“Your child hit my baby!” That’s what I got to hear when I ran over to where my daughter was playing in a toddler toy structure, after a shrieking mother screamed, “Whose child is this?! Whose child is this?!” My daughter was a child, and her son was a baby. And despite her being *right there,* this was my fault.

Let me start at the beginning.

I needed to go to the grocery store so I started getting Kate ready for a walk since it was a nice Sunday afternoon. She didn’t want noodles for lunch. Wouldn’t touch them. She was okay with scrambled eggs, but only if I fed them to her. So finally she was fed, and I could get ready. After much longer than it should have taken, we were off.

I decided to stop at the park on our way to the store so she could get some energy out. She sat on the merry-go-round while the big kids pushed. She got off, then when I picked her up, immediately wanted to get back on and screamed at me. I convinced her I wasn’t abducting her from the playground by the time we got to the swings. After awhile swinging, I wanted to make some space for the plethora of other children there, so I took her out of the swings and turned to get our stroller. Bad idea. She took off running, in line with all the feet of the kids who were still swinging. Miraculously she didn’t get hit, but it wasn’t without dirty looks from parents whose apparently perfect children never ran into danger.

By the time I maneuvered everything, she was perfectly happy playing in the toddler play space, going down a small slide and playing in a ship play structure. I had to remind her a few times to make way for other kids, but mostly she was okay. She even sang her own rendition of “Believe” from Wishenpoof in the middle of the playground.

I was ready to make our way to the store and had just grabbed my water bottle when I heard it. “Whose child is this?! Whose child is this?!” Of course I knew it was mine. Why wouldn’t it be? The woman was standing directly in front of my daughter, completely capable of preventing a push from happening, yelling at me, “Your child hit my baby!” I couldn’t even look at her. “Your child hit my baby!” I just grabbed my daughter and apologized to the baby. The baby who wasn’t crying, wasn’t upset, and just looked at me and smiled.

I took my daughter to the edge of the play area and tried to talk to her, but of course she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand, because she isn’t a “child.” She’s barely out of being a toddler. She’s tall for her age. She has a huge head. Maybe you think she’s 4 or 5. But she’s barely 3. And she didn’t understand. And I should have stood up for her. But instead I told her that we needed to walk away and calm down if we couldn’t keep our hands to ourselves. She screamed and cried while I took her away.

It was probably the right thing to do, but all I could do was fume about that woman who couldn’t see my sweet little toddler, but just saw a mean child. I fumed because I’m afraid I have a mean child. That she’s a bully. Or that I’m somehow not showing her how to be nice. Or that I’m not teaching her better habits. OR THAT I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I’M DOING AND MY LIFE IS BLOWING UP IN MY FACE. Part of me wishes I had said something in the moment. Or turned around and told her off. But I think all of these feelings would have come out, and who knows where my daughter would have run off to next?

All I can do is continue to be her mother. Continue to try to get better. Not to be satisfied with whatever status quo is, but to commit to improving myself each day, week, month, year… Nothing is perfect. But I can try with whatever I have, even if it’s not perfection.