There's a lot I expect when I take Carter out to the mall's indoor playground. Comments from nearby parents about his big, blue eyes. Apologies when he gets trampled on by bigger kids and topples to the floor. Lots of following and copy-catting other kids. Squeals of laughter. Pretend baby babble conversations with any toddler who's about his height and will listen. His eager, desperate hand waving Hi to kids running past. Any little ones that stop for him usually get hugged.
I like to get him out, and I don't mind that - as one of the smaller kids - this means he gets barraged. (Today a girl pinched his cheeks and started pulling him around by his ear.) I defend him, protect him and love watching him have fun in between the bouts of drama.
There was a child - I'd guess 10 or 12 years old - laying flat on her back in the middle of the padded playground floor. The area was swarming with at least 30 hysterical, running kids around her. She had a small, sparkly ball cupped between her bare, dirty feet that she was slowly pressing back and forth between her heels.
Carter, being the avid ball fanatic that he is, stopped in his tracks when he saw that ball. No toys are actually allowed in this area, which made the ball that much more
appealing desperately needed.
I watched from across the playground to see him approach and attempt some sort of mumble convo with the ball child (which I'm sure included proud, repeated use and inquiries with the word Bawl). He leaned a hand in, requesting the ball, and the child moved it away from him and - still laying flat - wedged it between her butt and the floor. I saw Carter make hand gestures, as if bargaining, while the child stared up at him, blankly shaking her head.
Presumably given up, he went off to run, shriek, copy and get knocked over some more with the other kids. Apparently he'd used that time for some serious thinking, because about five minutes later, he was back to standing above the ball child, who hadn't moved. He didn't wave his hands or look like he was babbling. He stared and, in one swift motion, his hand morphed into a claw and snarled her right in the face.
Onlookers wouldn't have known immediately what I did - the kid was in horrendous pain. He digs his nails and fingers into our faces with a death grip when he's tired or angry, and now, apparently he does it to children who don't share balls.
The kid did what I expected. Screamed. Doubled over in hysterics. Cried like she'd been mauled by a monster. Carter stood and stared down at what he'd done as the ball child's mother rushed over. It took me a few seconds to process what had happened and what I should do. My baby just hurt someone else's child. In Raising Children World, this is technically my fault.
I hurried over to the scene and scooped up Carter, as if he needed protection. I knew clearly he'd been horribly wrong and felt mad at him, but strangely I was confused with fighting an instinct to defend him. He was cute. He wanted to play with a ball. Suddenly a mean kid? Not possible.
By now, ball child's mother was crouched over the bawling kid, who was blubbering something like, THAT BABY... !! through the sobs.
My face was hot with humiliation and panic. I knew watching from a distance that I didn't like this stingy kid, so the only way I could ration out a sentence was to figure out what I'd want to hear from a mother whose bumbling toddler made my kid bleed. I'd be livid.
Is he ok?
The mother and kid looked up at me in unison. And wouldn't you know? He was actually a girl, wearing a very boy-looking black T-shirt. I shoved a foot in my mouth and stood there with Carter, thinking a more reasonable approach just might be silence.
I couldn't hear exactly what her response to me was over the cries, but the mom attempted Yeah ... he just ... and must have ... jabbed ... wrong ... be fine.
I tried a line that went something like, Carter, I can't believe you! I'm so so sorry. Ball girl's mom had stopped acknowledging me. For sure she had to be taking into account his size comparatively. Most would guess he was an age that couldn't be held accountable for blatant attacks. I attempted another I'm really sorry, and my Team Carter instinct threw in an unpurposeful He didn't know. She stood up and carried the hysterical girl to a bench.
But you know what? Carter did know.
I watched the two sit, huddled tightly together as the mother comforted and the girl's cries worsened.
I toted Carter to the other side of the room. I couldn't look, but I felt a hundred eyes on us. I set him down and repeatedly told him I just couldn't believe him. I really couldn't. His mood was solemn and still. He knew exactly what he did; he was scared for himself.
Play resumed. A dark-haired two year old took it upon himself to stand beside Carter and pretend they were friends. I glanced over at the ball mother/child every ten seconds to make sure the hysterics weren't transforming into pointed fingers of bloody murder, ambulances weren't being called, and I wasn't about to be arrested.
A little while later, ball girl had stopped crying and came near our side of the room. Knowing I had quite a story on my hands, I snapped an inconspicuous iPhone picture of her laying in front of us. Off the floor this time, at least.
I couldn't help but see Carter a little differently after that. Not so much because he'd breeched the Cutest & Sweetest Mommy/Baby Duo pact we'd had running for the past 19 months without consulting me first.
But now I see the pure innocence that babies are born with slowly being squeezed from his fat, little face to make room for his decision making skills. I see the potential in him to be one of the bad kids. I hesitate to use the word bad because I will never tell Carter he's bad. He's not. Tell a baby he's been bad, and he'll believe that about himself and continue acting that way. Mommy says I'm a bad boy, so I am a bad boy.
The infant who wiggled with wide-eyed, blank stares somewhere along the line figured out how to purposely do harm. I'd been lounging at my pool of naivety, thinking that he only knew, said and did what he'd been taught, thus far, by me. We've entered a whole new ballgame - strung with unpredictable words, a mouth full of teeth, little hidings of truths, shrinking thighs and a baby learning to maneuver a mind of his own.
votes probably help heal ball girl's scratches.
we should vote, team carter or not.