A First Encounter with Meanness

My daughter Ava is nearly 5 years old. At this point, we’ve  had plenty of encounters with ignorance and thoughtlessness. And, at this point, it takes a lot to phase me. I have seen and heard it all.

However, today was a first. Surprisingly, perhaps.

Today, before my eyes, Ava encountered pure meanness.

It all started at a playground. My wife was at a baby shower for a relative so I had my daughters to myself for the day.  After giving it a little thought, I decided to take them to the beach near our house with the goal of spending the day there, rain or shine.  I have a 3-person tent in my basement from the days when I used to go camping and backpack.  It rained all day yesterday and the clouds were dark this morning. So,  I threw the tent  into the car and we decided that if it started raining we would hang out in the tent and read books. It sounded like a perfect plan and it was.

We were at the playground for a couple of hours when a man entered the area and sat down on a bench. Considering my daughter Ava’s appearance, I’ve belatedly learned not to judge others based upon their appearances. However, something about this guy freaked me out. He was older, maybe in his late 60s, slightly disheveled and he had an incredibly intense look in his eyes. It’s sad to write but the first thoughts that entered  my mind were “pedophile” and “child abductor.”  I looked around to see if he had a wife and/or kids with him and  I didn’t see anyone. As a result, I decided to closely keep my eye on him as I moved closer.

A short while later, two kids came  running up. If it wasn’t for the fact that they yelled out “Daddy” at the stranger on the bench, I wouldn’t have known that they were his children. They looked like typical boys in every way. One looked as if he as 8 or 9, the other 10 or 11.

And then, they opened their mouths.

First, a little background. My daughter Ava has  severe Apraxia and Dysarthia so speech is extremely difficult for her. Thanks to her outstanding speech therapists and personal aides, she has made tremendous progress over the last year. Nevertheless, it is difficult for anyone but Sofia (her big sister) and my wife and I to understand her. “Excuse Me”  comes out as  a very cute “Eh-SOUP-me”. Other words are even more distant from  their accurately pronounced cousins. Nevertheless, she makes it work. She can communicate!

So, there she was, communicating as she does, calling out “Da-dee” when one of the boys started mocking her. Sofia instantly rose up to Ava’s defense, got in the kid’s face and gave a very firm “Excuse me! That’s my sister!” It was the same kind of “Excuse me” that I might use when I am scolding one of my daughters. Sofia borrowed the tone and delivery, without error, and threw them at this mean little boy. He responded “Why does she talk like that? da-dee da-dee?” The question was innocent enough.  However, his meanness was  unmistakable in how he asked.  Even as he asked the question  he was mocking and making fun of Ava. What a little @#*%!

Luckily for Ava, she didn’t have a clue. Sofia, on the other hand, was ready to pounce  on the boy despite the fact that he had a good 4 inches on her. Thankfully, she didn’t pounce. She simply responded , “You better stop making fun of my sister!”  Both boys laughed and went down the slide. I told Sofia to forget them…that they weren’t worth it.

Unfortunately, less than a minute later, they were at it again. This time, mocking her “Eh-SOUP-me”. Sofia again got in their face and said, “You better stop making fun of my sister!”

“How old are you?” they responded.

“It doesn’t matter how old I am! Stop making fun of my sister!”

She then grabbed  one of the boys by the arm and gave him a little shove.

Clearly, their father wasn’t going to do a thing and I was beginning to lose my patience and fear that Sofia might actually hit one of the kids. Finally, I said, “Shut your mouth, kids. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Then I said, very loudly so that the father would hear, “Forget them, Sofia. They are mean and rude little boys. Just forget them!”

However, I confess that deep down inside I wanted Sofia to smack them in the face. Or maybe, I wanted to smack them. How dare they make fun of my daughter?! That’s how angry I was! Rationally, I knew that it would not have been a good thing for Sofia to have hit anyone. Though she studies jiu-jitsu, I repeatedly stress that it is for self-defense and never for offense. And, it can never be used to respond words…no matter how hurtful and disgusting those words are.

Of course, the father did nothing. He maintained the same  psychotic look that he had on his face when he arrived on the playground. I continued  to watch him in case he suddenly started lunging at me or my kids with a knife. Yes, this sounds  irrational but this was the kind of vibe that I was getting from this guy.

They continued playing on the playground for another 15 minutes  or so, as they continued to mutter comments under the breath to Sofia and stick out their tongues. Soon thereafter, their mother arrived and the four of them thankfully left.

As they did, I had a lot of emotions swirling  inside of me.

I was incredibly proud of Sofia and how she stood up  for her sister against two older boys.

I was in shock and disbelief  over how utterly mean and cruel these  two little boys were.

I was angry that I didn’t say something directly to their father as in, “Why don’t you tell your little hellions to keep their mouths shut instead of making fun of my daughter!”

Or perhaps I should have said something again to the boys as in, “Listen you little shit! Keep your mouth shut!”

But, in the end, it is probably best that I didn’t. Would any good have come from me approaching the father? Probably not. Instead, I turned the experience into a life lesson for  Sofia as I explained that there are people on this planet who simply aren’t nice. They cannot be reasoned with. That’s  life. You can and should speak your mind to these people and stand up for what is right. But, at the end of the day, we have to just accept that this is life and move on. That’s a tough and harsh lesson for a seven year old to learn….

Photo Credit: Flickr (Eddie~S)

Author: Kevin Mulligan

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  • Donna Maringelli Tine

    Good for Sophia for standing up for Ava! Yeah – not sure what you could have done – and it is impressive that she stood up and defended her sister. Yes, some people are just mean and nasty and unfortunately we’ll all have encounters with someone like that during our lives, but it looks like you’ve instilled your daughters with good values so they’ll know how to handle themselves in these situations.

    • Kevin Mulligan

      Thanks Donna. I am indeed proud of Sofia for sticking up for Ava. She’s extremely protective of her little sister. I think it’s a constant teaching and learning process for all involved. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s difficult to tell what the better option is: stand up and be assertive vs. simply walking away. e.g. to avoid escalating a situation. In this case, we did both. Sofia said what needed to be said and then we decided that we didn’t want to be near these kids and instead went for a walk in an attempt to settle our nerves.