I Made Buddy Boy Cry Today

by doodaddy on September 29, 2007

One of the many things I’ve had to resign myself to is that as an active, involved parent I’ll occasionally screw up so badly that a child cries.

Buddy Boy had been really sick, and although he was feeling physically fine when we saw him the other day at the playground, his emotional state was still very fragile. Which made it a bad idea for me to pick him up under the arms to lift him up a retaining wall where Boobaby was playing on the hill.

Now, this is the sort of thing I do all the time with Buddy Boy — he knows me well and we wrestle and engage in a lot of physical play. But, supersensitive after the illness, being picked up without warning was shocking enough to send him into a crying jag. The abundance of stimuli at the playground after such a long and quiet convalescence had knocked him off balance, and my sudden action sent him over the edge.

Park Buddy and I cuddled and calmed him for a while, and in the end, he was laughing and enjoying the playground day as much as anyone. But for that moment, I felt that awful feeling of having misused (even if accidentally) the inherent power of adulthood over a powerless child I love very much.

The same thing happened to me once as a teacher. I was a naturalist, as I’ve described ad nauseam, and one of my favorite activities was the night hike, during which I would ask the kids to walk, completely alone, for the space of about four or five minutes. (It was completely safe; click to read the details here, if you’re interested.)

A solo night hike was quite the teaching challenge. Some kids were so bursting with excitement that I’d be hard pressed to inspire a fitting sense of quietude. Others of my mostly inner-city bunch were just scared shitless by the idea of walking alone in the dark.

For the latter, I was generous: I gave the kids a shame-free option to simply bail on the activity and walk with a teacher. Still, I told a kick-ass introductory story, in my best sotto night hike voice, about the courage of a little Native American boy “who was just about your age when he had to walk all alone at night…”. Thus reassured, most kids hiked up their guts and did the solo walk, and nearly all of them later described it as their favorite activity of the week.

The hike was so popular and empowering, in fact, that as the season wore on I cajoled more and more of the kids to attempt it, using my teacherly power to convince without the teacherly responsibility to ease difficult choices. Finally, I pushed some third graders a little far, and two of them wound up frightened and in tears, and had to be consoled by teachers for the entire walk back.

Needless to say, on future outings, I didn’t pressure anyone, and the rest of the year was tear-free.

As adults of consequence, parents, teachers, and other caregivers have enormous influence on the psyche of the children in our charge — more than many of us realize, I think. As they grow older, kids become less physically dependent on us: they start to dress and clean and feed themselves, and pretty soon they’re getting around entirely on their own, and we get the feeling they’re independent in all ways.

I sometimes forget how emotionally dependent even the most capable child is… I forget, that is, until I miscalculate a tease, or accidentally cross a psychological boundary that I didn’t know was there, and a child ends up distraught and in tears.

And, when I’ve made a child cry, it’s pointless to reassure me that “my heart was in the right place” or that “I couldn’t have known.” It doesn’t matter what you say: I feel as horrible, as ashamed, as detestable as I ever have, or probably ever could.

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tagged as in crying,failure,playground,teaching ·

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dawn September 30, 2007 at 6:20 am

I remember the first kid I made cry when I was teaching. He was a PITA and had just knocked some other kid’s head into the wall. I turned around and laid into him. He burst into tears, and I still remember how horrible I felt. That was 10 years ago.


Manda October 1, 2007 at 3:16 am

I feel horriable when I make my own children cry whatever the situation. Tears make my heart melt. Suppose I’m a softie.


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