The Presence of Bella

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It’s been a while since my last update, but it is still clear that Bella is ever-present in Evelyn’s daily life.
When I attempt to hand things to Evelyn, or ask her to take my hand, she pauses to place Bella somewhere safe. Yesterday, I unfolded her sweaty little hand to relieve her of Bella so she was able to grab the slide with both hands for climbing.
(There they are in the photo above! I asked Evie to hold Bella out for a photo.)
What is especially cool is the fact that Bella is a fairy. Her size, and wings, make her adventures so different from Katherine’s imaginary friends. I think Bella’s “stature challenges” will be very useful to Evelyn as she, herself, is on the tiny side. And, of course, Bella is almost useless when it comes to picking up toys which keeps Evelyn on clean-up duty alone. HA!
We’ve started noticing that Bella engages in many of the naughty things that Evelyn does. She and Evelyn have each engaged in writing on themselves with pens and locking doors.
Yes, fairies have pens but they are “really tiny ones”. As each day starts anew, I’m happy to announce that Evelyn and Bella took a tubby last night and came in all clean and shiny this morning. We’ll see if the talk I had with them did any good.

One thing that Evelyn’s imaginary friend can do, that Katherine’s never could, is ride on the bubbles that we blow and swiftly flutter to safety when the crowd gets too rowdy. Oh the places we may go!
Another interesting difference is that Bella has no pets, family, or friends. Katherine’s, Zabby Eight, had a multitude of new characters almost daily!
Bella and Evelyn are going to Myrtle Beach next week and, soon after, they’ll be coming to camp. As fairies are very discreet, I’ll have to listen extra well to find out more. I promise that this is going to be fun!

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Bella Helps

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Evelyn is continuing to bring her imaginary, fairy-like friend, Bella to day care.
I want to take this opportunity to add that imaginary friends have been discriminated against for years. When Evelyn’s sister started with them (7 years ago), most of the expert opinion literature was divided about their worthiness to be encouraged. Encouraging them once they appear of their own accord, I might add. I was extremely careful not to be involved in their creation. This was handled well by only asking questions.

We (My daughter, Ellen, and I) had a blast with older sister Katherine’s friends. It was a delightful experience from which I vowed never to deem imaginary friends unworthy again.
(In fact, as an advocate, I’m waiting for just the right moment to suggest that imaginary friends might want to consider unionizing.)
The biggest benefit became clear when I was able to discuss manners and safety by including the imaginary friend. Children under 5 or 6 simply do not know what truth is, and so, when Katherine began blaming her friend, Zabby, for some of the rule infractions, I took advantage of that chance to address my displeasure. I sternly told Zabby what would happen if she OR Katherine did those things again. After all, taking responsibility for one’s actions is a very difficult, mature concept. Many of our adult public servants haven’t even learned that lesson… a small child is simply unarmed. Later on, taking responsibility was also discussed with the imaginary friend. In fact, we approached many topics from the shared responsibility Katherine and I developed in raising Zabby to be a good citizen.

Bella has already been helpful. Evelyn and I have been “showing her the ropes” for day care. We’ve told her about the danger of opening doors without permission and to watch for babies’ fingers when we close them too. Evelyn and I thought of one specific safety issue which only applies to Bella. When she flutters around on her fairy wings, we warned her not to go near Pepe’ who might mistake her for a pesky fly and swat her!
I still find myself carrying Bella in my own cupped hand longer than I need to. Ha! And you thought Bella was not real. I certainly believe.
Yesterday, Evelyn was dismayed that Bella wouldn’t take a cracker. When I asked about the size of Bella and the size of the cracker, Evelyn drew her own conclusion about the cracker being too heavy. And late yesterday afternoon, Evelyn took a “tubby” in my sink at the same time as Bella was safely in her own small Tupperware tubby.
Evelyn even treated me to a lesson in “How to kiss a fairy.” before her Mom went to work. (Incidentally, Ellen was in tears suppressing laughter during my instruction.). Every time I puckered and gently kissed the palm of my hand, it was incorrect. Then Evelyn adjusted her lips (looked like she was chewing gum) then gently brushed her lips across her own palm. I just didn’t measure up in fairy kissing all day.
I’m going to practice today…wish me luck.

Let’s Go, Bella.

