Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Future Bullies of America

So, this past weekend, we took the squirt to a birthday party in the valley for one of his (and our) friends. True to form, he showed absolutely no interest in the party, but since it was in a park, he was interested in the adjacent monkey bars/slide/sandbox combo. Hell, add a wetbar, and who wouldn't be, right?

He previously hasn't been too interested in sand--and we thought maybe he had acquired his father's hatred for the substance, but Saturday proved us wrong. I think at one point he was just rolling around in it. Zoe (said birthday girl) had a cool toy that would turn wheels when sand was put into it, and I think he played with that (after Zoe was done, of course) for a good 1/2 hour. Oddly enough, it was a toy I had contemplated purchasing on more than one occasion, but since he had shown no interest in the sand toys I had gotten him before, I figured that one would be a waste as well. Lesson learned. *adds to her to-do list*

But all birthday party and sand encounters aside, it was a playground event with some other kids that got under my skin--and made me wanna hurl verbal epithets at a couple of pathetic marmots.

Ok--lemme 'splain a little back story. I think I've pointed out that one of the ways Ben likes to engage kids is with a little rough-house. He's a boy--they do that. It's that contact that he likes. Sometimes he'll push (not hard) and sometimes he'll …well…or lack of a better word, "girlfight". It's hard to describe this visual--so bear with me. Imagine a big bucket of ping pong balls. Now imagine sticking both hands into that bucket and just mixing the balls up in a frenzy. This is sorta what Ben will do to another kid's hands or arms--as if he were going to play a frenzied game of "miss mary mack". (howz THAT for the old school reference?) That's usually when I have to step in and tell Ben to stop--which just confuses the poor boy, because he thought he was engaging a friend. I can see, in his mind, he is sharing a wonderful feeling of "mixing"--but little Kyler or Francis usually don't agree.

So anyway, back to the park. Ben is doing pretty well, taking his turn on the slide--not pushing, and enjoying the slide and the sand at the end of it. He hasn’t knocked anyone down or thrown sand in anyone's eyes, so I'm callin' it a good day. I turn to talk to my husband briefly, and then turn back to Ben, only to find him "mixing" it up with another kid--we'll call him Tanner McWhiney. A kid smaller than him--but prolly the same age. And before I can step in, said child runs to his mother--we'll call her Haley McSnooty, sitting on the other side of the playground.

I keep an eye on them to make sure she isn't gonna come over and chew me out--but she ain't getting' up from her well earned Starbucks sippin' spot. That spot was no doubt marked for weeks with careful urination and musk rubbings. It was prime real estate. Not to mention she's with another mommy friend(why not--let's call her Piper McSidekick). She says something to her son and sends him back out to play.

Ok--I'll give Haley the benefit of the doubt. She prolly told her son, as I would have, "well, stay away from him"--sage advice. But did little Tanner listen? What 3 year old does?

I walk over to Ben and give him a verbal reminder to take turns, be gentle and be nice. He then continues to go on the slide, and at the bottom, look for his new friend--who constantly runs back to mommy when Ben just looks at him. Haley is showing some annoyance with little Tanner, because she would much rather be sippin' her Macchiato and discussing her friend's bikini wax. She tells her son--"tell him not to hit"

What? Had she been paying attention, she'd see that my son hadn't laid a hand on hers since the "mix-up". (and honestly--even then he just smacked his hands. I'm not saying my kid was right, but come on--grow a pair) So what is little Tanner going to his mother and saying? And why is she lookin' at me as if I were the invading Hun army? I am quite obviously of valkyrie descent; I just left my horned hat in the car so as not to frighten the children...

Do I go get my kid, who at this point isn't engaging with anyone except the sand fairies? (seriously--it was EVERYWHERE) or do I stand back and let this scenario play out? I mean--little Tanner would run if Ben would even LOOK at him, so what were the chances that something would happen?

I think, ok--be proactive. I smile at the moms and say (rather loudly since they seem to be setting up residency or at least growing mold from their lack of movement) that Ben doesn’t understand those words and doesn't mean to be mean. He's just playing, and that I'm keeping an eye on it. *smile*

Snooty glances back. Great. So much for diplomacy. Skinny bitches. What? Too true?

The playing continues on. At this point my husband is at my side, no doubt recognizing the need to keep another set of eyes on Ben. And honestly, this puts me into a state of mind that bothers me most--apologizing for Ben. Not that I want him to ride roughshod over ever kid smaller than him, but this idea that I have to be the first to apologize for my kids' behavior when there are typical kids all around acting worse than he is get under my skin like a new tattoo needle. I know how important it is for Ben to be raised with good--no, GREAT manners. And on top of that, he is physically showing that he may well be bigger and stronger than a lot of kids, so I know that I will need to "gentle" him so that he doesn't take advantage of that strength other than in a good way. I am paying attention--I GET it. But when I have to watch my kid like a hawk, when other parents are letting their kids terrorize the playground, I get a little irate.

