All the children were scrambling down the tower of steps that led to the curvy slide at Chick-Fil-A, complaining and yelling about a boy sitting at the top being “mean.” Parents quizzed their children, “who is doing what?” “Where?” “A boy?” “He won’t let anyone go by?” It was hard to decipher exactly the problem was with about 10 kids all talking at once, but it was clear that there was a boy who wasn’t letting the other children climb up the steps to the slide.
The mood amongst the parents became indiginant. Murmurs could be heard, chastising the offending child’s mother for not watching him closely. Eyes searched the crowd for her, angry thoughts were being translated into verbal tirades against the boy’s mother.
Amid the chaos, a boy had left the play area get his mother. He pulled a very tired looking pregnant woman into the play area.
“I tried to get him to come down, Mom. He won’t come.”
The pregnant woman calmly called up to the boy. “David*, go down the slide or come back down. You have to let the other children by.”
Murmurs continued through the crowd of parents, words like “finally” and “she better” could be heard. Eyes rolled and glared, arms were crossed.
The face of the pregnant woman became increasingly red, her commands to her son sitting at the top of the steps became increasingly desperate. “David. You MUST go down the slide or climb down, now. Please.”
Once the children realized that she was that boy’s mother, they all started tattling on him at once.
“He won’t let us by!”
“He’s being mean!”
She smiled meekly at the mob of children, “He’s not being mean. He just likes to find a place to sit. Can you just go by him, he won’t hurt you?” Her question was less a question than it was a plea.
After several minutes the even more tired looking and pregnant woman removed her shoes and resolved to climb to the top and retrieve her son. Somehow she managed to navigate her belly through the child size openings between the steps. She could be heard talking, almost begging the boy to come down.
Eventually, both mother and son emerged. The mother sweaty, her nearly teary eyes avoided the eyes of the other parents. She held tightly to David’s hand. David looked to be about nine or ten years old and also looked different. He didn’t speak or make eye contact, he moaned and flailed his arms, as his mother struggled to put his socks and shoes back on his feet. She spoke to her other son as they made their way out of the play area, but she was really talking to all the mothers whispering under their breath and said, “He just likes to find a place to sit. He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone.”
After they’d left the play area, the other mothers started talking. “She should have been paying attention, I mean, it was obvious there was something WRONG with him.” “He shouldn’t have even been up there.” “The kids couldn’t even play with him around.”
I sat quietly observing the entire time. Originally I had felt annoyed at David’s mom for not paying attention to her son that was causing so much turmoil amongst the kids and their parents, too often parents completely ignore their kids while they play. Once I saw that David appeared to be impaired in some way, I felt conflicted. Yes, his mom should have been paying attention, and maybe she had been, maybe she turned away for a minute to inhale a bite or two of her sandwich, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t be called to the rescue. I know that I’ve looked away from my own kids only to turn around and find them in the midst of impending disaster. Also, I felt like David had as much right as any kid to be playing, even if his version of playing was simply sitting, albeit in a spot that blocked all the other kids.
I felt badly that nobody, including myself, had offered to help that mom retrieve her son when she was forced to climb the steps, pregnant. (I realize he probably wouldn’t have come for a stranger, but still.) I felt badly that nobody, including myself, had offered her a smile or reassuring words. I felt badly that nobody, including myself, asked the catty mothers to show a little compassion, to remind them that even though their children are “normal,” it could just as easily have been their child causing trouble at the top of steps. I felt badly that nobody, including myself, reminded these women that they are not perfect parents either.
*David was not his real name.