It is going to be somewhat difficult to add photos to the Pa-Pa-Pa Bella posts. I’m not new to imaginary friend blogging and already know they are especially hard to pin down for photo shoots.
Today, Evelyn convinced me that Bella is here to stay. I caught her talking into the palm of her hand several times. On one occasion, I heard her sighing, “Awwww.” and kissing her hand.
Her manner was so genuine that it touched my heart.
Around noon, she walked up to me and gently slid her hand into mine asking me to watch Bella. With a cupped hand, I left the room to make lunch and this is when the phone rang. Just so you know how completely I had bought into Bella’s presence, I actually turned and put her on my kitchen table before answering. Ha! Yes, that is the absolute truth.
Later on, when Ellen showed up at day’s end, Evelyn cupped her hand and told her mother to hold Bella. Ellen was gathering boots and bags and told Evelyn she was going to let Bella ride on her head so her hands would be free. Evelyn agreed.
Moments later, Evelyn shouted, “Mommy! Your glasses are in the way…I can’t see Bella. ” (Ellen wears sunglasses on her head.)
Ellen assured her, “She’s there.”
Evelyn, not convinced, pursued her to the door on tiptoes trying to see the top of Ellen’s head.
I spoke up, “I see her! She’s on Mommy’s ponytail.”
Relieved, Evelyn grabbed her blanket and said, “Yeah…there she is. Okay, let’s go.”

Pa-Pa-Pa Bella goes to Day Care

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It’s official. Pa-Pa-Pa Bella arrived at day care this morning. Evelyn walked in with Bella in her cupped hand.
According to reliable sources, Bella went to bed with Evelyn dressed in an orange t-shirt and a diaper. But, when they got up, they were dressed in identical sleepers.
Evelyn introduced Bella with her full name, Pa-Pa-Pa Bella, and placed her delicately in my hand.
The photo above was a capture of their first hot dog lunch. (Bella’s on the right.) Upon asking Evelyn how they enjoyed their lunch, Evelyn said,” She didn’t eat her’s lunch up.”
We talked about it some more and agreed that Bella’s tiny bites and teeny tummy were the problem.
Happily Evelyn discovered that they enjoy the same morning programs.
As I write, they are watching Tree-Fu-Tom and, of course, Bella’s love of trees was brought up too.

Snack Time Survival Tactics

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The behavior of children is 99% reaction and 1% action. This comes primarily from their lack of premeditation and clearly represented in my afterschool daily onslaught of victim riddled complaints. Three kids jump off of the bus smiling and, by the time they reach the backdoor, there’s an argument.
I know they are the same kids that I, moments ago, viewed through the front door. Aren’t they? Now they are screaming, crying and shoving as they enter. I cringe knowing whatever the heck has happened, is going to hit me in the face in the form a rumbling thunder of multiple complaints when I open the door… incidentally, there is no statute of limitations on victimhood. Some are carry-overs from the day before!
I know how small claims court judges must feel because it is now my job to give a ruling on an emotional web of nonsense. Seldom is everyone happy with my decision and, even less often, do I feel justice was served.
I don’t know why I bother but I meet them with a finger to my lips and a whisper about sleeping babies.
“She got off first yesterday!” …”He tripped me!”…”She’s laughing ‘cuz I fell!”
Now, in theory, we warriors of justice must never, ever reward poor behavior AND never use food for a reward.
This thought is usually on my mind as a declare, “Snack time!” (I’m sorry…I am weak and it works so well! )
The snacks vary according to a sophisticated equation. I measure my strength… times the babies’ needs for an uninterrupted nap… divided by the day of the week. (On Fridays, I’m a mere two hours from a glass of wine. Dealing is easier.)
Only the most desperate moments call for ice cream…usually we have P, B & J or a bowl of cereal. Thank goodness, they haven’t figured this out!
Snack time now over, a hush falls gently over my kitchen…homework is pulled out…and then,
“Hey, that’s my seat!” …”I LOST MY PENCIL!” …” Sue, yesterday you told me that you’d help me with my work first.”
I just smile.

“Anyone for an apple?”

Winning…One battle at a time.

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The hardest thing I have to do is to inform parents about their kids’ “undesirable” behavior. Especially when we are battling a period of repeating offenses, I can see the parent watching my demeanor, as I greet them at the door, with defeated hopefulness. Sometimes it’s all too clear by my appearance of utter “frazzledom”, that the day has not gone well. Actually, what can they really do?  The battles are for me, alone, to win or lose.

Parents and I must be “on the same page” and take moments of private strategy planning . There is an upside though. Usually the retelling of the tales of  “bloody battle” are quite funny once I’m away from the skirmish. This is why the private part is so crucial…the child must NEVER know how humorous they really are. Many a time we’ve had to hide our faces and pretend we’re coughing to cover-up our reaction to these encounters. I can’t help but find a child’s wilfulness admirable even when my own strength is sapped. Spunk is a positive trait.

