As I’ve mentioned, there’s a terrible black hole in childcare between the end of camps and the beginning of school. Kids are frazzled from all the fun they’ve had this summer. They’ve spent the summer with counselors who are paid to entertain them at all times. Now the counselors are gone and so are all the friends and cousins who have been hanging around for two months. Days are long but the novelty of summer has long since worn off. It’s tough for everyone. John told me very frankly the other day that I was getting on his nerves. (Nice.)
Fortunately, this year I knew it was coming and I called in the big guns: my mom.
So far, she’s been here less than 48 hours, and it didn’t take half that time to remind me of the fact that I’m an amateur, she’s a pro. She’s got three kids, six grandkids, and the magic touch when it comes to these small people. Maybe other grandmothers are equally skilled at things like this:
> Getting things done. My mom has an uncanny ability to get John to do what she wants him to do, all while he’s thinking its fun. She races him to get his shoes on. She has him sorting toys or cards — essentially cleaning them up — as a game. It’s very Mary Poppins-ish, and it works very well.
> Changing minds. When I was a babysitter, my mom told me that when kids get upset about something, you just have to change their minds. To get them to think about something other than what’s initially bothering them. It definitely works, if you can pull it off. She can and frequently does.
> Emergency Fun. She has a bag with her this week filled with little things that probably cost a dollar but are new and interesting and give John something to think about when he begins his “I don’t know what to do…” chorus. They’re not even big enough to be bribes. They’re just little bits of perfectly timed fun. Smart!
> Balance. In the age old tradition of grandparents, my mom can spoil John if she wants to. (See emergency fun, above.) But she also sticks with the house rules – please, thank you, no more computer time, etc. She always knows how to walk the line between making him happy and ensuring that the time she spends with him doesn’t completely wreck the things I’ve spent the last seven years trying to do.
> Patience. No explanation necessary. She’s got it.
> Perspective. After about 20 minutes of John’s not good late-summer behavior, my mom just laughed and told me that this is precisely how I used to act. Obviously I’m not still whining about not knowing what to do, so I assume things will work out.
And maybe someday I’ll be as good at this as she is. But I’m not holding my breath.