Monday, July 18, 2011

Looks Like Pebbles Acts Like BamBam

My 18-month old daughter grabbed another kid by the tee-shirt the other day. He was a small boy, about her size but almost three. She pulled his face right up close to hers, looked him in the eye and then shoved him to the ground. He kind of just lay there looking discombobulated while she toddled away, her pink tutu-ruffle bum flouncing behind her.

I stopped my daughter in her tracks. "He doesn't like to be shoved." I told her. "It hurts his body and it hurts his feelings."

Then I helped the boy up and apologized to him.

"Oh God, don't worry about it," his Dad said. "He's got to learn."

Then she came back for more. She had that look in her eye. I stopped her. "No, you may not push and shove," I told her.

"Oh it's fine," said the boy's dad. "Please, just let him learn to stick up for himself."

By then she'd lost interest and went to play with some older kids while the boy hid behind his dad's legs. We made small talk about the mosquitoes. They're awful this year.


My 18-month old boy shoved another boy about this time last summer. The boy was a year older and quite a bit bigger but he was sensitive. He cried easily. He ran to his mother's lap sobbing. 

"Ovalor hit me!" he cried.

"Is that true, Oliver?" I asked. "Did you hit him?" 

My boy didn't respond to my question at all. He just became a tiny statue.

"You musn't hit your friend," I told him. "He doesn't like to be hit. It hurts him. See? He's crying. He's crying because hitting makes him feel bad." I made a sad face.

We were spending a weekend together at a summer cabin -- two couples with a long friendship and kids the same age who we hoped would entertain each other while we hung out on the beach. But the weekend was tense.

My son continued to hit the older boy -- not hard. It only took the smallest gesture to send him sobbing into his mother's lap.

I could tell she was getting angry with me for not punishing my son. I'd decided to deploy a gentle parenting tack but against my better judgement I put him through a series of time-outs and stern lectures to please her and to see if it would work. It didn't. It made things much worse. The boys started running through their aggressor/victim game like automatons programmed on an infinite loop. But this time, everyone was looking at me for a big reaction. The game was on.

But I didn't like the game. So I barked at my husband to stop pampering his boat and to come inside and look after our 6-month old. I scooped up my 18-month old. I Nursed him. Then I walked him up and down the beach until he fell asleep on my back.

Like I said, the weekend was tense and it didn't really get fun after that. 

Mid-winter that mom and I accidentally drank too much organic malbec at a dinner party and she revealed that she was mad at me because my son was "really hitting" her son and I "did nothing."

I asked her what she thought I should do, "hit him?"

"Yeah," she said sarcastically, "I think you should have just belted him. No. But you could have done "something, anything! You could have at least talked to him."

I insisted that I did talk to him. And that he was just a baby. And that I had another small baby. And I just couldn't stop him. I just couldn't.

Then I called her "judgy" before passing out at the bottom of the stairs. 

We're not good friends anymore. Not like we were.


My 18-month old daughter is charming. She always has, inexplicably, an entourage of older children following her around, doting on her. She has curls and twinkling eyes. She works it.

Every so often, she takes down another toddler. She steamrolls them. They never see it coming. Toddlers just aren't used to being attacked. I can't say with a hundred percent certainty but it would seem she'd prefer to be the only one.

Her tiny foes hit the ground crying and I make her look at their crying faces and I tell her she is responsible, it is because she shoved.

"You musn't," I tell her. 

Their mother's comfort them and when I apologize, they always tell me it's okay.

"It's kind of funny, but it's not," one mother told me, while her toddler cried in her arms. 

Because she's adorable, they mean. Because she looks like a doll. Because she looks like Pebbles but she acts like Bam Bam. It is kind of funny. But it's not.


There was a new mom at playgroup the other day with an almost 3-year old girl and a newborn baby. We were chatting and I found out lots about her like that she had recently moved here, that my son and her older daughter were only one month apart in age, that her husband works long hours as a journeyman electrician, that her baby sleeps well, that she felt like she was the only one who breastfed back in Tennessee but that everyone does it here, that they won't try for more children, and that when her baby is a year old she'll look for work as a dental hygienist, and that she loves watching movies.

