OK, so maybe I overreacted. I will admit that up front. In hindsight, I would have escalated action much more slowly, but still…
My daughter was approached on the playground today by a couple of boys who, for some reason, raised my hackles. Perhaps it was the aggressiveness of their approach, perhaps it was their pack-like behavior. Maybe they are simply a couple of budding sociopaths and I have developed a keen sense for those people due to some past personal trauma when I let one get a little too close to me.
Can a three year old even be a sociopath? I doubt it. But still, I had a bad feeling about these boys. They seemed to be violating an unwritten code of behavior by approaching without greeting, pointing and gleefully calling names. They were not normal boys. I hadn’t seen boys act like this yet.
She was playing alone about 20 feet from me when they spotted her and ran together right toward her like a pair of jackals at a lone lion cub.
I heard one say, “Look at the poopy-head!” And he pointed at Matilda.
OK, you see how young (and probably more or less still innocent) they are. But there was something in their behavior that seemed off. These weren’t normal boys.
Matilda says, “Go away. I don’t like that.” I’m glad. We try to teach her to handle herself.
They ignored her. She reached out her hand to protect herself and said “Stop!”
Still they circled her and taunted. WTF? I looked around to see if a parent was coming to check this behavior. Nope.
Matilda moved away from them and ran to me.
They followed. Still calling her names.
I say (in a perfectly calm voice), “Hey, that’s not nice. How would you like it if I called you a poopy head? Now you leave her alone.”
The little shits did it again and came at her at my feet.
I say, “Hey. Stop it. Where are your parents?”
I look around. Nobody seems to be watching these little bullies.
“Get out of here. Leave her alone.”
They leave for a moment and move toward the climbing frame. But as soon as Matilda leaves my protective embrace they pounce again. She runs back to me with them following, gleeful at the distress it is causing her. Now you see why I toss the term sociopath around? Look it up.
Something fierce is stirring inside me.
“Get away from her. I won’t tell you again. Now go find your mommy or nanny or whoever is in charge of you.”
Again I look to see who is in charge of these little pricks so I can have a word with them. Nobody seems to care. I start to think they might be alone.
When Matilda leaves my lap again, again they pounce. She runs to me with tears in her eyes.
My protective instincts are in full tilt. But I don’t know how to get these kids away from her. They do not respond to respectful requests and adult supervision. I’m not going to hit them. What the hell am I supposed to do here?
One of them reaches in to lay a hand on her with a sick little smile on his face like he is enjoying the terror he inflicts. I lose it. My one recourse seems to be, they respond to fear, put some fear in them.
“GET AWAY FROM HER!!” I roar. It echoes off the buildings, the playground falls silent, birds flee.
It came out quite a bit louder than I planned. I see the sick glee in the face of one boy twist into horror. He turns and runs, the other in hot pursuit. Both wail.
It isn’t more than a minute before the mothers emerge from their neglectful slumber to scold me. One gets in my face. I remain sitting in order to prevent escalation. I tell her to get out of my face. She does. “Someday, your daughter will be pushing someone around would you want someone to do that?”
“Of course not, that’s why I keep my eyes on her.”
The gall of that assumption tells me this is an argument not worth pursuing. I refrain from accusing them, I refrain from calling her monster a monster. I simply say I tried 3 times to get them away from my daughter, and asked where their parents were and they ignored me. I did what I thought I had to to protect my girl, who was obviously seeking protection instinctually.
Plus, I’m doing my job as a dad to teach her that kind of behavior is unacceptable. You do not pick on the weak, you protect them. You stand with them. The second I see her push someone, I leap into action and tell her that it’s not ok to push. Isn’t that my job? (But I shouldn’t have yelled at the boys that loudly – they are weaker than me. I get that.)
The mothers (one was an aunt) of these boys move away and there is a mommy/nanny gaggle in the middle of the park. Voices are raised. I assume they are talking about me, the monster in their midst. I feel bad that I exploded the way I did. There I go again.
One afternoon Matilda pushed a little girl away from the slide she wanted to use. Her mother (my wife) grabbed her, explained that is not ok to push and made her apologize. She refused. “If you don’t say you are sorry, we are going home.” It took some convincing, but she said sorry. We even turn the whole princess thing into a lesson in social justice – “A good princess looks after the unfortunate. She takes care of those who need her help.” I know for a fact that I am not and will not ever be perfect at this. But I endeavor to do my best.
Security shows up. I tell them we are ok. we’re working it out. They leave.
I walk over with Matilda in my arms and apologize, “Listen. I’m sorry. I apologize.” The mommies refuse my apology in a narcissistic drama of self-righteousness. Oh boy. “Well, anyway, I am sorry I over-reacted.”
