First Day of Summer

Let’s talk about today.

First off, I started the week by putting my back out. Mr. O is going through a second phase of stranger anxiety but at 18 months instead of nine. So now he’s twice as heavy as a 9-month-old. And I’m twice as old as somebody who should be hauling around any baby.

When Famous Carol came to sub for me to go to Younger Son’s graduation from elementary school, I picked up a screaming Mr. O, the back went pop and so, pretty much, did the rest of my week.

With school out I don’t have to transport the boys back and forth, which is great, and I love having them home more than anything. But they are two extra bodies in the house who, however self-sufficient, still need attention and feeding and leave a trail of dishes, crumbs, and wet/dirty/smelly clothes in their wake.

Younger actually wants to help with the day care kids, which is awesome, but requires extra work in finding supplies and cleaning up after the highly complicated art projects he chooses at random each morning.

I had an interview coming at noon and had to print out a contract – and the printer was out of ink. I should add that an interview makes you want to have everything clean and tidy. But there are seven kids underfoot who don’t care all that much about cleanliness. And that just creates a lot of angry noise in your brain that you’re carrying around on top of the usual chaos.

The weather has been crazy this week and it was downpouring all morning. At 10:15 when there was a break in the rain I told the kids, we need to get out in the yard now before it comes back! Once we got there, the skies cleared and the sun was beating down on us.

I hadn’t brought out any supplies for swimming (towels, bathing suits, change of clothes) but the children were already half-naked and jumping in the pool full of rain water.

Well, OK fine, they’re distracted, we’ll deal with that mess later, I thought. Now is the perfect time to put together my new climber that the neighbors donated and are bringing over at this very moment. The interview will see it and think, what an awesome place to bring my daughter. That climber will put me over the edge, I’m sure of it!

The babies were running around naked with soaking wet “pendulum diapers,” as my neighbor noted. Miss A was playing a half-serious game of chase with Mr. L in which she showed him her doll, he tried to take it, and she ran away screaming, “You can’t have my doll!”

I stopped her and explained that she should stop showing it to him if she didn’t want him to take it. She listened politely, showed Mr. L the doll again, and ran away screaming with him trailing behind her.

I realized the climber was going to need more help than a good swift kick to pop it together, so I went to grab the rubber mallet out of the garage. Not there. But this small axe should do the trick!

The two big girls were playing a game of princess rescue in which one of them hid somewhere in the yard and screamed in pain to warn the prince that she needed help. This game intersected with the baby doll chase and four children were now running through the yard tackling each other with various levels of real- and fake-pain screams. The babies were beginning to melt down, lunch time was approaching, and I feared my interview could walk in at any moment.

Pay no attention to the axe in the play area.

I hustled the sweaty, dirty, crying, mosquito-bitten, sunburned, droopy-drawered children into the house and somehow miraculously managed to get them all cleaned up, changed, and sitting down ever-so-beautifully at the lunch table when the interview arrived.

I found out five minutes after she arrived that she used to be a preschool teacher. She was completely nonplussed by the disaster, and sat down with a book and two kids on her lap while I finished cleaning up lunch. Some things are meant to be.

They left and I put the kids down for nap and to have a lie-down on the living room floor (oh yes the back is still twinging amidst all this). I have lately fashioned a pillow out of two comforters and a pillow case for Mr. L who, instead of drinking his water, dumped it out in his bed and wailed about having a wet bed.

It’s 1:50. I’m just sitting down to lunch. We’re only two hours behind schedule. And I’m just a few clicks away from a nervous breakdown. Welcome, summer!

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Just One of Those Days

It was Wednesday. It started out with me melting down at my own kids, then one of them melting down, a melting down baby all morning, and a different one melting down all afternoon. It was not a pretty day.

I slogged through it the best I could, repeating the mantra: This is not my fault. Just get through it. (Then I realized how awesome that mantra is for much of parenting.)

I have always said childrens’ behavior is affected by the barometer, and meltdown-day was a perfect example of that. The weekend was crazy beautiful spring warm. Then we had two below-30-degree nights. On Wednesday rain clouds were coming, it got humid, and you could actually feel that air pressure growing.

Kids are like horses, forest animals, and Spiderman. They have these weird extra senses that make them act crazy for no apparent reason. Loud airplanes make them cry. A drop in air pressure makes them unbearable. A full moon – fuggedaboudit.

But the best part about a day like meltdown-day is, I know that really, it’s not my fault. I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, I’m doing a lot of things right. I know which cries to let go, which to challenge, which to hug. I know who wins the toy in the tug-of-war (the boy who was being ganged up on by two girls) but I know to call said boy on his bad behavior a few minutes later when he hits someone.

