My three sons and their kindergarten buddy, D, were playing in the empty skatepark, happily, in the late morning. Two or three older boys arrived with scooters, and their dad and grandma in tow. D’s mom and I applauded and ooh’d at them when they did a particularly cool trick nearby.
Our kids played about 50 feet away, riding their skateboards on their butts, including my 4-year-old son, Sunny. Suddenly the grandmother stood up and stalked over to Sunny and D. She started haranguing them, while my older sons stood by, aghast. We couldn’t hear what she was saying, but we stared at her, then at each other, with mouths open.
When she sat down, I got my stalk on. “Excuse me,” I said. “It appears you have a problem with my children.”
“Well, they’re leaving the skateboards in the middle there and someone’s going to hit them,” she said.
“So you think it’s your job to go over and yell at them? Do you know how old the one you decided to berate is? Four. He’s 4 years old. And he’s over there weeping because some big bad lady came and yelled at him. Can you tell me why you thought that was appropriate?”
“I wanted to teach him a lesson,” she sniffed, then pursed her lips. My rage level went from about a two to a ten.
“And you think it’s your job to teach him a lesson?” I demanded.
The conversation went downhill from there, and ended with me informing her that if she had a problem with my kids, she needed to talk to me, not them. Period. And I walk back to comfort Sunny, seething.
Fuck nosey grandmothers. Fuck nosey moms. Fuck clerks who tells kids to stop bouncing balls while their mother is standing right there and just said the same thing. Fuck mothers who tell kids off for no reason. Fuck them. I don’t want them in my village, and if they are the village, I want no part of it.
Because this is how it should work: If Grandma Ethel had come over and said, “Hey, your kids are leaving their skateboards in the middle of the skatepark, and we’re worried about our kids’ safety because of it,” everything would have been fine. Sure, I might have thought she was a bit helicoptery, because her kids were going around everything just fine and had plenty of room, but I would have talked to my kids about moving them. If she had been polite. If she had been kind. If she had tried to enlist my help and build bridges between parents. Because that’s how the village is supposed to work.
If she had spoken to my kids kindly, asked that they move their boards so people wouldn’t get hurt, I would have backed her up. Because yes, I still might have disagreed with her helicoptering, but she has the right to helicopter, and it doesn’t hurt my kids to indulge her. She would have been kind and respectful: in other words, she would have treated my kids like human beings.
If she had asked them several times and then come and talked to me, and been a bit angry, I would have understood. I also would have explained my kids’ ADHD and how they forget things — including skateboards (my 4-year-old kept crying, “I forgot, forgot,” over and over). We could have talked things over like adults and it would have been okay, albeit a little uncomfortable.
But, apparently, no one wants to talk to adults. It’s far easier to yell at kids, who are trained to listen to adults, even strange ones. We’re afraid of confrontation with adults. But not with kids, who we see as subordinate and less important. Less dangerous.
And that is pretty messed up. We yell at kids because we’re too scared to talk to our own peers.
And as a parent, when someone else reprimands my kid in anything other than a polite, kind tone, I’m forced to intervene with at least a clipped “I’ve got this, thanks.” Because I have to be mindful of what lesson it’s sending my sons: that it’s okay for anyone over the age of 18 to make anyone under said age listen to them, just by virtue of their age. Think about the implication of that for a little while. Not cool. Not okay. I can’t allow those implications to fly. I also can’t let my kids think I’ll leave them hanging when Ethel decides to bawl them out at the skatepark. I want them to believe in mama bear.
The village? It’s amazing. I’m a huge proponent of the village: when kids are scared, when kids are in danger, when kids are hurt. When someone’s being bullied, which is one situation in which directly reprimanding someone’s kid is warranted and okay (if my kid is bullying someone else, Ethel, feel free to berate his ass). But other than when someone’s being bullied, the village should be kind. The village should be gentle. The village should be respectful of the child — and mindful that the child, like mine, may have invisible disabilities or neurological differences.
The village should not ream out four-year-olds — and the only brown kid in the skatepark, who wasn’t even involved. Don’t think we didn’t notice that part, lady. If this is the village? If this is what interconnectedness and taking care of each other means? Fuck it. I’m going off the grid. You be queen of your castle and I’ll be queen of mine.
Which strikes me as a lonely, miserable, and sad way to live. But if the world is full of Ethels, that’s the way I’m headed.