Fine. I did my part to clean up my mess. As we walk back to our stroller another mom from the gaggle tells me, “I saw what they were doing. I was sticking up for you.”
Really? Because I’m feeling like a shit right about now.
“Thank you.” I say.
Matilda and I leave (it was almost nap time anyway.)
Up on the corner, I run into a pair of nannies who I saw leave during the commotion and say sheepishly, “Sorry if I scared you, I think I overreacted back there.”
One looks me in the eye, excited, and says, “Oh, no! You a daddy protecting ya girl. Everybody complainin’ ’bout those boys. Every day they bully and we hafta leave. Ya’ did what we all want ta do.” She explains that security has been called on those boys multiple times in the past. “Next time, save dat yell for da parent. Da parent deserve da yell.”
The parents? You mean the ones who won’t keep an eye on their little bullies and wouldn’t accept a decent and humble apology? Nothing I do is going to help them.
Next time, I will do it differently. I will get up and ask around who is in charge of these boys and ask them to discipline them. If they don’t solve the problem, we leave. “Lord I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done and by what I have left undone…”
But if I deem it necessary and I see no other option, I will always ferociously protect my little girl. Isn’t that my job? I am the lion in the grass.
What would you do if this happened to you?
Birthday. Birth – “day”. The one day that is all about you. Well, the one day that it’s supposed to be all about you.
Unfortunately, Matilda woke up on her birthday with a fever and threw up first thing. Not a great start to the day that’s supposed to be all about you.
Fortunately, she had already had one birthday party at her aunt’s house.
But two dozen expensive cupcakes had been ordered to bring into school for celebration with her friends. Guess that wasn’t happening.
Hand, foot, and mouth had been making the rounds and my little Princess had taken her turn. Coxsackie is a nasty virus that causes fever then really painful sores to develop -often in the back of the mouth and throat. We knew for sure when she would cry every time she tried to take a bite of food or a sip of something to drink.
I’ve written a lot about her getting sick; and she has gotten sick more than her fair share. As a matter of fact, she had sinus infection and tonsillitis with two rounds of antibiotics in February alone. Poor girl. Couldn’t she catch a break on her birthday?
Nope, and neither could Dad. And I was looking at at least another week out of school. Poor me. Welcome to my pity party. Oh wait, this isn’t about me. See how I do that?
By the time she was feeling better on Tuesday we happened to have her well child appointment at the pediatrician. Afterward we stopped for a cupcakes so we could celebrate at home and she could open some presents.
At this point her birthday had technically lasted 12 days.
And with a little bit of luck, and some new medication, we had a party on Wednesday. The expensive cupcake shop agreed to let us delay, and they were delivered: 24 vanilla cupcakes with pink frosting and hot-pink sprinkles.
Which brought her birth-day total to 20 days.
But you know what?
Matilda didn’t seem to mind one bit.
First, my apologies to my readers for the password protected blog post. I had to respect the relative privacy of the other parents at Matilda’s day care. They got the password.
Let me explain.
The plan was to have a big Thanksgiving feast with all the parents and all the children until the room we needed was found to be booked. I was a little bummed when I found out that it was going to be just the children, I love watching the kids have fun together during school parties. Alas, the room they ended up having to use was too small to fit everyone. In fact, the room was a bit small for all the kids. So the parents were uninvited.
I had to figure out an angle. Ah! The fancy camera I bought my wife for her birthday so she could get me to take photos of our growing girl. In all honesty, I think my wife has taken about 150 photos compared to my 8000+. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. Well, maybe 6000 with the camera, the rest with my phone. But I digress.
So I show up with way too much cranberry sauce, since we were planning on parents too, and our camera. I volunteered to take pictures of the party so the teachers could focus on feeding the children. Sneaky. I got a press pass to the Turkey Day Pre-school party. (I knew all those nights of jumping velvet ropes in the 90’s would pay off eventually).
I got to attend the party, the teachers got to attend to their charges, and the other parents who were squeezed out or stuck at work could see pictures of their little ones having a ball. Matilda was overwhelmed by the ruckus and wanted me to hold her the whole time. So I actually had to turn my camera on all the other kids. Oh, and the parents were glad for the photos.
When I spoke with the head of the school afterward she told me a nice little story. They had done an exercise where the kids shared something they were thankful for. Many of the answers were silly or nonsensical and she felt she had missed the mark. But as the party wore on and the kids were really having fun eating together one boy looked up at her and said, “I’m thankful for my friends to share food with.”
Stay tuned for a how-to on making this bad-ass baby. You and your toddler will fly through the airport like OJ. (Too soon?)
Keep an eye out for a big life-hack post to make airline travel with a toddler a bit easier. The Airport Carseat-Stroller Rig. But until then, a pretty picture.