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When You Are the Stranger

On a recent trip to the beach with the kids, on a beautiful winter afternoon, I got into an altercation with another mother.

It started harmlessly enough. My kids, along with some friends’ kids and some strangers’ kids (who were camped out next to us on the beach), had just paved a road with their boogie boards to sled down, when a group of kids from the next camp over began to bulldoze through their path.

“Hey guys! Would you mind? We’re trying to board down this path, thanks!” I said.

But there was no response.

Not even an acknowledgement.

“You’re welcome to join us. We have extra boogie boards. Just please don’t bulldoze through our path.”

Again, nothing.

Not a word. Just persistent bulldozing.

We all looked at each other. (Like, are these kids for real?)

“HELLO?”

Silence.

A few minutes later, after the kids continued to kick through our little 2'x2' space on an EPICLY huge sand mountain with plenty of room for all, my mom said something.

“Hey, guys! Can you stop kicking our path, please?”

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At this point, none of us could figure out: A. where their parents were and B. why these kids refused to respond to us, let alone acknowledge that we were talking to them.

I explained that we had been asking them to stop multiple times and not a single one of them responded to any of us when we asked them to please stop.

When one of them tried to burry Revi’s boogie board with sand, I finally snapped.

“What is your problem?” I asked her.

Radio silence. She kept kicking sand at Revi as I pulled the boogie board away.

“Hello? Do you hear me? Have some respect for other people, would you?” I said, and not in a kind voice.

I WAS PISSED. DO NOT FUCK WITH MY KIDS AND THEIR BOOGIE BOARDS, SISTER.

The girl rolled her eyes and scurried off toward a woman I would soon find out was her mother. The girl pointed at me, her lips moving quickly as her mom got out of her chair.

“Do you have a problem with my kids?” the mom asked.

“Yes, actually I do!” I responded and proceeded to explain to her what had happened for the last hour while she was NOT supervising them. I explained that we had been asking them to stop multiple times and not a single one of them responded to any of us when we asked them to please stop.

“OF COURSE they didn’t respond to you. You’re a stranger. We raise our kids to know better than to talk to strangers.”

At first I thought she was kidding. Was she applauding her kids for being assholes? With a straight face?

“But they were bullying a three-year-old. Shouldn’t you teach your kids to know better than to do that, too?”

Her response, and I quote: “It’s a public beach. My kids can do what they want. If you have a problem with it, go home.”

This is when I removed my earrings. My hands were shaking. I, as they say, couldn't even ...

Shortly after, my mother (who’s like me) and my father (who is the LEAST confrontational person on earth) got into a heated argument with the mom, and it was at this point that I was able to walk away, because I realized there was absolutely nothing I could say to this woman.

Nothing. Some people are just assholes.

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After a few moments, the woman’s friend got involved and then my friends got involved and it was like "WEST SIDE STORY: BEACH EDITION."

As my mom replaced me in the yell-a-thon and I watched the woman’s mouth continue to regurgitate the same things she had said to me—It’s a public beach. We were here first. They can do whatever they want.—I started to wonder if I could have stopped this all from happening.

Our confrontation ended after the woman’s friends finally pulled her away. My poor mom was so upset she had to take a lap and it took all my strength not to pack up the kids and leave the beach right then.

Surely there’s much here to discuss—about “talking to strangers” and whether one should reprimand a child that isn’t hers. Or how far a parent should go when it comes to protecting her kid from unkind behavior.

Instead, we spent the next several hours awkwardly seated 20 feet away from each other. But at least the kids left us alone after that. They did not bury Revi’s boogie board. Or stomp on Archer’s sand castle. Or plow through our boarding path.

Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said about “talking to strangers” and whether that was the reason the kids didn’t respond when I tried to talk to them. Did they want to say something? Did they want to join us but feel unable to? Were they being jerks because the only way they were able to interact with other kids was to fuck with them quietly? Was there something to “stranger danger”—a kind of “guilty until proven innocent” type of thing? And if so, did I just prove to them what they were already raised to believe? That strangers are terrible people who yell and scold and tell you not to do things?

I have written about “stranger danger” in the past on GGC, about how detrimental I feel it is to raise children to be afraid of new people and experiences. And while I had never had an experience quite like the one on the beach, I started to think about how I could have handled the situation differently and with less confrontation.

What if I found the parents before saying anything? What if I introduced myself and asked the parents if the kids could join us? Would that have changed anything? Or was this just a case of assholes being assholes?

I don’t know. But surely there’s much here to discuss—about “talking to strangers” and whether one should reprimand a child that isn’t hers. About how far a parent should go when it comes to protecting her kid from unkind behavior. I know I’ve crossed the line, here and in the past. I am a fierce mama wolf at the playground when it comes to my kids.

If you even THINK of pointing your toy gun at us, I will break your toy gun and I will eat it.

Just kidding. But also not really kidding, you know? Sometimes you just have to say something.

Sometimes you just do.

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