Would you walk through muck to help a scared kid?

Today Babyboy and I had a fairly full agenda- we went to a swap meet with my mom (excellent way to stock up for Babygirl-on-the-way); we went to a birthday party, and we went grocery shopping. Whew! Holy moly. That’s a lot of activity, for me, at 32 weeks’ gestation. I am moving very slowly these days, and with lots of huffing and puffing.

The birthday party was especially tricky. It was for our neighbor’s now-5 year old boy, a real boy’s boy. The party was at a farm, with pumpkin-picking and hayrides and a petting zoo. It was a great idea and perfect for a group of rowdy 5-year-olds and assorted others like me, my fifteen-month-old, and our other neighbors with their myriad kids.

But I realized that as I was there solo with Babyboy, and everyone else was also there with their kids, I was basically on my own with him. And he wanted to: eat hay, rip open the birthday boy’s presents, crawl into the path of the tractor, play with mud, climb into the drinks cooler, eat somebody’s cake that fell on the ground, tip over the trash can, and eat hay.

At some point I decided to just give up and try to get him to quiet down a bit. I scooped him up in my arms and made my way over to the petting zoo. He loves animals, and I figured the goats and chickens would distract him enough that he wouldn’t want to be all over the place. Or at least not eat hay.

And he was totally distracted- he was fascinated, and a little intimidated, by the hungry goats and squawking chickens. He was perfectly content to be in my arms as we roamed around the pens.

A little ways away from the pens was a massive pile of muddy muck. It appeared that the animal pens were cleaned and the manure shoveled into that pile, and it had rained and formed a wide, deep, muddy moat around the pile. Now, Babyboy was not the only boy at the party who is into mud, because a group of kids from the party came running and splashed right through the edge of the muddy puddle, laughing.

One boy ran a little too close to the mucky, manur-ey part, and his sneakered foot sunk down into that tar-like pool, and you could hear it sucking down, almost to his knee. He lost his balance and fell so his hands also landed in the sticky mess, and he was pretty well stuck. He started screaming and crying. He was trapped in the manure swamp.

Now, there I was in an animal pen, hugely pregnant, 15-month old on my hip. But out of all the families of people standing around, including several full-grown men, no one else stepped up to help this poor boy. I ran out of the pen and got as close to the boy as I could without getting stuck in the muck myself. I had a vision of my big, off-center-of-gravity- self tipping over in the manure pit, with my non-walking kid going in over his face. That seemed pretty dangerous. So I tried to calm him: “You’re going to be OK, hon, we’ll get you out of there, just try best as you can to stand up and reach out, I’ll help pull you out—“

But he was too upset to listen really, and cried “Mommy!!”

I called out to some of the bystanders—“Does anyone know where this boy’s mom is?” but I got only blank stares and a few bemused shrugs.

I was about to resort to shame—one of these men in jeans could surely freaking get his feet wet to help a terrified (and stuck) kindergardener! But just then a farmhand, a woman in knee-high rubber boots, came round the bend and said, “I’ll get him!”

She waded in and pulled him right out—and deposited him at my feet. “Here he is, Ma’am, and there’s a washroom right over there.”

He was crying hysterically. I didn’t know what to do. The farmhand thought this was my kid! And no one else was even making a halfhearted attempt to help. “Um, I don’t know who he belongs to, I was just trying to help,” I said.

“OH!” she exclaimed, and she immediately took charge and started marching him towards the picnic area. Presumably he was reunited with his mom and cleaned up, because I saw him later, sans sweatshirt and shoes, climbing the hay bales, perfectly happy.

But it stuck with me all day, how this poor kid was screaming and crying, and stuck, in wet muck, and no one wanted to help him at all. It made me kind of sick. Even though he wasn’t in any apparent real physical danger, he had been trapped, and scared, and wet. Isn’t that enough? What kind of people can stand by and watch that?

3 thoughts on “Would you walk through muck to help a scared kid?”

  • That poor little boy. I am not surprised no one tried to help him. It reminds me of the little Chinese girl that was hit by 2 vehicles and 12 people walked by her and didn’t help her. Finally the 13th person helped her but it was too late she was brain dead. She died a few days later. The depth of human apathy is astounding and it is only getting worse. The not me attitude in the human condition is getting too much to bare. I know there are good Samaritans out there. They are getting to be fewer and farther between.

  • That’s pretty lame. I’d also say it’s atypical of my experiences, both in MA and in NJ. But when I’ve been in situations where I need another adult to help a third-party kid, I usually just tell them to do it, as if they didn’t notice (“hey, this kid needs help, can you come help?”). I haven’t had it fail yet. Or even appear to be taken the wrong way. I don’t know why that poor kid was struggling all by himself — maybe the other adults around really were just being completely lame. But if I were to give them the benefit of the doubt, I might suspect that they were feeling paralyzed by the possibility that they would be accused of interfering when the kid’s parent showed up. I tend to err on the side of intervening, and I’ve definitely had parents show their annoyance, when they thought I shouldn’t be interfering in some way: touching their kid (to keep them from falling off the jungle gym), or issuing disciplinary remarks (“we can’t push other children, they might fall,”), etc. I definitely hesitate in a way I didn’t used to. And then feel bad when I almost let some toddler walk off the edge of a play structure while I wondered if his mom would think it was ok to say something to him or block him with my arm. I also see people unhappily letting other people’s kids be obnoxious and/or dangerous, even toward their own kids, they are so afraid of stepping on the other parents’ toes. And then of course they are annoyed and snippy when the other parent finally shows up to provide some disicpline. One of my theories about why full-time parenting in the suburbs seems to feel so much more laborious and isolating to me and my peers than it appears to have been to our mothers is that we are afraid to look out for each others’ kids, and intolerant of well-meaning fellow parents assisting us in a communal version of playground child rearing. So we are required to be helicopter parents, since we have sole, individual responsibility for our kid’s safety at every moment, and yet we feel anxious and isolated because we know that helicopter parenting can’t be possible at every moment (especially once you’ve got more than 1 kid).

  • The real question isn’t “what kind of people can stand by and watch that?” – it’s “what kind of parents would let a small child run around a farm, unsupervised, with a petting zoo, hay rides, and crowds of strangers?”

    I live in a rural community and grew up on a farm. That’s just irresponsible parenting.

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