My two and a half year old twin boys are good at a lot of things. They can climb the tallest walls at the playground. Slide down the biggest slides. They can use real cups and eat chili without making (too big of) a mess. They can buckle their own booster seats and clear their places after meals. They take three hour naps and sleep twelve hours at night. They take turns and share (most of the time), and they say please, thank you, and you’re welcome. They show compassion for others; they are helpful. They give excellent hugs and kisses, high fives and fist bumps. My boys are good at a lot of things. But they are not good at sitting quietly.
Recently, a Facebook friend posted about attending a story time with her well behaved child. She was frustrated by the number of kids who were not doing what they were supposed to. I know exactly what she is talking about, and it broke my heart. Because those are my kids.
We weren’t at that particular story time, but we’ve been to plenty of others. And while the other children in attendance sat quietly with their parents, my boys ran full speed around the room. While the other kids sang along to the welcome song, mine tried to open doors that were meant to stay closed. During the first story, while the other kids told the librarian what cows say, mine climbed on chairs and giggled uproariously. During ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, while the well behaved children sang along, mine let out unbridled war cries and took turns tackling each other. My twins touched the felt board, over and over and over again, even though they were asked politely not to.
The boys were having a fabulous time, but I was in hell. I grabbed at little wrists as they flew by in an attempt to keep little bodies from ricocheting around the room. I stood in front of doors, my hands guarding the handles. I scooped little boys down off of chairs and tried to corral them in my lap repeatedly. I sang along animatedly, hoping to get the boys interested in the activities. I constantly worried whether it would be more distracting to go to the front and retrieve the boys from the felt board or to sit in the back and wait for them to get tired of it on their own. On those rare occasions that we made it until the end of story time, I tossed hurried apologies over my shoulder to the librarian before darting after whichever boy had already escaped into the lobby.
More often than not, I left halfway through story time in tears, hauling sixty-five pounds of screaming, writhing toddlers evenly distributed under my arms. But for a while, I kept going back anyway.
Because I desperately want my boys to enjoy story time. To be able to attend a music class. I want them to learn to sit quietly and to become active listeners. I thought the best way for that to happen was to keep practicing. To keep attending story times and music classes until we had more good minutes than bad.
There were always one or two exceptionally kind parents at story time. Fathers who told me that their sons were rowdy and loud and couldn’t sit still, just like mine, and that they can do all that and more now that they are in kindergarten. Mothers who assured me that it was okay, that it would get better. That we were all parents and everybody understood what it was like.
We were all parents, but I’m not convinced everybody understood what it was like. Because I’ve been on the other side, the side with ‘well-behaved’ children, and I had no idea. My girls sat through story times like champs and received nothing but praise in pre-school. I could easily take them to the park by myself without worrying how I’d round them up and get them into the car when it was time to leave.
I may have thought the same things detailed on the Facebook post: that those poorly behaved children needed parents to set proper limits and insist on appropriate story time conduct so that it wasn’t ‘ruined’ for everyone else. I may have wished those rowdy and loud children would stop going to the same story time as me, or stop going completely. I may have thought those things, but I hope I didn’t.
Parents of well-behaved children, please be tolerant. Please be kind. Please understand that the frustration you feel when you see kids acting out is nothing compared to the frustration their parents feel. Because parenting is never easy. It’s joyful, amusing, messy, daunting and gratifying, but never easy. Parenting is hard in all kinds of ways, and we each have our own struggles and successes.
To the parents of well-behaved children: the ones whose kids who sit and speak quietly, who follow the rules and happily hold your hand when you are in a parking lot, I commend you. Without your children leading quietly by example, pre-schools, story times and grocery stores would be absolute chaos. Children’s Librarians would quit and the cost of day care would triple. Your children will become the steady force that gently pushes society into order and helps the world change for the better.
And to the parents of the rabble-rousers, the rapscallions, the imps. To the parents whose kids play hard, love hard, live hard, and live loud, all while in continuous motion, I commend you too. Your children teach patience and add color to everything they touch (unfortunately sometimes literally). Your children will become the interminable force that rocks society to its core and helps the world change for the better.
To all the parents: hang in there. As a wise woman once told me, “I can’t guarantee it will get easier, but I can guarantee it will get different.”