Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Bully in You Brings Out the Bully in Me -- By Laura Houston

To say I detest bullies is an understatement. Since becoming a parent, I have read several stories in my favorite parenting magazine (BrainChild) about bullies and how the parents of the victims handle the situation. These articles produced an empathetic rage in me, as well as a feeling of fear regarding how I would react in such a situation three or four years from now.

Only my time came early. Before the boys had turned two. Before I could rehearse what I would say and do. Before I was ready, it happened. Last week we were on the playground, which was crowded with kids, moms, nannies, and a few preschool teachers who were overseeing their flock. Lyle and Wyatt were playing on the little submarine climbing gym when a seven-year old boy came running over, told my boys to get off the gym, and started to climb up over Lyle on a ladder. I was standing only three feet away. So I said to him, “Hey, be careful. They’re just little kids.” He said, “I know. Tell them to get off my submarine.” Then in what seemed like slow motion he cocked his leg back and swung it forward, delivering a quick and stinging kick to Wyatt’s forehead. Wyatt didn’t cry at first. He fell back and grabbed a pole to steady himself.

Yeah. Ummm. The rage I feared came in triplicate at that moment. I reached up and grabbed the bully’s leg and told him not to kick my kid. He said, “Let go of me. Tell them to get off my submarine.”

I wasn’t going to let go of his leg because now he was trying to stomp on Lyle’s fingers, which were clinging to the ladder to keep him from falling. Wyatt was crying and rubbing his forehead.

“Where’s your nanny?” I asked him.

I assumed he was with a nanny. No mother worth her salt would let her kid act like this. The little monster pointed to a 45-year old woman who was talking on her cell phone at the other end of the park. I yelled for her, but she didn’t hear me. I was still holding on to that leg, and I squeezed hard. Really hard. I-hope-I-gave-him-a-big-purple-bruise hard. I tugged his leg and told him to climb down, which he did but not before another attempt at stomping on Lyle’s fingers. I held his arm with one hand and took him by the jacket collar with the other.

“Listen you little piece of shit,” I hissed in his face. “You come any where near my kids EVER, and I am going to punch you in the face.” I gave his jacket a tug. “Got it?” He nodded. I gave him a little shove, and he ran off, looking back twice before disappearing behind the slide.

So. Not gracious. Not wise. Not cool and collected as I had hoped. Until that moment, I never thought I would swear at a little boy and threaten him like that. Ever. But there it was. I had done what I never believed I would. However, there was no room in the moment for remorse. I had a bully to take care of.

After I had comforted Wyatt, I went over to his nanny and told her what happened. She apologized, explained that Sebastian (yeah, that was his name) was having some issues at home, and went back to talking on the phone. I decided to keep my eye on the little demon.

Sure enough within minutes Sebastian cornered one of the preschool students and shoved him up against the wheel of the train. I called to the nanny again, but she didn’t seem to hear, so I flagged down the boy’s teacher and together we pulled Sebastian off the boy. (I know I could have handled it by myself, but I wanted witnesses just in case.) Sebastian was laughing and kicking the child saying, “It’s my train. He’s only in kindergarten. I get to have it.” The little boy took the kicks and refused to let go of the wheel. Good for him.

I spent the next ten minutes walking around and informing the other moms about Sebastian. Two of them had already had confrontations with the beast. The kid was out of control. I placed Lyle and Wyatt in the swings where they were safe, and I watched Sebastian run around the playground hitting and shoving other kids. Once his nanny tried to chase him, but he thought it was a delightful game. When he pushed an 18-month old girl down the steps of the slide, I had enough.

Fury and adrenaline picked me up and moved me across the playground. Fortunately clarity also intervened. As much as I wanted to punch that kid, I could just as easily picture my mug shot on the evening news with a caption that says, “Crazed Upper West Side Mom Punches Innocent Child on Playground.”

On the way to his nanny, I stopped to help the mother pick up her daughter and asked her to follow me. We went up to Sebastian’s nanny, and I said, “You need to take Sebastian off this playground. Now.” The other mother nodded. The nanny said a few choice cuss words about Sebastian and then threw some at me. I wanted to punch her as much as I did Sebastian. “We are calling the police,” I told her. I used the word “we” because there is safety in numbers. She knew it. The other mom whipped out her iPhone.

It was that easy. The nanny left the playground. The demon left with her. When I went back to the swings, some of the mothers and nannies gathered around to talk about the horrors Sebastian had wreaked on the playground.

“I got so mad I stuck out my foot and tripped him,” a nanny said.

“I didn’t know what to do,” a mother said. “I was just so shocked. But I wanted to hit him.”

And so it goes.

We watched Sebastian and his nanny walk away down the sidewalk, and we laughed when Sebastian ran out into the street, chiding his nanny. A taxi ran a stop sign and honked at him.

“I wish that cab had hit him,” a mother said.

I know she didn’t mean it. She didn’t mean it any more than I would have punched Sebastian in the face. These are the things some mothers say in the face of rage, fear and protectiveness. It’s not pretty, but it is born out of love. And it tests our character in a time of vulnerability. It would seem the best of bullies sometimes brings out the worst in us.


Blogger Karen du Toit said...

I think you did really well in addressing the situation!
But there is a little boy who needs help as well> His name is Sebastian!

5:35 AM  
Blogger James said...

I think the villain of this story is the nanny. What the f*** is she doing on her cell phone the whole time? Unless she's calling his psychiatrist, or maybe his case worker, she has no business ignoring him.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Cara Meyers said...

I've been in similar situations at parks when my son was younger. I've had to intervene when older kids literally took things out of my son's hands while my son was playing with them, other kids have side-swiped him, causing him to fall. I've even seen older kids physically slide him away from playground items so that they could play with them instead. In each of these situations I always had in the back of my head that I was the role model for my son who was watching to see how to handle rude, obnoxious kids. I would firmly and assertively tell the older child that my son was playing with something, and could they please return it to him or that my son was waiting to use some equipment, and could he get a turn. If we ran into a particularly obnoxious kid, we would either move to a different part of the park, or as a last resort, leave the park altogether.

In your situation, I probably would have left the park. With your knowledge of children, it was obvious that Sebastian has significant psychological issues and an ineffective/burnt out Nanny. You can't reason with a child like Sebastian. And his Nanny was useless. I know the Mama bird in you wanted to protect your young, but this boy was too much for anyone but a professional to deal with. I feel badly that you even had to deal with this outrageous situation. But for your sons' sake, show them how to best deal with with all types of individuals. You are an exceptional Mom. You can do it, and do it extremely well.

7:25 PM  

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