Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Up the Lane with a Handful of Stones (alternate title: More Kids Need a Rain Barrel)

Something happened yesterday that I just can’t shake. Even now I think about it and my stomach churns. So maybe if I get it out, shine an examination light on it, it will help alleviate some of this angsty ambivalence going on inside me.

To set the stage, I must explain a few things. We live out in the country. Behind our house runs a public Right-Of-Way— a weedy, deep-rutted lane that empties out at one end onto the main road, and at the other end into our back yard. This Right-Of-Way runs between two rows of houses (all the backyards would converge were it not for this lane splitting things down the middle). The lane is lined by ancient trees, stalky weeds, shrubs, and other leafy vegetation. Several houses down from us, on the opposite side of the lane, a house sits. A house that five children and at least two wild-looking dogs call home. The backyard is filled with trash, debris, old lumber riddled with rusty nails, and at one point a haunted-looking caravan camper. (Thankfully that is now gone.) In the pit-of-a-yard there is a trampoline for the kids that I’ve never inspected closely enough to know if it would sustain anyone’s weight, even that of a child. The kids’ ages range from about 10 years old to 3 years old, roughly. And every so often, you’ll see these kids straggle up the lane toward our yard, either on foot or on their bikes.

Now, I am a pretty open-minded person. I’ll take pretty much anyone as I find them without judgment.  (Usually. I am human, thus flawed, after all. But I do try to maintain an open mind.) And part of me always felt a bit bad for these kids whose only place to play was a derelict yard with threats of Tetanus looming everywhere. But something about these kids has never sat well with me. They actually remind me of the Herdmans from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (remember that book? If you haven’t read it, you should.) Whenever I see these kids start hedging toward our backyard, especially when my kids are out playing, I cringe. I can’t help it. Something just makes me uneasy.

And that’s the reaction I had yesterday when I looked out and saw all five walking up the lane. Fortunately my husband was outside with our daughters, so I just observed from the open kitchen window. The five kids at first spent a little while rolling down our neighbor’s hill. Harmless enough. Then they kept hiding and jumping out (at nobody, apparently) from behind our neighbor’s little decorative fence. Then (surprise, surprise) they wanted to come into our yard to play with our girls. (And I don’t really blame them considering the wound-pit alternative they have). 

However I didn’t have to hear my husband’s words to know that wasn’t going to happen. He feels much the same as I do about the little rascals, and the older two boys (they look to be about 10 and 8 years old) have a bit of an edge to them—like they’re itching to take someone on. A wee proverbial chip lurking on their shoulders. Like I said, there’s just something that doesn’t sit well.

My husband declined their request to visit our yard. He answered politely but definitively. We are always careful to be polite to these kids, because 1) courtesy is something I want my kids to see in action and 2) I don’t want these rapscallions to set our house on fire. (Okay, that borders on profiling, but I've seen Lifetime Movies--I know how these things happen!) Rebuffed, the five shuffled about 10 yards down the lane, turned around. And wouldn’t you know, the two oldest boys picked up rocks and threw them at Jonathan. Yes. Rocks. Hurled at someone whose back was turned and whose crime was simply not giving a bunch of kids something they wanted but were not in the least entitled to. Then four of the kids started throwing rocks. (The youngest simply sat down and played in the dirt.)

Jonathan turned, realized what they were doing, walked over and asked them to return to their own yard. The three youngest took off running, but the two oldest boys—after initially skittering away at Jonathan’s approach—kept hucking their rocks.

I watched this entire scene play out from the window. And I was irate. I'm not a reactive person, but this got me hot to the point of wanting to throttle those kids. Yes, Jonathan was fully capable of handing the situation, but I couldn’t watch this unfold without acting. Call it the Mama Bear instinct or righteous indignation or pure rage—whatever you want to call it, it was surging in full force. 

I stormed out of the house and headed through the yard. When the two boys saw me coming (and I must have looked a bit fierce), they sprinted away down the lane.

“I’m going to go talk to their parents,” I said to Jonathan as I turned toward the lane.

“No, you’re not,” he said. “I don’t want to stir things up.”

I stopped and stared at him. “They were throwing rocks. Rocks! At another person. Who does that?!”  (Like I said, I was hot.)

“I know. But then they saw you coming,” he smirked. “They’re gone now.”

The whole time this had been going on, our girls were up by the house playing with the rainwater barrel, floating their little toy mermaids and splashing each other. No harm done, I suppose, I thought to myself. So I walked back toward the house and into the kitchen.

