I mess up on things a lot. Especially with this parenting business. That is why I am a wannabe. I could tell you all the many ways I screw it up and you would undoubtedly cringe at a lot of them. I sure do in hindsight. I’m either the dreaded helicopter parent swooping in too often or too soon OR I don’t pipe up enough, especially in dealings with other kids. The “Oh, let them work it out – that is how kids learn” philosophy is great in theory, but leaves me feeling conflicted and doubtful most of the time. And above all I think, you never want to be a parent doubting yourself.
There is a balance – a fine line between helicopter and hands-off, and I for one, don’t have it down. Mama definitely ain’t got her groove. Maybe that is what makes me feel the worst. I feel I should. I wish I did. But it still seems like a minefield I am carefully navigating – and yes, sometimes things do blow up in my face.
Today I saw my son struggling, playing with these other two boys at the park. My guy just wanted to play catch. These boys insisted on Monkey in the Middle – and my son was put as the monkey. He never could knock it down – thus remaining in the middle – and meaning he never got to even handle the ball. How much fun is that?
I could read the look on my son’s face. He was not happy, and his good-natured way was slowly evaporating. Do I jump in? Insist or “suggest” that they play it differently – I know, how about the old fashioned way where you just throw it to each other and catch it and everyone gets a turn? Too dull these days? One of the boys (the alpha kid if you will) was becoming a bit aggressive in his teasing (torture). But perhaps I am just over-protective?
I did nothing (not proud of it – just telling you the story). It was one of the other boy’s mothers that stepped in and changed the dynamics of the game. She (a schoolteacher so perhaps a bit more experienced – or just better – than I) could see that my son was miserable and felt the other boys were now acting mean-spirited.
Maybe it was better coming from her – because it didn’t look like a mom stepping in protecting her son. Maybe it was worse it didn’t come from me because after all, I saw my son’s struggles and didn’t respond to it. (What kind of message does that send him?)
At the end of this playdate, the final incident happened. It was over a game of tag my son didn’t want to play. We were getting ready to pack it all up, but Alpha Boy wasn’t quite ready for it to end. He insisted they play and that HE would be IT, but then at the last second, yelled, “Not IT” making the second boy IT, who seemed confused by the sudden change in events, but quickly reached over and tagged my son. My guy looked bewildered; he had stated it pretty clearly he wasn’t playing, but now somehow seemed to be in an active game of tag. He stood there for a couple seconds, clearly not sure if he should just go along, you know be a good sport and play this game being forced upon him.
This time I stepped jumped in. “Hey Buddy," I yelled. " I thought you said you weren’t playing? Well, anyway – it is time for us to go.” Ah – saved at last. My son ran over to me and gave me a hug, but really he was hiding the fact tears were now spilling from his eyes. “I was just so confused,” he admitted in a muffled voice. As was I – and told him so. He wasn’t alone there.
It had been long enough at the park with these boys – for both of us. The negative undercurrent I had been sensing this whole time was also being felt by him and he was starting to lose it. He buried his head in my chest as the tears kept coming. I comforted him for a minute, but then saw the other boys starting to walk over. Trouble brewing. “Ok, Buddy. Deep breaths. Pull it together. You don’t want them to see you cry,” I told him, helping him wipe the incriminating evidence off his cheeks.
Suddenly Alpha Boy was there. “Is he CRYING?" he wanted to know. This Zen Mama Wannabe stood tall. “Oh, he just got something in his eye,” I told him. My son’s head jerked back, startled at my less than honest response. But when he looked up at me, it was all over his face: pure relief. My heart cracked a little. Alpha Boy wanted to know if it was a wood chip 'cuz that had happened to him once. Situation adverted.
On the walk back to the car, my son surprised me by stopping me to say, “Thanks, Mom. You know, for what you said back there. I really appreciate it.” Ahh – my heart melted back together again. All the way home all I could think was thank you. Thank you for this one time letting me get it right.