On Sunday night, I took baby Margaret for a lovely stroller stroll around our St Paul neighborhood. It was a warm night, there was a nice breeze, and I thought about what a pleasant friendly place we lived in. But when I got home, something was strange. On the porch were some baseballs and some underpants. Charlie's underpants. He often leaves random things laying around the house but rarely does that include piles of underpants on the porch. Something was amiss.
Jill told me that there had been talk of a war between Charlie and some neighborhood kids. Charlie had initially thought that he should fight them with a baseball bat but then changed his mind and had opted to shoot underpants at these kids instead. Then he abandoned that plan and the underpants and went inside. "Was it, like, play war or was there going to be a real fight?" I asked. Jill thought it was play war but it happened fast and weird and she couldn't be certain.
A few minutes later I was in the kitchen when I noticed a group of six kids ranging in age from about four years old to maybe nine standing outside our house, gazing up at it. "That's him! I think I saw him move! Let's wait here!" they mumbled to themselves. They were cute as hell these kids but they were also, and this is important, an angry mob. I slipped out the back door and walked up behind them.
"What are you guys looking at?" I asked, as if I was a passer by.
"There's a boy in that house and he threw a rock at us. And we're going to GET him!" said one boy excitedly. "And THIS is the rock he threw!" he added, holding up said evidence.
The group included a boy about Charlie's age on a bike and carrying a baseball bat. A couple of other kids carrying nothing and a small girl named Gwyneth, the youngest of the angry mob, with some safety scissors. "And I'm going to POKE HIM!" she vowed. One other kid carried a hula hoop though it was unclear if it was intended as a weapon or was just a hula hoop. It was held in as menacing a way as you can hold a hula hoop.
Well, I want to be objective and all but when a mob, even an adorable mob, comes after your boy, it's kind of hard to see clearly. "Threw a rock at you, huh? And I suppose you did nothing to deserve that? My son threw a rock at you for no reason at all?" I asked. Now they knew I was not just some adult asking questions. I had a dog in this fight.
"(mumble mumble) nohejustthrewitatuswedon'tknowwhy (mumble mumble)". Gwyneth holding scissors at the ready.
"Maybe you guys should get on home and stop staring at my house," I advised. Hoping that was the end of a weird misunderstanding I went inside. But as I went inside, Charlie was coming out, BAT IN HAND. Apparently the plan, bought into among both camps, was to have a "baseball bat sword fight" to resolve differences. I paused to imagine that confrontation and exactly how quickly it would dissolve into ambulances and lawsuits. What, four seconds? Five? I also paused a moment to admire the pluck of my son: faced with an angry mob, he was ready to step in and settle it with freaking baseball bats, regardless of the harm that may come to him from safety scissors and hula hoops. But I couldn't let that happen. I stepped in and corralled both adversaries, gathered them all together. We talked.
Apparently, one of the mob kids rode his bike too close to Charlie in our yard, raising concern in Charlie that "he was trying to kill me" (who among us in an urban area hasn't felt the same about cyclists?) . This triggered the thrown rock, the subsequent mob outrage, and the gathering up of scissors, hoops, and bats. This all made perfect sense to everyone involved.
It's a funny thing about resolving conflicts among people who are significantly less powerful than you are. They listened to my talk about misunderstandings and how we all live in the same neighborhood and how no one wants to hurt each other. But I could see in their eyes, they were thinking, "Nah, bullshit, we absolutely want to hurt each other but now we know that adults know about these plans and we can't administer the beatings we so desperately yearn for." Nothing changed, they didn't all become friends (maybe they will one day), they just looked at each other with the knowledge that the bat sword fight and the poking and whatever terrible thing happens with the hula hoop would have to wait.
Until I'm older. And they're older. And they have more power than me. And then it is so on. I will die with safety scissors sticking out of me, I just know it. Her name is Gwyneth.