Thursday, December 8, 2011

Same shirt, different size

The first thing I noticed was the young boy's shirt: it was exactly the same as one Munchkin has, albeit several sizes bigger. I felt the urge to approach The Mom, to tell her it was one of my favorite shirts, to forge a connection, to have a chuckle over kid stuff.

The occasion to act on this urge was interrupted by the first strained interaction between The Mom and Her Daughter. The 9 or 10 year-old girl was climbing the jungle gym while The Mom was pushing Her Son in the cool shirt on the swing. The Mom called out that they would be leaving soon. The daughter responded with a gesture and something I couldn't hear, something that The Mom must have heard before.

"Don't do that. That's disrespectful," The Mom called out in a sing-songy voice. Her Daughter kept climbing. A few minutes later Her Daughter joined them at the swings. I heard another tense exchange of unintelligible words before Her Daughter scuffed off towards the slide play structure.

 A toddler girl, close to Munchkin's age, was exploring the bottom rungs of the rope ladder up to the large slide. The Daughter moved close and must have put a hand on one of the upper rungs because The Mom immediately burst out with, "Get away from there!" Her Daughter mumbled an objection.

"You get away from there now! That little girl is using it. She's small and you're big." The toddler's mother was on the other side of the play structure, like me, casually observing the drama unfold. I couldn't tell if she said anything, but it didn't seem to matter to The Mom. The Mom suggested -- no, barked -- that Her Daughter should walk around to climb up from another point. Her Daughter remained sullen near the rope ladder and bleated something else I couldn't hear.

The Mom left Her Son on the swing and walked towards Her Daughter, wagging that big finger. "I said, you get away from there now. You're big and you need to leave her alone. We always look out for the little guy. Always!"

Her Daughter ignored The Mom's orders. She stood close to the rope ladder, head down, gently spreading out the wood chips with her foot. The Mom made a beeline for their gear and started packing up, coughing up more admonishments to Her Daughter. She instructed Her Son to get off the swing and get ready to leave. To Her Daughter across the playground, she yelled, "If you don't get away from there, I'm leaving!" Her Daughter did not move.

The toddler girl moved away from the ladder and went off to explore the swings where her mother sat watching. The Daughter seized the opportunity to climb the ladder now that the whole reason for avoidance was gone. The Mom hissed at her before she laid a hand on the rungs.

"But Mom, she's gone now..." Her Daughter moaned.

"I don't care! I told you to get away from there. You made the little girl leave. You made her mommy make her leave!"

My jaw dropped. I stopped listening to them. It only took a few minutes more for The Mom to gather Her Daughter and Son to leave the playground. Munchkin and I played quietly in the sand box. I turned to smile at the toddler's mother, rhythmically pushing the little girl on the swing. She smiled back. I heard the wind rustle in the trees and the soft cry of a hawk above.

Maybe I should have mentioned the shirt, I thought.


  1. Honestly, there are days when I catch myself acting almost as badly as this mom. Beyond my stress point (chasing toddlers while 8 months pregnant, for example), saying ridiculous things before my mind can filter them out. Reminds me of my own mom, actually. The one difference being that I have the ability to apologize to my kids when I lose it. And forgive myself. And hopefully lose it less and less as the days go on.

  2. @lj805, I'm sure we've all had our awful moments like this mom did. I think that's why I felt like maybe if I'd connected with her it might have eased some of the tension she was feeling. I hope like you, she is able to apologize, forgive herself, and move on. I know that's helped me and I'm sure it will help you, too.

  3. "We always look out for the little guy. Always!"

    That part struck me so hard. I'm often guilty, as this mom is, of forgetting that my own children are the "little guy."

    Thanks for the thoughts, and your comment above.