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The Toy-Snatching Mother (She's a Friend of Mine)

We want our children to learn to share, right? To grow up and let the neighbors have some squash from the garden? Let a friend borrow their jacket on a chilly night... and not just because they want something in return, right?
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A friend, who once offered to pay to have the upholstery in my car cleaned after she left the sunroof open and a bird pooped all over the seats, brought her son, along with his light-up, growling dinosaur, to a play date at my house. When my 3-year-old reached for the toy, his eyes alight with wonder, my friend snatched it from his hands and put it on the ledge behind my couch.

"Oh, no," she said, not unkindly. "Dino is Tyson's toy." Her son, a 4-year-old who had just flattened our baby gate with a well-placed kick, hopped up on the cushion beside her and crossed his arms. I pressed my crying child's face to my chest and thought, "What the... ?"

I like to think I'm not one of those moms. You know, with The Face. Judging everyone. Why is that woman pouring Coke into a baby bottle? Why is that child bare-assed in the park? The righteous indignation. Because you can bet my kid has eaten a dog hair off someone's shoe before, and I know he was the one who crayoned all over the backs of those wedding invitations. (The Coke is hard to take though, I admit. Maybe because I'm so much more likely to cut spinach leaves into hopeful shapes with a cookie cutter).

But when I see another Mom, just as bleary-eyed and caffeine-craving as myself, lift a battered toy off a coffee shop's play table so it's out of reach of an approaching child, saying, "That's Josie's special toy" -- especially when Josie is across the room looking at a picture book -- I just can't get on board. We want our children to learn to share, right? To grow up and let the neighbors have some squash from the garden? Let a friend borrow their jacket on a chilly night... and not just because they want something in return, right?

My friend came over again. She brought her son, and a long rubber sword with plastic rubies glued to the hilt. When Matthew reached for it, she swept it up out of reach and let it drop behind the couch. My heart raced, and I stuttered, "Oh, we don't let Matthew do that -- he has to share all his toys!"

She got a little red in the cheeks -- I did too -- and then she said, "I know... I know.. it's just that he gets so upset if I don't bring it... and then if another kid touches it..." She trailed off, her eyes taking on the defeated look of someone who's wrestled a kicking child into a car seat many times, and doesn't want to do it anymore.

I lifted off my seat a little -- as if I'd spotted a toddler teetering dangerously near the top of the stairs -- and said, "I completely understand," a little loudly. I wasn't lying. That very morning my kid dropped to the ground screaming because I wouldn't let him walk on my neighbor's moss garden, so I let him go back and forth a few times before we went back inside. The kid is impossible. He still wears diapers, and when I hold out a pair of tiny underpants, wiggling them side-to-side, like dancing underwear is fun, he goes upstairs and slams the door to his room, throwing his weight against it. He's surprisingly strong. You do what you can.

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