My daughter kicked another kid in the face, on purpose, and I didn’t make her apologize.
Let me explain why.
I brought my four kids to Let’s Jump, one of those places moms go in the summer when their kids are on their last shred of nerve and all they want is to sit in cool air conditioning, rocking back and forth with a paper cup of coffee and pretending they don’t know their screaming womb fruit.
I chatted to a friend while our kids went full animal. Then an angry-looking mom stomped up, dragging her son by the arm.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I just want you to know that your daughter kicked my son in the face.”
I looked at the boy, who did have a pinkish mark on his face consistent with kicking. “Which daughter? Can you point her out? I have three here.” I said calmly. The woman pointed at Sophie, my six-year-old.
“That one. It was her.”
I looked again at her son. He was at least 10-years-old and my six-year-old didn’t even go up to his shoulder, so it was hard to see how she’d kicked his face. Maybe he had been lying on the bounce house ground. Maybe Sophie had developed awesome martial arts skills.
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” I said.
You might be wondering why I didn’t apologize immediately for my child’s violence. It’s because I have experience with the Wild Animal Kingdoms of McDonalds, Let’s Jump, and the playground. I don’t just accept the word of the other kid or the other mom. Why should I? Are our children an exception to the innocent until proven guilty rule?
I assure you, if I detect injustice, a smack down will be put upon that shit. There will be an apology forthcoming to your child and a consequence and one-on-one talk coming to mine. If I detect injustice.
I pulled Sophie aside to ask her what happened. I could see the other mom watching me from across the room, the way I used to watch my parents fuss my sister for a wrong done to me. The mom watched for the same reasons I watched: to make sure things got fair again, that justice was done.
First I asked if it was true that she had kicked that boy in the face. Yes, she said. Then I meted out justice! I snatched her hand and dragged her to the boy and forced her to apologize.
Then I asked what had happened. She was carefully climbing up the ladder of the large inflatable slide, the one where you have to hold tightly onto ropes attached to the sides of the inflatable ladder corridor. The boy wanted to run up and slide as quickly as possible and repeatedly, and this six-year-old girl was climbing too slowly for his liking. He tried to squeeze into the small space left beside her hips and legs but he was too large. So he simply clasped onto her small body and moved her out of his way. Well, he tried to.
My little Sophie is small-framed and delicate, but surprisingly strong. As the third of four children, she has always had to stand up for herself. If she didn’t, her baby brother would snatch choice toys from her hand and her older sisters would change the channel from her Dora show before it was over.
She was not going to have a big strange boy put his hands on her. She was not going to allow him to remove her from her rightful spot, the one she earned by waiting in line. She held onto the ropes and kicked him away from her. He fell back, holding his face and went to his mom with his side of the story. Playground Justice was indeed meted out that day — although the boy was physically larger — because Sophie had the vantage point of the ladder.
I smiled at her fierce little face as her story poured out. Her blue eyes alternately narrowed and rounded with the outrage of it all. I asked if she had tried using her words first, asking him to stop. Yes, she said, but he wouldn’t listen to me. I told her I was happy she didn’t allow herself to be pushed around. I told her we were going to walk over and tell the boy’s mother her side of the story. I took her hand and we walked united over to the glaring side of the room.
Sophie didn’t issue any apologies for that incident, but she received one. I graciously hoped aloud that the pinkish mark would go away quickly.
I think parents often choose a side too quickly without hearing the whole story; I’m including myself here. I’m busy too, and these stories are often frustratingly drawn out. But sometimes the kid with the visible mark of violence wasn’t the one most wronged. Give both your kid and the other kid the benefit of innocence. Don’t demonize either one. Find out what happened.
Often it will be harder to figure out than this incidence was. Siblings are especially hard; the truth is hidden somewhere in their very similar DNA, clouded by the many wrongs committed daily that have never been rectified. Countless past incidents are brought up with passion and yelling.
This is a higher level of justice-judging that I haven’t mastered yet. Sometimes I still have to resort to saying, “You were both wrong and you should both apologize and go play outside because Mommy has a headache now.” But I’m trying.
Sometimes one of my kids still accuses me of favoritism because I didn’t choose her particular side, but I hope when they grow up they can see how convoluted the whole story often is, and that I did try to untangle the threads of unfairness.