This I Believe
I was sitting at a small two-person table by the glass windows near the entrance to the McDonald’s playland, when I heard my son, Gaia, ask why he couldn’t play in the tubes, and stood up to get a closer look at what was going on. A young blond boy blocked the entrance. Gaia and the boy were sitting on their legs as the tubes were made to be small, even for young kids. They each had their eyes fixed on the other in momentary silence.
“You can’t play here…this is my playland!” said the blond boy.
“I’d like to play in the tubes. Maybe we could play together.”
The boy’s face scrunched up and his eyes formed slits as he coiled up.
“Gaia, please come down.”
Gaia glanced down at me, and back up at the other boy as he sat for a moment and thought – he watched the blond boy—he thought about the fact that he wanted to go through the tubes. The other boy attacked. He uncoiled his frame and landed neatly on my son’s torso, pinning his arms with his knees. He hit Gaia in the chest multiple times. I tried to remain calm, yet could feel my voice strain as I yelled:
“Let him go –stop hitting him.”
I lifted my foot, ready to climb into the tubes, and become physically involved when the other boy’s father came over.
“Hunter, play time’s over.”
I stared up at him as he stood next to me, in wonder at how he could pretend this was fun for Gaia. He noticed me and looked down, -smiling- until he noticed I wasn’t smiling back.
“Have you noticed your son is hitting my son? That is not playing.”
“They were probably just playing rough. You know, boys will be boys.”
“And where have you been while I’ve been watching this? I listened: your son
told mine that nobody could play in the playland. Your Hunter attacked him; that is not playing.”
“Hunter knows not to hit.” His voice became agitated and his hands were clenched tight.
“What was he just doing?”
The father glared at me. When Hunter came down the slide, his father grabbed him by the wrist and dug in his fingers. Hunter and I winced. The father dragged Hunter, quite literally at times, out the door and to an old truck. He let go in front of the truck and struck him across the face. “You know better than to hit!” reverberated through the glass wall.
I have thought back on this day many times since. Hunter is not a bad kid. When he was born, he was given no less or more to work with than Gaia. I believe nurture has a place in the making of human beings and children grow up to practice their childhood. If we give them violence as children or if we give them words, children use what they were given as children, when they grow up to be adults.
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