for him/her to relax. Repeat your words: "It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hit. No hitting." If you haven't done this before, you may have to explain: "I won't let go until you put your hand down." 3. When they begin to relax, praise/encourage them. "That's better." Release them gently. I have a catch-phrase that I use in these situations, whether the child has aggressed against me or another child: "Remember, hands are not for hitting, hands are for hugging." 4. When the child is no longer coiled to strike, praise them again. Give - and receive - a hug with the child. They need to know it's all right to be angry, that they can be angry, they can express it in other ways, and that they're still love-able, even if they experience anger. Repeat the key concept yet again as you cuddle them. "It's okay to be angry. It's not okay to hit." 5. Quickly move on to the next thing. "All right. Let's have a snack now." (Or read a story, or get out the playdough, or whatever.) Caution: the child is probably still a little emotionally wrought up: do not phrase this as a choice. Do not ask them "Would you like to...?" It's highly unlikely that they can deal with the challenge of a decision just yet. The kids in my care soon grow so accustomed to the catch-phrase, that I can use it as a reminder when I see someone building up to deliver a smack. I'll call out in a cautioning tone, "Uh-oh, Felicity. Watch that hand! Remember, hands are for hugging." It usually suffices. Or, I get the children to finish the sentence for me. "Bascia? What are hands for? Hands are for..." and the children generally chime right in "...hugging!" But remember, mom and dad, that just as your child has the right to expect you to treat them respectfully, you have the right to be treated respectfully by your child. Just as you're trying to teach your child: "It's okay to be angry", it is also okay for you to be angry, too! What matters in every case is the response to the emotion.

Potty Tales

We've been doing so well on the potty front. Guess I was getting a little cavalier about it... Today, after screeching at the track hoe, we went, as you know, to the park. I knew I was taking a chance to take Darcy there sans diaper, but he'd been doing so well. We made it as far as the coffee shop where I stop to get my large decaf latte and meet my fellow-caregiver friend (decaf lactose-free cappucino with cinnamon on top). Darcy was sitting on the pavement in the sun, waiting her arrival, when I noticed he was sitting in a puddle that hadn't been there a moment before. *sigh* For the next story, I need to describe the potty. It looks like a tiny toilet without the tank. A child sits on the seat, and when finished, the bowl is slid out from under the seat, emptied, cleaned, and snapped back in place. At all stages of this process, it continues to look like a teeny toilet. Okay. Home again, after a terrific three hours at the park. Darcy uses the potty before naptime. I scamper upstairs with the bowl. (My exercise routine these days? Fifteen stairs, twenty-seven times a day - by the end of this I'll have amazing thighs, I swear...) I return to the living room, pot in hand, and George is USING the unpotted potty!! Pee is running all over the living room floor. *sigh* And finally, Thomas sits on the now reconstructed potty to take his turn. He's in a bit of a hurry, though, and doesn't get his pants down far enough, and sits too far forward. The result of the poor positioning is that the pee runs across the rim of the potty, instead of into the bowl, and because his pants aren't down far enough, they get wet, too. I react in a little alarm: "Yeek! Push it down, Thomas! Push it down!" He complies, immediately and vigourously, and somehow, don't ask me how, the effect is the same as putting a thumb over a water fountain: a huge and glimmering arc jets across the room! Urine speckles dot the floor, a line of wet runs down my shirt and the left left of my jeans, and poor Georgie, standing just behind me, is similarly annointed. "Hey! Thomas peed on me!" *Sigh*

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Construction Season!!

Across the street, neighbours are having work done on their foundations. While I shudder to think of the expense they're bearing, it certainly makes for good entertainment for my tots. This morning, to our shared delight, a dump truck arrives, pulling a flat on which is a Bobcat!! How incredibly exciting. Little Zach spots it first, and speckles the glass in my screen door with even more fingerprints. His green eyes dance. “Vroom-vroom! Vroom-vroom!” Yup, it's a vroom-vroom all right. Our morning entertainment is set. Out to the porch we go, where three little boys, Thomas, George, and Zach, sit in a row on my front porch and watch the show, baby Alice on my lap. I know the boys will be thrilled by the bedlam, but Alice may need a little extra security... The Bobcat is unchained from the flat, the ramp lowered, and then - oh, can we stand the excitement?!? - the Bobcat drives down the ramp and up the sidewalk!!! This is greeted with ear-splitting shrieks of delight. Because they're well-trained, the boys manage to remain seated, but the amount of bum-bouncing going on out there seems almost certain to create bruises... Alice is starting to bounce, too. I'm not sure whether it's the activity on the street, or the excitement on the porch that's thrilling her, but I need worry no more about her reaction. We're all having a lot of fun! I sit in my chair and sip my tea. It's really not such a bad way to start the day! The Bobcat operator has noticed us, and throws us the occasional grin and wave, enthusiastically returned. The boys holler across the street, their shrill little voices completely swallowed by the roars of the machinery. It doesn't get much better: noisy machinery, dirt, construction workers (aka “workin' guys”), and being allowed to scream your little lungs out un-shushed! Alice's little arms and legs wave convulsively, and she adds her not inconsiderable voice to the volume. Everyone is wholly, body and mind, enthralled. When the excavation is complete, the Bobcat is once more secured to the flat. The driver climbs into the truck, and then calls out the window: “Have they ever heard an air horn?” Who cares?? Would they like to hear one now? The dump truck starts up. That's thrilling. All that lovely noise. He backs up a bit. Even better - now there's the roar of the motor and beeping, too! And then, as the truck pulls out into the street? Two solid blasts of an air horn. Alice starts, then squeals with delight. Her little arms flail past my nose. The boys are practically airborne in their glee. They rise to their feet and dance in ecstasy, every little limb thrumming. The driver waves his hand out the window, the boys shriek their goodbyes, and, with one final “braaap!”, the truck leaves. Life is very good.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Nap Time, Happy Time

