Parental Humiliation, Part I

On Sunday afternoon I took Zoey to the playground. We walked there hand in picking up the bright yellow leaves for our collection.  Zoey made some new friends while I sat on the bench in the sun drinking tea. There were lots of kids and families at the park enjoying the day.  We all nodded and smiled at one another exclaiming about the great weather.  I caught myself thinking, “Golly, sometimes being a mom is rather enjoyable.”

And then.

Zoey found a “wand” (read as: a broken branch with thorns on it).

“Zoey,” I said, “You may not climb on the the playground equipment while holding that stick.”

“Maaaahhhhm,” Zoey groaned, “It’s. A. Wand.”

“Sorry. Wand.” Zoey began to climb The Death Star. WHILE STILL HOLDING THE WAND. “Zoey: put it down or I will hold it for you.”

“Maaahhhhm, I’m fine . . . I’m not gonna-” And then Zoey fell. (Hubris, anyone?)

She was not far off the ground so that part was no big deal. But, as she was falling, the pointy WAND with thorns grazed across her cheek about this <> far from her eye.

“Ooops,” I said while Zoey sat stunned on her butt in the wood chips. “See? That’s why I am going to hold the wand for you.” I squatted to pick up the wand and also to rub Zoey on the back.

Zoey’s eyes narrowed. “No. NO. I DID NOT WANT YOU TO DO THAT. I DID NOT WANT YOU TO MAKE ME FALL.” She threw herself on the ground (which wasn’t all that dramatic as she was already on the ground) and began rolling, kicking, and screaming. As she rolled wood-chips stuck on her fleece, and in her hair.

The other kids started staring.

So did the parents.

“Zoey,” I threatened through gritted teeth. “I am counting to three. If you do not get it together we will go home.”

We all know what happened: On three the tantrum escalated. I went to sit on a nearby bench. Parents began to tell their children to look away. Another parent said to her two year old, “Now that is bad behavior. I’m so glad you don’t act like that.”  Ha! I thought. Ha! Give it time lady!  (I would also like to take this time to point out that if I had seen me at the playground I would have gone up and said something like, “Yup, totally been there. Stay strong!”  But no one did that. LOSERS!)

After about seven minutes I went back over to Zoey who now looked like a giant wood-chip monster. “Well,” I said, “It’s time to go home.” Zoey sniffled and crawled out from under The Death Star. She took my hand and we got as far as the bench.

“No,” Zoey said. “I don’t want to do what you saying to me. I want to play!” And the crying started.  But it was the pathetic oh-I’m-such-a-sad-and-mistreated-kid FAKE cry.

“Kids that throw tantrums do not get to stay at the playground. I am goinghome. Would you like to walk with me?” (Note to soon to be parents: here’s where you hope like hell that you have sufficiently instilled in your kid  a fear of being alone.)

“You go home,” Zoey whimpered. PARENTING FAIL.

So I began to walk across one baseball field.  I casually glanced back. Zoey was crying and looking pathetic but she wasn’t watching me. She’ll look eventually. I kept walking.  I noticed that the further away I got the closer the other parents seemed to circle in.

I was two baseball fields away now.  I turned and looked.  Zoey was still not looking at me.  But a few of the parents were.  And . . .  there was pointing.

After calling my best friend to confirm that these other parents were jerks for getting their jollies by judging me and probably all had exceedingly boring lives AND were so much UNcooler than we were, I knew what I had to do.

Yup, the walk of shame. WALK. OF. SHAME.  Across two baseball fields. To my tear-streaked child who was picking wood-chips out of her hair and whispering, “My mommy left me . . . My mommy left me . . .” I deftly avoided all eye contact with other parents and took Zoey’s hand.  We trudged back across the field, picking up yellow leaves as we went.


20 thoughts on “Parental Humiliation, Part I

  1. Amber Burgin Hoyle

    Now, I’m not a parent yet so it may not be fair of me to make a judgement about this but I would say that is NO reason to feel humiliated. Every parent uses different methods and sometimes you have to try things out to see if they work. Those other parents should have acknowledged what you were trying to do and support you in it, not make things worse by giving Zoey the pity she was looking for. If anyone should be humiliated, it isn’t you.

  2. Anne Linder

    Oh, Jos, I’m so sorry. If it helps, I heard on Radiolab an interview with an economist dad who took a similar approach but actually GOT IN THE CAR AND DROVE AWAY (after making sure that adult friends at the park were in on the scheme…Being an economist, he was seeking the most efficient solution to the problem.) Tough love, but the kid never attempted to call their bluff on that again. Maybe that will happen with Zoey, too? Fingers crossed.

    Mean time, sorry those other parents were losers. Playgrounds seem to make us adults revert back into cliqueish middle-schoolers. I’ve never had a good experience with strangers at the playground. They don’t know you, and they certainly don’t know the titanic force of will you were confronting! They can just go hang their judgypants out to dry.

    1. joslyne Post author

      Anne, you rock! We would be good playground buddies. 🙂 Also, I like your theory that Zoeyw ill never call my bluff again. BWAHAHAHA!

