I watch young children and am amazed at how skillfully their parents manage their small storms of frustration, their major meltdowns. How is it done again? First you show empathy, then brightly serve up some new distraction? And didn’t I once do that too? I seem to remember that special cooing tone you take as you talk your four-year-old out of going to school with his superhero underpants worn OVER his regular pants. I remember how you learn to rig the game ahead of time by offering your child only the choices that YOU can live with. “Should we have the bath first and then read the story?” you say, cleverly leading them to believe that in all the universe there are really just these two alternatives
Once I could calm any baby, talk down any young child. Couldn’t I? Sudden mood swings, accidents of either the Band-Aid or bladder kind, I could handle them all.
It’s a whole other way now, as I learned with my little grandson on the day I took him into the play space at the home of the Golden Arches. The Play Place at McDonald’s is this whole extra room filled with interconnected plastic tubes and pipes, into which kids whose heights are appropriate can crawl and slide and tumble for wonderful long intervals while you their ragged grownup suck on coffees and watch.
Except you can’t watch really because they disappear INTO these pipes and tubes.
That’s what my little guy did anyway: He disappeared up into that gizmo and stayed there. Then, after about four minutes, sounds of a struggle ensued, followed by a loud yelp.
Then three other people’s children popped out the bottom of the final length of tubing, which is fashioned into a kind of covered slide.
Where did they come from? Hadn’t HE entered the maze first? “We climbed over him,” they said before I could ask.
“But is he all right?” I all but shouted as the sounds of his sobs echoed from inside this bright plastic caterpillar. “Oh sure,” said one.
“He sort of kicked me,” said another cheerfully.
“He wouldn’t talk to us.”
I called to him in my most cooing voice but he wouldn’t talk to me either.
‘What will I DO?’ I fretted. Try sending in a massed phalanx of kids to more or less push him through? Go in myself? But I’m a good foot-and-a-half taller than the posted height limit and I weigh 135 pounds. If I got stuck in there they’d have to do a C-section on the whole apparatus to get me out.
In the end none of that was necessary. Within four minutes more his sobbing had stopped, and he was down and out and asking for a chocolate shake – leaving me to ponder this truth about parenthood:
Where our children go we can never ever follow. All we can do is cheer from the sidelines and hope that they come out all right in the end.