Friday, November 02, 2007

MYOB and other lessons from the playground

There are some things in becoming a parent that make you forget a few of the tried and true aspects of etiquette that you’re trying to teach your children... For instance, mind your own business. I must say that at least once a day. When my daughter whines about another student doing the same thing I just told her not to – “Mind your own business! So and so is not my problem and what he does has nothing to do with you – just worry about yourself and don’t tell me how every other kid can do this or that...”

Sure, they try this tactic because in their little minds letting you know that it’s acceptable for other kids will certainly make you realize the error of your ways... heh, heh... The thing is, teaching them to mind their own business is a way of teaching them to be responsible for themselves; teaching them to measure their own progress on the effort they put. I’ll go back to my daughter here – she’s very bright, but she has a lazy gene. She already knows that putting in minimal effort will garner a B, while not trying at all will get her a C. When the truth of the matter is she could easily have straight A’s if she put in a good effort a majority of the time. She thinks I’m unfair in pushing because so and so gets B’s and her mother says it’s a good grade...

Here’s where it gets tricky, when my second child gets B’s or even C’s I don’t give him a hard time, I’m proud of him... why? Because he tries, every time. He’s got his good subjects and subjects that he needs to work a little harder on, but he always gives one hundred percent effort, which is exactly what I’m aiming for... That’s what I try to explain to my daughter, “Don’t look at how well or not well anyone else is doing. You have to do your best all the time because it’s your best. What someone else is doing won’t change the fact that you either tried hard or didn’t.”

I’m going to get a little preachy on you, but only for a second. I tell my daughter that she should not be the least bit proud of being bright or creative – she didn’t earn those things, she was blessed with them. She can be proud when she gives one hundred percent and uses the gifts God gave her – anything less is like not saying thank you for the blessings she has... Look, I don’t expect this 100% of the time. She’s a kid, and I know she’ll have years ahead of flaking off rather than moving forward... at the same time, I want her to get the concept. I don’t want her to turn around in adulthood and spend all of her time wanting what the neighbor has, or jealous because so and so has it so easy. I don’t want her to fall back on excuses for why she hasn’t done her best.

So, with all of this, ‘mind your own business’ business turning through my thoughts lately – what lesson of etiquette did I forget in my parental zeal? Yesterday at the playground a group of children (3 or 4 year olds) were playing hopscotch, and one of the little boys had a sucker in his mouth while trying to hop on one foot. I, being super conscious of the kind of damage that can cause because I have small children, got very nervous as he tottered around nearly falling a number of times... If he had been a child I knew, I would have told him not to jump with the sucker (I’m obnoxious like that). Instead I asked the group of moms standing around who he belonged to? And when the mom responded I just said, “You might want to have him take out the sucker while he’s hopping”

Said mom got very indignant, informing me that she is not a negligent parent and huffing halfway across the parking lot with her friends.

I ignored the cardinal rule, “Mind your own business”... I ignored parenting’s biggest challenge, not correcting other children when their parents are right there – unless it’s a parent who doesn’t mind... But the thing is, I certainly wasn’t trying to hurt this mom’s feelings and I definitely didn’t think she was negligent – I just thought she was having a hard earned minute of adult conversation and wasn’t really paying attention, just for a second... and if it was my kid, I’d want someone to catch it, whether it was to tell me or to correct them.

I don’t feel the least bit bad for butting in – I’d rather that than if I stood there silent and the kid fell and choked or something equally horrible. But then, it’s another of those things with parenting, nothing is really black and white. Just like English, every rule has exceptions... that’s what a moral compass is for.

For those of you who stopped in for a writing discussion but stayed for my maternal mutterings, thanks for the ear. What do you think? How do you teach your kids the big lessons and how do you deal with the lessons that have exceptions, or do you just do your good deeds by stealth? And another thing, why are mothers so blasted touchy? It wasn’t just this one; you can’t make a comment or suggestion to some people without them taking it as parental judgment... another reason to mind your own business unless you’re asked...


jjdebenedictis said...

why are mothers so blasted touchy?

Like writers, they just have so much emotional involvement in the whole issue.

Anything a person cares about intensely can be an interpersonal minefield. This is why a lot of online chat forums ban discussions of religion and politics. It's impossible for some people to keep their emotions out of the debate.

By the way, your comment may have worked. The mom might have huffed at the time, but perhaps she quietly warned her son off the behaviour later. Her anger may have been camouflage for insecurity; perhaps she's scared she's a bad mom--to the point that she's hypersensitive to any implication of that.

Merry Jelinek said...

No Religion or Politics used to be a sign frequently posted at bars - mix those and drunken silliness and you're liable to get bloodshed. Online chat and blog forums are notoriously bad for this, not only because the topics become heated but because the anonimity of the venue makes a lot of people far less tactful than they would be in life - some of the nasty comments would never be said if the person actually had to look someone in the eye to do it... in real life you only have to deal with the outspoken and obnoxious, but online you also get to contend with the cowards who would normally not voice their opinion.

