We went to the park with the boys this week. It was a new park that we had never been to before. There were several fun things for Hal to play on but Daryl had been concerned that he might get bored. We planned to pick up a Frisbee at Wal-Mart but they didn’t have any. They did have these paddle sets on clearance: 1 ball and 2 paddles that had rows of suction cups on one side. We bought two sets since there were four of us.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a little boy with fresh stitches across the bridge of his nose and a friendly, almost intrusive manner. In fact, when I handed out a paddle to each of my boys, the little boy (who introduced himself as Finny) confidently announced that he wanted one. His family was a short distance away under a pavilion.
I told Finny that he could play with it for a little while but when my boys’ daddy got here from the car, we’d need it back.
He asked for one of the balls.
I sighed and handed him the ball and then suggested that he and Hal play together. I started playing catch with Daryl. Before long, the younger boys had abandoned the paddles and were playing among the play equipment. Daddy arrived and the three of us headed to the grass to play. Eventually, Hal joined us.
But neither Hal nor Daddy cared much for the paddles. They soon returned to the playground where Hal resumed his play and Daddy read a book.
Finny and his older brother (who was just a bit older than Hal, I think) found our second set of paddles and struck out to join Daryl and I. I heard their adults tell them that the paddles weren’t theirs and they needed to put them down. Either the boys told them they had permission or the adults decided not to fight the fight. The paddles were not put down.
Before long, Daryl and I noticed them hovering near us. We glanced their way.
The older boy said, “Hey! Throw me the ball!”
Daryl calmly responded, “There’s another ball. Where is it?”
The boy motioned behind him. “It’s over there somewhere. We lost it.”
“Well we need to find it,” I said as I began to walk over to where they had been playing.
“Oh! There it is!” the boy said, running over to a blue spot in the grass.
“Ok,” I said. “Why don’t you guys play with that one and we’ll play with this one.”
That worked for about a minute before they were hovering on the edge of the basketball court we had moved to. They had again left the other ball behind.
“Where is the other ball?” I asked.
“I want to play with that ball,” the boy said. “Here! Throw it to me!”
Daryl was irritated. So was I. I glanced up at the pavilion toward the oblivious adults to whom these children belonged. No one looked our way. We tried to incorporate the boys but they were taking over. They were demanding. They were terrible at catching and throwing the balls. They were terrible at taking turns.
I asked Daryl, who had shown no signs of wanting to stop before, if he was about ready to go to dinner. He eagerly said yes. I told the boys we would be leaving soon. After a couple more frustrating minutes, I collected the paddles and balls and told Finny and his brother good-bye.
Now I know that many parents would have had no trouble telling those boys to move on or to play with the other set while letting us play with ours. The thing is, I don’t mind sharing our toys. And once I’ve shared the toys, I find it awkward to tell them to return them if we aren’t using them. I try to be friendly.
But I didn’t know I was dealing with children who had no sense of boundaries, or parents who would make no more than a perfunctory attempt to enforce a reasonable set of boundaries. I never did see any of the adults in that pavilion look our way. If they had, they surely could have seen that my son and I were no longer having fun. I wonder if they are the kind of people who assume everyone else finds their kids as cute as they do. Or the kind that are so eager for their children to be entertained away from them, that they operate on the assumption that we will enforce the boundaries if we have a problem. Either way, I wasn’t impressed.
My husband and I differ on this point. He thinks adults should act like adults and speak up if they don’t like the interaction they are having with other people’s kids. While I agree to a point, I strongly believe that the parents of the offending children have an obligation whenever possible to remove the requirement for the annoyed adults to speak up. In other words, no parent should ever assume that the adults in question are comfortable being up front with their kids. They should attempt to remove their children from the situation. Then, the kids learn appropriate boundaries. And, if the adults don’t have a problem, they can always speak up and say, “Oh, it’s ok. I don’t mind – really!” But if they do have a problem, the parents act the bad guy and the others can go on about their business.
I guess at the end of the day, though, I need to grow a spine. I’m freakin’ forty years old. I shouldn’t be afraid of hurting a couple of little boys’ feelings by telling them that I would like to play catch with just my son. I obviously can’t depend on their parents to step up, so if I’ve got a problem, I need to.