Homemade Children’s Birthday Card

All through college and plus some years, I watched a family of three girls. The youngest and I spent beaucoup de temps together! I always called her my best little friend- because she was. For six years, I saw her more than I saw anyone else in my life. As she gets older, I can’t help but hold a very special and irreplaceable spot in my heart for her. She’s quirky, and talented, sweet and hilarious. There is no one quite like her. And as she turns another year older, I had to sit down and make her a special card. After all the time we spent doing arts and crafts, I know she will appreciate this homemade card.happy bday cardinside happy bday card

Watching the little ones we’ve helped raise is bittersweet. Unfortunately, they can’t stay two forever. I know because I’ve asked them to & no matter how much both parties want it, it’s impossible. But seeing what amazing people they are becoming aids the process.  And as they grow older, we must remind them of how much magic and love they have brought to our lives as the caregivers. It’s the least we can do for all they’ve done for us.

Happy Monday.

Monday Morning Rules

Monday mornings are slow around here. And why shouldn’t they be? When you’re two, what’s the rush? So, enjoy your Monday and slooowww down– way down, just like we do. It’s easy, you’ll see! Just follow these simple Monday morning rules.

1. Pajama time. This can last, well… all day. Why get dressed when you aren’t going anywhere?

2. Make fruit popsicles. We like to make our own popsicles to snack on. Whether it’s leftovers from our smoothies or our favorite juice, we are sure to make popsicles on Mondays so we are prepared for the week. The best thing about making your own popsicles is that you can control what sugar does or rather doesn’t get put into them!

3. Lounge as long as possible. Monday mornings, I get my kitchen chores done quickly! Then I plop it on the couch or floor with my coffee. I love sitting eye level with the kids for hours! The world is so great from their viewpoint, and you can only get that prespective when you take the time to sit down & slow down.

4. Look out the windows.  When it’s too cold to play outside, we look out the windows a lot. We’re like old ladies, if you want to know the truth. We check out what the neighbors are doing. We discuss what color the cars are driving by. We tell people to drive slowly, please! This is a neighborhood, jeesh! We talk about the weather– just where could the sun be!? We make up stories about squirrels. We brainstorm about what we will do in the summer! There are a lot of things outside your window you don’t even notice until you use your imagination.

5. Do the laundry. Yes, we do the laundry for fun. Okay, they do the laundry for fun! I do the laundry because it’s my job. But you will find that two years olds are very helpful when it comes to this chore. Didn’t you know? It’s very fun to throw dirty clothes in the washing machine. Then, when the laundry is finished in the dryer, they lay on the floor and I throw it on top of them. Nothing better than warm laundry to heat things up on winter mornings.

 

Take a minute to slow down this morning! Afterall, as the toddlers have taught me, it’s best not to rush through life, otherwise you miss you all the fun things.

I Love… Snow Days

Okay, yes. I love snow days. It’s not always easy having all the kiddos home, but the conversation I get from the older two kids I watch is very much appreciated when you’re locked inside all day.  When you are a nanny, sometimes you just need extra company to break things up a bit. And today is one of those days for me.

So, what do you do to survive snow days?
Snowy green plant

Our top survival tricks include:

1.Chores. Yes, we all complain about them, but mopping can be fun. Especially when you do it together.  And it’s a good leverage tool– sure you can go to the neighbors, IF you mop the floor first!
2. Movie morning. We typically don’t watch TV a lot, but when the weather is gross and you want to stay in your PJ’s, a movie morning is just the ticket!
3. Lighten up. I lighten up on snow days. A lot. I let the kids get away with things I wouldn’t normally allow them to do. I say “yes” when it would normally be an “are you kidding me!?” I laugh when I shouldn’t. I am an easy target. Okay, in general, I pretty much agree to anything, IF our chores are done.
4. Reading. We get extra close & snuggly for some reading time. And I have the older two do some quiet reading in their rooms. Days are long when you’re locked inside, you’d  be surprised how much you can actually do!
Is it a snow day where you are? Are you loving the lock-down of it all?

A Party for the Toys

Does your little chickadee have their own chickadee? A doll or a stuffed animal that they just can’t leave behind?

When I lived in Atlanta, the littlest one I watched certainly did. In fact, we were extra blessed because she happened to have twins: Charlie and Shelly. And they were quite the busy pair! Always wanting to eat ice cream and go places, always getting toys out and not taking care of them, always needing us to take extra care of them so they would stay out of trouble. Yes, Charlie and Shelly were quite the handful!

Avery and Shelly at the park

One day, my little chickadee came downstairs and announced that it was Charlie and Shelly’s birthday! And didn’t I feel foolish for not knowing! After all that time together, surely I should have marked it on my calendar.

