I never want to be THAT mom, THAT mom being whatever you imagine THAT mom to be: pushy, competitive, obnoxiously proud of her child, overly involved, overly not involved.

For me, THAT mom can either be the hyper-permissive mother who lets her children run rough-shod over other kids (I’m always happy to confront THAT mom at OMSI or tell her kid to follow the bloody rules) or THAT mom can be the obnoxious competitive mom. If I turn into either of those, you have my permission to…um…well, call me on it.

THAT mom showed up in my child’s gym class a few weeks back. This is a class of homeschooled kids (from religious to not) who get together to do gym stuff once a week. (Bringing pH’s total of days with structured physical activity to 5 out of 7. She’s wearing my shoe size, is nearly my height, could easily eat everything in the house, and weighs all of 68 pounds.)*

THAT mom is a dump-and-run sort. Many parents stay, and those who do are an unusually interesting group to hang out with, and if you homeschool you know how rare a gift that is. I do because pH asked me to. It’s been neat seeing how the kids have improved–also, last week they didn’t have numbers to really play soccer, so some parents volunteered to play and it was so much fun. I’d forgotten I knew how to 1) play soccer and 2) get the ball to go where I want it to most of the time. In my defense, it has been about 30 years.

Of those parents who don’t stay, most tend to wait a minute or two to make sure their kid is oriented to place and appropriateness before they leave, even the old pros who have been bringing their kids to these classes for months, like us. And again, unusually, they, too, are a delightful group. Our kids play well and look out for each other.

But back to the situation. Now, I get that if you have a hard child, you probably want your alone time. I would, do, and have. I also wouldn’t be having any more of them if my child was difficult–you will notice pH is an only child–and she’s working on at least number 3. I’m not judging her choices; I’m saying I can understand being overwhelmed, and pregnancy plus two is overwhelming even without a difficult kid (but see below).

From his first week, THAT kid was grabby with pH, who is the only girl. I watched and wasn’t absolutely sure at first, but told her to avoid him during a water break.** Appropriate measures were taken–kid was cautioned, monitored, the next teacher advised (she already knew; apparently he is a known problem). The second week, it happened again, and worse (he hit her at least twice and shoved her, and tried to stomp on her); three parents besides me and the teacher saw it. I was told appropriate measures were taken.***

pH is not one to make a scene or a fuss in front of her peers (I said one way of handling things is to turn around and say, “What is WRONG with you?” although I used saltier language and was overruled by my husband, who suggested something to do with a large rock or a stick, and he was thus in turn overruled by pH and me).

“I will talk to sensei,” I said.

I did. pH takes aikido–part of our general philosophy about not starting fights but being capable of ending them–who ran her through what she should do if someone hits or shoves her from the front or behind (rolls, basically) including yelling for the coach. And he made her practice doing these things and yelling “Coach!” two days in a row (yelling was the sticking point), something I never thought would be an issue, given the way she used to carry on when exhausted and frustrated.

Thus armed, or unarmed, we returned to class.

When THAT mom attempted the dump-and-run thing, I smiled and said in my nice-minister’s daughter voice– “You know, I really think you should stay.” She asked why, and I said, this time in my not quite as nice lawyer voice, “It might be a good idea for you to…observe.” She got kind of panicky–this should have been hint #2 something was wrong. The teacher explained what had happened (even if he apparently already had, but whatever).

Her first reaction was, “Then I’ll pull him out of the class.”

What?

Okay, so of all the ways to react–and the teacher was much more diplomatic than I have been in describing what happened in this post–that was strange. (“He was a little…grabby…with pH” was not really an accurate description of most of his conduct, and I didn’t like how she was singled out.) But it got her to stay. The kid behaved better in that class, but then again, the activity was one that didn’t involve close physical proximity like rock climbing or basketball (he shoved her in the line where they queued up).

If it were me, I could see being apologetic. I could see explaining the behavior. I could see pulling the kid aside and talking to him. I know what I would do, and that would be, “Would it help if I…?” or “What do you think would help?” because I am not the teacher and I would value the advice. (If it seemed good, I’d take it, and if not, then I’d figure out what to do.)

But immediately jumping to pulling him out of class? That seemed off. That seemed like there had been other problems before, and THAT mom didn’t want any more scrutiny.

Because of my professional life, whenever I think I see a grabby, inappropriate kid without boundaries, I jump to the conclusion of abuse. I know I do it, so I reality check–with kH, with the teacher, with other parents. I explain my bias and the reason for it, that I don’t know a thing about raising boys, and ask if what they saw looked inappropriate, or if it was a boy thing. One parent was saying, “Some boys at this age–” right when the kid shoved pH.  “Yeah, never mind what I was saying. That’s not okay.”

There’s an entire body of research on abuse (physical and sexual) of children by other children; I had those cases and I did that research and I wrote those memos. I worked with the parents of kids who had been abused by other kids and the adult children of those who had been abused by siblings. When I look at the grabby, inappropriate kid and the little sister and the pregnant mom…I think, what is he doing to his sister? What’s he going to do to the baby? Why is this kid this way in the first place? Was he abused? How well is a harried mother of [at least] three going to keep him from acting like this at home? (Or how well is she now–and how bad is it?)

This is where I mention kH and I are both mandatory reporters, and none of the restrictions on lawyer reports apply (you generally can’t report, say, if the information came from your client, because then you have a confidentiality conflict–which makes a lawyer’s duty to report almost useless).

But we have no knowledge to act on, just suspicions. Without more, I get to sit there, remember the cases and the research and the memos and hope nothing worse is going on.

My initial mean girl inclination after the first incident had been to find a card or a printout from the big children’s psychology practice in town and to do the minister’s daughter smile while handing the materials to her.  I restrained the impulse.

I wonder if I should, anyway.

 


 

*I just bought her a new pair of KEENs in US “Big Kid” size 5, which is roughly size 37, which is roughly what I wear, depending on the shoe. When they came, they were both cuter than I expected…and larger. With permission, I tried them on. They fit me. With socks. I dithered and, since I have nothing equivalent–I played that soccer game in Fluevogs– bought myself a pair (I did ask her if it was okay first), only to find the price had dropped $20 since I’d purchased hers, making them roughly the cost of takeout for three. Sigh.

**And I felt like crap saying to avoid the creepy kid, because seemed defeatist, like saying, “Hey, don’t wear a short skirt to a party so you won’t be raped.” Although my psychiatrist pointed out that it’s also like saying, “Don’t walk down a dark alley,” too. And avoiding him would have been my first step of how I’d have dealt with it.

***I think I was lied to by the gym teacher, given the way he reacted when I told the mother to stay. I asked if he’d done anything inappropriate in the next class, and apparently he drew on another kid. “What happened?” “He had to talk to [the teacher] away from us.”