A handful of years ago – actually, before we even had kids, so “a handful of years” is a rather generous term, but I don’t like to dwell on how old I’m getting so we’ll stick with it, if you don’t mind – I went to a wedding where a Young Child, around 5yo or so (old enough to know better), was truly and epically defining the phrase “running amok” during the reception. It. Was. Monumentally. Bonkers. Young Child was running and hollering around the empty dance floor like a particularly defective wound-up toy; bouncing his way through the formally-set tables, bumping into chairs and knocking guests (even grandparents got a knock or two) so hard they spilled their drinks and dropped forkfuls of food on their tables, laps and floor; and hanging – yes, hanging!! – from the table holding the wedding cake. THE WEDDING CAKE. You could hear the collective gasp ripple through the dining room during that one… And at no time, NO TIME, did his mother (one of the bride’s best friends!) come and collect him, talk to him, recommend he refrain from screaming like a banshee, or ask him to behave himself and be considerate of those around him; she was much too busy talking with the others at her assigned table and sipping at whatever drink she was enjoying. It was like she had blinders on (and ear plugs in); she was either completely oblivious to the Tasmanian Devil act Young Child was performing, or she just didn’t care. As he went careening across the room, the entire assembly of well-dressed onlookers (with the possible exception of his preoccupied mother) audibly inhaling as Young Child yet again came within millimeters of toppling over the wedding cake (I honestly can’t believe that cake survived), one of the guests at our table (the minister who had conducted the wedding ceremony, of all people), stated with quite an impressive amount of confidence, “Now that is a child just screaming for some boundaries.”
And I took his words to heart, remembering them as advice to live by when I became a parent. More than a decade later, as a parent who struggles to create safe and realistic boundaries for her own (loud, rambunctious, Tasmanian Devil impersonating) children (who all too often run amok themselves), I am reminded of Young Child from the wedding reception every so often, most recently a few days ago when my 23mo toddler and I went to coffee with one of my dearest friends and two of her children.
My friend, being brilliant, recommended a kid-friendly coffee shop near her house that has a play area in the back – a BIG play area (it was impressive). While parents drank their beloved little cups of caffeine (well, my little cup of caffeine is beloved… I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, I suppose), they watched (or didn’t watch as the case may be, but more on that in a moment) their happy tikes gambol and frolic on a little stage (perhaps one time a nice place for a local small-timey band to play a lively set or two for coffee-drinking and cupcake-eating patrons, it’s now a total kid-zone) stocked with toys of every shape and color: a table-top train set, two or three large shelves full of dolls and books and large Lego pieces, an old-fashioned wood rocking horse, and even a green Hulk action figure that my son enjoyed trying to give to some random father on the other side of the dais (thankfully this father knew to keep giving it back). Among and amidst all these fabulous “new” toys to play with were probably a dozen or so children, ranging in age from not-quite 2yo (I think Broder was one of the youngest) up through around 4-4½yo. Enter into this story Young Child’s doppelganger, Little Boy (maybe 4yo, he was one of the oldest at the café), who was, shall we say, screaming for some boundaries… And his mother? Not so much watching her little tike gambol and frolic… Rather, she was happily chatting away with her friends at a distant table, completely oblivious to the tug-of-wars and squabbles her child was creating (I saw her check on him just once the entire time we were there).
For the record, I’m all for letting children have a bit of independence while learning the ways and means of social interactions and negotiations, but I do tend to get involved (call me overprotective, if you wish) when there are tears or the threat of physical violence. So does my friend. Our involvement, it turned out, was required more than a few times between our children and Little Boy.
It started out with me eye-balling the troublemaking urchin (I’d already seen him take toys directly out of the hands of other children, who of course promptly burst into befuddled tears, so I was aware of his, shall we say, lack of impulse control) when he came over and started driving three Matchbox-size monster trucks in and out of the rooms of the three-story dollhouse where Broder was happily playing, galloping a My Little Pony around the “yard” of the house. The dollhouse was set on a small table, and when Broder dropped his pony onto the floor, Little Boy – I’m not kidding – looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching (he somehow missed me, perhaps because I was at that moment taking a long sip of delicious latte from my bowl-sized mug), and, oh so nonchalantly, PUSHED THE DANG TABLE ON TOP OF MY TODDLER.
I quickly unpinned (the very confused) Broder from the table, and (using my Pleasant Mama voice, I might add) informed the troublemaking urchin that Broder was just a little guy, and he needed to be careful with smaller kids. Little Boy just nodded, and resentfully watched Broder dust himself off and return to galloping his pony around the table… I sighed, knowing this wouldn’t be the end of it, and returned to my chair.
As I sat back down, I saw Little Boy’s mother drinking her coffee and smiling with her friends – she hadn’t seen a thing. I cut her a little slack: sometimes you miss things as a parent. I get it.
