The first outing I made alone with my newborn and toddler was to the beach.
For the first time during my maternity leave, I was going to experience being the mother of two, without my husband’s help.
So I wielded that infant carrier on my arm, tried to find my most flattering (tummy-tucking) leggings and baggy shirt, packed what I could remember (because I did forget things), huffed and puffed to get my toddler ready, and drove to the beach to meet my friends.
While I sat underneath my friend’s umbrella, breastfeeding my newborn son, my other son chugged along the beach line in the sand. He was not interested in entering the cold water so I didn’t have to worry about him running out and possibly drowning, though I did continue to keep a close eye on him. I had brought a few beach toys with us for him, but he was drawn to the water guns another child had brought. This marvelous piece of plastic allowed water to be pointed wherever he wanted, so he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play with it when my friend offered to give him one.
“Here you go,” she said. “Do you want to try it?”
I was far enough away that I couldn’t very well hear the rest of the conversation but close enough to see the smile on my son’s face when he took a crack at getting the water to dispense. At first, he was content just whizzing the water into the lake, but when the other boy pointed the water gun at him, he was shocked. My toy can be pointed towards people, too?
My friend, being a mom, wanted to use this as a teaching moment for her son, so she instructed my son to shoot hers with his water gun. Her son began to cry when the unexpected blast hit his face.
“Well, now you know how it feels, and remember that we don’t do to others what we don’t want done to us.” She seemed to be okay with the fact that her child was sad so long as he remembered that next time he was not allowed to shoot other kids with his water gun.
I, on the other hand, was a bit distraught because I didn’t like that my child had intentionally made another child cry, at the instruction of an adult. Furthermore, I had not yet introduced water guns to my son because I didn’t want to have to explain guns to him. Then, right as I was trying to accept what had happened, my son pointed the water gun towards the little girl behind him, and she screamed at the water struck her ear.
Immediately, the girl’s mom turned to defend her. “We don’t do that,” said the little girl’s mom (also my friend), as she reprimanded my son for what he did. “That was not nice. You point it in the water, not at people.”
Again, I couldn’t hear the rest of her words clearly, but I could see my son’s face: embarrassed and hurt that he had gotten in trouble. I was still confined to my beach chair under the umbrella because my baby’s attempts to fall asleep had been futile due to the pounding heat of the sun. Thus, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to be upset that my friend disciplined my son because what he did was wrong and he needed to understand. Not only that, but since I had been breastfeeding, someone else was taking care of my child as he played, and I couldn’t complain for the other parent wanting to include my child in the water gun fun.
All of this happened so fast that I was sure my best choice was to not react at all, so I didn’t. But when I got home, I was frustrated that my son had been confused that afternoon. One parent instructed him to hit a child with a water gun, while another punished him for doing the same thing. I, of course, understood that my friend wanted to teach her son a lesson while my other friend wanted to protect her daughter, but more importantly, it occurred to me that this would not be the first time my son would be in a position where another adult would be telling him what to do.
As the mom of two kids, I would need help every once in a while. If my husband was not there to teach my son right and wrong, it was good that my trusted friend was there. However, now that I have two kids, I need to learn how to also be involved with both of them at the same time, because although it takes a village to raise a child, people have their own kids to watch and I cannot rely on my friends full-time whenever I leave my house.
Plus, people each have their own way of raising children, and while I support my child being disciplined in a loving way, I refuse to let someone yell at my son or cause him fear. This happened a few weeks later when my husband’s brother-in-law (a cop) sternly told my son to stop taking away his daughter’s stuffed animal. I suppose this happened when I wasn’t looking (see, I do need more practice getting out with both of my kids), otherwise he would have allowed me to handle the situation, but it bothered me nonetheless. My son stared at him in a fearful way and came to hide his face in my lap. I stopped my child from crying, but I needed to be certain this wouldn’t happen again.
My husband and I discussed it at home and decided it was okay for others to discipline our child, but being unreasonably abrasive towards someone who is only three years old was not warranted. I still struggle to come to terms with the fact that there will be times when I need help from friends and maybe even strangers and teachers to teach my child how to be the person I’d like him to be, but at least now I have boundaries.
Others might feel differently, but my kids are still my kids. And I understand the only way to limit others’ influence on him is to be as attentive as possible when we do go out in public, even if it means trying harder to adjust to my new life as a mother of two.