Jason Wright: Teasing a child can be dangerous
I’m helping some friends get ready for a yard sale. One of the tougher tasks was sorting through shelves and crates of books. I scoffed when I noticed they marked one of my books at $1. That’s way overpriced.
Meanwhile, kids were everywhere. Ours and theirs weren’t paying much attention to the work, but they were always nearby, easily entertaining one another.
Occasionally, they popped in and out of the room asking permission to play on this or to eat that or to play with that thing they were eating.
I’ve been around their kids long enough to know they’re a very well-behaved bunch, and their parents give them ample space. I enjoy the influence they have on my kids — and on me.
After some time, the adults scattered into several spots and I found myself helping with snacks in the kitchen. Others, including my wife, might remember my role differently. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume I was doing more prepping than sampling. It’s for the best.
As a few of us visited, we heard the mother of the home walk through the living room, calling over her shoulder to one of her older children. From our view in the cheap seats, it seemed she was ending a spirited debate about something she thought they’d outgrown and was time to part with in the yard sale.
As she wound her way through the living room, her youngest, a tender 6-year-old boy, looked up from his game on the couch and asked, “What are you getting rid of?”
Without breaking stride, she smiled and said, “You.”
He did not react, at least not on the surface, and no one thought anything of the exchange.
Are you still imagining this?
After a few minutes, with several of us now chatting in the kitchen, this young man walked in quietly and tapped his mother’s arm.
In an innocent voice, absent guile, anger or even a single squeezed drop of sarcasm, his words stopped time.
“Are you really getting rid of me?”
This good woman, one of the finest mothers our family knows, was nearly dropped to her knees.
She immediately scooped up her anxious little man and choked back tears. But she wasn’t the only one fighting them off.
“No sweetheart, I’m not. And I’m so sorry I said that. I didn’t mean it at all. I was just teasing.”
The boy let out an audible sigh of relief — a deep, relaxing breath he must have been holding for five minutes.
Soon he returned to some other part of the house to make noise with the other kids. The adults, meanwhile, were left speechless. His mother was devastated, and the rest of us were devastated for her.
Of course, we assured her that it could’ve been any of us to offer the casual jab. We weren’t calming her nerves just to make her feel better, we were speaking truth.
All of us have moments when we tease and poke at one another. I grew up in a house full of witty siblings and if you weren’t quick, you’d get zinged.
Even as an adult, I run in circles with friends where we play the same games. Sometimes it’s as if we’re all playing a childhood game of Operation, except in our version, the goal isn’t to remove the heart with tiny metal tweezers without zapping you — it’s to do both.
As adults, we have a reservoir of life experience and maturity that enables us to file away most teasing where it typically belongs. In another column we might debate how much kidding is really healthy, even in adult relationships. But is there any doubt that any teasing with a child, even what seems like harmless fun, can be dangerous?
Certainly, this young man will grow up knowing he is loved. He has good parents, siblings who will support him and a faith that will become his anchor as he matures.
But for a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon, he sat alone and asked himself the question no child should ever have to consider.
“Is she really getting rid of me?”
Just imagine it.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at email@example.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com