“Well when is their birthday party?” I asked.

“TODAY!” she told me, “so we had better get to work!”

And so we did!

First, we made a picture list of everything we had to do. (Do you make picture lists with your little ones? They’re pretty simple. It’s just like a regular to-do list, only with pictures of your goals instead of words. This way, anyone can follow it- even the littlest chicks who can’t read. yet)

Next, we made decorations. We called our friends down the street. We made birthday hats. We gave the twins an extra nap so they would be on their best behavior. And then, we got to work making cupcakes, because what is a birthday party without cupcakes!

Avery at Party

It didn’t imagine the whole neighborhood would show up. But everyone did. And everyone had fun! And to this day, it is still one of the best parties I’ve ever been to!

Learning to Tell Time

Far too many years ago, I worked as a live-in-nanny just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s always bitter-sweet for me to look back on this time. Still, I think the children I watched there are three and seven, when in reality they are inching closer to pre-teens and teenagers with each passing day.  It’s exciting to see them grow, but also sad because although I feel very connected to them still, I don’t get to see their daily growth anymore. If only I could be in many places at once! Whenever I look back on my time with this family, I can’t help but become overwhelmed with longing to see them! In the time I was their nanny, I became a member of their family; and not a single day goes by that I don’t see something, or hear something that triggers a memory from back then.

In particular, the three-year old and I grew very close over the course of the year I spent with them. She challenged me, and loved me, and played with me very single day I was there. She made me a better nanny and person. The influence she had over me continues to inspire me to live life to the fullest, as she always did.

One of our favorite things to do, aside from playing Uno for hours every day, was to play Clock. What, you haven’t played Clock before? Well then, let us teach you.

The first thing you do in the Game of Clock is to make the numbers 1 through 12 on  scrap pieces of paper. Since, at her age, she was just learning to write, I would draw dots for each number and she would connect the dots to make the numbers.  In this way, we were able to incorporate some autonomy in the game and she always felt very accomplished, thinking she was able to write her numbers.

Next, we would arrange the numbers in a line in numerical order. After which, we would put them in the shape of large clock on the floor. Then, she and I would read the numbers over a few times to get her comfortable. Now, this is the really exciting part! To actually play the game, she would lay in the middle and act as the hands of the clock. I would then yell out random times, allowing her the opportunity to arrange herself in the right direction, before offering help.

Picture 324

This game was fun for a lot of reasons. Mostly, it was fun because it was so hands on. She thrived on physical learning, so when she was able to be the hands on the clock, she really began soaking up the activity. It was always a rather funny, loud game. When I say that I “yelled out the time,” I mean that. I would yell the times in loud & crazy voices that always made her giggle. In this way, playing Clock incorporated many educational aspects without her knowledge. 

Honestly, the best part of working with three-year-olds is that they are hungry for knowledge. They want to learn- they want to think they have done it all- they want to know more! If only we didn’t grow out of that as we got older.

While the Parents are Away, the Nanny Will Stay

After a day spent with little ones, there comes your first moment of silence. It’s blissful. Jubilant,  even. And then you realize that still echoing in your head are the voices of those little chicks. And then you realize, huh- this is kind of boring now that they’re asleep. Because, for as much work as it can sometimes seem, those little chicks totally make your day worthwhile. This past week, I have been doing overnights with the family I work for. It has been crazy & fun, stressful & hilarious, but above anything else: satisfying.

I love the last moments of the night (before you turn off the light and hear screaming). I love the snuggling in the rocker and re-capping our days. I love the extra time to make a connection and feel the love. Really, I do. There aren’t many jobs people enjoy having overtime at, but working as a nanny definitely has that perk.

And while the cats have been away, we mice have sure played. And as my week winds down, I thought I would reflect on things that I have learned and done. 

1. Choices. I’m typically pretty good with giving kids choices, but when parents are away there is a larger tendency for kids to want control. And it makes sense: their lives have been a bit rocked, they may feel like you are attempting to boss them around or “be their parent”, and suddenly this person they are used to seeing leave at 5pm is watching them in their pj’s, watching them wake up, eat breakfast, all of those things they would normally do with their parents and not you.  And honestly it is strange.

I’m the type of person who likes boundaries myself, so when I feel like my boundaries are being encroached on, my defense mechanism is to recoil and take control of everything I can. This is the same feeling a lot of kids have when their parents leave. As a caregiver I have learned the best thing I can do is boost up my Love & Logic in these situations. I am all about choices. I am so about choices that by the end of the week the kids just tell me to decide myself and stop asking. But this is a much better option to be than having them storm to their rooms, fight you and be bitter the entire week, wouldn’t you agree? And hey, I like choices, so why wouldn’t they? 

