I got to follow a three year old around today while his mama was occupied at a child-unfriendly event.* It was a wonderful and terrible thing. Wonderful because I had my head straight as to what a three year old needs (to run around and be followed, to have questions answered and to have my calm attention. To be taken to a nearby pet store. Quite simple, really!) and it was a joy to enjoy this little one and to help his mother who has no family and rarely gets help at these events that I’ve seen.
Terrible? Why so? Well, I gritted my teeth thinking of how poorly I’d done for my own kids when they were little, and how poorly I’ve done since, I still do, because I can’t shake my residual training and my bad habits. But back then, yeah, I just couldn’t figure out, back when I had babies, that it was my environs that were so often fucked up, making little practical room for what children need and extending very little assistance to carers, usually mothers, who were responsible for all this (Arwyn’s written about this a lot better than I can). I just ate myself up trying to make myself and my kids not inconvenient, I gulped conversation with other moms at the park when the kids would play, I was dying for time out of pressure, which is why I lose the compassion and love people often tell me I have when I hear some weekend dad or non-carer or non-parent complain about moms who take kids to the park and don’t play with them or text or whatever. Like, seriously, playing with kids is awesome, but prescribing it when seeing a beleaguered mama population at one of the few places kids are allowed to run around and make noise? Please directly Go Fuck Yourself, and I mean it in the kindest of ways, I’ll wait for you to get back.
Yeah, my husband used to get pissed we’d go to a film with the young kids and he’d end up taking the squirrelly one out to the lobby and miss some of the movie. He still gets this way sometimes. I understand he’s pissed but I mean, shit that’s what I had to deal with my nine-hour shift out in public day after day after day after day (go into the coffee shop and a person with a laptop sitting at a fourtop who gives us an icy glare and others ignore us, outside at a picnic table and a kiddo runs across the grass and not one person laughs and gently herds young child to safety, but people look up angrily for – ME), and that’s been so much, so many years of my life, my child(ren) unwelcome unless he/she/they were silent and near immobile (I hear it’s not like that everywhere) when he/she/they wanted to ask questions, to talk, to run, to climb, the very things they really should be doing and not just when they’re tiny but I think for many many early years.
And yeah there are situations and people and oases that get that kids are part of the population, and those are lovely. But seriously I mean this event today, apparently people expected a three year old to sit quietly, and no there was nothing at all for the kid to do, no room to play in, nothing (a seven hour event). I am not upset about the event or even thinking about it much, truly, I’m upset about my stupidity when I was a younger mom, about how hard I worked to be “good” and to have “good” kids, and about all the twisted stuff this set up within me and how much I sacrificed and how much less I enjoyed my kids, the most lovely people on this earth to me.
It just fucking kills me.
I dunno, sometimes I think since we all spent a lot of time being kids, maybe some of us should consider regularly putting some time in a grimy parking lot keeping a three year old safe (and actually having a good time with him because he was lovely) so Mama can have thirty minutes to breathe, have a cup of coffee, or take care of her other responsibilities. When we see a child run across the street we can slow down and laugh and wave and say, “Careful!” and smile, or take a few minutes and talk to a child, because who are we to be in such a Big Goddamned Important Hurry we can’t acknowledge some of the most vulnerable and impressionable and inexperienced and (usually) disempowered populations of the human race, the very creatures who decide the fate of the planet and who might stand to grow up free and lovely and well-taught and loved-up instead of – pained and anxious and servile and scared and angry?
Eh, besides other mamas in my life – who were also themselves working so hard – very few people helped me in these generous and level ways when the kids were little, or maybe many did but the intolerance and ignorance of others was way more, or at least loudest in my ears. I can’t change that I internalized all this as being Not Good Enough and I Need To Work Myself Harder and Sit Still and Be QUIET! or we’re GOING HOME! But I can, as long as I’m able, remember to look out for and be loving to little ones and their carers. I guess if there’s one thing I’ve gained it’s that. It’s that I knew to offer this woman time. It wasn’t much but I didn’t see anyone else volunteering.
And the little guy S. was more excited about a fiddler crab at that pet shop than anything. And you know what, now that I spent a minute checking it out, I discovered a fiddler crab is pretty fucking awesome.