Anyway, Ben is climbing up onto the slide, which has two platforms that lead up to the slide. Tanner's little friend is on one of the platforms, and pushes Ben away when he climbs too close to her. Now, Ben likes pressure--he likes to be pushed, it makes him laugh. So he looked at this little girl and thought they were playing a game. So he pushed back--and when I say push, I don’t mean a hard shove--I mean a slow lean, if that makes sense. And he smiled and laughed. Anyone who knows him would say--hey look at that--he engaging that little girl! Yay! And little Tanner steps up and pushes Ben aside, which only made Ben laugh again. Ben then climbed up and away from the kids and went down the slide to play in the sand once again.

Little Tanner at this point says to his friend (loud enough for all adults around the playground to hear) "lets go fight that boy!". I look over at Haley and Piper--nothing. That must have either been some bikini wax to keep that conversation so strong, or they were drinking Starbuck's new "I'm too important to pay attention to others" caramel frappaccino. So I keep an eye on Tanner to see if he plans to follow through with his words. He grabs his friend, dragging her along and says it again.

Since Haley and Piper are showing no signs of consciousness or conscientiousness--both words being too long for their combined vocabulary--I step in. I reach Benji before they do and tell little Tanner that Benji doesn't know he's being rough--he just think he's having fun. This is how he plays sometimes. Fighting is NOT how we solve this. And the steam in Tanner's sails is deflated. He and his friend run off to their mommies--who still have not looked up from their conversation--although I can tell from their body language that they heard every word. That's ok ladies--I'll take a moment to parent your children--you just keep sipping your coffee.

I let Ben play a little longer before we made our goodbyes at the birthday party.

Now, I know--sure this is just a playground story, and what does it matter? They were just self involved women who paid no attention to their kids--what else is new in LA?

Except, while I've been educating myself not only about the disorder of ASD, I've also been scanning the message boards and chat rooms frequented by parents with children with Autism. You wanna know a common topic? Bullying. With their children as targets.

It makes sense. I read one article that used the herd euphemism: if you feed on the outskirts of the herd, you are open to predator attack. So of course kids that are "different" or "quirky" are the targets--they are often seen as without any protection. And when they lash out to protect themselves, they can often be blamed for the situation entirely. Autism has the misfortune of being a disorder that it not always "visible", and the adults in a school don't always know what's going on enough to know that Johnny may well have been within his rights to sock that kid. I've read news stories about Autistic kids being expelled or eve arrested for defending themselves, or placed into a situation that provoked a violent outburst.

And I'm not saying this is just an Autism problem--it's just the lens I'm looking through at present. I know a lot of kids have to deal with bullying--typical or not. And it has really gotten out of hand. I worked in a few schools--and I could see with perfect clarity that the adults (including myself) had no idea how to deal with bullying. And the bullies know it.

Now, I'm in no way saying that little Tanner was a bully, or that he will become one. But the lack of parental involvement during this incident gave me pause, and made me think, if anything can foster a bully, it's a complicit attitude of the parents.

Don’t get me wrong--I know there are times you just gotta sit down with your girl and talk about how bleach won't clean your grout. I get that you haven't had a chance in the last twenty minutes to sit down and drink your sugary coffee drink and bitch about how fat you are now that you're a size 6. I get that your kid whines, and whines, and clings to you like you're his mother or something, in order to get attention so much that you wish he'd just go play just out of earshot while you have a shot. But hear this: if your kid steps up to my kid again, I'm not stepping in. And I've seen him hit--he's a natural. You can just consider it an intervention. That stings.


Anonymous said...

Ah, your statement "if anything can foster a bully, it's a complicit attitude of the parents" is so very true and spot-on. I've got "normal" kids and I still watch them like a hawk at the playground. I even dissuade mommy talk; if I do engage in conversation with another adult, I'm not looking at them most of the time and I'm only half paying attention. I'm sure this annoys the other person, but I don't care. Playground time is prime time to each them how to resolve conflicts, how to handle different personalities, the subtle nuances of non-verbal communication, all kinds of social interaction rules and mores. If I want to have adult talk, I send my kids to my mom's and go out with friends. Then, I can give them my full attention and enjoy uninterrupted conversation. (Except for that one time that a couple of Jesus freaks interrupted our conversation. They wouldn't leave and really ruined the rest of our conversation.)

- Patricia

Anonymous said...

"to each them" should have been "to teach them"

- Patricia

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