The girls were running around the house. I was doing dishes and the girls would pass every thirty seconds or so, patpatpatpatpat S-C-R-E-A-M. patpatpatpatpat S-C-R-E-A-M. My children are always screaming. High pitched wails. Howls of “It not FAIR.” Sheer delight. They punctuate their life, and mine, with very loud vocals. I have learned to take note and then continue whatever it is I am doing.
It was the growling that caught me off guard.
Thump THUMP thump THUMP thump THUMP
My husband came around the corner, headed for our oldest. Apparently, he was the monster.
It didn’t take long to figure out the game, even though my back was turned, and I was doing the dishes, back turned toward the whole affair. He would go after and catch one of the girls and the other would yell at him, “YOU LEAVE MY SISTER ALONE!”
“Fine,” he would reply a deep growl in his throat. “I’ll go after you then.”
More shrieking ensued. On and on until the dishes were done and it was almost bedtime. This was a new game for them. In my kitchen, my girls, they were yelling at the monster, defending their sister, only to have the monster turn and attack them.
But this wasn’t the first time I had seen this game played out.
The first time I can remember was when I was on the bus, and I told a kid who was about my size to pick on someone his own size. You can imagine how that turned out.
In the middle school cafeteria, I again learned the hard way that the best way to get a monster after you, is to stick up for someone who is being torn apart. If you want to be left alone, you keep your head down and mouth shut. Two things I have never been very good at. I don’t know anyone that didn’t learn that lesson in middle school, either on the cafeteria or on the bus.
I wish I could tell my students that this is just a phase. That somewhere in the no mans land of highschool graduation and 25 we learn a better approach to fighting the monsters in our lives. But we don’t. I haven’t seen it anyway, not often, not enough.
I have seen this game played out practically everywhere.
It doesn’t much matter the community or the medium. I’ve seen on twitter, I’ve seen it in face to face meetings. I’ve seen at work and with friends and at church. I have been guilty of it in all of these places, probably in every way possible. I have been guilty of putting my head down, of shutting my mouth, because I didn’t want the monster to come after me. I didn’t want to get involved because I didn’t want to be attacked, because sticking up for a person or an idea might make the monster come after me.
The monster isn’t people.
It isn’t a particular person or group. It is…an attitude, a tone, a way of interacting. It is defensive and angry and IT IS NOT A PERSON. The monster has used me like a puppet, and maybe you too. It seems like it is always attacking someone, inhabiting someone. It is always on the prowl.
Fine, it growls, I will go after you then.
Self preservation teaches you to let the monster have that other person, to leave it alone, to keep your head down and your mouth shut.
It was already past time for bed and I was wondering when the game would end. It seemed to be on a pretty solid loop. At almost that exact moment, one of my girls changed the game. She growled back.
She growled back at the monster.
She stopped the cycle by growling back, by looking the monster dead in the face and growling back.
I learn from those screaming ginger-headed babies. I am learning from them. I don’t want to keep my head down and my mouth shut. (I don’t know that I could even if I tried.) I don’t want to let it take my sister, just so I can be scared.
I want to look the monster in the face. I want to growl back.