I came home one day to find my first grade daughter stomping back and forth in the juice of peer induced frustrations like a jilted woman stomping grapes. Her mother stood folding clothes on the dining room table. Catching my gaze, she rolled her eyes up, indicating the grapes of wrath were being thoroughly trodden, undoubtedly accompanied by a bitter whine.
“What’s the matter, hon?” I asked, setting my briefcase down. Leaning against the counter, I tried not to smile. If there is one thing that will spark my daughter’s anger into a fire, it’s the sight of a condescending smile.
“There’s this boy at school . . .,” my daughter griped, voice sour. She stopped to glare up at me, her brow furrowed beneath long blond locks. “He won’t stop beating up on me and my friends . . .”
“Have you told the teacher?” I asked, knowing this to be the proper response.
“Yeah. But she won’t do anything,” daughter replied, her frustrated tone reflecting her sour opinion. “He beats us up when the teacher isn’t looking!” She resumed her stomping those grapes of wrath as if attempting to pulp some seeds. “She doesn’t see anything,” she continued, muttering.
I bit my lips trying not to laugh as she stalked back and forth in front of the dining room table, muttering. Her hands were drawn into fists. Fists of fury against someone. Her chin barely came up to the top of the table.
“Well,” I encouraged, “Why don’t you beat him up? You’re tough – “
She stopped, her blue eyes flashing. “He’s bigger than me! He’s one of the biggest kids in class! He’s too big to beat up!”
Okay, I could see her point. Outclassed, outweighed. Despite being a little fireball, I didn’t want my daughter getting smacked around. But daddies can’t always fight their children’s battles. Not only does it keep a child from developing their sense of confidence and pride, it keeps them dependent on you for all their solutions. And there’s life ahead. I thoroughly believe in giving them the tools, and then letting them try to handle it. Even if they do take some blows now and again. That’s part of life. Plus, I was thoroughly intent on raising an independent child.
So, envisioning the situation, a plan began to sprout, based upon my military past and experience – something I as a parent knew I shouldn’t consider. Get him alone – all those friends . . .,” a part of me was considering – gleefully.
“Well,” I said slowly and carefully, hoping I wouldn’t get her in trouble, “Why don’t you and your little friends just jump him. Certainly all of you could do it and beat him up, tell him to leave you alone – .”
“No!” she protested. “Then we’d all get in trouble! The teacher would see us!”
The point wasn’t valid, I thought. If the bully could get them around the corner of the building – then why not them lure him instead? I mused, eyeing my daughter. I had always told her: you don’t fight at school. You never throw the first punch – ever. Even about words. You don’t fight over words, only action. I could feel her frustration. But the situation was all too clear: a playground bully, little kids, and a teacher trying to stand watch. Ambush, a part reminded me. Call it sneaky, call it tactical planning, I could see a path clear. One that the old guerrilla soldier in me liked.
“Well,” I said, picking my words. I knew it was breaking all the rules – as the concept of fair play. But life isn’t fair, and sometimes rules need to be broken. I should know. I’ve been there. But if the teacher was to hear of it – I sighed.
“Why don’t you and your little friends wait until you are on the playground. You all go around the corner where the teacher can’t see you. Then you call him. When he comes around the corner – all of you jump on him and beat him up. That oughta teach him not to mess with you.”
Daughter looked at me. I could see her forming rejections – then discarding them. Slowly her anger began to clear. Suddenly her clear blue eyes brightened with the light of understanding.
“Okay, daddy!” she said, her voice resuming it’s usual piping tone. “I’ll try!”
Well, I didn’t think much about it for the next few days, though it was there in the back of my mind. I had given my daughter a devious plan – one that I had put her up to. But isn’t that the daddy’s job? Help out their little daughters with the truly thorny problems – even if it means circumnavigating the system once and awhile? I knew better than complain to the teacher – that’s like tacking a note saying “Kick Me” on the back of your kid’s shirt. Kids need to take care of kid’s problems – that’s the unwritten rule of children, by children, for children. Complaining to parents – or any grownup – is cheating, calling on the powers-that-be for resolution. And most kids resent another kid doing that. They’ll ostracize the kid, separate them from the group. After all, the kid who cries “I’m telling!” and goes running to the grownups is a traitor. I knew that from my own childhood. Sometimes kid’s problems are best solved by the kids themselves.
Towards the end of the week I come back home. Daughter is sitting at the table. Her hair is somewhat ruffled, and she’s staring at the table. My wife is drifting around the kitchen getting supper ready.
“What’s the matter?” I ask, glancing from my wife to my daughter and back.
My daughter sits in sullen silence. My wife looks at me, then at my daughter.
“Your daughter got into a fight at school.”
Uh-oh, I think, wondering if it’s time for me to don my daddy boots and kick some kiddy butt.
“What happened?” I ask. My daughter continues to stare at the table.
“You tell him,” my wife orders with that voice – you know the one. The one mothers use when they want you to tell something – and you don’t dare say anything else.
“I did it, daddy,” she says as I lean against the counter, bracing myself. I slowly lower my briefcase to the floor. “I did what you told me to do.”
Uh-oh, I think, wondering what kind of trouble I’d gotten myself into, and if I’m going to have to apply those daddy boots to my own butt.
“And – ah – what’s that?” I ask.
“That boy at school,” daughter slowly says. “I did what you told me.”
“And how’d that go?” I cautiously ask, remembering the advice I’d given her.
“Well – I got my friends to wait around the corner, just like you told me, and then I called him over . . .” She trails off, staring at the table with a twisted frown.
“And then what happened?” I ask.
“They wouldn’t help me!” She pouts at the table. “None of them did!”
I’m surprised – but not surprised. You know the feeling – the one when a plan goes awry in a perfectly predictable way. I eyeball my daughter, but there’s no black eye, no swollen lip.
“Did you win?” I ask.
At this a smile crosses my daughter’s lips.
“I beat him up,” she says, looking up at me with a proud, somewhat defiant glare in her eyes. “And then I beat up my boyfriend for not helping me!”
“I knew you could do it,” I said, picking up my briefcase.
That’s my girl.
( later on – not much! – she went on to earn her Black Belt and more. She’s also highly proficient with a number of weapons, including a gun. She was shooting a .357 by 8 – and nailing all the courses. Little girl’s all grown up now – you boys had better watch out! . . . But as I used to lament to my friend: “All the martial arts training in the world won’t prevent a broken heart.” )