Dealing With the Mean, Older Girls at Chuck E. Cheese
"I'm sorry, Heart?" I replied. "I didn't call you."
"Okay!" she said and raced back into the labyrinth. I thought it was weird.
I was just getting up to stretch a few minutes later when I heard the unmistakable sound of her sobbing. I looked over at the opening of the slide and she was sitting on the edge with big fat tears spilling down her face to wet her Spider-Girl costume she had insisted on wearing. I went over to her and gathered her up.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"My friends were so mean to me!" she cried from deep, deep down. I looked over at the girls gathered in one of the open areas watching her and making snotty faces. I carried her over to get her pink cowboy boots.
"What did they say, Heart?" I asked.
"They told me to go away. That I couldn't play with them because I was too little."
This was the first time I'd ever felt the Hulk-like rage that is supposed to fill daddies when their little girls are hurt. In general, I like to let her fight her own battles and learn from them. This time, though, something seemed like it required more.
With my daughter in my arms, I stood underneath the enclosed balcony where the older girls were still sitting.
"Excuse me," I said. "That was not cool."
"We didn't do anything," one replied.
"You didn't do a lot of things, maybe. You didn't consider the fact that hiding out in a tube maze designed for kids half your age would feature those exact same kids. You didn't show any kindness, restraint or politeness in dealing with one of those kids who just wanted to play with you, being the logical result of entering a play area. You didn't resist the urge to lie to her, telling her I was calling her, just to get her out of your hair.
"Most off all, you didn't act with any decency. I'm sure that whatever you're discussing up there, squirreled away from your parents, must seem frightfully important to you, but not being a complete jerkface to little kids is frightfully important to everyone. Now get out of there and go sit at a table like the adults you are pretending to be."
My daughter punctuated our exit with a short, loud raspberry while we moved to the opposite side of the restaurant and played a game where you shoot sharks with plastic balls. She stopped her game in the middle to hug a boy who was crying next to her, having temporarily lost his mother. Upon her finding him, the mother thanked my daughter.
"She's very sweet," the mother told me.
God, I hope she stays that way.