The Sand Trap

I met a mom at the park the other day. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be new best friends. It all started when my kids decided to play in the sand area, and I settled in the shade with my book. The child asked if I had brought her bucket and shovel and I told her that I had not. She knew it was in the van, it always is, but we had parked some distance away and I didn’t want to drag everyone back and forth to get it. There were other buckets and shovels laying around that she could have used but, she refused and insisted on going to get hers.

She got more upset until I told her she would have to sit out and calm down. She did calm down a little and then told me she wanted to be happy in the sand, so I let her go back to playing. She started digging in the sand with her hands, but was clearly a bit agitated still. She told her sister that she didn’t want any help a couple of times. I helped her sister respect that request for alone time, then went back to sit.

A few minutes later I heard the child saying, “I don’t want any help!” again and looked up expecting to see her sister invading again. Instead there was a little girl, about 2 years old, with her mother standing behind her. I wondered how the mom could miss the protests. I got the mom’s attention and asked if it was her little girl. She said yes and I said, “Uh, you might want to move her away from there. My daughter’s upset and I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen.”

Now, if another mom said that to me I think I’d move to the far end of the sand area – maybe a different part of the park altogether. They did move away – about two feet, directly behind where the child was sitting digging her hole. The child, meanwhile, was getting more upset again and as she was scooping sand was not being very careful about how she disposed of it…throwing it behind her (of course). Before I could say anything, the other mom jumped all over her, “Quit throwing sand! You’re getting it everywhere!” The child looked at me and I told her to be careful where she was putting the sand. Remember she was upset to begin with, has twice had her space invaded, and now has been yelled at by a total stranger. I was amazed she wasn’t in a total meltdown at that point. Just a moment or two later I hear the other mom yelling, again!

There’s more than one way to put distance between two people. If one won’t move the other can. I herded the kids together, grabbed all of our stuff and moved to a different area. I used lunch as an excuse to move and as a distraction. The child knew there was more to it than that. “Why did we move, Mom?” I decided to level with her. “I don’t like what you were doing in the sand, and I don’t like the way that mom talked to you about it, so we’re taking a break over here. When you’re done eating you need to apologize to that mom, and hopefully we can get along better.” We ate. The child said she was ready to apologize. I gave her some words to use and she made her way over to the mom, said her bit, the other mom graciously accepted, and the child went to take out her remaining angst on the monkey bars.

Meanwhile I sat and wondered if I needed to say something too. Did I need to explain the extenuating circumstances, the special needs, my actions and the reasons behind them? My daughter’s differences are pretty mild, so maybe the other mom just didn’t know. I decided I should at least try to put the best face on it.

“Thanks for your understanding about the sandbox,” I said.

“Oh, no problem, she came and apologized, and I said I hoped she was feeling better.”

“Well, it’s not just that she’s in a bad mood, she also has a mild form of autism.”

“You know, I was wondering about that, I used to work with adults with disabilities and I thought maybe she had Asperger’s. I was taught to always be firm and not let them take advantage of you, so if I sounded gruff that’s what I was doing. Good luck and all…” and then she was gone…chasing after her own daughter. So it wasn’t ignorance, per se, but if anything a sense of “knowing what to do” that led to this whole awkward scenario.

Thanks for the two second diagnosis, lady, but you’re off the mark. The child has delays that affect her receptive language, especially when she’s upset. Yelling is one of the least effective ways to communicate with her at any time. Respecting her boundaries and letting her work out her sensory overload is the best bet for re-regulation, granted this is hard to carry out in a public space, and I need to help her respect other people’s needs, too. It would sure help if the other people would meet us half way. Meanwhile I think I’ve learned that no matter how much I’ve learned about children, even those with special needs, I should never assume I know best…better to take the time to listen to the other parent and follow their lead, even if I don’t quite understand.

Have you ever found yourself trapped in a similar situation? How would you handle it or respond?

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