Last Saturday it began to snow in London and Sunday morning left us with a few inches of the white stuff. We took our kids out to a park that was initially empty, save for an assortment of snowmen of varying sizes and stages of completion.
One of the largest snowmen was looking rather King Kamehameha-ish with a palm frond running longways down the middle of his scalp. One of my kids had just taken a picture with it when three more kids arrived with a man who appeared to be their grandfather. The kids’ ages ranged from what looked to be seven to eleven and they ran through the open parts of the park knocking over some of the lesser snowmen until two of them, a brother and sister, spotted Kamahameha.
They came into the fenced toddler area of the playground to get a closer look at the king. My son was a couple feet from it, impressed with its size. The kids eyed me, trying to determine if we were the creators of the snowman and whether we would object to their destructive intentions. They each gave it gentle shoves and flicks, gauging my reaction. I was tempted to tell them to leave it alone, but I don’t like telling other peoples’ kids what to do. And I told myself, “who cares–it’s a snowman. And whomever made it is long gone.” So I stayed quiet and they sensed my acquiescence.
The first order of business was to push its head off. It took the two of them a few tries, but eventually the head with its makeshift crown-helmet gave way and dropped, breaking open like a white rotten watermelon across my son’s feet.
The brother and sister stared at the broken head for a moment, then turned their attention back to the still upright body. The girl started scraping bit off. The boy began to kick at the gap where the two remaining spheres came together. My son watched him, at first inquisitively, then excitedly. The boy’s kicks became faster and he was saying something. I listened more purposefully.
With each kick, the nine year old boy repeated, “faggot.” He repeated it over and over, as a chant of sorts.
I wanted to say something. To do something. But I was at a loss. How do I handle this with someone else’s little child? Do I take it up with his grandfather who was far away with the the third sibling?
Kate later pointed out that it was entirely appropriate for me to say something given that it was all being said in front of our son, and she suggested completely reasonable things that I could have said like, “do you know what that word means,” or, “can you stop using that word or go play elsewhere?”
But instead of doing something reasonable, I started the video recording from my camera and watched on silently while the boy exhausted himself, rested, then resumed the kicking and chanting, his sister chipping away at the other side unfazed.
London is an international, vibrant and progressive city. I’ve seen a handful of sad things here, like a mother in front of me at a local grocer on Christmas Day with her toddler. She was buying a pack of cigarettes, a £5 credit to top up her pay-as-you-go mobile phone, a minibar sized bottle of tequila and a candy bar that her kid had opened without permission when the mom was picking out her Christmas drink.
But this boy letting out his misguided rage whilst destroying something I imagine to have been built by kids or a family in the joy of a winter day was sickening. Sickening in that he was saying it, and even more sickening that he had somehow learned that it was acceptable.
As the first king of a unified Hawaii, King Kamehameha promulgated the first written law of Hawaii: that noncombatants should not be harmed during wartime. He sat peacefully while being killed by a boy who has yet to learn that there is nothing to be gained by attacking those who mean you no harm.