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Messing Up

I mess up on things a lot.  Especially with this parenting business.  That is why I am a wannabe.  I could tell you all the many ways I screw it up and you would undoubtedly cringe at a lot of them.  I sure do in hindsight.  I’m either the dreaded helicopter parent swooping in too often or too soon OR I don’t pipe up enough, especially in dealings with other kids.  The “Oh, let them work it out – that is how kids learn” philosophy is great in theory, but leaves me feeling conflicted and doubtful most of the time.   And above all I think, you never want to be a parent doubting yourself.

There is a balance – a fine line between helicopter and hands-off, and I for one, don’t have it down.  Mama definitely ain’t got her groove.  Maybe that is what makes me feel the worst.  I feel I should.  I wish I did.  But it still seems like a minefield I am carefully navigating – and yes, sometimes things do blow up in my face. 

Today I saw my son struggling, playing with these other two boys at the park.  My guy just wanted to play catch.  These boys insisted on Monkey in the Middle – and my son was put as the monkey.  He never could knock it down – thus remaining in the middle – and meaning he never got to even handle the ball.  How much fun is that? 

I could read the look on my son’s face.  He was not happy, and his good-natured way was slowly evaporating.  Do I jump in?  Insist or “suggest” that they play it differently – I know, how about the old fashioned way where you just throw it to each other and catch it and everyone gets a turn?  Too dull these days? One of the boys (the alpha kid if you will) was becoming a bit aggressive in his teasing (torture).  But perhaps I am just over-protective? 

I did nothing (not proud of it – just telling you the story).  It was one of the other boy’s mothers that stepped in and changed the dynamics of the game.  She (a schoolteacher so perhaps a bit more experienced – or just better – than I) could see that my son was miserable and felt the other boys were now acting mean-spirited. 

Maybe it was better coming from her – because it didn’t look like a mom stepping in protecting her son.  Maybe it was worse it didn’t come from me because after all, I saw my son’s struggles and didn’t respond to it. (What kind of message does that send him?)

At the end of this playdate, the final incident happened.  It was over a game of tag my son didn’t want to play.  We were getting ready to pack it all up, but Alpha Boy wasn’t quite ready for it to end.  He insisted they play and that HE would be IT, but then at the last second, yelled, “Not IT” making the second boy IT, who seemed confused by the sudden change in events, but quickly reached over and tagged my son.  My guy looked bewildered; he had stated it pretty clearly he wasn’t playing, but now somehow seemed to be in an active game of tag.  He stood there for a couple seconds, clearly not sure if he should just go along, you know be a good sport and play this game being forced upon him. 

This time I stepped jumped in. “Hey Buddy," I yelled. " I thought you said you weren’t playing?  Well, anyway – it is time for us to go.”  Ah – saved at last.  My son ran over to me and gave me a hug, but really he was hiding the fact tears were now spilling from his eyes.  “I was just so confused,” he admitted in a muffled voice.  As was I – and told him so.   He wasn’t alone there.

It had been long enough at the park with these boys – for both of us.  The negative undercurrent I had been sensing this whole time was also being felt by him and he was starting to lose it.  He buried his head in my chest as the tears kept coming.  I comforted him for a minute, but then saw the other boys starting to walk over.  Trouble brewing.  “Ok, Buddy.  Deep breaths. Pull it together.  You don’t want them to see you cry,” I told him, helping him wipe the incriminating evidence off his cheeks. 

Suddenly Alpha Boy was there.  “Is he CRYING?" he wanted to know.  This Zen Mama Wannabe stood tall.  “Oh, he just got something in his eye,” I told him.  My son’s head jerked back, startled at my less than honest response.  But when he looked up at me, it was all over his face: pure relief.  My heart cracked a little.  Alpha Boy wanted to know if it was a wood chip 'cuz that had happened to him once.  Situation adverted.

On the walk back to the car, my son surprised me by stopping me to say, “Thanks, Mom.  You know, for what you said back there.  I really appreciate it.”  Ahh – my heart melted back together again.  All the way home all I could think was thank you.  Thank you for this one time letting me get it right. 

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5 Responses to “Messing Up”

  1. LarkLady Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Y’know, sometimes complete honesty is over-rated, and this was sure one of those times! You played that one exactly right, ZenMama! But you might want to follow up with your son in a day or two and talk about WHY it was okay to be less than honest in that situation — and helping him learn to differentiate what’s okay and what’s not. Being untruthful is a slippery slope, and it’s hard to learn where the fine line that separate Absolute Truth from Acceptable Untruth is.

    I don’t think you should feel guilty that you didn’t step in during Monkey in the Middle. Your son will have to learn ways to deal with situations like that, and it needed the other mom to be the one to step in… and I’m glad she did! But you would have been Overly Protective Mom to the Alpha kid, aggravating the situation for your son. Maybe you could help your son learn to be more specific in setting up play time with other kids — “Hey, I need to work on my catching skills — wanna play catch at the park this afternoon?” helps set the expectation that they’re going to play catch, not Monkey in the Middle (which I’m assuming is pretty much what we called Keep Away in my day, back in the Dark Ages!).

  2. callieandbatido Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I agree with LarkLady, ZenMama. You played your part perfectly! It is so hard to watch our kids struggle but some of it they have to work out for themselves. Bravo that the other mom stepped up and helped the situation, she needed to. There are a lot of Alpha boys, or girls for that matter, out there and we have to learn to deal with them. But we don’t have to allow them to walk all over us. A tough lesson to teach a kid and I know because it’s one I am still trying to master. Give your son a big hug tonight, you both deserve it.

  3. Zen Mama Wannabe Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    To step in or not step in – tis quite the question. I don’t have it figured out, but I guess it is a *learn as you go* kind of thing. I’m good with the learning, but it sure is much more exhausting than I ever thought it would be!

  4. soloranger Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Nicely done–both the blog and how you handled the situation. Funny how “play” imitates life–sooner or later we all find ourselves as the Monkey in a real life game. Mothers like you help their children develop the skills required to get out of the middle.

  5. callieandbatido Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    So true soloranger! We are all Monkeys once in awhile…it’s how we get out of the middle that counts.

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