Playground Fun

Any family who spends as much time on playgrounds as we do is bound to have a collection of stories.

Kids from all walks of life and all types of homes gather in concentrated numbers and encourage each other to lose their minds.

That kid who screamed so loudly, and so often, that you just had to leave. (How did her parents not address that?)

The kid who brought his pet iguana (or was it a Komodo dragon?) and hid out in the tunnel between the slides. (I wonder which family eventually called the police that day…)

That time I lost sight of Ainsley for a minute and finally spotted her – in the arms of a 10-year-old who was helping her to the top of a slide she had NO BUSINESS on. (I may or may not have used some not-very-playground-appropriate language)

Your first couple of playground stories are a big deal. You tell your spouse and keep them in your pocket for those conversations with other parents. But eventually, it’s just part of your new life with small, insane people.

OF COURSE there’s a kid peeing in the corner of the sandbox. He’s 3. Makes sense.

This week we had a playground encounter that was exceptionally classic.

I had all 4 of the minions at our local Chick Fil A. The plan was to let them burn off some steam for an hour after school, grab some milk shakes, and head to soccer practice.

We spend quite a lot of time at this particular Christian Chicken HQ. I have a pretty good idea of what to expect when we’re there. I’m comfortable enough at this point that I often sit right outside the play area and rest for a minute while the kids play.

On this particular occasion – for whatever reason – I decided to stay inside the play area. Ainsely just turned 2, and she’s JUST big enough to get around on this playground, but not QUITE big enough to do it super confidently. I guess I wanted to be there to catch her.

So the kids are playing, and there’s another kid in there too. I’m guessing he was 9 or 10. Fairly big guy. For the purposes of my story, let’s call him “Bubba”. I noticed him mainly because I kept hearing “SH**!” from inside the playground, and I kept straining to grasp the context – if it’s my kids, someone’s having soap for dinner. But I decided it must be Bubba.

So time goes by, and eventually he’s climbing down while Ainsley is climbing up. I watched, almost in slow motion, as he – let’s assume it was unintentionally – knocked her down, and then STEPPED ON HER HEAD.

So my 2 year little angle is crying. Little crocodile tears rolling down her face, and the most pathetic little hurt-feelings look on her face.

And what does Bubba do?

Nothing. He just kept on having a good time as if nothing had happened.

So, my 7-year-old son

knight-in-shining-armor big-brother extraordinaire

confronted him.

Josiah: “Hey, you hurt my sister.”

Bubba: “No, I didn’t”

Josiah: “Yes, you did.”

Bubba: “Not my fault. Not my problem.”

Daddy: “Hey bud. It IS your fault. And it IS your problem. You owe her an apology.”

Bubba: “No way! It’s not my fault that the little shrimp was in my way.” (yes, he literally said that)

Daddy: “Actually it is. According to the sign here, you’re too old to be on this playground.”

Bubba: <ignores me>

Bubba: <won’t look at me>

So I let it go.

Maybe it was an accident. Either way, I really don’t want to escalate this. Let’s move on.

I made that awkward wordless expression exchange with the other parents in the room:

“Geez. Can you believe this kid?

I’m not being a jerk, right?”

I’m replaying everything in my head, trying to convince myself that I’m a decent dad, wondering whether Donald Trump might have been a lot like this kid in his youth, and suddenly there’s crying and Kharis AND Josiah come running up:

“He just HIT her!”

I made them both tell me the story to be sure: Bubba just punched my baby.

Hey Mr. “not my fault not my problem”: You now officially have a problem.

His name is daddy.

I walked over to Bubba:

Daddy: “Did you just HIT my little girl?”

Bubba: <avoiding eye contact>

Daddy: “I’m asking you a question: did you just hit her?”

Bubba: “Maybe a I did. Leave me alone.”

Daddy: “What is your name?”

Bubba: <continuing to play and avoiding eye contact>

Daddy: “Son, what is your name?”

Bubba: “I. Am. IGNORING you!”

Daddy: “We’re going to need to go talk to your dad.”

Bubba: “What part of I’m ignoring you do you not understand?”

At this point, everyone in the play area has stopped what they’re doing. Me and Mr. never-had-a-spanking-in-his-life are the center of attention.

I was trying to be stern and reasonable at the same time, so I said:

“Look son, you’re making this situation a lot worse for yourself. At this point, you have 2 choices: You can walk with me and show me your dad, or I can go get the manager of this restaurant and ask him to remove you from this play area. That will probably be REALLY embarrassing for you and your parents.”

I really wasn’t trying to be vindictive. I wanted this kid (and honestly my kids, too) to learn a lesson: You can’t act this way. It has consequences.

But at that moment, his sister, who had been watching the whole time, volunteered to take me to his dad.

THAT, was the really uncomfortable part for me.

You really have no idea what series of events comes next. Maybe it turns out that this kid has some developmental issues, and this is just salt in mom and dad’s wounds. Maybe daddy is abusive and I’m getting this kid in the wrong kind of trouble. Maybe daddy is a bully and he wants to have an altercation with me in front of everyone while the instrumental CCM music plays in the background.

I know that kids don’t just wake up like this one day, so I expected the parents to be pretty apathetic, and that’s pretty much what happened.

I walked up:

“Hi. This is really awkward, but… is that your son? He just assaulted my little girl. Twice. And I’m not trying to make a big deal out of it, but he’s being really disrespectful about the whole thing…”

Dad got up. Calmly told Bubba to put on his shoes and come back to the table.

Following a very awkward 30 seconds of silence while Bubba put his shoes on, dad just said, “I’m sorry that happened.”

And they left.

Dad didn’t make Bubba apologize. He didn’t really address the situation at all.

In retrospect, I guess I wish I had handled it differently. I usually try and treat other kids on the playground like my own, and that usually works pretty well. Not so much this time.

I certainly don’t feel like this was a victory in any way. I cringe to think that Bubba got yelled at or shamed for his behavior. Or, more likely, that his parents just pretended like nothing had happened.

In my imaginary fairy tale version, his dad would have confronted him in the context, insisted that he apologize to Ainsley, and then I could have been the hero and bought him an ice cream or something.

Hopefully I’ll be better prepared next time.

For now:

Bubba, I’m praying for you and your family. Honestly.