24, 2001 - Tuesday
I brought Harry to the library on the way home from daycare today. It was very hot outside and the air-conditioned library seemed like a good place to get away from that. And, while I expected some resistance from Harry for not staying outside, it seemed to go over just fine. Maybe he understands about the heat and air-conditioning already. In fact, Harry was enjoying the library so much that I was having trouble convincing him to leave, until we had a little incident with another boy.
He must have been about 3 years old and must have been in some kind of a snit. His mother was there and she and I had just shared knowing smiles about fire truck books and sons when he, I'm suspecting in search of her attention, headed over to where Harry was playing. She warned to be careful of the smaller Harry, but that only seemed to encourage him and he immediately grabbed the toy from Harry's hands. His mother, still lovingly, told him he shouldn't do that and that he had to be gentle with small children, but with that, he turned and overtly pushed Harry. It wasn't hard, but enough to move Harry back a little and up against a wall. His mother started to chastise him, but I didn't stay around to watch. Harry was more startled than anything and first looked at me with a questioning face, then slowly came toward the protective comfort of my arms. I was standing close by and moved to pick him up, using the opportunity to leave. The boy's mother apologized and I responded, but never looked back. As we got outside I tried to make sure Harry was comfortable that he didn't do anything wrong, though it occurred to me that talking about it more might just draw additional attention to something that he couldn't really understand. I talked about the another boy not being nice and Harry repeated words like "push" and "nice," but it's hard to say what he took from it. At least, he didn't seem to dwell on it, not like I did anyway.
As we got in the car I started thinking a lot about what I should have done or said instead of walking away. On the one hand, the answer is easy: I did right by not interfering and keeping my mouth shut. But, I couldn't help thinking that there was something a little dysfunctional going on there and that maybe I could have helped the mother, and the boy, by showing greater disapproval. His actions were clearly provocative, likely begging for a response from the mother, and her gentle reproach showed plenty of caring, but limited discouragement. Maybe that's none of my business, but then maybe that attitude is a cop-out.
I'd been thinking about my role as a community parent for a while now, because a week or so ago Harry had another minor run-in at the library, that apparent roughneck spot for kids. Another boy, about 4-5, snatched a toy car right out of Harry's hands. On that occasion, Harry had really taken the car first from the area where this boy and his friends were playing and the boy, while not having been actually playing with the toy, seemed to discover he needed it. I let that incident go on the thought that Harry had perhaps made the first encroachment, at least in the mind of that boy. But, a short time later, the boy started to try to bait Harry with the toy again. I heard him saying something to the other kids about getting "the baby" to do something and he started pushing the toy toward Harry, daring him to try to grab it. Fortunately, Harry was obliviously playing with something else and never noticed. But, I did and didn't think it was all that nice of the boy, especially given his previous behavior, so I grabbed the toy myself. He might have expected to be faster on the draw than Harry, but not me, so he was left to complain that "he needed it." I told him it wasn't very nice to tease the baby or kids smaller than he and, after a couple of moments of his nervousness, I gave him back the toy. He went off and didn't bother Harry again. More importantly, hopefully he would not be so aggressive with other smaller kids either.
During that incident there were some other people in the children's room of the library and it occurred to me later that the boy's mother might have been among them, although I don't know. But, that would have been OK. I was comfortable with what I had done. I'm a parent in a community and feel that taking a little responsibility can't be an altogether bad thing. It wasn't a big deal situation, just a little gesture that would hopefully get the boy to not act so mealy so quickly in the future. Today was different, of course. This boy's mother was right there and it was up to her to deal with her child. On the other hand, maybe I could have assisted her. For example, I can't help thinking that if I could have somehow tipped off the mother then reacted strongly to the boy, I think it would have made a more lasting impression on the ill-behaved youngster. I could have stopped him in his tracks, left, and then let his mother's gently manner do what it was intended. Or, maybe it's best that I just walked out.