Tonawanda News — If life experiences could earn people diplomas, I’d have a Ph.D. in being the butt of jokes.
People of my size come with an extra-large target on their backs (no pun intended). So I am generally able to tell when good-natured ribbing is becoming boorish.
I know I can’t protect Penny and Rigby from such behavior forever. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to learn how to deal with people who are ... well, jerks.
But when such verbal jabs come at unexpected times — and from unexpected places — a parent still needs to do their part.
Penny and Rigby are on the same tee ball team this season. Most practices take place when I work, but I was lucky enough to catch one that was scheduled for a weekend morning.
Penny didn’t quite share in my enthusiasm. She looked a bit sluggish on the field and was having a hard time getting into the game. Honestly, she looked a bit disinterested, and no amount of encouragement from me or Mom was making a bit of difference.
I thought a turn at bat might help brighten her spirit — after all, what kid (or adult) does not like to hitthings with a bat? She took a handful of championship-worthy cuts before her final swing, after which she was to practice running to first base.
The sense of urgency to beat the throw to first base wasn’t quite there, though. She lolligagged to first wih a giant scowl. I’m pretty sure I saw a slug scurry past her.
I actually raised my voice a bit in telling her to put forth an effort. But I stopped myself mid-breath when I heard a taunt from one of the adults:
”Hurry up, sweetheart. Pretend you’re on your way to the shoe store.”
I didn’t hear who said that. And I’m sure Penny didn’t fully comprehend the sexist nature of the comment. But she knew the handful of men who subsequently laughing were laughing at her.
She didn’t like it.
I didn’t like it.
She began to get upset. I didn’t know what to do. So I grabbed her and hugged her. I told her what a good job she did hitting. I told her I was proud of her. I kept talking so as to drown out the laughter.
I could not believe what I’d just encountered. I mean, we’re in the 21st century. And we’re still going to make shoe store jokes? And to 5-year-olds?
Does anyone out there realize how many influences there already are trying to convince our girls to live up to cliched standards of beauty, occupation and pastime? And then — during an activity meant to encourage equality — we do that?
Even ignoring the Neanderthal thinking, who gets off making fun of children? Do you laugh at your kids when they’re having a bad day at home? Do you mock them when they get their homework wrong?
I’ve always believed in positive reinforcement (for the most part). Children are far more likely to correct themselves when you accentuate the positive rather than accentuate the negative. So adults in what’s supposed to be an instructional moment seem way off-base when they’re chiding one’s play.
But this wasn’t even about her play. It was a borderline personal attack. And it could easily have been interpreted to mean girls shouldn’t even try to be athletes. I don’t honestly think it was meant that maliciously, but if there’s any chance of it, you shouldn’t say it.
Really, you shouldn’t even think that way. But if you do, at least keep it to yourself.
These kids are all very young. None of them know the game’s fundamentals. I can’t imagine possibly poking fun at someone else’s child out there, for any reason.
And some of them were picking their noses. And eating it. So there was probable cause to do so.
I encouraged Penny to return to her spot on the field and keep trying hard. I walked off the field, afraid Penny’s psyche would be forever dented by a handful of dimwits.
Athletic ability dos not exactly flow freely in the Lane bloodline. But we Lanes like to compete and have fun. Now, when Penny tells me she doesn’t like tee ball and doesn’t want to go back, I can sorta understand why. The fact grown men helped get her to that point is a disgrace.
I’ve been knocked down verbally, so I can help pick Penny back up. I just wish she wasn’t starting in on such an education so soon.
Contact Paul Laneat firstname.lastname@example.org.