I started a different blog post this morning during nap time. But then we went to the playground today and my soapbox direction has turned.
We just discovered swinging last weekend. Err. Let me clarify. Liam went on a baby swing for the first time last weekend. He loved it even more than I thought he would. I expected him to squawk his usual cry letting us know that the precedent five minutes of being in any contraption was over, but he was not the one to call “uncle” first. We had to take him out.
So, today was a beautiful spring day after almost a full week of rain. Liam needed an activity after his second nap so I drove to a playground that had small enough structures for him to climb about. And bonus, two perfect, plastic baby swings. The boy was in awe and stumbled around the woodchips assessing his surroundings with a serious appreciation.
Attached to the same structure as the baby swings is a small wooden shack-type building. The inside has benches on either side and the walls from the bench up are open, with a roof on top. When Liam first toddled over to the swingset I surveyed the scene as a mom. I saw three teenagers, two girls and a boy, crowded into the wooden shack and immediately jumped to the conclusion that they were hooligans and wondered if they were smoking pot and harassing parents and small children. That was Judgmental Mommy coming out, my evil alter-personality.
I dropped Liam into the blue, plastic swing just arm’s reach from the hooligans. My guard was up and my teacher-instinct for naughtiness was heightened. The girl closest to me also appeared to be responsible for the 4ish year old boy running around the shack. The first thought that ran through my mind was that she was his babysitter; then as she yelled at him with the whiney siren of a teenager I changed my guess to older sister.
The boy was playing with two nerf balls, sometimes throwing them to a further spot on the grass to run and retrieve them with the energy only a 4 year old on red dye #40 could muster. Once in a while he propelled a ball into the wooden shack squealing with joy at the cursing and laughter that burst out like ruffled feathers floating out of a henhouse.
“Uuuggghhhh!! You’re such a BRAT!!” the girl “in charge” whined, pelting the boy in the forehead with the ball that had fallen at her feet. “Heh heh,” breathed the teenage boy with the shyness of a male surrounded by loud, teenage girls. The girl sitting on his lap next to him on the child-sized bench giggled.
The young boy was naturally encouraged by the laughter and bombed the ball back toward his victims.
“Uuuuuggghhhh!! He totally hit Justin in the SACK!!” Teenage giggling ensued.
At this point a few realizations struck my thoughts. This girl was not the babysitter or the older sister. This was the child’s mother. Secondly, both mother and son were encouraged by the attention received by the teenage couple accompanying them. The mother strung together a shining list of adjectives describing her son, punctuated by the f-bomb. The boy zig-zagged through the woodchips, timing his next attack for when he would get the most attention. The ball whizzed past Liam’s head.
“Sshhhheeeaaaaa!! You can’t throw the ball over there! There’s a small kid there. If you throw it again we’re going hoooommmee.”
I don’t care if you’re a teen mom, a 60 year old parent or one in-between; please do not threaten consequences that you will not follow through with. That is parenting 101, first course, first day, first question on the test. If you’ve nannied or if you are a teacher you have undoubtedly learned this as well.
I realized that I was so focused on analyzing and judging the train-wreck parenting going on next to me that I was missing out on interacting with my own son. I was mindlessly and wordlessly pushing the swing while Liam was grinning and blowing drool into the wind. I shifted my attention for a moment until I heard,
“I’m going to go smoke a f***ing butt.” (spoken by Teen Mom’s girlfriend.)
“Just smoke it right in here!” replied Teen Mom.
“Nooo. There’s, like, a sign out there,” Teen Friend waves hand vaguely toward the colorful, metal fence that surrounds the playground. “And there’s, like, kids right there.”
Hallelujah, I thought. One of them has a responsible bone in their body. Too bad it’s not the one with the off-spring.
“Who f***ing cares? Fine. Just go over to the picnic table,” commands Teen Mom. She is referring to, and pointing to, the picnic table within the confines of the SMALL playground area, which is feet from the “big kid” swings where a boy and girl happen to be partaking of such activity.
I am confident in Teen Friend’s conscious and assume this is the end of discussion surrounding smoking cigarettes around children. I also realize that I need to move to another location in order to properly enjoy my time with my own child and keep my nose out of other people’s business. I pry Liam’s fingers from the chain links and set him down to toddle over to the small stairs and slide structure. I focus my attention on Liam’s careful and serious climbing and chuckle as he squawks and babbles to the other children limberly scaling the equipment around him.
Then, I catch a whiff of tobacco wafting through the air and my neck whips up to view Teen Mom and Friends really and truly lighting up at the picnic table, her child now running around their new location. Infuriated, I feel my Irish/Italian temper flare to a level where I usually find myself reacting impulsively and can’t stop my tongue from sprouting razors and lashing out until my victim is left severely wounded. I feel my feet start to move in the direction of the picnic table but Liam’s persistent crawling near dangerous platform drop-offs allows me the opportunity to think my actions through prior to movement.
How worth it will it be? Yes, I feel extremely strong about smoking in general, let alone around children. Yes, I feel I could actually be justified since there is a sign posted stating in large letters that the playground is SMOKE FREE and I know for a fact was seen by the offenders.
But. Do I pick up Liam from where he is contentedly playing and walk over to where he would actually be directly in front of the smoke? Do I then pick an argument in front of Liam with a girl whom I’m pretty sure would revel in the drama that could quickly mount to an uncontrollable level? In fact, for all I know she’s chosen to smoke within the SMOKE FREE playground to see what kind of attention she can grab.
I chose to not say anything. I know that if they had lit up right next to Liam I would have definitely been unable to bite my tongue. Being farther away gave me time to think it through and make a different choice that didn’t involve creating a scene in front of Liam, since I’m sure the result of me pointing out that they couldn’t smoke there would not result in embarrassed, downcast eyes as the cigarette is stubbed out. However, part of me regrets the fact that I didn’t stick up for myself and Liam. We deserve to go to a public park that has been mandated Smoke Free and not have our health put in jeopardy. Liam deserves to have a childhood where cigarettes are not modeled for him, as I believe that is the greatest reason for choosing to smoke. And that irresponsible, young mother obviously needed someone in her life to hold her to some boundaries. Generation The-Rules-Don’t-Apply-To-Me deserved getting the Teacher Look while showing off her less-than-stellar parenting skills.
Do not misunderstand this post. It is not a declaration that all Teen Moms are bad parents. In fact, I know a few moms who had their babies young and they’ve done an amazing job, making the best of a situation that is difficult in even the most perfect scenarios. Girls and women alike, though, need to come to grip with the fact that once you are a mom you must-must-must act in a manner that is responsible for another life. That’s what being a parent is, plain and simple. That doesn’t mean that you give up yourself and your life for your child, it means that you now have another facet to your life. Your one job is to give this small human the best chance they have at living the best life they can. Most parents mess this up in two dozen small ways a day. We let swears slip out by mistake, we let the TV entertain the kid for half an hour so that we can accomplish one thing, we turn a blind eye to the child pushing their vegetables around on their plate and silently promise to grate zucchini into their pancakes in the morning-which never happens. It’s not those things that mess a kid up. It’s insulting them, hitting them, manipulation and constant lying that eff a kid up. It’s modeling this behavior on a day-to-day basis that creates the monster children we see on Nanny 911.
Now, at the end of the day part of me kinda-sorta wishes I had said something. No other parent on the playground commented either and I’m afraid the wrong message was conveyed to that group of teens. But, whatever regrets I can think of now were not with me at the playground since I instead turned my back and pulled Liam onto my lap, whooping as he got his first trip down a slide.
(Besides, it’s like Glamour Don’ts for Moms…busted!)