You know those parents who sit and talk about when Lindsay Lohan is getting out of jail or who Ashton Kutcher is dating or worse, gossiping about other parents? The ones with nothing to contribute and are either oblivious to their own child’s deliberate dominance on the playground or, again worse, think it’s sound parenting strategy to let their offspring demonstrate Darwin’ s theories to smaller, shyer, less confident or experienced children? Worse still, to let them behave not just ignorantly, but to not step in when Butch targets another child specifically for life’s lessons?
As a parent of 5, I have seen it all, and have gone through every reaction – timid response (saying nothing); aggressive response( “is it just this museum, or are all children brought up without manners and all parents rude?” (that one emptied a room once, the babies had the whole play area to themselves); active response (“come on, i’ll go down the slide with you”); others.
I took an Adderall this morning and took the kids to the park. You would think 2 and 3 year olds could navigate a playground themselves, but they don’t get out much and have only one another to work off of, so they require guidance. I took E (3) to the foot of the steps so she could climb up and go down the slide but there were a couple of bigger girls and she didn’t know what to do with herself. My anxiety started to climb the steps with me. By the 3rd happy slide down/hesitancy to climb the steps herself, I needed to get back to L (1) in his stroller. S (2) was also looking like she wanted to play. So after a few minutes of E standing in the middle of the playground just watching the other girls, I grabbed S, kicking and screaming, and took her straight up the steps and forced her down the slide. She fell on her behind and giggled wildly.
But the two of them still refused to go up the stairs themselves. Watching L passed out in the stroller, I carried, cajoled, encouraged them, finally threatening to leave if they didn’t want to play, their brother was asleep and he needed to get home to nap. They did not want to go. Then I realized that E was watching the girls, maybe 4 years old, with a basketball, carrying it up the steps, dropping it off of the platform, and running back down the steps to collect it.
I watched her climb halfway up the steps towards the ladder and have to clamber right back down when these two girls practically trampled her. I looked for their parents – 20 feet away, directly in front of where they were playing, making no note of their girls barreling over a smaller, obviously shy little girl. I left L where he was and walked towards the girls, irritation rising to irrational proportions. When I reached them, the girls were standing, passing the ball between them, and poor E wanted to play with them, watching them, circling. I felt so badly for her. S couldn’t be bothered with anything, as long as she didn’t have to get into her car seat. But poor E wanted to play and couldn’t, by herself or with other girls.
I have two older teen girls, so I remember them being both the little and the big kids. Childhood trauma can produce both monstrous parents and hyper-sensitive parents. I always watched the way my older girls behaved around smaller children and taught them to think protectively of smaller children. I don’t let any parent off the hook, though, if you have common sense, you teach your kids to play nice, it’s as simple as that.
E was trying to climb the steps again, driven down once more as if on some cattle run in her puffy jacket and little UGG boots.
I grabbed her down. “You can’t play on the slide honey because these girls are hogging the stairs.” Hogging. What a funny word. I would have said “monopolizing” but that would have meant nothing to the girls, and probably less to their idiot mothers. I stared at them while I held E, squirming to get down. They paid me no mind, Kim Kardashian’s failed wedding somehow still a topic of interest. I wondered what else someone could get away with. Maybe I should just take E and cut through their daughters like Rob Gronkowski mowing down the Jets’ defense.
I stared at the mothers and placed E on her feet. The girls were back to their basketball game and when E and her pretty smile and eagerness to be included was too obvious for them to bear, one of them suggested they play somewhere else. Poor E. She was devastated. My anxiety was up so high and so much anger had welled up. These responses probably have more to do with to do with my own half-buried recollections of the playground as a little kid. And I don’t blame the kids of course. I just know I would have prodded my own girls into sharing the ball with the smaller girl, and I sure as shit wouldn’t let them run amok on the playground without regard for the littler kids. It’s not only rude, it’s dangerous.
“E, we need to go anyway, sweet.”
“NOOOOOOO!” She started to cry. I started to lose it.
“E, those girls won’t let you use the steps and they won’t play with you. THEY ARE RUDE.”
The mothers looked at me briefly. E cried and I stared angrily, wishing one of them would say something to me. E wanted to play so badly. When she is in school, maybe my mental state won’t be so bad, maybe I will join the PTO like I did when my older girls were elementary students. That ensures that your kids are never left out of anything. But for now I had just this crying baby.
I have a small bearing but my Borderline (or my mother’s example) renders me fearless in most situations, happy to take on anyone if I am right. (Sometimes I am wrong, and I can admit it.) I have walked away only once – a lumberjack of a man was flipping out on me for parking on his street one morning before work. I owned a waterfront condo a block over, but there were no spaces available on my street, the whole neighborhood was resident sticker parking only, so he could see I was local. He went crazy. He must have been crazier than I am now. It was 7 in the morning, I had just dropped off my older girls at school and was locking up my car and walking to the train station. I don’t remember what he said, but he walked away from his pickup truck, a little girl and boy looking on, and started to terrorize me. I shouted back to him that if he could read, he should examine my windshield and observe the sticker.
“I pay property taxes in this neighborhood, asshole!”
“What did you say to me?”
“Dude, go fuck yourself.”
The things he shouted – sexual things (I had never heard the term “hosebag” before, much less been called one) – and the violence with which he spewed them scared me more than his quick, aggressive strides towards me or his apparent abandonment of his children to terrorize a woman. I turned the corner before he got to me and the police were there, working a construction detail (sidewalk repaving). I was shaking and I wanted to say something to the cops but I was afraid I would cry if I opened my mouth. I told my husband, although the guy had been much bigger, my husband was from Somerville and had the scars to demonstrate his own willingness to take on anyone. Fortunately for Lumberjack Dad, we never saw him around the neighborhood. He was probably too busy killing off hookers on GTA.
But back to the playground. In my mind I walked over and threw a jab into each of their throats. That shut them up long enough to endure my tirade. That’s as far as my fantasy got. I had to pick up poor E. It was late, it was time for her nap, and we would come back when ordinary playground behavior wouldn’t throw me into a murderous mental frenzy. I won’t ever actually hit anyone. But god do I sometimes want to.