Over time, I’ve learned how to successfully navigate the treacherous doldrums of the social milieu.
Drunken relatives, flashers, pukers, puking flashers, men with sinister moustaches, people who address me in pidgin Leprechaun: I’ve stared down them all and emerged from each encounter with – variously – enhanced awareness, self-restraint and/or lexicon of expletives.
Then I had a baby and was introduced to a whole new, entirely foreign social protocol.
Basically the problem is: parents.
Or more specifically that, as a parent, you are directly and fully responsible for an irrational, arbitrary, vicious, Hulk-smash werebeast in miniature.*
I mean: what do you do when someone’s child gouges another’s eye out with a sawn-off spoon? Or reverses repeatedly over some baby’s head in a tonka-truck? Or dismembers a teddy bear with a chainsaw?
I can handle the situation when Finn is the aggressor. What do you mean, HOW? I – ah – right. Yes – well – er – the key – I think – is anticipation and prevention. On the occasions Finn slips past my vigilant defence and robs some kid’s toy with a rugby-style high-tackle, I – ah – assess the severity of the transgression allied with the degree of damage to person and/or property. After separating the children and confiscating unlawfully relocated possessions and stanching any blood, I apologise profusely to the associated parent in between expressing how terribly embarrassed I am and I SWEAR HE TAKES AFTER HIS FATHER.
Yes, I think that about covers it.
And as long as Finn’s still breathing, I’m ok when he’s attacked by someone’s child and his/her parent swoops in to apologise profusely and express how terribly embarrassed they are and I SWEAR THEY TAKE AFTER THEIR FATHER. I mean, these things happen. Kids will be kids. Life is full of hard knocks.
But I’ve been – let’s say – taken aback by the number of parents who appear not to notice their lovable little scamps staging a violent coup in the north annex of the playcentre. (I’ve noticed the lack of interest appears closely correlated to their number of progeny.)
Under such circumstances, I’m not sure what acceptable procedure is. I’m particularly uncomfortable disciplining someone else’s child, allied with a primal terror of offending people. But where is the line between my cultural heritage and my duty of care towards Finn? And what message do I give him by standing by and letting him getting hurt? And how much am I being over-protective as a first-time mother? After all, the majority of other children are still in possession of most of their limbs and they can always be sewn back on . . . so perhaps I’m being melodramatic. It wouldn’t be the first time, you might agree.
The other day, I took Finn to a playcentre for children ranging from newborn to age seven or eight. There are two distinct play areas: a room with a playpen for the babies and an adjoining gym with slides and trampolines and cars for the older kids.
Finn has been able to blast his way out of any industrial-strength playpen for several months now, so although he’s a little too small for the gym that’s where he spends most of his time.
When we arrived, a three-year old girl took an interest in Finn – perhaps because he was precisely 50% of her body mass. If Finn had a toy, Katy wanted it. Then she started pushing him.
The third time she did so – with no evidence of any supervision or parental intervention – I crouched down in front of her and said, ‘Ah, now. Would you mind awfully – er – not doing that please? It’s not – um – very nice. Ok? Good girl.’
The look she gave me was so chillingly disdainful I actually felt a piece of my soul shrivel and die. Then, while I peeled my weeping son off the floor, she sauntered off to temporarily terrorise some other child.
Everyone was standing around gathering up coats and bags when I noticed Katy stalking Finn again. Unfortunately, it was too late to alter the course of fate. Thrusting both her hands squarely in his chest, she hurled him into a chair.
I was standing slightly behind her out of her line of vision, so I suppose from her perspective it was something of an ambush when I pounced on her. However, I was gentle but firm. In other words, I stuck my face in hers and barked, ‘NO! PLAY NICELY! NO PUSHING OTHER CHILDREN!’
Look, at least I didn’t call her nasty names.
As she stared tremulously into my slightly bulging eyes, her shocked face quailed and her little bottom lip quivered. Then she burst into noisy tears.
And it was like a stack of dominoes, detonating an explosive chain reaction of wailing. Finn’s friend** Max was so overcome with misery he flung himself on the floor and sobbed inconsolably.
Imagine your worst visualization of Hell, only about ten times noisier.
Next time I’ll ensure there are no witnesses.
* Before you ask: not only do I include Finn in the assessment above, he was in fact my primary case-study in formulating and refining this theory (I’m in NO POSITION to discriminate here).
** I love his mother and Max doesn’t routinely fire Finn into furniture, so at this stage that’s a BFF as far as I’m concerned.