boars, bears, bullies
what could be more painful than navigating those thin, dim turns that sometime make up the maze of childhood? what could hurt even more than traveling those lonely paths where at times you were unwanted, bullied, confused, or first came to gaze upon the twisted features of malice?
i’d guess that if anything, it would be watching your child travel the same terrain. granted, you don’t feel lost anymore. you don’t feel bewildered or disempowered. there is not the chasm-taste flooding your sinus passages; the open-ended mystery of when and where on earth the car will land when it is done tumbling. but the increased empathy channels the pain with a furious efficiency. it is in those moments of understanding that you nearly curse the ability to feel entirely…or damn the world for remaining so terribly unchanged after the passage of decades.
i’ve written before about how my heart aches when taking luna to the park (and now we add paloma) because of how overjoyed she gets about going to see “all my friends.” paloma and luna feel that every child is a benevolent force, and a well-loved friend they simply haven’t spent any time with yet. oh, how my heart breaks for the entire world when i am walking with them; for the human race that we learn the truth of things; for the truth of things. they literally leap for joy as we get closer, and i smile, soaking up their joy…and feeling any lingering news-worthy thoughts of extrajudicial execution, torture, bombs, unending wars, collapsing economies, lies and greed fading out of my mind the closer we get to the rides and the laughing children, and the further we move from the news.
the girls will usually find children they want to befriend, and play near them, looking for an opportunity to join in play. it can be a lot of fun to watch children socialize. it can be endearing. it can also be hurtful, and even angering.
luna’s experience with boys so far in her life has not always been so positive, but she doesn’t seem to register it in a long-term sense yet. she takes the moments of disappointment in stride, although i’m sure it stings when friendships don’t work out, or people don’t treat her as she imagines they should. but there’s a good chance it stings me even more to watch.
yesterday luna hopped up on the merry-go-round where two boys were. they hopped off right away, and so i helped paloma climb on, and began pushing it around for the girls. as soon as i did, the boys came back, yelling happily for me to spin it very fast. i demurred, smiling, reminding them that a “baby girl” was on the ride. (yes, i still need to improve my language…i could have said “a younger kid” and avoided playing on the “girl” thing at all, which i suspect was used there as a remnant of a patriarchal values).
luna immediately chimed in and pointed to paloma saying “yeah, she’s 2,” to make sure it was clear to everyone that she was not the Baby Girl in question. the boys barely noticed luna’s tiny and cartoonishly-high voice. she added for good measure “i’m five.” the two boys, laughing together in the often-insular relationship brothers can have ignored the side conversation and just kept begging me to spin the ride faster. i began doling out Life Lesson Number 845, about minding the needs of the weakest or slowest or youngest or something but they just hopped off the merry-go-round when they realized i wasn’t going to listen. luna sat for just a moment after that and then told me “i’m done, papi.” and so i stopped the ride and let her off. and the girls moved into the park to find other opportunities to connect.
luna found her opening a bit later when three boys (the two previous boys plus another one) were gathering sticks for one of their games. she began picking up sticks and had a tidy bundle soon. paloma also joined in, but when the boys and luna ran off to compile their sticks, paloma didn’t notice, so happy was she in her new task of finding sticks. i laughed to watch paloma all alone under a tall tree, picking up sticks…that was enough for her. she had no end goal as luna did. she had no bigger game design in mind, as the boys did. she was just happy because she was in the park picking up sticks. these are the ways children teach us about joy…remind us about the moment, and show us how to live in it.
but i couldn’t stay there, so i called to paloma and had her walk with me close to where luna had gone. there was no way i was going to let luna run off with three boys who were mostly bigger than her and older by a year and not keep a close watch. as it is, luna is about the size of most three year olds i see. already, she is beginning to get all the comments i did growing up…about how you are Too Small. it will be a little less hard on her, i hope, as she is a girl. and in this culture, being a boy who is Too Small is a tougher road than being a Petite Girl. at the same time, it is not fun to watch her be singled out and told “You’re small for five years old.” it sounds like old, dead echoes settling into a full-color day. i’ve watched it happen for her already a few times. luna, not knowing how to reply to such a comment (how do you??), as well as being a self-conscious sort, will hunch her shoulders, look down, and manufacture a smile, tucking her chin to her chest and sort of shrinking into herself a bit. when i’m around, i immediately assert that “luna is the perfect size.”
so i’m watching like a hawk as these boys do what boys do. i see them measuring her height, pulling the smallest boy against her and noting that they are the same height. i’m guessing the boy is three or four and they are making a point about that. i don’t move, but just keep watching. i don’t like seeing her handled by anyone. it was the tallest boy who felt confident enough to grab them and squeeze them together to measure heights. he looks six or seven. they all stand in a small clearing off to the side of the rides area. their bundle of sticks is in the center of the clearing.
after a minute, the second biggest boy comes over to me, noticing my stare. bold little critter. asks me “who are you looking for?” i tell him “i’m keeping an eye on my daughter.” i’m not smiling. these boys remind me of other boys i’ve known. and ones i’ve read about in books. i don’t trust them a bit.
the lookout kid goes back to the group. i see him whisper in the ears of his friends. later i will regret my words once again. i will tell myself “you should have said ‘i’m noticing how well you kids play together,’” thus encouraging positivity and wielding my Behavior Mod chops, rather than making them feel i was a scrutinizing authority. oh well. i was on my guard. i get very protective over my girls and have been since the days i was raising rainsong. so i guess i was trying to let him know bluntly that i was there and that i was there for luna.
after the ear-whispering session, i notice the dynamic of the group has shifted, but i can’t entirely blame my words. it seemed it was headed that way sooner or later. a group of boys with one girl—and her being smallest—is an unstable dynamic. in this culture, and in many cultures, i imagine.
the boys are now positioned all facing luna—with the collective bundle of sticks behind them—and asking if she has a “credit card” as they brandish what i imagine are expired credit cards. as one, they tell her she needs a credit card to play with them, and luna is scrunching into her dumbfounded smiling position, not knowing how to deal with the sudden rejection. her “friends” have drawn a line, and luna is no longer allowed into their game. maybe it’s because she is attached to a too-watchful adult, but maybe it is just because she is a girl. i am not trying to figure it out. i am in motion.
i pop into the midst of the group like a bomb. “you like ganging up on people, hunh? you like ganging up?” i say to the boys, towering over them. i sweep up luna with one arm and begin to leave the clearing, the boys, and their bundle of sticks behind. (i laugh now, imagining what it might have been like to pull a Jerry Macguire and grab luna’s sticks before departing.) one of the boys protests that their games are “boys only” (so much for the credit card requirement), but “you can play!” he says. before the boy has even quite finished his sentence, i whirl and offer a bitter rejoinder that makes me laugh when remembering the scene later: “i don’t WANT to play your games!”
as luna often does when i step in and put a stop to kids’ cruelty, she wraps herself around me in a tight hug, a silent Thank You in the shape of a small but firm embrace.
i know i can’t always save her. and i know the world doesn’t work like that. and that she will have to bear her own scars in time, as we all do. as my other (older) children have. i know that the boars and bears and bullies that roam the plains of childhood and young adulthood will find her in time, when she is alone and her parents are not nearby. but hell if i’ll make it easy for them.