Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#epicfail and Other Parenting Moments

Running unprotected by water and stones.

Have you ever noticed how some people cough *other parents* cough just love to kill the buzz?

Okay let's take other parents.

Say you're somewhere, like the playground, and you and the other parents are gabbing, and you maybe know some, don't know some, you know how it is. And you're being yourself, which in this case happens to a person with a very dry wit who often speaks rather facetiously. And you're all talking about your kids. And then you're all whipping out the iPhones to show kid photos.

Even though the kids are all right there on the playground, for real.

But you all just have to share this funny or magical moment caught by the phone camera to illustrate some parenting triumph.

So you get your turn and you show this photo of your kid, maybe riding a bike, maybe a two-wheeler without training wheels, for the very first time.

All the parents are oohing and ahhing and you feel it coming, the other stories about that moment you first let go of the bike and the kid takes off and then everyone will bask in the warm fuzzy glow of the metaphor.

Except that's not what happens.

One parent says, "You let your kid on a bike without a helmet?"

"Oh," you say, "Well normally they wear helmets but this one time, ha ha, you know, just that time...she wasn't going very fast, you know and we were right there..."

"I know this one kid," that parent continues, "Who was brain dead after falling off a stationary bike...a bike that was not even moving..."

You stare.

"Brain dead," that parent reiterates as if you didn't catch it the first time, "One time."

You sort of stutter a bit, because umm that is so not the point of this entire conversation. This is a metaphor, it's iconographic, this photo. We are supposed to be basking in warm fuzzy glows. Not struggling for a response that is both appropriately explanatory and defensive while simultaneously steering us back to the right spot, which is not this speechless horror and let's be honest, this sort of atavistic Neanderthal rage that makes you want to rip off the other parent's face.

And, okay, that's really from the shame you feel at being called out as a craptastic parent who wants their kid brain dead, and also you are thinking this other parent is a real better not use that word as it has now firmly entered your five year old's vocabulary after that incident where the red truck cut you off on the freeway.

And while your brain veers further off course, your mouth opens up and says, "A stationary bike? Like the kind that just sits there, and doesn't move? An exercise bike?"

The other parents sort of lean back because they take this as a challenge. Now it's going to get interesting. You have managed to steer the conversation straight in a new direction, all right.

Now you are the flaky craptastic parent who wants their kid brain dead, and who issues a challenge when you have no ground to stand on.

Speaking slowly like one would to a truly flaky person, that parent says, "Nooooooo, a stationary bike as in a bike that was not moving."

Now you are really determined to get to the bottom of this, "So a stationary bike orrrrrrr," you drag out a syllable because two can do this, "A bike that was not moving?"

"A bike! A bike that was not moving!" the other parent says.

"So not a stationary bike," you say, "A regular bike, but just not moving at that moment."

"Yes! Yes!"

"Riiiiight," you say, "I see. That's so tragic! The poor kid, the poor family. How are they doing now?"

"I don't know," the other parent says, "Sad, I guess."

"Because their kid who was not wearing a helmet fell off a bike that was not moving," I say, starting to feel suspicious there was never this kid, or that it was The Poor Tragic Kid in one of those urban legend emails probably started by a bike helmet company to get free viral marketing and a mad rush by parents to buy helmets.

"Wellll, actually," that parent says, "The kid was wearing a helmet. But it fell off."

You can't really say how long the silence stretched on but it did for at least 200 hundred years while the prince tried to find his way through the brambles to those of us who slept under an evil spell in the castle. That's exactly how long it stretched on.

"That's really awful," you say, feeling the burden--since in some way you did get us to this point--to be the prince rather than the sleeping beauty, especially since all of the other parents have decided to vie silently for that role, "Really really awful. I think we've all learned a valuable lesson here," you say, clicking your photo album shut and slipping your iPhone back into your pocket.

The other parent nods, but without the smugness he expected to feel, it's clear.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Julie! I had to interrupt the end of my work day to comment on this post.

I don't know how, but I survived a childhood of no seat belts, no helmets, adults who smoked and drank with abandon in front of CHILDREN. This is not to say that those things are good but you know what I mean.

I have clumsy child who I never let ride his bike (which, at 7, he still is using training wheels because he is just scared of that damn bike) without a helmet. He does, however, ride his scooter daily and fast and helmetless. It has wheels.

I also have a crazy neighbor who lets his 4 year old ride on the hood of the car down the street. Of the car. That one blows my mind. And the mom just laughs and says "Look at you!", even though it would be very easy for serious injury or death to occur in THAT scenario. Like, those people are really sweet but they are never babysitting my kid because they're also, in my opinion, crazy to let their kid do that.

I think it's silly that the conversation took that turn. There was no need for it, we all parent our kids the way we feel is best and sometimes they take off without the damn helmet on their heads. And we let them, either because we did it our entire childhood or they hate the helmet or we just don't think about it at that moment.

I find conversations with other parents in my neighborhood to be difficult often because I have a very dramatic and bossy child. We're teaching him how to be but you know, they're kids, it takes a while to learn. I had a conversation with a neighbor last week that took a similar turn as yours, about my child, and I walked around so ANGRY for days. Then I let it go because I had to, I was too angry and there is nothing I can say to this person.

Your post made me laugh, and feel bad for you at the same time. I think your response was excellent. :)

MommyTime said...

I feel so torn about this situation. On the one hand, the smug, exaggerating, holier-than-thou parenting is so exhausting. And it's incredibly irritating to be surrounded by those parents who are always about one-upping each other, and who are quite happy to try to introduce shame and guilt into a conversation in order to reassure themselves that they are indeed other parents.

On the other hand, I know firsthand what can happen in a split second--and what a difference a helmet can make. There is a parent down the street from us who lets her son ride his bike all the time without a helmet, as long as she is riding with him. I haven't said a word to her about it, although it does make me cringe. Because I was out walking the dog with my son a few months ago, and he was on his scooter, and he was plowed into by a car right in front of my eyes. The car, thankfully, wasn't speeding. But it came around a blind curve in our quiet neighborhood, and the net result was an ambulance ride, surgery for a broken femur, two weeks out of school, and twelve weeks of physical therapy. Everyone in the ER kept telling me that the helmet he'd had on had certainly prevented the injuries from being worse.

I don't want to be preachy. But I do know that just because I tumbled around in the backseat as a kid on road trips to Florida and never got hurt (literally, tumbled; my sisters and I would have somersault contests to pass the time) does not mean I think it's okay for my kids to go without seatbelts. And ditto with the helmets. I never wore one on a bike until I was in graduate school. My son has proven to me, however, that "just this once" might be one time too many.

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