When we moved into our on-base house, I was so excited. My daughter was 17-months-old and my son was yet to be a twinkle in my eye. I was going to finally have a separate playroom for all those Fisher-Price toys, a private office, and a finished attic.
I was also excited because there was a playground right behind our house in the alley/field separating officer housing from enlisted housing. I pictured spending many happy hours playing with my little girl in the sand-filled park. A military base is the safest neighborhood in the world.
I have never been quite so wrong before or since.
That thrice-damned playground has become the bane of my existence. Not only do hordes of unsupervised children scream their heads off out there well past ten o'clock most summer nights (and some school nights too), but I've had to see some things going on out there that no mother ever wants to see.
And so I kept my kids away.
We bought a huge playset (that my neighbors called the apartment complex) and later a huge trampoline so my kids and their invited friends could get exercise in the safety of our fenced in yard. I had to turn into the neighborhood ogre to keep the hordes of brats out of our yard, but it worked.
For a while.
That damn litter box of a playground became the Garden of Eden to my kids. They would beg me to let them go out and play there. For a couple of years, I was able to satisfy them by sitting on the (usually vandalized) bench and keeping an eagle eye on them as they played. But then my daughter turned seven.
Seven-years-old is when they really start to make their own friends, regardless of your opinions of suitability. And I knew I had to start letting go. My daughter is far from independent. I knew that it was important for her development to take a step outside of my comfort zone and make her own friends. Even in our neighborhood.
So rules were established. She has to tell me when she leaves the yard. She must never be out of eyesight of my kitchen window. She can never ever go in anyone else's house. Our family rules must be abided by at all times. She has to keep an eagle eye on her little brother. And she must immediately come inside if things get out of control.
As they play out there, maybe 100 feet from my kitchen, I do housework and check on them every few minutes. I leave my back door open, regardless of weather so I can hear every word they say.
Last week I yelled at brats for tearing lumber off the benches and using it to chase each other. The military police came out the next day to document that destruction. Four days ago, I yelled at two boys who were chasing my son with sticks. As much as that bothers me, I know that they are just playing. In their very-unsupervised way, they don't consider consequences. I know that's just kids being kids.
But the other day while they were outside, I wasn't feeling well. And I wasn't as vigilant as usual. So of course, bad things happened.
My daughter came in and told me that some boy was chasing them with a stick, so she told her brother they had to come inside.
"Okay, honey. Thank you for looking out for him. That was a good decision." I figured it was just another incident like the other day, so I looked out to see if anyone was about to hurt anyone else. But the playground was deserted, and I didn't give it too much thought.
As I was putting them to bed, my daughter told me, "Mom, I didn't like what that boy was doing at all. I was worried about my brother."
So I asked her what happened and she told me the whole story.
"That boy was calling my brother something like haggot. Or haggard. Or maybe it was fomo. I don't remember. And I told him to stop. But he wouldn't. And he started to chase my brother and then he caught him and hit him."
"What did your brother do?" I asked.
He sort of put up his arms like this." She put her crossed arms up by her head. "But I stepped between them like this and told him to, 'Stop now!'" She demonstrated her moves to me.
She continued, "But he wouldn't stop and he tried to hit my brother again, so I told him to stop like this." She stomped her foot, made her meanest face, crossed her arms and yelled, "Stop!"
"He pushed me and put his fist up at me."
I had to stop her there. "He put his fist up at you?"
"Yeah, like this." She stood in a fighter's stance with her fist right in my face. "And he told me, 'I'm not afraid to hit a girl.' So I told my brother we had to go inside right then. And we came inside and told you."
I swear, maybe I was over-reacting, but I could have happily killed someone in that moment. I tried to stay somewhat calm for my kids' sake. And I asked a whole lot of question.
I found out that he always wears the same shirt--a teal soccer uniform shirt. I've noticed a kid out there occasionally in just that shirt. I also found out that he doesn't live here. He's only comes on base to visit his grandmother. So basically, when his grandmother signs him on base, she takes full responsibility for his actions.
"Do you see him out there right now, honey?" I asked her.
"No, Mom. It's too dark."
I was so enraged that I stalked outside. The playground was empty but I swear I was ready to start knocking on doors.
When I came back in, my daughter was clearly impressed that I was ready to kick butt. "Nobody treats my children that way," I told her. "Nobody."
As mad as I was about the fist, I was even angrier when I was telling this story to Patrick and suddenly realized that the "haggot" and "fomo" were most likely "faggot" and "homo". Whether my daughter transposed the consonants or he did doesn't really matter to me.
So the next time she sees him out there, she is immediately going to identify him to me. Oh, have I mentioned that the rule on base is that no child under ten can be unsupervised, ever? We'll be having a discussion with his grandmother. And then her commander. That's a given. And then any time I see him without parents within a hundred yards or so, I'm calling the police.
That means my days of watching my kids out my kitchen window while I do the dishes are over. But that's fine. The days of the hordes of unsupervised children thinking they can do whatever they like are over too.
Oh, and when I finally got my husband on the phone to tell him this story, he didn't really react much. I'm the reactionary one in this family. It wasn't until I implored him, "But what are you going to do?" that he finally told me.
He calmly answered that he'd be tracking down the family and the squadron. "My daughter should not have to deal with that. Ever." I hadn't realized it at the time, but he was actually in a van full of his friends while we were talking. It turns out his squadron-mates are all enraged too. Especially his commander. Who is going to bring it up to those that matter.
You just expect better than that on base.
I know I have high expectations and I'm over-protective. But these are my children. Nobody gets to hurt them or intimidate them. Nobody.
And through all of my anger, I realize that I am mostly angry at myself. I should have been sitting on that vandalized bench.
Can you imagine how I am going to be when they are pre-teens? We might not make it through.