2. Routine. Thankfully I work in a home that runs like clockwork. It’s sometimes chaotic clockwork, but it’s clockwork nonetheless. This is mostly because the parents  I work for have taught their children how to respect themselves, their caregivers, their house and their time. Yeah, I’m pretty lucky. And a very important note: the children have a pretty normal routine they are comfortable with. They know their expectations. They know the rules. They know the schedule.

It was really important for me to carry on with those expectations, rules and & schedule, even while their parents were away. Yes, it’s fun to be the “cool nanny”, to break the rules and let them veg in front of a TV and not have to communicate with one another (wait, no it’s not!). But more than being fun, kids need to feel normal. I needed to give them the closest thing to normal that they knew so that their separation anxiety wouldn’t intensify.Completely throwing off their routine simply to have fun would have been selfish on my part. Plus, there are always ways to have fun within the rules, you just have be creative. 

3. Recognition. This is definitely the easiest one to to add to the mix. In an odd way to connect this philosophy I think of how I felt the summer Sean was in India. It was terrible. The person I trusted and loved the most was gone. In general it was just very lonely. But, when I would go out and people would pay me the extra mind, I could feel my spirit lift. When friends would send a quick text or note of encouragement my happiness would rise. Positive energy smothers bad feels any day of the week! We have all felt it, so we know it’s true.

So one thing I am sure to do when parents are gone to thicken my compliments. “Wow, thanks for helping with your dishes this morning.”And, “hey, I was watching you in basketball and I noticed you were the only kid who…” Not to mention that I “sent your mom a text about how well you have been getting up in the mornings and how kind you have been”. That last one always knocks it out of the park! Kids LOVE knowing you have been praising them to their parents. It shows them that you went the extra mile to not only notice it, but report back. Often nannies get a rap for only reporting the bad stuff, so reporting the good stuff is a great thing to do! I don’t think it’s always necessary to reward kids for their behavior with gifts. It can definitely help, but in general I think taking the time to pay the compliment sticks with them longer than anything else. 

And the best news of all is that I survived the week! And everyone was happy and smiling, still liking each other and me. So, here’s to the start of fun and relaxing weekend- sans children.  

 

Another Rainy Day Activity: Make Your Own Board Game

When the older kids I watch have a day off from school, one of the first things they ask to do is make a board game.  Of course, I have to agree. 

How it works? Collectively, or alone (depending on how everyone is getting along) I ask them to design a game for me to play with them.  They decide the rules. They decide the layout. They decide the colors and the pieces. They decide EVERYTHING! I sit back and watch it all go on, trying to intervene… never.

How long it takes? This is one of the most time consuming projects I know. Typically every child I have ever done this with stays occupied anywhere from one to four (yes!) hours!

Twists? Sometimes in the summer, we use sidewalk chalk outside to draw a board, then use ourselves as the pieces that move around the board. Don’t forget your sun block!

Materials? This project always leads us to one place: the recycling bin. The kids love making cards, boards, pieces, dice, spinners, you name it! from old homework assignments, boxes, marker caps, etc.  It’s fun to see just how many things they want to upcycle with, rather than use new.

Example: The first time we did this activity we found an old posterboard from last year’s secience project and we completely covered it with duct tape. This was a bit tricky and I offered to help for the beginning stages. Since this first time, however, they have found other ways to make boards without my help.

Here is a board they made the other day…

Make your own board game

Lessons Learned?

#1: It’s best to write down all our directions BEFORE we start playing.  It’s easy to make a few tweeks here & there until it’s perfect, but it’s always best to start with some general guidelines. Also, it’s a great way to start organized, focused and get them to write without realizing it!

#2: Some ideas for our board games are best kept a secret. No one likes when their games turn out exactly the same, afterall.

#3: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Wait, didn’t Thumper say that on Bambi? Either way, it also applies to making board games, too!

#4: Even if we never get a chance to play our games because it takes the whole afternoon and then Mom and Dad come home, that’s okay, too. Most of the fun is creating— and there will always be another afternoon to play!

Nanny Dilemma: Caring for Sick Kids

One of the hardest things to do as a nanny is care for sick kids. And, even harder than that is caring for sick kids when their parents are out of town. Having dealt with this before, and currently going through this now, I thought I would offer up some tips!

#1: Change your expectations for the day.

