What do you do when you really don't care for your kids' peers?
Let me set the scene for you. We are beginning our third summer at the pool we belong to. Because it's a pool that you need a membership to visit, the crowd there is pretty consistent and the girls have started making friends who they see often. Which is a good thing...and a bad thing.
Madison has developed a little more "pool independence" this summer. She is comfortable there, and knows her limitations. She knows that she can touch the bottom in a certain area of the "big pool", and she's no longer afraid - but she also knows her limits, and is very aware that she is not to go in without either an adult in there with her, or an adult sitting on the ledge and her puddle jumper on. She knows that Reagan is not allowed in the big pool at all. She knows that she can play in the baby pool with her sister. She knows which (few) toys we bring to the pool, and that she needs to keep track of them. She has been very careful to store swimming Belle's sunglasses and sarong in the car, because she knows they'll get lost. She knows to check for the name on the bottom of her cups and pails, and that toys don't have a place in the "big pool". She knows how to get food from the snack bar, but she also knows that she isn't allowed to do that without an adult. She knows some other parents, and the other kids who are around her age.
The problem starts there. Most of the kids are sweet and friendly, with parents who are attentive and pleasant, but obviously not everyone fits into that category. Last summer our main issue was with two little boys who would intentionally come by and open the gates to the baby pool, because they thought it was funny that Reagan would try to get out. This summer we haven't seen them much, and when we have, they seem to have moved on.
This summer, it's almost worse. One little girl, let's call her "Elsa", is about a year older than Madison, and always seems to be at the pool when we are. I'm not quite clear on who her parents are - I feel like I've seen various adults with this child, none of whom seem to be a mom or dad. Grandparents...a nanny maybe...I'm not sure. Whoever they are, I'm not impressed with their management.
Because Elsa is everything I don't want Madison to be. She's controlling. She's bratty. She's entitled. She's exclusionist. She's rude. She has absolutely no social skills whatsoever. And she has latched herself onto Madison in a way that irritates me to my core. She does not get hints. She does not listen to adults. She does not take no for an answer.
Up until last week, Elsa was annoying, but I could deal with it. Her main crimes were taking the toys that Madison and Reagan brought with them (because "they weren't using them" or "she didn't know who they belonged to") and trying to coerce Madison into breaking rules: going into the big pool without an adult and getting snacks without asking. Fortunately, I am still a very vigilant mom at the pool, what with two non-swimmers, one of whom doesn't always know her limits, so I'm pretty on top of this and can police the toys and give Madison the eye, reminding her to make the right choice - which I'm proud to say she has always made.
Last week, she wasn't only doing these things, she went beyond. On Wednesday, my girls had their first swimming lesson. Their lesson was at 3:00, but we got to the pool around 2:30 so they could play a little first and we could get ourselves settled. We also brought my sister and niece, which is a huge treat for the girls. They love playing with their cousin and the three girls are very cute together. When we got there, Elsa had just finished her lesson and immediately ran into the baby pool area (where I always store our bag) to play with Madison (and more likely, to comb through said bag to find out which swimming Barbie dolls we'd brought that day so she could snatch whichever one she wanted and convince Madison that Reagan's toys really belonged to them).
After becoming bored with the Barbie situation (with the exception of the one in Madison's hands, I'd hidden all the other toys at the bottom of the bag), she tried to get Madison to go in the big pool with her. I reminded Madison that she needed to go in with an adult, since we hadn't brought the puddle jumper, and that she didn't have long before her lesson started. Elsa started whispering to Madison while "subtly" pulling her toward the gate (I say "subtly" because five year olds aren't actually that subtle).
