Ethical Dilemma of the day
In which Daniel has the opportunity to LARP as the Responsible Grownup but pretty much spends the whole time OOC.
So Stellan and Frank and I went to the playground, because it was a beautiful day (and because Rachel and I had failed to specify where on the Rail Trail we might be meeting so we ended up taking simultaneous walks with our respective children on completely different parts of the same trail. Sorry, Rachel!)
Anyway. After we’d spent a half hour or so swinging on the swings and climbing the climbing thing and getting tangled up in Frank’s leash but mostly playing with handsful of bark mulch instead of the playground equipment, which is apparently much more entertaining than the bark mulch we have at home, this gaggle of kids erupted from the woods next to the playground. “Help! They stole my bike and threw it in the river!” They were, I’m guessing, ten or eleven years old. “Please help us, mister. They stole his bike and threw it in the river.”
Okay. So I pick up Stellan and I pick up his bag and then I was out of hands so I give Frank’s leash to the owner of the bike in question, who gratefully used that as an excuse to get tangled in some bushes and to not follow as the rest of us trundled about fifty feet along a path into the woods, where a different gaggle of kids erupted from behind a bush and sprinted off in the other direction.
One of the girls picks up the bike and we return to the playground, which is now empty, the two other families that had been playing there apparently having chosen to Not Get Involved.
We have not yet reached the ethical dilemma. The ethical dilemma was this:
What the fuck do I tell this kid?
Because now I’m standing in a playground surrounded by a half dozen sixth-graders who are earnestly explaining to me that this happens all the time, these same kids are always after him (pointing at the owner of the bike) and they have knives, mister, they showed me they had a knife, and mister I still have a shirt that’s all bloody because — waitaminnit what? I ask, incredulous, but No mister, he explains, they pushed me down this one time and I cut my lip, and they’re always trying to beat me up, and this one time I pushed one of them and then he punched me in the face and you’re going to be here for a while, right? Because they’re probably going to come back and beat me up. You’re not going anywhere, are you? Because oh no is that them? Are they coming back? Oh that’s not them, but please mister stay here in the playground in case they come back.
And god help me, but I am standing there listening to this kid and completely failing to stop this phrase running through my head: Bummer of a birthmark, Hal. God help me. I hate that that was what came to mind. But seriously, literally everything about this kid screamed Victim with a capital blackletter calligraphic V. His entire demeanor seemed from scratch designed to broadcast Yes, you can safely pick on me, I will neither fight back nor report you to an authority figure of any kind nor even run away. Instead I will wait in the playground with some random grownup and his toddler and his dog, where you know I am hiding, and I will wait for you to come back and threaten me again as soon as this toddler gets tired and this random grownup goes away.
And a whole future for this kid unfolds before me, a future of not asking for that raise and of putting in earplugs instead of asking the neighbors to turn down their music and of paying too much and accepting too little and never asking for directions and not asking her out and putting up with the dripping faucet and shyness curdling into loneliness and the whining edge in his voice closing off opportunities he never even notices existed and and and and and. Fear. And fear. And fear.
And I want to find the words that will cut this future off before it happens. I want this kid to understand that these aren’t gangsters, they’re kids in a fucking playground. I want this kid to understand that his fear is the only thing that gives them power over him. That these bullies are themselves weak and frightened and powerless and that they’ve discovered that a good way to pretend they aren’t so is to take it out on someone who doesn’t know how to not be frightened by them. I want him to understand how to not be frightened of these profoundly unfrightening figures. I want him to stop being a victim.
And I cannot find the words that will do this. The words that actually come out of my mouth sound pale and meaningless even to me, let alone to these eleven year old kids who are convinced that the other eleven year old kids are on their way back to the playground to stab them.
And I’m looking at my not quite two year old son and praying to myself please no. I know you are not going to just quietly blend in among the children of Savoy and Adams and I am just fine with that, I would in fact be deeply disappointed if you turned out to be interchangeable with the average child of rural western Massachusetts. But I need to find the words that will make that difference a source of power instead of victimhood. I need to find the words.
I do not know those words. I need to know those words.