I will often advise students when writing a narrative or a reflective piece to start in the middle of the story. There is a certain power to cutting right to the point.
So, here goes.
Two letters and what I would loosely call a word hurled toward me on a beautiful summer afternoon in a playground in the city I call my home. With my family and a family friend. While I was playing frisbee.
By a group of middle-school boys.
I have spent enough years on the planet to have had the opportunity to be called many things. Having survived middle school myself, the range of insults runs the predictable gamut.
But “ho” is new.
And having to explain this to my children even newer.
But it is my reaction to the word that required the most careful deconstruction.
I have taught my children to walk away from bullies, to disempower them by ignoring them.
But I am not a child. I am rather a grown-up. And a mother. And a teacher. And this group of boys was not unlike any other group of individuals who in a group is compelled to mask their insecurities and frustrations and pain, collective and individual, by lashing out at others.
I could have lashed back. I could have walked away. But instead I walked toward them. Sat at their table. Told them who I was and most decidedly who I was not.
They were disarmed and thus desperately continued their diatribe with all they had, descending into vulgarities that belied their young years.
But I did not move.
And neither did they save for one young man who initially went to another table but then promptly came back.
I spoke to them . . . gently. And I continued to hold them accountable for every word they said.
I refused to move.
And my family watched.
And my sons had questions later. A lot of questions.
Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you just walk away? What was accomplished by sitting with them? Why do you care?
Because they are children.
Not mine but still mine.
Because one day these children will become men.
And because sitting at the same table, literally, is the only way anything will ever change.