Don't mess with a mama bear. If she thinks you are going after her young, her first instinct will be to attack. This holds true for human mothers, as well. You can test this theory at your own risk. But is this "mama bear" response always a good thing? I had an experience recently that made me wonder.
I took Michael to a birthday pool party for a friend from school. Both of us ended up having a lovely time. But it didn't start out that way.
For one, it was raining.
By the time we arrived, the storm had almost cleared. There were a bunch of kids already there, but only one was Mike's age: the birthday boy. Most of the other kids were older. I didn't know any of the parents there and was worried this was going to be one very long "party" indeed. Mike, wasn't fazed a bit. He quickly joined in the squirt gun fight while they waited for the "all clear" to go in the pool.
Once the life guards gave the go ahead, all the kids jumped in. I sat poolside to keep an eye on Mike who is a new swimmer. When in water over his head, he does the panicked-dog-paddle: lots of furious movement, very little forward motion. All the other kids seemed to be very strong swimmers and their parents were inside the air conditioned club house.
As I was looking on, I heard one of the older kids say to Mike, "Why do you hold your nose when you go underwater?" By the way he said it, I knew it wasn't just a question. It was really a statement, like "You look stupid", or something along those lines. I felt my blood start to boil. Mama Bear was on high-alert. Mike's response was so awesome. He said, "Soooorrrrryyy!" and just kept on doing it, holding his nose closed every time he went under water.
A little more time passed and I saw the same kid wrestling Mike's squirt gun away from him. (Grrrrr.) Mike, again, shrugged it off and grabbed another gun floating by in the water. Squirt. Squirt. Squirt. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. No big deal. Not to Mike, anyway. But to me? I had this kid locked in my sights. He was messin' with my boy and I didn't like it. The mama bear in me was trying to figure out how I could get in there and stomp on the kid's foot. I fought off the urge.
Not long after that, I see Mike go for another nose-holding underwater dive. The kid is right behind him, mocking him by holding his nose and pretending he was going underwater too. Then he grabbed Mike's foot and was holding it up as Mike tried to come up for air.
I couldn't stand it anymore! I marched over to the edge of the pool, not sure what I was going to do. Did I really want to make a scene? I chose to hover by the pool's edge, staring the kid down until he could feel my stink-eye burning into him. He got the message, let go of Mike's foot, and backed off. Mike was oblivious to both the mocking and the stare-down, and wasn't bothered a bit by the foot holding. I returned to my place on the sidelines, albeit still fuming.
A little later, one of the older kids suggested playing "sharks and minnows". I wasn't familiar with the game, but whatever it was, it was taking place in the deep end. Mike headed to the rope dividing the shallow end from the deep end. He tried to go under it. Once. Twice. But he kept getting panicked by the rope being over his head while he was underwater. He finally gave up. He stayed on the shallow side of the rope watching all the other kids playing the game.
Here's where my "mama bear" response turned from anger to sadness. My boy was left out. Watching him longingly looking over that rope was killing me. I actually started to cry. I wanted to help. I remember seeing some dive rings lying around, so I grabbed those and asked Mike if he wanted to play with them. While he closed his eyes, I threw the rings around the shallow end. He would search them out and bring them back. Kinda lame, playing with your mom at an 8-year-old's birthday party, but it was making me feel better.
Finally, one of Mike's friends from school came swimming back to the shallow end. He said to Mike, "Trust me, you do not want to go over there and play that game; it is really tiring."
They and another school friend (that had been hiding inside the club house with her mother) took up the ring game on their own and played together for the rest of the party. I found the moms of these two friends sitting on the other side of the pool at a table. We had a fabulous time talking and laughing. It was lovely. Everyone was happy.
I am so glad that I didn't let my "mama bear" fully take over, and I wonder if I should have intervened as much as I did. My instinct was to "Protect! Protect! Protect!" But the best thing for my son was probably to back off, wait and watch. What kind of man am I trying to help this boy become? Certainly not one that looks to his mother (or anyone else) to solve his problems, or deal with his emotions, or face challenges. I'm here for him - on the sidelines (more or less) - to help him deal with the issues which are too big, or overwhelming, or dangerous for him at this point. But the fact was, he was dealing quite nicely without me, thank you very much. Not always something a mother wants to admit. As hard as it is, that's what I truly want and what is best for my boys.
From Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth