Yesterday, for the last organized day-trip event of Professor Mom's Family Summer Camp, we took the kids to their favorite science museum. We only go there about twice a year, for special occasions. It's very close to us (only 25 minutes away), but it costs about $40 for our family to go, plus money for lunch and the inevitable souvenir or two at the end. If you are ever in the Durham, North Carolina area and you have children with you--or even if you don't--make sure you visit the museum. It's by far one of the best and most exciting places the area has to offer--perfect for younger children and older children and even really grown-up children like me.
While Scott and L. soaked in some of the science experiments, T. and I went to the children's play area, which was filled on that rainy day with many, many kids. I hung back and watched T. run around, and found myself feeling all warm and fuzzy around the edges when I watched the very little ones, some in sagging diapers still, crawl around after the toys.
If you've ever watched lots of kids together in a play area, you'll notice right away that small melodramas often play out on huge, tragic levels, as far as the little players in the dramas are concerned. As I watched the kids, I saw a little girl in a green dress carting around a much coveted metal bucket filled with balls. She was about two, but very tiny for her age, like T. She was clearly completely puffed out with pride at having scored this bucket and balls, and didn't know exactly what to do with it. About five seconds later, though, an older boy swooped down on her and laid hold of the bucket handle. They struggled in a type of soundless tug-of-war for a bit, and the little girl hung on most valiantly; in the end the boy's strength prevailed, and he made off with the bucket. The little girl shrank back into the wall, her little body hunched over in defeat, her face crumpled in sadness. Her whole body seemed smaller, somehow; she didn't know what to do, or who to turn to. I looked around for the parent, but none stepped forward.
What do you do? Intervene on behalf of someone else's child? Track the little boy down and overstep some boundaries?
I couldn't take the injustice of it all, though. I found another metal bucket, filled it with two balls, and gave it to the little girl. Only after I had done that did a parent step forward--her dad. "Thanks," he told me. "But she has to learn to fight her own battles."
I stared at him in shock. My, god--was he kidding? A two-year-old fight her own battles? Stand up against bullying and a gross injustice at such a tender age?
Maybe Scott and I shelter our kids, but they have only a mere handful of years--a tiny corner of time, really, in which to feel that the world is okay and safe and magical. I had no interest in teaching my kids to fight their own battles at age two, nor would I sit back and watch T. suffer an injustice without stepping forward and giving her the tools to empower herself again, so she wouldn't need to feel stripped of her sense of self. Even now I intervene for L., prompting him to problem-solve and work through the tangle of social expectations that inevitably rise up to meet him daily. The parent at the museum should have stepped forward and given his daughter the comfort she needed, and the words with which to make it right again. You do this for your kids, because they need you to. And because they will find out soon enough that the world can be scary and unfair, and that they will all too soon have to grow up and learn to fight their own battles.