I hear the howl of a toddler and panic tightens my chest. I sprint in socked feet across the padded floor of the indoor play center dodging tiny children and miniature plastic cars to reach my towheaded son, but I see I am too late. His blonde hair is disheveled and tears stream down his face.
He holds his arms out to me, but I am not here to help my crying three- year old. I am here to investigate a possible crime scene.
“What happened?” I say to Benjamin, as I crouch down and place my hands on his little shoulders. The other boy has run off.
“He wouldn’t let me use the slide.” He explains between sobs.
I grab his hand and we follow the crying boy to his mother, who sits cross- legged on the floor with her mom friends.
“Did you bite him? I ask, already knowing the answer.
My heart sinks.
Why does my kid have to be the one doing the biting? This would be so much easier if he was the one getting bitten. I could sit back in judgment of the other parent, assuming they kept their toddler in a dog crate only exposing him to SpongeBob Squarepants and non-organic hot dogs. As Benjamin and I get closer, I notice that the boy has erupted into a complete screaming meltdown. His mother attempts to lift his shirt to see what happened and he goes ballistic. She turns to me, confusion in her eyes, and no trace of anger.
“Do you know what happened?” she asks me.
I wish I didn’t. She seems like a nice woman and I hate that I have to tell her that probably the worst thing that has happened to her adorable son, thus far in his life, was visited upon him by my mine.
“So, I didn’t see it, but I think Benjamin bit him. My son bit your son.”
She looks totally baffled. I don’t think she understands that this is a thing that children are capable of doing. Based on the decibel level of her child’s screaming, I am one thousand percent sure her son feels the same way.
This is one of those situations as a parent, where I can’t believe I am the one in charge. I feel like I should offer her money. “I’m so sorry about the whole biting thing. Does fifty dollars seem fair to you?”
But instead I ask Benjamin to apologize; we just stand there awkwardly for a few more moments and then walk away.
The good news for most of the toddler population of Los Angeles is that my son rarely bites strangers; in fact, the boy at the play place was his first. The bad news is that his target, almost exclusively, is his twin sister Sophie.
I scoured the Internet for advice, read books by “experts,” and talked to our pediatrician, but nothing helped. Time outs were useless, as was taking away his favorite toys. Teething rings helped if they were in his mouth at the exact moment of frustration, which was zero percent of the time. I felt judged by other parents, I felt out of control and I felt angry. Honestly, I felt like biting someone.
But nothing made me feel worse than my inability to protect Sophie.
Over the past year, her back was often a constellation of teeth marks and purple bruises. I felt guilty that I wasn’t supervising their every interaction, but sometimes one must leave children unattended- dinner must be cooked, a bladder must be emptied, pillows must be screamed into.
Benjamin, aside from the biting, is the kindest person in our house. He regularly tells me that I “smell awesome,” and that my husband is “pretty cool.” We have to regularly remind him that he can’t hug other kids on the playground without asking first, and he talks to adults with an ease that no amount of anti-anxiety medication will ever grant me.
I did that classic thing that many parents do, I blamed myself- I yell at them too much, I’m not consistent enough with discipline; I feed them too many quesadillas and let them watch too much Daniel Tiger. But then I had this brilliant realization. If this were my fault, then wouldn’t Sophie also be biting? Ha! One thing I can remove from the “Ways I’m Ruining My Kids Forever,” list.
As far as I can see, there is no magic solution to the problem. We avoid all the “over,” words as much as we can- overtired, overstimulated, just plain over it- which is difficult given toddlers can be unreasonable monsters on their best days. We talk about all the feelings, the big feelings, and the little feelings. It’s like a constant group therapy session in our house except the counselors running the show are winging it big time.
One day Benjamin shouted these words, “Mommy, I need help! I feel like biting right now!” Fuck yeah! I wanted to shout. Let’s be honest, I probably did shout that.
Here’s my advice to other parents that have a biter: WAIT. IT. OUT. Give them love, and hugs and remove them from their object of blood lust as quickly as you can. Give yourself love and hugs too, in the form of giant glasses of wine if you roll that way. Try to remember that it’s a totally normal stage of development for many toddlers. I know this because the Internet says so. Stay away from judge-y parents who make you feel like you are a doing something wrong, don’t worry, they’ll get theirs eventually. And most importantly, stay away from indoor play places. There’s always some kid in there that bites.