Using Your Village Wisely

Yesterday my son was overboard with the teething, whining and miserable. We both needed a break and some distraction, so we headed out to Laurelhurst Park's wading pool. My hopes were high; I'd packed the mandated swim diapers, a couple towels and a change of clothes. I was looking forward to sitting down and relaxing. Joaquin was so excited he could hardly stand having to wait in the stroller for me to put on my slippahs. (Okay, you mainlanders call them "flip-flops" but to me they're still slippahs.) Our fun had begun.

Joaquin played at the edge of the wading pool. Some kids came by and were playing some splashing games. "There's a baby right behind you," I said to one girl, who was a mere inch from backing up into my kiddo. She moved over and their play continued without much of a break. I don't mind if Joaquin gets splashed incidentally-- hey, it's the public wading pool, and kids get splashed. Some children ran by, splashing him. He was unfazed, but when they ran by again, a bit faster, I stood between my son and the runners, more to make sure they wouldn't miss seeing a smaller person and knock him over. He continued to get splashed as they passed. This was fine.

Then, an older boy appeared. He looked at least eight, possibly ten. When he got in, it was an immediate change of energy. "SPLASH FIGHT NOW!" seemed to be his M.O. He promptly turned to a larger girl and initiated the fight. She seemed to be about his age and game, so that was no problem. Let them Splash Fight on the far side of the pool. They took turns using their arms and cupped hands to fling water at each other. Then the boy turned around to a small three year old girl and Wham!, drenched her. She looked stricken and got out, going over to her grandmother. Their fight came closer. I looked around the pool for his parent. No takers.

I stood up and told the kids "The little kids over here don't want to get splashed. You can play that way over there." I pointed to where they were and sat down. The girl wasn't striking out at any young children, but I had my concerns about the boy. His voice kept getting bigger, he was so excited. The fight moved away, and I told the 3 year old that "you can come back. We aren't splashing over here."

Her grandmother replied, "She said she was worried the baby was going to get splashed."

"Well, we aren't splashing over here." I reassured her, also making eye contact with the boy. Their play fight was moving toward us again. Another second, and both Joaquin and I were soaked.

I stood up. "Listen," I said. "We aren't going to splash over here. You can splash over there." Pointing, again, to the far side. Broken record lady, I was, but I was trying to provide positive redirection, and where the hell were the parents?

Two seconds later, the boy, bigger than any other kid, turned around and splashed us.

"Where's your mother?"

"She's over there, but she's in a class."

(I'm trying so hard to be fair.)"Listen to me. The little children don't want to be splashed. You need to play over there, or you'll have to leave." Firm, steady tone. Nothing threatening, but I spoke loud enough for everyone by the pool to have heard.
I didn't want to be accused of threatening, but no one else seemed to be doing anything at all. It was silent at this point, you could have heard a pine needle drop. All the while, though, I'm thinking "Where the Fucking Hell were the parents?!?"( know, language, but really, c'mon, you'd be asking yourself the same question.)

The play resumed away from us for thirty seconds and then, a minute later, not only did the fight meander our way again, but the Biggest Boy There turned and looked at my teeny kiddo and scooped up two handfuls of water to drench myself and my kid.

But the tension was too much. The grandmother stood up. "You just don't get it!" she yelled at the boy. "WHERE'S YOUR MOTHER?!" The boy responded with the same "She's in a class over there..." (Mom was at a picnic table talking in a group with some other new moms) and the next thing I heard was the grandmother yelling at the whole table.

"THERE'S A BOY OVER THERE WHO IS CONTINUALLY SPLASHING THE LITTLE KIDS EVEN THOUGH ALL OF THE PARENTS HAVE ASKED HIM TO STOP." This was what I heard. Revisionist history, truly. What other parent had asked him to stop? I had been the lone person to stick my neck out.

The mother came over and called her son out. A smaller splash fight sprang into action and suddenly, the Parks and Rec Wading Pool Person jumped in. "You know," she told the girl who remained (pretty much everyone had cleared out of the pool besides myself and Joaquin, "that's not what the pool is about. We aren't going to splash here."

Who taped your mouth shut earlier?, I thought.

The girl's mother, who was sitting next to me, by golly, got up and gathered up her kids to take them home. Was she kidding? She watched this whole thing and didn't once talk to her daughter, who wasn't splashing little kids, but was certainly involved?

Oh My God.

The pool almost instantly filled with little kids. This was vindication, but at what price? I'd had to be the Big Bad Bitch of the Wading Pool, which enabled someone else to be the Slightly Crazy Bitch---sorry, but screaming at a group of women just makes you look nuts. I'd planned on walking over, asking the mother to come aside, and quietly explaining that her son needed some help from her, and Crazy Grandma had killed any chance of that happening in any human sort of way. We played for another ten minutes before getting changed and leaving to meet a friend. As I walked away, the mother of the Big Boy glared at me.

I had a big think. Was I being overprotective? I hadn't minded the passing splashes, I hadn't minded the kids running around by us. I was concerned about the big "drench'em" fights. And why not? If I was one year old, wouldn't I want my mom to protect me from a tsunami?

I was a good mom, but a social pariah. Oh, well.

What I want to say to that mother, the mother who glared at me:"Listen, lady, you were relying on your village. You didn't know any of us, yet you relied on us to watch your son. To make sure he was safe and sound. Doesn't that include our kids, too? When you shove your child into the village, be grateful. We aren't your babysitter. You aren't paying us anything, but you are expecting something from us. So teach your child to respond to the village, to listen to its elders. To respect the other adults. We are here to help all the kids, not just yours. And when we bring him back to you, accept it, try to make amends, and we can all move on."

Late last night, I couldn't sleep. Still feeling bad about being the Big Bad Bitch. Joe, as always, though, was perfect. As we walked to Belmont Station this afternoon, I told him about the Village, and he said, so simply--

"Sometimes they run people out of the village, you know."


Amanda said…
'ts sad how parents just get a little, or a lot too loose letting kids that aren't ready to respect others roam. I guess the best we can do is protect our little ones, and do our best to teach other little ones in the process. We can hope that that biggest boy walked away fully understanding that things would have been much better had he heeded you the firs time...
We can only hope. I'm not for putting the hammer down or being super-strict, I just think that all children need guidance to understand that their actions affect others. Less about "It doesn't bother me" and more "I see it bothers someone else".

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