But that's a rant of a different color... I've gotten heated over religious discussions, but the ire on my end comes from the lack of tolerence people show to those of differing beliefs - and it doesn't have to be my own religion that's insulted, I can't stand that type of stupidity anywhere.

I don't know if the comment worked or not, it was certainly not meant to be judgemental... and yes, I'm guessing you're right and the response was more about her own issues than anything I said... ah, creation, it's enough to give anyone a complex.

Thanks for stopping in, JJ, I always love your input.

Ello said...

You did the absolute right thing and I would have done the same thing. Course I'm a bit paranoid and lollipop in mouth while a kid is moving around always makes me really nervous. One time my kids was running around with one in her mouth and another mom told her to be careful and I went right over and thanked her cause I had no idea she was doing that. So, you did the absolute right thing! And let's not start on the touchy mother subject. Usually those are the same nasty moms that piss me off on a regular basis!

Mary Witzl said...

Yep -- you did the right thing. Not long ago, we saw some kids digging a hole on the fringes of another neighbor's garden, and we ratted on them. For one thing, they had no business digging that hole, and for another, they weren't using the spade safely. This got us into big trouble with the parents, but I still think it was the right thing to do. One thing I tell my kids is that you don't always get a pat on your back for doing the right thing.

In Japan, there was a huge public campaign not long ago to encourage people to keep an eye on children, including other people's -- very similar to the 'It takes a village to raise a child' philosophy. For a long time in Japan people have resisted this, preferring to mind their own business. There have been occasions where children have been run over even though other adults saw them playing in the street, where children with serious -- and obvious -- emotional issues were largely ignored by neighbors, with disastrous results. I made it my business to chastise any kids I saw who were behaving badly in a public place, and I always had time for other parents who were brave and responsible enough to do this.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Ello,

Thanks for the vote of support... and yes, I've run into some of those 'nasty' moms myself... but then, they were probably rotten people before having kids, too...

Hi Mary,

See, I'm an advocate of mind your own business, but not to the degree that I would sit by while someone else got hurt, especially a kid who doesn't know any better than whatever dangerous thing they're doing.

Mary Witzl said...

One thing I really do believe is that once we've had kids, we've bonded with the world in a way we could hardly imagine in our childless state. And in a sense, we are responsible for each other's children to a certain degree: all children are members of society and we have a duty to protect and help them. I love what Colin Powell wrote about the neighborhood he grew up in -- how he was protected by a sort of auntie mafia who kept an eye on kids as they commuted to school and back. Sure, this sort of surveillance can be a pain in the neck when you're a kid, but it can also be a lifesaver. Decades later, he credited those women with helping him achieve what he did. Nowadays, everyone is so horrified to meddle in the affairs of others, they've lost this sort of community spirit, and I think that's a shame. So what you wrote, and the comments others made, cheered me up.

Merry Jelinek said...

I'm glad we cheered you up, Mary. I grew up in a neighborhood that was a neighborhood... everyone in a five block radius knew who I was and who I belonged to... which meant that if I was being an idiot my mom would know it before I got in the front door. Yeah, pain as a kid, but on the other hand I had a real feeling of commeraderie with my neighbors - they're family... they belong to me because we all came from the same place. Even now that no one's left in the old neighborhood, when I run into someone from my old parish it's an instant kind of kinship, even if I didn't know them growing up (I've met a number of people in the last years that were quite a bit older or lived far enough away that we didn't know each other) but we have a common place that makes us universal neighbors, friends, alike...

That's a lot of what I have in my neighborhood now, and what I'm grateful my own children will have... all the people here came from my old neighborhood or city neighborhoods. I know everyone on my block and most of their extended families. We stop and chat, sometimes for prolonged periods of time and they all know my kids and who they belong to.

The difficulty I think I had in this situation is that I just moved my kids this year from the Catholic school to the public. At the parish school I knew all of the parents, volunteered, sat on the school board... my daughter started 3 year old pre-school there and I knew almost every family, regardless of whether their kids were in my kids' grades. The Primary school is only a block from the parish school I've gotten so used to, but I'm just meeting all the parents here... some I knew from the neighborhood, and some look familiar but I don't really know... but when this happened, my natural instinct was to do something... just like I would have with any kid mine have been around since birth... but it was different this time, because the mom didn't know me and found it intrusive.

Ah, well, pretty soon she'll know me, or maybe she'll stay clear... either way, I can't watch a kid get hurt when I know it's liable to happen.

I don't know that parenthood makes you want to be more involved so much as it opens your eyes - I never would have wanted to see a kid or anyone get hurt, but before having kids I don't think I was as aware of what was dangerous... kids will put your heart permanently in your throat... but they also make you open your eyes to alot more.

Thanks so much for the great conversation... I'm looking back at this ramble and it could have been a whole post.