McDonald's, Saturday morning, around 10.
As promised, I took the Reds to PlayLand after gymnastics. They were looking forward to running off more energy and I was looking forward to them running off more energy and an extra large coffee, not necessarily in that order.
I loved it. Loved sitting in a warm patch of sunlight, leafing through the paper I'd already read online that morning, listening to the boys shrieking with laughter and calling to one another that they'd come to "save the day!" Loved that they were free to wander back to the table to gobble up another pancake and swill it down with orange juice before tearing up the indoor structure once again.
One of Matthew's schoolmates appeared, much to Matthew's surprise and delight. Peyton is a year older than Matthew, about a mile taller and had some very definite ideas about how the game of Chase was to be played. I sat quietly for a long time, waiting to see how Matthew would navigate around his friend's will, knowing that Luke would follow his lead and knowing too, that I would be watching.
I was proud to see that he was able to include his brother in their play, even if he did leave Luke to climb up the largest step unaided - one of only a handful of times that Matthew hasn't hovered close by, waiting to hoist Luke onto his belly and pat him on the back, saying, "Good job, Lukey!"
Soon, another boy entered the fray. New boy Malcom was the same height as Matthew, though a year younger and needed some help on the steepest climb. His Mum gamely climbed up, eager and encouraging. (I, meanwhile, offered up a silent prayer of thanks that Luke had Matthew to help him and that I could stay in my warm spot, sipping coffee and trying not to look smug about it.)
Malcom approached the boys, asking if he too, could play. Matthew froze mid-scurry and shifted his gaze to Peyton, seeking guidance. In a stunning, silent display of power, five-year-old Peyton inclined his head and offered only a slight frown.
That left Matthew to stutter through an apologetic explanation, "Not right now, ok? Peyton's in my class and we're playing a special game," while I blew out the breath I hadn't known I was holding and squared my shoulders. A "teachable moment" had arrived and for once, I'd recognized it straight away instead of hours later - too late - the way I normally do. Eager to pounce on said moment, I pushed back my chair and stood.
But before I could utter one word or beckon Matthew down, Malcom's Mum began to bellow, "Not right, now? Oh, well, that's fiiine. We'll play together, Malcom, since these boys don't want to play with you. That's fine. We'll have more fun anyways, you and me. We'll have lots and lots of fun together if those boys don't want to play..."
And on and on and on she went, sliding into a high and nasty sing-songy voice that made me want to cringe and punch her in the mouth at the same time. I gritted my teeth and called Matthew, sternly so he knew I meant business and so that Malcom's Mum would shut the hell up.
Down he tumbled, breathless and confused. One look at my face had him looking downcast, which pretty much broke my heart but I pushed on, determined to teach him the value of...I'd forgotten what exactly, but knew it had something to do with being kind and nice and playing with others.
So, I asked him how he'd feel if he'd approached some boys and they didn't want to play with him. He blinked at me before murmuring that he'd be sad. I asked him to imagine if that's how Malcom felt when he was told that Matthew and Peyton didn't want to play with him? Matthew countered with, "But his Mummy's playing with him, Mummy. He's not by himself."
That stopped me long enough for Peyton to chime in with this gem: "He doesn't have to play with that boy if he doesn't want to."
I wheeled on an unsuspecting Peyton, speaking as icily as I could through the smoke that I'm SURE was steaming out of my ears, "Peyton, that may be the rule in your family, but in our family, we try to include everyone in our games, ok?"
With that, I wordlessly motioned Matthew back onto the playground and though he dutifully went, he looked decidedly unhappy about it. I heard him mumble to Malcom that he'd like to play, if Malcom still wanted to, which of course, Malcom did.
And so they did - all four of them, until Peyton wanted to play Spiderman with Matthew alone and voiced his preference out loud. Instantly, Malcom's mother started up again, "Oh, those boys are done playing with you, Malcom. That's fiiinnneee, if they don't want you anymoooorreee. I'll play with you, Malcom, we'll have so much fun, just you and me."
(Voice in my head: ShutupshutupshutupOhdearLordpleasejustshutthehellupalready!)
No longer relaxed or hearing happy shrieks of laughter from my children, I called the two-minute warning and began gathering our things, willing myself to unclench my jaw, painfully aware that the "teachable moment" had passed and that I'd bungled it completely.
All the way home, I went over and over the scene in my mind. For days, I've been worrying at it, like a dog with a bone. Have since realized, to my chagrin, that Saturday's "teachable moment" was not meant for Matthew.
Instead, the lesson was mine.
I must learn to separate my own need to please from Matthew's need to find his own way. If Matthew chooses not to play with another child, then so be it. If that choice is a direct result of another child's influence, then so be it. This is Matthew's journey, not another chance for his Mama to get it right.
Thusly humbled, I remain a work in progress and as always, grateful to my son for teaching me. Again.
Though if I were to "accidentally" tread on Malcom's Mum's heel, should I see her again, in the places where children play...it may not be a teachable sort of moment, but it would be an entirely satisfying one.