Home > City mama, motherhood, the playground > A Boo Radley moment

A Boo Radley moment

Yesterday, I had a moment when I was torn between my better angels and my monster motherhood. I’m still not sure what I should have done.

I was at The Park, the park we always go to. It was morning and quite full of toddlers and infants and even an older kid or three (is it April vacation or something?). And it slowly became clear, as mothers and children, rotated around in that slow playground waltz, that there was a man without a child there.

He was pretty noticeable, regardless. Tall, taller than The Husband (6’4″), and build strongly. He was wearing an oversized white t-shirt, work boots, and a pair of — I shit you not — denim overalls. Hair brown and gray, shaved to half an inch, and a black glove on one hand. He was maybe 45. After a few moments, it became clear that he was what my mother would call “slightly slow.”

He swung on the swings, climbed on the wobbly bridge, pushed a truck around, tried to go down the slide but couldn’t fit. When The Child picked up a piece of chalk he asked, “Can I have the colored chalk?” in a perfectly clear voice and I handed it over without a word. When another little girl — a little curly haired moppet who is almost the exact same age as The Child — went to the swings, her greatly pregnant mother trailing behind slowly, he walked over, picked her up, and put her in the swing.

My better angels thought that he was harmless, he was enjoying himself, this was a public park, he had done nothing threatening or bad. I should be happy that this man — who very likely had had a hard life — was enjoying himself on a beautiful sunny spring day. I should smile at him, talk with him, make him feel welcome.

My monstrous motherhood, however, couldn’t help but notice the man’s size. I was the only woman there who was not tiny or heavily pregnant (or, in two cases, both tiny and heavily pregnant). The dads had all left for the day, damnit. And while I like to think of myself as pretty ass-kicking, I’m still an overweight middle-aged mom who hasn’t done a hip throw in a decade. And frankly, I don’t think I could have reached this man’s throat with a punch unless he let me climb on a picnic table first.

What’s more, while he seemed harmless, I had no evidence that he was harmless, only my semi-deluded self-assurances. He was an adult, with adult urges one must assume, though no adult controls. And he was on a playground — probably just because it was a safe public space, but possibly because it was populated with either A) adorable kids of both genders or B) hot moms out in their shorts and tank tops for the first time this year.

I heard or participated in a number of sotto voce conversations that were variations or fragments of:

“That man over there….?”
“Yeah, I noticed him, too.”
“He isn’t with any child then?”
“No. I didn’t notice any one else with him, either.”
“He seems…”
“Yeah. A little slow, maybe.”
“Nice enough, though.”
“I was wondering if we should call someone?”
“Who?”
“I wonder if his people know he’s out here?”
“I wonder if he has any people?”
“Do you think we should call the police?”
“Why? He’s done nothing.”
“He picked up that little girl.”
“And put her in a swing, he’s harmless.”
“I hope so.” (This last bit always said with a grim voice and compressed lips.)

It was all very Yoknapatawpha County, the community whispering around an issue in half-spoken sentences and insinuations, testing out each other’s prejudices and feelings.

And so, in the end, I and every other mother made a compromise between our inner angels and our inner monsters. We let him stay, but we didn’t welcome him either. He was spoken to only when he spoke, and then in short sentences with tense smiles. Our silences and careful watchfulness made it very clear that he had no place here, among the mothers and children.

I feel like I ought to feel bad about that. But I don’t.

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