I take Em to the playground a lot. He uses the kiddy swings and I let him run around for a while even though it makes me nervous and I usually need an antacid afterward. You see, Em doesn’t always have the physical ability to necessarily do what he wants to do without causing himself harm. He climbs things and sometimes has no idea how to get down. He trips over unleveled ground. Sometimes he gets shoved to the ground accidentally by the older kids. I constantly walk after him, erratically. Trying to figure out the motions of a toddler is like trying to model fluid dynamics.
He enjoys talking to squirrels and pigeons too. But I think one of his favorite pastimes is picking up sticks. Sometimes he picks up big sticks and sometimes they’re small ones. Usually they’re prime eye-poking instruments and so I snatch them from him before he gets too attached and break them down. I end up giving him a smaller piece in return.
Sometimes he picks up a sticks that are really long—long enough that they don’t pose too much a threat of impalement. So I’ll let him hold onto them for a bit until he grows tired of lugging around such a large item. I’ll then take the stick and sometimes I’ll put it on his stroller. I have learned that if I keep a stick around and he fusses later, it will appease him for at least five minutes. This is a perfect item to have around if I have run an errand or he starts screaming on our walk home.
On Monday we were at the park and Em ran over to the fence to grab two long, lovely sticks up from the ground. They were in that gray area. What I mean is, they were short enough that he could fall on them. So I traded with him. I gave him two smaller sticks and took the longer ones away. I sat there holding onto both sticks.
A brown haired boy walked up to us.
“Give me those sticks” He said.
“What?” I asked him a little shocked.
“Give me that stick. I need it. I neeeeeeed that stick.” He whined and pointed.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you one stick but I want to hold onto the other one.” I handed him a stick.
“Give me the other stick. I need it.” He said.
“No. This is for my son.” I answered. I felt like I was doing somebody else’s job.
“I neeeed that stick!” He said.
“No.” I looked away from him.
He gave up and walked away.
That’s when two aryan poster children walked up to me. They must have been related. One was a tow-headed boy, the other a tow-headed girl.
The thing about children that I have always been wary of and it’s also part of the reason why I never really wanted one of my own, is how downright ignorant they are regarding personal space and privacy. These kids walked directly up to my nose, unaware of my body and its real estate. They’re freakishly direct.
“Give me the stick.” The sister said.
“Yes, we need that stick.” Said the boy.
“We need that sick. We need it.” The pale-headed girl demanded.
“This stick is for my son. He picked up the stick and I am going to save it for him.” I said.
“But we need it. We need that stick.” The girl continued.
“No one needs a stick.” I said. “This one is for my son. There are plenty of sticks. Why not go get your own stick?”
“Because we need that one.” The boy said.
I was arguing with children. What’s wrong with me? I thought.
Finally the aryans gave up. They walked away empty handed.
A third child walked up to me.
Now, I know this next part is going to come off as really politically incorrect. But I have no idea how else to tell it. I’m going to just tell it like how I saw it. Forgive me in advance.
The third kid was just weird looking. He looked like someone you might find after generations of inbreeding. He had blond hair as well. He was tall and very lanky. One arm was under his coat tapping something he had shoved up there. The other one dangled lifelessly next to his body. His hair hadn’t been touched by a brush in some time. And his eyes were so far apart, an entire finger could have rested on the bridge of his nose lengthwise without blocking his view. He was a perfect example as to why drinking during pregnancy is a terrible and risky idea.
“GIVE ME THE STICK!” The kid said. “GIVE IT TO MEEEEEEEE!”
He wasn’t particularly mean about it. It was more like I had entered a game he had been playing in his head, one where I had a specific role, a role I was very unaware of.
“You want this stick? Let me guess, you need it?”
“YES I NEED THAT STICK!” He yelled back, squinting.
“I’ll tell you what, how about we split the stick?”
“OK!” He was very excited.
I broke the stick in half and gave him the longer part. “Here you go. Now run along.”
He didn’t leave. Instead, he started to hit himself in the chest with the stick. He hit whatever hard object lay underneath his shirt repeatedly.
“I’M TOUGH! HIT ME WITH THIS STICK! SEE! I’M TOUGH” He yelled this as he beat his chest with the stick. “I AM SO STRONG! WATCH ME HIT MYSELF WITH THIS STICK!”
As he continued to beat himself in the chest with the stick, I broke up the other half and threw it down. I looked around and saw that the first kid who wanted the stick was urinating on the ground with his father’s instruction. His pants were down around his ankles and he just stood there, pissing, while the bums on the park bench across from him drank from brown bags and tried to focus on something they do regularly as well.
I sat there defeated and stickless yearning for a yard of my own, a yard dressed in urine I’m familiar with if dressed in urine at all. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to react to these children? Was it my job to tell them no? Is it right to ask a kid to go away? Is there a class one can take to learn playground politics?
Was I dreaming?
Where were this kid’s parents anyway? Had they taken a few minutes to do a couple of shots at the local bar? Were they copulating with other relatives? I know, I sound unfair, after all you can’t pick your parents, but I was irritated. Where were his parents? Did they think I asked him to beat himself with half a stick, the half I wasn’t going to take home with my son?
And more importantly, is this what need means?
I need a stick a stick that will thwart poorly supervised children.
I need a stick that won’t hurt my son.
I need a stick that will direct us home.