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Friday, 24 August 2012

Learning To Fly

Yesterday Pip and I went to Kew Gardens.  It was busy when we arrived; a mecca for frazzled London Mums trying to fill another day of the school holidays.  Pip loves the indoor play area there; the ‘gravel pit’ is one of his favourite places to play.  Filled with bright orange small rubbery stones, children sit for hours in the pit, running small gravel like pieces through their fingers and burying their feet. 

I sat on the edge of the pit and Pip found a small discarded plastic cup, like the ones they sell in the nearby cafe filled with sweeties.  He played for ages, filling and then emptying the cup with orange rubbery bits.  Two other boys the same age joined in, taking it in turns to fill the cup whilst Pip held it, each of them depositing orange piles around me to build mountains of rubber. The three of them played wordlessly like this, for 15 minutes or so, industrious - with an unspoken but shared goal in mind.  As I sat there, my feet disappearing under a sea of orange, I reflected on how nicely they were playing.

Alas, the scene of peaceful play was rudely interrupted.  Two older, larger boys descended. One boy, wearing a red t- shirt, appeared slightly older than the other; a small dark haired child, dressed in blue,  I estimated that they were aged 6 and 7.

Without any warning, Red T-shirt waded into the gravel pit and swooped, grabbing the small plastic cup from Pip’s hand and then walking out again.  He then stood at the edge of the pit, nonchalant, talking to Blue T-shirt. What happened next surprised me; with the speed of a cheetah, Pip leapt from the pit, and ran to where Red T-shirt was standing. 

“That’s my cup” he shouted, “ Give it BACK”
Two months ago, Pip would never have done this. He would have just cried.

I watched as Pip tried to grab the cup from Red T-shirt’s hand but Red T-shirt was bigger and stronger and no match for Pip. Red T-Shirt simply lifted the cup high above his head, knowing that Pip was too small to reach it.

“It’s not YOUR cup. It’s just a silly plastic pot from the cafe. I had one of these at lunchtime with some sweets in it. It might be MY cup."

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t Pip’s cup. We hadn’t bought anything to get the cup. Clearly someone had, at some point that day. But, as an unwanted piece of litter, Pip had adopted it. And it was now more than a cup. It was a digger, a bucket, an important tool for moving orange rubbery rubble.

I noticed my son wasn’t giving up. “It’s MY cup” Pip insisted: “ I was playing with it”.

Until this point I had been a passive observer;  I didn’t want to intervene too early in Pip’s battle, but sensing trouble, I decided the time had come for us to go to lunch ourselves, and that we could get another cup (by buying some sweets) whilst we were there.   I should have made this decision a second sooner. As I heaved myself from the gravel pit, I watched in horror as Blue T-Shirt ran towards Pip with both arms outstretched and shoved him with all his might.

Pip, no match in size for a boy twice his age, flew through the air like a rag doll and landed in a heap on the green asphalt.

I rushed to his aid, expecting tears, but instead, I saw that he just looked thoroughly annoyed.  “Are you alright?”,  I scooped him into my arms and dusted him down.  I looked around me, expecting a parent or carer to emerge and remonstrate with Blue T-Shirt, or for that matter, Red T-shirt as well, but no-one came forward.

“Ouch” said Pip, rubbing himself.  “That boy hurt me. Why did he push me, Mummy?”.

I have never experienced the anxiety of seeing another child hurt mine before.  Watching a strange boy push my son across the play area filled me with searing emotion. I felt tears prick the back of my eyes. I felt white rage start to bubble inside me.  Even though I knew they were only children, who perhaps didn't know better, I couldn't help but feel outrage that they had upset and hurt my son.

One of the principles I’ve tried to maintain since becoming a parent, is that I don’t discipline other people’s children. I don’t like seeing other people tell my son off, or tell him what to do or not do, so I try very hard not to do this myself. ( The exception to this being if I perceive a risk of injury - eg,  the time I saw an unsupervised little boy planning to hurtle himself on his micro scooter down a very high slide. ) But, yesterday, I could not help myself.  As I glared at parent less Red T-shirt who sulkily kept repeating ‘It’s not his cup, it’s my cup’ and his sidekick in blue, I simply could not leave the situation without saying something.

With great self restraint, I uttered the words; “That wasn’t a very nice thing to do”. Blue T-shirt hung his head in shame. “Sorry” he said.  Even in the midst of my rage, I was able to see that he was a nice boy really. “Well, at least you’ve said sorry,” I said, trying to be gracious.  Red T-shirt, I noted, said nothing.

