I was watching my two kids play at an indoor playground when my daughter rushed up to me.
“Mum, that girl in the yellow t-shirt just hit me in the head!”
I looked around. There were a few other mothers nearby, but none of them reacted to what my daughter had yelled out. It didn’t seem like the other girl’s mother was there.
“Maybe it was just an accident?” I suggested.
My daughter didn’t look too badly hurt. She eventually went back to play.
A few minutes later she came rushing up to me again.
“Mum, that girl in the yellow t-shirt just hit me in the head again!”
This time my daughter had a big red mark on her forehead. I took a look at the girl who had hit her. She was solidly built.
“Excuse me,” I said loudly to the other mothers. “Is anyone here the mother of the girl in the yellow t-shirt?”
One of the women sighed, in a “here we go again” way.
“She’s over there,” she said, pointing to a group of women chatting some distance away.
I approached the mother of the girl in the yellow t-shirt, and informed her, politely, that her daughter had hit my daughter, twice.
“Oh,” she said, not sounding shocked or questioning my accusation. “I’ll get her to say sorry.”
Indoor playgrounds. Fun till someone gets hit in the head. Photo via iStock.
I felt relieved. I didn't want a scene. I just wanted an apology for my daughter, to help put things right again in her world. I wanted her to understand that what had just happened was not normal, not acceptable. I didn't want her to think that anytime she went to a playground, someone might walk up to her, hit her and walk off again. Twice.
Despite her mother's encouragement, the girl in the yellow t-shirt didn't apologise.
"Say sorry!" my daughter pleaded, getting upset.
"Well, if you'd just back off, she might do it!" the other woman snapped at my daughter. Then she turned to me and announced, in a voice to end all arguments, "My daughter is autistic."
"Well, so is my daughter," I replied, "and she doesn't like being hit in the head, either."
Yeah, that's right. My daughter is autistic. And that's why I was watching her play in the playground. Because she needs to be watched. Because I watch her, like a hawk, whenever we are out.
My daughter doesn't hit other kids. But she does put herself in danger. She doesn't seem to have the same kind of boundaries as other children her age. She could quite easily run off down the street, without a second thought, because she's interested in a garbage truck. She might be so fascinated by some pebbles that she would sit in the middle of a bicycle path, oblivious to anyone approaching.
When other mums from the school gather at the playground with their kids, they sit around chatting. I'm the mum hovering on the edge of the group, trying to keep track of the conversation, but really focusing on my daughter. If I can't see her, I have to go and find her, because I don't know what she might be doing.
I don't know what they think of me. Probably that I'm overprotective and neurotic.
Even some members of my own family used to mock me for not being able to relax at the park - before my daughter was diagnosed, that is. But I always felt she needed to be watched closely.
It is hard. It is stressful. It is lonely. But that's just the way it is.
It's tough to be on alert all the time at the playground, but it's your duty. Photo via iStock.
If you have a child who is a danger to themselves or other children at the playground, whether they are a two-year-old who bites or a four-year-old who bolts or a six-year-old who hits, you watch them like a hawk. You owe it to your child, and you owe it to other people's children.
If you see the chance to jump in and prevent something bad happening, you do. If your child hits another child, you get them to apologise. If your child is not capable of apologising, you do it yourself: "I'm sorry my daughter hit you. It was wrong, but she's still learning that she's not supposed to hit other people. I hope you're okay."
That's why I was so angry at this other mother. Because I want to be the kind of mum who can catch up with other mums at the playground, have a chat, have a laugh, and not have to worry about what my kids are doing. But I can't do that.
My daughter walked away with a sore head and no apology.
Have you had run-ins with other parents over their children's behaviour at playgrounds?