Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shotgun Daddy

I have seen the future.

Something happened to our little family on Sunday that gave me an eerily clear picture of the kind of dad Jason is going to be when Ainsley starts dating. I could just see him 10 years from now, gray in his hair, a few lines around his eyes, sitting on our stairs, absent-mindedly polishing a shotgun.

"Oh, this?" I can hear him say as the unwitting suitor comes into the entryway. And then like Ash from Army of Darkness, "This...is my BOOMSTICK! Now, I swear, if you even touch her..."

Sunday we were enjoying magnificent pool weather at Silverlake. Ainsley was, as usual, going back and forth from slides to diving board. Early on she was befriended (and by "befriended", I really mean "stalked", though in a kiddie Nickelodeon-meets-Lifetime-movie-of-the-week sort of way) by a boy a year or two older than her who kept challenging her to races down the twin body slides and who followed her everywhere she went.

When she tired of slide races, he followed her to the diving boards. I followed; even with lifeguards, we like to be close to her when she's jumping into 12 feet of water. Shockingly, some parents let their little four-, five-, and six-year-old kids have the complete run of the place with little supervision; we're worry warts so we tend to hover.

All the kids going off the boards at that time were challenging each other with cannonballs; the goal, of course, was to soak the lifeguard in their wake.

"Did you see how big a splash I made? Did you see my awesome cannonball?" asked Ainsley's admirer/stalker/stage 5 clinger after a very unspectacular jump.

"That wasn't even a cannonball!" replied Ainsley.

The boy did not like that comment and "playfully" slapped her on the arm. When she didn't react to that, he very unplayfully slapped her in the arm with a look in his eyes that frightened me; he was mad, and wanted someone to hurt. That's pretty scary in a 7- or 8-year-old.

"Hey! Don't hit her!" I said in my best controlled-anger, teacherly voice. I didn't like what I had seen. And where, pray tell, was this kid's mother, who should have been the one to tell him to not hit?

Then I pulled Ainsley aside.

"I don't like that this boy hit you. I don't want you to play with him if he's going to be mean to you."

So she went off the board one more time and told us she wanted to go back to the slides. I think she wanted away from young Ted Bundy.

He wasn't daunted just yet. "Oh, yeah! I'll race you down the slides! I call red!"

As we followed Ains back over to the slides, I told Jason, who had not been close enough to the diving board to see the slap, what had happened.

"I don't know if I want him playing with her."

"Oh, relax." he said. "Are you sure he wasn't just playing around? He was probably just being a boy."

Yeah. A boy who bullies. No big deal.

I left him in charge of watching Ains on the slides while I ordered our lunch from the concession stand. When I came back to our chairs, he looked very alert and very serious.

"Well, we're going to have an irate parent over here any minute now. I just chewed out a kid."

While I was gone, Angry Stalker Boy, for reasons still unknown to us and to Ainsley, followed Ainsley off the slides after a race and punched her (yes, punched, not slapped) in the back. Jason had watched them come one at a time off the slide and saw nothing transpiring between then that explained the punch.

Jason had just gotten up and said, "Hey!" when he punched her again, this time in the stomach.

My husband then went into his own angry-teacher mode. When he became an angry teacher back in the day, though, he was much, much scarier than I've ever been. This was the guy who broke up a girl fight by asserting himself and yelling in the middle of two wildcats about to claw and who once shoved a chair all the way across the room a la Bobby Knight.

He got right in the kid's face.

"Don't you ever, EVER, hit my little girl again."

The kid, freaked by my husband's leering 6-foot-4-inch frame and angry baritone, immediately ran away.

And cue the other parent in 3...2...1...

"Did something just happen over here? My son just came over to me, crying, and saying that another kid's dad just yelled at him and scared him."

I let Jason do the talking at first. He very diplomatically explained what he had seen and why he reacted the way he did.

"My son doesn't hit," the mother said. "Are you sure he wasn't just playing around?"

Are you freakin' kidding me?

I told the mom what I had seen earlier at the diving board and that, though I couldn't speak for what happened at the slide since I wasn't there, I could say with certainty that the slap at the diving boards was not a friendly, joking kind of thing. I told her how I had seen him slap her twice, with the second one done with what I perceived as anger.

She didn't want to believe that her angel would really hit someone out of anger, and Jason sort of apologized for scaring the kid but had the last word with, "I'm not going to just sit and let someone hit my daughter." Especially when it's an older boy who should know better and who seems to have some anger issues his own mother isn't aware of.

Just as Jason wanted to defend our kid, I know that she was just trying to defend hers and get the whole story. I would have investigated, too, if Ainsley said a stranger yelled at her. But since I keep a pretty close watch on her in public places, I have a feeling I would have seen something to clue me in. I'd like to think that if she hit another kid on two separate occasions that I would have at least seen one of them.

A few minutes later, we saw the mom and her family leave the water park. Ainsley wasn't hurt, and didn't cry after she got hit (though Jason said she looked like she was going to, which was part of the reason why he reacted so strongly), so we didn't make an issue of it after it was all over. But much later, after we had gotten home, Jason told me that his hands still felt shaky and he was still angry.

"The more I think about it...it was like I had an out-of-body experience. I saw my little girl getting hurt, and I just reacted. I'm sure I scared the crap out of him. But clearly the kid has problems."

Yes, clearly. Clear enough that I had not wanted them to play together after the slap at the diving board, but whatevs.

What was also disturbingly clear is that Ainsley isn't so great at sticking up for herself. I've always told her she needs to stand up more; when I watch her play with the neighborhood kids she kind of lets them walk all over her. They take toys from her, don't take let her have her turn, and generally boss her around. I don't interefere here because I am hoping she will assert herself more.

But her getting slapped and punched and just taking it...it's worrysome. The future I saw on Sunday with Jason guarding his little girl's honor with a well-oiled firearm has another grimmer chapter; Ainsley as a victim of domestic violence, just sitting back and letting a man slap her around when he gets angry and not putting a stop to it.

I know, I know, she's only 6. There's a lot of time for discussion and teachable moments. And when she gets a little older, those wonderful Lifetime movies (based on the true story.)

And a lot of time for Jason to polish his already-impressive Shotgun Daddy routine.

1 comment:

Karen said...

You go! I'm glad to know that there are other parents out there who get on to other people's kids who are behaving badly around our kids. We had a similar incident with a couple years older weird stalker kid at the park a few months ago. He even tried to stare me down. And as my great-grandmother used to say, "he didn't look right out of his eyes." The hubby had to scare him off - though he's not nearly as tall and intimidating as Jason. ;)