It’s Called a Park, Not a Babysitter

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The sun was bright, the sky was clear, and it was a few days before Tiny went to see his daddy for the summer. I wanted bonding time with my tiny human before losing him for the entire month of June. What was the best way to accomplish a fun day filled with exciting memories?

By taking Tiny Tot to the park.

Parks are phenomenal. They give children a chance to interact with others, stimulate the imagination, build muscle strength and durability, and expend little human energy. Parks establish free thinking and creativity; they promote courageous feats and amazing stunts of daring. Parks provide a safe zone for exploration, a social connection away from the home and school environment, and a moment of complete freedom.

Tiny Tot was so excited to show off his new skills at the park the moment we arrived. He gets braver every week with the equipment, and stronger as his little muscles continue developing gross motor skills. He climbed to the top of the jungle gym, sat on the highest rung, and gazed out over his Kingdom … until he scared himself. Then he quickly skittered off. He gained the courage to try his new trick a second time, but after a moment, he looked over at me, and asked me for help. I laughingly replied that he was a big boy, he had just climbed to the top by himself, so why, then, did he need me?

He replied, “Please, Mommy? Just for a second?”

For my tiny human, I’d give an infinity of seconds.

A quick spotting was all he needed to climb the castle walls and survey his next escapade. From his vantage point on the jungle gym, he could see the monkey bars, and quickly bolted toward his newest destination. Now, I should admit here, something about the monkey bars terrifies my son. The hanging, or the idea of releasing his footing from solid ground, petrifies him. Why? I have no clue.

The boy has leapt from a five foot slide without any qualms whatsoever.

But, for the first time in four and a half years, he grabbed onto the bar, released his footing from the platform, and swung through the air. Two more times he stepped off the platform, swinging freely, quickly tiptoeing his way back onto the platform after only a few moments. To me, it was a huge first in his life. The day he finally conquered his fears! Of course, being the mother I am, I grabbed out my cell phone, and started clicking away with my camera.

At least I did, until my tiny tot’s hands slipped, and he fell. His tiny little bum smashed into the mulched ground with an audible noise, and his eyeballs immediately erupted in tears. I, in turn, dropped my cell phone, flung myself onto the ground, scooped him up, and coddled the crap out of him. As we rocked back and forth, I stroked his face and cracked jokes about how silly it was of him to fling himself on the ground from so high in the air.

He, of course, was devastated. He looked up with his big, watery green eyes, and told me, “See, Mommy? I knew I couldn’t do it.”

I laughingly replied, “But you did do it. You swung from the bars three times before you fell. I’d say that was pretty fantastic! Last week you were too scared to even try, and this week you went for it! I’m so proud of you! What if I wipe you off, and we try it again?”

I stood him up, wiped him down, made a spectacle of wiping myself down, and then I helped him climb all the way across the monkey bars. Once finished, he bolted for the slide. I turned to follow, and then I saw them.

They were all just sitting there, staring at me, judgment written across their faces.

There they were, four mothers on a luncheon playdate, sprawled out under the shade tree, having a great, gossiping time. But now, after watching my reaction to my son falling, they found a new object that held their attention, or disdain, whichever it was: me.

I knew exactly what they were thinking, though. A few choice mom blogs floated through my head as fast as the disapproval flitted through their eyes. How was I to expect my child to learn anything by himself if I picked him up whenever he fell? How would I ever teach him independence if I spotted him while he climbed across the monkey bars? How would my baby boy ever get his thumb out of his mouth if I refused to sever the cord?

They probably also thought: that damn mom on her damn cell phone, posting pictures to that damn Facebook while her kid falls on the ground. That irresponsible woman, this is why cell phones are the evil Devil’s Incarnate.

But, as they were judging me with their icy stares, I found myself judging them, as well. I mean, where were these women’s children? Not once in the time I had been at the park had I seen one of them move off their rumps to check on their kids. I saw a kid run past the group of moms a few times, but nothing more.

