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Cassandra Barry and Joel Stein

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Cassandra Barry is sometimes known for playing the role of "my lovely wife" in Joel Stein's columns for Time magazine and other publications. His story in which she ate her own placenta in pill form is the one she's most often asked about. Her son, Laszlo, is in preschool. After several years in New York City, she loves living in Los Angeles, where she works as a textile designer. She finds it weird to write about herself in the third person like this. about joel

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Playground Injustice

By Cassandra Barry |

Laszlo at the playground

Laszlo, watching out for attackers at a playground last spring.

My son is a wuss. At the playground, kids push him out of the way, grab toys from out of his hands, and generally bully the crap out of him. Laszlo usually responds by crying. I look around for the parent of the pushy kid to have the good sense to explain to their entitled brat that my two year old didn’t deserve to be pushed onto the ground and beaten with a stuffed animal. But most parents seem to be just fine with having a bully for a child. I would feel kind of weird about pushing someone’s kid on Laszlo’s behalf, so I just try to let it go.

When someone fucks with me, my husband or my child, I tend to fight back. I call this aspect of my personality “fiercely loyal.” My husband calls it “stupid.” But ever since an incident that happened a few months ago, I’ve started to come around to his way of thinking.

While I was driving on our street with Laszlo in the car, a man who was my neighbor (he’s since moved away) almost hit my car with his SUV while backing up too fast. I gave a light beep on the horn to let him know I was there. He flipped me off. I stopped my car in the middle of the street, slammed the car door behind me and approached his SUV. “You almost hit me, and you’re flipping me off?” I asked. He got out of his car and started yelling in my face. Never before had I felt like a guy was actually going to hit me. I went home shaking and started to cry. I vowed to sign up for a self defense class. I found out weeks later that he was a registered sex offender. Rape. Since then, I’m trying really hard to let things slide.

But last week at a playground, I let my inner Joe Pesci get the best of me. Laz was “driving a train” (which basically means he was playing with a steering wheel stuck on the inside of an open metal box). Both of his hands were on the wheel, gently spinning it as if he was taking his grandparents out for a leisurely autumnal drive in upstate Vermont. Out of nowhere, a bigger toddler ran in, pushed Laz aside and grabbed the wheel from Laz, spinning it as if he was late for a bully convention in downtown Los Angeles.

Laz frowned with his lower lip jutting out. He wrinkled his brow and then…. did not burst into tears, for once. Without pushing the other kid, Laszlo slowly moved back to the steering wheel and cautiously placed his hand back on it, as if to whisper, “Um, I was playing with that, sir.” YES! GO LAZ! GO! TAKE BACK WHAT’S RIGHTFULLY YOURS, I thought.

The entitled kid’s mom shouted from a short distance away. She was wearing a sweatshirt with rhinestones on it. “Jason!” she said. (Her kid had one of those date-raping frat boy names, like “Jason.”) Here it comes, I thought. Finally, a sensible parent of a pushy kid is going to tell her brat to back off. “What do you do when people push you, Jason?” she asked. Did she just say that Laszlo pushed him?! “You say, ‘Don’t push me!’” This woman’s grasp on the situation was so completely fucked up. She and her husband were staring at me. And she was shaking her head at me. This was crazy. But I was determined to keep my mouth shut.

Within a couple of minutes, both of our kids got bored of the train steering wheel and moved on to other things. But I wasn’t moving on. I was seething. Not only was her kid a bully, but Laszlo was made out to be the bad guy and this woman had been shaking her head at me. It felt like a grave injustice and I wanted the record set straight.

I was still upset when Laz said he was ready to go home. So as I passed her by on the way out, I said, “Just so you know, your son pushed my son out of the way. My son was playing with that wheel first”. As soon as I said it, I regretted it.

“Well, I didn’t see that,” she barked at me, instantly hostile. “Why didn’t you say something?” Wow. She was going to be a bitch about this.

“I saw you giving me the stink eye, so I thought you should know. That’s all.” I said, meekly. Or at least, I felt meek. I had flashbacks to the neighbor in the SUV yelling in my face.

She raised her voice. “Well, now there’s nothing we can do about it. You should have said something. You’re a mom: Get involved!” She was calling me a bad mom. People were starting to stare. I dropped the argument and left with Laszlo.

Last night, Joel and I were watching a movie in which two strangers driving on the road get into an argument at a red light. The guy who got harassed took out a gun and pointed it at the aggressor. “See?” Joel said. “That’s why you shouldn’t fight with random people. You never know who’s going to have a gun.” He’s right. You just don’t know about people. Being the invisible mom in the playground war zone is probably the best way to not get shot at.

