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Getting Judgmental

The Scene: A lovely day in Tyler Park, sunny, breezy and comfortably warm.

The Players: Matt, Jessica, Simon. A slighter younger, significantly hipper couple with their two sons, age approximately 4 and 7.

Our time at the park began by simply lying on a blanket under a tree and rolling a tennis ball and forth to Simon and then bouncing it at him. He thought this was hilarious and laughed for a solid twenty to thirty minutes. Boy babies are easily amused-delightfully so.

Then we decided to move into the park’s enclosed playground so we could put Simon in a baby swing and let him squeal at the other boys from closer range. While Matt and I pushed Simon and talked to him, we watched the other family.

Mom and dad were lying on a blanket, the mother reading softly out loud to the dad from what appeared to be the newest Harry Potter book. The older son sat alone on a see-saw reading what looked like an educational picture book while his younger brotherĀ  ran back and forth from see-saw to slide with excess energy to burn.

Periodically, the parents would look up to admonish the children. The older son was told sternly to “just sit down and read your book”, while the younger son, Lennon, was told more than once to not leave the enclosure when he was seen making for the gate.

Simon thought Lennon was the best, and Lennon seemed like a sweet kid, so we’d periodically wave, smile or have Simon wave at him. The older boy occasionally tried to read out loud to his parents, and Lennon had a spell of random yelling, but for the most part the boys entertained themselves while the parents enjoyed their book. At one point Lennon must have been told something he didn’t like, because we heard him clearly say “Shut up, mommy,” at which point his parents giggled.

As we headed up Tyler Parkway to make our way home, I looked over to Matt and said, “So, can you guess exactly what three judgmental things I was thinking?”

Without batting an eye, Matt replied:

  1. “How about you play with your kids instead of just yelling at them.” Check.
  2. “I can’t believe the kid said ‘shut up’ to his mom and they just laughed.” Check.
  3. “For Pete’s sake, they named him Lennon?!” Check.

Dear husband was three for three, not only in what I was thinking, but also exactly how I would have said it myself. We haven’t been married 10 years for nothing.

I’ve met a wide swathe of humanity of the playgrounds in Louisville, including many different types of parents. I’ve chatted with middle class parents from Atlanta who were enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere of Louisville and an obviously poor young mother who told me about needing public assistance because her first child’s baby daddy is in prison and can’t send child support. I’ve talked to mothers who nursed for four years and mothers who didn’t nurse at all. Mothers who wanted four or five kids and mothers who were ready to stop at one. Mothers dedicated to sending kids to private school, and mothers equally dedicated to sticking with the public school system.

Throughout these interactions, I try very hard to remember that there is more than one way to be a good parent, and that I should not get judgmental when others make choices different than mine. After all, no one has all the answers, no one is perfect, and the vast majority of us are doing right by our kids. But yesterday I didn’t try so hard. Today I just watched as this couple read a children’s book while alternatively ignoring and yelling at their own actual children and quietly seethed. For their kids’ sake, I hope I was missing the larger picture and was judging unfairly. I really do.

And while I am sure to make plenty a parenting mistake myself (I’ve probably already blown the sleep training thing…) I truly hope the day never comes that I drag my kids to a park and then treat the entire outing as an extended time-out.

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