I advocate for village-raising of our children almost on a daily basis. I love the concept of shared responsibility in tending after neighborhood children when they are all outside enjoying everyone’s company. If my child is doing something dangerous that would harm him/herself or others, I would hope that another parent or adult would not think to hesitate to intervene on my behalf. I have done the same in situations with neighborhood kids. Sometimes the boys in my culdesac might think I am mean, but it I act out of love and concern when I don’t want them jumping my fences. What if they fell and hurt themselves? I once had a dear friend and colleague who called me very concerned because she thought she saw my son riding his bike over by the freeway underpass (It wasn’t him.) and she knew for certain that was never something I would allow.
When other people intervene in situations regarding safety of my children and they do so out of love and genuine worry, I believe this is what will save us and our world. This is what village-raising encapsulates. This is a far different approach to village-razing which is what I experienced today.
Where village-razers micromanage their own children and, when still not satisfied, will micromanage other people’s children because power trips are just so greedy that way. My little girl and I encountered such a beastly woman today at the mall’s play area, a small playground but my girl loves it. It has a slide with bumps on it and she thinks that is the most wonderful thing. I like it because it is indoors on one end of the mall so I can watch who approaches the area and also watch the doorway at the same time. I take the One-Eyed Moody approach to parental supervision: “Constant vigilance!”
I suppose I have taken the natural environment of the playground environment for granted, or maybe it is plainly too obvious to me, but playground dynamics for children are essential to learning basic social skills. It is not throwing them into guerrilla warfare with no training, people, it is interacting with other children at roughly similar ages. Here they learn how to take turns, stand in lines, navigate social niceties, meeting new friends who then disappear, and dealing with conflict. Ideally, they do all of this without parents interfering unless absolutely necessary. When is it absolutely necessary? Obviously if there is an obvious risk or a heightened emotion that can’t be deescalated without help.
Before I get to the beastly mother who inspired this look from my daughter:
I’ll give some village-raising from the same playground experience today. My daughter quickly made friends with another little girl a bit older than she was and they had a great time. They ran around and went down the slide holding hands. I soon saw the new friend hand my girl one of two barbies from a stroller and thought it was so nice she was sharing. Of course, my girl was delighted and off they played. Until I heard some crying from another little girl. It seems these two barbies were not owned by the child who so freely shared! My daughter, being the youngest and not even three, didn’t completely understand — she hates sharing anyway. (Who does?) The mother of this upset child could have had every right to be upset with my daughter and other little girl for “stealing” the barbies. Technically, they were stolen, right? However, this sweet lady was very kind and patient, knelt down in front of my little girl and thanked her for finding the lost barbie and taking such good care of her. What a lovely way of handling the situation.
Soon after this, in a way that time goes quicker for children than adults, my little one was off and running to do something else. This time she was climbing on the dinosaur bones. This girl loves to climb and hang. All she wanted to do was hang off the eye sockets because, really? Why not hang from a dinosaur’s eye sockets? Until an older kid started peeling her fingers off from inside the dinosaur’s noggin. My daughter was getting upset but I didn’t get up right away. Instead I waited to see if she would need me at all. There are times she chooses to tell off people herself, her expletive of choice at the moment is shouting “4, 5, 6!” in a loud angry voice. However, as I was walking up to her I could tell she was getting more upset and wanted help, especially as this older kid was getting ready to flip over the eye socket from the inside. By this time, she was crying and I was mad! However, just getting angry wouldn’t help anything; this little boy just wanted to play. And so I held my little girl and said to him, “I know it’s hard to understand why she’s sad because all you wanted to do was flip over and she was in your way. But maybe do you think if you waited until she moved she wouldn’t have been in the way anymore?” He was quiet for a minute and then said he was sorry. I didn’t know who his parents were, but later I saw him with his dad who was in his nurse scrubs. He had just come off shift and met his family for lunch at the mall. I bet he was exhausted and here he was playing with his kids. That’s a damn good dad.