Pip and I left the play area and went to the cafe for lunch. One lunchbox later, he had completely forgotten about the whole incident.  I, on the other hand, had not. It stayed with me all day, a cloud on the otherwise sunny horizon.  Every time I thought about Pip being pushed over, I felt upset.  Afterwards, when we talked about it, Pip asked why the boy had pushed him over, and why the other boy had taken the cup. Why? Why? Why? I didn’t really know. The best I could say was simply; ‘Because they weren’t being very nice’.   Inside, I felt like crying.  Yesterday I was there, I could rush to him, hold him, check he was OK.  But the thought that one day, a similar situation might occur and I won’t be there to help him, just felt like too much to bear.

I've heard the phrase ‘Give your children wings and teach them how to fly' often since I became a parent.  I like the sentiments it conveys.  I hope as a parent, I’m doing a good job at helping Pip learn to fly.  Yesterday though, as I watched my fledgling take a spectacular nosedive, it hurt to watch.

This motherhood business isn't easy.

24 comments:

  1. Well first of all I want to reassure you that you reacted totally appropriately and handled the situation very well - if care givers aren't present I think it's totally acceptable to name bad behaviour, especially if it involves physical harm to your child. Anyway, the fact that Pip felt confident enough to stand up for himself speaks volumes of your mothering. And I can totally empathise with how you felt - that white rage, the protectiveness towards your own - Little A has been shoved a number of times, and its so awful to witness. At least I'm there when it happens, to cuddle and contain, but your post got me thinking about the dreaded first day at school - when our little ones will have to fend for themselves. Gulp.

    I love Kew Gardens - such a great place for children to play, and wonder about freely.

    Another wonderfully written post from the Plum of the Mummy variety!

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    1. Yes, the thought of Pip starting school right now causes a major lump in throat...Double GULP. Thank you for your lovely supportive comment. x

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  2. Ps. Have a lovely bank holiday weekend. XXX.

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  3. My tummy is all clenched up inside for you. It's awful when that happens.

    Last autumn, Rory was bitten really hard on the face by another boy. It drew blood. He didn't cry, he just shook and clung to me for half an hour and kept asking "why?" There was no real answer - the other little boy was just going through that phase that 2 year olds sometimes go through and my son just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I ACHED for my poor hurt boy. I took him to a cafe for cake and hot chocolate as a treat to try and make him feel better, but really it was because I was in shock and shaking and feeling sick and needed sugar. I cried.

    Fortunately, the mum of the other boy was brilliant - apologised profusely and was mortified and was furious with her son and made him apologise and leave immediately - that helped a bit. But the parents aren't always there or they are there but they don't care, and that's what makes it even worse isn't it? x

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    1. Poor Rory - that story is awful. No wonder he was shaking. I know what you mean about the ache inside. It's so hard isn't it? And so difficult to explain. Completely agree yes, the absence of a carer or one who is more interested in their iphone and ignoring the situation does make these things more difficult. It does help when the 'other' parent steps in, as in your situation, and helps to explain/soothe the situation. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It helps to know I'm not the only mother that has felt this way. I wondered if I was being too sensitive, and obviously, I wasn't. x

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  4. Your reaction was exactly how you should. If anything you might not make a difference in that boy's life or attitude or actions (though I'm sure you did) but to show your son that you defend him.

    I've had this happen before with my son and I felt everything you described. I even hesitated to say anything to the offending child but it hit me - looking at the confusion and hurt and fear in my son's eyes and him looking to me for reassurance and protection I couldn't help but tell the child what he did was wrong and mean. And I shuffled my son away as well. My son has already had a few traumatizing incidents with mean unsupervised children (wonder how they get that behavior to begin with hmm?) and it has already curbed his socialization with other children and it really bothers me because I'm not sure if he'll grow out of it in time or if this sort of thing might affect him for quite some time. One of my greatest fears is that my son is going to be a bully target.

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    1. Yes, of all the things that came out of the situation, at least Pip knew that I was there to defend him. Bullying is awful - for any child at any age, and is a fear I'm sure every parent has. No parent wants their child to be bullied, or indeed the bully. I guess all we can do in these early years is lay the groundwork for helping them cope with whatever situation may arise as they go through life, teach them to be fair, kind, moral individuals, as best we can - and also, to stick up for themselves, and when to raise the 'red flag' if they are being treated badly. If only it were so easy as writing it. x

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  5. Oh dear. I just wade right on in there if the parents don't. I consider it my job to protect children and they need to feel that you're there for them - maybe so that when they're on their own later, they can draw stength from it - knowing you're there for them even when you're not - coz you are! I'm sure you know what I mean! My eldest has done karate for a couple of years and have just enrolled my 3yo - not necessarily so they can defend themselves - but to give them an 'air' and confidence so the school losers/ bullies just leave them alone. I know they will be there and they will just hit on some other kids instead but I can't police the school - and the teachers hands' are all tied with PC stuff. You've got a boy - comes with the territory XXX

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    1. Yes, I guess this stuff does come more readily with boys. I had two brothers and they used to fight with each other all the time, and I guess as a result, were hardened to this sort of stuff anyway. Perhaps as Pip has been an 'only' to date he's had less experience of being roughed up around the edges.

