Trying to find some sense of balance when it comes to protecting your child is one of the most conflicting aspects of parenting I’ve experienced. We didn’t really do much to baby-proof our house, but I have a heart attack if August stands on the couch. He used to love to sprint across the sectional in our basement and collapse laughing while I tried to find new pants to replace the ones I’d just peed in. Luckily, he’s not a super adventurous kid and for the most part, isn’t really prone to injuries. He only in recent weeks got his first bloody knees that needed bandaids. Nothing crazy, and part of being an active kid. And while it breaks my heart when he’s hurt, I’ve mostly resisted the urge to clothe him in bubble wrap.
Emotionally, I know I’ve got a hell of a bruiser. August is a sensitive kid who is often brought to tears by “sad songs.” You would think Elmo was spinning nothing but break-up jams, the way this kid can bawl if the tempo is slow enough. If he is sad or upset, he wants to sit in my lap and “have a talk about his feelings.” When he gets startled or scared, he tells me he wants me to take care of him or keep him safe. It breaks my heart and makes me burst into laughter at the same time. But his sensitivity is one of my favorite parts of August’s personality, and while I wish he wasn’t so easily upset sometimes, I don’t want him to lose this.
When he is playing with other kids, I know some upset is bound to happen. Kids fight. Someone isn’t going to want to share. Someone isn’t going to want to play this way or that way. Someone is eventually going to get their feelings hurt because all these kids are learning to interact with each other and haven’t quite figured out how to play ball without also trying to kill each other. So for the most part, I try to hang back when August is playing with other kids. I want him to learn how to work crap out with other kids, and he can’t do that if I’m bubble-wrapping him every step of the way.
There are times where August will go up to another kid and say hi and the kid will ignore him, and I get slightly annoyed and have very tiny Mama Bear feels. But I remind myself that they’re kids and not all kids say hi, and the world continues to move. Sometimes, August will get pushed or hit by another kid for whatever reason, and I feel a little more protective. But no one gets seriously injured and usually the other parent will swoop in to have their kid apologize and then everyone goes back to playing. The world keeps moving. Then there are the times where August will be caught up in running around like an idiot and push another kid out of nowhere, and I suddenly feel that rush of WHAT DID YOU JUST DO and I become the swoop-in-and-apologize parent, shocked and embarrassed that my kid just made another kid cry.
None of us are immune to it. At one moment or another, someone is going to be a jerk to our kids. And at other moments, our own kids are the jerks. And it is totally normal for usually sweet kids to have moments of jerk behavior because deep down, we are all jerks, to some degree. So I’m just trying to let August figure out how to deal on his own when someone is being a jerk, and teaching him to not be a jerk. Golden Rule: Be kind; not a dick.
But then I had my first experience with simmering rage towards another child for being a total dick to my kid. Restraining myself from dropkicking this turd out of our atmosphere felt like the ultimate achievement in being zen as hell. Adam and I took August out for ice cream at this awesome farm/food place when the weather was gorgeous. One of the many perks of this place is a huge field that kids can run off all their sugar in. So August crushed his graham cracker cake batter ice cream (drooooooool) and then ran off to play while we adults finished our much larger ice creams. He ran up to two older boys who were playing with a ball, and asked them if they wanted to play. The boys clearly did not, which is totally fine. Not everyone wants to play with a two-year old. I don’t always want to play with a two-year old. But instead of just playing together, the two boys started taunting my kid.
Nothing horrible, Just faking him out and tossing the ball past him. Sometimes August laughed, sometimes he got a little upset. But these boys weren’t trying to make my kid laugh; they were trying to make him cry. They were being mean. To my baby. They were being mean to my baby. To. My. Baby. And when he didn’t get upset, they would just get worse, waving the ball in his face, getting way too close, saying mean things and I was getting more and more bothered by these big kids picking on my much younger kid.
When I realized these kids were only going to keep escalating their crap until August actually cried, I decided I was done waiting for him to get hit or pushed. I jumped up (which is a sight to see when I’m this pregnant, believe me,) and marched over, ready to show these turds what’s up. I was about to take out my earrings when the bigger of the two boys taunting my kid saw an enormous pregnant lady with a Level 20 Bitchface coming towards him, and stopped right in his tracks. And that’s when I remembered this is a kid, and most kids haven’t figured out how to not be dicks. I’m an adult, and here I was stomping over with every intention of being a dick and telling him Santa doesn’t exist and that evil clowns live under his bed. It took me down a notch. But just a notch. I took August by the hand, told both these kids that they needed to work on being nicer to little kids, and walked us back to our picnic table.
I know I can’t always protect August, and that as he gets older, he’s going to meet more kids that haven’t learned to not be dicks yet. Very likely, he is going to be a dick at some point and make another kid cry. It’s what kids do, and I can’t hover over him with a ream of emotional bubble wrap every moment. He starts school in the fall and I know there are going to be preschool spats on the playground. But it still breaks my heart to see my kid sad because someone isn’t being kind. The same way it breaks my heart when he bites it on the pavement and skins his knees. All these bumps and bruises, physical and emotional, are how we learn to navigate the world around us. And I need to let August continue to navigate and to skin his knees and to get his feelings hurt. Instead of swooping in to prevent the falls, I need to keep hanging back, let them happen, but still be armed with bandaids and maybe a cookie. Never too young to eat your feelings, Little Guy.