I played hookey from work that afternoon and took my two kids to the beach. They built an elaborate castle with many ‘spires’ and a moat, etc. Then they decided to actually get in the water and swim.
A little way down the beach sat probably a half-dozen parents (more interested in visiting with each other than watching what their kids were up to) and twice that many kids.
Some of those kids started playing with mine – a boy (maybe 4 or 5) and two girls (maybe 6 and 8). Kids do that all the time, make instant friends, no big deal. So I went back to my book. But shortly thereafter I realized those kids were having an argument – and it seemed to be getting heated (though I couldn’t hear any actual words).
Now, my parenting style often calls for me to restrain myself and see what my kids will do. When they get into an altercation with their siblings, cousins, friends (or “stranger friends” they just met at the beach!), I figure that as long as fists aren’t flying, let ‘em learn to work it out amongst themselves.
I heard my son (who is 10 and the oldest of this group) say, “Okay, let’s stop now. It’s time to stop. Dial it down!” (Yes, those are words my kids hear at home.) I admit I had a Proud Mama moment (what do you know, he’s the voice of reason!).
But then someone was crying (and I knew it wasn’t one of mine). It was the 6yo girl. Honest to God, my first thought was that my daughter (who just turned 6) made another kid cry (my girl is a pretty tough cookie). OK, so maybe it was time to engage.
I called my kids in, asked my daughter what happened. Then I asked my son, because he is Honest Abe, and the story was the same. The other kids started the splashing games, then my kids splashed ‘em back… and the other girl started crying.
At this point I’m thinking two things: 1) This is kids’ stuff, nothing serious and 2) what a wuss that girl is! And I go back to my book.
A few minutes later, that little boy (whose name I actually know by now) and his sister deliberately destroy my kids’ castle and moat… about ten feet in front of me.
I keep my cool. This is a public beach, the fun was in the building… but by now I’m wondering if my ‘hands-off’ approach to this particular parenting challenge is the proper one (and ‘how am I supposed to react to this?!’)
I decide it’s time for me to go throw a ball around with my kids.
So I do (and I don’t mention the castle).
While we’re tossing, this boy and his sister come closer and closer until they’re inside our little triangle (and thus interfering with our tossing). Mind you, there’s no one else in the water. So I finally ask them (politely, I think) if there is some reason they need to be so close to us.
“We just want to tell her something.” They point to my daughter.
“By all means, go ahead.”
So this boy whispers in my daughter’s ear. Her eyes go wide and she looks toward the beach. “They knocked down our castles!”
I’m irritated, and I’m faced with another decision. What do I say to these kids (especially the ones who aren’t mine)?
I said: “You know, knocking down the castle was kind of uncool to begin with. But then to come out here and rub their faces in it by telling it to them is even more uncool.”
“It was an accident,” the boy says.
Now I’m getting pissed.
“Oh, come on. I saw you knock it down. You did it right in front of me, and you did it deliberately. So now what you’re doing is just out-and-out telling a lie.”
Well, they take off (as well they should!) and I manage to keep my kids’ minds off the castle until we are ready to head home. At that point, my daughter seems down about the castle, and I say, “well, that does happen at a public beach, sweetie, but the fun part really was building it, don’t you think?”
She seems okay with this explanation.
Out of the corner of my eye I see this other mother watching us as we pack up our things. I give her a glance, wondering what (if anything) her kids have told her. I don’t intend to confront her, but the more I sense her watching me the more the Mama Bear in me surfaces… until I’m almost wishing she would initiate something with ME. In my head I’m pumping out my chest and thinking: You want a piece of me? BRING IT ON, MAMA!
It’s a feeling I’m not accustomed to having, and I examine it as I drive us home. I’m still wondering at my attitude as my daughter is telling dad about the incident. I hear her say, “That boy lied… and moms will always find out.”
And suddenly I’m laughing. Because that’s another thing we say in our house. “Mom and Dad will always find out if you lie.” And all I can do is say, “Yeah, even when it’s someone else’s kid!”