November 23, 2011

Lessons from the playground

The other day, SB and I took advantage of some lovely warm weather and went to our favorite park. I was surprised, as early as it was in the day, to see the playground was full of older children. Turns out they were attending a birthday party.

SB loves older kids. She follows them around and tries to do what they do. Which I think is totally normal. But the reaction she received this time was a first for her.

As she started toward the stairs to the play equipment, a girl with long blonde hair and pink glasses stepped in front of her and stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at SB. She called to the other kids, "Don't let her up! She can't play with us!"

A group of girls, I would estimate them to be between six and eight years old, lined up next to her and formed a human blockade, attempting to keep SB from getting up on the play equipment. She shrugged and went in a different direction.

I was about to say something about the playground being for everyone, but SB did manage to get up on the equipment and the girls continued their play. She proceeded to follow them around until they got to the monkey bars, where she stopped. SB has not mastered monkey bars.

The blonde girl came back to where SB stood and challenged her. "What's wrong with you?" she yelled in SB's face. "Can't you go on the monkey bars?"

"I little," SB replied, looking down at her feet. "I need help."

"That's stupid," the girl told her, practically spitting.

At which point I stepped in. "She's only two years old," I explained through gritted teeth. "I don't allow her to go on the monkey bars without me."

SB reached out, and I helped her across the monkey bars. "It's not nice or cool to make fun of other kids," I told the blonde girl. "Especially when they are so much younger than you."

The girl glared at me, with the same hands on her hips stance she'd taken with SB. It's terrible to say, but I will admit I wanted to slap that look off her face. (For the record, I never would.)

I looked around for the adults, trying to see if one was watching the exchange and might stand out as the blonde girl's parent. They were all huddled together over at the pavilion, talking. I considered going over to them. But I was afraid of what I might say.

I was pretty worked up. I wasn't sure I would be able to be rational. I didn't want to make a scene and set the wrong example for my own child by going off on someone in an emotional rant. Nothing good ever comes of that.

If SB's feelings were hurt, she didn't show it. She moved on to find someone else to play with. As she approached another of the older kids, I held my breath. The girl smiled at her and said, "Hi!" I exhaled.

Then SB began talking to her.

The girl scrunched up her face. "I can't understand you!" she said. "You talk funny." With that, she turned her back, dismissing SB.

At this point, I was fighting back tears.

Finally, one of the girls actually engaged SB. Turns out, it was the guest of honor.

"It's my birthday," she told SB.

SB clapped and said, "Happy Birfday! What dat?" She pointed to the stuffed owl the girl was holding.

"I got it as a present. Would you like to play with it for a while?"


She handed SB her new toy, and they played together for a bit, along with another girl. They were very sweet with SB, helping her on the parts of the play equipment that were challenging for her, and allowing her to join with them in whatever they did.

I didn't hover; I backed away and sat on a bench on the perimeter of the playground. The girls had a little trouble understanding SB as well. A few times they looked for me to translate. I explained she was in speech therapy. But they didn't treat it like a big deal.

Eventually SB and I moved on, walking to the dock to feed fish and look for the big turtle who hangs out there. The adults had dispersed by that point, but as we passed the pavilion, one woman was busy cleaning up from the party.

"Are you the birthday girl's mom?" I asked. She indicated she was. "Your daughter is quite compassionate," I told her. "She was very sweet with my daughter." She beamed and thanked me.

The events of the afternoon stayed with me for a long time.

I hated seeing my child treated like that. It hurt me deeply, in a way I had not yet experienced. I was so emotional about it, I was shaking all over. I know I can't protect SB throughout her childhood. But I also can't stand the idea of anyone being cruel to her.

SB is going to have a lot of experiences with other children, good and bad. That is life, and those interactions will influence the person she becomes. She will learn important lessons from them.

The foundation hubby and I provide for her will be the key factor in how she responds to those experiences, and which of life's lessons she allows to guide her. I hope we teach her well.

 And when the time comes and the situation is reversed, I hope she will be compassionate.
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