by Julie Hahn

I heard the voice of a slightly bothered mum and looked up from the novel I was reading. A two-year-old was running on the lawn we were sharing in the Botanic Gardens.

I looked around to see whether the child could hurt himself or anything around him. It was a vast expanse of lush, green lawn. Perfect for a running two-year-old.

Then I saw the mum. She was walking and talking with another woman, only a few metres behind the child. She screeched and the child responded by running further away.

The more the mum bellowed, the further the boy ran—like a dog turning a call of ‘Here, Rover’ into a game of chasey. Eventually, the situation became dangerous as the child charged towards a very large pond with no intention of stopping—and no awareness that a sea of lily-pads would not support his weight.

‘You’re a naughty boy!’ was all the mother said when he was returned safe (and dry) by an intervening stranger. In a different place and time, a little girl asked her mummy to carry her after a very long day at the zoo. ‘Why can’t you walk by yourself like your cousin?’ snapped her tired mother.

Another little boy was told by his mum, ‘You’re such a naughty boy! You’ll wreck your good shoes!’ when he kicked the dirt on the track at Monarto Zoo. (Monarto Zoo has a lot of dirt to kick.)

On a hot, hot 42-degree day, a little girl was dropped off at her child-care centre. Water play was one of the strategies the carers used to keep the children cool and occupied. But, ‘I don’t want her to get her good dress wet’, said her mother.

Is running on a huge expanse of lawn naughty—especially when you’re two and your mum is caught up in boring adult conversation? Is it wrong for an exhausted little girl to want to be picked up and carried by her mum? Is it unreasonable to kick the dirt when there are hectares of it, or to get wet on a 42-degree day? Parents can be really good at making a great day out into a major chore. When they get so caught up with doing things ‘right’—according to perceived expectations—they often neglect to do things lovingly. Ironic, isn’t it? …

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