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July 15, 2011

On books, sharing, communal toys, and the playground

I am really not very good at sharing. Giving, I’m all over that, but sharing makes me wary– too often, the things I’ve shared have come back to me quite battered, and usually these things are books. Which is why now if you ask if I will lend you a book, I will tell you no. I will feel terrible about this, embarrassed at being socially awkward and ungenerous, but not so embarrassed that I could be persuaded to change my mind. I like to have my things where they belong.

Which is why I sort of understand when my daughter doesn’t do so well at sharing either. There were two watering cans in the pool yesterday, and she insisted on playing with the red tin one that Margaret was using. And I could understand why because the green plastic can is obviously inferior. The green plastic can is the one she will “share”, and the red tin can will stay with its rightful owner. (Thankfully, dear Margaret [who has been Harriet’s best friend since she was two days old] was civilized enough to go along with this plan). I’d like it if Harriet were a more easy-going person, but I can usually understand the reasons why she isn’t. She’s fierce and feral, but she makes a lot of sense to me. Sometimes “sharing” seems a lot like having Goldilocks come to visit, and while I want Harriet to learn to be a good host and a good friend, where’s the fun in that?

Stuart and I got called out by one of the terrifying mothers at the playground on Sunday. We’d brought a bucket for Harriet to play with in the pool because Harriet insists on having a bucket at all times, and one of the communal buckets might not have been available. (Moreover, the communal toys at the playground are crap because nobody bothers to take care of them, but that’s another story…) Some kid came up and took the bucket from beside where we were sitting. “It’s Harriet’s bucket,” we told the kid, who gave it back, no problem.

But his mother behind us said to our friend, “The boys never understand when they go someplace and everybody has their own toys. They just go up and take them, and the other kids get upset, but parks are supposed to be communal. I mean, that’s the whole point.” (Man, would I ever make a really bad socialist. For someone who doesn’t own any property, I’ve sure got a lot of views about private ones.) So we considered ourselves chastised, and I was feeling badly about this, wondering if we were approaching the whole thing wrong. And then the annoying women’s two children (who were named Cashton and Thorston) started assaulting their friend with shovels, and the annoying woman yelled at the boy, “Walk away, Siegfried! Walk away!” while poor Siegfried got battered. So think that she might not have all the secrets to raising children after all.

It’s a tough call, and I’m still not sure how I feel. I know that I don’t like sharing my books though, which is something. We share snacks, we even share ice cream cones, we’d share a skipping rope if Harriet were capable of jumping. We take turns on the swings, we don’t rip toys out of kids’ hands, if there is a communal toy we want to play with in the playground, Harriet waits her turn. If we were at Margaret’s house and Harriet wanted Margaret’s prized watering can (as you do), I’d have to tell Harriet, “Tough luck.” To me, this is sharing.

We brought our bucket to the playground again on Monday, and a little girl picked it up, hurled it to the ground, and the handle broke off. Is this sharing? Because if it is, sharing sucks. But I don’t want to be a person who thinks that sharing sucks. And I actually appreciate all the communal toys at the park, but everything doesn’t belong to everyone, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing…

So no conclusions. But this is the kind of philosophical issue that I’m grappling with these days. I’m still not lending you my book though.

14 thoughts on “On books, sharing, communal toys, and the playground”

  1. alexis says:

    Sharing food or space are also good ways to share. It doesn’t have to be about possessions. (I won’t lend out my signed books, or special ones. There are some that I would lend out, but only to specific people)

  2. m says:

    It’s hard. At the park, I’ll cut the boys’ time on swings short specifically so that other kids can use them–those are communal toys after all. But when it comes to sharing toys, I find that it’s so easy for a kid to come up to another and demand that the second kid share his/her toy with him/her. That’s not sharing, in my opinion. That’s being bossy. At home, I’ll tell the boy that his brother is playing with it and that he can play with it when he is done.

    I’m selective regarding to whom and which books I’ll lend out. I think we should be allowed that. And I’m really trying to get my boys to ask first if they can use something, rather than running up and assuming that they can play with it, *especially* when it comes to strangers’ toys.

  3. m says:

    Oh, and that woman’s logic is screwy. Why do we expect toddlers, who have no concept of sharing, to share in situations adults would never? Parks are communal, but I would never walk over to someone having a picnic and open up their basket to help myself to a limonata or sandwich.

    (This is really bugging me, as must be obvious.)

  4. alexis says:

    Yeah, I don’t even have children and I think that woman is a nutbar.

  5. Kristin says:

    Why in the world would Harriet have to share her toy that she brought to the park? That is crazy to me. It is not a communal toy, it is her toy. If she wanted to share with someone that would be nice, but she certainly doesn’t have to, and I would never expect her to.

