When my daughter Hannah was three years old, she was a runner. Whenever we found ourselves in a public place, she’d seize the first opportunity to run off, laughing the whole way. She thought she was hilarious. I thought that she was infuriating. The fact that I was pregnant with my son at the time didn’t help matters, either. On many occasions I found myself yelling at her to Come! Back! Here! Right! Now! as I frantically tried to finish checking out library books or paying for groceries. The stares of all the strangers as she totally ignored me and ran even faster just made it all that much worse.
These little episodes always ended more or less the same way. Eventually, I would have no choice but to run after her, panting under the weight of the ever-growing baby inside my belly. When I finally caught her, grabbing both arms firmly to keep her from escaping again, she would do two things. The first, which you will be highly familiar with if you’ve ever parented a preschooler, is she would go completely limp. The second, is she would yell loudly, “Ouch, you’re hurting me!” Since all eyes were already on us, anyway, there was no doubt that everyone within earshot heard her clearly. They had no way of knowing that she used the word hurting to mean stopping me from doing what I want to do. At home, she would say I hurt her when I denied her a cookie. They probably thought that I was squeezing her really hard, or pinching her, or something.
Kids have a way of making you look much worse than you really are. There’s a famous story from my own childhood in which I informed my grade one teacher, the delightful Miss Tan, that my daddy hit my mommy. This was patently untrue. What was true was that my parents sometimes play fought in the way that non-abusive couples will, in front of me. It was all very chaste and not at all worth mentioning, unless you were a six-year-old who had just heard an anti-abuse talk and didn’t really understand. Luckily, my teacher knew my mother well, and no one called in the authorities.
Sorry about that, Mom.
My son Jacob is a pro at making me look bad in front of other people, too. Like when he tells the doctor that his favourite breakfast is jelly beans, when I have never fed him jelly beans for breakfast. He just doesn’t know the difference between breakfast and lunch and snack and occasional treat. Or when he shows his grandmother the bruise he got when he ran in front of me while I was walking and I tripped and fell on him, saying, “Look, Mommy hurt me here.” He’s not trying to make me look like a bad parent, but he’s doing a pretty stellar job of it.
Fortunately, I think most people understand that this is just the way kids are. They’re like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, keeping a catalogue of wrongs inside their little heads. When you combine that with developing language skills, sometimes it all comes out sounding much, much worse than it really was. All you can do, really, is laugh it off as best you can, and try not to care too much about what strangers may think of you. That, and hope that their grade one teacher knows you well enough to tell the difference between an abuse allegation and a confused six-year-old.
Or maybe you can wait until your grandchildren are making your kids look bad in front of other people. I’m sure my mother is enjoying that very much right about now.
Have your kids ever said or done anything in public to make you look like a terrible parent? Please share, I could use some commiseration!