I took Jack to the wading pool yesterday, and for a full hour I was mom not only to my one-year-old, but also a four- or five-year-old little girl. Jack and I had barely filled our buckets before this little girl arrived from who knew where, eying the collection of cups and buckets we'd brought with us. She was cute and friendly and I didn't mind her going through our toys, especially because she was playing so well with Jack. When Jack wandered a little farther out, she came along. When I coaxed Jack back to our end of the pool, she was right next to us.
There are tons of kids at this wading pool on sunny days, and certain things are taken for granted. The bigger kids are going to splash you and your little ones. A toy without an apparent owner becomes communal property. The smaller children are accompanied by parents, often with cameras, and a silent period while toddlers sniff each other out is acceptable as long as each parent moves their respective kid along before things get entirely awkward.
So I assumed this little girl's mother was around somewhere, but possibly making sure a smaller sibling wasn't getting trampled by the big boys going to war on each other with squirt guns. I didn't mind my little helper, until she suddenly decided to take off for the other end of the pool with the bucket Jack had just been filling and dumping on himself. Jack looked after her with his hand outstretched. I quickly gave him another toy and wondered again about the mom. Did she not see her kid make off with a one-year-old's toy?
No big deal, I thought. I'll just go get the bucket before we leave. And it really wasn't a big deal, because ten minutes later our little friend was back, with our bucket and someone else's watering can.
She was still cute and still friendly, but she was getting rougher in the water and constantly splashing Jack's face. Whatever toy he was currently playing with was the one she wanted too. She took other toys and wandered off with them. After a while I realized that whenever she left us she was finding another little kid to play with, usually one with his own set of buckets.
I finally spotted her mother, a woman sitting on a bench with a sleeping toddler in her lap. She didn't seem concerned about her daughter at all, just watching her travel around the wading pool, an armada of buckets dragging along behind her. And that's when I got annoyed.
At the playground the other weekend, Phillip was irritated with me when I wouldn't let Jack play by himself in the toddler area. He wanted me to sit on the bench and let our kid have some independence, watching him from afar. But I wouldn't sit down. I didn't want Jack to toddle up to some other kid and get in her way or take over her toy and not be there to stop him. I didn't want other parents to feel like they were watching my kid as well. It's one thing to help the kid next to you who trips and falls flat on his face in the wading pool. It's another to constantly be telling someone else's kid to give back toys, to stop splashing your baby, and to watch where she's going.
Or maybe it's just me? I'm new at this, after all, and still deciphering the unwritten rules of the playground. Perhaps I should have invited our little friend back to our blanket for a snack of graham crackers and cut up grapes as well!