The absurdity hit them before it hit me.
We’re going to EAT them?! But we just made them!
This just seems wrong.
Will the legs grow back like a sea star’s?
They ate them anyway. What kid can resist cookie covered with frosting and gummy bears?
But the strangeness of it all. The gleeful consumption of a gingerbread leg or arm got me thinking about the way in which we consume each other, all the time. We nibble away at hearts, and some times take large bites. The cruelty of our words and actions is undeniable. We should feel remorse, but often it’s the opposite. The celebration of those who take the most ferocious bites, those who stand before cheering audiences sticky with hatred and fear, it is absolutely absurd and downright frightening.
On playgrounds, the bites are small. Small bits of ego mashed between tiny teeth.
My 7 year old reported to us a couple months ago that two other girls had commanded that she could not be their friend, could not play with them at recess, unless my girl did “a flip” from the high bar. She told us about it at bedtime, about how nervous she was to do the flip. That she had been practicing from the lower bar and thought that she could do it, but she was scared that she’d fail. She was scared that she could be hurt. My husband and I were dumbfounded. She was being bullied. But she didn’t see it that way, she saw it as a test.
We told her that it was test that she could absolutely refuse. She did not need to play with those girls. She had lots of other friends to play with. But she said that she wanted these friends, wanted to try the flip. She said she would do it tomorrow.
We told her it was her choice, but that she should know that she did not have to do anything that she was scared to do–that she did not have to do anything to prove herself worthy of anyone’s friendship, or attention. She nodded, and said, “I know.” But then told us that tomorrow was the day. She felt ready and knew she could do it.
What were we to say? She was focused on the question of her own ability, the physical challenge. She was not focused on the origin of the test, only whether she had it in her to pass it. I was proud of her of confidence and bravery, but worried. Worried that she would be the kind of person who would succumb to bullies. That this was the beginning of her losing pieces of herself to the cruelty of others.
I had nightmares that night that are too absurd to repeat here, but I’ll say that they involved a confluence of the mid-90’s style mosh pits (I’m pretty sure it was Lollapalooza in NYC, but my memory–ahem, my dream, was a bit hazy), my children, a dinner party where the hostess kept sneezing all over the food she was serving, and the cast of 90210 (not all at the same time…that’d be crazy).
All the following day, my husband and I waited for a call from the school to report that our girl had been transported to the hospital with a broken arm, or worse. But the call never came. That night at dinner, we asked how the day went. We asked her what happened at recess. She looked at us, fork full of spaghetti hanging in midair, and shrugged.
“Oh, the flip?…yeah, I didn’t try it.”
That was it. She didn’t offer any further explanation and we didn’t press.
In the weeks since, the names of the other girls have been frequently mentioned in re-tellings of classroom events. They do not seem to have followed through on their threatened denial of friendship. Maybe they’ve moved on to other targets. Maybe they’re not bullies at all, just budding life coaches who were attempting to motivate my girl to try something she was afraid to do. I’m sure that’s how 90210’s Donna Martin would’ve spun it. She was always so perky and optimistic–only natural given that she shared a fictional birthday with Jesus.
Still, I really wish my kids were not coming of age in a world that claims to abhor schoolyard and workplace bullying, but puts bullies on pedestals (or first in the polls). I hope that they can survive childhood, and adulthood, intact. That the pieces of them that may be consumed by life’s inevitable indignities and injustices, will grow back like the limbs of a sea star.
And I hope that they will not not be the biters. That they will be good friends and lovers and citizens of the human race.
Next Christmas, I’m going to save myself the gingerbread existential crisis–we’re going with houses instead of men.