What Is Wrong With You?

I call the time between 3:30 pm and 5 pm The Dead Zone. As any mom of small children knows, that’s the time between naps and dinner time where it’s too short to do anything substantial but long enough to seem endless if you decide to just hang out in the house. So on Friday afternoon I did what I normally do when I’m with my kids: I took all three to the park. When we got there, the park was pretty empty, which surprised me but I figured it might be due to the threatening clouds hovering overhead. I ran into one mom I knew, and we chatted briefly, and then when she left it was just my crew and another couple moms with their kids, who obviously seemed to know each other as they were deep in conversation by the swings.

I was supervising Jo Jo and Teddy on the see saw in the toddler play area, Geoffrey happily chattering away in the Bjorn, when two boys ran in. They looked alike and were dressed somewhat identical—in khaki shorts and navy blue shirts—so I figured they were brothers. One looked about Jo Jo’s age and one about eight or nine.

“What’s her name?” the younger one asked, pointing at Jo Jo.

“Jo Jo,” I said.

“What’s his name?” he asked, pointing to Teddy.

“Teddy,” said my son proudly. “And I’m two.”

“What’s your name,” I asked the little boy.

“Brandon,” he said quickly, then moved away to follow his older brother into the playhouse, clearly losing interest.

I didn’t think that much about them, as they were clearly engrossed in playing with each other and didn’t seem to mind the fact that Teddy occasionally tagged along behind them. But a few minutes later, I headed over to a bench to give Geoffrey a bottle, leaving Jo Jo on the see saw alone. I figured she’d be okay, as she was doing what she usually does—waving her hands and singing.

Then I saw the little boy walking towards Jo Jo. Great, I thought. Maybe he’ll get on the see saw with her. Sometimes I’m amazed at the random tenderness other small children have towards my daughter.

I watched as he stood there and stared at her for a few minutes, watching my daughter as she gesticulated and sang.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked suddenly, and it wasn’t a question of curiosity. There was an undercurrent of impatience, anger even, in his voice.  And then, “are you crazy?”

I felt like I’d just been electrocuted. For a moment I couldn’t breathe. This can’t be happening, I thought. This little boy cannot be bullying my daughter right in front of me.

Jo Jo stopped singing and just sat there, looking at him. She might not have quite understood his words, but she couldn’t mistake his tone.

I got up and walked towards them, holding Geoffrey in my arms. “What did you just say to my daughter?” I asked, more in disbelief than anything else.

“Nothing,” he said quickly and began to back away.

His older brother immediately materialized and put his arm around him protectively. “He asked her if she’d seen his marble,” he said, and then, “he lost it. He can’t find it anywhere.”

I just stared at him. I had to give him credit, the kid was a really good spontaneous liar.

“C’mon, let’s go find it!” the older brother yelled, and both boys zoomed back into the playhouse, Teddy chasing after them. I grabbed his shirt. “Teddy, stop,” I said.

“I wanna find the marble, Mommy,” he protested, and then, in his sing song way, “I want to help them find it.”

“No, uh uh, I don’t want you playing with those boys,” I started to stay and then stopped myself. How was I going to explain what just happened to my not even three year old?

Then , I felt a few drizzling raindrops, not enough to soak anyone but luckily just enough to distract my son.

“Boys, five minutes!” one of the women yelled from the swing, and I stared at her. She was wearing a pink shirt and khaki cut offs and had blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, the exact type of mom I’d have struck up a conversation with if I’d been pushing Jo Jo next to her on the swing.

I wanted to walk over there and tell her what her son had done, but what could I say? That her child had insulted my daughter, who clearly had a developmental delay, and when I’d confronted him, both he and his older brother had lied about it?

I just stood there for a minute, watching her, trying to figure out what I should do, but Teddy made the decision for me.

“It’s raining Momma I want to go home!” he cried, and I thankfully grabbed both his hand and Jo Jo’s hand and booked it out of the park.

I thought about what happened the whole way home, and while I was feeding my children dinner, and bathing them, and reading them stories, and rocking them good night.

Up until now, Jo Jo’s never had to deal with another child’s cruelty. We’ve had to deal with sideways looks from parents, or inappropriate comments from strangers, but never from someone close to her own age.

I’m still not sure how I should have handled the situation. I don’t think I handled it appropriately—I felt like I should have reprimanded the kids, or turned it into a teaching moment somehow—but at the same time I am not sure what appropriate in this situation would be.

It’s a whole new world, really, and I have to wonder what it will be like when something like that happens in three or five years, when both Jo Jo and my two small sons are old enough to understand.