May 23, 2016

Parental Mistakes: Hard to Ignore

Coach and I have yet to be awarded perfect parent certificates.  Try as we might, our efforts are far from noteworthy.  With Laddie's 18th birthday rapidly approaching next month, I feel we've developed and enhanced our skills over the years - but we are still learning.  Our offspring never fail to outsmart us, surprise us, and teach us. 

Having said that we basically suck at times, I have stumbled upon a few instances lately that make me wish I could lawfully shake a fellow parent.  The episodes presented themselves at two totally different ends of the spectrum.  One parent was in diaper changing/ stroller pushing mode.  The other parent had years of experience but failed to figure out when to keep her big mouth shut. 

While my crew is at school, I babysit three days a week for a toddler and his infant brother.  Occasionally I am mistaken for their mother, but I usually assume that people are aware that there is very little chance that these youngsters are genetically linked to my middle aged body.  During the winter months I frequently loaded the boys up and hauled them to the local library for story time.  It doesn't seem that long ago that this ritual was a central part of my kid-centric week with my own bunch.  While the familiar recipe remains the same: books, songs, felt boards, children, props, and germs . . . I noted a few updates.  Nowadays each session ends with a heavy dose of bubbles shot around the room with an electric bubble blower.  Very high tech.  The story time facilitator's reference to the other participants as 'our friends' seems to be a new, politically correct development.  When one toddler becomes a little too frisky, the library leader gently reminds the entire group to be more aware of personal space with one generic comment.  'Let's be careful of our friends,' she'll utter in order not to single out the actual perpetrator.  All in all it was the same set up with different faces, fresh books, and both new and retro sing-alongs. 

At our last class of story time for the spring session, a little boy named Donnie with consistently horrible self control issues grabbed at another boy slapping at his chest and face.  I suspected from early on that the Donnie suffered from autism or a delay of some kind.  Perhaps a diagnosis had yet to be confirmed, but I feel strongly that it is only a matter of time.  Watching the boy run around in circles while his 'friends' sat listening to a book or mimicking the leader's hand movements to a catchy tune was a red flag.  Not always aware of those around him, he seemed intrigued by the lighting in the room - staring up at the ceiling during his mini marathons circling the group.  Donnie's mom tried to convince him to sit still.  She held him in a tight bear hug at times.  Her discomfort was palpable.  I wondered if she was beginning to recognize a difference between her child and his peers. 

Ned, the boy Donnie had an altercation with, arrived at class every week with his shirt tucked in to his corduroys.  His buttoned up, perfect order demeanor was mirrored by  his baby brother.  Ned's appearance screamed 'sheltered friend.'  He seemed reluctant to wander far from his mother and brother.  This guy needed to escape his comfort zone a bit.  His mother didn't seem able to cut the cord though.  Perhaps my simple observations during the 30 minute story time could have been too quick to judge, until evidence presented itself.

My suspicions about Ned were confirmed when Donnie shared his aggressive side with Mr. Mama's Boy.  Ned hadn't provoked Donnie in any way.  He was just enjoying a bubble storm when he crossed paths with Mr. Pent Up Energy.  Donnie's grab didn't seem malicious.  Mismanaged maybe.  Ned's mother, president of the mamma's boy club, reacted with lighting speed.  Her protection radar was working on over drive.  She raced across the room to where Ned had chased a bubble and whisked Ned away from Donnie's reach.  'No hitting,' she ordered, 'That's not nice!'  Her jerking movement and loud volume startled Ned more than Donnie's fumbled attack.  After Ms. Over Protective Parent of the year guided her future nerd back to their stroller, his emotional state unraveled.  He was reduced to a puddle on the floor where he sobbed uncontrollably. 

His mother's eyes darted around the room searching for a sympathetic parent.  I avoided her glance even though I longed to tell her that Ned needed more encounters like this.  Being roughed up a bit would benefit him in the long run.  She should have let him handle the situation himself.  While the overused mantra 'Use your words,' gets under my skin, it was probably appropriate here.  Encourage him to say something like:  'Don't do that!' while resisting the urge to act like this was a crime of magnificent proportions. 

A few months later another parent ticked me off in an entirely different setting.  Coach and I sat at Laddie's high school sectional water polo game hoping that our team would pull off a win against a tough opponent.  My stomach was full of butterflies.  Laddie leads the team in goals scored and is an overall standout.  While most kids committed to their choice of college by May 1st, Laddie put his first choice football school on hold until he had time to consider playing division 1 water polo for a team on the east coast that began recruiting him this spring. 

During the first minute of the game Laddie made a bad pass.  The ball overshot its intended target and the opposing team scooped it up.  The mother behind me whose son is playing his first year of water polo as a junior on Laddie's team moaned loudly, 'That's going to be costly!'  Momentarily frozen by her negative 'cheer', I shook it off and continued to concentrate on the game.  Later in the first quarter, Big Mouth's son attempted to swim after the guy he was guarding on defense.  This junior is not a swimmer.  He competes at the high school level for diving, but is not known for his swimming speed.  Unable to catch his man, the guy scored a goal at a pivotal point of the game.  I continued to cheer on our team with an encouraging, 'All right Hornets, let's go!!  You can do it!!'  I never even had to bite my tongue to avoid slipping up and shouting something negative, because that would be so  WRONG.  Laddie's turnover didn't compare with Diver's inept swimming stroke, but I knew better than to open my mouth and criticize a player on our team.  Big Mouth had no excuse.  Diver is her youngest son.  She's had other kids compete at high school sports.  Why would she think it was acceptable to begrudge a player on our team for making a mistake? 

Just like with the Overprotective Mama, I refrained from asking what she was thinking.  Until I hold a certificate praising me for being a stellar parent I will continue to keep my mouth shut. 

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