I’ve been dealing with a couple of buttheads on my walk to work in the mornings; yes, buttheads, in all their Elementary School glory. There’s two of them, a boy and a girl probably somewhere between third and fifth grade, and for some reason they’ve decided that I’m a prime escape for their boredom while they wait for the school bus each morning.
It started last week when the girl stepped into my path. I smile at everybody, especially when they make eye contact*, so I was smiling at her when she moved slightly towards me with her hand half over her mouth and, between giggles, said, “Eff you.”** Because of the muffled words and the sheer unexpectedness of the insult, I didn’t immediately understand, which clearly showed on my face because she said it again, only a little louder.
Unsure how to respond***, I kept walking and, in my disappointed Mom-voice, told her, “That’s not very nice. It’s not very funny either.”
She disagreed, because I could hear her declare to her friend — the boy who undoubtedly had a hand in egging her on — “That was hilarious.”
On Monday, the boy throws a rock at me.
That’s over-dramatic. The boy lobs a rock in my general direction, in the same way that IT Guy, when he was this kid’s age, lobbed snowballs at his little sisters without technically throwing them at us so that he could truthfully tell Mom later (when we inevitably went crying to her) that our location was incidental to his aim. (He was also really good at getting The Sister to reciprocate so that he could get both of them in trouble at the same time, but that’s a story for another day.)
There’s a decent chance they’re not nasty kids but kids who are acting nasty, though they’re definitely feeding off of each other at this point as they attempt to show each other up. I was generally a nice kid myself back in the day but I could tell you — though I won’t — a few stories of my own nastiness, often motivated by a desire to show off. That they’re targeting an adult is a little mind boggling to me (I never had the guts when I was their age), and so far they keep foiling my plans to read them the riot act. Yesterday, Eff You Girl’s mom was waiting at the stop with her daughter, and I purposefully missed the chance to say anything. The mom seemed very nice — we exchanged pleasant smiles and good mornings — and instead of telling on her I just stared at the girl for the next few steps, trying to convey with my eyes, “We both know I could tell your mom what you did, but I’m not going to. Yet.”
On the other hand, I quite possibly conveyed this:
Which would explain why neither she nor her mother were visibly present this morning. I think they might have been hiding in their car as they waited for the bus, avoiding the crazy lady. I’d planned to lay the smack-down on Effie by offering her an ultimatum (treat me respectfully or I tell on you next time), but curses! Foiled again. Rock Boy was there – I think – but as he wasn’t throwing rocks I couldn’t decide if I recognized him. He did have a hard time meeting my smilingly I-will-be-pleasant facade, which makes me suspect I’m right, though all I did was offer him the usual, “Good morning!” You butthead.
I’d like to say we exchanged pleasantries. I think we might have. I think he looked at the sky and said something about the fact that it might rain. But my hearing has never been great, especially when it’s windy, so I gave him the same look I gave to Effie when she first told me what I could do with myself, and he too got the message and repeated…whatever it was he had said. I still didn’t get it completely, but at that point I had to respond in some way or try to fake-laugh my way out of it. So, naturally, I pointed out that he had an umbrella.
Clearly I need to stop hanging out with two-year-olds. It’s habit-forming. For example, my conversations with two- and three-year-olds go like this:
Niece on phone: I painting.
Auntie: You’re thanking me?
Niece speaking louder at phone: I PAINTING.
Auntie (still hearing “I TANK-YOU”): You’re welcome?
The Sister: She’s PAINTING.
Auntie: Oh! You’re painting! That’s great, that’s–
The Sister: I’ve taken you off speakerphone. She can’t hear you.
And when their voices aren’t being garbled through a phone’s microphone (I swear I can understand them in person):
Niece B: I’m a princess.
Aunt: You’re a princess!
Nephew A: I’m driving a truck.
Aunt: You’re driving a truck, how nice!
Niece B: I’m driving a truck too.
Aunt: I see, the princess is driving the truck too!
Niece A, visiting her cousins: *Desperately sad noise* Why doesn’t [refers to herself in the third-person] have a truck?
Aunt, calmly: Because you have a helicopter.
And then everyone wants the helicopter. Rinse and repeat. And I do mean repeat. Most of my conversations with preschoolers involve either translating the things they’ve said into proper English or reiterating knowledge they already possess. So when a ten-year-old told me it looked like rain, by habit I responded with an overly cheerful, “You have an umbrella!” Which, considering the look he gave me, was either bewilderingly obvious or entirely inappropriate to the conversation.
Good night, no wonder kids throw rocks at me.
*Random fact: I once found a website for foreign tourists and what to expect when visiting America, and one of my favorite tips was, “Just because they smile a lot doesn’t mean they’re idiots. It’s a cultural thing.”
**Censored, but you get it.
***If I was their age I could’ve just hit them with my umbrella and moved on. If they were my age, I would’ve given them the confusingly sincere, “Well, thanks!” (followed up, in this context, with, “But no thanks! I’m not that kind of girl.”), which worked wonders in high school. But when you’ve got at least twenty years on someone, the first will get you an assault charge and the second seems too flippant when you’re a role model — because that’s what adults are to kids, no matter how distantly you’re connected. As a stranger I’m not responsible for them or their behavior, but I am responsible for my own actions and what I may inadvertently teach someone is acceptable behavior. The curse of adulthood: more authority and way, way less freedom.
****FYI, these asterisks aren’t attached to anything. Just wanted to say that I felt better about my partially-spoiled morning walks when I discovered that The Sister and her husband talked about the situation over dinner in front of their children, who were both fascinated and perturbed. Apparently it’s been a good object lesson. (“Do we treat people like that?” “No.” And on my own part, when Miss A.B. asked why these kids would do such a thing, I got to pass on the unfortunate but universal lesson of, “Sometimes people are just mean.”)