I’ve got an ugly breakup story. This lamentable and somewhat awkward occasion reaped me with anxiety for several weeks back in 2009. But I’m not referring to the broken heart of a woman scorned, as this tale is unlike most.
When my oldest daughter was attending afternoon preschool she became fast friends with a similarly sparky girl in her class. The two were the tallest girls in their class, both with big, bright eyes and pretty, bouncy curls.
Drawn to each other like magnets, I jumped at the opportunity for them to play together regularly. Watching them traverse the monkey bars or set up imaginary tea parties for their dolls was delightful.
At the time, I had a newborn and a one-year-old, so my daughter’s new-found companionship had an incredible benefit when, graciously, her little friend’s mother offered to host my daughter once-a-week so the girls could pass the time playing together before school. I was grateful she had this time with a peer, away from her slobbering siblings who were consuming most of my time with nursing and diaper changes.
One day, it all went wrong, unbeknownst to me. I didn’t find out until a few days later, at preschool pickup time when all the moms mingle in the hallway, exchanging smiles and waves. Lugging my infant son in a car seat carrier with my toddler daughter underfoot, I saw the little girl’s mom, seemingly avoiding me.
I walked over to chat. “I need to talk to you,” she said. Not sure what to expect, I knew by the look on her face she had serious business to unload. Was she was going to confide in me about some terminal illness? Had she performed the Heimlich on my daughter during lunch? I couldn’t help but imagine the worst.
Although I was a mom of three, I still had a lot of unchartered waters to navigate. I barely had little more than four years’ experience as a parent. I was an expert at breastfeeding positions, diaper changing in the dark and taking food out of the oven with a baby slung to my torso. Yet, I couldn’t anticipate what I can only now refer to as the bizarre, idiosyncratic behavior of another parent.
Not terminally ill after all, this mom told me how my child requested that she and her daughter play doctor, out of her sight. The coups de grace: my daughter had successfully persuaded her friend to remove her shirt. I started to laugh, waiting for the mom to join me. Instead I was met with bemused silence, and then the curt reply: “I think the girls shouldn’t play together.”
How could something so illogical occur? These girls were four-years-old, and with all my relative inexperience as a parent, I was certain that my daughter couldn’t be a pedophile.
Common sense prevailed. She was a child, engaging innocently in pretend play. Yet she was vilified for copying behavior she simply witnessed when we visited the pediatrician. Having a baby brother who was less than three-months-old, she had tagged along with us on more than a few visits, where the nurse always made this request: “undress him down to his diaper, and I’ll be in to weigh and measure him.”
I can understand and respect any parent being concerned about two children playing alone. Parents are protectors, and young children need to be supervised for a myriad of reasons. I later learned the mom was on Facebook at the time of this incident. Why didn’t she simply say “no” when my daughter made this request? Was she even paying attention?
At the time, I also blamed myself. Had I been too willing to let my daughter go on this weekly outing, with the obvious benefit of convenience to me? What if she had gotten hurt while playing out of another parent’s sight?
My daughter didn’t understand why she never played with her favorite friend anymore. I could not hide my abhorrence of the situation, and I could barely feign cordiality with the mom. My child was broken-hearted, and I was infuriated.
With time and perspective, I learned a lot from this unfortunate breakup. Children will grow and develop their sense of selves while being exposed to many different people throughout the course of their lives. I certainly didn’t want my daughter to have shame for her body, so I did my very best to minimize discussion on the issue. Sadly, this mother’s quest to shield her daughter from what I’m still unsure, destroyed a beautifully blossoming friendship between two young, sweet girls.
In the years since, I’ve managed to steer clear of overreacting and overly distracted parents, and my children have only played doctor with each other, fully clothed.
Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.
Email her at email@example.com and followe her on Twitter @JuliaSherwinPoP. You can also follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.
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