My daughter loves playing at the park at the end of our street. She’d stay for hours if she could. But since she’s a child with a disability, she can’t go to the park by herself like her peers do—they can come and go as they please, but my kiddo has to drag her mother along.
“Drag” makes me sound like an unwilling companion, but I’m usually content to supervise. Though some days, admittedly it’s inconvenient. And boring. After a few pumps on the swing and perhaps an (awkward) chin-up or two on the monkey bars, my thoughts quickly turn to, “I need to start dinner” or “I have to return that phone call by 5pm” or “I have to pee” or “I wish I brought more coffee” or “I really, really have to pee.”
But she’s a kid who needs fresh air, and climbing and swinging, and companionship, and your basic childhood fun, so I park myself at the park.
Yesterday was a beautiful spring afternoon so I was happy to spend some time warming the park bench.
Within a few minutes of arriving, the play structure filled with kids from Avery’s school. They quickly organized a game of Grounders. Avery literally happy clapped with excitement. This kind of active social fun is totally her jam.
She chased the kids, a grade older than her, up the ladders and down the slides, happily yelling, “Grounders!” It was cute to watch. Cute until a boy I didn’t recognize (I think he’s from the neighbourhood, but goes to the french school, not our elementary) stepped in front of Avery as she was about to hurl herself down the corkscrew slide. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I could tell by my daughter’s body language that it wasn’t anything good.
As he spoke, Avery began shaking her head, no. And he laughed. But not in a “shared joke” kind of way. It was a cruel laugh. Mocking.
Just then a girl from Avery’s school, climbed the ladder and leaned in toward the boy with a, “Shush!!” And then a “Stop it!” He ignored her and continued speaking to my daughter.
The girl climbed the rest of the way up the ladder and stood beside him and said, “Shut…up-uh,” while nodding her head in the direction of the bench I was on.
She wasn’t defending Avery in case that’s what you were hoping for. She was warning her buddy that the mother of the girl he was bullying was watching and now standing, getting ready to step closer into ear boxing range.
He looked over at me, and froze. I may have paralyzed him with my eye daggers.
I called Avery over to me and asked, “Hey Ave, what was that boy saying to you?” with a lightness in my voice that was totally forced.
“He say I can’t play with them and to go away.”
And that’s where I had to make a choice. To make a scene, to confront this obnoxious eleven year old, to draw attention to the fact that my daughter is different and separate from the group, or to diffuse the situation and allow my girl to enjoy the rest of her time at the park. This kind of choice is never easy. A few years ago there would have been no choice. I’d have lost my shit immediately. No question.
As a (former) teacher, I find it difficult not to school other people’s kids at the park. “Get down from there!” “Language please!” “Is that a smart choice?” “We say, excuse me, do you have the time?” It’s a struggle to keep it in sometimes.
So my natural instinct was to take this boy to task. To teach him a lesson.
But at what cost? My daughter would’ve been upset by it. Harsh tones or scolding or anything remotely unhappy makes her uneasy.
She wasn’t upset at this point. She understood she wasn’t “allowed” to play, but she didn’t grasp his tone or get that she was being excluded and laughed at.
So this is where I had to decide what to do next.
My choice was to protect her enjoyment of her time at the park.
I said, “You know what? There are a lot of big kids running around and he was probably worried that you could get knocked down or hurt.”
That made sense to her. People are always watching out for her, so why would this boy be any different? What a thoughtful kid…
She ran off to push a toddler on the swings and her sunny afternoon at the park was preserved.
As for the boy… I shot another dagger in his direction (I tried to shoot one at the girl too, but she wouldn’t look my way) while I answered a call on my cell phone.
By the time I hung up, I had calmed down and the kids had moved on to another game.
I suspect the boy was frustrated—Avery didn’t understand the rules of “Grounders” (Who does? That game is so stupid. The person who is “it” runs around with their eyes closed and yells out the name of anyone they suspect might have stepped off the play structure onto the ground. The kids cheat and constantly peek to make sure they don’t run into a pole or something. It’s time for a new game kiddos. May I suggest Kick the Can or Sardines?) So, she was slowing down the game by yelling Grounders and randomly tagging people. Fine. But he dealt with his frustration by belittling a little girl who just wanted to join in the fun. Not cool surly curly brown haired boy, not cool.
I’m sharing this story today, on #NationalPinkDay which is a day intended to celebrate diversity and acceptance, and to draw attention to issues around bullying because the message suits today perfectly.
Also, I wanted to acknowledge that parenting is difficult. And stepping in to parent another person’s child is a grey area. Sometimes I do it (because I honestly can’t help myself). But usually I choose my child’s happiness over a “teachable moment” because my child is my top priority.