“Those kids are mean,” he said. He was talking to his wife for the room to hear.
The kids that are mean were mine.
“Which kids?” I asked.
“That one there,” he answered while pointing at my son.
“What did they do?” I asked, assuming his brother was guilty, too.
“They were pushing my little girl and not letting her on the slide,” he replied.
“Get over here,” I told them with my voice that implies business.
They came and they sat down at the table. We were eating in the playroom at McDonald’s. I had regretted it long before the stranger publicly labeled my children.
“What did you do?” I asked them.
They were a gate, or so I gathered from the two of them speaking to me at once with mouths full of cheeseburger. They were the gate to the slide. All of the other kids in the hamster maze had been granted access. The little girl had been afraid to approach and my youngest had taken her by the arm to lead her there.
She was not even remotely upset.
They were not even remotely mean.
My wife was upset. And she’s pretty mean. She started talking to the boys for the room to hear.
“You were playing gate?” she asked, as if gate was a real game with rules and tradition.
“Yes,” they replied.
And maybe it is.
My wife wanted me to approach the man. She wanted me to explain to him that our boys are not mean. It sounded like she wanted me to fight him because his daughter can’t open a damn gate.
Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t angry. I was. The thing was, I understood.
Were the boys being mean? No. Should the guy have let the room know that he believed them to be just that? No. Was he a prick? Kind of.
But at the bottom of it all he was just a dad that thought his little girl needed him and he reacted in the only way he knew how. A bit unorthodox to be sure, but the boys knew they hadn’t done anything wrong and they were already over it.
My wife wasn’t.
She stabbed him with her eyes and tried to coax me into defending our honor. The dad was oblivious, or embarrassed or justified.
The boys had LEGO toys in their Happy Meals.
I never said another word. We finished our meal, as it was, and headed for the door. I paused only briefly as the thought of beating my children severely crossed my mind, but not really. Still, their cries may have been worth it to see the horror on his face. Except for their cries, of course.
Note to self, teach kids how to fake a public beating.
We left and we explained to the boys that not everyone plays what they play. We explained about boundaries, keeping their hands to themselves and the wonders of common courtesy. Also, the basic mechanics of how to open a gate.
Someday, probably soon, that dad is going to find his child on the other side of a misunderstanding, or worse, dealing with the aftermath of open aggression. I only hope he’s able to think before he speaks.
Nobody needs their ass handed to them in a McDonald’s playroom.
The food should be punishment enough.