Oh yes, some kids have moments and others have periods of battling. Sometimes, I envision a wall of infamy representing the Best of the Worst during my day care years. I still remember who took the longest to toilet train, who gave me nightmares and who were evil geniuses.

One child, in the top three all-time geniuses, recently battled with me over an entire afternoon. The battle started with me denying her the opportunity to walk around in my living room while eating a bowl of cereal with milk. Eating in my living room is allowed when it’s a peanut butter sandwich. (Yes, the crusts vacuum up nicely once dried in the baseboard heating grills.) But, spilled milk is nasty.
First, I had 20 minutes of screeching demands. When I offered her a compromise of a tray table, and she refused, I knew it was going to be a very long day.
Next, I had her sitting on the floor swiping at everyone who ventured too close. I redirected traffic and the screeching started again. The demand, by this time, was for Mommy.
Soon the child moved in front of the TV and the gang joined in with complaints. By now, it was nap time and I had to remove the child to another room. Yet, her loud cries for compliance went on.
All I did was use the bathroom for 3 minutes and I return to the child standing in front of each child, in rotation, while creating bubbles of saliva that were dripping from her chin. <<GENIUS>>The 8-year-old was gagging and the others were crying about the mess and commotion. By this time, the babies were awakened early from their nap. Time elapsed…about two hours.
I took all the kids to an area to play and put up a baby gate to barricade the tyrant in the living room. Soon the rants slowed and the house calmed.
At about the third hour, I heard the child (in a calm voice) ask for some cereal. In the perkiest voice that I could muster, “Okay dear, it will be at the table when I take down the gate.” She slid into her place then promptly rested on the couch and fell asleep when she was done. She’s not a napper…wonder why she might be tired?

Hurray! I had won a decisive battle.
Later that day, I retold the story to her Mom.  I was a frazzled sight to behold as I met her at the door but we had a real laugh about the “spittle maneuver” …later that night, I went to bed early with a headache. I wonder why? LOL

Dealing with Monsters

 

There’s a common woe that all kids have and it’s being small. Not only in stature, which is daunting on its own, but in power. Feeling powerless is scary!

Once in a while, I get on my knees and look at my toddlers’ world from their viewpoint. Whoa! Everything seems an obstacle. How courageous they are to navigate this world of giant things. An adult, in that situation, would probably cower in a corner. Now add loud noises that you have never heard and places you don’t know how to get to. Then there are bigger humans saying “No” and “Don’t touch”. There are so many things you want but(like a stroke victim) you can’t find the words to ask for them.
Well, this is the world of a two-year-old. Frankly, I think they handle things far better than I would.

You may have thought that this post’s title would be about the “monsters” which are commonly known as misbehaving children. In the real world we adults, and the unknowns, are the “monsters” to kids. It’s so often unintentional yet stems from the forgetting of our own powerless days of childhood. How many of you pretended to be Superman or Wonder Woman as a child? Do you think there’s a connection? I do.

Today’s efforts to relieve children from every thought of violence are not all positive. Many child care “institutions” disallow kids the opportunity to feel empowered when they exclude super heroes and the battling of monsters from “positive play”.

Just yesterday, a little fellow in my care, burst into tears recounting a recent event when his uncle repeatedly threw him into a swimming pool against his wishes. I hugged him first and then told him to start a “Kick Your Butt” list. This list would hold all the names of those who had hurt his feelings. We agreed that he would not always be small and powerless, and one day, he’d be capable of kicking each of them in the butt! He smiled and his posture straightened.
He changed from a curled up defeated little boy to a Super Hero who would weld his power to place people on that “list” when he was cornered. I told him that he probably wouldn’t really kick anyone because he was such a kind boy but the list was his only choice for the “monsters” and they’d better be careful not to be at the top! You should have seen his smile.

There’s a wonderful book about this :

indexI’m afraid the current trend of totally “disarming” kids, may be more harmful than good. I wonder, if the recent teenage violence might be, in part, to a sense of powerlessness? How are we helping kids feel powerful if we take the “pretend” violence away? Certainly, worth considering.

 

 

 

“That’s Why I’m Easy”

 

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More than any other child care situation, Family Day Care mimics a family. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the kids grow from infancy to Junior High under my roof. During this time, there is an intimate bond created among all of us.
If you remember your high school years with a magic of a time and place…with deep relationships of friends from a common history and group, then you may understand (in a small way) our clique.

