I Walk the Line

Friday, February 17, 2006

The old cliché is that the shoemakers kids are the ones walking around barefoot, right? Well, kids of early childhood professionals are the ones who fail to adhere to developmental timelines. They are also the ones on whom all the advice their parent has ever spoken will be guaranteed to NOT work. They will talk late, be constipated as exclusively breast-fed babies, and get chronic ear infections. They will also become biters in their classroom.

Yes, I was the Mom of the Biter. That Biter – you know the one who took a chunk out of your child’s face? Then followed that up with the bite on the back the next day? Yep – That was my kid.

What doubled my pleasure, so to speak, was my dual role as point person for the angry parents who wanted me to “do something” about that Biter.

Logically, I could tick off the reasons for Emily’s biting. She was small. At a year old she weighed a whopping 13 pounds so her classmates were behemoths in comparison. She used her teeth when she felt threatened or unsure. She also bit people when she was overcome with love or happiness. Knowing her life long struggle with the modulation of her emotions and her eventual diagnosis of ADD, it doesn’t shock the Me watching seven years later. But try to explain to another’s mother that your child loves her child so much, that she bit them. Not a popular sell.

For Emily, she was also dealing with a significant language delay. Having experienced chronic ear infections from the age of 3 months on, she was a very late talker. She would get frustrated with a friend, and since the word or objection couldn’t be quantified as a word – the teeth were handy and fast.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The day that another child bit Emily, I fought back my urge to punch a 14-month-old child in the face. I also knew that my husband was going to go apeshit when she saw the marks on her cheek. “Who was it, Who was it, Who was it” he grilled me over and over.

“Are you asking me as the mother or as the Director?”, I responded

“The Mother”, he said

“I don’t know, as the mother. Staff doesn’t tell you the name of the biter.”

I braced myself for the follow up.

“Then Director. I am asking you as the Director.” His eyes were widening, mouth tightening.

“As Director, I must tell you that we don’t release the name of the child. It is a matter of program policy and confidentiality. I can assure you, however, that the parents have been notified and are working closely with the staff.”

I took a deep breath. I braced myself, for the gale was a-coming.

“What!!! You will tell me Dawn. You will tell me who bit our child! You will tell me …or I’ll sue you. I’ll sue the Center! This is a matter of health! What if that child has something?” He paused, panting and huffing.

After several more threats to my professional well-being, he desisted. The tables turned soon after. WE became the parents of THE BITER!!!

Her reign was not mercifully brief. She had a long and glorious stint as the top shark in the pond. It persisted through the Two-year-old room, off and on.

The crowning moment in my title as “Mother of the Biter” came after one of Emily’s best beloved friends transitioned into the classroom.

Now, Early Childhood people worth their salt will tell you that groups of children behave in some very predictable ways. In groups of Toddlers, new children are often targeted with a bite. This may come from the last child to transition into the group – or may come from the “Top Toddler” so to speak. I wasn’t kidding when I referred to my groups of Children as “Wolf Packs”. They have very, very similar characteristics.

J was coming into the Ones and Emily was overjoyed. She was her buddy in badass behavior. In fact, this group of Mom’s and I often joked that there must have been a streak of Bad Ass in the water, since we had produced some of the most Bad Ass group of little girls to grace the center in quite a long time.

Day One, Emily greets J and Bites her on the right Cheek. The bite takes up about 70 percent of J’s cheek. It is a nasty thing. Purple and swollen. I want to cry when I see this other child. It is bad. It’s a bite that, as Director, I have to call the Mother about. A mother whom I considered to be a friend. As with my husband, I am going to be questioned. As with my husband, I am going to have to hold the professional line.

This Mother was actually OK. This was her second child, and she was a bit more relaxed when it came to life in the child care center. Her husband, predictably, flipped out. I believe that she later told me that he had wanted to come beat up the Toddler who had bitten his child. I understood.

No, the beauty of my tenuous situation came from another mother in the group. Mother of the child who had bitten my own child, in fact. Having observed J’s bitten face, she approached me in the hall.

