Thursday, August 21, 2008

Playground Parenting?

Help me out here.

Just because you’re at a designated play area, it doesn’t mean that your little ones should run around unsupervised, right?

Background: I sign with Itty Bit frequently.

#1 - he’s learning this language
#2 - I want to him to be comfortable signing in public so he can tell me what he needs or what I’m missing
#3 - it clues others in to the fact that I may be hearing-impaired (rather than ignoring them)
#4 - it’s a good ice-breaker, though there seem to be many elitist parents who teach their children sign language because it’s the “in” thing to do.

Date: yesterday late afternoon

Location: local mall play area

Cast of Characters:
the as-usual adorable Itty Bit
Itty Bit’s watchful parents

an energetic and friendly 4-year old boy
the 4-year old’s also-watchful mother

a young woman fully absorbed in text-messaging
her tiny daughter who looked barely a year old and was newly-toddling

a young couple dressed in black, the man with horns pierced in his nose
their large 4+ year old son dressed in a black skull t-shirt

various other happily playing children and their parents

Now, my kid isn’t perfect. But he isn’t mean. If he wants to join another kid on a toy, he usually gets their attention, says the name of the toy (“blue car?”) then tries to squeeze on. If the squeezing/sharing gets unfair, you can bet this mommy is right there to make sure another kid doesn’t get hurt.

I believe these are valuable social lessons where kids learn “my turn”, “share”, and how to play together. But I don’t believe they should involve bullying or intentional injuries.

Letting my kid be bratty toward other kids isn’t going to boost his self-esteem. It won’t do him any favors later, when he can’t figure out why other kids don’t like to play with him.

I don’t think he is… I just want to avoid it, and I cut him off at the pass if I see a little too much initiative or assertiveness.

Back to the scene:

The entire time I have been signing to Itty Bit, “You need to share the car”, “Do you like the red one?”, “Want to sit on the turtle?”

He is happily “driving” one of the cars while the two 4-year olds run around like they’ve taken Mountain Dew intravenously. The itty bitty little girl gets out of the other car and toddles toward the slide.

Other Watchful Mommy is sitting to my left, Text-Messaging Mommy is way at the other end of the play area, oblivious to the world and out of sight of her daughter. Goth Couple is sitting directly across from me with the kids between us.

I look over and suddenly realize that Skull Boy is standing over the tiny little girl, leaning on her back. She is on her knees and her arms are windmilling.


Without thinking, I jump up and charge toward them.

I am fast
I am loud
I am concerned and angry
I am not worried about what Goth Couple will do


At my first forceful words, the startled child drops the little girl like a rag doll.
She falls to the floor at his feet while he stares at me.
Every eye in the play area is on me, except for Text Messaging Mommy’s.

My voice carries. It is the unmistakable “Yes-I-am-your-Sunday-School-teacher-but-you-are-going-to-be-happy-to-see-your-parents-if-I-catch-you-doing-that-again” tone.

Make no mistake, I love kids. I’ve handled classrooms full of rowdy ones. But I have definite ideas about boundaries, and an instinct that may not always be smart, but it is immediate and kids don’t usually test it again.

I realize in this case, that the Goth Couple may have a few words for me and I quickly soften my tone. The little girl toddles away and the boy looks up at me as if nothing has happened. I get down to his level and sign as I speak. I brush my hands lightly together and say “gentle, we have to be gentle with the little ones”.

He stares, amused at my signs, then takes off for another toy.

Other Watchful Mommy looks at me and says with obvious relief, "Thank you, I didn't know what to do".

In a playground surrounded by parents, the deaf one is the one who stepped into the parenting dilemma? It was saddening - a clear sign of how far we've gone to make sure we don't step on others' toes. If we don't show our kids what is acceptable, unacceptable, right and wrong - who will?

Text Messaging Mommy has no idea what has occurred. She only barely keeps her kid from escaping past her into the general mall area.

My son heads the same direction. In doing so, he trips.
Skull Boy heads toward him. I envision him stomping on Itty Bit’s outstretched arms.

Instead, he reaches down and grabs Itty Bit’s hand. He pulls and roughly helps him stand up. Itty Bit is a bit bewildered.

I look into this little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy’s face and I sign and say “thank you” with a smile. He looks pleased with himself and says “thank you” back.

I steal a glance, Goth Couple is sitting smiling at me.


Jaime said...

I think you handled that absolutely perfectly and appropriately. I'm glad for the second incident where his parents could see that you didn't hold it against him. :-) Sounds like a happy ending for all (except maybe for the little girl of Text Messaging Mommy who might be missing out on the most...)

We taught our boys sign language (not just because it was the "in" thing (although I guess that was how we knew about it), but to avoid frustration when they were unable to communicate). Mainly simple signs--eat, drink, more, no, yes, up, down, all done, help, hurt. If used consistently, signs can SO help cut down on the frustration of not knowing what your child wants and their frustration of not being able to communicate.

I have always loved watching people sign (kinda like listening to someone speak in French, you can say anything and it sounds beautiful). I've taken sign language classes over the years, but I just don't use it enough to remember the signs.

Wish we lived closer! :-)

Sara said...

I am so glad you were there to do the right thing. I, too, get in teacher mode when I am at a playground, or anywhere with kids, and am not afraid to stop misbehavior if no one else is stepping up.

I am disheartened at the actions, or lack thereof, of some parents. As a teacher in the public school system, it seems to be getting worse every year. Good for you for not being one of those parents.

We taught Madeline some signs because she was delayed in speech at first. We did it because we were working with a therapist who helped us along. It was great because it did ease her frustration. She knew what she wanted to say, but didn't know how to say it or in a way that was recognizable to us. I am so not a yuppy parent. :)


lilivw said...

It is sad. I think some parents are negligent and others just don't know any better. Sometimes all it takes is showing them some tools. You are a good example Rachel for those who are not intuitive.

lilivw said...

It is sad. I think some parents are negligent and others just don't know any better. Sometimes all it takes is showing them some tools. You are a good example Rachel for those who are not intuitive.

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