What’s very interesting to me is, once grown, the kids see each other and reminisce about the “good old days” much like siblings. I’ve yet to hear of any of them dating either. “Ewww…she’s like my sister.” has been the common phrase when asked. On several occasions, teenagers have knocked on my door for a visit to their old stomping ground. Of course, I’m flattered and happy to see them but after they offer me a hug, they then toss me aside and flop on the couch. Their attachment is primarily to the place and they wince if they find major changes in the house itself.

Some parents, through the years, actually referred to me as the “second mother” of their children. Many grandparents, upon a “pick-up”, have expressed a small envy when their grandchild clung to my leg asking to stay, instead. These can be ticklish moments. I’ve learned to handle them well by acting excited to send them off. Yet, the warm role of “motherly auntie” is an important one that some parents can not ever embrace but the wise ones cherish. The familiar shoulder for tears offers real comfort and the watchful involvement of an adult (who also loves them), is priceless.

There’s a scene in The Breakfast Club, when Carl the janitor says, “I am the eyes and ears of this institution my friends.” I feel that encapsulates my role. In the parents’ absence, I listen to their children and I watch them from the “wings”. So familiar, I do what stay-at-home Moms have always done. I notice.

Once I saw an eight-year-old day care friend, crossing the street with his nose in a handheld video game. I called his parents secretly. I assume they addressed this dangerous behavior and chalked it up to the “all-knowing” nature of parents because they never ratted me out.
Recently, I heard a first-grader describe a TV character as “hot”. I secretly told the parent. She knew immediately which friend had introduced the phrase to her child and said the friend had already been discouraged from play dates. I am an informer.

I am, also, a detective. One child, who was about 8, decided he’d had enough of a 5-year-old’s taunting. Everyone knows biting is a big no-no and he had decided to get the little “demon” in BIG trouble. He came to me with crocodile tears and showed me a red bite mark on his arm. I examined the bite. It was on the inside of his arm and the pattern showed a recognizable space between the front teeth. He claimed that “little miss nemesis” had bitten him during their most recent argument. As I turned away, he beamed with satisfaction that his diabolical plan was working until I remarked that it was very naughty to try to “frame” some one. I took his arm and explained that no one, who attacks someone, ever bites them on the inside of the arm. Then I pointed out how exactly the pattern matched his own teeth. His chin just about hit the floor. He’s now a college graduate and still remembers the incident, as clearly as if it just happened. I’m wondering if those kinds of events teach kids to be honest or just make them into more careful “criminals”. LOL

The hardest thing that I am called upon to be, several times a day, is judge and jury. The Supreme Court has nine brilliant minds and months to decide. I have only myself and must form decisions in moments. I’m aware that I don’t always get things right and my default decision is usually in favor of the younger child. The older kids are asked to develop defense mechanisms. Usually, this is in the form of ignoring and/or removing themselves from the skirmish. These lessons will serve them best. The younger kids are initially gratified and rewarded for being “stinkers” but will soon learn that being a “stinker” is a lonely profession.

Being the arbitrator of many conflicts, can keep my hands tied, though. Especially when an older child displays too much sensitivity to the “goings on”. Sometimes, it becomes clear that the constant complainer is looking for my attention, too. One day, a few weeks ago, a school aged child kept hitting me with complaints every five minutes! “They are being mean.”…”It’s not fair!” … “I want a turn.”…”I don’t like these kids!”…etc. After two hours of complaints and my door opening and closing like a buzz saw, I’d heard enough. I told the child to stay inside. When she protested my decision, I told her, “I think you’re right. Those kids ARE mean and unfair. Stay here and sit awhile so that I can protect you from them.” HA! She wanted to argue with me but I was on her side! Needless to say, twenty minutes later she wanted to rejoin the group…there were no more complaints that day.

Child care isn’t as mundane as it appears. To some, what I’ve done in choosing to be a Family Day Care provider, is to become a mindless drone. Changing diapers, finding socks and making snacks sounds very boring. I knew early in life, that whatever I chose to do would need to be stimulating. When I groan as I feel the sweet relief of removing my shoes in peace and quiet at day’s end, I know that I chose very wisely. Trouble is, I sometimes make this career look easy. 😉

 

 

 

 

Just a pinch…

Mother Nature became a passionate subject for me early on.  As a kid, I watched Wild Kingdom with my nose pressed to the TV screen (Psst…I didn’t go blind.). I also spent many summers wandering alone on my grandparents’ farm… observing, examining, and internalizing her example. Once grown, I realized two very important things. There’s much to learn about ourselves from Nature and, of course, that Marlin Perkins is an embarrassing character to watch as an adult. Very nice man but what a “goober”!