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About Cassandra Barry


Cassandra Barry

Cassandra Barry is sometimes known for playing the role of "my lovely wife" in Joel Stein's columns for Time magazine and other publications. Her son, Laszlo, is in preschool. After several years in New York City, she loves living in Los Angeles, where she works as a textile designer.

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21 thoughts on “Playground Injustice

  1. Debbie says:

    I disagree with your husband about letting things go entirely. It isn’t OK to just be a doormant all the time. I actually think the other mom had a point. Expressed too aggressively to you perhaps, but what is wrong with teaching her son to use his words to resolve a conflict? If your kids are two and three, it is OK and even definitely time to start encouraging that.

    And if you do it in a spirit of kindness and constructiveness, even saying things to kids that are not your own. Give their own parents a chance to step up, but if they are distracted or just don’t care, say something. Not a lot, just a gentle reminder. I have more than once said something reminding a little one of manners if his parent wasn’t paying attention or was clearly the type that believes children should work out their own problems. Children are by nature, completely self-centered. They need us to gently coach them on behavior in public.

    The days of the wild west on the playground are gone. It doesn’t work. Older kids can do more to solve their own problems than children your son’s age, but even they need reminders. M elementary and middle school age children are expected to sign a civil behavior agreement for school. There are programs on bullies, victims, and bystanders. As a society we are trying to take public social interactions among children to a higher level of kindness and civility. And it works.

    I have had very few situations where a parent took exception to my intervention. Notably when older kids were thrashing repeatedly about the toddler swimming pool and I finally reprimanded them. When they started up again, I heard the mom say “You better stop if you don’t want that lady to yell at you again.” My blood boiled and I almost invited her outside for a beatdown. LOL. But I counted to ten, reminded myself that her kids were the ones that would suffer for the lack of structure, and ignored them. Years later, her kids are the ones that are always making a scene at the soccer game, or in the grocery store or whatever. And don’t have a lot of friends.

    I hate to quote Hillary Clinton, but it takes a village. I knew when I was a kid that the neighbors or other parents expected reasonable behavior, there is no reason that we should all, in a respectful manner, work together in public.

  2. Catherine Connors says:

    I’m all for letting it go. I do think that we should stand for ourselves when it makes sense to do so – when it’s worth doing so – but otherwise, I maintain a pretty firm ‘no assholes’ rule in determining who I do and do not engage with.

    And assholes with guns, yeah. Best avoided.

  3. Dee Bee says:

    *sigh* This issue is so hard to resolve, isn’t it? I feel I’ve experienced the same growing situations as Cassandra, and concluded that sometimes it’s just better to pick your battles and let it go. (The hard part is figuring out which battles to pick.) In the end, I came to the conclusion that it’s worse for the kids to see their “role models” acting in an aggressive manner, even if there was a clear wrong and right in the situation, and even if it makes our blood boil.
    And Debbie – I think you didn’t quite get the point of the article.

  4. Leanne says:

    I too don’t agree that you should always be dormant, but you really need to pick your battles wisely. More often than not my mouth has gotten me into a pickle and so I’ve learned patience the hard way and I might add I’m a better person and a better Mom for it. Plus, it can be dangerous to pick with the wrong person. I think that helping in a constructive way is always better and bringing a situation to the attention of the other parent can go a long way. That other Mom was agressive but she had a point. Just a week ago I was at a very busy park and a child was running around coughing and would stop and throw up and then start running again. Sometimes the vomit was almost hitting the bottom of the slide or the climbing bars and there was no parent to be found. I asked around of the parents I saw and eventually spotted a Dad sitting in a car in the “too far away” parking lot. I went over and told him that his son had vomited several times and he told me that he was vomiting earlier that day too. I thanked him for the interesting knowledge, informed him that it was almost hitting the climbing toys and walked away in disbelief. Some parents just suck. So, that fact that you care is far better than the alternative. By the way, the child came right back to play minutes later and we moved on to a different part of the park.

  5. Julie says:

    I’m always that fake out scene in the movies where the nice guy fantasizes about throwing the asshole through the plate glass window, and then they cut to what really happens (wussing out). Most of the time it’s just not worth it when it involves these fleeting interactions.

    Who the f*ck names a kid Jason? Bitch.

  6. rebecca says:

    when i take my son who has autism and is 5 yrs old i stand by him cause i never know when he is going to lash out thank god he never has but i also never know when kids will start to pick on him cause he acts different if i was you i would of went up to the kid and asked him why did he do that than when the mom would of came over i would told her what i was doing since she cant teach her kid manners

  7. Jessica says:

    You handled it better than I would’ve. I would have instantly flipped on the other mom as soon as she made her comment with the push. And as far as “calling you a bad mom” thats when choice words would start to fly. My significant other doesn’t agree with or like it either but no asshole is gonna walk through his door kick off his shoes and relax with a smug look, with the thought of bullying me or my kid in their heads. Some people NEED to be put in place because noone else will do it and they just think they can keep acting like that and getting away with it. Sometimes if you really scare the shit out of someone they may think twice before acting like that the next time.

