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Playground Angst

By Elizabeth Jaeger

PROMPT — Despite ...

Yes, I watched my son hit your son. You thought I was standing off to the side reading a book. But I was watching – my eyes lifted over the page, sunglasses shielding them – waiting anxiously to see how your son would behave. When my son reacted to yours, I made no effort to pull him away, not immediately as I had done previously. I did nothing to stop them, not until another mother complained, telling me what I already knew – our boys were fighting. And for once, my son had the upper hand.

The tension between our sons began two years ago when they were classmates in pre-kindergarten. Every day, my son came home from school expressing his anger and frustration over the way your son behaved in school. He told me how your son wouldn’t sit still. That he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. How the teacher constantly reminded him to be a good friend. The first time I met him, I knew for certain that he has special needs, that he does not process information and the environment as most children do. Recognizing this, I encouraged my son to be sympathetic and patient, understanding the reality that not all children are the same. And that sometimes what appears to be meanness, is only a difference in brain chemistry – a difference that makes it harder for one to control their actions.

The first major incident occurred in the spring. I brought my son’s bike to dismissal, as I always did so that he could take a short bike ride after school. The sun glistened off the bright orange frame while it leaned against the black metal fence. Catching sight of the bike, your son lunged for it. Before I could step between the boys, your son punched mine in the nose. Instantly, my son’s face crumpled in pain, tears streaked his cheeks and his cries beat against the brick walls. Quickly, you whisked your kid away. I scooped mine up into my arms hugging him and checking for blood. After strapping your kid into the car, you ask if my kid was hurt. He wasn’t – not seriously. But it was an incident neither of us would forget.

This year started with our boys being tentative friends. After dismissal, they and several other children gathered in the open field adjacent to the school to play, to expel their pent up energy after being in class all day. They tried to get along, but by your own admission your son is overly aggressive. More than once you have told me that he has no impulse control. For reasons I can only speculate, my son became his primary target. On multiple occasions, he pushed my kid. On the monkey bars, he’d wrap his legs around my son and try to pull him down. Daily, he’d hold out his pointer finger, cock back his thump and shout, “Bang.” He even threatened, “I’m going to shoot you.” Repeatedly, my son ran over to you, telling you what happened. In response, you pulled your son aside reminding him “to make good choices.”

But you never hovered. You didn’t keep a constant watch. Instead, you took advantage of the play group to socialize with the other mothers. Therefore, your attention was diverted to other matters – the PTO, Board meetings, and special education programs. All this superseded your desire to monitor you son. Did you forget that he is both bigger and stronger than my son?

In April, tensions exploded. In the distance, across the field, your son whacked my kid with a stick. Before his cries could pierce the surrounding chatter, I started sprinting towards him. Your son bolted, knowing he had done wrong. The stick broke no bones, nor did it draw any blood, but it did sting the flesh. My son’s tears seeped into my shirt and he begged to go home. As I trudged to the car, your son apologized. But how many times can one say “I’m sorry” before the words become meaningless?

That night, I sent you an email asking you to please keep your son away from mine. You did not respond. Nor did you comply. The next time we all converged on the field, you let your son run off with the other kids while you hung back to chat. Not wanting my son to get hurt, I followed them.

One afternoon, as your son lunged at mine, stick drawn and ready to strike, I stepped between them. Disgusted by your lack of involvement, I advised my son to defend himself in the future. He had turned the other cheek too many times and I couldn’t always be there to protect him.

And that brings us to the last incident. Your son watched, waiting until he didn’t think I was paying attention. But I was. Clearly, I saw him grab my son’s arm, twist and scratch. My son’s response was swift. A round house kick landed on your son’s thigh followed by a punch. Unhurried, since for once my son wasn’t crying, I walked over to them. Immediately, my son surrendered into my arms, once again demanding that we leave. But as we walked away, your son taunted mine, threatening to get him next time.

So tell me, where do we go from here? You accuse my son of pummeling yours, but why did he do it? If your son continues to terrorize mine I will not stop my son like I did last time. Taekwondo had taught him to defend himself, and if that is what you wish him to do, he will do it. I don’t believe in violence, but I also don’t believe one child should continuously victimize another without consequence. I have told my son violence isn’t the answer. However, you have left my son with no other option.


Elizabeth Jaeger’s essays, short stories, book reviews, and poetry have been published in various print and online journals, including Margate Bookie, The Blue Nib, Capsule Stories, Watchung Review, Ovunque Siamo, Peacock Journal, Boston Accent Lit, and Italian Americana. Newtown Literary published an excerpt from her novel-in-progress. You can find her at: and on Instagram @jaegerwrites.


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