My mom’s birthday is coming up, (Happy Birthday, Mom! 🤗🎉) and I was just thinking of when she used to take my siblings and me to the playground…ahh, the smell of stale wood chips, the creak of dangerous (and fun) playground equipment, the hot slides that burned you as you slid down, gathering static electricity on your arms…That one thing we found on the floor of the bubble tunnel, beneath the phrase ‘sex is VERY fun’ that someone had scrawled on the wall in marker…what? It was an iffy area: the library. (I later snuck a marker in with me, intending to change it to ”being good‘ is VERY fun”, but I got so excited that I told my mom and she talked me out of it. What can I say? I was such a badass.)
Anyway, I thought to celebrate my Mom’s big day, I would share with you my Mom’s Rules of Conduct.
But first, a rant.
Why is it that people kept tasting my ice cream when in was a kid? And stealing my french fries? Good God, the french fries.
What was that?
You wouldn’t ever walk up to an adult and just take a bite from their croissant right? But when I was a kid, it seemed like every adult in a ten mile radius wanted to eat my damn French fries. I think there may have been a ratio of cuteness to food theft…it seemed like the cuter I looked, the more people would lean in, breathing in my oxygen, say something to the effect of “Aww, aren’t you cute! Those look yummy!” Then commence to tear apart my food like a dog devours a dead rat it found behind a trash can. It was traumatising.
The perpetrators of my great wrongdoing in question were usually women, with a few exceptions. I think the reason men didn’t do it so much is simply because they find children gross, which is fair, because they are. So, after church services or brunch barbecues, the men would kind of just drift off and talk about man things, while the kids ran off to have their own adventures. When that wasn’t going on, they were at work.
The men, that is.
Not the kids. (Child labor laws, amiright?)
Women, on the other hand, especially during the nineties, were often around kids more than men, so in my mind they became desensitized to the aura of boogers and messy hair that surrounds children like a sticky goo.
To clarify, I really don’t have a problem with kids.
Sometimes they’re even pretty pleasant little members of society to be around, and have a talent at making the mundane seem new and exciting. That said, I would be lying if I ignored the fact that they can be messy little beasts at times.
That’s just how they roll.
. Much like you respect that a wild animal, however beautiful, might tear you limb from limb, you have to respect the fact that that a child, at any given moment, may just walk up to you with a dead animal because they thought it looked cool, or get upset because they just tried to wash something God awful off of themselves with something worse. They might shower you with needy affection, or suddenly decide that you don’t exist and avoid eye contact as they nonchalantly knock something off of a table.
Thus, children are basically like cats but louder. Not to mention that if you feed one, they’ll start bringing all their little friends around wanting to be fed, too. Maybe I should stop giving the neighbor’s kids Fancy Feast. Now they all just run over and meow any time I open a can…
As a single woman with zero kids and a half-dead aloe plant named Phillip, and thus perfectly qualified to write a post about child rearing, one thing that gets me is the ‘sharing’ thing. Should your kid share his stuff? Of course he should. You don’t want to raise a little sociopath.
The hiccup here is that I often see parents forcing their kids to share their stuff when they don’t want to, not just every once in a while, but every time. Come on!
You wouldn’t expect an adult to let you borrow their baseball memorabilia for a few days. You wouldn’t expect an adult to demand that you lend them your car. When the stranger sitting next to you on the subway says they like your purse, are you obligated to give it away or lend it to her for a while, or, do you have a nice chat about where you got it, and move on with your lives?
What I’m saying is that, regarding kids sharing: It’s their stuff! Sometimes they even saved up their allowance/chore earnings for it. Maybe they saw the other kid break someone else’s toy on purpose and they felt like he/she was a little sketchy, or they weren’t done playing with it themselves; they have the right to take care of their things, as long as they’re polite about it.
So, these were my mom’s two most important playground rules when we were growing up:
1. Share because you want to; don’t let others push you into it.
When I was growing up, my mom rarely ‘made me’ share with other kids. She encouraged me to share, and that helped me with my shyness and helped me become more outgoing, but if I didn’t want to for whatever reason, she didn’t push it. (Well, unless I was just being a spoiled little jerk. She didn’t tolerate me acting like a rube and would shut that right down or we would leave early.)
