Photo: Two little boys on the last day of school. Delighted as can be. I? Well… I’m in mourning. No free time until September. Whoopie!
Today was the last day of school and there was a whole-school concert. Kids in the front skipping around, dancing and singing. Parents in the back, talking or clapping along, many staring at their phones or taking pictures with very expensive cameras.
I watched one of the older boys punch Ursa Major in the chest today during one of the songs. Kids are supposed to be skipping around. The aggressor is skipping from one side of the group to the other.
Skip up to Major. Punch One. Punch Two.
Skips back. Three. Four.
My kid is crying. He looks at me, upset. I’m in the back of the room, holding an overwhelmed Ursa Minor. I put up my hand. You’re ok, I mouth. It’s ok.
Skips back. Five.
Major has had enough. He pushes back.
I’m on my way now, Minor on my hip. I’m going to get my child. I’m going to make this stop.
The aggressor’s mother has now taken notice and jumps in front of me. She gets her child. She pulls him back into her seat where she is sitting with her husband. I pull Major to the back of the room. I give him a hug.
“You did the right thing. You did the right thing, baby. You can’t go punch back. You did the right thing. We don’t hit. That’s not what we do.”
My Father’s voice bellows in my ear from memories past: “If somebody hits you, you have the absolute right to defend yourself. You have the right to hit them back.”
He told this to not a few administrators in a Maryland middle school and high school. “You can’t punish my daughter for defending herself. You can tell me any policy you want to, but I’m going to tell you something: My daughter has the right to defend herself. She better not start any fights, but I’ll be damned if you tell her she can’t finish one.”
I can’t teach that philosophy to this child. Not at Four. No way.
(Name changed for obvious reasons. I gave the aggressor a jerk name on purpose to make me feel better, though.)
I had to clarify for Major (in my anger) in the car what my position is on this matter. “I want you to know that Chase was wrong. It was wrong for him to hit you. And you were right not to hit him back. Hitting is not ok. Under any circumstances. Ok?”
But Lord am I screaming at myself. It’s a bullshit philosophy. What the hell am I teaching to my son? What am I setting him up for?
I have been reminding myself all day that I can’t teach him how and when to break the rules until he knows them and knows them well. He doesn’t have a full grasp on the nuance of “defense” as opposed to “offense.” He doesn’t get that there is a line between starting some ish and finishing it. Hitting is just hitting for a four year-old.
Jesus Lord… this is hard.
I’m red hot angry. Still. Hours later. Why didn’t you stop your child the first time? The second? Why did it take my child fighting back for you to bring your child to heel?
And no apology? Not even a gesture? Not a look or a anything? This is a woman I know, who I actually like a little bit. But more importantly:
Why didn’t I support my child more when he was being assaulted? Why did I stand there and tell my child that he was ok when clearly he wasn’t and I knew that he wasn’t?
I’m so furious with myself. I let another kid assault my son today.
I cannot, in good conscience, teach my child to be a violent person, nor can I teach him that violence is the solution to problems. Even when violence is happening around him. It would be irresponsible. Even when we start learning about how to protect themselves in the world (I practiced Kung Fu in high school and college and plan for my boys to do the same), the emphasis will be on evasion, defense and meditation. Not flash, bang and punching.
But, in the meantime, I am his guardian.
His guardian. The big, Black, angry, ugly, scary thing that is supposed to stand between him and whatever wants to get at him. That’s my damn job and I didn’t do it today.
I recognize that this is partially a wrong mindset, too. I can’t go running around snarling at all of the little children of MetroWest. That would probably result in some confrontation with ye old constables of the “great” state of Massachusetts. I can’t get angry at every kid who lays a hand on my child. I can’t get angry at every parent, either.
So. I fall somewhere in the grey. I told my son I was proud of him. He could have, justifiably, responded to violence with violence, but he didn’t. I’m proud of my son because violence is not his instinctual answer to conflict resolution (unless he’s dealing with his brother…another post for another time). I’m proud of him because he didn’t fall into pieces, either. He stood his ground and then he got it together after I gave him a big hug and told him he did the right thing.
And I’m grateful to him because I think he is going to forgive me for my misstep this time. I won’t make this mistake twice.
No, I’m not going to beat up the next kid who punches my child. No, I’m not going to encourage my child to hit back. But I won’t tell him to sit there and take it, either. I’m not going to tell him it’s going to be ok when he’s under attack. I’ve got to be a better than that. I will be, next time.
To be clear: My Father’s philosophy isn’t totally wrong. It isn’t totally right, either. I don’t think I will be able to teach my sons full blown pacifism. My Father, hawkish and angry as he is, taught to put a bit of offense in that defense. I think for my sons, the emphasis will be defense, always, unless under the most ridiculous of circumstances.
Lordy. Thinking about my Father makes me need to drink.
A hot Friday at the end of a hot week, Dear Reader. I wish you ice-cold green tea. Minimal sugar, you! Enjoy that subtle and crisp flavor! I wish you peaches, bonus points if you grill one or two (it’s delicious! Try it! Especially over ice cream!). I wish you the summer breeze in the trees, a good book in your lap and not a single care for a few hours this weekend. I wish you a kiss on the forehead, a long embrace and a reminder of just how much you are loved: thoughtfully, fiercely, with the power of this world and the ones beyond.
Until Monday, Dear Reader, take care.