Yesterday was the boys’ first full day off since school started. I was having summer flashbacks – oh Lord, the long exhausting days filled with one disaster after another. The non-stop cleaning and chasing and nagging my boys to quit whatever it was they were doing and find something else. Then giving them four or five different options and hearing, “Nah!” to each one.
Yea, I was dreading it a little.
So instead of trying to come up with games and projects and activities, I set one simple goal for myself: stay present.
The idea was that I would just hang with them, and not be running around distracted all day. Because that’s when they want your attention the most and will start acting like lunatics to get it.
I had the 16-month-old Tornado, three 2-year-olds, a 5-year-old, and of course Younger (7) and Older (9). Just a slight age range there. Shouldn’t be any problem keeping them all happy…
I prepared myself for anything by being totally unprepared.
The morning started off peacefully. In fact, I couldn’t believe how well it was going. Could it be that my plan was working? Older Son has always been into secrets and sneaking. While looking through his Lego catalog he found a Harry Potter secret code. He figured it out, transcribed it, added some of his own letters that were missing, and asked me to make copies for his friend so they could write secret messages. I was so excited. I asked if I could use the secret code and he started writing me notes. I was in the club!!!
Of course pretty soon the notes were all about his Halloween candy and I had to tell him he couldn’t have it until after he ate a good lunch, so even our super-cool secret spy club stuff was invaded by boring old Mommy. But I was spending time with him, making codes and passing notes.
Younger Son was feeling left alone by Older’s attention to his new project, so he started his own. (Usually they are inseparable, so in the rare times when Older finds something private to do Younger’s on his own for a while.) He set up a store for the day care kids. They had to take some magnet money off the white board and they could buy stickers, toys, or books. Miss S, my other after-schooler, was his assistant. The littles were thrilled.
After a little more play time and snack, I announced that it was circle time. Older told me, “I like being here to see what you’re doing all day.” (He needs to know everything that’s going on so he can be in charge.) I said, “Do you think it’s boring?” and he said, “No, I didn’t think you did circle time anymore.” I explained that I dropped it over the summer because it would never work with big kids around. He thought that was silly and asked for his mat.
Sure enough, I gave up on circle time after six interruptions by the big kids.
These are the moments I want to remind him of when he demands to know why I’m not home-schooling him.
So we went outside. I have one newer child, Miss M, who I’m still building trust with. So I take it easier on her than the other kids because 1. I’m not sure she trusts me yet and 2. she’s more sensitive to it than the others. You lay off these kids until you know they can handle it. Well today she had to handle it. She was hanging around the open gate letting the Tornado out, and because my hands were full of twins, I barked at her to “SHUT THE GATE and come HERE!” instead of using my calm and professional child care provider voice to ask her very nicely to please move.
I waited nervously to see how she would respond. It can go either way – take it and move on, or lose it and bawl. She didn’t just take it – she LOVED it. If I barked at her the same way I bark at the other kids, then she knows she’s in the club now. We had that little shift – she could tell I’m not treating her differently than the others somehow. And I know this was a very good thing – we’ve taken one more step in the subtle dance of trust.
Being present. It’s a beautiful thing.
Let me clarify for the person who is appalled that a provider is yelling at kids. I have many tones of voice that I use throughout the day, and sometimes, “barking” is one of them. It is necessary in situations where I may be up to my elbows in something and not able to reach a child, and my voice has to stop said child because my body can’t get there fast enough.
And it may be that I’m human and they’ve pushed me too far (one versus seven, remember?). As I work with kids I try to teach them that we all get angry, and there are lots of ways to deal with it, and when we’re done being angry we apologize and make it better. For more thoughts you can check out this post, but I’m sure I’ll be back on this topic again sometime.
Back in the house. It’s almost nap time and my boys are crazy-wrestling in the area where one of the twins has to calmly and quietly lay down to sleep. They won’t come out and I can feel my anger rising. Instead of losing it (that would be the opposite of my goal for the day), I used one of my teacher tricks. “I’m counting down from five and if you’re not out of there you get no more Halloween candy today!”
They were out by three.
They did calm down and were amusing themselves nicely for quiet time, but Miss S (who’s too old to nap) was needing some attention. She asked for an envelope for her artwork but didn’t like the first one I got. She asked for a folder, and I went and got that too.
Did she like that one? No.
But I didn’t lose it. I reminded myself that she takes her art very seriously and she was trying to be quiet. I took a breath and told her, “Use this one for now, and then I’ll get you another one later. I don’t want to wake up the baby.” She looked right in my eyes, nodded very seriously, and waited until later.
The rest of the day flowed. I sat on the floor, I let kids crawl on me, we danced, we did puzzles and read books, we laughed at stupid kid jokes that make no sense. Younger and Miss S taped some poster boards together and drew a six-foot-long picture. And I was right there with them the whole way. You want poster boards? I’ll dig them out of the basement. You need tape? Right here on the shelf. Yes, I can help you pull off a piece of masking tape that’s long enough to fit without tangling it while singing “Five Little Ducks” as the twins jostle for space on my lap. I indulged them all day instead of trying to bend them to fit my plans. I remembered the words of my mentor Pam, who said, Just sit down. I did it, and it was awesome.