Don’t say “Is she OK?": Tips for tippy toddlers


I got this. No problem.

Boo took a little spill today at her gymnastics class. I could immediately tell that the fall — a mere few inches onto a soft pad — rated only a “moderate surprise” score on the toddler’s Wheel of Injury. (Other marks on that wheel are “didn’t even notice,” “hug me, for my ego has been bruised,” “I need a Band Aid,” and “call 911.”)

I was brushing her off when a well-meaning but overwrought mom misread Boo’s Wheel of Injury and started to interrogate me vociferously: “Is she OK? Is she hurt?” For a second, I didn’t know who she was talking about, but then it hit me that she misinterpreted a mild faceplant into a plunge of death.

Tip #1: Never try to read another parent’s Wheel of Injury.

Suddenly, along with propping Boobaby up, it became my job to reassure a stranger that Boo’s very life blood was not dripping from her. Even worse, like every toddler, my daughter responds to the stress around her. If you say “Are you hurt?” to an unhurt toddler, she will naturally think that she’s supposed  to be hurt, and usually start crying.

Tip #2: Never betray in your voice that you’re worried when a kid falls. They can tell.

Boo’s experienced histrionics before, so she took little notice but continued pulling herself back up to the equipment. Until, that is, more straw was piled on the camel in the form of our substitute teacher excoriating me for poor spotting skills.

Now, she was probably right to some extent. Boobaby was attempting a “bear walk” on her hands and feet along parallel bars — not the easiest thing for a 2-year old. I could have held on to her butt as she did it, I guess.

Before you convict me of negligence (like many wanted to when they saw this), I should point out that at Boo’s “trapeze class,” the toddler group is not really “taught” exactly — more like “watched” by a teenaged coach who, in this case, seemed a little bitter about not being picked to shepherd one of the more advanced classes. The “Tiny Tots” class is clearly an afterthought.

So when this teacher who’d never seen Boobaby in the gym before pointed out to me, “That takes a lot of upper body strength, you know!” I should have pointed out that Boo has done that very skill a score of times without incident. In fact, I’d say she fell because of all the distractions (like, for example, hysterical parents), rather than lack of bicep. Of course, the should-have-said is always the farthest thing from my mind, and I could only bluster out a lame reply: “Thanks, I’ve got it.”

And finally, I turned back to Boobaby, who was by that point thoroughly confused about why I was chatting with all these nervous grownups instead of getting her back on the bars.

Tip #3: Never assume you know a kid’s abilities and reactions better than her parent.

I’m going to be a terror on the school PTA — I just have no tolerance for bad teachers. Teachers who assume they are omniscient (and that parents are idiots) plain make my teeth itch.

I knew a graphic designer who was always saying “Tsk! Tsk!” (out loud!) whenever he saw anyone else’s designs, especially amateurs. (He told me once that giving secretaries desktop publishing software was like putting a loaded pistol into the hands of a child. He was a little intense.) When you’ve done something professionally — and I was, though an “informal science educator,” still a teacher — your expectations of others in the field rise beyond all expectations.

So, it seems, seeing as we’ve got two kids nearly prepared to undertake their formal education, it’s likely that I’ll be feeling foul about poor teaching for years to come.

I just hope I’m not too much of a jerk about it.

Tip #4: Don’t be a jerk about it, Doodaddy.

Well, at least I’m pretty good at the first three.