What’s the best remedy for a day like this? Early nap. (But even then one sleeps for an hour, wakes up, and starts melting down.) Other remedies: patience. Distractions. New toys. Singing, music, and dancing. Sitting quietly and letting them each come to you in turn for attention and hugs. Chocolate.

A few years ago I would have beaten myself up relentlessly for a day like this. I would have felt like I was letting it happen, that somehow I had set the stage for everyone’s miserable mood. Or that all the hard work I’ve put in with these kids was just washed away. That I was failing to entertain them enough, to control their behavior, or just even do the basic job of child care.

Now I’m smarter. I know that when it gets bad, there’s pretty much nothing I can do except keep everybody safe. I know that every bad day ends, and on the next one everything will feel easier and better. You just have to get through the hard ones with the least amount of damage possible.

Thursday came, a new day, and it was beautiful. A perfect sunny spring day. We were outside all morning, everyone having a grand old time. In fact at one point I literally thought: “I am really good at this job.” Then had to laugh at myself, remembering the day before when I had the sneaking suspicion that I was unfit to care for children.

How to Get Kids to Sit During Story Time

As you may know, I’ve recently become obsessed with finding out what people are searching for on my blog. Here’s the latest question: how do you get several small children who have the attention spans of a gnat to sit quietly in a circle and listen attentively to the riveting story you are reading to them?

The answer: You don’t.

Well, not totally. There are a few tricks, but we have to accept that sometimes (and for certain kids especially if they’re under two), they’re just not gonna sit. And when they do, like my Tornado did yesterday, I say “Yeay yeay yeay!!” and hug and kiss them and thank them for sitting. And then he stayed for 45 seconds and was gone.

And two of them are fighting over a toy and one is sitting on the wrong mat so the owner of said mat is screaming and kicking the other one, and you’ve already had it with circle time so why even bother?

I remember a (frazzled) provider who came to one of my trainings and really wanted to know how to do a proper circle time. I said if it’s not working just try something else for a while. She was so concerned when she told me, “But the state says it’s required.”

There are a lot of things that the state requires of two-year-olds that two-year-olds are simply not going to do.

But you should have a circle time, and it does work for certain kids. Even if you have two wandering around, let them go. It’s worth it for the kids who want to be there (the twins tell their mother every day that circle time was their favorite part of the day, even if we didn’t have a circle). And eventually the others may or may not get interested and join in, and eventually they’ll get older too and then they’ll sit down for you. As long as you have one child’s attention, go for it. It seems silly but then, so does a lot of other stuff in child care.

Here’s what you do. Have mats for them to sit on, each with their own assigned mat. For a while I was using a big pile of placemats that someone had donated to me and we spent fifteen minutes every day fighting over who got the best mat. (Of course, if you’re really smart, you’ll just get a bunch of mats that look exactly alike.) Some people use carpet scraps which is awesome, but my local carpet dealer “already donated ours to the library.” Thanks a lot.

Homemade mats and Miss M's feet

Yes I do everything with kids around

So being the resourceful and inventive provider that I am, I made mats! (Out of felt – see pic at right.)

My next trick to get them involved is singing the transition song:

(to the tune of “Have You Ever Seen a Lassie“)

It’s time to sit for circle
For circle for circle
It’s time to sit for circle so come to your mat

That gets most of them, at least the ones who want to come. If there’s a holdout, wait for the others to get settled and then announce that if someone is not on their mat you can’t sing their name in the name song! Then sing the name song to the same tune:

Oh here we are together
Together together
Oh here we are together how happy are we!
There’s Janey and Johnny and Jackie and Joey
Oh here we are together how happy are we!

If they don’t come, they don’t come – but they don’t get their name sung. As I sing their name I tickle them too, they love it.

Also sometimes I will hold the youngest one in my lap but I don’t like to encourage it because them they all want your lap and it’s not circle it’s a pig-pile.

Next I try to read a short book with good pictures. I don’t usually read all the words, but we talk about what’s on the pages. “What’s on that page? Pigs? What color are they? How many are there? Let’s count them. What do the piggies say? What are they doing? Are they happy? What’s going to happen to their food?” Or if it’s a good story I just skip to the high points, or tell it with a lot of emotion and they get interested.

I do try to get them to sit on their mats – at least fifteen times per circle. Our biggest problem is that they want to stand up and point at the pages of the books. I know it’s something they like to do, but I also know it’s something they like to do to be naughty. Because as soon as someone stands up you get “I can’t SEEEEEE” and it’s all fun and games from there. So I just keep reminding/asking them to stay on their mat. “I can’t keep reading until we’re all sitting down!”

(Keep in mind that some days – nobody will sit down. Tell them you gave it a shot but circle’s over, we’ll try again tomorrow, and move on to the next. Do not blame yourself.)

