That pretty much summed up my first gut reaction a week ago today. Since that time, that feeling has morphed into frustration, anger, confusion, sadness, and heartbreak.
Every Sunday after church, for about the past year, Tygh and I have taken the kids to Gymboree. For those of you who don’t know, Gymboree is like a gym for little kids. We go to the “Family” class, where kids from birth to age 5 can run around, jump, climb, and just get some energy out. The parents are on the floor with the kids, and our kids love it.
For the longest time, it was just Brae and Sienna in the class. Recently, the class has started to fill up with several more parents and their kids, all who are much younger than Brae.
Last week, I received a phone call from the owner of our local Gymboree. He said another parent had complained that she felt her child was “unsafe” in the class with Brae.
I talked to the owner for an hour, and all I learned was that this parent wanted to remain anonymous, and she thought that Brae was too rough in the class, and that he “hits” other kids.
We have never seen Brae hit any other kids. Apart from his sister. And, “hit” is really not the right word for his interaction with his sister. It’s more like tackle. He loves his baby sister, and he loves to get rough n’ ready with her on the floor. Little Miss can hold her own, and while there may be an occasional cry if she gets tackled too hard, she generally growls at him, hits him, or bites him back. (I’m not saying any of her behavior is acceptable – just that she’s used to big brother’s antics and she fights back). And, growing up in a family of 5 kids, and 3 older brothers who used to pin my sister and me down and fart in our faces, this behavior is not completely surprising to me.
After I hung up the phone with the owner, I cried. It broke my heart that anyone would ever think that Brae was dangerous or unsafe to be around. And then, I got angry. How can a parent level such an accusation, and then refuse to give her name? Schools no longer allow parents to lodge complaints about another child without giving their name. It cuts down on false complaints. And, credibility evaporates if you aren’t willing to stand behind your claim.
But, we went to the gym the following Sunday, determined to not let this mother get the best of me. Brae and I had a “serious” talk before walking into class, and I told him that there were lots of little kids in the class, to keep his hands to himself, and to not play with anyone but his sister.
The class went fine. As suspected, the object of Brae’s affection is his sister.
And, then came the second call.
A few days after this class, the owner called me again, at work. He said that there was another complaint about Brae’s behavior this last week. The concern this time was that when another little boy wanted to play with Brae and approached him, Brae shouted at him to get away from him because he’s not his sister.
I was there when that incident occurred. Brae didn’t hit the boy, or even touch him. This little boy’s mom gently ushered her son away, and I told Brae that it was okay, this little boy just wanted to play with him. I also smiled, on the inside, because I know Brae was just trying to be obedient in response to our earlier conversation to not play with anyone but his sister (in response to the complaint the prior week).
This time, when talking to the owner, I respectfully gave him a piece of my mind. Things had gone too far. Gymboree is supposed to be a place where kids can learn, in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, how to interact with others and socialize. To be attacked anonymously while in that learning process seems unfair. Brae just turned 4, and there need to be reasonable expectations about what behavior is appropriate for a 4-year-old boy.
If Brae really was hitting children (again, we’ve never seen that), that’s a valid complaint. However, I expect that before I’m called at work about this complaint, there are details confirmed from the parent about what happened, when, where was I, etc., and I expect the owner to have personally substantiated the concern with a visit to the class, witnessing Brae’s behavior. I also expect to have the opportunity to talk to the other parent, in a respectful and adult manner, about her concerns.
As for this second complaint, I told him that it should have been nipped in the bud without ever feeling the need to call me. Sure, I wish Brae had been more polite and asked the little boy to please leave him be, but quite frankly, that level of social maturity is a feat many adults have not mastered.
Brae is learning to navigate social norms, and we are there to help and guide him, but I do not expect perfection from him. He’s going to say and do things that bother me and others, and I simply ask that grace be extended to us during that process.
But, I felt I owed it to these other parents, and to my son, to vet these concerns with his teachers at preschool. These teachers see Brae in and out every day, and they have a lot of experience with kids Brae’s age.
These teachers eased my mind, and provided salve to my hurting heart. They confirmed our suspicions that Brae is an active, physical, social boy. He loves to play with his friends, and yes, sometimes he gets a little carried away with his physicality. And, yes, sometimes he misbehaves and he goes to timeout. But, he is a normal 4-year-old boy.
To hear those words was like music to my ears.
It’s been a really hard week. But, for now, I’m