Wait a Minute. Did I Just Babysit Your Kid???

Just the other day I brought the kids to the library. For the first fifteen minutes we had a great time. Jack busied himself in the nonfiction section, pouring over stacks of books about Vikings and Roman soldiers, Navy Seals and the Vietnam war which makes complete sense because, hey, when you’re not battling your arch-nemesis and baby sister Allegra, you may as well research strategy. Meanwhile, Allegra and I played with the puzzles; you know, the library puzzles touched by a million other germy little hands. Funny thing, for a self diagnosed germaphobe such as myself, I didn’t mind. We were just having a nice, low-key time.

Despite our brief period of peace and relaxation, I knew we were in trouble when an adorable, gravely voiced little moppet came bounding over to us declaring that her “hair was a mess!!!!” She proceeded to plop herself down on the floor in between Allegra and I, retell the saga of her hair and ask if she could play with us. Of course, Allegra was impervious to this little one’s charm. You see, now that Allegra is in preschool three days a week and I am teaching a bit, we do not have quite as much time to spend together as we did during the summer. Consequently, Allegra is rather possessive of her time with Mommy. One can imagine that my child was none too happy with the introduction of a new little friend to our quint scenario.

I have learned that Allegra is painfully shy and none too comfortable when strangers get all up in her business. She needs time. I have observed her ritual when I drop her off at preschool. She enters the building, stands in the middle of the classroom, folds her hands in front of her body, rocks from left leg to right and observes. Eventually she joins the group, I depart and three hours later pick up a happy child. A former introvert myself, I respect my daughter’s process. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t cringe when a newcomer comes storming into her comfortable world.

So, how do you think my child responded when this cute, sweet little girl asked if she could join us? Well she growled…of course. Mortified, I apologized profusely to moppet’s mother, who joined our little group at some point during this encounter. Mother gave me a very patient smile, not the longed for “Oh don’t worry about it sister. Been there. Let me tell you what my daughter did when….” Just a patronizing, patient, placid smile. She sat down, joined us girls in our awkward little circle on the floor and played with her daughter for all of three seconds. Then she got up and left, leaving me with her daughter and my unhappy child.

Needless to say, as moppet’s mother serenely browsed the book isles making her selection to bring home, I entertained her daughter, who, unbeknownst to our new little friend, chased my own little girl away. You may ask why didn’t I just walk away. Well that was an impossibility given that my little friend decided to follow me wherever I went. After about thirty minutes, placid mom collected her child and departed. In that moment I was struck; “Wait a minute. Did I just babysit your kid? I mean, I still have not yet been able to choose my books, and I don’t think you, relaxed mother, would have been able to either if your daughter was with you. You, relaxed mother, pulled the very sneaky dump and run, a maneuver that some parents have mastered.” You know, it’s when a parent silently tip toes away to do whatever is on their agenda and leaves their child with you. I have to say, I was pretty ticked. I mean I reprimanded my child when her behavior was inappropriate, but she’s four and just learning how to make her way in this world. What, relaxed mother, is your excuse? Clearly my child was uncomfortable; clearly we were having a mother-daughter moment. What is your excuse for your lack of concern for my daughter’s feelings and also my situation-trying to attend to two little children, one mine and one yours, both demanding undivided attention. I have to call you out other mother. You are guilty of the dump and run, and it’s selfish.

Upon further reflection, I realize that this was not the first time my family has been the victim of the dump and run. Recently, on a rare afternoon that my husband wasn’t working, we took the kids to the park. Giorgio and Jack were throwing the football around, an activity which thrilled both Giorgio and myself because Jack usually prefers more sedentary activities, when two little boys, brothers in fact, joined in on the fun. At first this was fine, but then the brothers began to demand more and more attention of Giorgio, and Jack began to withdraw. As I watched this play out, I observed that the boys’ mother was sitting on a bench, drinking her Starbucks, chatting away with a mommy friend seemingly oblivious to her boys’ intrusion upon Jack and Giorgio’s game. Finally, my husband, frustrated with the situation, decided that it was time to leave. As we passed by the “oblivious” mother, she looked up at us, smiled and thanked my husband for playing with her boys. She then matter-of-factly noted that she and her husband recently spit up so her boys liked to “latch onto” father figures. What??? So you did know see what was happening? And you approved?? And you chose to use it as some downtime for yourself??? Come on parents!!!

Let me say, I in no way fault the children in these situations. They are doing what children are supposed to do, seeking out fun and happiness and a good time. This is what makes children so wonderful. They are innocent and unaware of social nuances. It is our job as parents to teach them. Of course, I love when children ask my kids to play. Nothing makes me happier than to see Jack and Allegra having fun with their peers. BUT, there is a difference between playing with other children and inserting yourself into a family’s special time together. Again, kids do this. Mine try to do it. As a matter of fact, just this summer we ran into Tom, a family friend, at the beach. He was playing with his children in the water and having a grand time. Of course, Jack wanted to join in but we explained that they were having family time. Jack understood, played with us and then, once Tom got out of the water, we told Jack that it was okay to ask Tom’s kids if they wanted to play.

So,here we are. I will take the kids to the park this afternoon and hope they play with other children. But as much as I may want and feel that I deserve to sit on a bench, sip an iced coffee and play with my ipone while my kids play with someone else’s parents, don’t worry; I won’t. I’ll watch mine and hope that everyone else does the same.

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