Guest post by Joy Curzio
I’m not a fan of professional wrestling or mixed-martial arts or generally anything that involves brute force so I don’t know what a match for something like this would look like. I would imagine—having seen my son’s 6th birthday party—that there are bodies slammed to the floor, objects hurled at heads, insults spit across rooms (along with some actual spit just to make it more realistic), and climbing of objects (that clearly state “DO NOT CLIMB”) simply to launch off said objects so as to more successfully slam more bodies to the floor. And repeat.
Again, having never seen a “blood sport” match, I’m assuming that these matches take place in environments that lend themselves to these physical displays—soft padded floors that wipe up easily—not in SCIENCE CENTERS in the mall.
This wasn’t the first birthday party we’ve had for our son, but it was the first at which I was genuinely appalled by his behavior. The science center was his pick—he’s that kind of kid…or so we thought. Having been an only child up until recently, he doesn’t do too much roughing and tumbling at home or with kids he’s been friends with for a while.
Having started kindergarten this year, he’s made a number of really good friends, which is great. But then to see him and his friends in action—tearing down the castle the girls made of giant blocks, throwing magnetic sand at each other, putting each other in headlocks between pizza and cake—was shocking. He went from Bill Nye the Science Guy to Hulk Hogan in a matter of minutes.
Now I know that some of you are thinking that I was being naive in assuming that my son wasn’t ever going to throw a kid to the ground and yell, “Your butt has poop in it,” and then run off laughing. I guess kids all across the country do that every day. But he really never has played that way, and he doesn’t play that way with every friend—just a few. So I can’t help but wonder if my son even LIKES to pummel and be pummeled by other kids or if he is just doing it to fit in.
I also can’t help but wonder where the line is—what is normal physical play and what is sociopath-in-the-making play. I’m not the type of mom who thinks her kid never does anything wrong, and I certainly don’t want the type of kid who blindly follows other kids, but I do wonder if some kids are better than others in terms of how my son interacts with them. Didn’t we all have kids who we weren’t allowed to play with growing up because they were “bad influences”?
My husband and I did speak to our son several times during the party. We also tried to get the staff of the science center more involved in terms of promptly initiating the “organized activities.” I didn’t want to ruin his party, and I of course want him to have fun and be himself, but the time and place was all wrong for rough stuff. Or so I thought.
None of the other boys’ parents really seemed to mind (the girls’ parents were frantically shepherding their kids to the nice quiet Exploring Color room). So then I started wondering where the line is for adults. We read so many articles about “helicopter parents” who inhibit the spirits of “free-range kids” who turn out to either be super successful due to the amount of “grit” in their characters or stressed-out 50-somethings with heart problems because they weren’t “emotionally attached” to their parents.
No matter what we do as parents there is someone who will tell you that it was wrong—that you just totally messed your kid up for life. I clearly thought the birthday party had turned into a scene from Mad Max, and the other parents clearly thought that the kids were having fun.
Because there aren’t really right answers (although I’m sure that there are some answers that are better than others), I decided to talk to a bunch of moms—of boys and girls—and see if I could get any ideas…the wisdom of the group.
A mom of two older boys gave me what I think was the best advice for me. She said that her older son loves to use his imagination with his friends, regardless of the size of the group. Her middle son, however, is super physical if he plays with more than one kid at a time. So her solution was to limit play time at the house for her middle son to just one friend at a time.
That worked for me because 1) it reiterated my belief that not all boys play in a physical way and 2) it made physicality okay if in an appropriate setting. It was like a Best-Of-the-Internet advice compilation in one real-world package.
So now I feel a little more confident in my direction, but I’m still interested in lines–behavioral boundaries for parents and for kids. I’m still unsure about the best way to encourage my son to be himself and have fun but to also not be a total lunatic. I’m still horribly insecure about each and every parenting choice I make because I know that there’s a counter-argument just a click (or disapproving stare) away.
I guess the only thing I feel good about—that I know no matter what the internet or the “village” we all supposedly should have says—is the love I have for my sometimes-pro wrestler and sometimes-science star of a son.
About the writer:
Joy Curzio is a mom of two sweet boys ages 5 years-old and 5 months-old. She’s a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia.