I called a little boy at the playground “nasty.”
It was not my finest parenting moment. In fact, it was a missed teaching moment. But he made my son cry and I lost it.
If you knew my youngest son you might understand. At five, he’s the sweetest, most friendly, outgoing, easy-going kid.
He just wants to play. He’s never mean. (Unless it’s to his older brother, but he usually deserves it.) In fact, when has encountered mean kids he’d get a confused look, like he just didn’t get it. And why should he?
He’s the kid who runs on the playground to join a group of kids he doesn’t know without reservation. (And being his shy, introverted mom, I’m always awed and thrilled by this.) He’s also the one who, when he sees a kid playing by himself, will invite him to join whatever he’s doing. He says hello to everyone he passes and never turns down a chance at a conversation, with kids or adults.
So, we were at the playground alone and he was doing his thing. A group of kids around his age showed up. He immediately tried to play with them. He ran over and tried to engage. It was pretty obvious from my view that they blew him off. But he’s easy going, so he went back to his thing. A little later, he tried again. No success. But again, he just went back to playing alone. No biggie.
Then, they all descended on the play equipment that he was on. He was sitting at the top of the little slide, and a girl was trying to climb up it. He wouldn’t move. (He can also be pretty stubborn.) She started yelling for her mom, and eventually he moved aside so she could pass. A minute later, he’s standing there, head hanging down not saying a word, and this blond boy a good two inches shorter than him obviously just laying into him. I couldn’t hear what was being said, so I inched closer.
“You aren’t my friend!”
“You can’t play with us!”
“We are all friends, and you’re not!”
I asked what was going on. The boy said my son tried to hit him. “No,” I said, “I saw him and he didn’t.”
“He was going to hit my sister.” “No, I said again, “I saw the whole thing, and he wasn’t.”
“Well, he was mean to me.”
At this point, I looked at my son. He looked pitiful. Big fat tears slid down his cheeks. Snot ran out of his nose and puddled on his upper lip.
This is where I went wrong.
Instead of walking away, or finding the mom (who was in a gaggle of ladies not paying any attention), or saying something more adult-like, I turned into a petulant child. I said, “Well, you are not nice. He was just trying to play with you and you were mean to him. You are a nasty little boy.”
The boy tried to argue back, and I again said, “You are not being nice.”
And then, I took my boy by the hand and we walked away.
I told him that sometimes people just aren’t nice and we shouldn’t let it ruin our fun time. Even though he was crying and asked to leave—and my heart was breaking—I took him on the swings and eventually got him to smile again. But his heart wasn’t in it, so we left soon after.
I forced myself to be pleasant all the way home and talk about how fun the playground was, and what we’ll do the next time we go, because I didn’t want him to focus on the negative. But my blood was boiling and, worse, I knew I blew it.
So, yeah, it was not my finest moment. And an opportunity to teach my son to be the bigger person was lost. But, damn, when I saw those tears and that wounded face…I just couldn’t.