"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." Mark Twain
No parent wants to see their child get pushed around, pulled around, dragged, shoved, or smacked. Who wants to watch their kid be on the receiving end of a good old-fashioned beat down? A brouhaha? A donnybrook? It's a nightmare. A living, breathing, no holds barred nightmare. It's Jack Nicholson whacking away at your bathroom door with an axe. "Heeere's Johnny!"
It's a nightmare that took place right in my backyard, in my kitchen, in my dining room, in my living room. An ass-kicking of such epic proportions that any self-respecting boxing referee would have ruled it a technical knockout in the first round.
Friends of ours and their two lovely children* came for a weekend visit. And their younger daughter, who is six months older than Penelope, proceeded to treat my daughter like a drill sergeant treats a chubby Private.
Now, I am normally a laid-back, let-her-fend-for-herself kind of dad. My daughter's tough and tumble. She's a battering ram wrapped in armor. She falls, and I say, 'get back up and dust yourself off.' And she does it. But this was different.
She was defeated. Every time she got up, she would be pushed back down. This girl was the worst schoolyard bully* I've ever seen. And I was a fat kid growing up so I know a thing or two about schoolyard bullies.
She towered over Penelope, who is herself short and compact, and used her height and reach advantages to maximum perfection.
Talk about heart-wrenching.
I couldn't take it anymore. At one point I actually pulled Penelope aside, and implored her to fight back. I channeled Mickey, Rocky Balboa's trainer: "Go after him kid, go after him!... You're gonna eat lighting and crap thunder!... You're a lean mean Eye-talian fighting machine!... Get up you son of a b#&ch, get up 'cause Mickey loves you!... " No, I did not really call my daughter a 'son of a b#&ch.' That would be stupid.
Were my words inspiring? Not so much. She folded quicker than France during World War II. But the funny thing is, she's a day care kid. She knows how to stick up for herself. She doesn't take no sh#t from nobody. But this time she did. She took it over and over again.
It was such a sad scene, that I now believe that every time Penelope cries, an angel loses its wings. Angels were falling from the sky and to the ground with such a resounding, repetitive, deafening thud, I could no longer stand for it. For Penelope's sake, and perhaps more urgently, for heaven's sake. Literally.
Finally, I became a father bear, protecting his cub. But instead of mauling this unwelcome intruder* who made her way into our peaceful den, I plucked my child away and to safety. I needed to see her laugh. I needed to hear her laugh. She was getting her lunch handed to her. She was getting her ego and her pride severely bruised. She was getting punished for no good reason.
I took her away and played with her in places a parent shouldn't really be playing with their 19-month old toddlers. We slid down the steps. That made her laugh. How much fun is it to watch your dad fall down the stairs like Coach Ernie Pantusso from Cheers?
Then she wanted to go outside. But outside was where the predator* was still lurking. So we went outside anyway - in the front. I put Penelope in the driver's seat in the car, and I sat shotgun, and we went on an adventure. Grabbing the steering wheel. Honking the horn. Saying 'beep-beep.' And there it was. Like the sun breaking through the clouds on a rainy day. Her smile returned effortlessly as if to say 'I was here all along.'
That's what I needed. That's what she needed. In the short term.
In the long run, maybe we should sign her up for karate lessons. Never underestimate the will of an underdog.
*NOTE: I am being truly sincere when I describe our friends' children as "lovely." They are. And their older son was an absolute doll to Penelope. When I use words and phrases like "schoolyard bully," "unwelcome intruder," and "predator," I am simply employing literary ideology to paint an amusing picture. In no way do I intend to paint my anonymous friends' child in a negative light, or imply she or they are no longer welcome in my home. Even though their daughter tormented my daughter to no end, murdering countless angels in the process.