    Two is the worst age for sharing in my experience. My daughter goes insane when someone touches her things (particularly her brother). She was fine 3 months ago about sharing, and she’ll probably be fine in another 3-6 months if she’s anything like how my son was. But right around 2, they realize that there are things that belong to them and they’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

    Also, totally agree with you on the sharing of books. I have one friend that I will share with and that is it. I know she’ll bring it back in the condition it was originally in, and in a timely fashion. Everyone else is considered guilty before trial.

  6. Jen says:

    Anybody who names their children Cashton and Thorston has no business judging others.

  7. Carrie says:

    This post totally cracked me up, Kerry.

    I like sharing food that I make and bake, but I loathe sharing food off my plate (even with my own children, which I realize is a terrible mothering offense). And I agree that age three is about the age where children begin to get sharing — as in, they understand that there are benefits to letting other children play with their toys, because then they get to play with the other children. Ah, friendship! I would loosely define sharing as playing together, or doing something together. (And though I don’t share books with notes in them or which have special associations, I do share a lot of books, and end up losing them forever; that’s like sharing an experience, too, with someone else, even if I forget to follow up and find out what the borrower thought about the book).

    And on judgmental parents in parks? Judgment — poor and wise — comes from all quarters, often unsolicited, when one is parenting. Enter the grocery store with four children and you will not exit un-commented-upon. Trust your gut. Shake it off — and come and write more funny and thoughtful blogs about it! Your daughter sounds like she’s a pretty advanced share-er for her age. And it IS silly to expect children to behave in ways superior to adults. Even if we secretly hope our children will somehow be better people than us.

  8. Carrie says:

    Um, that was an essay. Whoops! Loved the post, obviously.

  9. Kelly says:

    As someone who was recently told that my 22-month-old would be a better sharer if only I had her in daycare, I am very sympathetic to touchiness on this point! As for grown-up borrowings: my parents have told me that their policy when loaning money to less-fortunate family members is to call it a loan, but really to think of it as a gift. If it gets paid back, hurrah! But if not, well, it was a gift. Any time I lend something out, I keep that idea in mind–but I suppose it does keep me rather careful about what leaves the house.

    1. Kerry says:

      All this came about because I came across a twitter post that said, “Is it me, or are parents who let their kids bring shiny trucks to the park and not share kind of jerks?” And I didn’t really think so. Though considering it further, I realize she’s talking about bigger kids than mine which is a bit different. (Don’t you find that parents do that, take sweeping generalizations so personally while not considering the *smaller* picture?) I also think that maybe we shouldn’t bring new and shiny things to the park if we really care what happens to them. Anyway, yes, lots of consider. And I still think this weird culture of “sharing” is totally obnoxious, inconsistent, and confusing.

  10. Rachel says:

    My 2 cents. When K was 2, we took our cue from one of his teachers at daycare and never used the word “sharing” — just “turn-taking”. He understood that better — as in it’s not your turn for the toy yet, your turn is next. Two year olds can’t share — they want it all to themselves. Parks are a bit tough because it’s up to the other kid/parents if Kaleb will indeed get a turn — obviously they are under no obligation to do this. But if Kaleb is going to bring something to a park, he should accept that other kids are going to want to play with it, once his turn is done, and that that’s OK. And if it’s a special toy he really cares about, he shouldn’t bring it there. I don’t think kids should have to share but I do get a bit pissed at the weird parents who get all tense when a 20 month old grabs a bucket that no one else is even near, because it’s not theirs. Or the weird woman at the library who was annoyed at my friend’s toddler for grabbing a rattle from her 1 month old son’s hand. He didn’t care, why should you?

    1. Kerry says:

      Cuz it’s my *stuff*!! I get terribly possessive of my dollar store bucket. It’s the same way I can’t go to bed at night until Harriet’s Russian dolls are re-nested (and heaven forbid that one has gone missing). I’m a bit obsessive in this respect, which is a problem, but it’s also because no one else seems to care about stuff then everything ends up missing and broken. I think we all have to be a little bit understanding. And yes, turn-taking is a much better concept…

  11. Rachel says:

    Actually, the rattle belonged to the library and the toddler in question was only a year and a half, if that. I guess my peeve is when parents get annoyed at little kids (and I mean little little, like 18 months) for reaching for something that interests them. I find it interesting how we (Western culture)try to instill the concept of private property really early on.

  12. Anonymous from Nevada says:

    It’s presumptuous and absurd that a stranger would assume that just because my child brings a toy to the park (or anywhere else) that it should automatically be available for their child to play with as well. The only thing communal about the park is the park itself; personal toys are just that…personal. Sharing can be encouraged but optional. I don’t allow my child to play with toys that aren’t hers without asking. And if she does ask and the other child says “no”, then they certainly have the right to do so. I explain to my child that perhaps the toy is new or special and that they aren’t ready to share quite yet. Why are children expected to share personal possessions when adults aren’t? You don’t exactly see adults tossing their keys, phones and iPads in a pile for community sharing at Starbucks. 

    It’s no wonder to me that so many children nowadays feel entitled and have no respect for boundaries. 

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