June 13, 2013 2:30 pm Wimping Out on the Job
I liked my friend Marian very much, yet I wasn’t sold on her parenting skills. One day, we arranged to meet at a park with our children. Immediately, there was trouble.
“Honey, we don’t play with sticks. Chip, let’s not put that near Tyler’s face. Okay?” Marian’s voice lacked commitment as she spoke to her son.
Chip lowered the stick for a few seconds and then went back at it. He was waving the stick so close to his brother’s face that I went over and grabbed it away from him. “Chip, did you hear your mother? Go do something without sticks.”
“Helen, calm down! They’re just playing,” Marian said somewhat defensively.
“Listen, Marian, we don’t want anyone to get hurt. Letting Chip wave a stick near Tyler’s face is ridiculous. It has to be stopped.”
“Maybe a chill pill is in order, Helen. Come on, really!”
Her boys ran to the sand box. My girls, Eva and Sophie were making cakes for everyone. They flinched as Chip charged close to their spot.
Chip began to dig wildly. “Hey, Tyler, catch!” Tyler looked right at Chip as a shovel full of sand flew into his eyes.
I was closest so I went to Tyler and let him cry into the bottom of my shirt. Patting his hair, I demanded that Chip get out of the sand box and sit on the bench until his mother came over.
“I said catch. I warned him. It is his fault for not ducking.”
Marian arrived. “Chippy, was it an accident?”
I was thinking she had to be the dumbest mother on the entire planet. By offering the ultimate out, she made sure that Chip would never have to accept his responsibility for his totally intentional act. She let herself off the mothering hook too.
“Sorta, Mommy. The girls were so close and the sand just flung out.”
“You liar!” Tyler shouted, “You looked right at me and threw it. Mommy it was totally on purpose!”
“Look, here comes the Good Humor truck. Let’s get something,” Marian said with relief.
Children ran to parents and baby sitters, hoping to be able to get an ice cream. Chip was already by the truck. It seemed so crazy not to be dealing with what just happened in the sand box.
Tyler could see again. He stayed with me but asked his mother, “You know it wasn’t an accident, right, Mommy? Chip threw that sand right at me.”
“Oh honey, let’s not hold a grudge. It is a beautiful day. The ice cream man is here. Let’s cheer up, okay?”
My girls were still making cakes and looked up as they felt my presence. “Hi Mommy, we’re making the biggest one for you. What kind of icing do you want? Still chocolate?”
“That sounds perfect.” I felt so happy to have this peaceful pair of little girls.
As I reached the truck, I saw Chip pointing and laughing when a little girl’s ice cream rolled down her striped shirt and fell to the ground. Tyler handed her some napkins. “Baby,” Chip called him.
Hoping to preserve an old friendship, I said nothing. The little girl’s mother quickly bought her something else. They went to a pretty green table in the shade.
Marian looked exhausted. Part of me felt sorry for her. What should have been a nice outing was probably a typical slice of one of their endless, ordinary days. Without guidance, how would Chip change his mean and hurtful ways? If the world spins in the same way whether he is a pain or not, how will he ever feel the difference? And since Tyler receives so little true comfort or understanding, what will happen to his good nature? I wished we could have a long talk without the children.
The sun had moved and my little cake makers were a bit chilly. “I know Soph, let’s make this cake for Tyler. He is still a little sad.”
“That’s a great idea,” Eva said, as she was already forming a big layer.
Marian was sitting on a bench. Tyler and Chip had finished their ice cream and were having jumping contests, trying to see who could get to the sand box with the fewest jumps. Tyler was a great jumper, which bothered Chip. Halfheartedly watching, Marian looked a million miles away.
I was riveted, sensing hurt feelings and tears were imminent. Sure enough, as Tyler was about to win, Chip put out his foot and Tyler went down with a thud.
“You are such a crummy cheat. You’re not my brother any more,” Tyler said with every ounce of who he was in his voice.
Marian snapped to. “Oh Tyler, I know you wanted to win. Chippy is bigger and your legs aren’t as long. Maybe next time.”
Chip realized that he could get away with tripping Tyler. “It hurts to lose, Ty. It was close. Next time maybe,” he smirked, using the same words his mother had. “Maybe.”
I felt such injustice had to be called out. I got up and went to the bench. Chip was gloating. Tyler was near his mother, explaining again how Chip tripped him.
“Marian, I saw what happened.” I recounted the whole thing.
Tyler said, “That is really the truth.” He looked up at his mother.
“Well, everything’s fine now. Let’s not open up old wounds. It was a game.”
“Marian, you have to face the fact that sometimes Chip is just awful to Tyler. He isn’t an awful person. Chip is a little boy, who needs a parent. Some of what he does has to be addressed or he will believe it’s alright to be this way to everyone. You have to stop fooling yourself. You have to be his mother. Then things will get better. I know it. Tyler deserves support, too.”
We looked at each other until Marian looked away. “You don’t know everything, Helen,” she said. “Boys are nothing like girls.”
My girls came over with their jiggly cake, held up by two shovels. “We made you a cheer up cake. We don’t want you to feel sad, Tyler.”
Tyler smiled. “Thank you Sophie and Eva.”
Marian looked at the sandy extravaganza. “That was very thoughtful. I bet Chip would like some too.”
Tyler called over to Chip. “Want a slice of cake?”
“It isn’t real,” Chip said, not looking at Tyler. “Don’t be a stupid girl.”
“Is it time to go, Mommy?” asked Eva.
I felt relief. “It seems like the perfect time.” We gathered our shovels and buckets.
“We’ll see you Marian,” I said.
Tyler looked at me. “Thank you, Helen, for believing me. I am sorry I made your shirt dirty.”
“You’re a sweet little boy, Tyler.”
“Bye Tyler. Bye Chip,” called Eva and Sophie.
Chip didn’t look at us or say a thing.
Marian quickly said, “Chippy, you’re feeling shy, aren’t you? It’s been a long day, Helen. He’s tired.”
I waved to her, thinking, “If you keep making excuses for him, you’re in for a lot of long days.”
Mothers often make excuses for their children’s behavior. Sometimes keeping the peace feels more important than seriously dealing with each situation. However, going overboard on giving allowances never really works. Under the guise of being understanding, Marian short-changed Chip. What would have happened if she called him on his sand throwing, or listened to me regarding the tripping? She might then realize Chip needs her help. She might see Tyler is hurt by her consistent unwillingness to stand up to Chip.
Once she begins to really take mothering more seriously, a commitment to fairness will become an essential aspect of her interaction with her little boys. They will respect her and feel their positions in the family more. They will be happier. Easy times will pour in. Fun will too.
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
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