The Safety City bully versus our little Zen master

Sunday, February 5, 2006

SHE SAID: We had an unfortunate incident last week.

In our supposedly in-control parental-type role as 8-year-old Drew's part-time keepers, one would assume that Bob and I are capable of handling in a calm and reasonable manner nearly any situation that should arise on a playground.

Last Sunday, we discovered once again why you should never make assumptions about anything.

This discovery came in the pint-sized form of a little blond-headed boy whose mouth, it seems, wouldn't have come clean if I'd poured a gallon of bleach in. And believe me, I considered it.

But let's go to the replay for the judge's final call.

The scene: A gorgeous January Sunday at Jackson City Park's Safety City -- Safety City for cryin' out loud, a miniature town with paved trails for riding little tricycles and roller skating etc.

Our hero: An adorable and innocent little boy named Drew.

The plot: Our hero had begged dad and stepmom for weeks to try out his new skateboard (inherited without dad's approval from gleeful stepmom). Finally, the perfect day arrived, and off to Safety City Drew went, decked out with knee pads, elbow pads, helmet and one incredibly paranoid father.

Drew skated for a while, occasionally popping the skateboard up into the air and falling on his rear-end, but having a great time anyway.

Enter our arch-nemesis.

He was about Drew's size, but with a mouth as wide and dirty as a sewer pipe. And since he didn't volunteer his name, I've dubbed him Punk.

Punk, who was carrying a skateboard of his own, proceeded to follow Drew, Bob and I around the paved trails of Safety City, offering his own brand of commentary on Drew's skills.

I'd never heard a kid talk smack to another kid with parents standing within feet. Punk also favored the F-bomb, a vocabulary word that (hitherto) did not exist in Drew's world.

No matter which trail we turned down, there was Punk, right behind us. Finally, after the fifth F-bomb exploded within earshot of Drew, Bob asked Punk to watch his mouth. Punk lost no time in turning his attention from Drew to Bob. Apparently, age did not bias this child's mouthiness.

Meanwhile, I tried to ignore the situation, loudly applauding Drew's efforts on the skateboard and telling him how cool he looked every time he fell off the thing. Punk persisted.

We began looking around for Mr. and Mrs. Punk, but apparently this young man roamed around minus parental supervision.

By this point, Bob professed a strong desire to steal Punk's skateboard and throw it in Rotary Lake.

"That is a kid who is going to grow up and murder someone!" Bob whispered to me.

While I'm not prone to physical violence, my patience had also depleted, and I was on the verge of throttling our little friend.

"What are we supposed to do?" I asked. "Should I call the police?"

Bob and I had no idea what in-control parental-type figures were supposed to do in that situation.

Drew, on the other hand, was totally Zen.

He just continued skating, falling down and getting up again. Later, Drew told me he just ignored what the kid was saying.

Punk eventually wandered off to terrorize some other child.

And I was left marveling at the fact that an 8-year-old gave us a lesson in tolerance.

HE SAID: Punk, after mumbling mostly unintelligible garble about "classes" of skateboarding skills, either calling my son or an invisible friend a b--- who couldn't do this or that trick, he stepped up to the make-believe house at Safety City and pounded on the make-believe door.

"Hey, b---. Get the f--- out of the house!" Punk exclaimed.

That's when I lost it.

"Hey!" I yelled, my own father's voice erupting from my belly. "Watch your mouth!"

The kid proceeded to mimic me, and I felt an Incredible Hulk-like rage emerging from within. Then I thought he was just repeating things he had heard at home, and I figured he didn't have much of a home life at all if he was allowed to roam the park by himself at such a young age.

I thought perhaps the kid had some kind of developmental disability, such as autism. Maybe he was simply replaying a scene from a movie. But again, why would a disabled kid be allowed to roam without adult supervision?

If he wasn't disabled, the kid was certainly headed down the wrong path, even if it was in Safety City. He already had acquired a violent attitude and a taste for defying authority.

As I left, I indeed wanted to throw the kid's skateboard into the lake. And I wanted to tie him upside down from a tree, and let him hang there until he asked "Mr. Miller" to "please" let him down. But I also felt sorry for the young lad.

Most of all, I felt good about Drew, who wasn't bothered at all by the words of a young thug. I don't know if I handled the situation correctly.

But I know Drew did.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 122

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