Yesterday my friend called me to vent about an incident that had just taken place. Her 3 year old boy was accused of hitting another child when she was right there and knows for a fact that he did no such thing. She was upset by the way in which this child’s mum spoke to her and the fact that she didn’t stand up to her, telling her what she knew had (or rather hadn’t) happened. Instead, feeling humiliated, she quickly packed up her things and left the play centre.
Whilst trying to make my friend feel better about what had happened, it reminded me of a similar encounter I had a year or so ago. I’ve actually been meaning to write about this for a while. The problem is in order to write it I need to cast my mind back in time to possibly the craziest period in my motherhood journey – the first 6 months of having two children under the age of two. I was barely able to remember (or have time) to put my underwear on at this point so I’ll do my best to be as factual as possible.
September (ish) 2014
I was at the local playground with my relatively new-born baby (circa 1 month) and 19 month old toddler. I remember feeling particularly exhausted and emotional that day. In the early stages of new-born sleep deprivation with a toddler who was struggling with the changes and entering Tantrum-Ville. Miles away from family and with no respite (my eldest wasn’t even in kindy at this point), I was close to breaking point.
Whilst at the playground I started chatting to another Mum, keeping a watchful eye over my 19 month old with my new-born close-by in the pram. I’d seen my eldest curiously observing an older girl (circa 6 years) swinging from the wooden bars next to us, but I didn’t perceive any real danger. The next thing I knew the older girl had swung forward from the bars, kicked my daughter in the face and sent her flying to the ground. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I actually didn’t believe myself at first, I was so exhausted I must have imagined that it looked as though she had done it intentionally.
I was living in a constant haze of surrealism. Existing on very little, broken sleep – in and out of so many dreams it made it unclear what was reality and what was dreamt. I’d never seen my daughter so distressed (this has changed now she’s a ‘threenager’, I see it far too many times a day for my liking for the most innocuous reasons such as me walking in front of her when she wanted to go first or telling her it’s time to get out of the bath). My heart was aching as I picked up my screaming child from the ground, wrapping my arms around her tiny little body and pulling her into me, desperate to take away her pain and sadness.
The lady I’d been talking to came over to us and confirmed that it wasn’t a dream.
“You do know she did that on purpose don’t you?” she said.
“Well, I thought so but I wasn’t sure”, I replied as the tears started to roll across the dark circles under my eyes and down my pasty cheeks.
We were both looking around the playground, trying to identify who this older child belonged to. It became apparent that the responsible adult was the other side of the playground. My new ally went over to her and told her what had happened. At first she refused to accept it however after a few heated words from my new bestie, she conceded. It transpired that she was the Nanny for this child. My friend suggested she send the girl over to apologise. Reluctantly on both the Nanny and the girl’s part, they did so.
Meanwhile I was an emotional blubbering wreck. Devastated that someone had intentionally hurt my innocent little girl and even more annoyed at myself that it wasn’t me who stuck up for her. I went home after the incident feeling much like my friend -upset that this had happened in my local playground but more annoyed at myself for not being the one to stand up for my child.
The following week I’d been chatting to a new friend through one of the Facebook mum’s pages and she’d suggested we meet at the same playground as where ‘the incident’ took place. My initial instinct was, “no way am I going back there”. However after a few moments of rationalisation I knew I needed to bite the bullet and get my arse back there pronto. Avoidance would just make the whole thing worse and anyway what were the chances of it happening again?
As I walked towards the playground my heart sank as I spotted the nanny and the same girl. I decided to take the initiative and went over to the nanny to let her know we were here and could she keep an extra watchful eye over the girl – she didn’t look any more pleased to see me than I was her, however agreed to my request.
My eldest was playing happily at the top of the slide with a group of children whilst I stood underneath, baby in my arms, watching on. The next thing I know, ‘the girl’ appeared, picked out my child from the group and pushed her with such force she flew backwards and landed hard on her little bottom. The initial startled look on her face soon replaced with horror as she let out an ear piercing scream and a torrent of tears.
A lady nearby who had witnessed the ordeal offered to take my new-born whilst I ran to the aid of my daughter. If I was worried I hadn’t stuck up for her last week, today certainly made up for it. A lump formed in my throat as an overwhelming surge of love and anger rushed through my veins. I threw my baby into the arms of this kind stranger and ran to my child, pulling her towards me as she continued to scream.
This is the moment I have played back several times in my head. It’s an ongoing debate, I guess, whether you have the right to discipline someone else’s child. To be honest there wasn’t a lot of thought that went into the next few seconds. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind this time what had happened. For some reason this girl was bullying my child and the love and protectiveness I felt was overwhelming. Once again, the nanny was nowhere to be seen.
“That is not acceptable behaviour” I ranted at the girl as I held my screaming daughter close to me.
“If you can’t play nicely, you need to leave this playground now” I continued shaking with anger and upset.
Suddenly I became aware of the other people in the playground looking at me but I couldn’t help it, I needed to protect my child. The nanny suddenly appeared and my ranting transferred to her. I told her (in no uncertain terms) that she needed to take ‘that child’, away from the playground if she couldn’t play nicely.
Initially she seemed to take on board what I was saying as she took the girl away. Meanwhile my daughter was still sobbing, perhaps my attempt at comforting her whilst ranting was not assisting to calm her down? I was surrounded by other mums in the playground, curious to know what had happened. As I regained my composure I was concerned they may view my reaction as unjustified and felt the need to put it in context by telling them all that this wasn’t an isolated incident. I explained in depth what had happened only a week before. They were lovely, putting their arms around me and generally rallying around to make me feel better whilst my sobbing toddler clung to me.
I felt a tap on my shoulder as the lady I’d meant to be meeting came and introduced herself. Oh my goodness – in all the chaos I’d completely forgotten that was the whole reason I was there. Embarrassed and unsure how much she had witnessed, I proceeded to explain to her what had happened.
Just as I was doing this, the nanny returned.
“You should have been watching your child better” she shouted in my face.
“Excuse me – I was right there, that’s why I saw exactly what happened”
Just at this point a friend of mine happened to be passing. Not fully up to speed with the details she stepped in and suggested as everyone was a little upset it was probably best the nanny and child left. The nanny turned on her heels, dragging ‘the child’ away– who was at this point feigning upset with some obligatory crocodile tears.
All the mums looked after me that day and their support was incredible, however I felt truly awful about the whole ordeal. I didn’t feel any better for standing up for my child than I had the previous time when I didn’t say anything. In fact, I felt worse. I sensed that my daughter seeing me so upset and angry only made her more distressed and possibly prolonged her tears. Also I wondered if my reaction to the nanny and child essentially showed my daughter it was ok to speak to people in that manner?
Many people believe that a mother’s overwhelming urge to love and protect their child is instinctive whilst others argue it’s a learnt behaviour which can take some mums longer to develop than others. Mums may react differently to situations when their child is in danger or upset however I believe this is no reflection on how much they love them- the feelings may be just as powerful however they just handle it differently.
The truth is, if either of my children are upset or in danger wild horses couldn’t stop me from wanting to protect them. I feel a little more self-aware now. I know how I may feel but how I react to it is perhaps what’s more important. My child saw me lose it at the other child and the nanny, what kind of behaviour was that demonstrating to her? I think actually it may be my reactions that will have more impact on my child rather than ‘the incident’ itself.