We went up to Grammaland to celebrate Uncle Chuck's birthday, and there was an incident.
I was sitting on a picnic bench talking to the grownups, and I heard Claire crying. There were at least 50 kids there, so it was kind of awesome - my maternal ears are tuned into my kids so carefully that I heard her over the din and located her. She was at the upper left of this huge thing:
Mary Grace told me that "the big kid in the blue shirt" had pushed her, then pushed Claire, then choked a little boy whose mother also has magic ears and was already there. She looked, and he had angry looking red marks on his collarbone. He was clearly terrified. I think he was about four years old.
"I'm sorry," explained the mother. "He's autistic. He doesn't know any better. He really tries, but he just doesn't know any better." She made her son apologize to all the kids. He tried to hug the little boy he'd choked, but the little boy wanted none of that. (I watched, and the littler boy's mom tried for 30 minutes to calm him down before giving up and taking him home. He was truly hurt and scared). The perp's mom took him off the play structure and to the car, saying, "You've lost your privilege. You can't hurt children at the park."
She'd been through this before.
I felt compassion for the mom. I also felt terrified for my kids. He was MUCH larger than they are, and they were at the top of a huge flight of stairs, and he could easily have really hurt them.
I went to my car to get my kids, and the kid who got choked, a Kleenex. On the way I noticed that the family of the boy with autism was still sitting in their car. I knocked on the window. "I used to be a special ed teacher," I explained. "I just want you to know, I understand, and I don't have any hard feelings. I hope it gets easier for all of you."
And I could end the story there and sound like the greatest mom on the planet, showing compassion to the poor kid's mom, showing that I understand how hard it is for the boy... I could leave the next part out, because I don't know, honestly, if it's the right thing to do. But this is the part I really want to talk about, so brace yourselves.
On the way home, the kids and I talked about what had happened, and I said, "What if that kid had choked you or Claire? What would you have done?" They said they would have run, and I said, "But if his hands are on your neck, you won't be able to get away, will you? Listen. If a kid ever hurts you, I want you to try to get away and to a grown up. I want you to call for help. But if you can't do those things, I want you to bite him or poke him in the eye."
Oh yes, I did.
We went through a couple situations, "If a kid takes a toy from you, can you hurt him?" "YEAH!" they both said (they thought it was funny that Mom was telling them to hurt people). "NO!" I corrected, "ONLY if he hurts you." "If a kid hurts your feelings, can you bite him?" "YEAH!" they both said. "NO! ONLY if he hurts you." "If a kid chokes Claire, Mary Grace, can you bite him?" "YEAH!" she said. "That's right, but you'd better also scream for help." This went on for a while, until I ran out of examples and they got bored.
We're going to have this conversation again, and BJ and I are going to look for a self-defense or martial arts class to get the kids into.
Should I teach my kids to fight to protect themselves? I told BJ on the phone, "If some other kid starts it, I want our kids to end it. And I don't care if they get suspended from school for fighting - if they tell me that it was self-defense, I will back them up."
What would you do?