Not a Touching Story
The little girl kept doing it … marching straight to the front, skipping everyone in line and going down the water slide. After the 3rd instance, I stepped in. The 6-yo culprit stood poised at the top in her one-piece, staring down the ramp, while my and my friends’ kids stood silently, confused.
“Excuse me. Everyone here is waiting in line and you need to wait too,” I said. I lifted her by the shoulders and placed her in line behind the other three kids. “Do you understand that?” I added. She instantly wilted and walked over to the railing, where she stared out into space. My 4-yo was next in line, and down we went together, singing as we curved, banked and burst into the splashy landing.
As my giggling boy and I emerged at the bottom, a tan woman in a pink bikini approached us with fire in her eyes. “Do you work here?” she barked into my face. “No … I don’t,” I said. “Then, why did you touch my child?” She stepped closer, her fury growing. “She kept cutting the line in front of all the other kids.” “You DON’T touch my child,” she growled. “She has autism.” Her grim-faced husband walked over. “I’m sorry, I didn’t …” “Try not to be so ignorant,” she said. The lifeguard walked over and asked, “Is there a problem here?” “This guy aggressively touched my child,” the woman said, never taking her eyes off me. “Listen, I’m sorry … Sincerely, I meant no harm.”
King of Nothing, acrylic, corrugated cardboard and antique book pages on canvas. 36″x48″, 2005, Stuart Sheldon
I walked away, shaken by a seemingly simple situation that quickly became very complicated. “You didn’t know,” my wife reassured me. But then she asked a superb question, “What if that was our son, and you saw someone touch him?” THAT was the crux of the issue.
None of us want any stranger’s hands on our kids, especially not in a disciplinary manner. And, while I did not “aggressively touch” that little girl, I certainly lifted her up and moved her without reservation. I realize now that I was wrong to assume I could just step in as the referee. The moment I touched her daughter, the rules changed. Her autism, of course, made things far more delicate. Though, while my heart ached for what those parents must deal with daily, that was not the primary issue at hand.
I got spanked more than a few times by the principal in elementary school. But he was granted that authority by the system. As a former babysitter, summer camp counselor, stay-at-home dad and generally huggy person, I assume I can step in and, literally, handle situations involving my kids and their environment.
I may have been right in defending the fairness of the slide for the other children, but my touching that little girl, harmless as it was, was more wrong than my fairness was right.
I stepped onto a foolish and disrespectful, slippery slope. Those parents were justifiably indignant. And I felt genuinely ashamed for being so naive.
I’m a good father, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make bad choices. Next time, I’ll think twice before I deem myself judge and jury for someone else’s child. Yes, it takes a village but, apparently (and sadly) we must know our fellow villagers well before we can touch their kids.