I am really feeling like a fish out of water here. Sometimes things happen and it’s so difficult to know how to respond because the cultural context is just completely unfamiliar. It seems so basic and obvious to me, but why am I completely out of sync with whatever is going on? I have no idea how to handle certain situations and with kids, situations seem to come up all the time.
What on Earth am I ranting about? Let me tell you.
I was invited by Saige’s nursery teacher to participate in a parents’ handicrafts group. We can bring our children if we want and we spend our time making toys for our kids and for the class. Now handicrafts are not really my thing. They are big in Waldorf education but I have managed to get by without doing them in the past. I am probably the only parent at a Waldorf school who doesn’t know how to knit.
In any case, I was a little reluctant to spend my time making toys but I figured it’s for a good cause, I can meet other parents in Saige’s class, and the kids, especially Jade, really love handicrafts so they can help out. Plus everything is a cultural experience, right? Unfortunately, yes and not always for the better.
So we got there, the girls and I and our nanny (who was “off the clock” but wanted to learn how to make a knit bunny) and her daughter. We were first to arrive and the teacher quickly taught us how to knit. (I finally learned to knit!!!!) The older girls were into it and Saige, our 21 month old, was playing peacefully with her school toys, when another mom arrived with her two year old son.
This kid is a brute! He kicks, he pushes, he bites! Now I don’t know, maybe this may be normal behavior for a recently turned two year old boy, but what wasn’t normal to me is that his mother pretty much did nothing as he proceed to continuously follow Saige around, hitting her, pushing her, taking away her toys.
Saige is so good natured that she cried and then tried to get away from him but he was in hot pursuit. I intervened. The teacher intervened. Our nanny intervened. We basically spent about an hour and a half taking turns following the kids around just to keep this little boy from hurting Saige. Saige clearly wanted nothing to do with him but he wouldn’t let up. And his mother just sat there, knitting, occasionally saying, “Emilio, stop that. Why are you doing that?” Her strategy clearly wasn’t working. I managed to grab Saige a split second before Emilio would have rammed his wooden chair into her to knock her off the porch.
What made so angry though was not that this woman could not control her child (many a two year old is difficult to control) but that she didn’t even try. She just sat there, knitting, having a good old time while the rest of us abandoned our projects to keep her son away from Saige. I just didn’t get it! In my nearly ten years as a parent, I have never faced a situation like this. I am used to parents minding their own children. In my world, it’s her responsibility to make sure her kid behaves in a way that doesn’t hurt others and if he can’t, she shouldn’t bring him.
Clearly my world is not “the” world because things seem to be done differently here. I talked to the teacher about it before I left, making it clear that I am not inclined to come back to the group unless the other mom plays interference. Why would I? It’s not very enjoyable to watch my child cry every two minutes and not be able to sit down long enough to do the handicraft, the actual reason I am there.
The teacher was sympathetic, explaining to me how she has been working with the little boy to help him become less aggressive in social situations. “He used to bite all the time. Now he only bites once per day,” she told me. But I had the feeling that she didn’t really get why I was so upset that the other mom did nothing. The concept of personal responsibility for oneself and one’s children just doesn’t translate here. When I offered to talk to the other mom, the teacher quickly said that she would do it herself. Probably trying to avoid a scene because from what I understand, parents here do not take kindly to any negative feedback about their child or their parenting skills.
Our nanny, who spent the most time playing interference, didn’t seem to fully understand why I was so upset either. She acted as if she did but I could tell that there was a huge disconnect in our thinking. What am I missing? How can they possibly think this is acceptable? I guess that’s why they call them cultural differences. I just don’t have the slightest idea where they are coming from. And one of the cultural differences is that people seem to avoid dealing with issues directly here, which makes it even harder to know what they are really thinking.
“Oh, that’s how it is here,” said my housekeeper. “Parents just don’t pay attention to their children. They let them do whatever.”
“The level of violence that’s acceptable here is just much higher,” said a good friend. “Nobody thinks it’s that big of a deal.”
Is it really that simple? I still feel like I am missing something.