Even at the “happiest place on earth,” there are people whose reason for living seems to be to harm others. My two-year-old grandson and I ran into two examples at EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival. One was young; one was old. One tried physical harm; one went for emotional harm. We’d never seen either of them before, and I’ll be content never to see them again.
We walked into the park with my youngest son, “Unkie Ikie” in toddler-speak, and five of his friends from college, charming young people all, exactly what you’d want your son to find in his college friends. I saw them into Mission: Space and headed toward the butterfly garden with little Edward pushing the stroller himself. After “The Sea,” we settled in the spectacular playground set up on thick artificial grass for the festival. There were stairs and slides and musical toys, a balancing platform on springs, large rings for climbing through, and high on one of the play sets, a wobbly bridge to run across. There we found our first bully.
A boy of ten years or so stood at one end of the bridge. When Edward began to walk toward him, the boy gave him a cold look and began to jump and shake the bridge. The little guy made it all the way across, but had to put his hands down at the end. He got up to spin a noise-making wheel a few times and then moved to the tube slide. The bigger boy stepped up behind him. Edward was about half-way down the slide when the bully said something like “Come on, kid,” and started down himself. Edward cleared the end of the slide without being crushed, and I did not say out loud what I thought of this boy and his parents. Mainly his parents. Most people, including other children, fall instantly in love with Blondie Sweetface. How warped is a boy whose first instinct is to knock him down?
When we left the playground, I was the next target. Edward headed for the tote bag that contained his snacks and inquired, “Cookie?” I told him that first he must sit in the stroller, and then he would get the cookie. An elderly woman, more elderly than I, was leaning against the rail where we had parked the stroller. “That’s what you think,” she sneered. I looked up at her to see whether this might conceivably be a sympathetic joke about toddler-wrangling. No. The expression on her face was as hateful as her tone.
Edward, meanwhile, trotted to the front of the stroller and climbed in. I located the belt, and he buckled it himself. As I handed over the cookie, I praised him just a tad louder than strictly necessary for being so obedient and cooperative. It really is possible to teach little children to behave well, but even if (when) they don’t, what is the point of snarling thus at a stranger, you cranky, vile, old harpy? OK, now that’s out of my system. I try to encourage young mothers, especially when they’re having a hard time. “Hang in there, Mom,” or “Well played, dear” seems to raise their fallen shoulders a little. I think now I’ll have to do it more than ever.