I’ve also trained several dogs in my life. There’s one effective pattern of training which centers around the interruption of “bad” behavior. We’ve all watched films of mother bears with their cubs. When those babies act up, she immediately cuffs them…end of lesson. This works. After all, how many bears end up living forever with their adult parents, sponging off of them?

There’s a trend among young mothers to not set a double standard, so hitting a child or spanking is taboo. I don’t like the idea of “beating” a child, at all. It certainly is taboo for day care providers. BUT, sometimes we have to let kids know there is one double standard…Adults are in-charge and kids are not. The savvy adult finds ways to redirect behavior. This magic show works to stop unwanted behavior but often leaves the lesson of the “unacceptable” stuff unlearned and in a gray area. Ignoring minor infractions is sometimes the better way but adults are around to teach not simply to organize and “smooth” things out.

We adults are also human. Frustration isn’t an emotion only owned by two-year-old’s. We are wise enough to know our own strength and need to use it once in awhile.

My own granddaughter is part of my day care. I take a few extra liberties in her upbringing, so please don’t call the Office for Children.
About 6 months ago, I caught Katherine in a bold-faced lie. Her indignant face was raised in a “What ya gonna do about it?” fashion. I did what mother bear had taught me. I pinched her. (Oh, it was a perfectly timed pinch…Not too hard, not too light.) After an initial “Ow!”, she turned to me with her mouth agape and said,” GRANDMA, don’t you know grandmas are not supposed to pinch their granddaughters?!”
I leaned in and firmly whispered in her face, “Katherine, don’t you know that granddaughters are not supposed to lie to their grandmothers? I think we’re even.”
She grinned and walked away. ( A few times since, I’ve formed my fingers into a pinch symbol and have had great results. 😀 )

I surprised Katherine’s mother, once upon a time, with the “mother bear” technique. It really works.
Ellen was about 16 and had begun to use the word “ain’t” in her everyday language. I’m sure half of it was to push my buttons but she was developing a real habit. After many corrections to her grammar and the sixteen-year-old answer of, “Whatever.” I struck!
We drank instant coffee at the time. It came in a firm plastic jar. Ellen’s forehead was introduced to that jar. Surprise on her face and speechless, we both laughed at the dent in my coffee jar. (Ummm…she has yet to use ain’t since then and is 34 years old.) Thanks Mother Bear!

Here’s a story that I wrote for my other blog. It is an example of why I feel kids should not be overly protected.

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Gotta Love Well-Timed Screeches

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By the time my day care friends enter school, we have a routine of discussing word origins, outer space and why worms need to be slimy, so questions are generously encouraged. There are two ticklish subjects that come up from time to time, one is “death” and the other is “having babies”. My default answer, when asked directly, is “You should ask mommy and daddy what they think.” But this is real life and those subjects have a way of coming up when I least expect them. Once in a while, I get zapped with zingers.

Just recently, it was “pick up” time and I was telling a parent about my desire to retire in 5 years. It was more of a speech than a conversation and I (even though I should know better) became focused on what I was saying, while ignoring the fact that kids were in the room.

“If my daughter decides not to have more children, I’ll be able to relax and feel freer to retire.” The parent nodded her understanding .

Then came a squeal from behind me, followed by a high-pitched, “People can decide NOT to have babies?!” I turn around and there stands a wide-eyed  6-year-old frozen with interest. The question is still hanging and my expression is like a deer caught in headlights. (Remember that scene from Jaws, when Roy Scheider sees a shark, and floats toward the screen, as the whole outside world races away from him?) That was me.

Meanwhile, the parent has turned away in a phony search for her child’s jacket. Her shoulders are shaking with a vigor that appears like early onset Parkinson’s, but I can tell, she’s trying to contain a belly laugh. I, also know, she didn’t find the question that funny, it was entirely about my predicament.

This was no time for too long of a pause because extra long pauses inspire the lengthiest of inquiries. The “I’ve got to fully explore this dangerous subject” kind.

“Oh yes dear, most babies come when parents want them.”
Then the child asks,”What about the others?”
At that, I can see out of the corner of my eye, that the parent’s shakes have turned into spasms.
“Well, sweetie, they are happy surprises.”

In that instant, one of the toddlers screeches from the other room…as I turn to “run” away, I shout,
“Uh-oh, Evelyn’s stuck in the shopping cart again! You should ask Mommy about this when you get home.”