Fight Club

Photo: There's a story behind the missing tooth...stay tuned
This past week, Aaron got into a tussle with another kid in the playground at school.  Shoving led to more shoving, tempers flared…and then the other kid popped Aaron in the mouth.  Because Aaron had a really loose tooth right in the middle, it flew out and there was blood, so it looked a lot worse than it actually was.  Still, it’s never fun to get punched in the face.

One of the ironies of this incident is that I was just telling my friend, over coffee, about how much we have liked Aaron’s school and that it is a good school (I was saying this with particular emphasis, since it sometimes gets a bad rap in the media and within our neighborhood).  Just as I was making this point, my phone rang, and I picked it up even though I don’t usually do that when I’m with someone, since I recognized the number as being from Aaron’s school.  Imagine the scene:

Uh huh, OK, thanks for calling.  (Hanging up, and then returning to my conversation with my friend.) That was Aaron’s school.  He just got punched in the face and lost a tooth.  Now where was I?  Oh yes, I was saying: Aaron’s school is a good school!

As a parent (or at least this was the reaction from Amy and me), you want to make sure your kid is OK, and give him some extra TLC to make up for an ugly incident; but at the same time, you also want to use this as a teaching moment.  But what to teach? 

For some parents, perhaps there is no confusion, but for Amy and me, it’s tricky.  On the one hand, you want to make sure that your kids know that fighting doesn’t solve anything.  You also want to teach your kids to avoid situations that can escalate quickly and become dangerous; to paraphrase from a book by social activist Geoffrey Canada, a fist can become a stick can become a knife can become a gun in a hurry in the city. 

On the other hand, you want to teach your kids to stand up for themselves, to not get pushed around, and to push back (whether figuratively or literally) when it is appropriate.  Some may argue it is never right to push back.  I am less convinced that is so.  On one level, it can be a matter of survival for boys (and, increasingly, girls), in terms of navigating what prominent sociologist Elijah Anderson termed “the code of the street.”  On another level, in life, there are some times when we accept what we’ve been given and there are some times when we rise up and say, “no more.”

The kindergarten playground may seem early for such profound life lessons.  But this is where it starts, our children’s education.  It’s not just in the classrooms, gaining skills in reading and writing and math so they can excel in the more complicated stuff that high school and college will throw them.  It’s also in the hallways and play yards, where complex social nuances and power dynamics are learned. 

Thankfully, Aaron is OK physically.  The playground monitor even salvaged the tooth so we could do Tooth Fairy.  But the punch in the face is also a wake-up call to Amy and me to do what we can to help guide and prepare Aaron during his childhood for a healthy and productive adulthood. 
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