At 5:00 yesterday, when I still hadn’t thought of a good enough excuse to skip it, we went to the park. The ability to read into the future might have qualified as a good enough excuse.
One hour is our magic number for how long to stay at the playground. It’s nice and round. A big enough chunk of time to be meaningful, and also short enough that I can start counting down immediately. We got there and everything went well for about 45 minutes. Nati was being a little subdued, but alternatively played with the other kids and walked around the perimeter of the playground, or as he calls it, the river.
That’s when Lily started to fuss. I tried walking, bouncing, swinging, and even the dreaded bottle. But when Lily fusses there is really only one thing she wants. So I got out a nursing cover and an extra large scarf for good measure and started to nurse her on the park bench.
Just about that time, I saw Nati run up behind a couple of older girls and smack them each on the butt. Um…where is this coming from? I called to him, but he didn’t turn around. He saw another girl walking away from him and hit her bottom. I called him more insistently, but he didn’t answer. I was just starting to think I’d have to get up when he turned around, saw a little one-year-old toddling nearby, and deliberately pushed him over.
Oh dear. I slowly made my way to a standing position. Lily was still a mysterious lump on my chest with a scarf draped over her as I head in Nati’s direction. I hadn’t gone three steps when the little boy’s mom scooped him up and turned to Nati. She pointed at him and said loudly, “Whose child is this!” One of the other nearby moms pointed in my direction. I walked faster, but she intercepted me before I got to Nati. “Did you see what your child just did?!” she asked.
“Yes, I did,” I said. My voice was perhaps a little too soft and even, but I felt like she was being confrontational enough for the both of us. Maybe a little intimidated by my eerie calm or the wiggling lump on my chest, she backed off, and I grabbed Nati’s hand and walked him to a bench. I explain to him that he may not push his friends. He may not hit is friends’ bummies. I told him we were going home, but first he needed to go say sorry to the little boy.
He jumped down from the bench and ran over to the little boy to say sorry. Re-enter angry mother, who stepped in front of Nati and said, “You stay away from him!”
Adrenaline was already pumping through my body, and seemed to be edging me toward the fight rather than flight instinct. Maybe I mouthed a mean name in her direction. (Insert penance here.) In my head I started a little monologue to her about how I was sorry that Nati pushed her son, and he would be disciplined, but he’s two. So please back yourself up and calm down.
Much to Lily’s displeasure, I had finally detached her and returned to a more practical state of dress. I buckled the kids in their stroller and left. I was glad for the walk home to be able to untagle everything that I was feeling. Anger at Nati for disobeying and acting out. Anger at the catty mother for being rude to me and my son. Embarrassment at the public scene. I tried to think of an appropriate way to discipline Nati that wasn’t based on my own misdirected feelings.
That’s when I realized that the other mom was probably having the same problem. She had a burst of adrenaline and protective instinct that kicked in when she perceived a threat to her son. All the animosity she displayed toward us was a result of the same misdirected feelings I was having. Wasn’t it just last week that I (sort of) shouted at a store employee because my son almost got hurt? I guess that means I have to forgive her, and that I really should do penance for my secret insult.