We moved this summer, and our new home is just a short walk from a playground. This is great because my husband and I have four kids, ages 10 and under, so—hooray! Convenient access to the park! But also—boo! Convenient access to the park. Sometimes a little too convenient.
There was the afternoon my 3-year-old and 6-year-old were playing happily under the carport, and I made the rookie mistake of going inside to the bathroom. I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of parenting: Mom doesn’t go to the bathroom. But I did—I went to the bathroom—and by the time I returned, the boys were gone. I didn’t hesitate but immediately jogged the short distance to the playground. And whaddya know? There they were—my 6-year-old son poised at the top of a slide, and my 3-year-old swinging from the monkey bars.
“SWENSONS!” I hollered, busting out my best drill sergeant/gym coach voice. The 6-year-old’s head popped up immediately.
“Get home. NOW.”
He hustled onto his bike and pedaled in the direction of our house. The 3-year-old, my youngest, kept right on playing. He was navigating the monkey bars wearing nothing but backward Angry Birds Star Wars underwear. I am convinced God sent him my way to keep me humble.
I scooped him off the play equipment.
“I no wanna go home!” he protested, trying to flail out of my grasp. I snatched up his tricycle in one hand and clutched his wriggling body under my other arm in a football hold.
“I want to PLAY!!!” he yelled.
“We are going home,” I said through clenched teeth. “You are not allowed to be here without Mommy!”
The other parents at the park, along with the high school kids playing basketball and the middle aged guys on the tennis court, all stopped to point and stare.
Not really. But it felt like it. One of the tennis players might have laughed, but it was one of those sympathetic parent laughs, the kind that says, “Haha, better you than me!” I’m guilty of doing the same, chuckling when I see a toddler throwing a tantrum in the grocery. As I lugged my protesting, partially naked child across the playground, his tricycle clattering behind us, I vowed to never again laugh, not even in sympathy, at another parent’s misbehaving child. Not even if that child is tearing through a public place in a pair of backward Angry Birds underwear.
“PUT! ME! DOOOOOWN!”
I didn’t put him down, somehow managing to haul all 45 pounds of angry preschooler all the way home.
This is where I should share the brilliant disciplinary tactic I employed upon our return home, and I would tell you my two youngest children have never pulled that shenanigan since. But I can’t, because it happened again.
I am obviously winning at parenting.
Their next unauthorized jaunt to the park resulted in a trip to the police station, where I hoped the boys might be scared straight. They sat on a concrete bench, wide-eyed in their superhero costumes, while a uniformed officer gave them a stern warning about leaving the house without their mother or permission.
“I’m Superman!” said the 3-year-old.
The officer was too kind and good-natured to make them cry or throw them in the slammer, but instead gave them a tour of the station and even allowed them to turn on the siren in his police car. He exchanged fist bumps with them as we left.
“That was so cool!” said my 6-year-old on the drive home.
Nobody was scared straight, but the boys haven’t sneaked off to the park since.
Score one for positive police/community interaction. As for my parenting skills, still working on it. I have a ways to go.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)