Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Playground Angst

Three years ago, Andrew and I got married at The Summit; now, three years later, we’re across the country (still), but on the plane from JFK to SFO we fell into conversation with the Aussie couple sitting in front of us who’d spent three weeks in the United States, including a stop in Farmington to see Fallingwater. We told them we’d gotten married at a place called The Summit—and they said that’s where they’d stayed. Small world. And three fast years!

It hardly feels like November here, with temperatures in the mid-seventies, sunny blue skies, lush greenery everywhere. Some leaves are changing, though—at the playground, Lucia’s favorite activity is crawling around and picking up all the fallen leaves, examining each one carefully before handing it to me and seeking the next one.

Our lovely playground, however, sometimes seems to me to be the site for some psychoanalytical issues I’ve never addressed. I’ve mentioned before the abject fear and loathing I had as a child for other, brasher children who would ask if Molly and I wanted “to play.” I never wanted to play. I wanted to stay inside and read. And it is hard not to feel this exact same mixture of powerlessness, shyness, horror, and claustrophobia sometimes when I’m with Lucia and other children approach and ask to play with her, or when they take an interest in her toys. It should be noted that I never feel this way when it’s another little baby with a mom approaching Lucia curiously; I am always, absolutely always, up for conversation with other mothers and interaction with other babies. I’m talking about the older children—the three- and four-year-olds—whose parents seem nowhere to be found.

Take yesterday, for example. After seeing Lucia’s instant adoration for a Hot Wheels car another child was playing with a few days ago, I bought her one at Wal-Mart yesterday, and she clutched it obsessively in her fists the entire way to the playground. But as soon as she’d she plopped down on the spongy fake pavement by the playground equipment, a little boy approached and asked to play with her car. Lucia did not want to give it up. The boy snatched it. “It’s okay to let him see it,” I said weakly. His mother, seeing this exchange, ran over, returned the car to Lucia, and scolded the now screaming, melting-down fiend-child.

Besides the unwanted-playground-interaction problem, this is an example of my own need to MAN UP and stop other little kids from stealing my baby’s toys. I’m curious about whether there’s a good way to do this. I can’t very well scold the other child myself, so I find myself resorting to a ridiculous routine that does Lucia no justice whatsoever, encouraging Lucia to “share” her toy and then, modulating my voice, requesting that the other child also “share” her own toy back to her. It’s one thing when two babies are playing and grabbing and exchanging objects in a friendly, curious way; outright toy-snatching by and older kid is another. I somehow felt just as powerless as Lucia yesterday, looking on sadly as another kid ran off with her beloved new car. Which is crazy, since I’m the mama, and I wanted to say in a loud, mama-bear voice, GIVE IT BACK TO HER NOW. SHE’S A BABY. (Actually, maybe this is exactly what I should say.)

Also yesterday, long after the fiend-child left, Lucia was playing happily, standing at a bench and alternately examining leaves and her Hot Wheels. Two young children—likely four or so years old—approached and began playing with her, letting her hand them her car and then handing it back to her. All very fun to Lucia, who grinned and grinned. They were cute, playing little games with her, delighting in the little touches she’d make to their shirts or hands. Still, it went on a long time. Then the little girl wanted me to draw shapes in wet sand, which required the toting of a bucket of water from a fountain to the sand pit, etc. And then they wanted to help put Lucia back into her stroller. And then they followed us out of the playground, nearly to the street. I had no idea where their parents were, but I encouraged them to return to the playground. Each time I turned around, however, there they were. “We’re following you,” the little girl announced gleefully. Well, yes, they were, but there was the street, and then a long pathway to our apartment far from the playground. “Just…stay there,” I kept saying. “Stay there and we’ll turn around and wave.” Eventually, they did stop, and we made our escape.

Sheesh. Sometimes it really feels like I’m not grown-up enough to be a mom. But now that Lucia’s in the playground stage, where interactions with other kids are inevitable, I really need to learn how to manage these encounters. I can’t be the mom who yells at other people’s kids; but I can’t be the one who doesn’t care that they run into the street, either. And I definitely can’t be the one that forces Lucia to just stand there quietly while others encroach on her toys or her space without her consent, simply because standing quietly was usually my way as a kid. No more of that. I’m the mama now.


Anonymous said...

so as a parent of a 3 yr old fiend-child myself, i'm giving you permission to gently tell anyone's kid who is not your own "sorry, honey, lucia's playing with the car right now. when she is finished you may have a turn." or you could say "sorry, friend, this is lucia's special toy and it's not for sharing." then you can gently take the toy back or you can ask if the child could "hand the toy back to her/me or would you like me to help you hand it back?" and then you can gently take the toy back if the kid doesn't give it up. hopefully by then the parent of the bigger kid will have seen what is going on and come over to assist.

Sara said...

I agree with the first comment. It is definitely okay to tell other kids not to take Lucia's toys, or to give them back, if she doesn't want to share them. Sharing is good, but we have had enough playground angst ourselves and I no longer feel it is always necessary to share with children we don't know. We have lost toys by sharing with strangers who don't return them. You have to stick up for your kids, and eventually teach them to stick up for themselves, something I have learned to be better at over the years.