This goes against everything I have come to advocate for as a parent and yet… There I am. An almost helicopter parent. While there are a few reasons to be one still – most of them having to do with my neuroses – the legitimate one I’m finding to be true is that other kids are not raised to be self sufficient in the ways that matter on the playground. When other kids are unwilling to engage directly with or resolve issues with another kid that’s when it is helpful to be on hand for a wee bit of coaching.
Perhaps this isn’t really helicopter parenting, but I do my best to be aware of and in tune to what my kids might be experiencing. The neurotic hyper vigilance born of having an almost three year old in a cast might also have something to do with this. At least sometimes.
Now, this story (referenced briefly in this blog post) was a particularly difficult one to deal with. My son was being soundly rejected by other kids at a playground for simply being him. He operates on the assumption that everyone at a playground is there to play with everyone else. I see it in how he is when we meet his friends at parks and other kids are there already or show up afterward: nine times out of ten he introduces himself and includes them in playing. This particular day his friends hadn’t arrived yet so he did what he always does – attempts to play with other kids. Sometimes he does this without telling them he’s doing that, and in many cases this has worked out fine leading me to sometimes hear him and the other boys doing introductions at the top of their lungs as they engage in a game of tag, but this time… Not so much.
When I heard these kids – bigger AND older than my six year old – running toward their mothers and saying “this kid is chasing us” I looked up and saw D (my son). I called him over and asked him what was going on.
Awareness. Dialogue happens with awareness.
The story I got was that he was trying to play with these kids and they rebuffed him rather rudely. This hurt his feelings and he tried again by introducing himself. They then called him something different and refused to call him by his real name. Well, my son did what he always does when he’s hurt and pretended to be a dragon as he proceeded to chase them around the playground.
D talked about how he was hurt and how all he wanted to do was play with them, that he would prefer it if they would at least have called him by his real name since he had told it to the boys. So I did what made the most sense to me and what I hoped would be good advice: To go over and talk to the kids, apologize for chasing them, and ask them if it would be okay if they could all play together.
That is precisely what he did. Before I come off as some stalker type parent I feel the need to say that my daughter was in a swing as were the other two boys in question so hearing and seeing what went on at this point was very easy to do without intentionally hovering. Although, if I am to be fully honest, the eavesdropping was quite intentional.
Back to my son attempting to correct a wrong. He apologized and asked them to play. The boys ignored him. Did. Not. Respond. At least at first. After a few moments they finally did and said, “No. We don’t want to play with you.”
And then the real heartbreak.
My son said, “Okay, but could you at least use my name, though? It’s D.”
The kid, swinging, looked at him and called him something else.
My son tried again, “I told you my name before and it’s D–, so if you talk to me could you please at least use that instead?”
Other kid: “Whatever.”
In deference to my son, he can be full of piss and vinegar when crossed or hurt, but when he’s sincere he is all out kind and soft. This is how he was in tone and demeanor by the end of this brief attempt at making right. To see his pain was tremendously hard as was hearing the next question: “Why don’t they want to play with me?”
The only responses I had were not kind so much as what I perceived to be the truth: “Sometimes people don’t forgive others when they make mistakes. When you first played with them it sounds like things weren’t nice right off – so they might not be ready to try and play with you.”
D: “But I said ‘sorry’.”
Me: “I know, but sometimes it isn’t easy for people to accept that. A first impression can’t be undone and if they seemed scared by you at first they might be still.”
Oh, how I wish this ended there. Truly. Instead my son heard them telling other kids about him and pointing at him. Yep. Awesome.
I don’t care for the tattle tale bull in general (really, it seems like an epidemic these days), but this gossipy stuff really pushes my buttons. Where the hell are kids learning this is the appropriate way of handling situations? That it’s appropriate to poison others against someone they hardly/do not know? And because of why?
Instead of launching into THAT as my response – oh how momentarily satisfying it would have been- when he informed me he would do the same when his friends arrived I fell back on the old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Such paltry words. Very dissatisfying to hear when one feels victimized and with that last piece, the “don’t play with THAT kid”, that is indeed what he was. Apparently since they were surrounded by discussions of how it made him feel and why that wasn’t a fair thing to do to someone he seemed to latch on to it anyway despite his annoyance at the lack of retribution.
If there’s one thing I try REALLY hard to not do it’s to tell my kids what they should and shouldn’t do (unless someone’s in danger). Truth be told my son rejects such ideas anyway. Logic and reason have greater sway on his behavior than anything else could, does, or has. So to him understanding that the wrong action – making someone an outcast among strangers – was enough to keep him invested in playing with his friends instead of engaging in doing the same thing to someone else.
The pain of what I have come to view as conformity education is a hard thing to witness my kid experiencing, it’s a pain that resonates so deeply within me, and yet the only solace I can manage to find is in the hope that his knowledge of being loved and accepted for who he is will hold him steady through it. It does not negate the issues of kids forming in, and resulting out, groups – nor the hurt – but if nothing else support for his hurt, for who he is might aid in the formation of compassion and empathy instead of bitterness.
Perhaps he wont’ be the most popular kid on the playground, but when I see him going up to younger kids and asking them to play and engaging them in gentle games of chase or imaginary games of “hunt the dragon eggs” my heart is full at seeing his so readily on display.
Hopefully, some day, such broad acceptance of others will not be an anomaly. In the mean time courage is what’s necessary as is a whole lot of love.