Broder moved on from the dollhouse, and away from Little Boy (who’d pushed a table on top of him!), and I thought, “Good.” Broder found an old-fashioned school desk, and for quite a few minutes seemed perfectly content just sitting and smiling. Until… Yep, you guessed it… Until Little Boy decided HE wanted to sit in the desk and started inching his way toward Broder. I took a sip of coffee and continued chatting with my friend, but prepared myself to intervene; sure enough, Little Boy finally made a move to PULL Broder out of the desk chair. Before he could pull my son’s arm out of his shoulder socket, I had my hand between the two of them, forcing Little Boy to let go of Broder and give him a little space. I then explained (again with the Pleasant Mama voice, though perhaps a little strained…) that yes, waiting was hard, but Broder was taking his turn, and when Broder was done, Little Boy could have a turn. Little Boy looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, then, sulking, put his back against the wall to wait his turn. I again returned to my seat (why did I even bother??), and was astonished (though I really shouldn’t have been) to see Little Boy ever so very very very slowly start to sidle his way closer and closer and closer to Broder. He was creeping so slowly (the better to avoid detection, you know; very discreet), that it took a couple of minutes for him to finally get close enough to my son that I finally, yet again, abandoned my beloved little (okay, huge) cup of caffeine and moved to intercept… The whole time Little Boy was making his (very slow) move, Broder sat in the coveted school desk and watched him with a look of growing astonishment (“What IS he doing?!”), and regularly turned his big innocent eyes to me, just to see if things were on the up and up. Finally Little Boy could take the slow progress no longer, his need to possess the chair palpably overcoming any self-control he possessed, and he leapt toward Broder, rapidly closing the remaining distance between himself and my son, and JUTTED, yes JUTTED, his face directly into Broder’s face, nose-to-nose; the move was so quick and aggressive, I actually expected Broder to swat him in the face, or, if not swat him, to roar like a lion (swatting and roaring being Broder’s most common responses when confronted with a sibling or other child who does something he doesn’t like; the roaring like a lion bit is remarkably effective at making other kids BACK UP quickly, just in case you were curious). But no, Broder didn’t swat or roar at Little Boy… No, he did something infinitely better… Broder KISSED HIM. He kissed him! Little Boy pulled his face back so fast, you’d have thought a snake bit him; the look of shock on his face (I’m sorry to admit it, but there you have it) was just priceless. Little Boy looked at me, his eyes opened as wide as they could go, and quite calmly stated, “He just licked me.”
You have NO idea how hard it was to keep a straight face, to not burst out laughing. Oh goodness… IT HURT!
“Yes,” I explained, again in that Pleasant Mama voice I’m trying to perfect (I had lots of practice during this particular excursion), “yes, that’s how he kisses. He’s still learning to kiss. His kisses are a bit wet, huh? But wasn’t that nice?”
Completely taking me by surprise, Little Boy broke into a HUGE GRIN and triumphantly declared, “YEAH!!” And then, before I could do anything to stop it, he took me unawares again by JUTTING his darn little face directly into Broder’s face, nose-to-nose, AGAIN! What the-??
Ooohhh… Oh. I see… Oh…. He just wanted another kiss…
And my heart melted. Right then and there I realized my precious, sweet toddler was my hero – indeed, he was my role model. Yes, Little Boy was a troublemaking urchin with impulse control issues who was screaming for some boundaries (as was Young Child before him), but what Broder knew, and what I had missed, is that sometimes a troublemaking urchin needs MORE THAN boundaries. Sometimes when a child is acting up and running amok, that child just needs some good, old-fashioned ATTENTION. Some honest to goodness AFFECTION. A tight squeeze-y hug. A big, ol’, wet, sloppy kiss…
So, next time my kids go all Tasmanian Devil impersonating, troublemaking urchin on me (ooohhh yes, my kids can give Little Boy and Young Child a run for their money on any given day of the week), hopefully I’ll remember the valuable lesson my not-quite 2yo son taught me this week. Next time one of my kids JUT their face into my face, and decide to go toe-to-toe and nose-to-nose with me (probably about me insisting on them putting on a rain coat since it’s raining, or actually eating some type of vegetable matter during the day), instead of reminding them, in my best Pleasant Mama voice, of the safe and realistic boundaries their father and I have set, I’m just going to lean over and give them a big, ol’, wet, sloppy kiss.
Or lick their face…
Either way, it’s sure to halt the running amok, if just for a moment. And hopefully it’ll make them break into a huge, heart-melting grin. And hopefully I’ll remember that, when my kids are acting up and screaming for some boundaries, what they might really need is just a little loving attention FROM ME.
But if their running amok is endangering any nearby wedding cakes or involves pushing another child under a table, I think I’ll take my loud, rambunctious, Tasmanian Devil impersonating, troublemaking urchins to another room before giving them that big, ol’, wet, sloppy kiss…