My older son was around 2 and a half when the biting happened. I was a frazzled new mom of two who couldn’t get it together yet. You’d think after about six months, I’d be an old hand at it, but no: I was still struggling to find my footing and negotiate two kids with all their requisite gear. The one thing that got me through — my mom friends. Who I considered to be my best friends because they had my back.
Until one day, at a playdate, all that was called into question.
Everyone had played nicely for a few hours, passed my little one around, and then it was lunchtime. Time to head home. It was raining, so I decided to wrap the baby, tote the baby carriers to the car, slip my sleeping son into his seat, then come back for my oldest. I asked my my best friend, who was hosting, if she could keep an eye on him. S agreed, so I slipped out the door. I was gone for approximately three minutes. I returned to screams.
“Blaise bit G,” S informed me coolly, referring to another boy the same age. “Hard.”
We were both first-time moms of two-year-olds. Biting was the cardinal sin of childhood.
I rushed over to where everyone was weeping. I made Blaise apologize, a stupid decision — because two-year-olds don’t know what the hell it means and have no concept of the remorse behind it — and apologized profusely myself. I don’t know if I ever found out what was behind the biting. G’s mom, a laid-back woman, told me it was fine. All was cool. She really meant it, too, even as her son cried. She understood.
Our other friend, S, did not. She walked me to the door. I said goodbye, and apologized again, nearly in tears already and eager to get to my younger son.
“Um, if Blaise is going to go around biting kids like this, I don’t think he should be around them,” she said. She didn’t say it softly, or hesitantly, or as if she had any doubts on the matter. “You should keep him home for a while.”
I stuttered something. I fled to the car, buckled Blaise in, and wept. My son was a social pariah at age two? The playdate had involved practically every mom friend I had, and S had seemed to speak for all of them. I was effectively shut out. Shunned. Banished from the warm heart of mom solidarity. No one but G’s mom — the bitten kid, no less! — had told me anything was okay. No one had said two-year-olds sometimes bite people and that’s the way two-year-olds operate and you can’t really do much about it unless it’s a chronic issue.
Blaise had never bitten anyone before. S’s son was the same age as him, and his best friend, and she clearly didn’t want him around Blaise anymore. Blaise, who apparently cruised around viciously biting other children.
We went on vacation that evening — drove to the mountains for a much-needed break. I cried all weekend. I was so humiliated, felt so guilty. My husband was angry that the vacation was nearly ruined. Blaise noticed that mama was sad. “It be okay,” he said, and patted my cheek. Which made it even worse, because I thought it would not be okay, since he would have no friends.
But somehow, slowly, the situation resolved. Maybe S reached out, made an offhand comment to me at church. Maybe my husband had a talk with hers. Maybe I was just invited to another playdate like nothing had happened. But it blew over, the way it should have. Because look: kids bite sometimes. It sucks. It’s humiliating for all parties involved. But toddlers sometimes act like tiny cannibals, and we need to accept that. Second- and third-time moms know it. First-time moms are often horrified at the thought. If a kid bit my firstborn, I’d have lost it. If a kid bit my third, I’d have comforted him and assured the mom everything was okay.
What sucked the most? My bestie, the person I trusted to have on my side, was not. She was under a lot of stress at the time. She was neck-deep in issues of her own. She needed support she wasn’t getting, because we weren’t quite aware that she needed it, and she wasn’t reaching out. But sometimes friends fuck up. It happens. Then we made up, because true friends do that too.
Blaise is eight now, well past the biting stage. S is still one of my best friends, though she’s since moved to another state. In retrospect, it was a first-time mom mistake on both our parts: her for saying it, and me for believing it. But damn if it didn’t sting, and it still stings sometimes when I think about it again. I remember it sometimes on bad days, when my ADHD sons act like they have ADHD, when I get That Look from other moms on the playground. Maybe your son shouldn’t play with other kids until he can act better, I can practically hear them saying. Maybe this is all your fault, their undertone says. Maybe you suck as a mom. Because decent kids don’t act like that.
But guess what? Sometimes decent kids do. It’s not my fault, or anyone else’s. I wish I had known that then. With three ADHD boys, I wish, some days, I could remember it now. I’m glad one instance of biting didn’t turn Blaise into a total outcast. But damn if I didn’t think it would.