It was a recent, plain ole’ morning. I picked Opal up from the daycare at our Rec Center, a place she reveres because they let her watch Arthur videos and eat all the Cheerios she wants.
I could see her in the outside play area with two other kids, giggling in fits. There was one grown-up sitting out there with them all—Sandy—who appeared to be highly amused by the antics of the children.
Opal clearly didn’t want to leave yet, so I joined them for a few minutes.
There was a little boy standing on a slide, twirling a stuffed-dog-on-a-string. Opal was in jolly hysterics; she thought this kid (whoever he was) was hi-lar-ious. The whole scene was really very sweet.
The boy was calling the ‘teacher’ Miss Patty as a game. Opal kept saying, “She’s Sandy!” She was laughing and obviously enjoying the code of this little exchange between she and the boy. But he was playing a different game, and becoming irritated that Opal kept correcting him.
Suddenly he ran up to Opal, got right in her face and yelled, “It’s Miss Patty! I’ll call her whatever I want! And I’m gonna call you Barnes and Noble!”
Whoa, not sure what he meant by that but the tone was snarky and intense. The unspoken code was broken—Opal crossed her arms over her chest, slumped her head and heaved a huge, sad sigh.
Way to screw up a perfectly lovely moment, little guy.
Option one: Go over to that kid and tell him if he ever—I repeat ever—talks to my kid that way again, he’ll be sorry he ever laid eyes on me.
Option two: Whisk Opal away from the scene and talk shit about the little meanie as we hustled our way to the car.
Option three: Reserve a grudge towards Miss Sandy for allowing this kind of behavior in her daycare.
I considered (quickly) how now is the time when there are countless tiny opportunities to teach Opal about much bigger concepts. Being lazy or sloppy now comes with a price.
Fact: this world is full of people who act poorly. Whether it is out of fear, anger, a negative self-image, having just suffered through a trauma or a painful bowel movement. Do we ever really know why people act the way they do?
Aren’t we guessing most of the time?
And kids are in a totally different category. The majority of the time, they have no concept of how their actions affect others. (I read in Dr. Sears’ Discipline Book that kids don’t actually learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes until the age of seven! That’s many years of mindless behavior, getting feelings hurt, and hurting the feelings of others.)
Back to the scene.
I thought, how is it possible to still feel like I’m winging it after almost four years of being a parent? So after a super-quick-self-check-in, my best was: acknowledge what happened, feel it and move on.
“I bet that didn’t feel good to have him yell in your face like that, did it? Tell him, ‘Hey bud, don’t yell in my face.’ I don’t like that.”
She didn’t say that, but she did nod and make a little sound like humph. We left and in the hallway she said with a pout, “I am not Barnes and Noble.”
“No you are not,” I said. “And I bet that didn’t feel great, but it seemed like you guys were having a nice time until that moment. Maybe he felt frustrated because he was playing a different game. That happens to you all the time. All you can do is tell him how it made you feel and move on. Tell me what you did with the rest of the morning.”
She went on to tell me how she ate a snack and colored a picture but was outside for most of the hour. I was only half-listening because I couldn’t keep my mind from drifting to how a friend had recently acted like a jerk to me—harsh and abrupt—and how badly it stung. How it worked its way through my body for the better part of the day. How I had to sit with the feeling—it felt as strong and undeniable as a flu bug—for it to finally dissipate.
It is far from easy to be the recipient of someone else’s aggression.
For me, the challenge is not to turn it in on myself. To just say, Damn, that felt awful! instead of, What did I do to instigate that? Frankly, I was asking my four-year-old to do something that was tricky even for big-old-grown-up me.
So I initiated a dance/wiggle party en route to the car to land her in her body, and me, too. (The last thing I need is to be holding a grudge toward some random five-year-old kid, who was probably a decent kid, just wild and unpredictable, as all kids can be.)
I twirled her and she wagged my arm and we laughed and rocked our way through the parking lot. She climbed into her carseat and said, “Why are boys so much more loud than girls?”
Now that seemed like something I could work with. “Good question, honey,” I said. “That is a very good question.”
And off we went towards home.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise