I made a kid cry today. As an elementary school teacher, this is neither the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last, but no matter how many times it goes down, the experience always prompts this odd mixed reaction of devastation, horror, and completely inappropriate stifled laughter, like the kind you have at a funeral, like the more you think about it, the more terrified you become that you’re actually going to laugh in his little face.
Everybody was playing that bizarre, vaguely football-like game they play every recess, and it was going just fine, and then there he was, standing right there in the middle of the field, yelling his little kid-brains out over who even knows what. So I shouted at him in the manner I felt most appropriate, which means I channeled my inner high school football coach and called to him, "Hey, you! Get off the field! Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!" (Ever since I finished binge-watching Friday Night Lights, I feel I have a very good grip on how to communicate effectively with young men).
So he stomped over to me with the kind of excess pageantry exhibited solely by small, angry children and dogs wearing shoes (enjoy the glory that is this video) and gave me his elaborate pagan dance of fury, physically accenting the important words, like, I am just (punch) trying to play the game (kick) BUT NO ONE (karate chop) IS (punch) PLAYING (kick) BY (karate chop) THE (double karate chop) RULES (kick!). I know he wanted me to go over there and micromanage his game for him, but I had some pretty good reasons for refusing to do so that didn’t have to do with the fact that the grass was wet and I didn’t want to walk across it in my suede boots just to get yelled at by some more angry kids.
But hoo-boy, was he mad, and as we are all well enough aware, what often follows a kid’s mad-tantrum is some mad-crying. And then there were a lot of tears, and snot, and, well, I’ll spare you the uglier details. Then, of course, I found myself on the receiving end of the battle cry for sobbing children everywhere: He looked me dead in the eye and wailed, "IT’S NOT FAIR. YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND."
Oh, but I do. We all do—if only he knew how very little fairness exists in Grown-Up Land. I think the only reason you don’t see more grown-ups angry-dancing all over the ding-dang place is that, when you grow up, you decide it’s better and more adult of you to shove those feelings of anger and frustration deep down inside you so that they may manifest as stress-related medical issues instead.
Oh, how I want to warn this kid to guard his little justice-seeking heart... I want to weep for his snotty face, for all of our snotty faces. If only I could properly convey to him how agonizing it is to abandon your avocado at the grocery store so that you have only 10 items for the 10-items-or-less checkout lane, and then watch the bish behind you plop at least 20 pieces of fancy cheese on the conveyor belt. How lousy it feels to lean over your sink one morning to inspect how lousy you are looking today, only to have the lousy sink collapse beneath you, and then end up paying to replace it due to a loophole in your lease agreement. Or the unique aggravation of driving your car behind people who go 20mph in the left lane in the middle of rush hour, who cut you off, who won’t let you in, who drive in the carpool lane with a dog wearing a hat as their passenger, who never, ever, ever, use their turn signal. Is the turn signal not a thing we use anymore, and I just missed the memo? Why have people stopped using their goddamned turn signals?
But that seems a little heavy in these times of supreme heaviness, and he’s only 6. So instead, I would tell him, as I would tell all of you, that in the midst of all the unfairness and uncoolness, in the dark, shabbier days when it seems like we may never end up on the awesome end of things, there really are small ways of making it more OK than… well, than it would be otherwise. And one way I have found to make it OK: I don’t use my turn signal anymore now, either.
It takes a lot of focus not to, after so many years of being an excessively fastidious driver. I used to use my turn signal for everything, like pulling out of a parking spot, which even my mother deemed unnecessary. But these days, it makes me feel better to weave in and out of traffic with nary a hint to my fellow drivers. If I catch some old lady’s stank eye as I drive past her, I’ll give her the stank eye right back, a silent expression that screams, Welcome to the jungle, bitch. It just feels like a tiny piece of power I am taking back, a way of reminding myself that there are still a few things in my life I can control. And that’s what I meant to pass on to my young friend when I leaned over, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, Listen, if no one is playing by the rules, why should you?
Of course, he looked at me like I was a moron and ran back to shout at his friends some more… which he actually couldn’t do because we had taken up too much time talking and recess was over. There’s probably a lesson about problem-solving in there, but I think that’s for another day.
School should be fair. Playtime should be fair. I believe my students should enjoy these days of insular righteousness, when justice is always just a tattle-tale away. Because grown-up life is not fair, and sometimes, when no one else is playing by the rules, there’s only one way to make things right. Sometimes, you just have to fling two dozen pieces of cheese onto the conveyor belt, throw a hat on your dog, and defiantly ignore your turn signal… with clear eyes, full hearts, and a pair of well-preserved suede shoes.Mikayla Park is a teacher/nonprofit creative person residing in the slums of Beverly Hills. Find her, and her two charming rescue dogs, everywhere at @mikaylapark.