The novelty of “mommy” coming at the end of the day has already run out, and Mark keeps on playing. I stand there and wait for him to be finished, although I’m not sure at what point you can claim to be done with construction toys—when you made a model Versailles Palace? I hope not. This kind of things takes years to build.
One of his teachers approaches me. I’m the only one in the room over a meter tall not playing with colourful plastic stuff—I stick out.
“Mark had a good day…”
I pause. I’ve been dealing with human beings for almost 32 years now, and I’m pretty sure a conjunction is coming after the ellipsis. You know, like when a guy says “you’re very pretty…” or your manager starts with “great job on the project…”. The way the sentence doesn’t close quite right and hangs there, incomplete, indicates that the first statement is just here to soften the main message—“… but I’m not ready to commit right now” or “the client didn’t like your idea.”
So I wait expectantly.
“… But I’m a little bit concerned.”
Here we go. I love it when people are predictable. Makes me feel smart.
“Earlier today, Mark was sitting in front of another kid. Everything was fine, they were smiling at each other, and then, suddenly, Mark hit him on the cheek.”
I’m a taken off guard. I feel like I should say something, but I’m not sure what.
- That motherfucker did what? Fuck, I’m going beat the shit out of him as soon as we get home!
- Awesome! We are teaching Mark to kick and hit. It pays to be street smart, you know.
- Oh, he must have watched when I took a beating yesterday night, after flirting with the milkman.
- My kid so didn’t do it. Wait a sec, I’m speed-dialling my lawyer. We will sue for pain and suffering!
Unfortunately, I have the feeling that none of these answers are acceptable. So I just stand there, pulling on my scarf—it’s -25C outside but it’s about 40 degrees warmer in the classroom.
I hate being put on the spot.
“Oh… that’s not good.”
Really, what can I say? I wasn’t there when it happened and I can’t really have a little chat with Mark right here, right now. Whatever happened was a while ago, there is no way Mark will understand if I say something hours later. With toddlers, context is everything.
“Did it happen before?”
“What, hitting? Well… Mark isn’t really around other kids much outside daycare. When he was younger, he used to throw sand at the playground. But he was one, it wasn’t malicious, it was… fun to him, I guess. Mind you, he was also eating sand.”
“Does he get into fights?”
“Fights? He isn’t even two and a half!”
I can already picture the scene—Mark hitting, the police being called, toddler-size handcuff, Mark questioned and confessing “push, bobo!” after being promised a chocolate egg and a Happy Meal, our weekly visits to the toddler’s jail, us featured in The Sun as the “worst parents of the year”.
Mark isn’t always gentle—most toddlers aren’t. He steps on my feet if I’m in the way, splashes water in the bathtub and he kicks in the air if he doesn’t feel like getting dressed. But he doesn’t really hit on purpose. I can’t say he never did it, but it’s rare. When he is mad or frustrated, he whines, collapses on the floor and cries. At worse, when he is overtired, he is going to throw a Duplo block.
“We don’t hit at home,” I state, just because I feel that’s what she is expecting me to say. And it’s true as well. A few months ago, when Mark entered the terrible twos, a couple of times, we gave him a gentle tap on the hand. We quickly realized it was counterproductive, because Mark thought we were playing with him. A firm “no” is much more efficient with him. If Mark acts up, now I pull him aside and I scold him firmly for a minute or so. Then, I ask him if he is ready to be “nice” and we move on. It became a joke when we were traveling and Mark was invariably acting up at the restaurant. “Alright, give me a second, I’m going to yell at him,” I’d sigh, bringing Mark outside for a minute, going through the whole “Mark, you are not being nice, you have to sit and eat, no running around, look around you everybody is quiet and eating etc.” It usually worked and Mark was behaving for the next half hour.
Mark started at daycare #3 (hopefully this one won’t go bankrupt) and he is the youngest in his group. The other kids are between 2.5 and 3 years old, and Mark hasn’t turned 2.5 yet. It’s fine, but I did notice two or three kids were a bit rough in his group. And I can see Mark is trying to fit in.
A few times last week, he explained to me that “kids push, bobo, fall”. Of course, it’s hard to figure out what truly happened and Mark was pretty casual about it, but I can imagine kids do push each other and “fight” a bit.
“Well, Mark, if kids push you, you just…”
Again, I paused. You just do what? Push back? Run away? What am I supposed to advocate? I can’t remember being bullied at school and I certainly wasn’t one to bully. I tend to shy away from confrontation. I argue with words. Or I just step out, have a smoke and blog about it later.
“… you just say ‘no’.”
This is the best I can come up with for now.
It will have to do.