I Like Crying Children

I was at a nursery school event some months ago, just hanging out by the climbing dome, when a small girl hit her head on a bar and started to wail.

The girl’s mom wasn’t immediately available — this is an enclosed and locked play yard, so we often work under “village rules.” So, being the closest familiar parent, I scooped her up, gave her a squeeze, and comforted her the requisite 90 seconds until she felt better and ran off laughing to find another bar to bash into, or something else suitably dangerous. What is it about 3-year olds and head trauma?

The entire time I was helping my little friend, a trio of other moms — also not belonging to this girl –  was circling us, trying to pounce with their own words of comfort, waiting to violate the very first rule of consolation:

ONE ADULT AT A TIME

Nothing is less likely to help a freaked-out kid than an entire tribe of people “trying to help.” So while I would have handed off the girl to her own mom or dad, I wasn’t about to expose her to the stifling clucking of three random moms who clearly felt I wasn’t up to the job.

When a child is crying, here’s the list of who’s best at helping, to my mind:

  1. The child’s parent.
  2. Another familiar adult the child likes and who knows how to handle an upset child.

Whether mommy or daddy is better for this particular task largely depends on the individual family, but I suppose in most families, comforting is largely mom’s job. I can live with that.

I’ve noticed, though, that many moms’ instincts run a little counter to mine. To them, if a child is crying, here’s the list of who would be the most comfort:

  1. The child’s mom.
  2. Another mom the child knows.
  3. Some other random woman the child doesn’t know.
  4. If absolutely no women are available, then the child’s dad will do, but certainly not some other dad the kid knows. And someone better run for mom, quick-like.

Of course, kids frequently pick their own comfort person, and for reasons they keep to themselves.

Just last week, we had a newish friend ride in our car to a distant field trip her parents couldn’t make. By the end of the excursion, she was overtired and weepy, and to my surprise, she chose me as her consoler over some grownups she certainly knows better. Probably she just saw me as the quickest route to her car seat and a much-needed nap, but whatever the reason, and on that day at least, she gravitated toward me, and I’d like to think I did as adequate a job of consolation as anyone else could have. (What she mostly really needed was that nap, anyway.)

In the end, here’s the important thing: men aren’t immune to the instinct that imbues a child’s cry with an unmatched sense of urgency. And I, at least, am rewarded with an unequalled sense of warmth if I can soothe that cry when a parent’s not around to do so.