On Saturday, we headed to one of our favorite parks. It was a beautiful fall day in Florida (you know, 82 degrees and sunny) and it most certainly couldn’t be spent indoors. Our usual park isn’t crowded; it’s older, and there are newer parks in town, with much larger jungle gyms and recycled tire mulch. But we like this park. Its enormous oak trees provide shade, there’s always plenty of room on a slide or swing for our son, and we generally are free from worry of Miles being trampled by a big kid.
But not on this particular Saturday.
It was moderately crowded for our park, but not unmanageable. We spent time on the slides and swings, chasing squirrels and lizards, and trying not to poke our eyes out with sticks. The park has a great open field, so the three of us trotted over with Miles’ giant, orange bouncy ball. It’s perfect for little toddler legs to chase, kick, roll over and throw. Large muscle movement ensures easy bedtimes later on, you know.
No sooner had we started playing when two girls, ages of six and eight, I’m guessing, wandered over. Not only did they immediately take Miles’ ball, but the kicked it as far as they could, and ran away with it. My first thought was, “Where are their parents?” (answer: drinking eight dollar mochafrappahighfructosecaffeine under the pavilion 250 feet away) and my second thought was, “GIVE ME BACK OUR BALL.” Of course as an adult, I am required to exhibit manners and be the good example. Rationally talking with them seemed like a good idea, as soon as I could catch them.
ME: “Excuse me, may we please have our ball?:
ME: “Excuse me, that’s our ball, and we were playing with it. You cannot take things from others.”
GIRLS: “Old lady, blah blah blah, teehee watch how far I can kick this, blah blah blah.”
ME: “GIRLS. Give me the ball, please. You cannot play with it.”
Although the older of the two begrudgingly returned the ball, they also spent the next five minutes following us, saying things like, “But he wants to play with us! He’s trying to give me the ball! We won’t bounce it hard. We like balls, too.” I reminded the girls that Miles was a little guy, and that he didn’t play with big kids. I also reminded them that this was our ball, which we brought from home, and it was not property of the park. While I could not get all Mean Girls on these kids, I couldn’t help but wonder why their parents weren’t more concerned (answer: they had totally forgotten they’d even brought their children to the park) and coming to intervene. Once my answers grew to the rudest point I could muster for these spawn, they finally gave up.
Listen, I’m not a judgey mom, and I know that things like respect and manners are learned over time, and improve with age, but these girls were not toddlers. YOU TOOK A BALL AWAY FROM AN ADULT WOMAN. You have a big brass pair, tiny heathen. But your mom isn’t going to notice because she’s nose deep in Lucky Magazine, goggling over shoes and handbags that aren’t even sensible for things like taking your children to the park.
That afternoon, I realized that becoming a mom doesn’t make you a kid person.
When I was a teenager, I babysat for one family, and one family only. The kids were super cool, which made the job totally easy. I knew I would never become a member of the Babysitters Club, and I had zero desire to be. Because I knew even then, I’m just not a kid person.
I’ve never been the one that others referred to as a “kid person.” I’m sure you do know the type I’m talking about; the adult to which younger children are drawn, as if they were made of apple juice and chicken nuggets, and certainly didn’t mind speaking in a Grover voice for an undetermined length of time (toddler answer: GROVER FOREVER). There have always been kids that liked me, but I just didn’t resonate that same kindergarten teacher vibe that others did. And that was always (and still is) totally fine.
When we were pregnant with Miles, I wondered if it would become instinctual for me to be a kid person. As you’ve read, the short answer to that question was a resounding NO.
I love my son the way all parents love their children: insanely, awesomely, overwhelmingly and unconditionally. But as a mom, I have learned that there’s my kid, and then there’s everyone else’s kids. And I do not, in fact, like everyone else’s kids. I love kids, because I love everyone, but there is a line in the sand of the Sandbox of Life separating those kids from me.
I have found that I not only lack the patience to use that moment to teach them the right thing to do, but I also lack the desire to have the patience. Like all parents, I believe that my kid is awesome, but also capable of mischief. When a teachable moment presents itself, I’m all over it, because I want to be. The mom force is strong within me; just not for all kids (particularly the heathen ones). And I don’t believe it’s wrong for me to feel that way, either.
I do try to view things from the other perspective. Maybe their parents have forgotten what it was like when their children were little. The days of helping them slide, pushing them on swings and singing “Ten Little Monkeys” are but a distant memory. Parents of older kids: please remember those days when you see us little guys at the park. You wouldn’t want your children trampled then, and I don’t want them trampling mine now. Teach them some manners, and if you already have, the park is probably a great place to remind them of proper behavior. This is your teachable moment.
R – E – S – P – E – C – T.