Ah, our dear old rainbarrel--the handiwork of Jonathan
and source of much joy among our children.

Then, only moments later, the oldest boy again sauntered up the lane, stopping along the way, and filling his hands full of stones. He came within 20 yards of Jonathan and again started to let his missiles fly. Fortunately the rocks didn't come close to their target, but the kid seemed to have no intention of losing interest anytime soon.

Jonathan works with troubled kids for a living; he's far better equipped to handle belligerence and threats of bodily harm from a pipsqueak than most. He calmly turned, again asked the kid to stop, to go back to his own yard. Another rock came sailing through the air. Finally, Jonathan walked toward the kid, who initially squared up to Jonathan like he’s gonna take him on. (Seriously?!) Then, when Jonathan didn't stop walking, but kept coming toward him, the boy scrambled away, back to his yard, back inside his house. Jonathan walked through their littered backyard, around their house toward the front porch, and disappeared from view. I went out and stood on our back porch, watched the scene with my heart hammering, and prayed that nothing turned ugly. Our girls continued to splash and play, but I saw our 7-year-old watching me. (Oh, how it makes me tremble when the innocent eyes of children watch my every move.)

After only a few minutes, Jonathan once again appeared, strolled back up the lane, and resumed his yard work. I walked down to him.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Their mom came to the door. I told her that her son was throwing rocks at me.”

“And what’d she say?”

“She said she’d take care of it. She was very nice.”

I felt a slight relief, at least in the hope that maybe a smidgeon of justice would prevail.

Yet now, sitting here, away from the moment, distanced from the initial rage, I still feel a burning in my stomach. It’s all nice and warm and fuzzy to say “be kind,” “show empathy” on a blog post. Yet when watching stones being thrown by a 10-year-old who should know better, everything gets shrouded in a murky darkness that scares me a little bit. (Is this the world we live in now? Where kids think it’s okay to throw rocks at an adult?) It also gets that “Right Fighter” within me going. (It’s not just that it’s dangerous, there’s a principle at stake here!) I know as a mother I should be modeling self control. I know as a Christian I should be loving to those who are unkind. I know as a human being I should be understanding and considerate. All of that became a billion times harder yesterday—which is, I suppose, when it really counts.

I want to give my kids a just world. A kind world. A safe world. Unfortunately I can't. I can only teach my kids how to respond to the injustice. The unkindness. And, yes, even the danger. And it all starts with me choosing to do the right thing. Choosing to be loving. Even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard. Because that’s when my kids will know when I say “Be Kind” that I’m asking only for what I myself am trying to live out. 

And, yes, all my kids were the beneficiaries of another lecture yesterday on the importance of never—EVER!— throwing stones. Unless you're throwing them in a pond because, let's face it, I love to see the ripples spread.

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  1. What?!?!?! Jonathan is such a cool head! I don't know that I would have been able to handle it with the grace of either of you? Kindness is so important though, and you've inspired me to be more aware of it.

    1. Jonathan is a cool head, although if the kid had hit his kids (or his truck) with those rocks, I'm not sure the cool head would have prevailed. Thanks, kate!

  2. It is unfortunate that we have so little control in situations like these. We can't always create the utopian environment for our children that we would like. I'm always especially saddened to witness kids behaving this way, I worry for their future when the weapons become something bigger than stones and when the person they choose to be violent to doesn't have as much self control as you and your husband. I'm sorry this happened to you.

    1. Thank you, Kristi - and I hate to always bring things back to all this violence we're seeing in our culture, but you're right. At some point the weapons become bigger and more dangerous. Makes you stop and think.

  3. Wow. I agree with Kate, I'm not sure I would have handled this situation with the level headedness or grace of you and Jonathan. Would that we could all react to such situations with strength of character.

    1. I think you're giving me too much credit - it was Jonathan with the level head and strength of character. I wanted to . . . well, I was not as inclined toward self-control as Jonathan :) Thanks, Liza!

  4. Rapscallion! Great word choice. Cashman would be proud!

  5. oh my, the world today is a harsh place. Like Johnathan we work with these troubled youth, as foster parents, so we live and work with them 24/7. And you're right, when they don't get their way, they lash out. But the anger was not at your family, but at what your family has that they don't. God gives us grace (and patience and strength) to do what we must, for them, and for our own. Now I'm off to read part 2!

    1. Blessings to you, Debbi! Fostering is such an amazing calling, yet so incredibly challenging. (And, amen to God's grace!) I hope you found Part II to be a lovely ending to the story :)


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