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Mom Talk: My Son Beats Up Kids At The Park

Written by

Jamie Arrigo

Photography by Photograph courtesy of Annie Shak

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Jamie Arrigo shares her challenge of raising an aggressive son who beats kids up at the park. -JKM

Despite my best efforts to prepare myself for motherhood, my greatest challenge is one that none of my other mom friends warned me about. I knew breast feeding might be painful, I knew my body would change, I knew my hair would fall out around 4 months postpartum, and I knew I would get less sleep. The latter of those issues concerned me the most as I have never met a nap I didn’t like. To ensure a good sleeper with a calm disposition, I used the same technique that I used on my first baby, a Chihuahua named Onomatopoeia or Pia for short. The secret is to listen to reggae. This strategy turned a “yappy small dog” into a docile pup, and after my experience, I was confident that I could grow a mellow baby. For the first year and a half, it seemed like my theory worked. Wallace was a great sleeper, he was hitting all of his development marks and he didn’t cry until he started teething. Then around 16-months, he started getting aggressive. There were a few little incidents that were questionable but it was not until Wallace threw a fork like a ninja star and split a glass in half, that I started to pay closer attention. It’s worth mentioning that this occurred at a blogger brunch which is more of a photoshoot and this particular event was created to photograph the table scape. The same table scape that got wet from the glass that Wally so skillfully broke. Needless to say, that was the last invite we received for a blogger brunch. This incident was the beginning of a pattern that resulted in many sudden park evacuations, a few uncomfortable exchanges with parents, getting 86’d from the neighborhood childcare, getting 86’d from childcare at the gym, a few emotional breakdowns, a few too many glasses of wine, and tense conversations with my husband. A struggle that was not even on my radar, is now my biggest challenge—Wallace beats kids up.

Prior to this, and before I realized there was an issue, on a rainy day in November, I took Wallace to the local indoor playroom with his best friend. Wallace was being a normal-level of toddler pushy, but as time wore on, I watched him fixate on another child in the room. Then he started stalking the child, and I’ll admit it was simultaneously scary and impressive in equal measure. He was on the prowl like a cheetah and was hiding behind the bounce house, then carefully scaling the stairs, and moving just slow enough to prevent his prey from seeing him. When Wally finally attacked, I reacted quickly by separating the kids and telling Wally to be gentle. This strategy is what I have grasped from the best mothers I know, say gentle and show them the correct behavior. I followed my protocol, watched the child go to the other side of the room, and then I turned around to take a swig of my coffee. Within seconds of my coffee break, he had the exact same kid on the floor. If these were two adults, Wally would have gotten arrested, it was brutal. After I broke them up again, I started half-heartedly looking around for a parent, but then I made a dash for the door. I didn’t want to avoid an apology, but I was honestly at a loss for words. At that moment, there were conflicting emotions of worry, embarrassment, and shame. Then when I realized I was embarrassed of my child’s actions, I felt shame about feeling embarrassed. This brought me back to my childhood and how my mother relentlessly defended me, even when she knew I was wrong. If your own parents aren’t on your side, who is? These thoughts were circling in my head as I left the playground.

The next specific incident that I can recall was when Wallace attacked a kid at the gym which ultimately lead to a forced hiatus. Martha, the Kid’s Club employee, saw the pattern begin and started asking me questions about his behavior. She would ask how he was doing and if he was hitting and I would always answer honestly that I thought he had moved on. This is the same approach my mother told me she used when she started taking me to pre-school and they asked about me being potty-trained. She said at one point during an interview for a school, right after she gave them a confident yes, I just sat down and peed. The situation at LA Fitness in Pasadena is a little like that, I tell Martha everything is going well then like clockwork, I get a phone call telling me it’s time to go. We haven’t been back in months.

The final incident that forced me to register Wallace for preschool, happened while he was hanging out at the local childcare. During a dispute about who was going to ride the pushy car first, Wallace mauled a neighborhood veteran and left a mark on his face. Apparently, the day before, this kid was telling his mother that he didn’t want to go to daycare anymore because he was scared of Wallace. Coming from a household where I was told to stand up for the underdog, I couldn’t believe that my son was a bully. The women that runs this childcare is the most compassionate human on the planet and she talked me through it, offered advice, recommended some reading and gave me a long hug. She understood and said I wasn’t alone but unfortunately, she couldn’t risk the safety of the other children. Wally got the boot and I couldn’t blame her. I left her house with tears in my eyes that continued to fall as I loaded Wallace in the car and drove home. It was one of those uncontrollable cries that only come when you realize that you’re powerless and are forced to surrender. So I did, and I accepted that my visits to the park weren’t going to be like so many mothers that I know. It got to the point where I approached the playground like a person with a rescue dog at the dog park. I would warn everyone that he’s not great with kids and would keep a close eye. So far this is working for us.

Before I had my son, I judged parents by the way their kids behaved and I was positive that combative children were physically disciplined. Now I know that it doesn’t take an angry house to produce a hitter. In our case, it takes a child’s desire to be physically expressive, daily wrestling matches and a few Saturday mornings with vintage Batman cartoons. After Wallace started school, his behavior got better. He started using more words, which limits his frustration, and I think there might be a bigger kid at school that won’t allow Wallace to push him around. Motherhood is a wild ride and you can try your hardest to be prepared, but at the end of the day, your child in their own person regardless of how many reggae records you own. If you happen to see a wild child at your park, take a look at their parent and send them calming smile and know, that just like you and me, they are doing their best.

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