“I need a new pull-up!”
When you are picnicking with your toddler, these words may not surprise you – unless, that is, you hear them being shouted by a 30-year-old man.
Last week the weather in Southeast Georgia finally abated long enough for our family to visit the local park. Not long after we arrived, a group of around 15 adults settled into two picnic tables under a nearby pavilion. I didn’t pay them much attention until I saw one approach my son on the playground.
In truth, playgrounds have produced anxiety in me for some time. My son, at least at this point in his life, is not assertive in his free play with strangers, and sometimes older children have shown aggression toward him when we have not been, literally, by his side. As a parent who tries her best not to helicopter, these situations make it difficult to be a free-range mommy. I was unsettled.
As I walked over to my son and his favorite slide, I peered up at the man who had taken an interest in my son. Immediately, upon studying his face, I felt the foolishness of my imagination.
“He has puddle. Look, pants and wet.”
The adult, likely close in age to myself, did not have the cognitive ability to form coherent, complete sentences. Where I had identified a threat, so, too, had he; he wanted our help in locating the puddle that my son had encountered.
I smiled and asked my son about the water spot in question. With the eyes and innocence of my two-year-old, I showed the man what area of the playground was still wet from the previous day’s rain. He then proceeded to shout a broken warning to his peers who were still enjoying their lunch.
In that moment, I recalled my days as a special education aide during graduate school, and my heart remembered the beautiful insights that those who are different and often hidden can offer when we choose to acknowledge and value their lives.
As parents, it is really easy to excuse just about any act that we allow ourselves to commit – whether it be through words, behaviors, or indifference – with the justification that we are protecting our children. Unfortunately, this deprives our kids the ability to learn how to deal with adversity and, more simply, other people.
I am learning in motherhood that every circumstance and interaction is a teachable moment and one of the worst things we can do is fear what we do not know about others. If we all could see the world as one giant playground, we just might find the brave child within us who is willing to embrace life in both the sunshine and the puddles.