Why you should care
Because sometimes it takes a village, a very cranky village, to raise a child.
It was a perfectly normal garden party. Sort of the kind that someone like Carly Simon might have sung about. People standing around with lightly fluted glasses of Chablis. Or chardonnay. Chatting comfortably with their drinks held aloft and their elbows edged into the palm of the opposing hand. This particular party, partially to celebrate school letting out, Father’s Day, whatever, had peasant dresses and slide sandals on display. The men mostly sporting flannels. Neil Young was being piped in over the yard as the kids all puttered around, not one over the age of 12, and people in general were chilling on a chill California vibe.
I was there, though not a particularly chill or Chablis kind of guy, at the behest of the party’s host, a longtime friend of mine. My two daughters at the time, a 3-year-old and a toddler, were playing easily with the other kids there, and I was off chatting with other guests. Having? Yes, a good time.
But tribal activity is always strange as it sits outside of how we do things if we were alone and how much we’re willing to have that altered by group dynamics and spectator effects. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean: Do you stop the kid in the sandbox who’s throwing sand in the sandbox and knows he shouldn’t? Or do you urge his parents to participate in the grand experiment of parenting and stop their son from blinding your child?
The desire to not broach protocol is strong. It’s what makes it possible for all of us on the graying granite planet to make it through the week without murdering each other.
Not easy questions, for some. “Popularity has killed more people than anything,” the now-deceased former head of the Church of Satan Anton LaVey once told me. The desire to not broach protocol is strong. It’s what makes it possible for all of us on the graying granite planet to make it through the week without murdering each other. It’s a certain forbearance, which is useful but not a prison to bind those bound to the embrace of the immediate. Like I like to imagine myself.
Or how I like to explain what happened next. Entering in through the side yard with tumult were two boys, may have been brothers, may have been friends. One was about 11, the other about 10, and they brought the kind of brio you expect if you expect to have boys there. Specifically, the noise, the activity, the prelim testosterone stuff. Which, still being kind of an inveterate boy, I enjoy.
Until they lock on to a little riding car. They’re too big for it, but this doesn’t stop the bigger one from directing his older but smaller friend to get in so he could push it. Which he does and starts tearing through the party. Now I feel a growing discomfort. Pushing this pre-postmodern metal contraption just a little too fast and more wild than is safe for the space and the smaller kids in it, I turn to their parents to gauge attentiveness. Or at least concern.
The parents are laughing. Unconcerned. And now I’m on edge.
They’re weaving between the legs of the adults, bumping into the legs of adults. I smell patchouli incense. And then the world’s smallest horror movie: As my youngest toddles, they turn the car in her direction and one boy shouts “FULL SPEED AHEAD!”
I’m beyond the edge now but waiting for the village to raise these kids. I watch the gathered circle of adults to see if any of them register the kind of concern I’m feeling. The car is eight feet away. Then six feet. Then four and nothing from the adults. I’m watching, like a hawk. When they get to about three feet away, the smaller one presses the brakes and steers to a stop. I breathe a sigh of relief at a narrowly averted disaster until …
“COME ON!” The bigger but younger boy nods what could only be understood as “HIT HER!” and the boy un-brakes the car and steers back toward my toddler, and as he gets about 12 inches away I’ve had it. With garden parties, hippies, California and the decline of Western civilization, the way I see it.
“IF YOU HIT HER, I’M GOING TO HIT YOU!”
The party froze until finally a voice, “We don’t really hit here …”
“I’LL HIT YOU TOO!” I don’t move. The boys, living as boys do in the jungle, understand the laws of the jungle and steer well around her and go back to the games, steering clear of me and any kid there who looks like me.
The “we don’t really hit” guy tries to talk me off my position and from here I won’t be moved either.
“Actions have consequences,” I say. “They may be good consequences or they may be bad ones. Sometimes these consequences are directly connected to the actions at hand. But I’ve found that people who hurt people who haven’t hurt them need to get what’s coming to them more often than they do. So screw that ‘boys will be boys and girls get hurt’ narrative.”
“That’s a very macho way of thinking, man …”
“And what do you call the way of thinking that watches preteen boys mow down toddlers and says nothing?”
He stood. Sipped a beer. I stood.
“I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree then,” he says.
“Well,” I say, now smiling genially, “I guess it really does take a village.”