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Smackdown At The Open Gym

Yesterday being Wednesday, we hit Open Gym
for the morning; if there’s one thing Maddie’s internal
alarm clock is set for, it’s Wednesday’s gym time. And
while we had a good time, it wasn’t just the kids who got all
worked up.

I noticed when we walked in that it was unusually crowded (I say as
if I’m some sort of seasoned veteran, since I’ve been
going there for two whole months now); it looked as if there were
at least a couple new playgroups in attendance, since there were
many unfamiliar toddlers and moms around. Several friends from my
neighborhood playgroup showed up (look at me! I have friends!) so
Maddie was in heaven, running all over the studio shouting with her
posse. It’s a big complex and toting Cora around as I trail
after Maddie becomes exhausting for me and frustrating for Cora,
who wants nothing more than to be left alone to practice her
round-off back-handsprings, so if I’ve got friends in the
studio I’ll sometimes plop down with Cora and work a
“zone”, keeping an eye on whoever’s in the area
while I know the other moms have got my back.

Cora often wants to congregate towards the
“baby” area – a space set apart by stacked gym
mats with baby toys in the middle for the little ones to gum to
death. I’ll let her wander in that direction but try to keep
her from diving into the toy booty, since I know extricating her
when Maddie needs me will be difficult and loud. So she and I often
end up lurking on the “baby” fringes, half-listening to
conversations between other moms in the “pit”.

I was standing there yesterday, watching Maddie walk the balance
beam with Hannah while Cora attempted to reach the lowest uneven
bar (not even close). Looking around, I was struck by how different
all the moms were, and began going into a dreamy Kumba-ya
mentality: See how the hip mom in her Seven jeans is laughing and
chatting with Granola mom, who’s been nursing her
eight-month-old for a good two hours straight now in the middle of
the gym. Motherhood really is the great leveler, and we all work
together in harmony . . . . uh oh, what’s going on over

Apparently there’d been some sort of toddler fracas, which is
par for the course in a room full of 3- and 4-year-olds. But the
moms involved became quite heated and began yelling at each other,
nearly spitting in each other’s faces. The conversation (I
use the word politely) ran along these lines: “Your son was
just standing there pummeling my son over the head, over and over!
What kind of child does that?” “Well, my son had to do
that in response to your son’s pushing my son over – it
was self-defense!” “You didn’t see that –
you’re just assuming!” “Oh, don’t act like
your son is some angel, lady. Live in the real world.”
“Don’t tell me about my son! Your son is the problem
child, not mine!”

And so on. And those were the nice words.

After a few minutes, the gym supervisor came over and discreetly
broke it up, asking how she could help resolve the situation. One
mom shouted she’d never come back to that gym again, blah
blah blah, while storming out. Very dramatic, very much the focal
point of the gym for a while, until the kids went back to bouncing
up and down and swinging from potentially dangerous places.

The scene stayed with me for a while, and all I could think of was
what a terrible example both of those moms had just set for their
kids. I know if someone accused Maddie of wrongdoing I’d feel
defensive, and the Lord knows I’ve been quick to righteous
anger in a public place many times in my past. But I am so
conscious that Maddie watches and absorbs EVERYTHING I do, and uses
that as the model for her own behavior. What did those boys learn
yesterday? That yelling and speaking derisively is ok; that you can
dismiss someone’s complaint without investigating its
veracity; and most important, that you can blame someone else for
your wrongdoing. I hit someone? Only because he pushed me first, so
it’s ok!

I know that somewhere in me, not too far below the surface, is a
lioness who will come out with claws extended if someone dares try
to harm Maddie or Cora. I’ve seen glimpses of that creature
at the playground, when another kid kicks Maddie or mows Cora over.
I’ll move to protect them first and sort it out later.

But I also know that both moms were probably wrong, and both moms
were probably a bit right. We can’t take our child’s
wrongdoings personally, even though having them pointed out to us
feels like a personal attack (if my child misbehaves, it must be
because I’m a bad mother!), and we have to use opportunities
like that to shape how our kids will handle conflict for the REST
OF THEIR LIVES. We have to take a deep breath, find some humility
and calm, and work it out.

I’m thinking a lot about this because I’m trying to
work through href="http://www.amazon.com/Home-Improvement-Tools-Effective-Parenting/dp/078144151X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208401111&sr=1-3"
target="_blank">Home Improvement
, our guidebook for
discipline, and I’m conscious of trying to put a practical
face to the method we want Maddie to follow – confession,
repentance, and restoration. In other words, “I did something
wrong and I’m sorry, and let’s make the relationship
between us right again.” I can’t help but wonder how
differently yesterday would have turned out if both moms had gotten
down on their knees, talked earnestly with their boys and worked to
the root of the respective wrongdoings, and tried towards an
apology. Would the morning have ended with the boys playing
together, instead of one vowing never to return?

I'm not saying I'm perfect; I'm quite good at verbally tearing
people down. But on more than one occasion I've had an exchange
with, say, a snotty grocery store clerk, leaving with a
satisfactory last word - not abusive, but definitely derogatory
while still technically in the right - and I've made myself go
back, daughters in tow, so they can witness my apologizing to the
rude clerk for my response. Difficult, but worth it as I watch them
solidify how they treat people.

I know, I’m putting a lot of thought into one small exchange.
It’s just a morning at the gym, not a peace summit. But this
is the stuff, moms and dads, of the rest of their lives. It’s
worth a little work.


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