I can’t seem to get his face out of my mind. That lost, indifferent look. That look that wanted to be understood. That day at the park.
Summers are finally here in Toronto, and I’d be an outright cruel mom if I didn’t take my children to the park often. So this is exactly what I was doing that day. Sitting back on a bench while my wee ones played around. Now as a parent I don’t hover. I let the munchkins run about and make friends on their own. An occasional interference is called for when my toddler decides to run towards the street.
So my son was playing with a boy he hadn’t met at the park before. He must have been a year or two older than my daughter but definitely younger than my son. He seemed like a good kid and was enjoying trying out my son’s bike. My daughter decided to join the two and somehow she got the little dude all curious. He started running after her and then blocked her way towards the slide and anywhere else she wanted to go. I watched for a while then decided to head over. I could tell that he wanted to play with her but he was doing it all wrong. I casually told him to take turns with the slide. He let her through. I backed off and it started again. I could tell my daughter was getting a bit bothered. So I told him, ” Hey buddy, please share and don’t block her way.” He just looked at me. By now my paranoid-hovering-mom syndrome had completely taken over. I waited a bit longer to see if he would stop. I had seen a middle-aged man telling him to stay inside the confines of the park a while ago. So when he didn’t stop, I decided the oldest threat in the book would work. Of course I had no plans to but I still said, “I think I should talk to your dad.” To which he replied,
“I have no dad.”
Now this is the moment where all the blood drained from my face, an unnerving string of music began playing in the background, and I felt absolutely distraught. I leaned forward to hug the little kid and somehow vowed to help him. If it were a movie of course.
Unfortunately this was real life, and I was totally unprepared to handle such a response. I asked,
“Who do you live with?”
” I don’t know.”
“Where do you live?”
” Oh somewhere there”, he pointed across from the park.
And that was that. It was unbearably windy that day and with all the sand in my eyes and maybe even my brain, I couldn’t think straight. It was time to head home.
I thought about him all evening. I felt bad about threatening him like a tattle tale preschooler. I felt even worse about him going back to a home that he didn’t even know about , and a father he had no idea of. I wondered what his story was. Whatever it was, one of the main characters was missing. Possibly even the other protagonist too, the mom.
Isn’t this how it all starts? An unruly child that no one understands. A boy or a girl who acts out and gets rude stares and comments in return? An unknown dad, a missing mom, or neither?! A broken family where most pieces are beyond recovery. Do we stop to think why a child is acting this way? What’s eating him inside? What’s missing in his or her life? No. We don’t. We just pounce at the chance to show our superiority because we may have oh-so well-behaved children, and that gives us the right to judge another child. Just like that.
Isn’t this how bullies are formed? Instead of empathizing, the society reacts negatively and with intolerance. Sure this doesn’t mean that out of undue sympathy we should let kids get away with bullying or misbehaviour. But it does mean that we should not label them with that one belittling word or action. It does mean that there are other ways to handle a disturbed child besides hate. How can we expect children to understand their wrong actions where all we give them in return is harsh rebuke and lack of faith?
We don’t like giving others second chances. It’s always easier to label a person, even a child, for what he or she does, and not for what he or she is. That’s where the messed up cycle begins. One doesn’t understand the other. And inevitably, ‘that kid’ becomes the outcast; a lost cause; all are names we use to satisfy our egos. Because this somehow excuses us from the responsibility that we might have towards such children. It makes us pack our bags, shrug our shoulders and run back to our homes pretending that none of it is our concern. Exactly like I what I did that day. I judged him in my head without thinking things through, I acted all self-righteous and then ran away like a scared mouse.
I know that it’s not all this simple. There are always a zillion other factors involved. I am no expert, but I know that it all starts from home. No child is born a bully or a miscreant. It’s life and people like you and me who push the wrong buttons.
I hope I see that kid again though I am not sure what I’ll do. I’ll always jump to protect my children, that bit will never change. But at least I’ll know better than to play a presumptuous role.
Maybe if I see him acting up again, I’ll stop him and just give him a hug.
And maybe, just maybe, he’d understand why it was important to listen to what I was saying. Not because he had to. But because I cared enough.