Crossing the Line

Our youngest child, Seth, has always been pretty laid back.  It might be due, in part, to the fact that his brother and sister are several years older so by the time he was big enough to get into mischief, they were no longer living at home.  When you have one child remaining in the nest, it doesn’t take a CSI to figure out who broke the lamp or made the mess in the kitchen.  Well, okay, the mess in the kitchen might have been his dad, but most of the time I could tell.  However, even a pacifist has limits, and on at least two occasions, somebody crossed Seth’s line.

He was in second grade when Seth first learned there were limits to what his non-violent nature would tolerate. He came home from school complaining about an older student bullying him on the playground. I ran through the usual parental litany of peaceful resolutions, and he shot down every one.

“I can’t tell the teacher because she will say I’m tattling.”
“I’ve asked him nicely to stop, and he just laughs and pushes me down.”
“I’ve tried avoiding him, but he seems to find me somehow.”

After a couple of weeks of listening to him go on and on about the innate unfairness of the world in general and the atrocities of public school playgrounds specifically, I finally lost my cool and told him I thought it was time to take action and punch the bully in the face. With a look of shock and dismay, Seth informed me that was not a viable option as fighting would land him in the principal’s office. I said, “Sometimes there are things worth fighting for, and if you have to do some time in the principal’s office for defending yourself, you won’t be in trouble at home.” Keep in mind this was circa 1994 and inflexible, no-tolerance policies on fighting in schools were not yet in place and bullying awareness and prevention were still about a decade away. Given the threat of suspension, I might have opted for a different approach, but I continued saying, “Everyone has a line in the sand, and when this kid crosses it, you will know what to do.”

Scarcely a week passed before Seth literally burst into the living room with the words spilling from his lips, “Mom, Mom, I know what you mean about that LINE thing.” He then recounted how he had tried to walk away from the bully on the playground that day only to be hit in the back by the cowardly miscreant.

“Before I even realized what I was doing, I turned around and hit him in the face, and he fell down,” he shouted.

“What happened next?” I asked feeling sure his punch hadn’t incapacitated the kid.

“Nothing. He just sat on the ground so I left.”

“What did the teacher do?” I asked.

“Nothing. I guess she didn’t see what happened.”

That pretty much ended his problems with the bully, and Seth learned two very valuable lessons. Everyone has an imaginary line that sets a limit for what they will endure physically, mentally or emotionally in any situation. He also learned that sometimes teachers don’t have very good eyesight when they know a kid has crossed the line.

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