“When should I teach her to hit back?” I asked, driving home from the party.
Party has taken on a very different meaning since we’ve all had kids. Playdate collective might be a better phrase. Adults gather in the kitchen, and Lord of the Flies unfolds downstairs.
“I dunno, she’s still so little,” Melis said. “I just never want her to feel afraid.”
I love these parties believe it or not, because they give me a chance to see my kid, be a kid, with other kids. Sounds weird, I know. But at 20 months old, she’s just now starting to venture into the fray.
She’s coming into her own, becoming an actual person right before my bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyes. Brief glimpses of who she’s going to be will flash by in a smile, an expression, a gesture. And it turns out I really like her.
Anyone with kids has experienced this magical, bittersweet phenomenon firsthand.
I stood in awe, watching what was just moments ago a tiny bundle of delicate flesh, that’s somehow blossomed into a little person with emerging talents, quirks, and personality. It’s a wondrous thing.
Then a little boy shoved her to the ground, and the bubble burst.
Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, I suddenly became startlingly aware of the world. I had forgotten about bad things. Reality crashed over me like a tsunami, washing away my blissful ignorance.
Homeschool her until she’s thirty, was my initial thought. What’s the property tax on a deserted island? Long shot. I could always just build a moat.
Resistance is futile; she’s going into the world, whether I like it or not.
And she should, because the world is an amazing place filled with kindness and beauty and de la Riva guard. For all its beauty, however, the ocean still has jellyfish and sea urchins. And lurking among all the good people in the world, there are the bad. They’re there, slithering around in different forms.
She’s going to be bullied. She’s going to be left out. She will be used. And someone will try to hurt her, simply for the sake of hurting her.
This stark realization sent me into a paternal panic. I envisioned knocking on the doors of hypothetical bullies, and drop-kicking imaginary fathers for their kid’s transgressions. I saw myself ripping fictional prom dates named Brad or Chuck out of red Mustangs, and beating them senseless in the moonlight of Makeout Point.
Look, I can make all the jokes I want about kicking jock’s asses and showing up unannounced at her college parties. But, as all parents know, I cannot be her eternal shadow. And it’s terrifying.
Then, in the midst of this downward spiral into daddy despair, an epiphany. I took a deep breath and let it go, along with all the uneasiness of a future that hasn’t yet happened.
I can’t control what the world throws at her, but I can certainly give her a fighting chance. I can make damn sure she isn’t helpless; that she’s not easy prey, that she’s got some claws and fangs. I can make sure she knows that she’s precious cargo, absolutely priceless and irreplaceable.
“I just never want her to be afraid.”
How can we protect her from fear, I thought. Then it dawned on me: we can’t. I’ve spent my entire life training, and yet I’m not fearless. I realized it’s not the feeling of fear that we need to shield her from.
“Melis, I feel fear all the time,” I admitted. “But I never feel powerless.”
Scarlett will absolutely know how to fight. She’s going to understand the mechanics of control and leverage, and how to mount the next kid who shoves her. She’ll know to shoot a double leg when Tiffany swings at her after school. She’ll be able to strangle Brad with her legs, even if she’s pinned beneath his weight.
More importantly, she’ll grow up with the confidence and self-awareness that develops alongside these skills. She’ll wear it like a badge, because you simply cannot mask confidence. Victim will not be her default setting, and target will not describe her. Jiu Jitsu will permeate every ounce of her being, just like daddy, and that lets me breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s shameful, absolutely grotesque, that the word victim should even exist. But I’d be an irresponsible fool to bury my head in the sand and imagine it doesn’t. She will absolutely feel fear in her lifetime, but I never want her to feel powerless.