The joke’s on meson
Posted on August 15th, 2012
The other day at the local science museum, where I spend a lot of time (especially when it’s hot, because membership = free planetarium shows = nice air conditioning), I came down like a hammer on two boys, ages 8-10, who were interacting with Pea in ways that annoyed me.
The first was at the multiple gravity well table. I’ve spent a lot of time at this table. When Pea was 2 1/2, she would spin the wooden balls around the table for — if I let her — hours. It was like meditation for me, at least when I was not enforcing the rules of the multiple gravity well table.
Because there’s an etiquette to it. There are two places where the balls go after they’ve sunk into a well, on either side of the table. This means alternating with the kids on the other side of the table. You can, I’m sure, see the immediate problem with that. The other big rule of the table is that you don’t mess with someone’s ball once it’s in motion. (That’s actually a good life lesson, too. Just saying.)
A 10 year-old-boy came up and snatched Pea’s ball after it was in motion.
“Hey!” I said (in Mom voice). ‘You don’t mess with other kids’ balls at the table. Got it?” (He did. He behaved like a little gentleman afterward. When both balls popped out on his side, he gave one to Pea. Score one for the Mom voice.)
The next time — oh, the next time. We were waiting for the planetarium show to start. Pea was close to meltdown (it happens even at this age occasionally) because she was exhausted and hot and I’d given her benedryl. She was on the bench outside the planetarium when a kid came up. This kid was 8 or 9. He said (to Pea), “You know there’s something smaller than an atom, right?”
OK, my kid is precocious. And tall. This means often kids mistake her for being an older child and expect her to act like an older child. But…she’s barely five. Her social skills? Five.
She responded with a non sequitur about Ursa Major.
The kid persisted. “Oh, so we’re not into subatomic particles?”And his little kid voice was sneering. In a novel, I’d edit that out as a POV error, but you know? He was. He was sneering at my bright, lovely, exhausted, and about to melt-down five-year-old.
Naturally, this is when I wanted to give him a wedgie. Because as tiny as I am, I can still take a fourth grader. Because no one is allowed to try to make my kid feel stupid (even if she is oblivious) in my presence. And because a member of my (and Pea’s) family did a really, really important thing in the field of subatomic particle research that bore directly on what this kid was trying to show off about, and who the hell did this kid think he was, anyway?
The mature thing would have been to smile and let it go.
I didn’t do the mature thing.
I smiled and told the kid what my/Pea’s [relative] did. And then I smiled again when he realized I’d called his bluff.
I feel so guilty about this. How completely childish to have to top a kid. I should have been more charming. I keep trying to rationalize it as giving the strange, socially challenged weevil a leg up on interpersonal dynamics, but instead I think I let myself down. At least Pea had already bottomed out, so I didn’t set (much) of a bad example.