Linus, Lily and I were at the park the other night. While there I was witness to the harsh justice of three particularly unruly siblings. There was a boy, perhaps 9 or 10, a girl who was perhaps 6, and a boy who was probably 3 or so. The oldest boy and girl were playing with a tennis ball, and no matter what the youngest boy did he couldn’t wrestle the ball away for his own enjoyment.
But then a miracle happened, and somehow the youngest boy had the ball. But his elation was short-lived, as soon the girl was tackling him, pounding him on the back and calling him a litany of hurtful names that young children should not comprehend. I’m not talking about profanity, either. I’m talking about names that really hurt, the kinds of names a kid might just believe if they hear them enough, like “dummy” and “idiot” and much worse. The girl eventually got the ball, but the boy was more than ready to return fire with his own diatribe and some thrown sand to the eyes to boot.
Now, throwing sand in the eyes is pretty low behavior, but to be honest the girl was so hateful and violent to the boy that a part of me didn’t mind seeing her get what I thought were just deserts, at least considering the limited arsenal the boy had to use against the girl. I mean, she was really whaling away on this poor kid’s back and face for that stupid tennis ball. Still, I couldn’t just let sand-throwing happen on the playground, and it was the tipping point that finally caused me to stop biting my tongue and speak up. I felt bad that I didn’t yell at the girl, who I felt was the real instigator of the problem, but the time had come.
“Don’t throw sand!”
It was like a thunderbolt struck the ground. The young boy, the girl, and the older boy who had just been standing and watching his siblings battle all stopped and stared at me, slack-jawed. Obviously it’s shocking to be reprimanded by grown-ups you don’t know, but I got the distinct impression these kids weren’t used to being disciplined, period. After a couple moments where time seemed to stand still, they immediately ran to the other side of the playground and resumed their hateful, violent lives.
I did what I could.
Later I was getting a drink at the playground water fountain and overheard the girl telling her mother, who had been well across the park playing softball, that the boy had been throwing sand. The mother (I assume it was their mother) immediately began screaming for the boy to come over to her. I weighed whether or not it was any of my business to intervene, and ultimately decided I would. That little boy looked like he took a lot of abuse, though I’m pretty sure they all did in their own way.
I quietly said to the mother that the girl had been hitting the boy pretty hard, and that’s why he threw sand. Again, I did what I could, perhaps too much, perhaps not enough. I never know in those situations.
As I walked away I heard the mother screaming at both the little boy and the girl. And naturally, she called them “idiots”, plus other names I didn’t stick around long enough to hear. It made me think I had reprimanded the wrong person, but I said nothing.
I had already done what I could.