Mali and Malta joined our family in July 2006 when they were just five weeks old;
They were sisters and best friends and together adapted quickly to living in a busy childcare home. They usually loved all the attention they got from the children but also knew they had quiet spaces to escape to when they had enough. I often commented on their ‘synchronized sleeping’;
Over the years they got bigger – too big actually – Malta carried a little extra weight but Mali was very overweight;
They were put on a vet recommended diet and dropped down to a healthier weight. They still sometimes beg for food from the children so ‘Don’t feed people food to the cats’ has been an important lesson for the children. It has also resulted in many wonderful conversations about healthy diets for both children and cats. Through it all Mali and Malta remained best friends and still enjoy playing with the children and having alone time too.
Last winter when we first introduced a new cat into our family I was slightly concerned that the two bigger, bonded cats may pick on the little newbie. Sure, Mali & Malta considered children, and even our old dog to be acceptable housemates but they had never lived with another cat. I wasn’t certain how the ‘old’ cats would feel about another cat in the house but I optimistically envisioned that the old cats would teach the new cat all the house rules and everyone would live happily ever after. I was wrong.
Although ‘Button’ was the name given to the tiny little cat at the humane society and is her official name on her license and other papers, she was soon renamed. We call her ‘Monkey’ most of the time – sometimes ‘Monkey-Butt’ because she is a very mischievous, naughty, sometimes ornery little cat with a big attitude.
She taunts and torments the older cats. She pushes boundaries – growling in protest when removed from places she shouldn’t be and then immediately returning – sitting there glaring as if to say ‘I go where I please, when I please and you can’t do anything about it’. She opens doors and cupboards and has stolen whole sandwiches left unattended for just two seconds. Her early life as a stray allowed her to perfect her hunting techniques and stealth mode – for the old cats there is no escape.
Malta seems very afraid of Monkey – running/hiding from her and refusing to enter a room Monkey is in. I wouldn’t say Monkey is mean – just more like a toddler who keeps poking you trying to get a reaction and then laughing. Mali has become grumpy – like the angry old woman who yells ‘Get off my lawn!’ when the neighbourhhood children play there – Mali hisses and snarls and chases Monkey off counters and other places she thinks she shouldn’t be. Places that include my lap – I have battle wounds from cat fights that have occurred on my lap.
Monkey is not longer the scrawny little stray she once was – she has become a little ‘chunky’. Mali & Malta however have lost more weight than they ever did on their diet. I started giving them regular food instead of ‘light’ food and when they threw that up I gave them food for sensitive digestion. They still had difficulty holding that down and were getting so thin that I was concerned about their health.
I took them to the vet and after a thorough exam and blood tests he ruled out any illnesses. They are however very stressed and have developed stomach ulcers. I now have to give them medication twice a day and they have prescription cat food. I also have a plug-in diffuser that spreads peace & joy & love (cat pheromones) throughout my house.
Fingers crossed, so far there have been no more cat fights or vomit to clean up. Mali & Malta seem more relaxed – we’ll return to the vet next month to see if they’ve managed to regain some of their lost weight. Monkey (finishes licking all the dishes in the sink and leaves a trail of wet footprints on paperwork as she walks across my desk) hasn’t lost any attitude yet though.
For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips. It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.
I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions. So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation. In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.
For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus. They were all very excited. Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders. We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail. I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks. ‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;
I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way. The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;
They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;
Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.
These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens. They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk. I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles. Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!
Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.
The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;
We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs. Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.
We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break. Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.
This was the mid point of our hike – we headed back along the trail to where we started. It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip. They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was. Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.
We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River. It was so peaceful.
There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.
The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.
We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.
In Manitoba a licensed family childcare provider can care for a maximum of eight children under 12 years of age. Of those eight children, no more than five may be under six – the other three must be in grade one or older. I love having a mixed age group and the opportunity to build a relationship with the children in my care from infancy through school-age.
Over the twenty years I have been providing childcare in my home I have known many amazing school-age children who have thrived in this setting. Some struggled with peer relationships in their school environment but enjoyed being the ‘leader’ here – idolized by the younger children. Some embraced responsibility and enjoyed helping the little ones. Some were wildly creative and independent and of course there were also some who resented being with ‘babies’.
I’ve watched older children gain confidence and build their self-esteem by mentoring the younger children. I’ve seen younger children develop skills they learned from watching and copying the older children play. I’ve also had some older children that taught the little ones things/words that I wish they hadn’t. *sigh*
I’ve noticed something else – the cost of providing food, craft supplies, activities and equipment for school-age children often exceeds the income I receive for their care. I find that the school schedule is disruptive – breaking up what could be longer periods of engagement in learning activities for the preschoolers. So, for several years now I haven’t made an effort to fill empty school-age spaces.
Summer was the exception. I loved having all the ‘big kids’ here for the summer – working in the garden, going on adventures, making incredible creations, sharing fantastic stories – without the rigid school schedule. It was wonderful to have all this time with the older children instead of just the fleeting moments before/after school when everything was so hectic and there wasn’t really any time to do anything.
Yet, when I only enrolled school-age children for the summer I was finding that the first month was spent getting everyone acquainted with each other, learning routines etc. Then, just when we were starting to develop relationships, summer was over and they were gone. The ‘freedom’ of summer wasn’t quite the same with ‘new’ school-age children instead of ones we already knew. So, for the first time ever – I didn’t fill any of my school-age spaces this summer – and I’m loving it.
The school-age table has been empty;
The little ones are engaging in more age-appropriate dramatic play. They are demonstrating their creativity instead of copying someone else. I haven’t heard ‘I’m bored’ once this summer, nor have I had to spend hours shopping for tons of additional food and supplies.
I’ve also been imagining what the little ones and I could do with that extra space I have set aside for bigger children and all the supplies they need but the little ones don’t. I’ve started to think that it would be really, really nice if the province would let me exchange those three empty school-age spaces for one more preschool space.
Group childcare homes have two licensed providers and up to 12 infant/preschool children – that’s a 1:6 ratio. I have five preschool spaces and although three of those five could be infants I rarely have more than one or two – sometimes even none. If they stay with me until they start school each one year of infant care will need four years of preschool care. Hence, I’d have to kick out preschoolers if I wanted to keep those infant spaces full - I would never do that. One more preschool space would help.