B-P and I were at a local soft play centre recently. Like most soft plays it’s an overly lit, primary coloured world of hell, but she loves it. Since we started going her agility and confidence has grown in buckets. Especially since I started reading a lot about helicopter parenting (and realising that I was very much the hovering type), I’ve been attempting to sit on the sidelines, drink my coffee, and let my little Button-Pusher explore the world of ball pits and gigantic slides on her own.
She often runs over to me, and with a big smile on her face, tells me she’s done it “all by myself”, but on this particular day, I looked up to find her walking towards me, hand in hand with a random mum. She looked a bit tearful – B-P, not the mum – so I waved and smiled at them both.
The soft play centre we go to has a small peddle car race track, and B-P is well known for being a bit of a petrol head. There’s a height restriction so we go in a car together, and she cheers as we ‘drive’ around the track, overtaking the other children (I think there’s a healthy-ish sense of competition growing – I’d love to say she gets that from Mr Baffled, but honestly I think it’s from me…. I digress…). So, Random Mum hands her over and tells me that she found her by the race cars, repeatedly pushing to the front of the queue, saying it’s her turn, and getting upset when told she’s too small. Scooping B-P up for a cuddle I thanked Random Mum for bringing her back. And for that act of kindness I was grateful, though I couldn’t help but wonder why she felt the need to tell me that my child had been pushing to the front of the queue. I guess I was feeling a bit defensive: you’ve just said my daughter was doing something we all consider to be a bit rude. But she’s not yet 2 1/2: she hasn’t fully grasped the social graces of society, despite our many attempts to teach them – and we’ve all seen plenty of grown adults by the way, who consider a queue just a line of people to walk past. So though I thought her comment a tad unnecessary, I thanked her all the same.
And then, RM spoke again: she told me that B-P was too small to ride on the cars alone and that’s why they kept turning her away. Oh I know, there’s a height restriction for safety isn’t there, I offered as smilingly as I could.
And then RM said this: “I’m happy to go on there with her if you’d rather stay here.”
Oh great, I thought, you’re one of those types of mums. The ones who somehow, with just a comment, make you feel bad about something you’ve done (or more usually haven’t done). But all said rather subtly, under the disguise of being helpful, or just making chit chat. We’ve all met those mums: it’s like they just can’t help themselves. So I smiled and said, thanks for the offer, but we’ll go on there later.
I stewed on this comment for some time. It really wound me up and I wondered why it annoyed me so much. I think I felt judged by her, as though my (lack off?) parenting was being called into question. I wondered if I was being too sensitive and perhaps she was just being really kind? She helped a tearful child find her mummy: that was a kind thing to do. But offering to go in the race car with her? A stranger’s child? Really? I don’t think I would do that. It’s more than likely that she had at least one child of her own in that soft play centre: what would they think about their mum tearing around the track with some random kid? Again, maybe she was just being kind? Maybe she saw a child who was upset (and apparently a queue jumper), and felt she could help? Maybe. Or maybe she saw a parent sitting on the sidelines, drinking coffee, and felt that they should be watching what their child was doing more carefully? Maybe she felt that I looked like a disengaged parent and thought it was somehow her duty to somewhat unsubtly point it out?
I will never know of course, I’m simply feeling defensive because I think, Random Mum, you did assume I wasn’t watching my child. Well you know what, in that moment, in that centre, I was looking the other way. I was trying to. I’m a natural worrier, a professional pessimist, and not so calm in a crisis. My anxiety level was generally at about defcon 3 before I had a toddler to worry about. Imagine what life is like for me now when we go to a playground in a park, and my intrepid child wants to reach the top of a climbing frame. The soft squidgy environment of a soft play centre is a place where B-P can learn to climb and problem solve, and can fall without me hovering beneath her and passing on my anxieties. And that’s the key thing here: I don’t want her to grow up as fearful and anxious as I am. I hope she is fearless and confident and adventurous.
Random Mum, I don’t really know if you were judging me that day, but let’s be generous and assume you weren’t. And I won’t assume you’re one of those mums who just can’t help themselves.