Tiny Tot bolted in that moment, refocusing my attention. My priority is him; wherever he moves, I move. You know, because I’m apparently creating a lifelong dependent thumb-sucker.

Unfortunately, it was then that I met the women’s children. Tiny Tot had ventured toward the slide, and was standing near the top, watching these kids. He’s very sociable, but he wants to make sure he approaches children in the right light, which is always fun for me to observe. He always stands back for a moment, watching their interactions, choosing how he will approach them to ask if he can join in the fun.

My dependent thumb-sucker is an exceptionally rational thinker.

No clue where he gets it from.

There were five of them in all, ranging from ten to two. The toddler was unattended, under the slide. An older girl and younger boy were at the top of the slide. Another boy was at the bottom of the slide. Oozing down the slide was chocolate ice cream, which the boy was smearing across two other slides with one, solitary, sticky napkin. The girl and boy at the top of the slide were loudly jeering, “Hey, you little rat! You’re such a stinker, Rat, and so stupid. Why don’t you go cry to your mommy, cry baby rat?”

The toddler was laughing at the taunting, but I had had enough. First, the ice cream was enough to put me over the top. Why was that mother not over there cleaning up the mess that her son had created? The slides were now ruined for everyone else who came to the park for the rest of the day. The cleaning staff wouldn’t come until the morning. But, they shouldn’t have to clean up an atrocious ice cream mess simply because the parent had gossip and mommy time keeping her busy. Second, I do not adhere to bullying, and I do not want my child hearing bullying and believing it to be okay. I’ve blogged about that before. I have never been the mother afraid to correct another kid, especially if the parent refuses to ante up.

So, I stepped in, saying, “Oh, no ma’am. Play nicely. We do not speak to other people that way.”

It was then that I learned something about this little girl and her household. I learned how she spoke to her mother. She flippantly responded, “Well, he talked to me that way first, so I talked back to him that way.”

I was floored. Floored! She had just talked back to a grown woman that she did not know, who had corrected her for being a big, nasty bully to either her brother, or some random kid she didn’t know.

I curtly explained that it didn’t matter, and I didn’t care, because she wasn’t going to talk that way in front of my child, who had to hear her rudely bullying another child, while talking back to an adult. Then I told my child to slide down the only slide not smeared in ice cream, and get away from those kids.

Unfortunately, the brats followed my child around, yanking on his shirt and throwing things at him while he crawled through the tunnel. Kind-hearted child that he is, he thought they were playing with him. As I commanded him away, explaining that his mother does not allow him to be picked on by rude, mean kids, I became furious at the actions of these ignored park kids.

Dependent, thumb-sucking raising mom that I am, I thought these kids were completely spoiled brats who needed one thing in their life: discipline. As much as those mothers had silently judged me for coddling my child when he fell, I silently judged them by the actions of their children at the park.

There are so many things that the park can provide, but there are many things the park will never teach. The park cannot teach a child how to interact with other children, it just provides them the opportunity. It doesn’t teach them the dynamics of playing a game of tag, it only affords them the space. It doesn’t teach a child how to climb the jungle gym, or swing across the monkey bars, it only provides them with the equipment. The park doesn’t teach children how to do anything, it only presents them the opportunity.

It expects the parents to teach the children, their children, the how.

For as much as a park does provide, there is one, all-encompassing thing it will never do–the park will never be a parent; it will never babysit a child.

As much as I follow my child around, as much as I spot him in his attempts at bravery, as much as I quell the epic tears from a rough fall, I would rather be present while raising my son than find myself sitting on the sidelines, refusing to care about how my child grows up, and how he presents himself to the world.

When I became a parent, I became his How To manual. He can learn fierce independence, creativity, and bravery when he steps out into the world, but he will do so under the guidance, direction, and discipline afforded from me, his mother.

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No comments posted on June 1, 2014 in Parenting, Winging It, Mom Style

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