There they were, their small selves, standing at the edge of the parking lot, crying and calling out to me, “mommy!!”
It was a sunny spring day in New England and we visited the kids’ favorite park. They were preschool and toddler-aged. I love them with all of my heart; the idea of fear or even discomfort in their lives is so hard for me, but:
I’m a better mother now, but there was a day that I left my kids at the playground and this is our story.
We had a list of parks and they had names for each one like The Faraway Park, The Park with Sandbox, The Wood Park, The Park with the Tiny Beach.
That is where we were that day – the park with the tiny beach. We lived near the ocean and went to the beach about once a week during the summer – sometimes two or three times. But this park had a tiny beachfront on a small, tree-lined lake. It was a favorite. The playground was fantastic and shaded…and the beach. It was idyllic.
I have some good kids and I just adore them (as I’m sure you adore yours), but they are not perfect (I am taking a guess yours aren’t either). Their imperfections have brought out mine.
I had turned in to a “Repeat-er”.
Have you ever met a Repeat-er? Well, if you are not sure, these are some things that a Repeat-er might say if it were time to leave the park…for example sake, of course.
“OK guys, we need to go soon…”
“Sweet Face, I need you to go to the car now.”
“It is time to go and we are going to be late. Get in the car now.”
“I am going to count to 15 and whoever gets in the car might get a surprise.”|
“OK, if you don’t go now, we won’t come back here.”
“I will give you up to half of my kingdom if you go to the car now!”
Sounds kind of weak when you read it like that. Repeat-ers say lots of words, but the audience does not receive a clear and compelling message backed by action, so if there are better choices (electronics, play, a stick) usually there is no motivation to act upon the words.
So when it was time to leave the park, it was this super frustrating, nagging situation and often it went on for *too long*.
What’s even more important though was that this lovely day was kind of ruined by my nagging and eventual anger because they were not listening to my weak words and not trusting that I meant what I said. I felt disrespected and I resented taking them to the park.
And even worse, our relationship was not being strengthened by these encounters, which for me, at least, is the whole point of having these small people to nurture and teach – a parent-child relationship.
Something had to change…and it was me.
I was desperate to find a new way. I read every book I could get my hands on. I listened to dozens of podcasts. One that resonates with me was the Unruffled podcast with Janet Lansbury. She comes from the RIE school of thought. RIE is Resources for Infant Educarers (R) and Mrs. Lansbury has a podcast helping parents apply the principles learned through RIE and its founder Magda Gerber.
I decided to try something new.
On our way to the park, I shared that I would be doing something a little different today when it was time to go. I shared that we had an appointment and needed to leave at a specific time, so when I told them it was time to go, it was important that they listened and obeyed right away. “OK, Mom!”
We spent a few hours at the park, and I gave them a 10-minute warning.
I walked up to each child, touched his arm and said, “Chose one last thing to do because we will be leaving in 10 minutes.”
They replied, “OK, Mom,” as they ran to the beach to dig as their last thing to do.
Five minutes passed, “5 more minutes.”
“I am walking to the car in one minute. Please come with me.”
“I am going to the car. Please come get in your seat.
But they didn’t.
They starting walking to the car with me, but they got distracted by an acorn or a shell or a leaf or…does it really matter when your eyes are full of wonder and you live in curiosity and joy?
I proceeded to the car,
put my seatbelt on,
started the car,
rolled down my window,
turned off the radio,
turned on the air,
checked the mirrors.
I put the car in reverse and my right hand on the passenger’s seat.
As I looked around and I could see the empty car seats in the back of my vehicle – no children.
I took a breath and slowly backed out of my parking spot.
It was then that I heard their cries. They spotted me pulling out and began to run and call out to me.
“Mommy!! Mommy!! Wait!”
I completed my maneuver and applied the break and paused. I put the car in park, took off my seatbelt and got out of the car. They were just one car length away but frozen with emotion, so I went to them. I picked them both up at once and without a word, I carried them to the running car. I opened the door and began putting them in their seats.
One buckle, handing him his water cup and baggie of raisins and peanuts.
Another buckle, handing him his water cup and a baggie of just peanuts.
“Mommy! Why were you leaving us?”
“I thought you didn’t want to come. I told you I was going to the car and we had to leave at a specific time, but you didn’t come.”
“We do want to come with you!”
“I am so happy.”
Now, I cannot say that we have had a 100% success rate with leaving idyllic parks since that day, but I can say that I believe that they trust that I mean what I say now. I believe that they respect that I am going to do what I say I am going to do, and they can count on me.
That was the day I left my kids at the playground and I am a better mother today.
If you enjoyed my story, please share it with a friend.
Don’t forget to subscribe. 😉 Wink.