When she realized that Madison wasn't going to leave (because not only did she know the rules, but her cousin was with us), she reluctantly gave up and brought a few more five year old-ish girls into the baby pool to play. From what I could tell, the majority of this play, dictated by Elsa, was focused on not playing with certain other kids (mostly boys or younger kids, but also a few girls around their age), and telling them they were not allowed to talk to them when they came within earshot. As quickly Reagan and her cousin pulled toys from the pool bag, Elsa started taking them. Madison was quick to tell her "that's Reagan's" or "we brought that for Katie", but Elsa told Madison they weren't baby toys, so it was ok. I, along with another parent, intervened in all these situations, while Elsa appeared to be completely unsupervised.
At this point, we were five minutes into our pool afternoon and I could sense that I would spend the majority of it parenting a bratty child who was not my own, so I was becoming cranky. Thankfully, it was soon time for our lesson, so we'd have a blessed half hour free from Elsa.
Or so I thought.
Lessons take place in the area of the pool where most of the kids play - the square section where the depth is consistently 3 1/2 feet. Lesson groups are small - 2 or 3 kids - and they work with the instructor while other kids are in the pool, playing. The vast majority of the kids know the teacher, and know that although you are free to play, you let those having a lesson have their lesson. The kids are present, but I wouldn't say that they are in the way.
Elsa does not seem to care.
She spent Madison's entire lesson approximately six inches from Madison and the teacher, talking non-stop to Madison. The coach asked her for some space. I asked her to leave Madison alone. Madison finally snapped and told her to go away.
She did not.
After about fifteen minutes of this, some parental type figure, worsening what was already a pretty severe and very painful looking sunburn on a lounge chair, called to Elsa that she was "being a brat" and to "knock it off". Parental type figure did not get up, and when Elsa ignored her, did not seem phased.
We finished the lesson, and I got the girls a snack. Elsa, at this point, was throwing a tantrum because Madison, incredibly frazzled by the end of her lesson from the constant commentary from six inches away, had gotten out of the pool and yelled at Elsa to STOP FOLLOWING HER and STOP TALKING TO HER.
Here, I mildly told Madison to make sure she was polite when she said it. But that it was ok to want some space.
Sadly, this break up didn't last, and as the afternoon progressed Elsa latched right back on and continued to dominate every last moment of our pool time. When another friend of Madison's joined the group, Elsa started conspiring to exclude this other lovely girl, get Madison to leave the gated area around the baby pool, go back to snack bar for treats, "share" her toys, and generally lead Madison down the path to be a bratty, selfish, spoiled, annoying little monster.
That night, Madison and I talked about Elsa, and I reminded Madison that no matter what, she knew the rules, and she knew how to be a kind girl, and she knew the difference between right and wrong, and that no matter what someone tried to get her to do, she knew that she needed to make the right choice.
But I really don't know what to do. Because here are the facts:
1) Elsa is a frequent pool visitor and a member. She is not going away.
2) Because Elsa's lesson is right before Madison's, she will be there around the same time as we will.
3) Elsa does not have anyone who seems to care about her behavior,.
4) Although Madison doesn't have a high tolerance for her, she does claim that they are friends. She doesn't seek Elsa out at the pool, but when Elsa makes a beeline toward her, Madison does play with her.
So what's the answer? Because if it's that I just need to deal with her, it will make the pool very unpleasant, and the summer has just begun. Obviously, I've talked to Madison - and will continue to talk to Madison - but it's not like I can forbid Madison to have any contact with her. I can't talk to her parents since a) I don't know who they are and b) they've made it pretty clear that their discipline is limited to calling her a brat when they've heard a few random adults try to politely tell her to CUT THAT CRAP OUT.
But beyond my annoyance with having to keep three eyes on the pool toys, chaperone the lessons to make sure my kid can actually hear the teacher, and make sure that charges for rogue popsicles doesn't appear on our bill, my main concern is that I don't want Madison to start copying this behavior. I'll nip it as soon as it starts, don't get me wrong, but I don't want it to get there. And I don't want our fun summer at the pool to turn into Mommy Smackdown.
So I'm really asking, readers. What would you do? How can we keep pool time pleasant for EVERYONE?