He happily went to the slides/play set; I hung back a bit and let him do his thing. The other kids were on the swings, but as soon as they saw him, they called out to him and asked his name. He replied, and they started to come over. I stepped back further to merely watch their interactions. What I witnessed for the next 20 or so minutes gave me thousands of thoughts and took me on a roller coaster of emotions.
There were three little boys and a little sister; the boys appeared to be about 4, 5, and 6 while the sister looked maybe 1.5 or 2. Essentially, stair-step ages. As soon as the older boy found out Little Dude's name, he turned to me and asked his age. I replied for him to ask Little Dude; he did and Little Dude replied. The kid turned back to me and told me his own age: 6. Then he motioned in the air the age of Little Dude. It seemed like he made the correct marks for Little Dude's age, but I wasn't sure (you can't really identify air writing without visible markings like on cartoons or kids shows), so I sort of waved my hand in the air and mimicked him. He said, "that's not how you make ___." We laughed a bit.
He asked me where Little Dude goes to school; I again told him to ask Little Dude. He did; Little Dude replied. Then the little boy told me where he went to school. I asked did he like it? He hesitated, then said, "yeah, well no." I asked why. He said, "because my teacher is mean." I said, "I'm sorry."
Then I instantly wished he could change schools; I instantly felt that if he went to Little Dude's school, he'd love it. I instantly felt if I could only wave my magic wand and fix his school situation, things would be better, and therefore, his future would be brighter. And it broke my heart to see a black male at the age of 6 dislike school already. What would his future be like? And of course, seeing that in front of me took me--for just a moment--to all of the black males who continue to be gunned down by cops and/or vigilantes and I feared, just for a moment, that without the proper education and love of knowledge NOW, this kid might be one of those kids 10 or 15 years from now unless we work to improve society.
The little boy went back to playing. Little Dude and the three boys were climbing all over the play set, and the little sister was attempting to do the same. She was WAY too young to be following behind the older kids.
Instantly, I wondered why her parent (who I'd noticed was leaning against his SUV maybe 30 feet away) wasn't right there with her, making sure she didn't hurt herself. When I take both boys to the park, I let Little Dude play while reminding him to be cautious and I'm never more than 10 feet from him, but with Baby Dude, I'm literally climbing all over the play set with him, standing right with him, placing him in his brother's lap and making sure Little Dude wraps his arms around him as they go down the slide, putting him in the baby swing and carefully, gently pushing him. But that's me. I'll admit I'm sometimes too cautious, and I have to fight the urge to be a helicopter mom, but with Baby Dude on a playground, you best believe I am THE helicopter!
So, I'm watching the little sister attempt to climb all over, just like her brothers were doing, and attempt to start down the slide, but she got scared and would only go to the edge of the top of the slide. I called out a few times for the boys to watch their sister. They'd reply, "she's fine." Then I realized I was the only person truly watching her. I encouraged her to climb back away from the top of the slide. She did but soon thereafter, she was right back where she'd been.
Inside, I kept hearing multiple thoughts: "Watch her. She might fall." "But hey, she isn't your kid!" "Where's her damn parent?"As they were climbing about, I noticed Little Dude had red stains on his shirt. I asked was it ketchup from lunch or paint from art? He barely heard me at first, but the older boy heard and then asked, "art? He's an artist."
My first thought was "No, you don't have to be an artist to do art. Why don't you understand that? You're 6. Don't you do art at school?" Then I realized some schools cut "extra" activities like Art, Music, and PE.But I just laughed a bit and said "no, he does art at school."
Then I started thinking deeper, does this mean he doesn't do art at his school? What kind of school is this? Again, I wanted to wave that magic wand and fix his school.
By then, the boys had run over to the swings. Three regular swings (and one baby swing), four boys. Little Dude and two of the little boys climb in their swings. One little boy waiting his turn. I go to Little Dude and start pushing. Reminding him to pump his legs to get higher: "kick out, pull back. Kick, pull. Kick, pull. There ya go! Good job!"
Then I hear, "Can you push me too?" "Yeah, me too."
I oblige. The older boy knew to kick and pump his legs. The other kid wasn't quite able to repeat what I was suggesting to do; I figured that might've been due to his age.
Then (from the brother who was waiting his turn) I hear, "my sister wants to swing too." I look over and see a sad sight: the little girl was standing beside the baby swing with her hand touching the bottom of it with the saddest face and pleading eyes. She never said a word, but her face said it all.
