Well it happened again. We made a spectacle of ourselves. And my poor mother was there so I have to say Mom – you did a hell of a job of riding it out with me.
We were at another “journey into history” museum (we just couldn’t get enough of them this summer). The playground had a tunnel slide and for some reason (because they’re both monkeys? Young and energetic boys? Rulebreakers?) my boys always have to climb to the top of these slides. On the outside.
Well the security guard (why? In case someone tries to steal an earthen pot?) didn’t like that at all and came over to tell them to get down. The dad who was standing nearby seemed pleased.
Oh yeah, I’d seen him giving my boys the eye. He didn’t like that they were up there and he was making no bones about letting us know with his squinty-eyed glares.
There are two types of parents: those who always follow the “we go up the ladder and down the slide” rule, and those who just give up and let their kids walk up the slides because, well, isn’t that what they really want to do?
I guess you know which camp I’m in.
And honestly, I was in no mood to go and deal with the boys to make this guy feel better. We’d been walking for hours, I was resting on a shady bench, and my mother and I were actually having an uninterrupted conversation. I wasn’t going to rush to this guy’s aid. I knew the boys were fine and I wasn’t going to yell at them to make him feel better.
So after my boys were properly chastened by the guard, Disgruntled Dad came over to where Mom and I were sitting, grabbed his stroller, and stomped off without a word. I could almost hear him go “Hmph!” as he turned on his heel and flounced away. Mom said, “Maybe he thinks we’re stealing stuff out of it?”
In all fairness, I’ve been that parent. Taking my toddler and baby to a playground and worrying for their safety when there were some big-loud-wild kid bodies flailing around. I remember being terrified that my own would get knocked off the edge of the climber and plummet to their death, and hating those big kids. “Will you BE CAREFUL!?” I wanted to scream at them.
But I kept that inside. Let it play Mama, just wait and see what happens. And you know what happens most of the time? The kids are all fine. And they’re relieved that you’re not embarassing them by interfering.
Plus I have the advantage of knowing my boys. To the untrained eye they may seem terrifying, but they are also so kind and caring to little kids that it could break your heart. It probably comes from growing up in a day care and living under threat of bodily harm – from your own mother – if any of her other ducklings are hurt.
I’m exagerrating of course, but my sons have learned that I will not tolerate meanness, and I give them lots of love when they are kind. (And hopefully they’ve learned from my example? Yes? A little bit?)
I have also worked with kids for seven years now. I can see their intentions, how they’re feeling, if they’re interacting well, and when somebody’s really upset. If there’s no problem according to the kids, I’m usually going to hang back and let them have at it.
So back to Disgruntled Dad. No matter what he did, his toddler daughter kept hanging around my boys (because they’re fun?). After three minutes of chastened quiet, the guys had resumed their usual level of play and were now inside the tunnel slide, screaming and yelling at each other.
What? It makes a cool noise.
The little girl was standing at the top of the slide watching them. I could tell she had no intention of going down, but was fascinated by the animals who had taken up residence there. Dad must have thought she was trying to go down, or was just uncomfortable having his child’s body in such close proximity to beasts, so he kept urging her to come down. Nothin doin. She was being entertained.
After a few minutes and three or four tries to get her to come down, Dad decided to take another tack. “GUYS! Knock it off!” he roared into the slide. My boys, stunned and embarassed, rolled out the bottom of the slide, Younger’s dejected little face coming first.
Of course Mama Bear wanted to go over and slap that guy. Actually, my first response was the same thing I do with the day care kids – Do you see the look on his face? Look at how you made him feel! (Are you proud that you just made a seven-year-old boy almost cry?)
What did this dad teach his daughter? To be afraid? To run away from anything that seems too fun scary? Or that if you don’t know what else to do in a situation, just start yelling at people.
I was pondering all this as Dad gathered up his troops and walked back past my mother and I on the bench. I was steeling myself, trying to come up with a rational response if he confronted me. I spend my whole life talking and writing about bullying and child development – I had a lot to live up to in this moment. I had to maintain my cool and say something rational. Plus my mom was right there! I couldn’t fail.
But Disgruntled didn’t say anything, he just disappeared with his very well-protected children. My mother waited a moment before commenting. “Well. We cleared this place out!”
I love you, Mom.
It made me think of a story my friend Lynne Marie tells in this awesome post. When she was uncomfortable with something her child was doing, she checked in to see if she was OK with it, rather than imposing her own discomfort on her daughter’s play. Now that’s some fine parenting. I wish Disgruntled had tried it.
Here’s the bottom line: I wouldn’t let him push me around so he pushed my kids around instead. I was being selfish and unfortunately they got caught in the crossfire. It definitely wasn’t right for this guy to bully my kids no matter what, but in the big picture, am I making too much of it? I guess I just can’t get over the guilt that I should have stopped it, even if it was just a little barking. But in the end, I let him get away with it.
So I ask you, Moms and Dads (grandparents, caretakers, teachers, etc.). Am I overreacting because some guy yelled at my kids? Should I have stepped in? What would you have done in this situation if you were me? (And don’t say “act like a grownup.” I already know I didn’t do that!)