Don’t jump in the puddle.
Stay close. It’s not just the cars. There are lots of people here.
Stay in front of me. I don’t want to lose you.
Where’s your monkey?
Do up your jacket.
Walking around Monterey recently, on the recreation trail to Lovers Point and in the Aquarium, I saw and heard lots of parents and children. It was a Saturday during a school holiday, and so there were more than the usual numbers of people around.
I was reminded of the near-impossibility of keeping children safe and well-behaved all the time. They get excited, and when they get excited they scream, squeal, run, shout, annoy their siblings, drop things, and are often just unpredictable.
At one store, which sold t-shirts, sweaters, and other memorabilia, the store clerk walked up to a woman who was on the phone and informed her that her son was running around in between the racks of clothing. The mother stayed on the phone and I could hear her trying to book a hotel room. As she did this, she walked to where her son was, and started gesturing to him to come to her. Seeing that she was preoccupied, the boy thought he could have a game with her. Grinning, he started dashing about even faster and causing even more consternation to the store clerk.
After a few minutes, the boy was laughing with glee and hiding behind racks of sweaters. Mom, in the meantime, was still trying to book a hotel room and simultaneously trying to corral the kid. It did not end well. With her phone in her left hand, she grabbed the boy’s arm with her right hand and yelled at him. He went from glee to full-on howling in less than thirty seconds. At that point I left the store, wondering what the ride home would be like for them.
The thing about parenting is that it is nearly always a process of multi-tasking while at the same time trying to weigh priorities. In the heat of the moment, we don’t always make admirable moral choices, but we try to do the best we can in the face of judgements from strangers who have no idea what we are going through.
I try not to judge. I was once admonished for my bad parenting by a stranger in a shopping mall. My youngest child, who was about two or three years old at the time, liked to run around in large spaces and I was afraid I might lose him. That was why I had him in children’s reins. In North America they call them leashes, but I prefer the term reins. I’d rather associate my wayward child with a horse than a dog, but I don’t know why. Anyway, these helpful devices used to be normal accessories for children in the UK, but went out of fashion somewhere along the way and are frowned upon in North America.
At the time of this incident, my son decided to have a temper tantrum and I decided to let him engage in it on the floor of the hallway at the mall. He was rolling around and crying, wearing his reins. I was standing by, waiting for a calmer moment to intervene. I had read somewhere that the best way to deal with tantrums is to ignore them, and I was trying out that advice. The stranger who came upon us was full of righteous indignation and berated me for several minutes about both the reins and my apparent tolerance of the temper tantrum.
This had the dual effect of making me doubt every confidence I ever had in my parenting skills, and causing my son to stop what he was doing and pay attention to me. I didn’t know whether to argue with the woman or thank her for solving my problem. I don’t think we did any shopping that day, but I’m pretty sure I walked out of the mall holding the reins on my chastened child.
Now that my children are adults, I like to view my parenting over decades and not to focus on the less-than-perfect moments. In the long haul, we came out OK. We are still talking to each other, and we have some good times together. So, when I see parents trying to keep their offspring behaving tolerably well in public, I remember that they still have decades to go. I’m just glad that I can walk away and leave them to it.