November 21, 2013 4:24 pm Doing Research
At lunchtime on a beautiful warm day, Julia left the art gallery where she worked and made her way to the park. Julia had found out a few weeks ago that she was expecting a baby and she felt compelled to be near mothers and their children.
Sitting on a green bench in the early afternoon sun, she took out the chicken salad sandwich she had made that morning. Nearby, two young boys were drawing in the dirt with little sticks. Slightly older children were pushing themselves on a little do-it- yourself merry go round. Little girls were pumping on the swings.
A mother of one of the little boys called out from her bench, “Dirk, Dooney where are you? Answer me! ”
“We are over here by the bench, Mommy,” Dooney called back.
“You should stay near me. You never know who is lurking around a park.”
Dooney and Dirk continued drawing. Each tried to guess what the other had made.
Julia smiled at them, enjoying their happy excitement.
Dooney’s mother, Leslie sat drinking a foot high cup of coffee. She was slim and looked at her phone incessantly, texting and emailing non-stop. In between texts, she would look suspiciously around the park.
“Dooney, let’s try to draw the slide.”
“You do the slide. I’ll draw the jungle gym,” Dooney replied. “We can do the whole park!”
A slightly older boy came over to take a look at the drawings in dirt. “That’s pretty cool,” he told them.
“Here’s a stick. You do some.” Dirk welcomed the newcomer.
“Hey thanks. I’m Freddy.”
Leslie stood up from the bench, and walked over quickly, sipping the whole way. She looked at the older boy. He was slight with a gentle expression on his face as he got down on the dirt and began to draw.
“You, these boys are younger. They don’t know you. Please go back to what you were doing.”
Dooney and Dirk looked up. “Mommy, we are drawing together. Freddy’s our new friend.”
“Boys, I’m in charge. You have to be careful with strangers. Kooks and oddballs are everywhere.”
Looking up at her with surprise, Freddy hesitated for a minute. Then he silently walked off to another part of the park, glancing back a few times as he went.
“Mommy, that was so mean. You should have let him play with us.”
“That’s it. We’ve got to get going,” Leslie announced as she firmly took their hands and walked them out of the park.
Julia sighed and looked around. A young blond mother was holding her baby in her arms. Cooing and laughing, she couldn’t stop kissing her. “Jane, I love you so much.”
Julia smiled too. She felt she would be the same way when her little one came along.
Just then, Julia saw a mother almost pushing two children towards the park gate. She looked angry and exhausted as she scolded her dark haired little boy and little girl. “Get in the car. This is the last time we are ever coming here. You will not be going to the party this afternoon.”
“But, Mommy,” the little boy began. His mother didn’t let him finish.
“No screens this week. And I am telling Santa absolutely no presents for you at Christmas. Now get in the car. Buckle yourselves in.”
Julia felt sorry for the whole family. She wondered what had precipitated the mother’s explosion.
She noticed a little boy who looked about two years old sitting in the sandbox, digging away happily with his hands. His mother approached with a package of wipes in her hand and cleaned his mouth and hands. The boy immediately resumed his digging.
“Todd, this is all dirty. You really have to do something else.” She wiped his hands again and carried him out of the sandbox, putting him down on the grass. Todd bounced up and toddled off towards a small slide. As he began to climb up the ladder, his mother was there again. “Todd, so many children have touched these rails. They are dirty.” She wiped his hands again.
“No, Mama,” Todd protested. “No wipes. Me climbing.”
After one trip down the slide, Todd’s hands and face were wiped again. Then he was carried off, protesting all the way. After putting him in a car seat, his mother removed his shoes and dropped them into a plastic bag. Julia heard her muttering, “Filthy!” Before driving off, the woman purelled her own hands and wiped off the steering wheel, shaking her head in sheer disgust.
Julia looked at her watch and knew it was time to go back to work. As she left the park, she saw that little baby Jane was still being loved to bits. Freddy was still holding the little stick Dooney had given him. The dirt drawings were in shadow now.
Walking back to the gallery, Julia felt she had learned a bit more about what was in store for her. She also knew what sort of mother she didn’t want to be. She felt grateful to have been given this crash course in motherhood.
Once back at work, Julia was happy she had seven more months before her baby was to be born. She wanted to be sure her heart and mind were ready for this dear addition. Looking at a painting of a mother holding hands with her little boy by a river, she felt confident she could become the mother she longed to be.
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
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