As a mother, I am very aware that there will be times when I am unable to protect Ebony. I won’t be able to stop her suffering heartache when her first love ends, I won’t be there to stop her falling over in the playground at school, and I won’t always be able to shield her from the upset in the world. I know this, and I think that’s why I try to hard to protect her from harm now, because I still can.
I can keep her away from hot drinks, strange dogs and broken glass. I can let her think she is exploring the world, while at the same time manipulating her environment so that her explorations are safe. I can be her safety net. That’s my job.
Ebony is thirteen months old now, so I am still in charge of protecting her. Today, I failed as her bodyguard, and I still feel upset about it.
We were at my local toddler group, Ebony was happily playing and moving between the areas. After a go on the trikes, she spent a few minutes trying on hats while proudly saying “Hat! Hat!”, and then she decided to go and explore something new. She crawled off, and I sat, keeping an eye on her, tidying away the hats.
She was heading for the baby area. Being bald and a big fan of crawling, that’s fine, because she can pass for baby or toddler at the moment. There was a three year old boy playing with some baby toys in the middle of the carpet. Ebony went to crawl past him. Not to him.
For some unknown reason, the little boy went bat shit crazy. He threw his toy down, slammed his hand on Ebony’s head and pushed her to the ground. He then hit her head a few times. Hard.
In terms of size and strength, this was essentially a chimpanzee beating the crap out of a pygmy marmoset.
The boy’s accompanying adult bolted over and, screaming with rage, dragged the little boy by his arm until they were out of sight. I picked Ebony up and she went from total and complete silent shock, to hyperventilating screaming within seconds.
I soon got her to calm down, and we went to play with the little cars. All of a sudden, the same little boy, appeared from nowhere, grabbed Ebony by the (already bruised and battered) head, and pulled her up so he could give her a kiss. Ebony looked, as most young women do when receiving an unsolicited kiss from a stranger, pissed off. The boy’s Dad called him a “good boy”.
I looked up at the Dad. He was wearing shorts. It’s February, and it was meant to snow today. Shorts. The Dad apologised by way of the following:
“Sorry. He’s a fucking idiot. I’ll fucking strangle him when I get him home. He thought she was going after his toys. But she weren’t. Sorry.”
The little boy was stood next to his Dad and heard this whole thing. I mean, to be honest, I think anyone who hits Ebony is an idiot. But I hardly think it’s fair to cast that judgement about a three year old, and it’s definitely not fair for them to hear you say it.
Maybe the Dad was really planning to strangle the boy at home, hopefully not, but it would explain the boy’s violent outburst. Assuming he didn’t mean it though, and it was a joke, the three year old wouldn’t know that. Humour is a complicated thing for children to learn. How about we all just promise not to joke about beating up our kids anymore? Especially as punishment for them acting violently.
Ebony wasn’t trying to get his toys, she was crawling past him, but even if she was, the violence wouldn’t have been a justified reaction. Children snatch, and shove, and do occasionally act aggressively towards each other because they don’t understand their own emotions, but that’s not what this was. Pushing a child away who is trying to steal a toy, is a natural reaction to protect personal space and belongings. Pushing a child down and beating them is more than that. It’s an attack. The Dad explaining that the child thought Ebony was heading for his toy, implies that in that case it would be understandable.
So, that little boy hasn’t learned that his violent reaction was unacceptable. He has learned that it was misplaced; next time he must better identify toy stealers before moving in for the attack. He has not learned the consequences of his actions, because his Dad dragged him out of the room and brought him back when Ebony was happily playing. The boy may not even have seen Ebony cry, and so may not realise the negative impact he had on her feelings.
The little boy was paraded over to apologise. His Dad stood behind him, forcing him to do it. The problem with this is that the little boy didn’t actually want to say sorry. He wasn’t sorry. He just wanted to avoid further trouble. That’s not what sorry is for.
The boy kissed Ebony because his Dad told him to. The problem with this is, Ebony didn’t want it. You can’t force your child to kiss other children in the hope that makes everything ok. In fact, what it does is take more control away from Ebony. She has had physical contact forced upon her, by someone she doesn’t know or (and this is a total guess based solely on the fact he just attacked her) like. And the boy has learned that if you smack someone around in a fit of rage, a forced kiss will make it all alright.
The Dad looked pleased with himself, “AH” he exclaimed from his toothless grin as his son manhandled Ebony for the kiss. Clearly he felt he had turned this situation around with his expert parenting. Crisis avoided. Boy has apologised for violence and so problem solved. Clearly, his parenting prowess is matched only by his ability to choose weather appropriate attire.
The reason this situation was so horrible, not least because the tiny person I made got beaten up, was because I had to explain to her why it happened.
What could I say?
I wouldn’t dream of saying the boy thought she wanted his toys, because that implies it was her fault. I wouldn’t say the boy was naughty, because this implies some people are inherently bad which I don’t believe. I found it very difficult to know what to say. In the end, I asked her if the boy had hurt her and made her sad.
They felt like very hollow words though.