When Matthew was born, I still dealing with the loss of Catherine, our first child, and my mother had just died, and just before that, my dog had died as well. It was a rough spell for sure. Plus, taking care of a newborn is no easy task, even under the best of circumstances. Matthew had dropped a bit of weight right after he was born, and we had to go to the pediatrician's office for weekly weigh-ins to make sure he was packing it back on; dealing with the staff's and other parents' "Is he your first?" questions was more than I could take. But I took it, because, really, what choice did I have? Most people don't have to decide how to answer questions like that, and I'm glad for it. All the same, it still sucked for me. So, I opted not to go out much — with or without Matthew — for a very long time because I just felt so freakish. I couldn't be casual. I didn't want to let anyone in. Matty was a super-fussy baby, to boot. He screamed pretty much constantly for a good six months.
After that, I suppose I was in a bit of a rut/routine with him, and even though he was screaming a lot less, he was still difficult about clothing and riding in the car, and given my overall state, I was okay with that. Needless to say, I didn't join any mommy groups.
It's only been in the last 6 months or so I've felt better enough to get out more frequently; I've felt better about Matty's overall temperament, too. I try to get him to a playground or the playroom at a fast food joint a few times a week. I'll be honest: he still screams a lot, but it's different now, as an almost 3-year-old. He squeals with delight and he roars and he laughs, and it just warms my heart to see him so happy, even though he is so very loud. I trust him, though: he's friendly and outgoing and has never been aggressive with another kid, at least not in any typical way. He does have a tendency to roar at and around other kids, and I probably have not done a great job at discouraging it because, well, I think it's hilarious. When he does it, his eyes are twinkling and he's smiling profusely, and every kid he's roared at — until today — understood Matthew's intent, and they enjoy the playground while roaring and yelling and laughing and chasing one another.
Today, we went to the Burger King on Quakerbridge Road, and a family with three kids was in the playroom, and in typical fashion, Matty roared, the kids understood, and they ran around squealing and laughing. The family eventually left, and another came in. The adult was a man, probably in his 60s, and for all I know, he could have been the father, since, in general, men can make babies until they die. The girl was probably 6 and the boy was about 5. They all looked miserable. They had yogurt, which explains some of it. Yogurt is great, but who wants that at Burger King? No one.
The two older kids got in the play contraption (I have no idea what to call it: it's a climbing apparatus with bulging windows that lead to a tunnel, which leads to a slide); they were the quietest two children I've ever encountered. Matty could hear their footsteps, though, and it excited him, and he went in after them. I should mention that Matthew is actually too small to climb the climbing part of it, so he generally just stands in it, roaring up at everyone, or crawls beneath the bottom step and hangs out.
Today, he sat under the bottom step, looked over at me and said, "Hi Mommy!" and then roared. Have I mentioned that he's a Leo? I laughed and waved back. He sat there, until the little boy came down the climbing part. Why the little boy came that way is a mystery, since there's a perfectly good slide he could have used. So, Matty jumped out at him and said, "Hi!!" And then he roared. And the little boy sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
My first, private reaction was, "Come ON, kid, you HAVE to be kidding me." But I realize everyone is different, and as much as I want my kid to be able to roar as much as he wants in a place like BK's playroom, I don't want anyone else's kids traumatized, either. So I asked Matty to apologize, and he did, earnestly. The boy continued to sob, and then, without warning, he took off out of the contraption. He didn't run to the adult man with him, interestingly; he ran to the shoe station on the other side of the room. And, of course, Matthew chased him.
The boy screamed in terror, which Matthew misinterpreted as a scream of delight, and continued laughing and roaring. I called Matty over to me and asked him to calm down a bit, since the boy was scared. "Boy is scared?" he asked. I said, "Yes, so you need to chill out a bit." Matthew said, "Okay, Mommy."
The old man forced the crying boy to eat his yogurt. Matty tried playing with the girl; she wasn't afraid, but she was absolutely irritated with him. Matthew was still unaware that his personality was too much for this particular family, so I pulled him aside again, and asked him to play a bit more quietly. He sat and drank his juice for a minute, until the little boy came back over to the contraption. The boy got into the climbing part, and Matthew followed him, and they both rested their arms on the upper level; well, Matty dangled since he can't quite reach. Sound travels in that place, so I could tell Matty was roaring away happily and laughing. The little boy just stood there with Matty, so I thought everything was okay. I took a picture (below) and then walked over to be sure. I should note, that all the while, the old guy was sitting close to the exit and at one point, left to get more soda. Maybe you've never been in one of these rooms (if so, lucky you), but it's a separate room from the main restaurant, with doors that close.
Matthew with the little boy who hated him, but refused to move. FYI: until recently we didn't take Matty's shoes off in those playrooms, since he can't really climb that well yet, and god knows what sort of funk is crawling around in there besides; but Glen had his first encounter with an asshole parent last weekend, and it was about Matty's shoes. So, we've been taking them off, just to avoid those parents.
I walked over to the kids, and saw through the "window" that the older boy's head was in his hands, and he was weeping. Matty was roar-talking and laughing at the boy, thinking they were great friends, unwittingly sending the child further into the abyss with every leonine noise. I brought Matthew out of the contraption. The old guy returned with a freshened beverage, sat back down by the door, called the kid, who jumped down and ran across the room as if his life depended on it. Before I could stop him, Matty chased the boy, and they wound up — from my vantage — on the far side of the garbage can. I could not see the kids. The old man, from his seat, yelled at my child, using his name. "Matthew!" He barked, "DON'T DO THAT." I ran over and grabbed Matthew, and asked him to apologize — he did, again, sincerely — and I asked the guy what had happened, as I couldn't see from my angle.
Matthew has never hit another child, but I had expected the man to say something like that, but instead, he snapped at me, aggressively. "Matthew was running after him and yelling. THAT IS NOT PLAYING."
I just want to say I don't have a problem with someone else reprimanding my kid, if he deserves it. I'd also like to say that I had a good comeback — after all his kid was at least two years older than mine, a good deal taller, and last I checked kids run and yell when they play. Especially in designated play rooms in fast food restaurants. But I was utterly dumbfounded. I eventually said, "I'm sorry he scared your boy." I was sorry. I felt the blood enter my cheeks; I'm sure I turned red. I walked Matthew back over to the table, packed up our belongings, and we left. We had a good run, I figured, and I knew Matty was just too young to understand the other boy was not having fun, though I'm sure he wouldn't have any fun without Matty, either. As we walked out of the restaurant, I started to get pissed: at the old guy for being such a douche, and at myself, for not being quick enough to respond in any kind of intelligent way.
I packed Matty into his car seat, and under my breath, I said, "Grandpa Douchebag." But it probably wasn't under my breath, since Matty heard me and attempted to repeat after me. "Grandpa Juicebag?" Matty asked.
I started to laugh, and Matthew laughed too, and then he started chanting, "Grand-pa Juice-bag! Grand-pa Juice-bag! Grand-pa Juice-bag!" as if we were at a sporting event. I joined in, and together we chanted "Grand-pa Juice-bag! Grand-pa Juice-bag!" for the next few miles. I felt a lot better.