Posted by: mindyourknitting | June 18, 2010

Games without Frontiers

Last weekend  Abigail and I attended the first birthday of a friend’s daughter.  We had a lovely time with friends celebrating an adorable little girl’s all-important first birthday (although I’m sad we left before the cupcakes because Abigail needed a nap in the worst way.  I didn’t know there would be cupcakes!).   The party was held in a park and the weather was beautiful, so Abigail spent more than two hours on the play structure.  She loves all manner of slides and swings, so this was her ideal way to spend an afternoon. 

At one point she climbed the ladder to run along the ramp that led to the slide and stopped along the way to check out the two older girls sitting in the attached playhouse.  She inquired if she could sit down with them (“Beside you?”) and then plopped herself down on the bench next one of them.  The older girls looked at each other, stared at Abigail, and giggled nastily.  Abigail stood up, looked a little confused, and then went on her way.  But when she climbed the ladder again, she made another attempt at making friends.  She stood in front of the table the girls were sitting at, and, as I was standing nearby but out of sight of the older girls,  I overheard this exchange:

Older girl one: “She’s baaaaaaaaack!”

Older girl two: “And WE’RE leaving!”

My heart broke for my confused little girl, who stood there not knowing why these girls weren’t being nice to her.  Until recently Abigail has regarded other children as, at best, interesting specimens that she might allow to play near her but doesn’t really care to interact with directly, but now she is just arriving at the age where she is kind of interested in other children and wants to be around them.  So to see her be snubbed, rejected, made me want to grab those little snots and shake some sense into them because I could see, with perfect clarity, the mean twelve-year old girls they would become.  I’m sure Abigail forgot all about this exchange the moment her sundress-clad butt hit the sun-warmed metal slide, but I couldn’t forget.  Maybe it’s wrong to feel stabby towards six-year olds who were minding their own business until my kiddo came along and interrupted whatever super-important thing they were doing, but what can I say, that instinct runs deep.  Am I being too sentimental or sensitive about this?  Probably.  But from what I’ve heard, other mothers have that same mama bear instinct, and it can be powerful, crazy-making stuff.

Abigail is adventuresome and brave, but she’s not an overly physical kid in that she doesn’t routinely hit or shove other little kids, except when she gets a little grab-handy if she feels that her toy/food/whatever is being encroached upon.  I think that’s pretty normal.  Her usual reaction to being manhandled by another kid is surprise and moral outrage, but it’s not usually to clock the kid in return.  And on some  occassions she is totally the instigator, and she gets disciplined.  This seems typical for someone her age, but I always presume that older children should know better. She’s small, and could be easily hurt.  I have no hesitation when it comes to chastising the five-year old who shoves my kid out of the way, but what to do about kids who simply aren’t nice to her?  I don’t want to be that helicopter mama (hear my rotors spinning, thwap thwap thwap) who won’t let her kid get more than two feet away at the playground and constantly patrols any interaction she has with any other child.  But last weekend I came face to face with the casual schoolyard meanness that occurs between children, the type of lazy cruelty that I had forgotten, and I’m not eager for Abigail to experience it. 

I know she will have to fight her own battles, and that she will have to learn that not everybody on the face of the planet will adore her adorable self, even if I think they should.  Other children will be unnecessarily cruel and spiteful to her, just because they can.  And she may even treat others that way, although we will do our best to teach her otherwise.  But to learn those harsh lessons at a tender age that precedes the understanding of anything beyond the element of refusal and exclusion seems a cruel lesson at too soon a time.    How do you teach a not-quite-two-year old to have a thick skin?


  1. Hey Trista,

    It is a tough one. I remember being, VERY pregnant and singing at a wedding where I witnessed a similar thing. My raging hormones and kiddie protection drive had already well and truely kicked in by this point and had me almost march across the dancefloor to confront two decievingly angel clad, sugar coated/overloaded flowergirls aged around 5 or 6 year olds. They had commited to pushing and excluding a smaller and most adorable 2 year old from their dancing circle. It was heartbreaking to watch, she clearly idolised these big girls and was desparate to be included in their dance, so much so that she kept coming back. Each time she approached them they pysically pushed her back and would mold their mean spirited little hands in to wrought iron fencing to keep her out then skip off laughing.
    I immediately felt protective of my unborn child and became teary thinking that this will surely be an experience that she will inevitably face in her little life.
    However, being a student of child psycology many moons ago I do understand the merits of coping mechanisms, and even disappointment in a developing child. These are life lessons which help them to deal with the non Disney existence we all share. I know how very hard it can be to calm a thumping heart in these situations but I have also been on the other side and had to reprimand Rosie on a few occassions for ie hitting her best friend on the head with a spade, pushing and once last year biting a smaller child on the back when she stole her crayons! These incidents had me perhaps even more stressed out as no one wants to be the parent of the “naughty child” the “biter” or the (God forbid) “bully”!
    I’m sure that the parents of those girls are dealing with a whole other set of issues but as you rightly said it’s such a young age to have to deal with these rebuff’s. I guess the saving grace here is that Abigail may have missed the cupcakes and the chance to make new friends with some big girls but she also gained a chance to brush off the negetive and get down to the good stuff….summer cotton clad bottoms on a cosy sun warmed slide and probably an amazingly deep sleep after all of that lovely fresh air.
    Love to you both

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