Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Misbehaving Mommies

It's weird, I figured that once I had a kid, I'd suddenly have a panoramic window of compassion overlooking all the things that used to drive me crazy about people with kids. And, to some extent, I do. I am full of sympathy when I see someone trying to contain a thrashing child at the supermarket at 5:oo p.m.--or maybe I'm just glad that's not me. When other moms describe their children's complicated nap schedules, I nod understandingly--Jarrah is the Beastmaster without some semblance of a nap at her regularly scheduled time. When I am talking to a friend on the telephone and she suddenly seems to be asking me if I have "poopy pants," I no longer ride a cresting wave of annoyance--I've learned for myself that the only way to talk on the phone is to pretend you're actually fully engrossed in the fascinating antics of the child at your feet.

But as I form my mom-self through trial and error, no doubt cooking up a recipe that is part inheritance from my own mom, part years of study in the field, part parenting "how-to" guides, and part stubborn character traits that inform everything I do, I find that I suddenly feel a lot more judgmental about certain kinds of parenting, when I compare them to how I'd behave myself. Surprise, surprise.

Today Jarrah and I were at the zoo, and I was in line to buy a small soda that cost a million dollars, and maddeningly, would only be like a quarter more for a gallon-sized container with garish plastic gorilla head. In front of me, a mom who looked about my age was attempting to wrangle two children, a boy about seven, and a girl who seemed to be between two and three. Both children were climbing on a stack of booster chairs when the little girl took a tumble, bumped her head (not hard) and started bawling. The mom's first response? "Jack, what is your problem? Why do you climb on things? Your sister follows you, and now look what you did. She's hurt because of you." The little boy was extremely sad. With what seemed charming contriteness, he kept repeating "I'm sorry, Mommy. I'm really sorry, Mommy. Can we put something on her boo-boo? Can we?" until she finally snapped. "I heard a hundred times" and then, for good measure, "I'm just so disappointed in you."

Throughout this incident, she never raised a hand to him, or yelled. But her words cut me, and I don't even have to live with her! I think my problem wasn't so much that she lost her temper (I've done that plenty) but that her reasoning seemed so faulty. A seven-year-old boy should remember not to climb on things on the off-chance his sister might imitate him unsuccessfully? Aren't kids hard-wired to climb on things, particularly when adults are otherwise occupied? It seemed like she was asking the equivalent of "Here's how it's gonna go, tree. You musn't grow. Because I said so." I made a mental note not to be totally illogical when I get mad at Jarrah. I mean, when she wipes sauce in her hair and I wail "But I just washed it!" these days, I'm not making a lot of sense.

The other incident today was more personal. Jarrah and I were playing at the Pepper Grove park after the zoo and Jarrah spotted a little boy (who turned out to be exactly her age, within days) carrying an orange basketball. She wanted that basketball. Normally she would just march up and grab it, not bothering to interact with the victim of her theft. But this time for whatever reason, she tackled the boy from behind, wrapping both her arms around him as she groped for the ball. I was standing nearby (obviously) but not close enough to grab her instantly. Also, to tell you the truth, I thought it was kind of funny. The little boy staggered a bit, but was undeterred in his progress, holding his own. So imagine my surprise when his mother leapt into the fray, yanking Jarrah off him by one arm (Hello! If she has a 16-month-old, doesn't she KNOW they're unsteady?) and Jarrah immediately went down, rolling on one side so that her face almost hit the pavement. "There's no grabbing! He's too young to understand sharing!" (irony much???) she shouted at Jarrah, and to me, "She could be a linebacker." She went to comfort her child (who, by the way, did not need any comforting) and pretty much just left Jarrah there on the ground. Nor did she apologize to me for knocking her over.

Now, Jarrah is a tough little girl. That has been established. But I've been around the block now (not many times, mind you, but a few) and toddlers are all thieves. They are also pushers. That's what they do. They aren't interested in "managing" their impulses, and their impulses are all about instant gratification. "Get that toy--now. Must. Have. Toy." None of them have any manners--why would they? They can't comprehend manners. The children who LOOK like they are meek and sweet are simply the ones who don't push as hard. They are the ones who have their toys stolen, and that, my friends, is the law of the jungle.