  8. Bethany says:

    Hello! Your kid is two and the other boy was probably 3. There is no such thing as bullying at that age. Kids aren’t born with an innate understanding of social norms- it is your JOB to teach them- not judge a 3 year old and label them as a bully. I mean seriously! Then you feel some kind of need to make the other mother feel bad and when she stands up for herself you slink away! What kind of statement is that sending your kid? Get a grip.

  9. Samone says:

    There is bullying at every age even 1. If the kids aren’t taught to do better now it will only get worse. My daughter is 9 and home schooled. She plays with neighborhood friends and when they pick on her I get involved. The reason I do is cause one day a kid picked on her for the last time as far as she was concerned, her solution was she wanted to kill herself so noone could hurt her again. In today day with cyberbullies and stalkers, and just mean hateful kids who parents don’t care or encourage the behavior. I want my kid safe, I want her to LIVE. I don’t wanna find her hanging in her bathroom cause some kids decided she wasn’t pretty enough. Dont you people read the news. There was just like a host of suicides in one state because of bullying. I am sorry but I am about to give birth to another little girl & I plan on fighting for them both, even if it does cost me more than I thought I have to pay. I am willing to take the risk.

  10. Liz says:

    Wow, things have changed since I was last at the playground with my kids who are now parents themselves.
    I would have thought nothing of correcting another child who obviously did something which was not nice. I would have been kind about it and not assumed his parents had not taught him how to act. A three year old does not bully, in my opinion. Three year olds are just at the stage where you can expect them to begin to take turns and share. So. when a three year old pushes your child’s hand off a toy and takes it, you approach them nicely and explain that so and so is playing with that, but will be happy to share it when he is done. If there are other toys or things to do in the vicinity, you suggest that perhaps he/she would like to play with that in the meantime. If the mother or father comes over and has a problem with you, just give the facts in a matter of fact way. What I have a problem with is parents who take their kids to the park and then sit and talk on the phone or use the computer the whole time.

  11. Becci says:

    Liz- Your approach to the playground situation is good advice. I think I’m going to utilize it in the future.
    When I take my daughter to the playground, we like to think of the other kids as potential friends. My daughter is very outgoing. She always refers to the kids on the playground as her new friends. Meeting new people is her main goal at the playground. I think we as parents could learn a lot from approaches like Liz’s and my daughter’s.
    Obviously, bullying is a huge, complex issue. But if we as parents go to the playground with the attitude that our goal is to assist our child with forming relationships, and if we take an active role on the playground, I think it can be a safer and happier place.
    My daughter was recently pushed down at the playground by a girl that was bigger than her. My daughter is 2.5 and I later learned that the girl was 6 (she looked like she was 8). Anyway, my initial reaction was like what anyone else’s would have been. I rushed over there and was ready to go into “mother bear” mode. But I was somehow able (no idea where that came from!) to take a deep breathe, take a step back, and from there, I was able to have a short discussion with the girl. I learned that it was an accident and that she was trying to protect my daughter from something that they were playing. She didn’t want my daughter to get scared. If I had followed my instincts and let her have it, wouldn’t I have then become the bully? I’m glad that I didn’t follow my instincts. My daughter and the girl were able to reconcile and played for the rest of the afternoon together.

  12. betsybetsy says:

    the worst kind of playground mom is the kind that defends her kid when her kid is clearly misbehaving. the kind that attacks you because her kid did something wrong? there’s a special place in hell reserved for those ladies.

  13. betsybetsy says:

    btw: i had a similar experience as you did with your neighbor. my sister and i were driving in the deepest darkest suburbs of san jose and some ahole drives by with his entire bumper plastered with pro-life stickers. being young and stupid, we reflexively flicked him off, and the guy LOST HIS SHIT and drove after us for about fifteen minutes. eventually, he lost interest or realized that he was late for an abortion clinic bombing or something.
    i guess that was dumb of us to flick the guy off, but i still don’t really get the point of political bumper stickers if it’s not to enrage random strangers on the road.

