Have you ever walked by a reflective surface, caught sight of yourself in passing, and wondered — even just for an instant — “Who is that person”? This happens to me more often than I would like to admit. I don’t spend a lot of time standing around looking in mirrors. And I don’t like having my picture taken, so there are few photographic references of me out there in the world. I guess it makes sense that I might have a jolt of reality when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or a window. “Who is that woman? What the heck, is that me? Do I really look like that?” All of which, of course, is almost immediately followed with the inevitable, “Wow … when the heck did I get so darn old?” It’s never a pretty experience.
Something similar happened to me yesterday, at my daughter’s basketball game — a sort of jolting glimpse of my spiritual self that left me wondering: “Wow, am I that person?” You can’t see me right now, of course, but, if you could, you would find me making a rather disconcerted, hapless sort of face at my computer screen. Because, perhaps, I’m still trying to tell myself that I’m calm, cool, collected, and totally sane in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
So, the basketball game. It was a tough game. The other team didn’t play nice. They had a habit of celebrating — high-fiving out on the court and congratulating each other — whenever one of them would foul one of the players on my daughter’s team. This was bad enough, combined with the snarky, rude comments from the opposing team’s supporters (all parents, mind you), to leave me with unkind thoughts toward the lot of them.
But then, at the end of a quarter, my daughter headed over to the water fountain for a drink. One of the players from the opposing team (Girl A) broke away from her team huddle just so she could race across the floor toward the water fountain and cut in front of my daughter. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t on purpose. These are elementary-aged kids, after all. And yet, it looked entirely deliberate on Girl A’s part. I watched as my daughter told Girl A that she was there first and as my daughter’s teammates, realizing what had just happened, invited my daughter up to get a drink with them, more toward the front of the line. When this happened, Girl A shoved her way in front of my daughter and another of my daughter’s teammates. My daughter, being the sweet and easy-going kid that she is, shrugged the whole thing off, ignored Girl A, got her drink, and headed back to the rest of her team. It seemed like the whole thing was handled. I was willing to put it down to over-aggressiveness caused by the game, which was tied for most of the playing time. Still, it was enough to make me glare at Girl A and think even more unkind thoughts
But then, Girl A returned to her teammates. And I watched her flouncing around with them, laughing and pointing at my daughter. By the expression on her face and her hand gestures, I knew she was telling them, with pride, all about what she had just done. She was the hero of the moment — seriously hot stuff, and, wow, did she ever know it, too!
I should have felt sorry for that girl. It’s tragic that she could engage in an act of bullying and, then, turn around and take such pride in it. And it’s even more tragic that her parents, who were sitting there on the sidelines with the rest of us, could watch her actions and say nothing to her about it. I wonder what this beautiful girl will end up doing with her life and how she will approach her teenage years, and, honestly, I feel this almost overwhelming sadness now that I’m removed from the situation. And I hope she will realize how her actions affect others and herself before it’s too late.
But, in that moment, watching this child make fun of my own daughter, I didn’t have any of those feelings. I didn’t consider that she was just a child, or that it was likely she hadn’t been taught any better. I didn’t consider the fact that her coaches are just as much — if not more — to blame for encouraging her behavior. Nope. In that moment, none of this stuff mattered. I sat there and fantasized about “accidentally” smashing this kid in the face with a basketball. And it seemed like a really, really great idea. Just … the anger and the rage. It took me by surprise, and I had to tell myself, “Whoa there, Mama Bear. Back off.”
Which I did. But it was hard. Really, really, really hard.
In the end, I settled for explaining to my daughter that there were always going to be jerks in the world, even when you’re only nine. It’s too bad this is the way things are, but it’s a fact of life. My daughter was fine with this. She seemed content to accept it all as a life lesson and move on.
But there’s a part of me — a little, screaming, angry part — that still thinks the whole “smash her in the face with a basketball” plan was a lot better. I guess there’s a little Mama Bear in all of us, and, yes, somewhere way down deep inside of me, I really am that person. It’s … frightening.