By: Amy Forstadt
Last week, Benjie’s preschool closed for Spring Break, a.k.a. The Week Where I Have To Scramble To Find Childcare Because I Still Have To Work. We got our favorite sitter for three days, and for the other two, I arranged to have Benjie stay with my friend J’s kids, her sitter, and her sitter’s son, Baby A, who was almost two.
When I dropped Benjie off in the morning, he cried a little, which I expected. After all, it was a change in routine, and even though he was in a familiar place, it wasn’t what he was used to. I comforted Benjie as best I could and assured the sitter he’d calm right down after I left and have a good day.
At 2:30 p.m. I got a call from the sitter. As soon as I picked up the phone, I could hear hysterical wailing in the background from a little voice that sounded heartsinkingly familiar. The following is a transcription of the saddest phone call I’ve ever received:
Sitter: Hi Amy, don’t worry, everything’s fine.
Me (hearing crying, suspicious): What’s going on?
Sitter: Benjie’s having a bit of a tough time. I thought he might feel better if he talked to you.
Me: But what-
Benjie (sobbing, barely able to talk through his tears): Mommmeeee, I want to bee with youuuuuuuuu!
Me: Benjie! What’s wrong honey?
Benjie: I – want- to –be-with- youuuuuuuuuu!
Me (muttering, to myself): Holy crap what is going on over there?
Sitter voice in the background: “Bye mommy. See you soon.”
Benjie: Bye (sob) Mommeeee (hic, sob), seee youuuu soooooon (tone of utter abandonment with undertones of “this is a formative experience that I will neither forget nor forgive.”)
Needless to say, I told my boss I had to leave early and sped towards my friend’s house like a bat out of corporate hell. Halfway there, however, I got a text from the sitter that said “Benjie fell asleep. No need to worry.” (Never fear, gentle readers. I went to the mall. Sale at Anthropologie!) When I got to J’s house, the sitter was gone for the day, J’s husband was home, and Benjie was running around, happy as a clam and didn’t want to leave.
Turns out it wasn’t the new situation or the unfamiliar sitter that was making Benjie so upset. It was her son: Baby A. Even though Baby A was a year younger than Benjie, he was a big, strong, brawny boy. And one who, when he got frustrated, liked to kick, punch, and shove…Benjie. So my sweet-natured, peaceful son spent most of the day being pushed around by kid who I later learned had been lovingly nicknamed “Monster Baby.”
Disclaimer time: I have no doubt that Baby A is a very sweet kid. I’m sure it’s just the age and his relative inability to communicate. I also think a lot of what was coming out was his frustration at not being able to play with the older kids. Also, his mother, the sitter, was extremely attentive to the situation, separating the boys when necessary and, as she told me later, feeling pretty bad about the whole thing. Last, I’m sure it was just a phase and that Baby A will grow up to be a kind, compassionate, and completely upstanding member of society.
That said, I’ve never felt so much hostility towards a 22 month-old in my life. Benjie had a whole other day to spend at J’s house and my fingers twitched with the urge to throw my arms out in front of him to protect him from everything. I understand now why an angry mother marching towards a bully on the playground should make everyone scatter in terror. Grendel’s mother had nothing on me.
But since I wasn’t allowed to put Baby A. in a little veal pen so he couldn’t bother my kid, I told Benjie, “Just use your words. Say ‘No pushing!’ and walk away.” I totally have new respect for all parents who are able to stay levelheaded and reserved when their kid is bullied. I had some social trouble in eighth grade of the mean girls variety and came home crying every day after school for weeks. I have no idea how my mom didn’t go on a rampage. It must’ve taken superhero strength. And by that I mean my Dad’s strength, physically restraining her from burning their houses down.
The next day at J’s went much more smoothly. No teary phone calls and a calm and happy Benjie when I got there after work. I don’t know if it was Benjie’s newfound negotiation tactics, the babysitting situation being a little more familiar, or the fact that the sitter separated the boys as needed all day long. But I breathed a huge sigh of relief, glad that we’d all gotten through this first bullying incident. Unfortunately, it’s probably not the last. I hate to think of going through this again, with real big boys and real bruises, both physical and emotional. But I’ll do my best to stay mature the next time, and the time after that. Fighting bullying with more bullying never got anyone anywhere. But I’m asking you now…when that happens? Don’t let me near the matches, no matter how much I beg.