Posts tagged ‘sharing’

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

I think it’s time for a town meeting.

We’ve been going to the park a lot lately because our neighborhood one has gotten a recent makeover. It wasn’t poplar before, a basic slide, some swings, but now there are things that spin, climbers shaped like animals, a towering spider’s web contraption, and the crowd has grown. At any given hour there are tons of kids, from toddlers to teens, and of course parents.

The people watcher in me loves it. My kids nearly plunge to their death several times a day because my eyes are riveted to the various outfits and social exchanges. My nose loves it too. As the fall sun warms the afternoon the wood chips, four feet deep under our feet, let out a sweet hamstery scent.

But the part I want to talk about is park etiquette and how it results in torture for us all. Yesterday we brought our metal water bottle, and a lunch box. We’ve fashioned a long ribbon to the water bottle to make it over-the-arm slingable and for some reason it’s become the main attraction for the twelve months and under set. They are like crows, drawn to shiny treasure, and they want nothing more than to haul that thing around, like a baby doll or a puppy. But park manners dictate that any time a grubby hand reaches for the water bottle or the also irresistible polka-dot lunch box, a mother follows closely behind to say: Ah, ah, ah. That’s not yours. Put that back.

And the toddler returns, again and again. Moms become frustrated, kids become inconsolable. It is sad.

Twice I went over yesterday to say that it was perfectly fine with us if the water bottle became a play thing and that we would just locate it anew each time we wanted a drink. But the thing is, in that situation, I was the weird one, the one acting out of turn, breaking the rules of park etiquette.

But the rules are ridiculous! I hate them.

Parents spend their entire time at the park saying: Nooo! That’s not yours. That’s hers. Yours is over here. Here’s yours. And the kid spends their entire time at the park being shunted away from their primary interest for no apparently logical reason. And the galling part is that when they do finally clutch the toy or sippy cup that is supposedly theirs, if another child approaches and reaches for that item, parents have the unbelievable nerve to say: Let him have it. You have to share! SHARE.

This kind of thing drives me bonkers.

Are you kidding me? Do we really want to emphasize “yours” and “mine” that strongly? I don’t mean to get too metaphysical or anything , but if you think about it nothing is really “ours”, “yours” or “mine”. We say: my chair, when we happen to sit down for a minute. We say: my parking spot, even though we know very well that it isn’t. We say it all the time when really everything is so transient, so temporary, and so quickly passed on when it isn’t of use anymore. And maybe as adults we can all understand that when we say “mine” we are really indicating that we are using it for the moment, that we don’t really own that parking spot or that chair, but kids are literal. When we tell them something is theirs, they believe us. At least until we yank it away from them and give it to someone else in the name of sharing. Then they just think we are mean, or confusing, or both.

(Later we wonder why our society is so greedy. Why everyone seems to only care about themselves. Why everyone hoards more than they need. Why they eat more than their bodies want. Why the more everyone gets, the more they want, and the less they share.)

So hear ye, hear ye.

My official proposals for the revision of park etiquette are:

1. Let’s switch to a different style of language.

That’s the swing that little girl is using right now, do you want to swing on this one? The snacks we brought are over here, those are the snacks that little boy is eating. No more “yours”, “his”, “not yours” etc.

2. Bring to the park only the objects you are willing to share communally.

Explain to your children that if they bring something, others may want to pick it up, play with it, and everyone has decided that that’s alright.

3. Do not punish your children on behalf of others.

I know this sounds weird but I hate it when a child picks up something that we brought and the mother asks the child to put it back and the child doesn’t and then the mother yanks his arm and makes him put it back and makes him cry and then makes him apologize to me, and the kid looks at me like I did this to him. Let’s first find out if picking up an object is okay with the owner, or not. If not, let’s take our time explaining the situation to our child, perhaps in private, always gently and informatively. And then if we feel an apology is necessary let’s make that apology ourselves.

4. Tell the truth and believe each other.

If I say: It’s fine if your daughter drags the water bottle we brought around the park, believe me. If it isn’t okay with me then the responsibility lies in my hands to say so: Well we keep losing track of those dang bottles and forgetting them so I would really prefer to leave it in the stroller.

5. Let’s stop worrying about politeness.

We all know that we are all good people. We all know that nobody is purposely intending to offend. Let’s just let the kids play, pick stuff up, put it back, smile at each other in a Don’t they always love other kids’ sippy cups more than their own? kind of way, and relax.


In any case, I won’t think you are rude, even if your child picks up “my” sweater and leaves it on the slide. But I will think you’re an asshole if you mistreat her for playing with it.

More on “mine“, manners, social awkwardness.

Nathan’s take on sharing, here.


October 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm 15 comments


Today I found myself incredibly, and surprisingly, crabby. It was curious because I don’t have any demons riding on my shoulder these days, the sky is blue, the sun is out, the birds are chirping, but come five o’clock this evening my face was all scrunched, my lips were pursed, everything about me was prickly, and then I realized: TRANSITION. I don’t like it.

Wednesdays are the days that Xi comes back to us from her other house. In the space of a couple minutes the family dynamic gets shoved around and reshuffled, and even though it happens every week, I’m never prepared. From Saturday until today we have been a three person family, which, even just because it is a lower number of people, is pretty easy. One kid, with just one set of interests, and one bedtime, and only one finicky belly to feed.

