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Playground Injustice

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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