Monday, October 21, 2013



We camped with the boys this weekend and while overall it was a really nice experience, there's one thing that I'm still stuck on, still stewing over when I should probably just move on and forget about it. On Saturday afternoon we walked over to the playground and there were four boys playing with construction toys in the sand pit. Nico's yearning to join in was palpable, but he ignored my suggestion to ask the kids if he could play with them. As he hovered around the edges of their play, hope shining from him like a bright little beacon, I felt it wring at my heart. He asked me if he could play with their extra dump truck and I know they heard him, but all I could say was that he'd have to ask them. I wanted so badly to jump in and do it for him, ask the kids if he could play, ask the kids to ask him to play. But I didn't jump in and he didn't ask and they steadfastly ignored him, while my hope of them being kind enough to invite him withered moment by moment. They all knew each other, it was obvious, and some might've been brothers or cousins. I could feel the wall separating them from my lone little boy.

After waiting and watching and waiting, Nico finally took his little matchbox snowplow and started making tentative tracks in the sand near the younger pair of boys. One of them crossly patted every track Nico made flat, so Nico tried the other pair, the older two. Even though the oldest kid was probably eight years old and maybe should've known better, he was pretty flat-out awful to Nico. He kept making increasingly irritated protests to Nico being nearby. I would've been a little more understanding if Nico had been actively disrupting or destroying his play, but all I could think was how Nico would've happily taken direction to help with whatever project he was working on that was so important that the mere presence of a three-year-old was ruining it. Finally Nico's tiny little plow track got too close, I guess, and the older kid knocked Nico's toy out of his hand and sneered, "Why don't you go somewhere else?" He pointed across the playground, far away, and said, "Go play over there." And I was done, then. I seated myself on the edge of the sandpit near the unclaimed middle and called Nico to play by me. "Come play here," I told him, firmly, loudly. "They are not nice kids." Maybe that was immature and low of me, to stoop to insulting an eight-year-old, but I don't really care. They weren't nice kids, and two days later I'm still upset about it.

I get that even the parents of well-raised children struggle to teach their kids not to be assholes, but generally by the age this kid was I'd hope to see some results if that effort had been expended. I know it's not all kids that are like this - we ran into a pair of brothers at the neighborhood playground when Nico was barely two years old, and the older, five years old, was wonderfully kind. He literally embraced Nico, running over to give him a big hug before announcing, "I like you!" and inviting Nico to play chase with him. And, oh, how Nico glowed under the attention. I came home and wrote him a schmoopy letter on his baby book blog, telling him how I hoped he'd be as kind to little boys when he was a big(ish) boy. So I know there are sweet kids, good kids…we just weren't lucky enough to meet one this time.

Probably it hits a little too close to home for me because I was not a socially-adept child, I was a perpetual hoverer at edges, and I suffered for it for years. I always have the fear buried inside that my sweet, sensitive boys will end up the same way - awkward, struggling to find friends, ostracized. I can still remember an incident from my own preschool orientation, something that happened when I was four years old. I was in my new classroom with my new classmates to meet everyone. My mom was there, but I don't know if she just hadn't left yet or if all the parents were staying. A little girl named Katie was playing with the classroom kitchen and I really wanted to play, too. As I hovered, hoping, wishing, my mom encouraged me to go ask her if I could play, too. I remember how hard it was to dredge up the courage to ask her, to walk over and say, "Can I play?" And I recall exactly how I shrank back inside myself when she snapped, "No!" Katie was not a nice kid, either. I don't remember much of anything else about my preschool classmates nearly thirty years later, but I remember two boys whom I was friends with and I remember that Katie was not a nice kid.

Nico didn't seem too upset by the older kids' rejection. He asked me later and again the next day why he couldn't go play with the other kids and their trucks. When I told him, well, they didn't want to share with you, they weren't nice kids, he said, "I thought they were nice." So he's fine, clearly. Maybe he's just too young to know he was mistreated or maybe he'll be like my sister and just be able to let kids' assholery roll off his back. Probably he won't remember that moment in the sand pit thirty years from now. I had to watch him be ignored and snubbed, though, and it still stings.


  1. At 8, I'd still expect a large percentage of even nicely-raised children to need pretty heavy hands-on coaching to handle this situation in a nice way. A lot of kids aren't even nice/not-nice yet---more like, aware/not-aware. Some of them say things that a socially-aware adult would never say without meaning something horrible--but as you saw from Nico's reaction, in Kid Language it's considered more at face value, less Meaningful. They hear "I would prefer it if you'd go play in another area" when we're hearing a not-necessarily-heard-or-intended "I REJECT YOU AND AM CHOOSING TO HURT YOU ON PURPOSE WITH THIS REJECTION."

    With a child as little as Nico, I'd still be actively helping both parties to play nicely: maybe coaching Nico to ask on his own, but then adding my own "Hi, guys! Can he play with you for a little while?" and also Helper Comments such as "I think if you tell him what to do he'd be happy to help" and "He really loves to do what bigger kids are doing---can you show him what you're doing?" That sort of thing.

    1. You know, you are probably right that I should've intervened more directly. (Though who knows if it would've helped...the kid was pretty snotty above normal accidentally-callous levels.) I always have difficulty deciding what amount of helping is helpful and what amount is helicoptery. I will keep this advice in mind when / if the situation occurs again!

  2. Good for you. You should have messed up their sand too. There are consequences, and they have to learn.