Parent your own child!
2008-01-06 - 7:56 a.m.

And here we are in a new year...

I made a list of goals for 2008 the other day. Not resolutions, mind you. Resolutions are easy to break, and then they're just gone-POOF. Goals you can work toward. Slip up, and you're just still working on it. It's not gone. Semantics, perhaps, but it works for my brain.

One of them involved writing more, both in this lovely little white box and in the file on my computer labeled WIP. The Damn Book. I'd like to finish writing it, if not just because then it will be out of my head.

We drove north last night for Jonathan's birthday party. Jonathan is my cousin Danny's partner and a resident of the Family Compound that contains our teensy summer cottage.* Jonathan and Danny live in what used to be Danny's grandmother's house. SHe was a collector of all things knicknacky, and Danny has many of her "treasures" on display. The whole house looks like a photo shoot for Home Decorator's Warehouse, but in a good way. Danny has incredibly good taste, and it's a house inhabited by two gay men. This does not translate into an environment that is inherently Will-proofed.

This is less of a concern now that he's four than it was last year or the year before. He's big enough now to know not to touch the piano or the picture frames or the myriads of stuff on the shelves and end tables, but we never go to Uncles Danny and Jonathan's house without plenty of reserves. THe bag is full of small, easy to play with toys that he happily shows to his cousins and that will keep him busy enough to not run around like a banshee.

We'd been there for about half an hour, long enough for the Big People to get something to eat and for Will to settle in happily with his cousins (Lexi is almost 14, Paige is 10, and Haley is 9, and they think Will is wonderful, which is very lucky for me), when Barb and Scarlett arrived.

Scarlett is not yet two, still small enough that Will thinks of her as "Baby Scarlett," and he'll quite vocally tell you that he doesn't like babies. But he's generally very good with her, protective and sweet. Unless, of course, she's trying to take his toys without his having offered them up. Then the sweetness disappears.

This, of course, is what happened last night. She reached for something, he didn't want her to take it, she got all up in his face and pulled harder (it would be funny, if it didn't lead to disaster--this baby bravado). He pulled back. She grunted and pulled again. He put one hand on the toy and one on her and tried to separate the two. Scarlett went down and Barb got up.

I should mention here that Barb is a big, imposing-looking woman. She's over six feet tall and generally large, with long blonde hair. She towers over Will. Also, she's 40; he's four.

When Scarlett hit the floor and started to wail, Barb screamed at Will.


Loud enough that everything else in the room stopped and all eyes went to the corner.


She reached down and scooped Scarlett up, leaning over Will with the Angry Face. Will crumpled onto the floor into a ball, face down with his head over his knees.

I crossed the room and picked him up into my arms, taking him around the corner out of earshot. He was trembling.

Taking a deep breath, I sat down on the floor and hugged him to my chest. "What happened, buddy?"

A tiny voice came out of my lap. "I don't know."

"I'm not mad at you, Will. I just need you to tell me what happened. You're not in trouble, buddy."

My mom came around the corner, indignant and angry. "He was set up!" she announced.

I smiled at her. "I know--he's not in trouble. We're just talking for a minute."

She paused and looked at us. "I'm ready to go now," she announced.

(This might not be the first time Barb has come down on my child. In public, and unnecessarily hard, by the way.)

After a minute, she walked away, leaving me with my still frightened son. I asked him again, still in a soft voice, "what happened, bud?"

"Scarlett tried to take my toy. I just tried to take it back." It must be hard to talk when your pout lip is sticking out that far.

"Well, I'm sorry that happened. I don't think Scarlett brought any toys of her own, so she wanted to play with yours."

"But I wasn't ready to share."

"Well, sharing is nice, and I think you should. But if she tries to take something again that you don't want her to have, no pushing, okay? Come find me, and I'll help you get it back."

"Okay, Mummy!" Big smile.

"I love you. Remember--no pushing, okay?"

"Okay! I will call for you instead."

He ran off to find his cousins again.

Would that we were all so easily appeased.

I walked back over to where my dinner was waiting. My cousin Debbie, Danny's sister and the girls' mother, was waiting for me. "Good girl--no one's bleeding!" she said to me.

"Am I wrong, Debbie? Is it okay for her to yell at Will like that?"

She looked at me for a second, her face somewhat unreadable. Then she shook her head. "That was WAY out of line. And nobody yells at my kids but me. Nobody."

The unreadable face was a "how much do I say" pause. Barb is our friend, and in most things we get along very well. She's been a friend of Debbie's since grade school. But this is tough.

How do you address something like this with your friend. How do you tactfully say, "Leave my kid the hell alone" and still preserve your friendship? How do you say, "Bring your own damn toys and stop being so hard on my child--you're ten times his age--act it!"

Scarlett's dad is no longer in the picture, and I know that Barb has a serious Mother Lion thing going on. But she treats Will like he's way out of line when he behaves like a four-year-old. Like she expects him to be as old as the big girls just because he plays with the big girls.

It kind of ruined the night.

Being a parent is so huge.

*And when I say cottage, I use the term loosely. Four and a half little rooms (the last one is really too small to be a whole room and basically is just a place for Will to sleep) plus the porch and the outhouse. My mom has a sleeping cubby, we have a sleeping cubby, we have a tiny eat-in-kitchen (eat-in only because there's a table shoved in there) and a tiny living room. But the porch--the porch is a glorious place. Maybe my favorite place in my world these days. And it's closed up until May. Deep sigh. And yes, I did say "outhouse."


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