Sometimes she got some pretty icy glares from other parents, but she held firm. My mom felt that property is not ‘common property’ just because of how young or old you are. If I wanted to share, it was because it was a genuine act of kindness and friendship, so it was much more meaningful. I would often give away little toys or things that I’d found to younger kids if I liked them. I still do. 🤗
2. ‘Finder’s Keeper’s’ ain’t gonna fly. (And don’t say ‘ain’t’)
Mom usually didn’t allow us to call ‘finders keepers’ or ‘dibs’ on other people’s stuff. You don’t mess with other people’s stuff. You just don’t. If we found something that looked like it was important to someone, we just put it somewhere that would be easy to see for the last person who was there to find it if they returned, but not so obvious that just anyone would take it and run. If it was still there after a day or two, then it was open season, but not before.
“Imagine if you lost your favorite toy, and someone just took it before you had the chance to get it back?” She would say. “You would feel really bad. Let’s give the owner a chance first.”
This way, if we found the owner and returned it, or the toy was gone the next day because they’d found it, it was something for us to celebrate. Likewise, If we saw someone take another kid’s toy, claiming ‘finders keepers’ (or even just teasing the crap out of them), we would stick up for the kid who was being wronged and tell their moms. Yes, we pissed off a few older kids, and even a few moms, but it was worth it if the outcome could change some other kid’s day.
There were other rules, of course, but these were mostly your basic, common-sense rules, like: “Don’t eat dirt, honey.”, “Don’t jump backward off the slide.” and “You can’t wear the same denim dress for six days in a row without washing it. You’re starting to develop a crust…”
You know. Basic childhood damage control.
She also stuck up for me if I was on the receiving end of the ‘losers weepers’:
Once when I was around six or seven years old (isn’t that a Lukas Graham song?), we went on vacation to our favorite snow lodge (it was really a ski lodge but everyone would go during the much less expensive off-season and take their sleds out onto the slopes. It was pretty sick.). After lunch, I set out to go sledding, having previously left my sled outside by the front door to dry. As I took it down, an older kid that I had played with before saw me grab it and marched up to me in a rage.
“She can’t use that!” She yelled.
“Well,” I stammered. “I really wanted to use it today and I let you use it a lot before…”
She wouldn’t let me, so I just started to walk back inside where my mom was putting on her boots.
“Were is your sled?” She asked, seeing the look on my face. I told her what had happened. I was supposed to give in, right? I was a kid. I had to ‘share’. If I didn’t, I would hurt her feelings. That was what a good little girl was supposed to do. Right?
My mom grabbed my hand and marched outside. I looked up at her, confused. Why was my mom so mad, and why was my new friend acting so weird? I’d shared my sled with her earlier, every time she’d asked me to, even though she had her own (which she’d ‘let me’ use in return). Probably because of this, we’d gotten on pretty well. But now, the girl no longer respected me or my stuff. For some reason, because we had done the ‘sharing thing’, in her mind we had crossed that invisible barrier into territory in which my belongings were common property. I was too young to understand the concept of setting boundaries. All I knew was that I didn’t want to hurt this girl’s feelings, but I couldn’t understand why she was being so vicious now.
My mom turned to the kid. She was often a quiet little woman in those days, but not when it came to my siblings and me. She asked the girl what was going on. The girl answered tersely and continued going. My mom grabbed the sled.
“Well,” She said sweetly. “Erin wants to use her sled now, so why don’t you use yours?”
The kid was outraged. “But I had Dibs!” She hissed.
Uh-oh. I thought to myself, she said the (other) D-word…
“It’s her sled, she can use it if she wants to.”
The girl began to protest, and my mom’s face flashed in disgust as she stifled what I’m sure was a juicy New Yorker opinion of this kid’s right to Dibs. She interrupted the girl.
“Here’s why.” She said hotly, handing me my sled. “Because its her sled that we paid for. She was nice enough to share it with you. We actually own it and brought it with us. We were the ones who drove it all the way up here, so she could use it on her vacation. That’s why.”
The kid’s face turned pink with anger and she looked over at her Dad (who incidentally had been watching this whole little meltdown from the side and had not said a word) for backup.
He shrugged awkwardly. “It’s her sled, honey.” He muttered. “Use your own.”
She huffed and stormed off.
I had never before felt the same intense mixture of fear and adoration for my mom than I did at that moment.
Where does respect for personal property come from if not established early on?
How are you supposed to learn how to stick up for yourself if you are constantly pressured into something you aren’t comfortable with? There is no magic number, no specific age were we are supposed to know how to just shut off all immature playground rules and know how to act like responsible members of society.
Because my mom showed me how to politely but firmly refuse, I was better able to judge for myself when it was okay for me to share, and if the person I was sharing with would take care of my stuff or try to take advantage of me. Because she taught me to show respect for other people’s belongings, I learned to respect my own. Sharing became, for me, not just a choice, but a gift. 🙂
That said, keep away from my damn french fries.
And, oh yeah; Happy birthday, Mom!