I love naptimes! It's almost two, and everyone's snoozing. It's a wet and drippy day, as well, and I've long noted that they tend to sleep longer and more soundly when it's grey and dreary out there. Naptime. That hiatus of peace and reflection in the middle of the day. I could undeniably spend it in an energetic attempt to restore order - but to what end?? In another hour, they'll all be up and chaos will once more be reinstated. Not chaos of behaviour, I hasten to add. A comment I've received consistently from parents over the years is how calm my home is. But material chaos? Oh, absolutely. I used to feel guilty about this, and I continue to feel some degree of embarrassment. After all, I do know caregivers who keep an orderly home, and still provide superior care. I used to console myself that they must needs ignore the kids in order to clean constantly, but of course that isn't true. They're just way more dedicated to the task, and thereby consistent in its implementation. I tend to get engrossed in what we're doing, absent-mindedly plonking down that thing in my hand on the nearest available surface... It isn't long before there are no available surfaces, when that's your "strategy". Can't blame anyone but myself for that. I know it. Still, the place is safe. Stairs are gated, outlets are plugged, wires are hidden, toys are categorized so that everyone's playing with age-appropriate equipment. And we have fun! Right now, though, while I'm happily blogging away, the playdough toys are strewn all over the diningroom table. A more visual and orderly person would not be able to settle into another task with that laying there, oppressing them. For me, it's okay. They'll get put away when the kids leave, or, at worse, when we're setting the table for dinner tonight. My aunt - my parenting mentor - once wisely told me that we tend to eradicate such behaviours as we totally can't stand because we are 100% consistent about it. I completely abhor whining. None of my kids (biological or daycare) whine. I don't like clutter, true, but I love my solitude even more. In the long run, time for quiet reflection is more important to me than a clutter-free dining table. And besides, Thomas wants to finish his playdough "dog-poop" (potty training is underway, and we're heavily into excrementory humour these days) when he wakes up... One day, I'll be retired, and my house will stay clean once it's been cleaned! What an amazing thought! I'll revel in clean surfaces and orderly shelves. I truly will. Until then, I need to sit and read and think and write in the small windows of stillness I can claim. Guilt-free!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

No, I'm not soooo Patient!

I run a home daycare. This means I care for several toddlers and infants in my home. I love my work. It's fun, stimulating, and makes good use of my skills and training. I get to laugh each and every day. Sure, some days I wish my clientele didn't come in and trash my home on a daily basis, but other days, I can't believe I get paid to have this much fun!! Generally, though, it's not the children that cause any wee glitches in my life: it's the adults. Not necessarily their parents, though I've had some doozies! Most of the parents are terrific folk. And most of the adults I come in contact with during my work are enchanted by the kids, and react very nicely to me. But some days.... Something I hear very often is "You must be soooo patient!" I always smile and acknowledge the compliment, because of course it's a compliment. So why, I wondered aloud to my husband, is it annoying me so damned much these days?? "Because", he perceptively commented, "it implies that any doofus can do your job if they're just patient enough." Yeah! It'd be like me telling an investment banker, "Gee, I bet you can add and subtract like lightening, huh??" In fact, I'm not all that patient. I'm often not nearly as patient as the parents of the children I care for - is this why they so often behave better for me? Don't misunderstand: I don't snap at the poor mites if they spill their milk, throw a toy across the room, nor even if someone bites someone else. These things are part of daily life with two-year-olds. If something spills, you help them wipe it up and/or give them a cup with a lid. If something is thrown, you show them how to put it away nicely and warn against it in future. If someone bites, you help them find other ways to express their frustration, and show them how to comfort the injured child. Accidents and spills are an almost unavoidable result of their lack of coordination, and I have lots of patience for it. I don't, however, have endless patience with biting (nor any other aggressive and/or dangerous behaviour). I don't ignore it, and assume it'll go away on its own. I don't excuse the behaviour, because they're tired, or hungry, or angry, or whatever. Indeed, they may be tired, hungry, or angry. I feel those ways, too, and I don't throw things or bite people, tempting as it may be at times. We have to start to learn this kind of self-control early in life, because it's a tough lesson! Therefore, I deal with it promptly, firmly, and confidently expect it to cease. (Biting is a straightforward one: it typically takes no more than three weeks to eradicate). You know what I love to hear when I'm out with my tots? I love to hear you tell me how well-behaved they are. Or how happy they look. Or how cute it is that they all know the actions to the song we're singing. So, when you see a caregiver out with their children, don't coo over how patient they must be. If you do, you may very likely be trying that sainted patience, and tempting fate at the same time... If you comment on their good behaviour or their cheerful demeanour, on how content, or happy, or well-supervised they are -- you are saying something that the caregiver can take solid satisfaction in, a real compliment for a job well done!