With the weather sending out flirty sunny signals by way of apologising for the recent flooding in our city, we decided to get together with some friends and their kids for a combined family lunch and play. Given that there were nine of us in total (four adults, five kids), there was a bit of a wait for a table, but with a fantastic playground adjacent to the restaurant you could buy wrist bands to play on, the wait was no bother at all. The kids got stuck in to the busy playground, and the adults chatted while keeping an eye out for any potential flight risks, and an ear out for any “I’ve fallen off this thing here and something is probably broken!” shrieks.  A good waiting time was had by all. Or so I thought.

Just after we’d sat down and all disputes over coloured cups had been settled, my five year old daughter whispered “oh no, here comes that mean girl”, and shrank back into her seat as a little girl who looked to be a couple of years older than mine approached our table with her mother. “Hello”, I said to the little girl, who was wearing a rad cardigan. Mother and daughter stared at me silently and I offered up an awkward smile.

Eventually, “your daughter was really mean to me on the playground”, said rad-cardie-wearing-girl. Oh shit. I thought to myself. If she’s hit this kid or said something really nasty I’m going to have to take her home right now, but I’ve just ordered kumara fries and I really, really want the kumara fries.

My five year old is a lot of things, but she’s no bully, and exclusively reserves all threats of violence for her little sister. She genuinely wants to be liked, so only unloads assholery onto me or her dad, which studies show is because kids behave better for other people, then unleash All The Feelings when they’re with their parents because they feel like that’s their safe emotional place. I’ve read about these studies in at least three articles on the Internet, so it must be true. I like to smugly think “my child is being a major dick to me – and ONLY me – right now because I’m a really, really good parent”. That thought carries me through the tanties with my sanity intact.

So, I was fairly confident neither punches nor hate speech had been thrown, but wanted to get to the bottom of why there was a mother/daughter restaurant intervention underway.  “What happened?” I asked. “She said I was being stupid”, said rad-cardie-girl. Rad-cardie-girl’s mother stood glaring at me and my aura of substandard parenting ability. At this point, my daughter burst into tears and said “I didn’t call her stupid, I said ‘wait, this is my hole’ because I was already climbing into a hole and then she tried to climb into it before I had finished climbing through, and Mummy can we please just leave? I don’t want to be here”.

“Oh dear, it sounds like these two might have had a disagreement on the playground”, I said pseudo-cheerily, “it doesn’t sound like it was too serious”. By this stage I had a sobbing five year old on my lap, and the eyes of the eyes of the restaurant were on us, but rad-cardie-girl wanted an apology (for what?!) goddam it, and she and her mother were going to stand silently over us, using The Force to dredge it out. My kid started sobbing harder, because it really sucks when you’ve been accused of something and you feel like everyone is looking at you. It’s like a maître d’ coming to your table and loudly announcing, “I think your credit card might decline even though I haven’t swiped it yet! I shall now cut it up theatrically in front of you, your friends, and all these other patrons!”

If working in the corporate world taught me one thing, it’s how to proffer a passive aggressive non-apology-apology to diffuse a situation without actually admitting any fault. So, “I’m sorry your daughter is upset”, I mumbled, “I think that’s the end of it now thanks”.

Rad-cardie-girl and her silent scowling mother finally slowly moved away from our table, I think mainly because they’d clocked that my friend (who is one of those amazingly loyal friends who’d absolutely cut a bitch if you asked her to) was starting to spit and hiss like an ally cat on meth. She limited her simmering explosion to growling, “that was completely inappropriate!” in silent-mum’s direction #SoRestraint #MuchCompose etc.

When tears had stopped and the fries had arrived, my friend’s 10 year old (he and his brother are the kinds of boys that make me want to immediately race out and have dozens of sons, just like them) backed up my kid’s version of events in PlaygroundGate. He added that rad-cardie-girl had gone and gotten her mum and the two of them had chased my daughter while demanding an apology.  Before anyone suggests I wasn’t watching my child, I’d just like to disclose that this was when I was literally peeling my three year old off playground equipment to get her to the restaurant before we lost our long-awaited table. I thought my five year old was running toward me because she was just as excited as I was about ordering fries. I hadn’t noticed the mother/daughter combo in pursuit.

In a major plot twist, my friend’s 10 year old said that the rad-cardie-girl wasn’t even wearing a wristband! She was illegally on the playground in the first place! I can’t confirm if this information is factual (perhaps it was hidden under her cardie sleeve), but I admire his unwavering commitment to following protocol at all times. The 10 year old was incensed by the whole palaver, and sagely said, “I think that mum is a helicopter parent”.

And he is absolutely right, because what the actual fuck? It’s a pretty intense parent who tracks a five year old down and humiliates her in front of her family and friends over a tiny tiff.

Yes, Silent Mum did a disservice to my child by accusing her of something without knowing both sides of story and ruining what had been a happy day, but the greatest disservice is to her own child, who is learning that she needs someone else to step in and fix every situation she’s not 100% happy with.

My daughter maintains she didn’t say, “you’re being an idiot”, but even if she did, she’s not wrong. You don’t try and force yourself into a space someone is already half in without expecting some sort of verbal backlash. In the same way I say “you silly sausage” when someone doesn’t merge like a zip (if my kids aren’t in the car, it’s less “silly sausage” and more “shitting fuckcake”), telling someone they’re out of line isn’t…well, out of line. A low-key verbal dispute over ownership of a tunnel in a playground is not something you need to call in mummy reinforcements over.

What happens when rad-cardie-girl faces all the disappointments that life is going to throw at her?

I failed a test?

I didn’t get my dream job?

Adele tickets are all sold out?

I can’t drive like a shitstick without people honking at me?

Someone just outbid me on an over-priced ‘renovator’s dream’ in Grey Lynn?

WAIT RIGHT HERE, IMMA GET MY MUM TO COME AND GLARE MENACINGLY AT YOU UNTIL THIS SITUATION IS RESOLVED.

Wanting to step in and do everything for your child is really, really tempting, especially when watching them trying to master a skill or emotion themself is frustrating or heartbreaking. My eldest child still outsources shoe tying to the nearest adult for this very reason. But constantly hovering and intervening creates a rod for your back, and does nothing to prepare your child for Real Life.

Learning the difference about when to encourage them to involve an adult is also a delicate art. I want my children to know that if they’re hurt, sad, in trouble, bullied, confused, or worried then I’m their first port of call. On the other hand, if they’re steaming up because someone else has the green pencil they want, I want them to negotiate that state of affairs themselves.

This particular tiff really should have been left on the playground. But, if rad-cardie-girl’s mum had discreetly pulled me aside and said, “hey, our girls had a slight disagreement over tunnel ownership, I don’t really know what happened but my kid wants to get something off her chest, do you think we could take them somewhere quiet and get them to talk about it so she doesn’t whinge at me about it for the rest of the day?” I would have totally been into that. #LifeSkills #ConflictResolution #ByTheWayILoveYourCardigan #LetsBeBFFsNow etc.

Staging a mother/daughter stand-in over a sobbing five year old wearing expressions like constipated Stormtroopers wasn’t a shining beacon in the stormy sea of teaching kids how to process emotions. Me offering my daughter ice cream to help her feel better probably wasn’t my best parenting choice either, but at least I didn’t spoon-feed it to her.

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