Last week, I met a friend and her 18 month old, Roxy, at a kid-friendly coffee shop/play place. There was a smattering of people quietly sitting with lap tops or drinking coffee. But for the most part, the place was dominated by parents and young children. There was a corral filled with books and toys, and kids happily toddled and screeched while moms and dads (mostly moms) debriefed over coffee.
It was not a quiet place. It was really a place for kids to run around with wild abandon, and for the speedier parents to chase them. Roxy is just such a toddler. She is just at that age where there is nothing, NOTHING, more fun than running away from her mom. I wrote about this stage once. There is no such thing as sitting and relaxing when you are the parent of such a toddler. Although, as we sat there, there were plenty of kids who seemed to run around unsupervised.
At eighteen months, Roxy is about as wiggly as you can get. And she was very social and interactive with other kids. She is not yet at that stage where she believes a toy in her possession belongs to her. She doesn’t yet have the “mine” mentality. There were older kids and younger kids at various stages of socialization, and she observed how other kids played.
However, she was intensely curious about much younger kids. A mom brought a baby boy in a car seat and set him on the floor. Roxy zipped over to get a look at him. And she fished around in his car seat and happily procured his toys and ran off with them. The baby didn’t care. But the baby had an older sister, probably three or four years old. She saw the theft of her brother’s toys and wailed, “Mom! She’s stealing our toys!” The little girl was furious. She was outraged. The mom was nonchalant and probably tired.
Roxy came to show us her new toys and we advised her to give them back. Roxy went back to the car seat and the older sister snatched them away. She was still super pissed. Roxy just grinned and ran off to the next amusement. She saw an unmanned stroller and tried to take it for a spin. But a little boy came over and defended it with his body, pushing Roxy away. He was too young to speak, but it was clearly his stroller. At one point, Roxy lost a shoe, but found someone else’s shoe and put it on.
She was too young to know the difference. All toys were just toys. All shoes were just shoes. All books were just books. She didn’t fuss when an older boy took away a toy she was playing with. She just observed him silently. Roxy hasn’t yet developed a sense of possession or injustice.
I was keeping an eye on Roxy, and all the kids in my field of vision, because it was fascinating and a little terrifying. I saw how tired some parents looked. This was honestly, a loud, unpleasant place. But parents happily camped out, watching their scamps run around. This was a way for families to get out of the house. These parents were thrilled to be there. I sat and talked to my friend amidst the din. And I contemplated my life.
Since I was keeping an eye on Roxy, I watched as a much older girl waded into the toy corral. She was probably four or five. I don’t really know. I’m not a good judge of kids’ ages. She was much taller, and most of those toys were too young for her. Roxy was sitting in the pile of toys and the older girl approached her. She had a doll in her hands. She offered the doll to Roxy, and I thought, how nice. That’s a nice little girl.
Except when Roxy reached for it, the girl pulled it away. She did it again. She offered Roxy the doll, and when Roxy reached for it, the older girl pulled it away. She did it three times. And Roxy, as I said, has no sense of injustice, she regarded the girl calmly. She didn’t fuss. But she fell for it each time, she reached for the doll. But the older girl kept doing it. And I thought, what a little shit! What an evil little shit!
This little girl was old enough to know exactly what she was doing. She had full comprehension of what’s fair, and what it meant to share a toy, or to take a toy away from someone else. But Roxy was younger. And this little girl was in her element, in the wilds of a childhood playland. Perhaps she was thinking she was not being observed. And so she was behaving in the way that was most natural to her. And she was simply taunting a younger child.
I guess I have to come to terms with my own naiveté, because I was stunned, watching this. I was horrified. And I was whipped into a froth from my own sense of injustice. It wasn’t simply not sharing a toy, because you’d expect that. No kid wants to share toys. Adults don’t want to share toys either. It’s a human condition that we control with the thinnest veneer of socially enforced civilization.
This was beyond not sharing. It was taunting. It was manipulative. It was picking on someone smaller than her. For what? For what purpose? Was it entertainment? Did she want to see if she could make Roxy cry? Was it grappling for hierarchy? Is this what we do to each other if we think no one is looking? Is this our nature?
My friend saw it too and jumped up. “You should give her the doll if you are offering to share,” she said to the little girl. The girl kept the doll. “Little girls are mean,” observed my friend. Indeed. I saw her teasing Roxy with the doll again later. I was just relived that Roxy was too young to understand what a mean little bitch that girl was.
Seriously, I’m going to need to go back to school and study goddamned child psychology. And hope that I don’t give birth to evil little shits.