Mother Knows Best

After settling into her new school quickly and well, around about October 5-year-old Midi Minx had a big wobble. She suddenly didn’t want to go to school in the mornings, and clung pouting or sometimes sobbing to my leg. As Maxi generally clung to the other leg, wailing, this was not a good look. We did not look like a coping, happy Family Unit. I asked Midi what the problem was. Eventually she confessed:

Would you taunt this innocent little face?

Would you taunt this innocent little face?

“There’s this boy in my class called J…”, she wobbled.

Maintaining a Mummy Poker Face on the outside, I inwardly raged: I don’t need to hear anymore. He’d so dead. Whatever it is, how dare he hurt my baby?!

“Yes? What about J?” I asked lightly.

“He calls me a Poo-poo Head”. Sobs. “And everyone laughs!” Breaks her little heart.

I hugged her tighter still, kissed her wet eyes and thought for a second.

“Does he only say it in front of his friends?” Nods. “When he’s on his own?” Shakes head. “Well, Midi, what you have to know is that all little boys are stupid. And really easy to trick. Here’s what you need to do: when J calls you a Poo-poo Head, instead of feeling hurt and crying, you have to smile.” She looked up at me like I’d turned into Julie Andrews. On an acid trip. “Yep, smile. And say loudly, ‘It’s OK, J, I understand: secretly you really like me. But you call me horrible names so that no-one else guesses that you like me. I get it. It’s OK. I won’t tell anyone’, then wink, smile and walk away”. Midi looked thoughtful. “And it’s really important that when he protests and shouts that he really, really hates you, just smile wider and say, ‘You’re not fooling me. That actually means that you really love me lots. But I only like you a little bit, as a friend. Sorry'”. Midi started to smile.

I went through a little dialogue role-play, me playing the parts of Midi and J, along with comedy pirate and princess voices, so that Midi could see how it might play out. I showed her how to use words to put that little boy back in his box, but without being nasty or horrible, and how it might make everyone else laugh *with* her, which would make them like her more. And he’d get frustrated and stop, because his friends would take over and tease him every time he called Midi a bad name. She really got it. Her eyes lit up. She sniggered. I kissed her, then got on with making dinner and promptly forgot all about it.

A few days later Midi skipped out of school, and trilled, “Mummy, you’re really clever”.

What?! Oh-oh. My children think I’m stupid and old-fashioned and strict. This doesn’t bode well, whatever it is…

“I did what you said about J”, she smirked.

J? J…? Oh! That J! Oh hell… But she’s smiling? “Uh-huh? What happened?” I asked.

See these brainzzzz? I eat them up for breakfast. Like you, if you cross me

See these brainzzzz? I eat them up for breakfast. Like you, if you cross me.

“Well, he called me a Poo-poo Head and I smiled and said everything you told me to. And all his friends laughed. And he got cross, like you said he would. And then…” she burbled. I winced. Oh no, what happened next? I’m too scared to listen. “And then he said ‘When we grow up I’m going to marry you!’ And I said ‘OK'”, she giggled.

What?! Oh no, this has totally back-fired! What have I done?

“Mummy, you are so smart and clever. J’s my best friend now”, she snuggled up to me. “Right, what’s for snack? I wanna biscuit. Or chocolate…”, and she scampered off.

Nice try, little daughter: it’ll be fruit as usual. You can’t swing your auld mother off-track that easily…

Torture By Nursery

Day 1 of nursery went well for Mini. So did Day 2. She had Wednesday off and we went swimming. Day 3 was fine, also. Then she had the weekend to think about it. By Monday morning, she was begging not to go back. “I got sore tummy! I don’ wanna go to nursery!” she wailed. She also had a cold, so I decided she should stay off. We pottered about and made coffee buns again (I can’t get to grips with this bloody oven. The only way to learn its foibles are to make cakes. Lots of ’em. Often. I’m LEARNING, I’m not being greedy… OK: oink)

Meltdown...INCOMING!

Meltdown…INCOMING!

The next day, she threw a shrieking tantrum about going to nursery. Proper screaming, squirty tears, drumming heels, incoherent ragey shouting, tugging hair, clenched teeth, waving fists at me, the lot. It was hard to keep calm. God, it was also hard not to snigger! All that rage in one so small! Poor little mite.

