Whenever I find myself tempted to return to education, I am always cured by exposure to crazy parents. They are everywhere- raging at the park, scheming in the halls, slandering teachers in the carpool line, and generally exhibiting a frightening lack of self restraint.
A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business while swimming laps in my neighborhood pool. There are rules for the lap lane, you know. The primary rule is that if you at not swimming laps, you should not be in the lane. This is for the safety of everyone involved because it is remarkably easy for lap swimmers to accidentally run over or kick someone who wanders into the lane. At our pool, it is up to the 16 year old lifeguard to enforce this rule.
I had been in the lane for awhile swimming freestyle when I came very close to running into a man and his little girl who had chosen, out of a sparsely populated 25 meter pool, the end of the lap lane to practice her swimming.
It was obvious that this dad had marked his territory and had no intention of moving. I turned and swam to the other end of the pool as the lifeguard politely informed him of the rule and asked him to move out of the lap lane.
When I reached the other end of the pool, I turned and began the breaststroke which allowed me a brief view of the pool each time I took a breath. This is what I saw and heard each time I surfaced:
This huge 40 year old man was raging at the female teen lifeguard. He was shouting things like- “Where does it say on the wall I have to stay out of this lane?” “I pay my dues, I have as much of a right to be here as anyone else.”
He raged, and raged, and raged at this teen girl while his small daughter watched.
I was unsure what to do, and swam as close to the rope as possible to try to avoid him. Unfortunately, he chose to make his very dramatic exit from the lane just as I passed him.
He walked directly behind me and I felt my foot smack his soft belly. (This might be a good time to point out that my one and only strong skill as a swimmer is my powerful breaststroke kick.)
“Uh oh,” I thought. “I just kicked a Rottweiler.”
I stood up and spoke to him for the first time.
“I am so sorry,” I said. “I did not mean to kick you.”
He was consumed with rage which he then turned on me. He spat back hateful, vile words to my apology and eventually ordered me to not speak to him at all.
I swam on. Another mom at the pool went to him and told him to leave the lifeguard alone. He yelled at her too.
That’s about the time I realized this young girl, who was just trying to do her job, was sobbing in her chair.
And that is when I had enough of the bully.
I stood up in my lane next to him, pulled off my goggles and addressed him.
“Have you ever been a lap swimmer?” I asked calmly.
“No,” he sullenly shot back.
“That’s why you don’t get it.” I said.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said evenly. “You can just have the lane. It’s not that important to me, but you don’t need to be yelling at the lifeguard. She’s just a girl, and she’s just doing her job.”
“I didn’t yell at her!” he said.
I stared at him and said, “You are hateful, and you have no right to treat her with such disrespect.”
“Whatever!” he said.
I waded over to where the lifeguard sat shaking, tears rolling down her cheeks, with her hand pressed tightly over her lips. I reached up to take her bare feet in my hands said within the man’s hearing, “Honey, I am so sorry he treated you that way.”
“It’s not your fault,” she sobbed.
“I’m still sorry,” I said. “Baby, do you know what I tell my kids? I tell them that when someone is hateful to you, it says a whole lot more about that person than it does you. He is a hateful man who has never learned to control his emotions. He has a problem. It is not about you.”
I will be honest- I am no saint. I really, really wanted to punch him in the head. (And he was really out of shape , so I am pretty sure I could have taken him.)
But- I didn’t.
Let me make this clear- I wasn’t afraid of him. I kept control because that is the person I want to be. It is the seed I want to sow into my kids- Self control. No fear. Stand up for the oppressed. Make it you goal to go to bed each night with a clear conscience.
The lifeguard called her boss and her Dad. The bully realized reinforcements were on the way and slithered on home. I did some detective work, found out his name, and reported him to the homeowner’s association.
Most importantly, I told my kids about how a man ruined Mommy’s workout, made a fool out of himself in front of all his neighbors, and brought a girl to tears- all because he did not learn how to control his emotions as a child.
It is one lesson I hope they learn.
Post for Monday: “Parent’s Gone Wild, The Sequel” You are not going to believe this one…