Play Place


It was Sunday, the day before my birthday, and I was hanging out with family at the local mall.  They have one of those play areas where everything is foam padded and there are little activities and things to climb on, all surrounded by a curved bench of seats, so that parents can either sit in the enclosure watching or outside and only have to keep an eye on the single entry point.

When we arrived my sister’s and my cousin’s children were eager to go play.  I sent my 12 year old son inside in, to keep an eye on them.  When my son entered, this cute little blonde girl who was probably about 8 years old, stopped trying to climb up on a hallucinogenic-inspired mushroom and shot him the meanest, dirtiest look I’d every seen on a kid that age, then as quickly as the look appeared it was gone and she was off playing.  It must’ve caught my son by surprise as well, as he glanced over his shoulder at me and gave me the “did you see that” look.  I shrugged my shoulders and he continued on into the fray.  According to my son, a little while later that same little girl ended up punching him in the back for no reason, as he was walking past her.  The little girl, being as small as she was, didn’t hurt him and he just ignored her.

Okay, before I get too far into the following events, I want to preface this with me priding myself on being a non-violent person, who had never been in an actual fight in my adult life.  You might call “bullshit” and bring up how I had taken up Brazilian Jujitsu for several months, but I would counter this with how BJJ could bring about the end of a confrontation without causing any real physical damage to your opponent through the use of submissions.  It’s for that reason alone that I found that style of martial arts so interesting.  I still hoped that I would never end up needing to use it and it served me more as a form of exercise.  Okay…back to the Play Place.

As us adults were sitting there carrying on our “adult” conversations, I picked up on the familiar growl of my niece, who liked to pretend she was a monster and try to scare me with her curled little hands looking like claws, her teeth bared, and the growl of a small breed dog, but which issued from her diaphragm on up.  This growl sounded like it was happening with regularity, and my mom, who is in retirement, went to go investigate.  I continued participating in the ongoing conversation, but when I heard the unfamiliar voice of some guy being cross with my mother–I was out of my seat and at her side in a fleeting moment.  I stood between her and this man, as I quickly surveyed the scene.  I could see my niece, crouched in front of her little brother, her arms spread in a protective radius around him, with her teeth bared and that same growl resonating from deep inside her.  There, two steps in front of her, was the same cute little blonde girl from earlier on.

“…I’m just saying that your daughter is no angel either.  She knocked her little brother down and yelled at him like it was his fault, and now she is just being protective of her little brother,” pleaded my mother.

“I don’t think there is any reason why my daughter should have to put up with that kind of behavior.  She’s in there to have fun and your child keeps growling at her and she needs to stop!”

His tone was sharper and he’d gone up an octave at this point.  I found myself sizing this guy up.  Like a scene from a vampire movie, I could almost see and hear the blood flowing through this guy’s carotid.  He had a scraggly goatee and some tattoos were visible on his forearms.  A  tough guy.  This realization didn’t scare me, but spurred on the flow of adrenaline.  Like my favorite superhero, Wolverine, I almost called this guy “bub’.

From the moment I stood up to this point only about three seconds had lapsed.  I looked him straight in the eyes, and with what I only can guess was a look of complete flat affect and the slightest curl of a psychotic smile, the words, “you need to control your tone,” seethed from between my teeth.

“Well…well, you guys aren’t listening to me!”

I could feel my nearly nonexistent smile begin to blossom, spreading across my face, but not touching my vacant eyes, “Oh, I’m listening.  I’m hanging on every word.”

I could see him deflating, the air let out of his sails, as he glanced back and forth between my mother and me.  He wasn’t dealing with just a petite AARP member.  He entered the play area, gathered up his daughters and made his way towards security, muttering his intentions as he walked past.

Security showed up and after a quick rundown of the events that unfolded, from the little girl’s hitting my son unprovoked, to my niece protecting her brother, we were told with a smile and a shrug, “Well, you have a nice day.”

I sat back down and experienced the full effect of the adrenaline dump, leaving me on the verge of tears.  I felt sick.  I hated how quickly I devolved into an animal, ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.  I had been no different than my niece, teeth bared and growling, becoming my mother’s protector.

I’ve told this story to a few friends and they always tell me that I’d done the right thing, that I should be proud and some level I think I am, but mostly I feel horrible.  I imposed my will on another human being, a sort of submission through intimidation.  I would never discourage my niece from protecting her little brother, and I will always come to my mother’s defense, so why do I feel so bad?  I wish I could go back in time, or meet this guy again, and educate him on the psychosocial interactions of children, how my niece’s posturing was purely defensive–a reaction to his daughter’s actions, that were perceived as offensive, and how children should be allowed to work out their differences on their own.  Not having the chance to rectify the situation, I’m left feeling empty, that somewhere out there another human being feels less of himself because of my actions.  I don’t take Brazilian Jujitsu anymore.