Her: “Boy, J has a bad bite!”
Me: “Yeah, It is a big one”
Her: “You know, I’ve been thinking. The parents of that Biter have got to do something about this. I mean, they can’t be very good parents if their child keeps biting, right? What kinds of parents have a child that bites like this?

Me:” I can tell you that the parents are very aware of the situation. They are working closely with the staff and they feel just terrible about the biting.”

Her: “Still, if they were better parents, their child would stop biting.”

At age one, Emily taught me that while she is Of me, she is not me. She has to make her own way, as hard as that is for me to watch and experience. So what kinds of parents have the biter – or the hitter, or the pincher, or the pusher-downer? Ones just like Terrance and I, apparently.

15 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

Youch. That's a tough one chew (and swallow) lol sorry. No really, my daughter doesn't do any of those things, but she has her own share of sensory issues (which is what I think they are). I think they are adapting to their environment and reacting in ways their body leads them - be it socially inappropriate.

I don't excuse it, and I'm certain if I were either parent (biter or bitee), I'd feel awful.

Diana said...

I am the parent of a biter-in-the-making. He will want to kiss you, and does so, but then he doesn't let go of the grasp he has on your neck. And then you see him coming at you, mouth open wide, teeth out, ready...
I'm so afraid to put him in daycare. I know I'll be getting calls every day...

Diana said...

yeah, and he likes to hit. for no reason other than his entertainment.

Meghan said...

Oh man. We are looking intol day-care for Madge (18 months). I can't decide if it's worse to be a parent of the biter, or the bitten.

Your predicament was a very amusing read, I must say.

Table4Five said...

We had a biter. Ryan bit at daycare, and he bit once at preschool when the kid in front of him wasn't climbing the ladder to the slide fast enough. So Ryan bit the back of his leg. And yes, we felt awful every time.

As both the Director and the Mother, it sounds like you handled the situation very well.

The Gradual Gardener said...

My daughter wasn't a biter, but she did kick another boy in the face once at a karate tournament (accidentally). The judges made her sit down and face the way while they discussed whether or not to disqualify her. We were sitting in the bleachers with the boy's parents at the time. Not something I'd like to repeat.

halloweenlover said...

Oh Dawn, I think this is a good lesson for all new parents. I know that even though I tell myself not to, I look at some kids and think, I'll never do that. I think your kids then laugh in your face about it.

Woman with Kids said...

I sympathize, it can be really rough to have the "bad" kid of the daycare.

Jenny said...

You opened my eyes to something new today.

Lisa said...

My little guy liked to bite me in the shoulder when he felt like he wasn't getting enough attention. One of his friends, Peter, liked to bite his mom when he felt overwhelmed in a situation and wasn't getting attention. (From what I've heard biting is a SI dysfunction symptom. I found that interesting.)

Isn't it interesting how little kids even have a "pecking order"?

mamatulip said...

It's a tough situation for both parties...I don't envy anyone in either situation. This was a really, really good post, Dawn, but your posts always are.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably displaying no small amount of ignorance asking this question, but is biting associated with the oral phase of learning/development? I know kids learn a lot by sticking things in their mouths-- does this extend to other children?

Anonymous said...

What can you do when your kid is another kid's favorite bitee? This situation has resolved itself for us, but perhaps you have some advice for others about how to handle it when your kid is the one getting bitten every darned time?

My kid responded by doing some biting of his own (revenge style, baby) which was *not* kosher.

Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

I was a biter. I have no idea why, but I outgrew it after having my mouth washed out with soap a few times.

I love that you write about the realities of being a parent, instead of the always sugar-coated versions of motherhood on some blogs.

Julie Marsh said...

I'm afraid that CJ will be a biter. She doesn't seem to be malicious when she bites, as her latest trick is to bite my nose, but try telling that to another toddler (or the toddler's mother).

Tacy was bitten a few times back in NJ, and she always tearfully informed the biter, "That's bad manners!"

It's part of the routine. Some kids bite. They learn. It takes time and patience on everyone's part.

What a dilemma for you, though. And what a rotten position to be in, listening to another parent unknowingly (and extremely unfairly) criticize you.

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