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She's Totally Jealous

When people used to pick on me as a child, I would often run home and tell my parents. My dad, who was convinced I was the smartest, prettiest, most well-behaved daughter anyone could ever desire, would listen to my tale of woe and conclude, "They must be jealous." If my peers picked on my choice of outfit, or called me chubby or "Four Eyes," I remembered Dad's words, and they helped. "They must be jealous," I told myself, and remembered that I was a straight A student who excelled in English, earned first-chair clarinet status in the band, and was the darling of all my teachers. So what if they teased me for my weaknesses: they only did it because they envied my strengths.

KFP at 9 Months
A recent picture of KFP, wearing a T-shirt made by
a friend that says "Hi, I'm New Here"

Dad's words helped me again this morning when I encountered a very unpleasant individual during the Babies and Books storytime at the public library, designed for children from newborn to 3 years old. We arrived just before the program started and sought a seat. I didn't spot our Kung Fu Panda's favorite participant, a little girl named Lucy who's only two days younger than him, so instead I took a spot in the only clear space in the circle. Maybe, I thought later, there was a reason that spot had been empty.

To our right was a young mother with two little ones in her lap: a placid, pleasant 2-year-old boy with warm, golden-brown eyes, and a cheerful 4-month-old baby girl with bright blue eyes who would sometimes reach out and touch me gently on the sleeve. KFP was briefly fascinated by the baby girl, who returned his smile.

On our left, however, was a little boy of about 3 named Jamal*, who had the misfortune of being brought to story time by his grandmother. I say misfortune because she had little tolerance for him behaving like a 3-year-old. While it's true that some youngsters, like the boy to our right, were enjoying some Mommy cuddle time, many of the babies and toddlers twisted around in their parents' laps, made vocal outbursts of excitement in response to the stories, or, if they could walk, toddled around the room investigating the other children and picking up items from the library's toy box.

Such behavior was not tolerated by Jamal's grandmother, who berated him constantly and slapped his little hand, buttocks, or any place she could grab if he dared to touch anything she didn't want him to touch. When he refused to sit calmly on her lap, she grabbed his arms as he tried to twist away until he was squealing in displeasure and discomfort. "Let him go," another mother told him, then added, "It's OK for him to stand." The grandmother reluctantly let him go but continued to smack him whenever he failed to react exactly the way she wanted, whether it was to refuse to parrot a word she uttered or to decline to sing along with the other children.

The minute I sat down next to her, she began making odd comments. As Jamal reached for the Cat in the Hat toy that KFP was playing with, she said, "Don't take that. She's got it." Finally, after using the female pronoun for him several times, she asked me if KFP was a boy or a girl. This struck me as odd, since he was wearing a very "boyish" outfit of a light-brown "Junior Explorer" shirt with a Jeep on it, paired with brown corduroys. I decided she must have been confused by KFP's large hazel eyes, rimmed with long, luscious eyelashes.

Throughout story time, Jamal and his grandmother created an unpleasant distraction, with her manhandling of him producing loud squeals. Forced into a situation where nothing he did was right, the little guy acted out by slamming down the book his grandmother brought over to read to him when story time was done. This was met by a predictable smack on his little bottom, making his pout even more pronounced.

Meanwhile, KFP gave the cry I knew meant hunger, so I pulled out the bottle I'd brought along. On Tuesday mornings, we wake up early so I can go to water aerobics, and he's often hungry again by 10:30 or 11. I held him in my arms as he happily sucked on the bottle, and the grandmother remarked, "That's a BIG bottle."

"He's a big baby," I replied. We give him 6-8 ounces of formula each time we give him a bottle, which is what is recommended for a 9-month-old. He also gets about 2 tablespoons of solid food (purees or finger food that can be gummed) two to three times a day, and breast milk pretty much whenever he wants it.

She was momentarily distracted by smacking her grandchild for some imagined fault and then returned her attention to my cherub-faced baby. "How old is he?" she asked, and I told her. Instead of remarking, as many people do, that he's big for his age (which he is and has been since birth), she said, a bit disdainfully, "He's a little chunky, though."

Chunky? Did she just call my little guy chunky? I probably should have informed her that, at 22 pounds (by our home scale), he was exactly average on the growth charts and, given that his length (i.e. height) is above average, that means he's far from chunky. Instead, I stewed silently and heard my dad's reedy voice: "She's just jealous."

Of course she was. Jealous of my cheerful, alert baby with the pinchable cheeks and Disney-esque eyes. Jealous of our quiet, bonding moment, as he lay on my lap sucking on a bottle and taking in the world around him. Jealous, even, of my relative youth, even though at 40, I was probably the oldest mom in the room.

Maybe she's jealous of more than that. Maybe she's jealous of all the children around her whom she believes are better behaved than her sullen grandson (who was probably just tired and needed a nap). Maybe she's jealous that, no matter how many times she tries to grab him towards her, he pulls away to explore other faces, see other sights.

As I fed the baby, Jamal put his little hand gently on my own. But before I could respond, she smacked his hand away. "Don't take that baby's bottle," she said. But that's not what he was doing. It is not milk that he hungers for.

* Name changed to protect the innocent

Those who point out flaws in others are trying to distract from their own.

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( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 15th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
That grandmother needs to have her own hand smacked - I feel sorry for Jamal. Your KFP is adorable, and he does not look "chunky" in that picture!
Mar. 15th, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC)
Actually, she needs her head smacked upside...
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 15th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 15th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - roina_arwen - Mar. 15th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
You're absolutely right. I've been going to this story time long enough to know that the librarians welcome moving around and playing during story time. In fact, they often channel that energy by having the kids participate in games and songs. This week we had a guest librarian who was a little bit more "programmed" than usual, with a handout for the parents to read about children's literacy (which of course all the kids tried to grab). Also, I hadn't seen this grandmother there before, so she might think that there's an expectation to be more "proper." Even so, she should have noticed that other toddlers were wandering around and were only retrieved by their caregivers if they were doing something clearly inappropriate, like grabbing someone else's toy.
Mar. 15th, 2011 07:18 pm (UTC)
If you don't mind my asking,
did you use a random name generator to get "Jamal" ?
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
No, I picked a "J" name, since the child also had a "J" name. But he doesn't have a very common "J" name, so I doubt anyone would guess it, unless they get really lucky!
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Mar. 15th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 15th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
Poor "Jamal"! :( What a horror of a crotchetty old bat his grandmother sounds.
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
Indeed. That will teach me to arrive late!
Mar. 15th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
That poor little boy!
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC)
Have you ever wanted to rescue a puppy from someone who was mistreating it? That's how I felt.
(no subject) - millysdaughter - Mar. 15th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
I'd actually argue that she's jealous of the fact that you're happy to spend time with your child. Clearly, she wants nothing to do with babies and toddlers and for whatever reason, she's stuck with it.

It's heartbreaking. I've seen it a few times, gorgeous children being utterly broken by their parents or caregivers. It doesn't take much and then that beautiful, sunny child is destroyed for life. And short of reporting her to social services, there is absolutely nothing you can do (and to be honest, I would make that call. That's a little more than a smack when the child is endangering themselves and not listening to reason. If she behaves like that in public, goodness knows how she behaves in private).
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:32 pm (UTC)
I wasn't the only one who noticed either. The other parents were all giving her looks, and once the official story time was older, a few came up to him and said, "Are you tired, Jamal?" It was clear to us that his "misbehavior" was a sign of being tired. He was also rubbing his eyes and tried to lie down on a big, fluffy dog on the floor. He really didn't seem to me to be a "bad" child, just frustrated by her constant picking.

Unfortunately, I don't know her name or I would call and report her. Maybe next time I see her, I'll introduce myself and try to get her name. :)
(no subject) - theafaye - Mar. 15th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - theafaye - Mar. 15th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh this made me cry! I hate seeing kids get mistreated. I remember when I was in college, a friend and I were on a city bus and one mother kept berating her son (who was probably two or three) telling him- "you're the devil! You're just a bad devil child!" I wanted to scoop up the toddler and take him back to our dorm.
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC)
That's how I felt, too. I can't help wondering if she's his sole caregiver or just a daytime babysitter. I'm hoping that he has someone in his life who is more loving. The little guy deserves better.
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
Wow! What a wretched grandmother. I agree with Kabandra - those comments were completely uncalled for.

Poor Jamal...

And KFP is not chubby by a long shot. His cheeks are absolutely nummy though! :-)
Mar. 15th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
If I had been there to see the grandmother I sure would have wanted to smack her around for not just letting the boy be a boy but for being an ass too.

KFP looks just fine to me.
Mar. 15th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, and KFP is still adorable,
and only chubby in the sense of not being scrawny.
Mar. 16th, 2011 12:08 am (UTC)
Lots of folks around here (Mississippi) called LittleZ "juicy" when he was about KFP's age; I had to let my husband in on the local lingo, since that, to me, has always seemed to be a compliment, but I can see how it could be seen as insulting. And don't get me started on LittleZ's curls, long lashes, and blue eyes being taken at times for markers of femininity, even when he's wearing rough and tumble boy gear!

As I read your story of the day, I couldn't help but wonder why grandmother had the baby and whether or not her frustration with the child may be--inappropriate, of course--frustration with the situation that she may find herself in. FWIW, she sounds like the product of an older and other school of parenting, and given her apparent age, I can't help but wonder at the story behind her coming to be in that room with that baby on that day. I can't help but wonder, too, how much of a cultural gulf there might be between her and the rest of the moms in the room.
Mar. 16th, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, my front-running suspicion is that she was anticipating
what she believed (mistakenly) that everyone around her was thinking.
OTOH, it hadn't occurred to me that the child might be taking the heat
for a resentment the grandmother feels toward the child's mother.
I disappointment myself in not picking up on that possiblity.

I was just talking with someone else about motivation in villains,
and I should have made the connection here.
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 16th, 2011 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Mar. 17th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2011 04:46 am (UTC)
She obviously hasn't really been around babies recently enough to know what average is. Unless she only sees starved ones :/

I know I shouldn't judge what other people choose to do with their own children/grandchildren, but man. There is such a thing as too much discipline. Especially in situations that don't really warrant it.

I agree with the jealousy thing. My dad would tell me that a lot, too. It helps me get past some of my trying times.
Mar. 16th, 2011 05:32 am (UTC)
I feel so so sad for that poor little boy. Starved for affection and constantly punished for being a normal 3 year old, of COURSE he's going to rebel! >:(
Mar. 16th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
Poor "Jamal" :*( I hope there is another adult in his life who is more loving towards him.

KFP looks so adorable in that pic!!!
Mar. 16th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
I hope so, too. It was a sad sight.
Mar. 16th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
KFP is adorable! That woman is bonkers.
Mar. 21st, 2011 10:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! We think so, too.
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