She didn't really ask me about myself. 

So when our children got in a skirmish I knew they were the same age but I'm not sure she did. I think she might have thought my son was older than her daughter because he was a bit bigger.

He was playing with a large, plush snake. Her daughter wanted to play with it instead. She teetered over to him on her plastic, Disney princess high heels, and tried to grab it.

"No," my son told her, "Mine."

"Mine," she replied. She let out an awful shriek and started flailing and thrashing her arms at him. Then she lost her balance (does a two-year old need high heels? really?). She collapsed in a heap of DisneyTM nylon princess fabric and then crawled to her mother wailing.

"Did that boy hit you?" her mother asked.

I didn't understand why she was asking. We were both sitting right there. We both saw what happened. He was just standing still the whole time clutching the plush snake to his two-year-old chest.

"Ouch! Mommy! Ouch!" the girl sobbed. Then she raised a trembling finger, pointed at my son, and said, "The boy hit! The boy hit!"

The mother became quite frantic checking her daughter's body for "marks."

"Look," the mother said," holding her daughter's arm up for me to inspect. "He left a mark on her!"

I couldn't see one. It just didn't happen like that. And I can't understand why it was so important for her to see it that way. 

Because he's a boy? 

They left in a huff.

"Your son is a bully," she told me on her way out. Then, right to his two-year-old face, "Picking on a two-year old girl..."


One of my favourite people has a little girl the same age as mine. They look like they could be cousins. They have different personalities, though. When my daughter looks at the T-Rex at the museum she stands on her tippy toes and roars at it. Her daughter covers her eyes and cries.

They don't play well together. My daughter either ignores her or attacks her. It sucks because us moms really would like to spend more time chatting while our children play.

Me and the other mom have talked about it and she knows that I respond the way I do intentionally and she's been working on a thing with her daughter. She tried to teach her to say, "Stop. I don't like that." She's been teaching her to stand her ground -- to reach her hand out to my daughter and say, "No. Don't hit me."

One day, it payed off. My daughter approached hers to initiate a shove -- just to make things interesting, I think. And her daughter steadied herself. She put her hand out in the international stop gesture. She put a serious and intense look on her sweet little face and she just very clearly said, with her body language, "Don't do that to me anymore. Don't mess with me."

My daughter made a little teletubby-esque squeal of surprise and delight. And she stopped pushing her little friend around. Just like that. There were many witnesses to this act of courage and we all heaped congratulations on the little girl. It was beautiful. And now my friend and I can drink a cold bottle of white wine in the backyard and eat tomato sandwiches while the children play in the sand. 


Here's what I've learned, what I'd like to say:

Let's teach our daughters to stand up for themselves.

Let's teach our sons empathy by showing them some.

Let's not make the roles of victim and/or aggressor the most fun and interesting ones there are to play.

Let's not be too quick to label boys aggressive and to call them bullies.

Let's not teach our girls to be victims. It's not a rewarding occupation.

Let's not judge moms for having kids that we think are too timid or aggressive. It not, in fact, possible for a mother to tweak and perfect every aspect of a child's personality.

Babies should not wear high heels. They are dangerous in the ring.

What do you figure? Is the bald one a girl? How does it change the way you feel about the picture?



  1. My daughter made a little teletubby-esque sound of surprise and delight.

    That, I think, is my favorite part of the whole story. It's like she's been wanting to meet her match all along. Plus there's this recognition that being her match doesn't necessitate hitting back — it just means sticking up for oneself.

  2. I'm trying to orchestrate this same dance between my 17 month old twins. Jack is aggressive and rambunctious. But not mean. He's still a baby, learning limits and the unspoken rules of social interactions. Gus is quieter, and less prone to physicality. It would be very easy to punish Jack constantly, heaping shame and "No"s upon his curly head. It would be likewise as easy to teach Gus that the role of victim is a great way to get attention and kisses galore. But I don't want my son to be taught shame, nor do I want my other son to be taught learned helplessness. I'm still figuring out how to balance this, modeling empathy and how to stand up for one's self. I'm also trying to model how to do it for my family.