As I mentioned, my girl loves the slide. It’s a personal victory for her and she throws her hands up in the air and practically throws herself down to go faster. The slide is pure joy for her and so, like many kids she will sit at the bottom to revel in the experience for a little longer than she probably should. When I consider all the hazardous behavior I see at any given time at a playground, I have not once ever seen a kid who remains sitting at the bottom of a slide cause detrimental harm to other children. Not ever. It will be as annoying as hell, but it won’t actually harm anyone. However, I also allow my children to experience natural consequences. In fact, when we were there today a mother was telling her son to not go down the slide yet because my daughter hadn’t gotten off from the bottom yet. I told her, “Oh no, let him go down. She needs to get a kick in the rump so she learns she can’t just sit there all she wants. A few good kicks and she’ll get it.”
Suddenly all the happiness was sucked out of the room when the beastly mother came in with her daughter. I first thought she ran a daycare after I watched her interact with the other children around her. My second thought was how horrible it would be to have your child have such a beastly woman for a preschool teacher or daycare provider. But then I realized she wasn’t just a beastly woman, she was a real live beastly mother and I couldn’t stop watching her. She would stand at the very top-side of the slide so she could snoopervise each of the kids as they approached the seat. If she saw anyone taking cuts she would order them back into line. Once a kid sat down and slid, she would walk to the front and pick them up and tell them to move out of the way. I didn’t like this at all. My girl didn’t get up fast enough and Beastly Mother barked at her to get up and move.
The mama bear stirred inside me. I walked a bit closer and waited for my girl to go down the slide again. As she went down I quickly picked her up before Beastly mother could and said, “Let’s go back in line before you’re yelled at by a stranger.” That woman barely looked at me and said, “Well maybe if people around here would actually be parenting their children I wouldn’t have to.” It was so smug and snide. So martyrish and self-righteous. I wanted to smack her. I’m small but I’m scrappy.
I said to her, “You don’t know anything about me or any of us here.”
“I don’t have to. All I know is that nobody is parenting…blah blah blah…” somehow, in some bizarre ability known only to repugnant people everywhere when they’re trying to make their arguments valid, their language falls back into gibberish. I don’t know the official name of that language but I think it has a slight variation of the douchecanoe diphthong. I was able to piece together that in her mind, properly-parented children didn’t hesitate to stand up straight away after going down the slide. Or something.
Finally, I had had enough. I pointed out that I had 13 years of parenting experience, a time period that she had spent mostly tripping along in public school matriculation. And while there might be some here at the playground who are not watching their children it isn’t because they aren’t parenting, it’s because they are long past the stage of counting the actual breaths their children are taking. Parenting is not taking away all possible outcomes a child might encounter. It is teaching them the skills necessary to maneuver those outcomes the right way.
Further, I told her, “you’re teaching them from the wrong end. Parenting is about helping them before they’ve even begun to slide. Once they’ve slid, what are you telling them to do? Get out of the way so the next person can have a better chance. Great message, Mother of the Year.”
Still angry with me and my apparent inability to parent, Beastly Mother was only able to stammer. All that was left for me to do was point out, “You’re just being a bitch and you need to back off” and then take my little girl to get some chocolates. Because why not?
I have no doubt that in this woman’s mind she felt she was doing the right thing in taking charge of Operation Playground Slide Safety. I’m sure she still does and will continue doing so. To be honest, if Beastly Mother was not impacting my daughter’s life — even in a small way — I would not have even spoken to her. But she was impacting my daughter and therein lies the problem. I won’t have my daughter’s village razed, even in the tiniest bit. There is already about her world that is torn apart and destroyed in the community around her that I have no control over. As her mother, I will only fight for village-raising. The razers can kiss the slide on the way down.
I will admit that I had no problem tossing off one last farewell comment to Beastly Mother when her kid fell and hit her head. “Man, would you take a look at that? Take your eye off of her for even a second and she got hurt. If only she were being parented…”