What happens when you witness your child get a right hook square on his mouth from another child?
This is a question I don’t ponder very often until actually faced with its reality as happened earlier today.
My son and I were at our local beach park this morning and enjoying the shallows in a small inlet area that protected us from the full fury of the Atlantic ocean (thanks Hurricane Earl). It was a pretty uneventful morning that included our friends with their son about the same age. The boys were enjoying the sand, water and exchanging food and toy dump trucks.
There were other parents with the same idea who had come to the same watering hole and were scattered along the small shore as the kids played together or apart. It’s always great people-watching in specific groups like today where you could mentally label yourself and the other moms around. There’s the sun-phobic mom with her kids covered head-to-toe in protective fabrics, there’s the junk-food mom handing her kids unlimited amounts of Cheetos and Pepsi soda, there’s the granola-mom with her organic celery and carrot sticks for snacks and I’m no exception as I probably resemble the crazy-European-mom with my son running around in a swim brief diaper alone with organic strawberries in his hand and all over his face!
With this flavorful but simple setting described in full detail, I now can properly relay the following shocker.
A mother and her son had been close to my son and his friend for at least an hour. This child was probably in the range of 4 to 6 years old. He had one of those sun hats on that cover the ears, neck and tie underneath the chin. He also had a long-sleeved swimshirt on and trunks that fit like capri-length. His mother was the only one at the shore there that hadn’t taken off her coverup. The boy gravitated to our two boys and they gladly shared their beach toys with him, impressive for toddlers! We had gone in for another dip in the water when the mother was preparing her son to leave. Most of us Florida moms will take our children to the shower or water faucets provided to wash off the sand and such–many with smaller children will just strip their child in a tasteful manner in order to remove the excess sand and then quickly towel them and take them to our respective vehicles. This mother may not have been aware of the local custom as she proceeded to strip her older son right on top of the little beach wall next to where everyone was wading into the water. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made such a sight if the poor child had some color instead of South Pole Polar Bear white. Nevertheless, I caught myself in my mental judgement and shrugged off that maybe she was having a bad day as I watched with my girlfriend as she began to dress the older boy in (surprise!) a long-sleeved shirt and pants. She had been scolding him almost nonstop that morning and said something to him again (in a language I think contained Spanish, but might be Portuguese or even Argentinean). At that same moment I was watching as my son was walking along the sand behind them and stretching his arms with a yawn. In a moment too quick for a breath I witnessed this other boy suddenly turn to my son, give a terrible glance and then his right arm extended fully straight and swung straight at my baby smacking him squarely on the mouth. (!) I lunged forward as my son’s eyes darted immediately toward me as he stumbled back for a moment but didn’t fall. His face paled and eyes widened as his hands dropped to his side and his mouth made that pitiful upside-down “U” that many of us parents are familiar with but it makes your stomach churn. As that moment passed, my son’s arms reached for me as I sped toward him and scooped him into my embrace. My peripheral vision caught the mother pulling her son toward her and asking what happened. I cannot properly distinguish all the different emotions that hit me at once, besides obvious shock, although I do admit there was the irrational “I want to go smack that child back and then pummel the mother while cussing her out in Greek!”.
After a blurry minute or so, I ended up slipping on the sandbag pilings next to the sea wall–making sure to get my son into the water safely while allowing my all my toes on my right foot be simultaneously stubbed and sprain my ankle. My friend gathered him up while I regained my composure. I looked at the mother and son now about 25 feet away from us and decided on impulse to do the following: I took my son back into my arms, made sure he was okay. Besides clinging to me like a newborn monkey, he hadn’t cried one tear or made a sound. I then proceeded to explain to him that I was sorry this just happened to him but he must try to understand that this boy may not be aware of what just happened and that I hoped if the child did that he may have not meant it. All the while, I’m walking up to the mom as she is frantically finishing his buttons and such. She asks me quickly and quietly in her thick accent, “Is he ok?” I respond, “Yes, he’s fine, he’s just in shock.”, without looking at me again she tells me, “Well, yes, so am I”. In turn I no longer try to engage visual contact with this mother but instead look straight into her son’s eyes and proceed to address my son that, “It’s okay, baby, this boy didn’t mean to hurt you and as his mom is saying, he is sorry”. She was telling him at the same time to say sorry but he didn’t start saying it until I said that to my son. The child is now saying “sorry, sorry, sorry” repeatedly in a voice just above a whisper. I tell my son that “see, he apologizes and says sorry”, then I took my son’s hand and reached and took her son’s hand and put their hands together telling her child that we accept and thank you for the apology. We then spun around and left them promptly as they hastily left the beach park as we waded back into the water.
I honestly don’t know what possessed me to go the extra mile after that shocking incident even though the mother had made no effort to check that we were okay after her son’s violent outburst. But looking back at it tonight I realize that it may have been my personal nurturing instinct. At the same time of wanting to help my son recover from that blatant injustice I also wanted to reach out and touch that other child’s life if it’s the only time I ever see him in this world–I wanted this child to know there is such a thing as reconciliation, forgiveness and the opportunity at another chance to do better. As my friend astutely noted, we don’t know what this mother’s life is like. Maybe she’s abused by a man or maybe she’s the abuser and the child is only repeating what he sees. It could be the child just is a troublemaker with no clear reason as to why. Either way, I guess parents do share the awesome responsiblity of not only trying to raise their own children to be better citizens of the world, but also other people’s children as well.
I can’t tell you what to do if you see your child having an injustice inflicted upon him or her. If I may, though, I would encourage you to try to pursue the reaction that would be best for all the children involved even if it involves reprimand–it can be constructive and hopefully healing.