My 6-year-old son burst in the door from school this afternoon, happy to be home but reluctant to do his homework. He would have to finish it before he could play, I reminded him. His friends were knocking at the door not five minutes later.
Three boys stood on the stoop, ranging in age from 6 to 9 years old. "Can he play?"
"When he finishes his homework," I said. They ran off.
When he was done, I sent my son outside. Before long, the four boys tired and came in to relish the air conditioning. They all gathered conspiratorially in his room, the door shut. A few minutes later, my son, bored already, ran outside for the trampoline, leaving his friends in the room to conspire amongst themselves. A few minutes later, I saw them walking out of the room in a cluster, whispering, each of them shoving something in their pockets.
Time for a pocket check. I sent my teenage daughter outside to do the dirty work while I made coffee to combat an afternoon energy low. She returned shortly, reporting empty pockets.
Sneaky little devils.
Five minutes later, my son threw open the front door, wailing in earnest. I rushed to his side. Someone had thrown a rock at the back of his head. The group of three boys outside snickered, hiding in the bushes.
"Who did it?" I demanded. "Are you okay?"
He quickly pointed out the culprit, and I was out the door like a shot.
No boys anywhere.
My daughter and her two friends overheard from the living room. "Let's go find them," they said, and were out the door while I made sure my son was alright. I comforted him, and asked if he felt dizzy. He didn't, but was already growing a decently sized goose-egg on the back of his head.
Anger boiled up in my throat.
"Stay here," I told him, and walked out the front door. The girls reported that they couldn't find him. They knocked on two front doors, and the culprits were still nowhere in sight.
I walked down the street, closer to the curve near the end of the road. There they were, coming out of a ditch. I jumped in my car and sped toward them, ready for a confrontation.
I pulled the car up beside the boy who had thrown the rock at my son, got out and slammed the door. He looked guilty, shrinking back into the bushes.
I demanded to know what he was thinking, reminded him that he was three years older than my son. That I never wanted to see his face again and he was no longer welcome anywhere near my home. His mama came storming down the street, ready to give him a whooping. That's what we call them in the South. Whoopings.
I demanded the boy's apology. As I passed her, the mom gave me a look like, I know sorry won't cut it.
Not long after, there was a knock at the door. It was the other two boys who'd hid snickering in the bushes after my son took the blow to the head. They held out three toys that belonged to my son, said they'd found them in the bushes and had come to return them.
That night, as my son scooped up forkfuls of the garlic-butter-chives pasta and crunchy tilapia I'd made for dinner, I couldn't push a jumble of what-ifs, horrible images, from my mind--my son getting beat up, pushed around, punched in the face. I stopped him mid-bite.
"Baby, come here for a minute. I'm going to teach you how to defend yourself."
He gave me a half-smile. "Okay," he said.
I showed him how to grab someone's arm if they raised it to strike, to pull it toward himself to knock an attacker off-balance and knee them in the gut. I taught him how to punch. How to use his elbow to its best persuasion in someone's face. How to push the heel of his hand upward under someone's nose. I told him to practice on me, and he did. We rehearsed moves until I felt like he started to get them down.
I'm tempted to say something here, to give some moral, but I won't cheapen this with platitudes. Bottom line is: we all need to fight back at some time in our lives. I will say that I once believed that all people were basically good, but after 34 years on this planet, experience has taught me otherwise. Most people are greedy shitheads who will steal from your pockets while pretending to be your friend, then throw stones at you when your back is turned. Everyone is out for themselves. I've rarely known it to be any other way.
I will teach my son to defend himself, to always be on his guard, yet to live his life in such a way as to be a positive example to others--that is, if they're paying attention.