I applied a multi-pronged approach: a little explaining (“Mummy doesn’t meet up with anyone here: you need to go to nursery so you can meet other people”), a little insistence (“Whether you stay or not, you are going. You can tell your teachers that you’re not coming, in person”) and as much empathy and understanding as I could muster (“Poor tummy. My tummy gets tight and sore when I’m doing something new… I can see you’re very upset about going to nursery…). I tried asking her why she didn’t want to go. No coherent answer. I tried to teach her simple exercises to loosen up her tight tummy muscles. No joy, she refused to try them. I tried the confusing-but-gets-you-straight-answers of “What would have to change to make you want to go to nursery again?” Aha! That got a result: she said she didn’t like the wee boy hitting her. Oh? She was vague about whether it was an accident or if he’d said sorry or if a nursery teacher knew. I reassured her that it was an accident, and to tell someone: all the usual good stuff.

Dear Childline... My Mummy tortures me with nursery 4 times a week...

Dear Childline… My Mummy tortures me with nursery 4 times a week…

The staff didn’t fail to notice Mini’s new attitude. Neither could the kids. One wee girl raced off with her hands over her ears to protect them from certain extreme volume damage. All 3 ladies took it in turns to try to distract Mini and engage her in different activities. I asked if there were any other kids who liked to play with each other rather than alongside. One lovely wee girl was quickly ushered over, and she tried to hold Mini’s hand. Miss Truculent was having none of it.

I stayed, and over the next half hour gradually backed away a bit more and a bit more. “I’m going to sit down. I’m tired. Look, you can still see me. I’m just over at the coats”. It was a hard balance, because although the staff were encouraging of me staying, it was upsetting for some of the other kids (“Where’s *my* mummy?!”) I said goodbye when I had told her I was going to go and Mini went ballistic, lying on the ground, clutching at my ankles, screaming for me. I smiled and waved and walked. I deserved an Emmy for that acting performance!

The next few days were very similar. The staff were all, 100%, entirely behind me. They were happy for me to take a Tough Love approach, and they were happy for me to stay. Or do whatever I felt suited me and Mini. I was very grateful! Because I didn’t need to be at work for a certain time, a tough approach wasn’t right for us (never mind philosophically – she’s not being manipulative: she needs me there just now). But it wasn’t fair to the other kids for me to stay. I suggested I phase it, spending less time each day.

One lovely lady took a photo of me and uploaded it to the computer so that Mini could look at me whenever she felt lost or lonely. Another wonderfully empathic teacher came in on her day off to drop-off a dressing up outfit for Mini because they’d talked about it earlier in the week. They laughed with me when I said goodbye to Mini and hid for 5 minutes to make sure she was ok, then had to crawl on my hands and knees to attract their attention to get the door unlocked to get out without Mini spotting me. They commiserated when I felt terrible when my little girl was shrieking, “I want my Mummy! I want to be with my Mummy! I need her! Mummy, don’t leave me here!” They also wryly smiled with me when we all watched little Mini switch from those desperate, heart-rending screams to smiley inquisitiveness at another game within 10 – 20 seconds of me disappearing from sight.

I fussed and fretted over the right thing to do. Had we still been ‘home’, she’d only be doing 2 or 3 half-days a week at nursery because I’d a thriving social life with a really wide variety of friends. I don’t ascribe to the notion that children need to be ‘socialised’ by mixing solely with kids of the same age. I think they get far more from meeting babies, young children, teens, young adults, old people: a really wide variety of humans. But with me having zero social life here at the moment, this was the best opportunity for my most gregarious of children to meet others. And she hated it.

Midi: "I hate you!" Mini:

Midi: “I hate you!”
Mini: (*taking notes*)

Over the 2 weeks that this went on, she’d cry every time nursery was mentioned. She’d burst into tears suddenly whenever she thought about it. I tried asking more. We established that the ‘hitting’ was possibly a little boy who was deaf and patted you to get your attention. I explained that, and Mini never mentioned being hit again. But she still couldn’t explain why she hated nursery so much.

In the end, perhaps my initial instincts were spot-on (!!) One day she came home with a smile on her face, said she’d had a lovely time, and talked the whole afternoon about another little girl who coincidentally has the same name as Maxi. The next morning, there were no tears. The other little girl came up and held Mini’s hand and the pair skipped off. Mini flung a quick “Bye, Mummy” over her shoulder and I was instantly forgotten. And that was that. The end. No more nursery angst. Woohoo! Happy 3 year old!

Midi: "I still hate you!" Mini:

Midi: “I still hate you!”
Mini: (*taking more detailed notes*)

So: all she’d needed was a friend to play with! And it’s hard, because lots of ante-pre-school kids haven’t taken that developmental leap yet – it’s normal still for them to want to only play side by side. But Mini will be one of the oldest in her class and she has 2 big sisters, which is perhaps why she so desperately wanted to play with someone. I’m so relieved that she’s actually enjoying nursery now, and not just the (yummy) snacks…