Saturday, September 4, 2010
Dad's Rules of Combat
My dad is a soldier. He served for 20 years in the US Army, and his outlook on interpersonal relations was ingrained in us all from our earliest moments, for better or worse. I like to think of myself as a pacifist, someone who can use reason and diplomacy to solve conflicts and disagreements. But no matter how hard I try, my dad's words of wisdom keep popping into my head.
Never start a fight, but if someone starts one with you, hit them first, hit them hard, and you should only have to hit them once.
Last week my son had his calculator stolen out of his backpack on the bus. The boys that took it didn't know him, though one is in our neighborhood. He is a huge boy, 6'5", about 240 pounds, and bears a striking resemblance to a troll. My kid called me at work to tell me what happened, and knowing a fair amount about this boy and his past run-ins with other kids, I decided not to put Junior in harms way and handled it myself. I figured he was much less likely to beat me to a pulp knowing his mother, who happens to be a prison guard, was a friend of mine.
I went over on my way home while I was still full of righteous anger. After a series of hard-line but frustrating negotiations with the dear child and a long conversation with his mother, the situation was somewhat resolved. He brought over $30 to replace the calculator, and knows that I promised his mom I would let her know immediately if there was any other unpleasantness with either him or his toady pals. So far so good.
I was able to replace the calculator, but it only cost me about $15. Do I give him the change? Do I donate the balance to our daughter's Walk to Cure Diabetes team? Hmmm.
We've decided to give him the change. I want him to know that we're not out for vengeance, but justice. I want him to know that we appreciate his willingness to take responsibility for his actions and even those actions of his friends (he fully confessed to his mother, even though his friends destroyed the calculator). And I want to show him a kindness that he didn't show my son, and hope that it will make him think through his future actions before he commits them. My husband wanted our son to take the money over and try to salvage the "relationship." I refused, as there was no prior relationship and the negotiations were with me, not our son. I want him to look me in the eye and know that I know that he knows that I know. I'm not the one that rides the bus with him, so if there are hard feelings (which I don't think there will be), he will have them towards me and not our son.
Idealistic? Yes. Naive? Perhaps. Foolish? I hope not.