It’s important to remember that when a child is sick any routine or expectations MUST go out the window.  No matter what you had to do or wanted to do, your first priority MUST be tending to the sick child.  (As a rule of thumb in most cases, I always fill immediate needs first, and then focus on the secondary things– this is totally applies to caring for sick children, too.) And so, when a child is sick, my immediate need is comforting and caring for them, and everything else becomes secondary. Forget about normal sleep times, eating times, etc. Give the child what they need at the time they need it, rather than sticking to a strict schedule. At the end of the day, all their parents really care about is how the child is feeling rather than if you stayed on schedule.

Real life example.  Today, the little one I watch had a fever. She was too sick to play, too sick to eat and even toO sick to (gasp) take her nap.  My first reaction was to go along with normal nap time rules. But after some time listening to her whimper and then scream in her crib, I realized that nap time no longer mattered like it normally would.  What I needed to do was take my mind out of the normal routine and focus on fixing the immediate need: which was to simply comfort and love on her.

#2: Care for the child as their parent would.

The easiest way to help a child in pain is to put them in their comfort zone.  Once they feel comfortable, then the physical pain they’re experiencing will lesson to a certain degree. This being said, you need to know what the child’s comfort zone is.  Here are some simple ways to determine this:

*figure out HOW their parent’s care for them. Do they give them medicine? Do they have home remedies? Do they use ice packs or heating pads? Do they feed them certain teas or foods?

*figure out WHAT their parent’s DO for them. Do they rock them? Do they give them a quiet environment? Do they let them stay in their PJ’s? Do they let them lay on the couch and watch a movie?

*figure out what the parent wants you to do at that time. Especially when a parent is traveling, the first thing you should do is let them know about their child’s illness and then specifically ask them “what do you want me to do?” More often than not, parents will give you suggestions and tell you what works best. The key here is communication.

#3: Remind yourself that you are the nanny, not their parent

As in any situation, when you work as nanny it is important remind ourselves that while we love the little chicks we watch with all our  beings, they are not ours. They belong to their parents. Our job is simply to care for them while their parents cannot.  We are trusted to tend the roost during the day.  That is why it is so important that we respect the our boundaries and care for sick children as their parents want; because at the end of the day, we go to our own coops and they stay in theirs. Love them as much as you can, while you can, and fill them up with happiness: that is what we are there for.

Final Tidbits.

Even when I am stressed from the crying and helplessness of caring for a sick child, when I want to scream and cry myself, I take a minute to look at the child and simultaneously intake one giant deep breath. Without a doubt, it is in that breath & those few moments of inner silence when I am simply looking and not hearing, or worrying or panicking that I always find the best method of caring for a sick child.

We are, after all, raising a generation who will someday take care of us. And so, more than anything else, when I look into the eyes of the little ones I watch, I first and foremost ask myself, how would I want someone to treat me? And I always, always, trust my gut from there.

Rainy Day Crafts for Children

As a nanny of many, many years, I know how hard it is when the weather is poor and everyone is trapped indoors for the day. It’s hard on the kids who have too much energy to be trapped inside and it’s hard on the caregiver, who has to think of ideas to keep them busy and out of trouble.  Luckily I have come up with a box that is filled with rainy day crafts for children that can combat any “I’mmmm boooored” comments that are sure to come your way!

This Christmas, for the family I watched, with a ten year old, eight year old, and twin two-year olds, I put together a box of random items and labeled it “Save It For a Rainy (or Snowy) Day”. After they opened it, the ever-entertaining ten-year old pointed out that it was “the most random box he had ever seen”. Which made us all laugh, because really, he was right. It was random. And it didn’t make much sense in the moment. But the randomness was intentional, and soon he would discover the reason behind his nanny’s madness. But, it would take a rainy day, trapped in the house for them to truly appreciate this box of rainy day crafts for children. Rainy Day Crafts for Children

Included in the box were: markers, pipe cleaners, play dough, paints, paper, muffin mixes, cake mix, popcorn and glue sticks.

Rainy Day Craft Box

Some of the items in the box will complement one another. Some they will use individually. Some will take up a lot of time, while some will only burn a good thirty minutes. But all of it will inspire creativity. And all of it is something they can (mostly) do on their own (minus using the oven). My goal in any gift or activity I give to children is to foster creativity and spur autonomy. As a culture, I believe we do too much for our children. We have, in some cases, taken away their opportunity for original ideas. Personally, I make it a goal to encourage activities that allow children to act independently, because it is in those moments that they begin to form who they are and understand their limits. That is why I so strongly encourage every home to have a rainy day box. Pull it out, see what they can make. Give them an opportunity to show you who just who they are. Children, when allowed to do things independently always have a way of surprising themselves, as well as us.

As our friend the Cat in the Hat taught us: rainy days are not meant to get us down, but inspire us to play!