On Wednesdays we pick up Xi and smother her in love. Echo sits in her lap and suddenly has a readily available playmate. A sister has returned. It’s beautiful. But after that moment things are a bit herky jerky for me. Until we transition to being a four person family, I fight against making two separate kid meals in addition to the main meal, and refereeing disputes. I fight against plain everyday parenting things just because it is different from how we were doing it yesterday.

Once I’ve made the transition, having Xi here feels normal, feels right. But the in between time, the transitional afternoon, is tough. And, just when I have adjusted, Bella will arrive on a Friday and leave on Sunday, which means two more transitions to round out the week. It’s enough to make my head spin.

This is not what people think about when they are contemplating leaving the mother or father of their children, or, for that matter, when they are considering having sex with someone who they would never want as a parent to their future children. They do not imagine sixteen plus years of chopped up weeks. If they could possibly imagine what that might be like, maybe they wouldn’t be as interested in splitting up, or would never have gotten involved in the first place. Of course there are many, many worthwhile reasons to break up, but at this point I know I’d rather chain myself to Nathan’s leg than leave him. I’d rather participate in twenty-five years of couple’s counseling than watch Echo go back and forth, or negotiate holidays, birthdays, and well, virtually everything.

I know from experience just how tricky it can be. Not only from loving these girls and transitioning back and forth each week, but also from being a grown child of separated parents. The back and forth doesn’t end when the kids grow up. I am still negotiating how my time is spent with my family. Holidays are carefully divided, thought is pored into each visit, and still there are tears. Every time.

Luckily I am in love with Nathan and don’t even toy with the idea of being apart. In fact I feel insanely fortunate in that regard. And there is nothing to be done about having to share these fantastic girls. That is the way it is. I feel grateful for the time we have with them, and hopefully, I keep my own displeasure with transition to myself enough to help them with their transition. To be fair, I at least get to stay in the same house while I struggle with uncertainty and change. I’m sure if it didn’t mean choosing between one parent and another, the girls would rather stay in one home as well.

I would wager that transition is hard for everyone, no matter what the cause. In our world transition means we get to welcome back two phenomenal human beings into the fold, but I still struggle. Actually if I’m going to be honest, after reading this over again, I realize that I struggle on the other end as well. When the girls go to their other homes, and Echo is left an only child with only mama and papa to interact with, I wrestle with that transition as well. Seems no matter what I am transitioning from or toward my default mode is crabby.

Perhaps this means I have “work” to do in this area. To go with the flow more. To “be here now” more. Or some other such thing like that, and I’m sure I’ll give it some thought, but for now, tonight,  I think I will simply be crabby and see what follows from there.

March 24, 2010 at 8:36 pm 1 comment

we feel… less panic


WARNING. The following practice is not common in our culture.

At our house all of the toys, space, books, and blankets are shared. This is not to say that each child must share their toys, space etc. with the others, it means that nothing is theirs, it is all for everybody. No one need own something in order to use it.

(There are three exceptions but I will address that in a minute).

This means that when one girl opens birthday presents, the other two girls are eager to see what they have all received. This means that when a friend visits, there is less panic when the child starts to play with the toys, because they are for everybody. This means there is no need for guarding one’s possessions, worrying about the whereabouts of a stuffed animal, or yearning to play with something they did not receive themselves.

This also means that at no point do we need to enforce sharing. Because all the toys are for all the kids, one can just wait until that particular object is available.  And when it is time to pass a toy, bike, or item of clothing on to another family there isn’t much resistance, for there never was a fierce clinging to begin with.

We wondered how this would fly when we first introduced the idea, but what we noticed immediately was overwhelming relaxation. They could contentedly play with an object at hand without concern for the politics often associated with it.

This idea is not supported in our culture and even we sometimes stumble around with the proper wording. The grammar necessary to say something other than “mine” is a bit cumbersome. Instead we say:

The hat I wear. The doll I got from Grammie. The chair I am using. The bike I ride. The shoes I wear. The toothbrush I use. The game I was playing yesterday etc. etc.

In order to address their interest in having personal space, and control, together we recognized some exceptions:

Their body is theirs. They decide if it is hungry, thirsty, sleepy, if they want it to be touched and how.

Their beds. They decide how the covers will be, wether or not they want company, or wether or not it is a play zone.

Their special box. A small jewelry box that fits small crystals, pendants, keepsakes etc. It is closed and not opened without permission.

For anything else contentious we use empathy. If Xi receives a birthday present and isn’t ready for Bella to immediately take all the little pieces apart, we talk to Bella and explain the situation. Bella, hopefully, stops disassembling the toy not because it belongs to Xi but because she can imagine what that concern might feel like. If Bella is having strong feelings about Xi playing with Ellie the elephant, we help Xi understand that Ellie is a special sleep guardian for Bella and it’s important for her to have Ellie nearby when it’s time for bed. The girl’s concerns and interests are still valued.

Everything made available to everybody. It’s kind of a radical idea, but we really like it.

October 14, 2009 at 6:00 am 5 comments

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