Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mama Karma

I'm involved in a discussion elsewhere about how to handle altercations between two children. Here's what happened, in the other blogger's words:
“Stephen hit someone today,” the nursery worker at the YMCA announced the other day to the mother ahead of me. Both of us were waiting to collect our kids. Instinctively, I stiffened. Had this Stephen character hit Punky? I craned my neck, trying to see her in the playroom behind the two women.

“I tried to put him in time-out,” the worker continued, “but he wouldn’t stay there.”

“Oh,” Stephen’s mom said vaguely. “I’ll, uh.... talk to him about that later.”

Meanwhile, Punky spotted me and came running out of the room. “Hi, Mommy!” she shouted, hugging my knees.

“Did you have fun?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she shouted, “but Stephen pushed me!”

Stephen and his mother were standing right beside us. “Stephen pushed you?” I said loudly. “That’s awful!” Stephen’s mom feigned oblivion.

“Yeah,” she said, “But I told the teacher.”

“Good!” I practically shouted, realizing Stephen's mom was going to simply ignore us. “Because it is not okay for kids to push you! Or hit you!" I looked over at Stephen. His mom was casually examining her french manicure. "Pushing and hitting are very, very bad!" I said darkly. "And wrong! ”
The rest of her post isn't that important, except that neither Stephen nor his mother addressed the issue directly with the Blogger, but the Blogger didn't address it directly with them, either. My comment was, essentially, "Boy, are you going to feel stupid next week when it's YOUR kid who has done the hitting..."

In my opinion, the Blogger acted very passive-aggressively with the other mother. It didn't seem to me that she had given Stephen or his mother much of a chance to respond in any way, appropriate or otherwise. Having been on both sides of the issue, I could see how Stephen's mom might not want to discuss the situation in the chaos of pick up time. I could see how waiting until she had his attention and having a conversation about respect for other peoples' bodies might have more of an effect than making a forced apology would. I likened it to rubbing a dog's nose in a spot that's three days old - the dog isn't going to remember what he did. No, kids aren't dogs, but preschoolers memories are approximately the same length as canine memories, in my experience.

My opinion was that since the event was not in progress (in other words, this had happened in the past, it wasn't like Stephen was laying Punky out right there before everyone's eyes) that it was best dealt with privately. If I had been Stephen's mom, I would assume that apologies had already been forced (for what they're worth, between three year olds), punishments had already been handed out (in so far as they were effective, and unfortunately timeouts aren't all that effective when administered by a frazzled day care provider who probably has 8 other kids to divide her attention between), and that we'd all moved on. Granted, I would've probably said something to the other child's mother, again, if I were Stephen's mom, but I wouldn't have made a big hairy deal over it. In all honesty, if Mary Grace pushed another kid and I found out about it later, I would probably have asked the childcare worker, so that the other mother could hear, "Is the other kid okay?" and left it at that. I'm not big on apologizing for my kids. I am really not big on apologies in general, to be honest. When MG tries to get out of trouble by saying, "I'm sorry, Mommy," I usually say, "I appreciate that, but I don't want you to be sorry, I want you to do better."

I went to the Baby Labs one day, and there was a little boy who was between Mary Grace and Claire's age - he was probably a little over a year. He was really sweet, and really big, and he kept hugging my kids. Hard. I don't think he meant to hurt them, but he was enthusiastically squeezing my kids, without due regard for their oxygen intake. The kid's mom must have said, "I'm sorry," to me 90 times in the 30 minutes we were around them. "I'm sorry," she'd say, as she held him back. "He's not around other kids very often." "It's okay," I assured her, "it's totally normal kid stuff, she's fine." She apologized for him so much and so often that it was interfering with the conversation I was trying to have with the grad students who run the lab. It was to the point where I wanted to say, "How do you think he's going to feel about himself as he grows up, with you always apologizing for him and making excuses for him?" but I didn't. I just let it go, hoping that she was just having one of those days, and that it wasn't as much a habit with her as it seemed.

Then there was that awkward McDonald's incident, when I wasn't sure if I was supposed to tell the kid to go out back and cut a switch, or what the other mother expected of me. I still haven't figured that one out.

What I was really getting at, though, was that Mama Karma will get you. The force that brings balance to the parenting universe. The example I used in the comments was, "Just when you're really proud of your kid, when you're telling the other moms at Gymboree about how she's differentiating equations and reciting the alphabet in Greek, you turn around and she's got one finger up her nose and the other one up some other kid's nose. And then she takes both boogers out, looks at them critically, and eats them." As soon as you post on your blog about how healthy your kids have been all winter, you come down with a nasty virus. As soon as you rave about how well behaved your kids are at the store, you have a Category 5 meltdown in front of someone who isn't going to understand at the grocery store. As soon as you think, "My kid is better than your kid," your kid proves that she's really not - she's just different.

I guess it was the passive-aggressiveness of the whole thing that annoyed me, to be honest. If you're going to be pissed and communicate through your child like that, why not just have the ovaries to say to Stephen, "Did you apologize to Punky?" or to say to his mother, "Don't you think he needs to apologize?" It's sort of funny - her readers all jumped over me like I'm Stephen's mom. And maybe I am Stephen's mom, but at least now you know why. So, for all the times you think I should've apologized for my kid, and didn't, I'm sorry. I wonder if her readers are all waiting for me to say I'm sorry in her comments? Who knows?

Maybe I'll just try to do better.


Aidan's mom said...

I read this exchange as well. I agree that far too many parents are lenient with their children...yet I also understand Mama Karma. I recently had another mom apologize to me at my son's gym class because her son took my son's ball.

Seriously? You are apologizing? This is Little Gym and our sons are 2 years old! Taking each other's things at this age is developmentally appropriate! And frankly so is a bit of pushing and shoving. Not to say that no corrective action need ever be taken...but when did we stop letting kids be kids?

And as I pointed out in the comments section there...we have no idea what that mother may be dealing with. It is easy to assume we are dealing with a normally developing child, when in fact there may be more at play.

Stuff I have gone through with my son being a preemie has taught me to *try* not to judge other mamas so quickly.

Missy said...

Mommy Karma is the truest thing. Which is why I try - TRY - not always successfully - to give grace to other moms. I probably would have told myself that Stephen's mom just found out that her husband was leaving her for a 19 year old roller derby queen right before she came to pick him up, and she really just couldn't deal with this petty preschool crap at the moment. In a weird way, that would have made me feel better.

Sometimes - no, always - it is just better to extend grace. All of us are just making this up as we go along.

Of course sometimes you are PMSing and extending grace is flat out impossible, but it is a beautiful theory anyway.

Char said...

And sometimes you need to read the whole blog and understand that Lindsay was just venting her bad day and expressing that she wasn't so perfect. The reason that everyone jumped all over you on her blog was that you came off so "little miss perfect". The reason Lindsay is so popular is she is not afraid to say what we all feel or have done and have felt a little bit guilty about it. She is real and doesn't let us believe that those thoughts haven't crossed all of our minds. I don't know how long you have been reading her stuff but that is the way she writes. You come off so judgmental toward her and that is why you got ripped in the comments, not because we don't all agree with you (in our better self) but the real self has sometimes felt like Lindsay and she lays it out there like it is....