Now here’s a good trick: whoever did the best job sitting during the book gets to be the first to pick a song to sing. I got the idea for these song sheets from yet another mentor, Dolores.

Yeah, Dolores laminated hers

More examples of my awesome drawing skills!

She was the person who encouraged me to have a circle time. She was shocked when I said I didn’t. “Why not!?” she demanded. I said, “Why bother? They won’t sit down!” So the very next week she showed up with her song sheets and showed me just how they would sit down. And she was right.

After singing these songs with lots of dance and hand movements, we get to put on real music. Something I do every day is a bunch of songs from Kira Willey’s “Dance for the Sun.” It’s yoga for kids and they really do it, I swear!

And if you followed that link – yeah, I know it’s kinda annoying how beautiful, athletic, talented, and zen she is.

Then I have a ton of kids’ cds that we pick and choose from. I have a rainy day song by my friend Dennis where we jump around on construction paper puddles. (If you follow the link, click Bow Wow Baby, track 10, “The Rain Came Down.”)

Another good resource is Wee Sing because they have games that go with the songs. Or NIEHS or Songs for Teaching. You can also go to the library – hundreds of children’s CDs, if you can copy them you’re golden. (Sorry children’s music artists – we providers don’t make a lot of money.)

Honestly, singing and dancing is the biggest part of circle time. I stretch out the song charts and dancing for as looooong as I can, especially in these cold winter months. If you have those cool little egg shakers you can pass them out occasionally and play with the different rhythms. None of these activities is more important than another, it’s just the fact that you’re all together and you’re really connecting with them. (And yeah, there are a hundred learning benefits but that’s another post.)

So, good luck and I hope some of these tricks work for you. Remember if you have two or three kids sitting on mats listening to you, and two or three wandering around – it’s OK. Let the wanderers go and just focus on the kids in front of you – they’re happy to be there, they’re learning, and you’re giving them some really great preparation for when they get to school.

The Last Snack Picnic of the Year

As I sit here on a cold, rainy November day, I’m already hating winter and pining for summer. This was the last warm day we had:

Aren't they cute?

Snaaaaack!!!

It was October 28. It was unseasonably warm and I knew it was probably our last chance for a while, so we had snack picnic. The kids LOVE snack picnic. They’d have it today if I’d let them, sitting out in the rain getting all cold and soggy.

And yes, by the way, they did ride their bikes to snack picnic. There’s no better way to make an entrance.

Goin’ On Vacation!

I’m leaving for vacation this weekend, hallelujah!!! I literally look forward to this all year. It’s not enough. Ten days per year to disappear with your family is simply not enough. While our society is collapsing, and we have to figure out how to rebuild it, can we maybe work in some extra vacation days?

Anyway with all the goings-on to prepare for this trip, and more baseball, and a friend’s birthday party, and a class I’m taking, and a family reunion, I haven’t had a chance to write a new post so I dug down into the archives. This is an oldie but goodie from my early years of child care, when I was still kind of amazed at the amount of destruction several small people in a confined space can create. (I’m over being awed by it now.)

I used to write for a provider newsgroup (remember those?), and the title of my column was “What Was I Thinking?” So I cleverly named this entry:

No Really, What Was I Thinking?

Today was just one of those days. Rainy. Muggy. I don’t mean just muggy, I mean the kind of muggy that my uncle describes as “walking out the door and having someone put a wet towel on your head.” The pressure is palpable. Everyone’s tired and cranky. None of the kids have been sleeping well this week and they are overtired. So in all my wisdom, I decided to let them paint!

The 13-month-old was down for a nap (or a half-hour screaming session, I should say, because he’s pretty much given up on the whole sleeping thing) so I let the 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 18-month-old have some paper and paint.

Older Son, the 4-year-old, is actually doing pretty well. I give him droppers, which he loves, but he’s not happy with the first two so I have to keep trying until I find one which is 1. not plugged with old paint and 2. provides the proper amount of suction for the artiste’s desired paint splattering effect. The 18-month-old, Mr. G, is using his dropper as a paintbrush. So be it, at least the paint is getting on the paper and being moved around in an appropriately artistic fashion.

In the meantime, Younger Son (the 2-year-old) can’t figure out the dropper so he just paints himself. It’s all over his hands, arms, stomach, chest, and face (for just this reason, I pretty much get him naked anytime he paints). Older sees how delightful this is and paints himself too.

Younger has so much paint on his body, I literally can not get it all off with a washcloth or wipe, so there is only one thing left to do. Into the kitchen sink he goes. There is paint in his nose, eyes, and ears. Even after I wipe his face twice he still looks like he’s been punched in the nose and crying for two days (once our doctor got very concerned about the tint of his skin. We had to explain and, well, I guess he believed us). While I’m showering Younger with the sink hose, Older takes his self-beautification one step further and paints his hair.

