Friday night was the Fall Festival at our local Y. I volunteered months ago to help and found myself in charge of the cake walk when I arrived on Friday. A cake walk, if you've never heard of one (and I was surprised how many people had not) is basically walking around in a circle to music. When the music stops you stand on a number on the floor and a number is pulled out of a bowl. If you are standing on the number pulled, you win! Normally you win an entire cake, but since all the goodies were donated, we had lots of cupcakes, cookies, brownies and things of that nature.
At first, there weren't too many people participating. There was a lot going on outside too, and the weather was holding at pleasantly cool and breezy. When we actually developed the need to make a line, we tried to make it as fair as possible. After trying a couple different ways to do that, we formed a line. After every round, all the participants would leave the floor and line up. That way any new players were the first ones to be in the new round.
For the most part it worked well. The main complication came when people were heading to line up at the back of the gym. Some parents and kids walked through the middle of the cake walk, even when it was in progress, and it got a little confusing when the music stopped and we told the players to stand on a number.
The only other situation we had involved a boy - I'm going to guess his age at around 12 or so - who was taller and heavier than most of the other kids. When he'd come into the gym, he wouldn't wait in line for the next round. He'd just jump into the game.
Other than me, all of the volunteers involved with the cake walk were from the local high school. Several times, they asked him to wait for his turn in line. He would start to walk away, but then apparently jump back in when they weren't paying attention. We were allowing families with more than one child to let each child have a number, so at first no one realized what was happening.
Once we did, we kept our eye on this kid. Then I saw him jump out of line and bump off a smaller kid who was standing on a number. I went up to the bigger kid and explained that he would need to wait his turn, that since no one had to wait more than one round without playing he would have plenty of chances to play and win. He sneered at me and turned his back to me.
I started to walk around to face him, but he turned around again. I could tell this was going nowhere quickly, so I put my hand on his arm and leaned a little closer and told him that he could either play nicely and fairly, which involved waiting his turn and not shoving smaller kids around, or he would have to sit out and watch all his friends play.
His response? "I can't hear you" and he shook my hand off his arm.
My response? "You obviously can, and if you want to stay in here and participate, you'll stop behaving this way. If not, I'll walk you out of here myself."
He walked off.
The mom of the kid he shoved off a number walked up to me and told me thank you for speaking to him. Apparently, the bigger kid was being difficult wherever he was and she was fed up and just about to find a manager because no one else seemed to be saying anything to him.
A few minutes later, he was back. Since I was standing by the entrance, I reminded him that he had to follow the rules or he'd have to leave. When I noticed that he was behaving nicely, I made a point to walk over and tell him that I'd noticed and that I appreciated it. He looked stunned that I was saying something nice to him. That made me feel a little sad for this kid.
At the end of the night, I was heading to my car and I saw him sitting on a bench outside the Y. He looked upset so I walked over and asked him if he was okay. He shook his head no. I asked him if I could do anything to help. He shook his head no. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He shook his head no. I asked him if he wanted me to leave and he didn't say yes or no. So I asked him if it would be okay if I sat beside him for a while. He nodded. I was surprised.
I was even more surprised to see that he was crying. I put my hand on his back and patted it for a second. Then a lady walks up (I think she was his foster mom) and asks him what was wrong. He points to the window, where the balloon guy was making something for someone. Apparently, he wanted a balloon animal but the guy told him he was getting ready to leave and was doing his last balloon creation. The recap of the issue from his foster mom upset him even further and he moved from the bench to the sidewalk and began to sob.
I asked if I could do anything to help, and she said that he needed space or things would continue to escalate.
I felt so sad for this kid. Sad that he felt being mean to others was the only way to protect himself, sad that he was heartbroken over not getting a balloon animal, sad that this is probably way more common than I have any idea about.
Later on, Tucker tells me that this kid called him a baby that night and also that this was the kid that had gotten Tucker so upset that he didn't want to go to the Y for a while a few months back by being mean to him and teasing him. And that just made me even more sad for this kid.
So, I told Tucker about what had happened that night - both the bullying and the situation outside the Y. I told Tucker that he was lucky to have the life he has and that not everyone is that lucky.
Tucker's response was to ask me if this kid could come and live with us so that he could have a good life too and would be nicer and happier.
I explained that it wasn't that simple, and that maybe a better solution was that we could all be more understanding when people were mean to us. They may have all sorts of things going on in their lives that we don't know about, and the best thing we could all do is to be really nice, even when it's hard and we don't want to be.
Tucker's response to that? "Do you think we could find someone to make a balloon animal for him and take it to him? Would that a nice thing to do, Mom?"
"Yes, Tucker" I replied while my eyes teared up. "That would be a very nice thing to do."
Sometimes this kid of mine just blows me away.
I just wish a solution for kids like this would be that simple.