Sunday, 23 March 2014

Park Etiquette

Today we went to a new park.

We live in quite a nice area, so there's a lot of lovely parks to choose from.  This one in particular is one that we drive past almost every day, but we have never really been to.  It's nothing fancy - some small equipment and some swings, but enough for pre-school/early school children to enjoy. Plus it's surrounded by a huge expanse of grass, shaded by a hill.

As I said, it's a nice, well-off, suburban area, so we didn't expect any trouble.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the usual mass of dog-walkers going about their business, which was fine.  Then we turned the corner onto the park and my oh my!

Teenagers fighting among the newly-laid woodchip, grabbing handfuls of it and stuffing it into each other's faces while punching each other.  Pre-teens who were copying the older ones and beating each other up while the mother stood and watched, not saying a word when one hit the other.  A dad with three younger kids, who were playing on the equipment, which included a slide and a chain for lifting sand up to a sand-chute.

Hoping that the older kids would scarper once they saw some younger kids playing in what is really an area for younger kids, I pointed our boys in the direction of where the dad and his (relatively safer looking) kids were playing.

Right enough, the older ones soon made off, and the boys were playing on the equipment with the three others.

Now, my kids usually play very well with others, so I was quite happy to leave them to their own devices, while keeping an eye from a distance.  The park was fenced off from dogs, so Dave, my husband, was standing with Sparky behind the fence, watching.  I went to talk to him, behind the equipment.

The chain was on the other side of the equipment, and I heard Tom playing (or so I thought) with the oldest of the three kids.  Ethan was perched up on our side of the equipment, watching them, chatting away to them in his squeaky three-year-old tones.

Suddenly, I heard Tom cry.  Hard.

Tom never cries.  I have seen Tom fall backwards off of slides and hit his head and not utter a peep.  I have seen him bash his head so hard that a huge egg appears on his forehead and he's never said a word.

So this time I knew it was bad.

I raced around to the other side of the equipment, to see Tom clutching his head and shouting 'He hit me!  He did it on purpose with that chain!  He threw it at my head!'

I grabbed Tom and sat him down, giving a cursory glare at the child in question.  Tom had a small cut on his head where the chain had hit him - it was a sore one.

I looked at the dad of the small boy to see if he would say anything: Nothing.

I took Tom over to where Dave was standing and said to him 'What do we do?'

I was angry that someone had hurt my baby and made him cry.  I was angrier at myself though for not knowing what had happened.  Usually I helicopter like a pro, but they are getting way too old for that, plus the park was so small, there was really no need.

Dave shook his head and said 'I don't know.  I just heard the dad saying to the boy that he should say sorry, even though Tom was being bad to him first'


I know I'm going to sound like the naive mother here, but my boy be bad to someone first?

I'm not so naive as to think that it wouldn't happen, but I do know Tom - it's not in his nature to be mean.  When he got hurt by someone at school and we told him it was o.k to hurt back in that instance, he got upset, because 'you should never hurt anyone!'  He's consistently good-mannered, he always thinks of others and never even retaliates when his little brother annoys him past the point of annoyance.

I was then left with a conundrum.  Do I hash it out with the dad, who probably saw what was happening better than I did and look like an idiot when he proves that my kid 'deserved it' or do I do what I'm supposed to do as a mother and challenge that man on his child's behaviour?

There's a difference too between 'being bad' to someone and drawing blood.

Tom, however, took the matter out of my hands.  He ran over to the boy and shouted in a really deep, gruff, angry voice 'I'm gonna get you for what you done to me!  You really hurt me and I'm wanting you to say sorry!'

I was so shocked that he would speak to someone like that, I went to stop him, but he was already crying again, he was so upset.  The boy hid under the climbing frame and said nothing.  I looked at the dad.  Nothing.  I said to the two boys, 'Maybe you should both say sorry to each other and that's the end of it?'


I looked at the dad again as if to say 'come on'.


I'm ashamed to say it, but we left right after that.  I took my boys and got them out of that park, away from the situation completely, Ethan muttering in my ear as I carried him 'Thomas got hurt by the boy.  The boy didn't say sorry.  That boy hurt him.  Thomas got hurt.  He sad.  That boy not say sorry'

We walked back across that park, Tom roaring and crying with anger and hurt the whole way, us muttering words of comfort to him, while at the same time feeling useless and defunct as parents.

What should we have done?

I know if I was in that dad's shoes I would have been the first person to help the kid who was crying if my kid had hurt them.  I would have told my kid off for drawing blood and I would have apologised to the kid and the parent and made my son apologise too.

Even if that kid had 'been bad' first.

We're at home now.  Tom s playing ' a nice calm game' on his PS3 to wind down.  Ethan has stopped asking me 'why the boy didn't say sorry?'

But I feel like I failed my son a bit.  Now that I'm home, I'm going through all of the things we should have done; confronted the man a bit more, asked the child in question what he thought he was doing.  But the thing is, as a family, we are totally non-confrontational.

I want to be a hero in my son's eyes.  I want nothing more than to sweep him away from any danger and to show that danger that it's not messing with my kids.  I feel like I could walk through fire for both of them: but I couldn't call that man on his child's behavior at the park.  I feel weak.

I'm wondering if I've shown them that it's o.k to be hurt by others.  I'm hoping that I've shown them that some people are just mean and that it's still not really o.k to hurt anyone, no matter what they do first.  I'm not sure if there's any real 'lesson' for them here - what I have learned though is that next time, I would definitely speak up.

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