Perhaps I sound callous. But I have been to lots of parks now, and plenty of kids have pushed Jarrah. Some have swiped her own toys right out of her hand. She has even been slightly terrorized by two boys at once, both older than her. And I don't interfere. You know why? I don't interfere because Jarrah doesn't cry. If she cried, or seemed frightened or threatened in any way, I would step in in a second. But generally she appears totally blase, as if these people are beneath her notice. Why should I undermine her confidence by forcing my big ol' mom-ness all over her independence? Call it an instinctive choice, but I don't want to. If my daughter is a strong, spirited girl by nature, do I want to be responsible for frightening her out of it? That would be a no.

Also, I try (I'm sure I sometimes fail) to have perspective. If the child whose arms are presently encircling my child is also 16-months-old, it stands to reason that she is just as clueless about the implications of this gesture as the child receiving it. In which case, doesn't it just become about "the ego of the moms" when we get all up in their faces and ring the bell to bring them back to their corners? What are we teaching them, exactly, at this age? My policy is, if no one's crying, they have it under control. Maybe that seems naive. Maybe I am going to read this in a year and smack my forehead with the shame of my ignorance. Maybe. We'll see. In the mean time, moms who knock my daughter to the ground better watch their backs. And maybe I'm not the one they need to worry about. ;)


Amy said...

Sounds like you are right on target. I got a pain in my side thinking about both of the incidents. I am reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn right now, and he would be equally shocked. I look forward to seeing you both at Julie's.

Anonymous said...

If you think that mom had bad behavior, don't ever coach any of your kids sports!
Best, Gail

Mary said...

Sounds like that mom needs a lesson in the "Four Steps to Friendship." Apparently, she needs to come to my kindergarten class!



aaryn b. said...

In a book I read once (a painful, horrendous, beautifully written book) called "We Need To Talk About Kevin", the protagonist describes her ambivalence about whether to have a baby being related not to other people's children but rather, having to deal with those kids' "insufferable parents".

This resonated with me even before I became a mom.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sam,
I've learned the "Four Steps to Friendship" from Mrs. Roo, but if you provide me with a good description of the she-devil who knocked over Jarrah, I'll stake out the park and go all "Step Five" on her a#$.
Love, Cheri

Anonymous said...

Dear Sam,
I've learned the "Four Steps to Friendship" from Mrs. Roo, but if you provide me with a good description of the she-devil who knocked over Jarrah, I'll stake out the park and go all "Step Five" on her a#$.
Love, Cheri

Anonymous said...

Oops. I have no idea how that went on twice. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Oy. Poor boys. Don't we all know someone who's Mom fought their battles for them - or worse (maybe) - beat them down.

I'm right there with Mary. 4 steps! That Mom needs to go back to Kindergarten.

And I'll be right there with Cheri for the 5th step! :-)


suebdo said...

Wow -- How'd you get so mommy-wise so fast?!!! That certainly doesn't come from any book lernin!! I am always amazed at the Moms (and sometimes Dads) who think a child will follow adult logic. These are the parents who take 2 & 3 year olds to semi-posh restaurants and then yell at them when they squirm in their seats, go under the table and bang their silverware. HELLO!!! That's what 2 and 3 year olds DO at the dinner table. The constant parental yelling - done only to show other diners that they are "on top of it" is 10X more infuriating. Just yesterday a mom at my gym went bezerk when her 5 year old jumped in a giant mud puddle with his new sneakers. I understand getting upset -- but what's done is done and 5 year old boys jump in mud puddles ... read the manual. Berating him in front of 10 other adults isn't going to make his shoes unmuddy & those are going to be whopper therapy bills.
You have a great attitude. To the mom who called Jarrah a linebacker ... You should say "You bet ... A chinese girl linebacker -- that'll be one humdinger of a scholarship!!"

bernalgirl said...

New to your blog (can't even recall how I got here!)... playground politics are such a challenge, and I think you're right on.