  3. Joshua Herzig-Marx

    I feel bad for laughing a little because it must have truly been a horrifying experience at the time. And the other parents can suck it for showing neither sympathy nor empathy. And, I fear for you, slightly, for having a kid who can pull off the whole, “My mommy left me…My mommy left me….” But, i hope you can take some pride both from the fact that *you* would have done the right thing in approaching the other parent, you *did* the right thing by giving Zoey a chance to pull it together on her own, and she’s still the smartest around.

  4. tyff

    Victory! You got home. You did not reinforce the tantrum by staying at the playground. She did not poke her eye out with a stick, I mean wand. Total victory!

  5. Lisa McKay

    I was reading this while my child whimpered in his crib. Just as his eyes were getting heavy, I laughed out loud. The snapped open as if he’d been bitten by an ant (actually, a real possibility in this house at the moment). Mama fail. PS… I would have said “hang in there, stay strong” to you in that situation BEFORE I was a parent. PPS I once watched Michelle try to pull the same thing with Tahlia in a shopping mall. We got all the way around the corner, peeked through a window to see what she was doing. What was she doing? Still standing there defiantly, crying. I laughed my ass off.

    1. joslyne Post author

      I’m glad I got at least one laugh from someone. 😉 Sorry it woke your baby though. That is so not cool. I’m sure Michelle and I could commiserate over our strong willed, defiant kids. 🙂

  6. paris martinez

    first let me say that i am a huge fan of your blog and i think you and your daughter are adorable. i also have a 3 year old (she will be 4 in march) but i wanted to tell you that after i read this blog im not so sure i wouldnt have been one of those moms staring at you when zoey had her initial tantrum. you said you counted to three and she got worse. if you counted to three on a continual basis, she would have known what “3” meant. she seemed to be out of control and believe me, i have tried the walk away from kid trick and it usually doesn’t work.

    1. joslyne Post author

      Paris, I do count to three on a very regular basis. We use 1-2-3 Magic. But as with most parenting tactics, it doesn’t work every single time. Zoey is extremely strong willed (I am told I will appreciate this in time) and is really testing my boundaries right now. It’s a phase, it will pass. But,like I said, I am not one to give into tantrums. And having had your own experience with the walking-away trick, I’m sure you would have at least given me a smile on my Walk of Shame. 🙂

      1. paris martinez

        it wasnt a walk of shame were going back to get your daughter..and yes i’d have smiled and told you that it will get better *thumbs up*

    2. Joshua Herzig-Marx (@herzigma)

      Paris – Our girls (3 & 1) are about as easy to manage and well behaved as any (we got really lucky and are just waiting to screw it up). We’re practitioners of 1-2-3 Magic and the girls generally fix their behavior at the first “count”. That said, even our little future neursurgeon-stockbroker-ballerina-princesses sometimes will choose the tantrum over the good behaivior. It’s not a bad strategy from their perspective, right? Toddlers and pre-schoolers (and teenagers!) are all about continually testing limits and it sounds like Zoey is smart enough to figure the best possible venue for her experiments. If your daughter hasn’t done that yet, I think you’ve been very very lucky.

      If it sounds like I’m leaping to Jos’s defense, it’s because I am. Having seen her in action with her *dangerously* smart, intuitive, and empathic (and dangerously adorable!) daughter I think she handles challenging behavior great. And reading this post out loud to my wife we agreed that we would have handled things the same way.

      Now I need to work on being the parent who’ll approach the tantrum-ee with a smile and some sympathy.

      1. joslyne Post author

        Thanks Josh. I appreciate your comments! And I’m not sure your wife will let the girls be ballerinas (which os one of the reasons she and I are friends). 😉

  7. ErinM

    Joslyne, you are Zoey’s parent and only you can judge if what you did is right. No other person should be able to judge another family’s parenting techniques!! Every parent has this experience of having a child misbehave in public and being judged by how you handle it, and it makes me want to sit everyone down for a lecture on the golden rule.

    It’s going to be so great when Zozo’s strong-willed nature turns into a zeal to study her way to an A, get all the way to the top of a rock-climbing wall, and working hard to get a promotion…. Until she gets the chance to apply her talent, it’s going to keep explode out of her in tantrums. It’s part of the unfairness of parenting!! You just keep doing what you’re doing and weather the storms as best as you can. No judgments from other parents can change the fact that you are a great parent and have a fabulous kid!!!

  8. Alicia King

    Just enough time to address a detail-

    Paris, you closed your first comment with, “…believe me, i have tried the walk away from kid trick and it usually doesn’t work.”

    I believe you that you tried the walk-away and it didn’t work for you and your child. That’s much different than asserting the technique “usually doesn’t work”.

    I feel it’s worth saying only because we’re in this together, and when we’re dealing with smart, strong-willed 3 year-olds, we need every tool in the box!

  9. kate myers cotton

    As a brand new mom, I have not been there but am sure that I will be in a similar situation some day. And when it does happen to me, I know that you will be one of the people telling me “been there- it will get better”. You are the best Mom and Zoey will appreciate all that you have done… some day.


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