I never, ever wanted to write a post about this.
Bullies. Bullies with a mob mentality. Bullies and my grandsons. Bullies and broken hearts.
I know a thing or two about bullies. I taught high school English and Reading for 30 years, and I had a lot of experience with adolescents coming into their own. I know a thing or two about mob mentality, too. I’d like to think I prevented a broken heart or a broken spirit or two during my teaching career… because I did not tolerate bullying and made a point to address the behavior head-on and immediately when it arose.
Today bullying touched me in the most personal of ways. It seeped through the lips and arms and hands of a group of boys… like an insidiously dark fog that envelops good air… and penetrated two of my grandsons.
It all began innocently enough. A couple of “older” boys (probably 8 years old, or so) were throwing tennis balls up and over a playground slide, through an enclosed tube, and down the slide on the other side. They were obviously having fun. William (5) and Benjamin (3) were playing on the playground when this little game began. William was immediately intrigued with this tennis ball game and asked if he could play. The boys handed William a tennis ball and William began this little game, too. William has a pretty good throwing arm and was keeping up with the game. Benjamin continued to climb on the other parts of the apparatus.
I was sitting off to the side on an old, crooked painted bench. In the shade. Enjoying the day.
Within a few minutes, another boy had joined the tennis-ball-group. Now 3 older boys were tossing the tennis balls over and up and down the slides… but tossing them much harder and faster. I guess that’s when the group became a mob. Before I could even blink, I noticed that William was up on the platform that connects the slides with the the tube… like he was hiding. I stood up from that shady bench and watched as William crawled from that platform, to the jungle gym, over another platform and down the furthest side of the equipment… and over the sand to the grassy area beyond. Ben was running after William with one of the tennis balls in his hand.
I quickly walked around the perimeter of the sandy area and caught up to William. He told me that the boys were throwing tennis balls AT HIM. So he left. I bent way down to his little face and asked him if he wanted me to go back and talk to the boys.
“NO,“ he answered. “I just want to go to the swings.” He was hurt and embarrassed.
So we did. But on the way to the swings, William told me that he didn’t like getting hit with tennis balls. I stooped way down again, took his hands in mine, and we talked about how awful and helpless and sad it feels to be bullied. I used the word bully so William would always know it and always recognize it. Bully is not a good word. It sounds bad. It IS bad. He still insisted that I not go back to the playground, and I decided to respect his decision. We did talk, though, about how he would never want to make anyone else feel that bad and that sad.
We stayed at the swings for a good amount of time. I pushed both William and Ben high, high, high up in the air and listened to their beautiful child laughter. Then Ben wanted to go back to the playground to throw his tennis ball up the slide, through the tube and down the other side.
I was thinking… not such a good idea. I could see that a couple of other boys had joined the mob. William said that he would help Ben. I made a quick judgment call that William needed to help take care of his brother… maybe making up for what had happened to him. I was hesitant to return, but…
Ben wasn’t on the sand one second when one of the boys took his tennis ball right from his hands. Ben was this close to tears when a Dad came to the rescue. The Dad said, “Hey, Buddy… I have an extra tennis ball.” And he went to his bag, got a tennis ball and handed it to Ben. I thought this Dad must be the father of one of the boys and I felt that the situation may be a bit safer.
The boy with Ben’s tennis ball threw the ball at Ben’s back. Bare back. Ben scrambled up the apparatus and the only thing he could think to yell was this: “MY DAD IS AT HOME.”
The boys began to mimic Ben. “MY DAD IS HOME. MY DAD IS HOME.”
I knew Ben, in his 3-year old world, was trying to let the boy know that HIS DAD WOULD RESCUE HIM. I called to Ben to come on down. I wanted to get him and William off that sand and off that playground ASAP. Ben crawled down and William and he were near me when another boy grabbed Ben’s tennis ball again. Ben is a tough little guy (the 3rd of 4 boys) and he grabbed the ball back. That’s when the boy pushed Ben down into the sand. Ben looked at the boy and said, “Why did you push me?”
I stepped toward the boy and said, “Yes, that’s a good question. Why did you push him?” I didn’t want to be antagonistic. But I wanted the boy to know I was there.
The boy looked up at me, but before he could answer, Ben said something that broke my heart.
You must understand here that Ben is 3 years old. He is a very loved little guy. His brothers love him. His Mom and Dad love him. We all love him. Audrey has always called Benjamin her BABY ANGEL. Ben now calls himself BABY ANGEL. He always says, “I’m Baby Angel.” It is his way of knowing and feeling how much he is truly loved.
As Ben lay there in the sand, waiting for an answer from the boy, he said, loudly, “I’m Baby Angel.”
The boy didn’t know what to say. The mob did not know what to say.
The moment lasted a lifetime. And in that lifetime, my eyes filled with tears at the innocence and beauty and loveliness of Ben. His entire lifetime has been Baby Angel. This is what he knows. This is what he tried to explain. Why would someone hurt Baby Angel? It is unthinkable.
The moment will be locked in my mind like a tableau. The only movement was William coming to help Ben. Everything else is frozen in time.
My heart broke for my little guy. Why didn’t I think to say to those bullies, “WHY WOULD YOU PICK ON BABY ANGEL?” It’s the perfect question.
THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH BABY ANGELS AND THE BULLIES WHO FEED ON THEM. VICTIMIZE THEM. TORMENT THEM.
The moment that lasted an entire lifetime was but a moment.
The boy looked puzzled. Then he ran off. And the mob followed him.
It was over. BABY ANGEL had saved the day.
I picked Ben up, brushed him off… and William and Ben headed to the pool. I thought, “Yes. A good cleansing.”
I don’t know who those bullies belong to. None of them were the nice Dad’s kids. He was just there with his little girl. I don’t know if I could even identify them tomorrow. But I won’t let my grandsons play at that playground alone. Ever.
Bullies are everywhere… most always in numbers. Bullies are rarely all that when alone. It’s the audience that fuels them.
But I do know one thing. BABY ANGELS chase them away. It’s the most important thing I’ve learned in quite some time.
I never, ever wanted to have to write a post about this… but I do want the world to know what one BABY ANGEL can do.