Thursday, May 13, 2010

Am I my brother's keeper?

There are four classrooms in the kids' daycare, all in a line, and when you walk in the front door you first encounter L's classroom, then E's, then G's, and then that toddler class where amazingly I don't have any offspring matriculated. Back in the Days of Olde when our children numbered only two, we would all go in L's room, get her settled, and she would push both E and me out the door; then E and I would continue to her classroom, get her settled, and she would push me out the door; then I would leave, move my car from daycare parking to the employee garage, and walk in to work. Those were simpler times, then.

Now that G has joined his sisters in the Noble Occupation of Student, we have drastically altered our routine. Both girls feel an imperative to get their brother settled. So we stop in the first classroom, say hi to L's friends and teachers, sign her in, unpack her food, spy on the class's breakfast and discuss if it's yummy or not, hang up her bag, hang up her jacket, and leave together, continuing on to E's classroom, where we say hi to E's friends and teachers, sign her in, unpack her food, spy on the class's breakfast and discuss if it's yummy or not, hang up her bag, hang up her jacket, and leave together, continuing on to G's classroom, and if you think this sentence describing that sequence of events feels long you should imagine me herding my flock down that hallway. Except my flock consists not of cattle but of two buzzy little bumblebees flitting back and forth and around in circles, up out of my reach and down and through my legs, around and back and in opposite directions until I'm dizzy and have no hope of corralling my dynamic girl duo, the breathing split infinitive.

(And please understand I'm only halfway through my process, because although G is a breeze to deposit with his teachers, after I do so, after I kiss him and smell his head and squeeze his toes one more time, I still have to reverse my path to deposit each girl. Point A to Point B does not make a straight line within those bright blue walls.)

So we having hung and unpacked and greeted and hugged and high-fived and squealed and all that again, we approach the baby room, me, my girl crazies, and my boy in the stroller. The baby room door is open and blocked by a baby gate, because of, well, all those babies who might be crawling around. We take off our shoes so we don't track ick onto the floor of the room whose occupants mostly live on the floor. I unstrap little G from his carseat in his stroller and I lift him out and hand him to one of his teachers. I grab his bag and his sisters and I lift all of that and then myself over the gate. We have business to do. We have to unpack. We have to get him settled.

And isn't that a misleading sentence because G is in his teacher's arms and he's a mellow chap; in truth he's already settled. Whereas with his sisters I have to cajole my leg to freedom and accede to just one more kiss and beg to be set free because they make such a fabulous high-spirited, giggle-infested drama out of pretending to neeeeeed me each morning, the boy looks at me, smiles, and looks away. It's all heeeee neeeeeds. We are responsible for setting his bottles in the fridge, except for the one that goes in the warmer, of course (do you know how you simultaneously warm bottles for five infants? A Crockpot filled with two inches of water kept on its lowest setting. Obviously.). We get him a drool bib out of his drawer even though he doesn't drool yet, because his teacher prefers their utility to burp cloths. (Burp cloths don't travel with the designated user.) We hand her a pacifier in case he falls asleep while he has his morning bottle. It's a process, but it's a straightforward one.

Or it was, last week. This week things fell apart. On Monday L was busy examining all the Fisher Price toy telephones in the baby room whose appeal she's never outgrown while E unpacked the bottles and retrieved G's paci and bib. When L realized there were no responsibilities left for her to complete, she threw a tantrum. She was inconsolable and I confess to leaving her still in tears when I went to work. On Tuesday we tried to split responsibilities, asking E to get the bib and paci while L unpacked the bottles. L wanted to put the fourth bottle in the warmer herself but wouldn't take the bottle that was already started, instead opting for a still full bottle that should have come later in G's day's meal rotation. She threw a tantrum as only two-year-olds can throw. Yesterday I asked E to unpack bottles while L got the paci and bib. E complained, I want to get the paci! L cried, No! I unpack bottles! So I asked them to switch but by then E had already unpacked three bottles. When L realized that, she decided that she did want to handle the bib and paci, after all, but by that point E had already finished those tasks, too. L grabbed the bib that E had left next to G's head and threw it on the floor. E was offended and protested. L ran to get a different bib so E decided that meant she should finish unpacking bottles by pulling the last one out of the bag. L saw that act and was infuriated by it, so she began yanking the bottle out of her sister's hands.

Let me skip to the last page of that story for you: in a sea of five happy, smiling infants, my four-year-old and my two-year-old were both red-faced, screaming, and lying down on their stomachs on the floor, kicking and punching the carpet.

Last night we had a Big Talk, the kind where I spoke and they were advised to listen carefully:

"If you continue to behave like that, I won't bring you in the baby room with me anymore. It's not how big girls behave, it's not appropriate, and it's also not safe for all the babies in that room. You can't be wild in there like you can in your own classrooms. And it's not a good example, and if you both cry you might start the babies crying, and it's not fair to them. And you're going to make me late for work. And I'm not going through another unpacking like that ever again. I love you both but that is not allowed to happen anymore. So you two decide if you're going to take turns, or if you're going to work together, or if you're going to stay in your own classrooms while I unpack G by myself."

They agreed: L would do the bottles. E would get the bib and paci. They would alternate each day. I was dubious, but they were eager to please and eager not to have this opportunity revoked. I said we'd try one more time.

I was steeled to be patient this morning; to give reminders of our plan before we got into school and as we walked down the hallway and as we approached the baby gate; I hoped for cooperation and braced for failure and looked at the clock as I wondered if we'd have a good morning or if today would be the day that I'd be late for work for the first time since returning.

I was positively girded with determination and patience and gentle tone and firm resolve as we passed through L's class and then E's on the way to G's this morning. And then, just as we reached the baby gate, E disappeared back in the other direction. She barely had time for a shout over her shoulder to us before she was gone into her own classroom: Never mind, Mama. L can do everything today. I don't mind. I dropped G, L and G's bag over the baby gate and double-tracked to make sure E was okay.

I'm fine, Mama! Ms. B_ has pancakes for us for breakfast! My mouth told me it's hungry for syrup.

I just couldn't stay today. You understand.
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