This past Saturday Nemo had to learn a lesson about defending himself. I wish he hadn’t, but I guess this sort of thing was inevitable.
Every Saturday Nemo goes to the local bowling center for youth league. He’s been doing this for a number of years now, and while he’s not a bowling whiz or anything, he holds his own. Besides maintaining proper form frame after frame, his biggest issues are lane courtesy and being distracted by electronic gadgets.
“Lane courtesy” means primarily that when someone in the lane next to you has stepped up to bowl their frame, you step down to allow them to bowl without you in their peripheral vision. It’s a little thing, but it can make the difference between a good frame and a bad frame. If you’re Nemo, though, the whole concept of “taking turns” can be extremely difficult to remember, especially if you’re excited about going next, so we have to repeatedly remind him to wait until the other bowler has had a chance to bowl before he steps up. Sometimes he remembers on his own, which is great, but it’s still a problem.
His distraction boils down to boredom. When there are six kids bowling, things can progress mighty slowly for a boy whose brain is always on overdrive. Consequently he likes to grab his mom’s iPhone or iPad and play a game or look at pictures in between his turn. If it keeps him from wandering off and missing his turn altogether, I’m perfectly happy with this, but occasionally he’ll be so engrossed in what he’s doing that he forgets to keep an eye on the board for his turn.
This past Saturday was no different than any other Saturday. We were still working with him on lane courtesy and distraction issues, but then something happened that we did not expect: one of his team-mates had a complete meltdown.
This team-mate — we’ll call him “Dylan,” because that’s his name — was having a bad day. He wasn’t throwing very well and his score reflected that. He’s learning how to curve the ball into the pocket as all skilled players must do and many times his shots go wild. One shot was right on target, though, and Dylan took down nine pins. So Nemo said to him, quite innocently, “Nice curve!”
Now bear in mind that Nemo does not do sarcasm. He doesn’t understand it and he doesn’t use it. So he wasn’t trying to get a dig in on Dylan for any reason. If he thought the curve was nice, he simply said so. Well, Dylan decided that this was the moment when he would go totally ballistic and chase Nemo out of the lanes and across the lobby, cursing at him the whole way and threatening to hit him. Why? Who knows.
Nemo has never been in a fight. Everyone is his friend, even when they are rude to him (he doesn’t understand rudeness, either). So when Dylan, with whom he has been bowling since he was about six or seven years old, came at him like that, he had no idea what to do and he was frightened. By the time I got to him, he was crying and saying he wanted to go home. We stayed, but both my wife and I were steaming mad, not least because Dylan’s mother invariably leaves him at the bowling center unsupervised, meaning we had no one to take our complaints to.
I don’t think Nemo would ever strike someone in anger, though he might pretend like he was going to. And after Saturday I’m not sure if he would swing his fist to defend himself, either. I’m not a proponent of fighting, but I worry that some bigger, meaner kid will decide to attack Nemo one day and he won’t have any way to keep that kid from hurting him. We were even there on Saturday and though we jumped up and intervened as quickly as possible, if Dylan had decided to throw punches, we wouldn’t have been fast enough to stop him.
What we told Nemo was this: if Dylan or any other person, big or small, ever hits him, he’s to run away and call the police. Even a child can be charged with assault and I have zero qualms about nailing someone like Dylan for attacking a disabled child. It takes a special kind of coward to bully a little boy like Nemo, and I fully intend to make sure it doesn’t happen again.