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This is not a fighting house

May 24, 2012

So many times, I begin my talks with John something like this:  “This is not a _______________(fill in the blank with an undesirable behavior) house.  This is a ____________ (the opposite of the undesirable behavior) house.”

On our bike ride home from swim practice today I had a conversation with Madeleine and John about what kind of house we have.  I witnessed and consequently intervened in an event that left me feeling like crying while the big two had their swim practice.  Our little, who just turned three, was playing on the neighborhood playground that was adjacent to the pool.  The usual swarm of bigger boys were there—9 and 10 year olds, mostly–who for three years now have reminded me a bit of the boys in the book Lord of the Flies.  There was another three year boy there, along with a few girls and a few other young children.    I watched from other the side of the fence while the bigger boys equipped the little boys with sticks.  They then goaded the boys to fight each other, trading out one boy’s stick for a bigger stick so that boy would win.

I try hard not to be a helicopter parent.  I try hard to let things play their course so my children can figure out how to solve their problems without adult intervention.  However, when things get dangerous, I step in quickly.  I went through the gate and disarmed the little boys and scolded the big boys.  Didn’t they know better than to encourage these two littles to fight?  What would their mothers think if they had been paying attention?   My little said he was having fun and he wanted to keep playing, so I let him.  I tried to suggest the boys bury treasure in the rocks or build castles and use the sticks as flags as a distraction.  The situation seemed diffused, the older boys appeared chastised, and I returned to my seat on the other side of the fence, to watch.

I glanced at my big two swimming, making sure the middlest was in fact listening to his teacher (something he doesn’t always do—he has a bit of a stubborn streak).  When I looked back to the playground, I saw to see my boy laying face down in the rocks with the other three year old standing on my boy’s back.  Isaac was crying and the bigger boys stood from their perches on the playscape, cheering and laughing, egging on the bullying.  It took me no time at all to return to the playground and scoop up my no longer crying, recovered three year old.    Isaac told me he didn’t like the other boy and he wasn’t his friend.  I suggested we find other friends to play with in another location and off we went.

I couldn’t get the sour taste out of my mouth.  Questions flew through my mind.  How did these older boys think this was appropriate behavior?  Where were any of these boys’ mothers?  Where was the other three year old’s mother? Why didn’t I intervene quicker?  Why didn’t I scoop up Isaac and take him to a different location sooner?  How could such ugliness take place in my neighborhood, with the parents sitting within eyesight?  I vacilated between feeling guilt and feeling anger at the older boys.

I told Madeleine and John about what had happened on the way home and we talked about what kind of house we were.  John, my middlest, is inclined to take the superhero’s path most of the time and duke it out.  If he sees injustice, he wants to physically fight it.   I know that in 5 years, I don’t want to be one of those parents who sits by, not paying any attention while my older boy encourages little kids to bully each other.  I want my 9 and 10 year old boys to know that is not ok and for them to stand up for the little boys.  So, we talked about it now.  We are not a fighting house, I said.  We are a house that stands up for those that others are being mean to.  We don’t encourage others to fight and we don’t fight back.

I was born and raised a Mennonite.  In this context, what that means is that I believe that nonviolence is always the answer.  Always.  I believe that if you are hit, you turn the other cheek.  If someone asks for your cloak, you give them your tunic.  If someone asks you to walk a mile for them, you walk two (paraphrased from Luke 6:24-31).  I had to memorize that passage from Luke and the equivalent portion of the Sermon on the Mount at least two (possibly three) times before I was in 16.  It is one aspect of being a Mennonite I don’t see myself ever leaving behind, no matter how long I am Methodist or I live in Texas.  Violence solves nothing.  It takes more courage not to hit back than it takes to hit back.

Witnessing the bullying on the playground reminded me exactly how central to my child rearing those beliefs are.  A child who is raised not to fight back doesn’t need to derive his power from bullying others or convincing people smaller than them to bully others. I will keep working on my middlest, trying to show him that the real superheroes are the ones that help people and don’t hurt people.  Even the bad guys have a mommy somewhere that would be sad if they got hurt.  This evening, John got that.  We got home and he drew a picture of the good pirates and the bad pirates and how they would keep the bad pirates from getting the good pirates by building a big wall.  It’s a start.   It’s a start.  Tomorrow, we’ll take other toys and avoid the playground.  We’ll find the nice kids to play with.  We’ll continue to talk about what kind of house we have.

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