Older sees that Younger is having a personal rubdown in the sink. Was there some microscopic part of me that believed I could get away with that one? “Momeeeeeee, I waaannaaa go in the sink tooooo!” This is so strange to me because it’s always the other way around: Older the ringleader and Younger the devoted partner in crime.

While I, as the mommy and knower of all things regarding my children’s emotional growth, am grappling with this sudden unexpected power shift, Mr. G trots into the kitchen, opens the cabinet, and dumps all the spoons and forks on the floor. I take Younger out of the sink, grab a towel, and herd them both into the play room.

Mr. G is pitching a screaming fit: Oh no, put me back in coach, I’m ready to destroy something else! Older is climbing into the sink. Normal mothers would stop this from happening, but…I am not a normal mother in a normal situation at the moment.

So, alright, fine, let it go, he’s happy there, don’t break it. At least he’ll stay put for maybe five minutes. I decide that Mr. G can do one of his favorite jobs — wipe the table with a cloth. The paint on the table is actually at a minimum because I’ve finally (after two years of doing this job, mind you) figured out to give them each just a LITTLE bit of paint.

But, you say, if I gave them only a LITTLE bit of paint, how did Younger manage to paint his whole body? Let’s just say he’s a very resourceful little man.

Thinking I’ll try to do something productive in the middle of this disaster, I hand Mr. G a Clorox wipe (clean the paint – kill the germs!). Somewhere in my optimistic (deluded) mind I think I can stay with Mr. G at the table, and I don’t have to worry that he’s holding a piece of cloth that is saturated with a potentially dangerous chemical.

Unfortunately, the next thing I hear is Older screeching “Mommy, the thing is stuck! Help, I’m stuck!”

When you know that your four-year-old child is sitting naked in the kitchen sink and that you have a disposal, hearing those words can cause you some alarm.

I go dashing in to check that he’s not in serious danger. Meanwhile, Mr. G disappears with the Clorox wipe. I can see that Older is not actually trapped in the sink disposal (he was exaggerating!? No!), so I quickly go back to find Mr. G. He is sticking the Clorox wipe in his eye.

I fix Mr. G up and go back to the kitchen to find out what Older’s crisis of the moment is. He has jammed the cover to the sink disposal in the hole, upside down, and he’s chest-high in water (don’t ask me how a very tall 4-year-old boy can cram himself into a kitchen sink, I suspect he’s quite possibly a freak of nature).

Normally I would let a unique challenge like this one wait until I have time to fix it, but it’s my kitchen sink in the middle of a day care day! So I run to the basement to grab something to pry it free with. When I come back up I can hear Younger and Mr. G having water play in the bathroom. Normally I would stop this catastrophe before it starts but right now I’m up to my elbows in red paint water, wrestling a drain cover with two screwdrivers.

Younger recently decided that he’s going to potty train himself, and decides it’s time to try out the new potty seat. I am delighted, and trying to keep an eye on him through the door. He’s like his big brother – he needs his “privacy” (like their father, but that’s another story. For me, “privacy” was a thing of the past as soon as I felt the first contraction).

I can see Younger positioning himself just right over the chair. It’s taken him a LONG time to even be willing to sit on it, and my mommy pride is welling up, watching my little darling boy try so hard. Still, I’m expecting to see an empty pot because that’s all he’s been able to accomplish so far. When he’s done, he drags me in to see the results. What I see is a puddle spreading across the floor. The bottom wasn’t on the potty seat!!

OK, lift Younger up and get him out of the bathroom while cheering madly because he’s just gone pee-pee on the potty for the first time ever, and screaming wildly (but on the inside) because there is a giant puddle of pee flowing across the bathroom floor. As I’m removing Younger from the situation (and trying not to let his pee-soaked feet touch my body), Mr. G climbs down from his stool, grabs his blankie, walks through the pee, and heads right for the living room rug.

I start mopping the bathroom and kitchen floors when I notice that Mr. G has decided to bring me my coffee. Now usually he just grabs it and happily dumps it on the floor, so this is a big improvement. I’m touched by his thoughtfulness. I give him credit for trying so hard, but cringe while I watch the coffee dribbling a little trail behind him.

I manage to finally get everyone de-peed, dressed, and in the same place at the same time. I put on a movie and try to catch my breath for a minute while three children fight for space on my lap. I feel a bit like I’m ready to cry and surely the end of the day can’t come soon enough. I glance at the clock to see if it’s time to get the baby out of the crib. It’s 9:38 AM.