Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Rules of the Playground

*Note: I came across this "essay" on my computer the other day. It was my first attempt at creative writing after becoming a new mom. I'm guessing (based on how old Drew was at the time), that this was written about 2 years ago.*

Today, I took my 15-month old to a little neighborhood water-park. You know, the kind of place where children can frolic amidst water geysers and gurgling fountains and squirting flowers – the perfect spot for kids to cool off in the heat of the summer.

Being a first time mom, I approach these adventures with some anxiety. I know that I need to let my little guy have some freedom and room to run, but at his age, he’s usually still the youngest one around, and my “Mom-Guard” is on full alert. After all, I am responsible for making sure he doesn’t get out of my sight or climb too high or get hit by flying buckets, etc. So far, he’s handled his little life lessons like a pro, seeming to studiously take note of acceptable social behavior and imitate what he sees the big kids doing.

So, today, as I stood on the edge of the “sprayground” watching my son, I was trying very hard to stay out of his way and let him be a little boy. Just as I began to get comfortable and give him some space, I witnessed the following interaction:

A five year old girl walked up to a water spray gun mounted to the ground – the kind you can aim and fire at your unsuspecting little brother’s bottom just as he kneels to fill up his bucket. Unfortunately for her, my toddler was standing under the water gun trying to catch whatever drops fell from it’s big spout.

She assessed the situation for a few moments, then slowly lifted her foot, placed it on his chest and gave him a little push. It wasn’t a kick, and you could tell by her hesitant nature that she was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to kick babies. So, I sat back and continued to watch.

Because her little plan didn’t have the intended result (it made my son more curious than anything), she leaned down into his face and told him to “please leave!” Well, this didn't do much good either. And I can't blame him for staying put; after all, now a pretty little girl was leaning down talking directly into his face, and my boy was infatuated! He stopped trying to catch the water and gazed intently at her, trying to figure out what she was saying to him.

I moved in a little closer but was trying my hardest not to interfere. About that time, the little girl’s mom, began making her way across the park toward us. Before her mother arrived, though, this child put her hands on her hips, looked at my sweet son, and said (with all the contempt and exasperation of a teenager), “This is RIDICULOUS!”.

She then turned around, hands still firmly planted on hips, and looked me straight in the eyes – (“Uh oh, I’m busted,” I thought)“Is this your baby?” she asked. “Yes, he is,” I answered. “Could you please make him go!”… more of a demand than a question.

Her mom was rounding the corner and was within hearing distance by now. For effect, I paused a moment, then answered back loudly, “You want the baby to go??” I’m not sure why I felt I needed to ensure that her mother heard what I believed to be an offensive request (maybe 5-year-old attitudes are contagious). But I was curious to see how this little bundle of bossiness would be dealt with.

Much to my disappointment, the other mom simply explained that the baby would get distracted eventually by something else, and would be out of her way in no time.

“That’s it?” my heart cried. “Didn’t you see your daughter attempt to kick my child? Didn’t you witness her haughty attitude and frustration? Aren’t you going to do something right here in the middle of the park to correct this behavior?”

I snapped out of my imaginary monologue in time to observe that the girl was now happily playing with her spray gun, my son was bouncing across the park chasing water drops, and the other mother was making her way back to her friends, who continued their conversation about the best recipe for stuffed green peppers.

Feeling quite surprised by my own emotional response to our first playground “confrontation”, I also felt a little humbled. After a moment of retrospection, I realized how normal this type of encounter must be in the unpredictable world of preschool interaction. And over the next few years, my child may be the one dishing out the bad manners on a shiny platter for some poor, unsuspecting toddler in his path. But I hope I will remember how it felt to be new at all this “mom stuff”. And maybe if for no other reason than to give some other first-time mom hope that there are polite children left in this world, I will proactively run interference for any bad situation I see unfolding and make him apologize to mommy and baby alike. After all, isn’t that the point of socializing our children…To teach them how we want them to approach the world and to show the importance of respecting each other in our daily interactions?

*Whew - I was so idealistic back then! I'm just grateful that I haven't had to test my own theory of "What I Would Do.." For the most part, Drew is shy and quiet on the playground, keeping to himself or wanting ME to slide down the slide with him. Although he did pull a little girl's curly hair one time. I was shocked and responded swiftly, making him apologize to the child. Later, her mom advised that she thought my son was just "flirting" with her daughter. I think I'd rather assume that he was being bad...*

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