  14. John says:

    Well, in overview this is what your child sees. Him getting pushed away physically and aggressively. Then , as we scream at the parent of that child, our child now sees us being the aggressor. Straight forward. We now become the bully although it’s verbally. The child has no recollection of the bullies parent until we draw the attention to them. When he does look it’s because we are yelling. Now, nobody want someone else to tell their child what to do but, with your child there it would be a great opportunity to walk next to your child and show him how to gently tell the other kid that he was playing with it and would like it back. Your child was obviously great at that alone. The issue here seemed to be the frustration that allowed mom to perceive a more destructive mind set of the other parents. Before asking questions she assumed that the parents were wrong, when in actuality, they were trying to teach their kid to stop bullying. They did not see what happened but ,if approached calmly, at the correct time, they sounded as if to be great parents who would have talked to their child about bullying. Parents I am sure, this mom would have gotten along with. It is hard to teach kids that we can play and enjoy the company of others when, we ourselves, just see everyone at a distant stranger always on the guard. We must look out of ourselves if we are to expect others to do it, in not only the simplest of ways. what we see is not always what the others see. I can see that she has become very defensive in the pursuit of peace. Others see their story as we see ours. Why should we expect them to see our view if we do not allow ourselves to see theirs. Even the harsh words on the names shows aggression. To me it seems as if she is so defensive that she is not seeing or ,giving chance to seeing,the others view. That is a cause of bullying. She is as guilty as the next.

  15. Laura says:

    Man – I have never had the kinds of experiences you guys are talking about. In fact, I think nearly all the parents I’ve encountered on playgrounds, etc. are the opposite extreme – we jump in and apologize for our own kid and then shrug off the misbahaviour of others as ‘hey, we’ve all been there with our kid pushing, etc. – no big deal’. And, what happened to kids dealing with things themselves? I’m not talking about bad bullying situations or when the age difference is big – but, a kid pushing another kid from a toy? Big freaking deal! My 2 kids (and everyone else’s) do this all day long at home. I step in when I need to.

    I could easily bring out the ‘mama bear’ if I ever thought my kid what in real danger, but at the playground over a push from a toy? We should be able to set a better than to get into a verval sparring with the parents of the kid. Jumping to the defense of kids in order to feel like we’re being a good parent is offbase, I believe.

  16. Brooke says:

    I so know how you feel. Except my learn to back down sometimes moment was when some guy tried to run my car off the road after a tete-a-tete highway tailgating bully session when I was 8 months pregnant. (I was not the one tailgating)

  17. Helen Ramsby says:

    I totally know what you mean.Not saying Jason’s mom is one, but yesterday I just saw a bumper sticker that says, “My son takes the toy out of your honors student.” or something like that. Some parents are actually proud that their kids are bullies. I also think that you should have said something. It’s hard, I’m like you, I stand up for myself, and my husband and my boy. So sometimes we over-compensate and try really hard to shut up. But it’s not right to be imbalanced either. Objectively, we should speak up so our children know the truth, and not be confused. This is a tough one. I’ve found myself not hesitant to discipline other kids on the playground. Sometimes the kids would even hit me back or give me the face. Fortunately mostly the parents are cordial. I try to be kind to other kids, and other parents, but I hope if this had happened to me, I’d try to speak up and not try so hard to back down just because it’s my propensity to stand up and speak out.

  18. Lauren says:

    Lisa: my thoughts EXACTLY!

  19. Tj says:

    Picking the right battles is definitely a good choice but not standing up at all teaches your child to not stand up for himself. The other mother deserves a smack of reality, she’s obviously the type that thinks get child can do no wrong. ( That will severly handicap her child in the future, so you can sort if take it as karma when she’s the one having to constantly bail her kid out of jail, trust me it’ll happen.) I hope that lady reads your blog and feels like a fool.

    Good luck with however you choose to handle future conflicts, just try not to take it laying down!!

  20. Cassandra Barry says:

    Hey, everybody. I realize that it’s a complicated issue. And that I’m being a role model to my son, so I have to walk a fine line between not taking shit and not being a crazy aggressive defender of himself (or myself) either. It’s a lot to think about. Also, for the record, I HAVE been working on trying to get HIM to speak up for himself: To not just cry and/or whine to an adult, but to “use his words” when he’s upset about an injustice taking place. (I didn’t feel I had space in the blog to get into that topic as well.) What I’ve come to realize is that he needs to gain some confidence in himself is key. He’s just not a very forceful kid. Small classrooms or groups may be the thing for him…. Nothing too overwhelming or dog-eat-dog. Nurturing, peaceful environments… Until he can gain some strength and then kick some ass. ;-) I JOKE! To the person who was offended that I chose the name “Jason”: Sorry! It was a joke! Not the kid’s real name! I remember his real name, but I will never tell. His real name was something awful.

  21. Rosana says:

    OMG, I understand your husband’s point of view but you should let him take Laz to the playground once in a while and pray for a nasty family to be there as well. I totally get your anger, that is BS. I try to handle situations like that as calm as possible but I can feel the fire running through my veins (seriously, I start getting very hot) just so I can say what I have to say without letting the other person get off the topic. I think you did great, keep up the good work.

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