    I love the vignette style of storytelling.

  3. I know there aren't so many of us perhaps...but I find the same things at the park. Parents who oftentimes find themselves a huge part of the "play" that's taking place. And when I say "play" I'm talking about learning. I LOVE the part where you note your friend's daughter finally finding the space and purpose in herself (which of course is part of why we should be going to parks interact with others and learn how it all works). Beautiful self-empowerment moment. And of course the perk of that (two friend mama's enjoying wine without the ensuing drama of emotional battle/confusion) is what a mom lives for, right. To get together with friends and actually leave having connected with someone ourselves. Love it.

  4. I LOVE your blog! Love it, love it, love it.

  5. This is a great, thoughtful post. I'm not sure where I come down on all of it, because some of it mirrors my own experience (from the other side) and some of it doesn't. We had a family we were close friends with whose son always whaled on Angus when we went over there, and it did cause tension, not because I thought she wasn't doing enough, but for the simple fact that my son didn't really enjoy going over there, they would be embarrassed when J hit Angus, and I would wish that Angus would stand up for himself (we did eventually teach him the NO and holding out his hand, but we were slow). We did all get drunk once and the man called Angus a sissy and I told him to get stuffed, but they both grew out of it and we're all still good friends. But we had a family where the girl was aggressive too and I didn't really see that difference (maybe she just wasn't as cute as your daughter :)). I do sort of sympathize with the mom whose kid was getting hit, but I also see your point about not wanting to give him any attention for hitting. As for the Mom in the playground, she was just a douche.

  6. The last time those boys saw each other mine went up to her's and gave him a gigantic hug with affection just gleaming out of him. It was sweet.

    I'm the only one who seems to have trouble moving past it. I just feel so judged.

    But of course, there was more going on. She is heartbroken that her husband says no to more children. And she just seemed so irritated with me for not making it look easier. She was just so annoyed with me for being tired, run off my feet, overwhelmed, exhausted, and instead of sympathy I got a lot of "you are obviously doing everything wrong. I would do much better." That's not what I needed from her. And I felt so very judged.

    Also, there's a big difference between "wailing on" and what was going on there. It was like a gesture of a shove triggered this huge drama that I was somehow supposed to be responsible for.


  7. You're right - that is different. I would have trouble moving past that too.

  8. Love this post Betsy - brilliant.

    I've seen this dynamic play out so many times between small children, including my own. It's never too late to teach our little girls to be assertive, and to protect themselves.

    Just a simple, 'Stop. I don't like that. You can't treat me like that.' It stands them in good stead.

  9. Oh, and a toddler in high heels??? WTF?

  10. I adore this post! My 16 month old twin boys are in a fighting stage, one in particular really bites the other, my boys are so like Mama Mo's. One more verbal and gentle, one quieter but stronger and more physical. These are my 3rd and 4th and I learned very quickly with my first that hitting a child in attempt to teach them not to hit felt kind of insane! :)

    Overall I feel like it's just a very normal stage for children of all genders and a supreme opportunity to teach gentleness. I try to catch the bite/push/hit in action and redirect to a gentle touch or move into making a game of another activity involving similar forceful physical motion but without injuring anyone. Eventually they stop.

    I love what Gappy echoed from your post "Just a simple, 'Stop. I don't like that. You can't treat me like that.' It stands them in good stead." I have taught this to my kids, to look right at someone and protect their personal space, being strong and assertive, not allowing someone hurt them and if they do anyway - vocalizing that it is NOT okay!

    I have had only one instance where my child was dangerous on the playground....he is normally so sweet I don't know what happened that day but I'm chalking it up to temporary demon possession. He was out of control over a toy rocket and I was really grateful all the other moms at the playground were so kind to me, it was crazy. Best of luck working it out with your friend. Love your blog Betsey!


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