Violence in the Playground

Millie is once again used to me. After a few short months of separation between her longterm Spring/Summer staycation in Southern California with Mommy and Gma, she kinda forgot me. At 20 months, it’s to be expected.

It was clear over the course of the first week that she liked me. She smiled and we played wide-eyed peek-a-boo Baby Shark-kaaa-kaaa-kaaa-kaaa games. But she didn’t trust me. At least not enough to be left alone without her Hong Kong grandparents’ supervision. While my daughter and son-in-law are out hunting and gathering, John and Jennifer dote on our granddaughter probably with more reverence than their own two children. To say she is spoiled, in the most loving way possible, is an understatement.

Recently, say the last couple of days, she has begun to tolerate me with tangible gusto. We go out for walks around the block, just the two of us. Drop by the local doughnut shop for a bitty before-dinner treat (naughty Grandma!). Talk to the faded plastic flamingo. And stop at the neighborhood playground, normally filled with similar-age toddlers like Millie, and their nannies and a few of us token grandparents. It is a sweet community of bubbles, bouncy balls, blue sedan strollers, and little people who love dancing, clapping, squealing and accept each other’s “serious” look faces as normal.

Being a toddler, I realize, is genuinely serious business. Every single corner of their visual and auditory world is a learning experience.

Which is why yesterday’s Irate Nanny Attack was so disturbing.

Here’s the scene: Late morning. Puffy jacket, knit cap weather. Nanny was on her cell phone near the toddler apparatus. Her little person, Aubrey, was playing with some singing knobs on the gym equipment when 2-year-old Remy, who was accompanied by his grandparents (who, they told me, put their lives on hold for a year so they could help with childcare) unexpectedly pushed the little girl, and she fell down. Stunned, Aubrey cried as the Nanny grabbed her and started yelling at the boy and his grandmother: “Get him out of the park! He is a bully. Leave. Leave. Get him out of here! He doesn’t belong here!”

Grandma grabbed Remy off the apparatus and began yelling at him, “No, no! That is bad, Bad!” then shook him.

The Nanny continued to scream and point, “There is something wrong with him! Get him out of here!”

To which the grandma yelled back, “You were on your phone. You should have been watching her!
which triggered the nanny’s response, “He is a bad boy. He doesn’t belong here!”

Three toddlers witnessed two adult toddlers attack each other like rabid coyotes.

The hostility continued for 10 minutes before the two parties finally separated.

“He’s just a little boy,” I calmly said to the nanny. “He didn’t do it on purpose.”

The nanny had AirPods on and appeared to be talking to someone on the phone. She smiled at me, which was weird, then yelled at the little girl, “When someone hits you, hit them back. I told you before, hit them harder.”

The little girl’s face was blank. She had no idea what the nanny said or meant. She seemed to be close to Millie’s age, younger than two.

The nanny turned around and continued her phone conversation while I tried to get Millie to say “Hi” to the little girl to distract her and see if she was OK. Millie and Aubrey stared at each other, kept their space, and took in each other’s vibes. Despite witnessing what was hopefully their first and last playground violence incident, they appeared to be in-the-moment.

Millie and I found some abandoned pink and blue balloons from an ongoing 2-year-old playground party. We played and played for more than 20 minutes, delighted by the wind and how it whisked the balloons along the crispy leaf carpet, then high into the November blue sky.

It can be this way, I thought. Leaning into love. Leaning into the simple, the innocent. Leaning into one’s potential, that can serve both sides. Where both are right and worthy and honored. Where both listen with open hearts.

We don’t have to lean into the nonsense. We can choose to disconnect. Maybe say a prayer. Move on. Like the little kids in the park. Millie doesn’t hold a grudge, stereotype. She doesn’t yell at each other, blame.

These little kids are sponges. If they see us snapping, attacking, being vitriolic, guess what? They’re clones.

Being here in Queens, I’m an observer, a recorder. I pay attention to everything. Because it’s new. Because I can. Because paying attention to how others behave helps me behave better.

We all make mistakes. I have a Ph.D in Mistakes.

But when you know better, you do better. Say sorry. Mean it. Or as Mom used to say, “Be the bigger person.”

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