The other day, on our way home from the playground, I took a shortcut through the skateboarding park.
Sounds like the beginning of a cautionary tale, doesn't it? Well, it is.
I was walking with all three of my children, and it was a chilly day, so we were all bundled up in down coats, hats on, rushing to get inside. I was pushing my joggling stroller, the which I never use to jog, only to carry large volumes of groceries and library books. I clung to the fence of the park, as we always do, so we wouldn't be in anyone's way. Since it was a Sunday, the park was crowded with skater dudes. No dudettes, just the usual assemblage of teenage boys in really baggy hoodies, yelling expletives.
I have a soft spot for skateboarders; I admire their chutzpah (Not scared of a little concussion, are you kids?), their workout (Atta boys! fight that childhood obesity epidemic) and their gainful engagement in a hobby (way to go, staying out of trouble, youngsters).
Last year, I signed Primo up for a semester's worth of skateboarding classes at a nearby joint. I'm always looking for creative ways to get him hooked into a physical activity, since ball sports have never been his thing, and when I took him to trial class, he was hooked. So was I -- he spent nearly three hours, honing his balancing and coordination and sweating like a grown man in a deodorant commercial, all of which made me believe (erroneously) that he might go to sleep easy that night. Unfortunately, after the third class, his passion for skateboarding had dissipated entirely, and by the fourth class, it had turned into an active dislike, so much so that he began referring to the sport as "hate boarding." I forced him to stick it out - the fee was non-refundable, after all -- but on the final class, he was heartily relieved. I was relieved I hadn't sunk money into a skateboard.
All of which is to say, I really dig skateboarding as a sport, as well as its practitioners. Or, I should say, I used to dig them. Now they are my moral enemy.
As I crossed the skateboarding park that Sunday, I noticed the skaters were being particularly loud and rambunctious (yes, I am aware that is a word only octogenarians would use to describe teenagers. Should've been a hint of what was to come). A tall teenage boy in a red hoodie and black baseball cap was waiting for a turn at the ramp and while waiting was roughhousing with his friend, a short boy in a black hoodie (hoodies are, clearly, mandatory when skateboarding; parkas, pullovers and cardigans are a no-go, no exceptions). Mr. Red Hoodie wasn't watching what he was doing and, while wrestling with Mr. Black Hoodie, almost crashed into my stroller, prompting Mr. Black Hoodie to chastise him, thus, "What, now your'e going to bump into old ladies pushing babies?"
For a second, I thought, 'I wonder why an old lady would be here, in the skate park, and why she'd be pushing a baby?" And then I stopped, literally, in my tracks and I realized THE OLD LADY WAS ME.
I swiveled around on my heels to face the teens and let my mouth fall open. It wasn't necessary but I did it on purpose to communicate my shock and chagrin.
"Oh. My. God." I said slowly, staring at them, "What did you call me?"
"Oh shit," Mr. Red Hoodie laughed, pushing his friend, "Oh man, you're in trouble. OLD lady, did you say? OLD LADY?"
"I'm so sorry ma'am," Mr. Black Hoodie protested, "SO sorry! You want to punch me? You can punch me, if you want."
"I SHOULD punch you," I told him sternly, "I should punch you for calling me an OLD LADY."
"Shit, I'm sorry," the kid offered again, and I sighed and said, "Oh, It's Ok" and wheeled back around to continue my pilgrim's progress home.
The truth was, he wasn't wrong. My body may only be thirty seven years old but I'm developing the mindset of a 70 something; maybe the third child pushed my aging process into turbo gear and now I"m on the fast track to the geriatric ward. Because when the kid almost crashed into me -- before he called me an old lady -- my thought was, "What a bunch of trouble makers. I'm glad Primo stopped skateboarding. Wouldn't want him to turn into a vagabond, like these two." I was tsk-tsking and head shaking and the whole nine yards, just the same as my grandmother would do. So I couldn't entirely fault the kid for misjudging my age. Though he might have said it a bit more softly. Discretion is a valuable skill for vagabonds of all ages.
My big kids were walking ahead and had missed the whole show, but when I told Seconda about it, she was FURIOUS.
"I'll tell those kids, those TEENAGERS," and here she paused, her voice dripping with disdain,"I'll tell them what's going to happen if they insult my mother again. They're gonna get a KNUCKLE SANDWICH. My mom's not old! She's only fifty seven!"
You can't win for trying.