It was a bluebird-sky Sunday at Buttermilk. I took three boys ” my own and their friend Thorne ” skiing, enduring an endless loop in the terrain park.
Halfway through the day, my first-grader, Roy, expressed a desire ” soon fervent ” to use the rest room. That signaled that we all go in for the lunch I’d stashed in Bumps restaurant. The older boys beelined inside.
Roy and I stepped out of our skis, leaving them flat on the snow. I looked back from the deck to see that his were sticking out a foot or two farther than they probably should, and said, as he hurried ahead, “You need to push them in farther, Roy, please.”
He said no. (Not an approved reply.)
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I said, “You can go in and then come out and move them yourself, or we can do it together now.” He stomped back and, me taking his hand, we stepped onto the snow. At which point, I pushed one ski in, hesitated, and pushed the other. He was writhing, and I needed to track the other boys.
Walking in, I met eyes with a bearded, gray-haired man standing with his elbows on the deck railing. I smiled ” ruefully. He frowned.
Exiting later, we passed him again. Ten feet beyond, I couldn’t resist a glance.
He muttered forcefully.
“Pardon?” I asked, immediately wishing I hadn’t.
“It’s a good thing he doesn’t live at my house!”
I said, weakly, “Oh.”
“I couldn’t believe that! When you say do something, that’s that and he should do it!” He smacked a fist.
“We … don’t get everything right.”
The man roared, richly, “You are a slave to your children!”
Somewhere in the air above my head hovered a sense of disbelief that someone I had never even met was calling me a slave. But I surrendered, morose. “You’re right.”
He peered down.
“I should have made him move one of the skis,” I said.
Neither of us spoke. Then he cracked a smile.
Here is the clincher: This exchange happened half an hour after the incident. The man had been stewing all that time. He wasn’t taking care of any children ” or he’d have been distracted by the 20 other things he had to do.
People are very, very quick to judge parents, lack of situational information notwithstanding.
When my sister took her son, then 2, to the dentist for the first time, she was asked to fill out several forms. Sam instantly plowed through the waiting area, knocking down a chair. Every time she, frantically finishing the paperwork, turned around, a seated man shook his head, as if to say, “Can’t you control your child?”
She has a sweet but exceedingly busy little boy. She is alert and consistent in supervision. Yet a woman friend told her, “You should spank him ” hard.”
The judges come in tiers. Most judgmental are the people who have never had children. Next are those who had them decades ago, and have forgotten the details. Then come those who had them a decade ago, and think they remember the details, but don’t. Last are those few with pliant, quiet children.
One of my best friends used to be shocked by the rambunctiousness of another’s sons. She later told me, “I’ve gotten a lot less judgmental now that I have a 2-year-old myself.”
Most parents are trying their best, and children can behave hideously despite all our earnest, pathetic studies with teachers, books and parenting class.
My friend Kim says, of himself and his spouse, “Lori and I were the best parents in the world, before we had children.”
I suggest that it is fine for people to criticize ” if they offer two hours of free baby-sitting.
Funny thing, though. When we got home from Buttermilk, though a waking Roy was stumbling and incoherent, I made him carry his own skis, boots and poles in.
” Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (write GSPI as subject heading).
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