Bratty kid, or parenting fail?

When we were at the pool on Sunday, I noticed this stark contrast in child behaviors.

First, we met a little girl named Sophia. She’s 4 1/2, and apparently this is her first year taking swimming lessons. Her dad was in the water with her (along with her big brother, but he was 8 or 9 years old, and off in the deeper part of the pool with his friends), and she was practicing putting her face in the water and kicking. She came over to Catie and the two girls shyly introduced themselves. Sophia said to Catie, “I like your name,” which made me melt because I’m sure that an adult told her that’s a nice thing to say to make friends, but it was so sweet. I knew Catie wouldn’t know how to respond, so I said, “Well, I think Sophia is a beautiful name.”

She and Catie played together for a while, she showed Catie how she could put her face in the water, and Catie was duly impressed. Her dad was friendly and chatted with Dave and me while the girls played, and it was great. Soon they had to head home, and that was that.

Here comes the contrast.

Right as Sophia and her family were leaving, a new family showed up at the pool. Again, it was a dad (it seems the moms in our neighborhood get the day off on Sundays; I wish I’d gotten that memo), and there was an older brother and a little sister, but this time, the dad parked himself on a chaise lounge in the shade and started talking with another dad. The older boy jumped in and started playing with the older kids, and the little girl came over to me. Not Catie, just to me. She told me her name was Sarah, and that she was 4 years old. I did a kid introduction, “Hey Catie, this is Sarah. Sarah, this is Catie.” And I thought that maybe they’d play together nicely like Catie had just done with Sophia.

Um… not so much.

It became apparent pretty quickly that Sarah was in dire need of parental attention, and since her dad never once even glanced in the direction of the swimming pool to make sure that his kids weren’t drowning, she latched on to me. It started with her asking me a million questions and making me feel like I was in that Monty Python sketch about “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Then she wanted me to watch her while she did all kinds of pool stunts… which, oooookay, but shouldn’t your dad be watching you?

Also, I don’t know what the heck this kid does in her off-time, but she clearly is not supervised nearly enough, because she was covered in band-aids, which kept coming off in the water. Every time one did, I’d point it out to her and ask her to please go put it in the trash can (which she did). Then I’d look at Dave and make gagging faces. Band-aids floating in a pool is just about one of the grossest things ever. And this is why Dave and I started referring to her (after we left the pool) as Open Wound Sarah.

Then she started to get a little obnoxious. She and her brother had brought a ton of pool toys with them, but every. single. item. warranted this high-pitched, eardrum-piercing “THAT’S MINE!!!” shriek from her – and I’m not even talking about Catie, I’m talking about when her brother tried to use the toys. Even the things they’d brought two of (like, say, beach balls or pool noodles), she insisted that they were both hers, she didn’t want her brother to touch any of them. And I think it’s worth noting that none of her shrieking fits warranted even a glance from her dad, who was still engrossed in his conversation.

Next, she turned her attention back to us. Catie was playing with her inflatable pirate ship, putting her toys in it and pushing it out to Dave and me in the pool. Sarah asked if she could ride in the pirate ship. I said sure, if she wanted to share one of her toys with Catie. She gave Catie a beach ball (which Catie was happy to play with), and we let Sarah play with the pirate ship for a while. That’s fair, right?

About ten minutes later, Catie decided that she didn’t want the beach ball anymore, she wanted her pirate boat back. Sarah refused to give it back. I kind of stumbled with that one while Catie gave me this, “WTF, Mom?” look. I honestly wasn’t sure how to handle it at first. Then I decided that you know what? These are not communal toys, we are not on a playdate, and this kid has about a bajillion things of her own to play with. So I said, “Sarah, you know, Catie brought this pirate boat to the pool, so it’s hers. And if she wants to play with it, she should be able to play with it. You have a lot of your own toys here, so maybe you should go play with them instead.” Sarah gave back the pirate boat, then turned around and kicked the water to splash both me and Catie in the face. I said, sharply (and loudly), “Ok, that’s not nice, we don’t do that.” Her dad? Yeah, he still didn’t notice.

Sarah took off for the chaise lounge where her dad was sitting, rummaged around in their bag o’ pool junk, and came back with one of those Super Soaker water guns. I looked at Dave and muttered, “Great. Now she’s armed.”

And as I predicted, she spent the next few minutes filling up the water gun and spraying it into the air so it would come down on Catie’s head (which, hello, I barely got the kid to go down to the 2nd step, don’t get her head wet or she might freak and never come back). I told her to stop a couple of times, then finally said very loudly, “Ok, Sarah, that’s enough!” Apparently that was loud enough to get her dad’s attention, and he looked over just in time to see me making a face at Dave that probably indicated I was about to throttle his kid. He called for her to come put away the water gun. Finally. But that was basically his only parenting contribution for the hour that we were there.

But she still wouldn’t leave us alone, she kept trying to boss Catie around and take her pirate boat away from her, and it was just aggravating. Finally I said, “You know, I think it’s time to go home for lunch!” By that point, all three of us, even Catie, were happy to leave just to get the heck away from that kid.

I still can’t decide, though. Is Sarah just a bratty kid? Or is this her parents’ fault for not paying enough attention to her, and causing her to seek attention in negative ways? I was only around the kid for an hour, so I probably don’t know enough to judge, but I’m leaning toward the latter.

I just really hope we can avoid that family at the pool in the future. I have a feeling I’ll end up snapping and yelling at the dad to pay attention to his children if we have to go through that again.