Humiliation in the Shallow End

I wanted to disappear.  I wanted to evaporate into a plume of smoke, become invisible, somehow cease to exist.  That’s how humiliated I was.  But, there was no escape.  Pumpkin Pie had said it.  In public.  And I had to handle it.

Go ahead, splash! Just not at people who don't like it.

I really don’t even know how to begin to tell this story, so I’ll start at the beginning.  Toward the end of a very long, tiring day, I took Pumpkin Pie to the pool.  He had recently begun really swimming, and he wanted to spend every possible minute practicing his new skill.  The other thing he likes to do at the pool is splash.  Splash the water, splash the pool deck, splash the air, and, of course, splash other swimmers.  I will watch him and encourage any kid bothered by his splashing to tell Pumpkin Pie so, at which point I will say to Pumpkin Pie, You heard her ask you to stop splashing and you need to listen to her words or I am going to have to get all up in your business about it.  It takes a decent amount of attention, but I insist he listen to the people around him who don’t want to be splashed, distract him (Pumpkin Pie!  Look!  I have the dive sticks!) or ultimately take him out of the pool for a few minutes if need be.  This three-pronged approach seems to work pretty well and has kept us from being kicked out our pool time fun .  But Pumpkin Pie’s first instinct is that anyone, nay, everyone enjoys splashing as much as he does and anyone wants to have a splash fight with him because it is the funnest pool activity since the invention of water.  Sometimes he is right.  Sometimes not.

This particular day, he was not.  I was sitting in my chair near the sparsely populated shallow end with hopes of reading a little of my book.  Pumpkin Pie was splashing all by himself in the water and then some other boys with totally awesome masks and snorkels wandered by, one of them about Pumpkin Pie’s age.  The older boy is in Sweet Pea’s grade, and the younger boy was his cousin.  Their mother/aunt was sitting two empty chairs away from me.  It is important for the story that I point out the boys happen to be African American.  Pumpkin Pie spotted them and started splashing away.  They wisely moved out of his splashing range.  This happened a couple of times and then I heard the littler boy protest.

Me:  Pumpkin Pie, he told you he doesn’t want to be splashed, please stop.

He stopped splashing for a little bit, then started again.  Pumpkin Pie was splashing him any time the little boy came near him.  The little boy had taken off his mask and complained a little louder this time.

Me:  Pumpkin Pie, you need to listen to his words.  He is not having a splash fight with you.  He doesn’t like it.

Pumpkin Pie:  I don’t like him!

Me:  That’s enough, he has been nothing but nice to you.  Come over here, I brought the dive sticks!

I was probably a little late with prong #2 because that was when Pumpkin Pie said it.  He said it and he said it with his outside voice, because that is the only voice he has.

Pumpkin Pie:  I don’t like people with dark skin!

Oh dear God.

I wanted to disappear.  I wanted to evaporate into a plume of smoke, become invisible, somehow cease to exist.  That’s how humiliated I was.  But, there was no escape.  Pumpkin Pie had said it.  In public.  And I had to handle it.

My brain was spinning fast trying to figure out the best way to proceed.  Of course I knew that Pumpkin Pie doesn’t actually have anything against people of any particular skin color because I know his history, I know his upbringing and I know his parents.  But in that moment I also knew that this woman two chairs down doesn’t know me at all.  All I could imagine was her thinking, what are these parents saying at home?!

Pumpkin Pie picked the first thing he saw as a reason not to like this innocent kid because Pumpkin Pie wanted to do what Pumpkin Pie wanted to do (in this case splash) and he saw this kid as the obstacle.  He could just as easily have said I don’t like girls or I don’t like people with Pokemon t-shirts or I don’t like red heads.  But he didn’t.  He chose this African-American child’s skin.  I wasn’t sure exactly how to proceed, but I knew however I handled it was important and I was certain the woman two chairs down was listening.  

I also knew that freaking out was not going be helpful or productive so I was using up all of my strength keeping calm.  I immediately called him out of the water to sit next to me.  I quietly explained that the little boy had been nothing but kind and that Pumpkin Pie also needed to be kind.  I explained that it was not okay to say rude things to or about him and that if there was one more problem, we were leaving.  Knowing 5 year-olds, I was concerned that if I said, It’s especially rude to say you don’t like people with dark skin he would decide that was a great way to get attention.  It could have gone either way.  He sat for a little bit then went to play.  Around that time, a familiar face from preschool showed up and I hoped that would be the distraction we needed to turn things around.  Pumpkin Pie played with a couple of other kids briefly but was behaving fine.  Since there was no current hostility, and I had a moment to regain my composure, I took the opportunity to lean toward the woman three chairs away and say, I am not sure why he is so hostile today.  She replied, Yes.  He is.

Ugh.  She was right.

A minute later, Pumpkin Pie was in the pool and turned his feet toward the little boy in question and while “swimming” away from him, splashed him by kicking his feet in that direction.  At that point, I called it.  I grabbed a towel and quietly removed Pumpkin Pie from the pool.  I grabbed our stuff and we got out of there as quickly and quietly as we could.  I sat him on the empty outside steps and with the clarity that only comes from being terribly embarrassed, I explained that it was not only unkind, but hurtful to say that he didn’t like someone because of the color of their skin.  I told him that he hurt that little boy’s feelings and he hurt his aunt’s feelings and that he owed them both a sorry.  I told him that I hoped that he was not trying to be hateful, but that is how it sounded to everyone around him.  Pumpkin Pie was sad.

Better late than never.

We went back inside and Pumpkin Pie delivered two sincere apologies, both of which were graciously accepted.  Then we got the heck out of Dodge.

With the even clearer clarity that comes from a day of thinking after being terribly embarrassed, I realized that the apology was late.  That should have been the first thing after explaining that what Pumpkin Pie said was mean and hurtful.  I was so thrown by the adult implications of his childish words that I forgot what every kid knows:  when you hurt someone, you apologize.  Duh.  I’ll try to remember that for the next time.  Oh, dear God don’t let there be a next time.

(Image Credits:  Make a Splash from (and others) Keep Calm and Carry On available in poster form from here, Sorry book available at here.)

About Adventures From Cloud 8

I am a stay at home mom who now and again sneaks away to be an in-home family therapist. My husband and I have 3 boys: Sweet Pea (12), Pickles (9) and Pumpkin Pie (4). Oh yeah. We have Doodle Dog, too. You guessed it! He’s a boy. At least he pees outside.
This entry was posted in Behavior Management, Children and Manners, Funny Parenting Blog, Kindness, manners, Parenting Boys, Pumpkin Pie and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Humiliation in the Shallow End

  1. H says:

    Doesn’t Pumpkin Pie realize he has dark skin, too?

  2. Jackie says:

    Moments of clarity can be so painful, but don’t be too hard on yourself. PP will likely not forget this lesson either.

  3. amy says:

    Only a wonderful mom would worry so much

  4. Pingback: An Actual Conversation: The Smoker | Adventures From Cloud 8

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