      Your comments on karate were very interesting. Funnily enough, I've enrolled Pip to start karate next term. x

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  6. I'm sorry it happened but glad you were there to be able to try and answer "why" even if there isn't really a good reason or explanation. My younger son 4 came home with bloody scratches the other day from day camp - I asked what happened and was told he was just sitting there while another boy scratched him. I asked my 4 and 6 year old how they responded to that and the 6 year old said he told the boy that wasn't nice and to apologize, and my 4 year old said he went and told the teacher, who promptly put the boy in time out. After discussing it with my boys, I was glad like your son, they didn't think it was the right thing to do to reciprocate in kind. Since they'd see the boy again at daycamp, we discussed what to do in the future and for this case, they've decided to stay away from that other child and play with other children instead.

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    1. Sounds like a very sensible approach. I certainly don't want my son to reciprocate either. Thank you for sharing your experience. It's been interesting hearing the POV's from other Mums who have been through the same thing.

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  7. I am like Older Single Mum, I wade in, well haven't had to so far, everyone we come across in parks, etc has played nicely but we are only 2 still. The older children don't always realise how young she is so I just tell them and they look after her (or slow down so she can join in, so sweet). BUT in my previous incarnation as a Mum, I had reason to tell a child off and then pull him off my 4 year son, but back then there was very little PC stuff. I had a word with offending child's mother who just shrugged, hence why I took action, still makes me mad all these years later! @#$%#
    Maybe being a girl helps TC but I will be teaching her to defend herself. Pip did VERY WELL and as you say at least the blue child said sorry, grrr to the red individual. Saying sorry isn't always the answer if it means a child can get away with hitting/biting/scratching if they just have to say sorry though.

    I always remember a couple of sayings, one was about being a doormat (if you lie down expect to get walked over) and about a little bird who was injured and was told the only reason he was hurt by the other bird was because he let him. So I will be teaching TC hurting people isn't on but also being hurt by others isn't on either! I hope TC glides thru the school system like I did without incident but teachers hands are going to be untied if they don't defend my baby when they are in loco parentis.
    I think I need a strong cup of tea after writing that LOL xx


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    1. I'm not really one of life's waders, unless I'm really really angry (but usually I'd say that only occurs once in about a 4 yearly cycle.)

      Your story about pulling a boy off your 4 year old son made my skin boil too. Parental apathy in the face of something like that is enough to make anyone mad!

      Thanks for sharing your sayings. I love a good saying x

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  8. I have had many of these upsetting and often rage-inducing incidents over the years. Like you, I have regularly found it impossible to button it. Heart breaking. I guess 'what doesn't break you makes you stronger' in this case - well done to
    Pip for standing up fr himself!

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    1. Yes, I'm sure with more mothering experience I will become more adept at dealing with it!

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  9. Pip didn't really take a nosedive, he stood up for himself to a much bigger boy. He didn't cry or make a fuss, what happened to him wasn't in his control but he acted with restraint and dignity, which is brilliant for a boy of his age. You are lucky that you have got this far without seeing anyone else hurt your child. I agree, it is awful, and you just want to teach some sense to the aggressor, but it sounds like you handled it very well yourself. These experiences will happen, sadly, but it's how we (Pip) react to them that matters. Sounds like he (and you) did well.

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    1. Thanks Polly, yes, I agree, I am lucky we got this far without seeing anyone hurt him. Was still not at all pleasant to watch.

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  12. Gosh, both you and Pip were so restrained. You handled the situation wonderfully. It took my breath away to hear how Pip had been pushed over - how awful! I'm sure that's one memory that you don't want to stay with you but probably and sadly will.

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    1. You're right - we went back to the 'scene of the crime' this weekend and I still found it coming back to me!

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  13. That brought tears to my eyes for you. The little man has been hit a couple of times, once with a toy train around the face which was rather upsetting although no blood was drawn so I can imagine exactly how you felt and it would certainly have stayed with me for some time. That sort of thing is very hard to shake off. It is difficult to keep quiet when everything inside you wants to tear a shred off the bully so well done for being so restrained. x

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    1. I was surprised at how hard I did find it to shake off. Even days later it upset me. Thanks for your comment and sharing your experience too.

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  14. I would have been the same. In fact I would probably have ended up going home. I am DREADING when I have to start cutting the apron strings for J2. It is very different for J1, he is never going to be able to be in a position where he isn't with either myself or someone I trust with his life.x

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