And then I wondered why she wasn't talking. Maybe she was a late bloomer or maybe no one talked to her at home with real words so she could learn real words. Was she ignored at home because she was the youngest, because she was a girl who was merely expected to follow behind her big brothers and learn from them? How would she expect to truly navigate life if her teachers were barely older than her and seemed to be figuring it out as they go too?
I hesitated to pick her up and put her in the swing because it's one thing to give a kid a gentle push on a swing, it's another thing entirely to pick a kid up and put her in a swing and push it. At that point, I had to go from mildly interacting with them to actively monitoring a baby in a swing. I'd become the caretaker--at least for those moments. I even said to one of the brothers that I don't know if I should because I'm not her parent. The kid replied "well, my dad is over there, but my mom is at work." I looked over at the dad who STILL wasn't really paying much attention to the kids.
I relented and put her in the swing. And she thoroughly enjoyed it. Finally she made sounds--laughter and grunts.
As I picked her up, I noticed dried snot on her face; this bugged me. I have a serious thing about dried snot on kid's faces. Although it may be more speculation than necessary, but a dried glob of snot means you're not paying attention to your kid's runny nose. It's one thing to be the clear, runny kind that dries as crust. It's another matter all together for it to look like a booger is forming outside of your nose. That's nasty! Wipe your kid's damn face!
So the kids played on the swing a bit more. One of the brothers started pushing the baby in the swing too forcefully (because obviously, he doesn't know better at his age), and she wanted out. I took her back out and off they all went to play on the jungle gym again. As they were climbing around again, Little Dude says "mom, she has snot running down her face." I reply "I know." Then I realize it was actively running down her face--not just dried--and he was standing right beside her pointing to her nose.
At that point, I told Little Dude we had to go. He was annoyed. So was I.
We finally had our race. We raced to the van. He won.
I took him to the park to play, to enjoy the day, to spend time with mom away from Baby Dude. I did NOT go to the park to be the temporary nanny of four kids' whose dad didn't bother to actually come into the park with them and play or at least actively watch them play and let the baby enjoy what she could considering her age.
In those 20 or so minutes, I experienced a ton of emotions and thoughts--mostly frustration. I saw four little kids whose dad wasn't really paying attention to them. How'd he know I was kind? Would he have noticed if I'd've enticed them to go off with me some place? People not really paying attention to their kids is how they are taken. There's no way in hell or on God's green earth I'd've let someone I don't know pick my baby up and sit him in a swing without my permission, a nanny-cam on, a copy of their Criminal and Financial Background check, and two forms of ID.
In those 20 or so minutes, I had a heartbreaking conversation with a 6 year old who already dislikes school. Will it get better for him? And if it doesn't get better, where will he be in 10 years? Will he be a statistic? Seems like he's headed down that path, but goodness I hope I'm wrong.
In comparison, Little Dude LOVES school. Loves to go, loves to learn, tries to read things EVERYWHERE we go, enjoys being an artist in Art and enjoys playing and learning in all the little centers of his classroom. He understands so much of the world around him. All kids should be like that. All kids should be given the opportunity to love school.
Maybe that kid just has a shitty teacher, but that's a part of the problem. All schools and all teachers should be good at what they do, esp. if they are teaching young children. I'm so very tired of the problems that plague public education, and I'm even more tired of people saying the solution is to scrap public education in favor of private, charter, or other. All schools should be equally good. The funding model for public education sucks ass. The underfunded NCLB sucks ass! The revamped NCLB--Race to the Top--wasn't much better. The teach to the test shite sucks ass! Ohhh, there are so many things I could rant about here, but I'll stop here before my blood boils.
In those 20 or so minutes, I'd become the watcher for a baby I didn't know and probably will never see again. Why? It's one thing to let three older kids (regardless of gender) run off and play on the playground without monitoring their every single move (well, not really, but ok), but not a baby/toddler. And it isn't fair to them to be expected to watch the toddler. Their kids and want to play--not watch the baby. Watching the baby isn't their responsibility--nor was it mine. What the heck was wrong with that guy? Watch your damn kids!
In those 20 or so minutes, I went from planning to have a cool 30 or so minutes in the park with Little Dude to wanting to shake my fists at the sky for so much shit being wrong with society.
And I accept that in those 20 or so minutes, I probably assumed, speculated, and went off on insane tangents in my head, but how much of it might be true? And how sad for those kids if even only half of it is true?
In those 20 or so minutes, Little Dude had a ton of fun with random kids he didn't know. It didn't go as I'd hope it would for me, but he had fun. So despite all of my mental rantings as I watched and interacted with these stranger kids, I suppose it was a decent day because Little Dude had fun. And that's all that truly matters.