Finny and His Brother

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.

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Swing Sets and Marriage

One of the best parts of being a preschool parent is without a doubt watching them play when they don’t know you are watching. This is a tricky thing to do, especially if you are trying to do it as you arrive to pick them up from the preschool. The reason it is tricky is that every single preschool child considers it their solemn duty to immediately notify their classmate when a parent arrives.

It’s like a crazy chain reaction. The first child notices you, perhaps even ignoring your finger to your lip and shake of your head, and yells, “H-A-A-A-A-L-L-L-L!!!!” The kids nearest turn to catch a glimpse of you before joining the chorus. Soon, the entire classroom or playground is ringing with your child’s name.

When the older two were young, I could sit in my car if they were on the playground and watch fairly safely from there. Before long, the informants began to recognize my car. I could try to hide near the glass inside the building and watch – but only if I could get in undetected, and even then, there wasn’t much to hide me.

At Hal’s school, however, I can easily get all the way to his classroom without being seen from the playground. The play toys are a safe distance from the classroom windows. I can watch him play to my heart’s content without fear of being caught.

And so today, I gazed out the window and found him at the swingset. He’s usually at the wooden train. He was standing up and brushing the wood chips from his body, apparently recovering from a fall. Had he launched himself from the swing? When he stood, I marveled again at how much taller he is than the other kids. He seriously looked out of place.

He soon rushed back to the swing and tried several times to hop into it. He and the little girl next to him were both trying to lay on their backs on the swings. Hal succeeded and pushed himself off. When the swing swung to the front and he was a good distance from the ground, he suddenly flipped his legs up and over his head, completing a flip that had him flying a bit from the momentum before smacking face down back into the wood chips.

I now knew what he had been doing just before I got there. I watched some more, curious. Both he and the little girl were flipping, typically without the swing moving. She was more graceful and controlled; he was more exuberant. After a few more minutes, I walked outside. The cries of his name began before both of my feet had touched the porch.

As we walked to the car, he said, “I know who’s going to marry me.”

“Oh, really? Who is it?”

“Josie.”

“That little girl you were swinging with?”

“Yes.”

“That’s sweet. Did you ask her to marry you or did she ask you?”

“I asked her.”

“And she said yes?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you want to marry her?”

“She’s in Ms. Tony’s class.”

“You want to marry her because she’s in Ms. Tony’s class?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to be in Ms. Tony’s class!”

“Why do you want to be in Ms. Tony’s class?”

“Because they are bigger! Well… I’m actually bigger than they are but they are the big kid class.”

I suppose some grown-ups don’t have much better reasons to marry than that. Good thing he’s still under age.

No Comparison

Morning Edition ran a story this morning about a twelve year old girl who has composed hundreds of songs for piano and released six albums. She was matching pitch when lullabies were sung to her at the tender young age of one. She composed her first song at age three. By the time she was five, she had performed in a 45 minute solo concert, one third jazz & ragtime, one third classical, one third original composition.

They asked her if she could play one of her early compositions so she played a piece called Little Angels that she wrote for her sister. She said she was four when she wrote it. This song touched me in a way that only truly special music does. I became quiet and turned inward. The music washed over me and tears welled in my eyes. It was truly beautiful.

For perspective, I reminded myself that she is Jane’s age. When she spoke, she actually sounded even younger than Jane. And when she wrote that song that captured my heart, she was the same age Hal is now. Hal. I pondered my wonderful little boy with the cute smile and the budding personality and the stubborn streak so strong in all my children. My heart swelled with love. And I sincerely hoped that today he wouldn’t pull anyone’s pants down on the playground.

Hair

Jane’s Stardusters dance lessons started this week. She danced with a boy named James. The next day, a boy named Brad told her that James had told him that Jane had really hairy arms.

Jane looked dismissively at Brad and plucked at the hairs on her arms. “James is ridiculous. It’s just hair. Everyone has hair on their arms.”

“Why don’t you shave them?” asked Chris, the other boy she hangs out with in her home room.

“Nobody shaves their arms!”

“I thought girls were supposed to,” he said, starting to get a bit apprehensive.

“No! Girls aren’t supposed to shave anything. We just choose to.”

This reminded me of my best friend in middle school who hadn’t started shaving yet. One day, a boy approached her on the playground and asked why she didn’t shave her legs.

Without a bit of hesitation, she shot back, “Why don’t you?!”

The boy was taken aback and hurried away. I was always in awe of her for that. I would have melted in embarrassment and probably cried about it once I got home. I would have done the same thing in Jane’s scenario. But neither Jane nor my friend were the least bit embarrassed.

I thought about telling James’s mom about his comment. Not all girls are as resilient when it comes to these kinds of comments going through the ranks of boys. But, no. I’m fairly certain that that would embarrass Jane.

Profanity Makes an Appearance… or Two

WARNING: Out of necessity, this post contains some mild obscenities.

Jane’s language has taken a bit of a turn for the worse, although not in verbal communication. At least, not yet. We monitor her text messages from time to time so I was surprised to see her refer to a former friend as a bitch. When I called her on it, she responded, “Well, what other word is there to describe a person like that?”

She acquired a new boyfriend about a month ago. They didn’t go on any dates, don’t have any classes together, don’t see each other at lunch, and until recently, didn’t talk on the phone or text (since Jane had no phone). This romance consisted primarily of saying hi in the halls.

It will be no surprise to learn that he recently broke up with her. His explanation was that she knocked his hat off and punched him in the arm. She wasn’t too upset. Mostly just upset that she hadn’t listened to her friends’ warnings when she agreed to be his girlfriend.

While checking her phone, I noticed that his name had been changed in her address book. He was listed under “douchebag”. I had learned from another mother that she had been using this term on a recent bus trip, even helping people spell it correctly, so I was not floored by it.

“Jane,” I asked as she entered the room, “what exactly is a douche? Do you know?”

Her dad, listening in from the kitchen, began to laugh. She got that uncomfortable, shy smile that she gets when she knows she’s been doing or saying something we disapprove of. “Weeeellll… kind of.”

“Then tell me what it means.”

“Someone told me once but I really don’t remember.”

“A douche is something that you stick up your vagina and squirt a bunch of stuff to clean it out.”

“Ewww!” Her face scrunched up in disgust.

“Yeah, so do we really need to call anyone that?”

“No.” She reached for her phone to change his name back.

She’s actually not the only underage member of the family trying on an expanded vocabulary. When I picked up Hal from preschool the other day, I learned that he had told a friend on the playground to “go fuck off.”

Similar to Jane’s douchebag, Hal had no notion what that meant. After a very stern talking to where I explained that that word was never, ever, ever OK for him to use, where I explained that it was way, way worse than calling someone “stupid”, he looked quite abashed. Some intense questioning revealed that he had most likely picked up the phrase, and its proper usage, from another kid on the playground.

Once the shock wore off, I was slightly amused and even felt a little sorry for him. I imagine that he heard someone say it and understood the context. When I want someone to leave me alone, I just tell them to go fuck off. Got it.

It is interesting to experience how much overlap there is between parenting a teenager and parenting a preschooler.