Home > Uncategorized > Playground politics at 35… still sucking

Playground politics at 35… still sucking

Late last week, armed with a brand new box of sidewalk chalk, I went to the local playground with The Child. It was the first really lovely day of spring and the place was pretty well packed. The Child, normally pretty outgoing, was feeling a little shy, which was unusual and I still don’t know why. But I parked myself and her in one small corner and she sat down to draw.

A little girl with some unpronounceable pseudo-ethnic name that I don’t remember but we will call Amalie, walked up to The Child. I did my motherly shtick, “Why don’t you introduce yourself and offer her some chalk, sweetie?” The Child did and they played together for a little while. Amalie wasn’t great at asking, she tended to grab chalk, but she looked to be about 5 years old (two years older than The Child) and totally unsupervised by an adult so I wasn’t too surprised that her manners were lacking.

The Child tried to engage Amalie in conversation, to get them to draw together, but Amalie wasn’t terribly responsive. After a while, she wandered away.

At this point, a neighbor walked up to me and I had to deal with some condo-related stuff, casually. I was chatting and didn’t pay enough attention when a “chain gang” from one of the local low-income child care places showed up.

Distractedly, I did the mommy shtick and encouraged the Child to introduce herself to and play with a little girl named Violet. That was fine so I went back to my chat. After a few minutes, The Child came running up to me and I don’t remember what I said but it was totally dismissive. I felt really awful about that a few minutes later when The Child came over crying and truly upset.

I turned around to see the chalk box mobbed by children like a piece of bread in the middle of a flock of seagulls. Mostly it seemed to be member of the chain gang, crabbing and running away with the chalk, ignoring The Child’s piteous (and, I’m so proud, consistently polite) attempts to regulate and refuse the chaos. Since, of course, no adults were intervening, I had to pick The Child up, hide the chalk box, and walk away.

I tell The Child consistently: If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell them no, please stop. If they keep doing it, offer something else for them to do (she’s a natural compromiser, so I work a little on her standing up for herself). If they persist — especially the cat or the little boy at preschool who likes to hit — then come and get an adult.

She had come to get me and I’d dismissed her. I felt awful. So, when she demanded in a very sad and upset tone, to “play alonely, please,” I thought that was the best thing. We went off to a corner that was totally unused and she sat to draw with her chalk. She even demanded that I stay far away from her, so she could play alonely.

This worked out fine until Amalie came over again. Without asking, Amalie grabbed some of The Child’s chalk. The Child said, “No, please. I want to play alonely.” Amalie dumped out the whole box, grabbed more from the (now broken and battered) pile and ran away. The Child walked over to her and very politely asked for her chalk back. Without my prompting. Yay! Amalie broke the chalk and hurled it away from the Child.

The Child picked it up and came back and I cuddled and comforted her a bit and then she went to draw by herself again. After about 10 minutes, Amalie came running over. I’d kept telling myself I need to let the kids work it out, but this time, I’d had enough.

“No,” I said, using my mom voice. “You may not play with the chalk.”

“But I want to.”

“My daughter has asked you very politely to leave her alone and you have behaved rudely to her. You may not play with the chalk.”

There was a long silence. “I very mad,” she spat at me.

“I understand. But you’ve broken and stolen my daughter’s chalk and she’s very mad, too.”

Amalie stomped off. The Child was very upset and I said, “Do you want to go home, sweetie?” and she made a little hiccuping sob and buried her head in my neck and said, “I want to hide, please.”

And my heart broke apart.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 1, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Do you remember that part of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle when the nanny went up to that bully on the school playground and told him to stop bothering the little girl? Sure, the nanny ended up being evil and all, but I think about that part of the movie with no small amount of wishful thinking every once in a while–there’s a dark part of me that would have like to have marched up to Amelie and said something very similar…

    And in all seriousness, both you and The Child handled that admirably. I am impressed with both of your poise and thoughtfulness. NOT an easy situation for either of you. She’s a lucky child to have you as a mother providing the model that you do.

  2. May 2, 2009 at 3:15 am

    been there, with my older two. what made it worse, was when the other parent came over and demanded to know why i was being rude to their child, not letting the kid use my daughters’things. i replied, your child took the toys and wouldn’t return them. so, until YOUR child learns to share, he/she can be by herself. the parent then harassed me until I became scared [i’m a SMALL person, considerably outweighed by the other parent] and we left. sad world. very sad. you handled it as well as possible.

  3. May 6, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    No, no! You WIN at playground politics. Your daughter shared. You allowed for children to be children and try working problems out on their own. When you needed to step in, you were clear and responsive to the rude kid. You can’t make other people behave, but you can do a great job of modeling great bevavior yourself. You rock!

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