Fiction · 05/27/2020

The Adventures of Amaan as Told By Someone Else’s Mother

That kid Amaan stood on the playground, pushing kids over as they ran past. Children fell like daisies under the scythe. Producing a basket of strawberries, I said, “I have enough for everybody if each child takes one.” Amaan grabbed two handfuls and ran.

Can you believe it? Kid is three and a half, four tops — and already we stood in awe of his menace. His mother says, “He likes to play rough.” Or, “Boys will be boys!” Sometimes she says, “Amaan, apologize! Apologize!” But according to the other mothers, not nearly enough.

A collective feeling grew, a fungus of anxiety and distrust. Was it an accident that his mother was always on her cell phone when Amaan pushed and pinched and slapped? At best, the woman was oblivious; at worst, Agrippina the Elder. One afternoon, I sidled up to where she stood by the tire swing. I gestured to the tableau — Amaan grinding a smaller child’s face into the wood chips — and said, “Oh dear.”

“Boys will be boys.”

“Or boysenberries.”

She smiled. “Or poison berries!”

I was struck with remorse. “He’s not that bad.”

I have, of course, reversed my position on a dime before; I want to be firm and self-righteous, but face to face with a spark of humanity, I loosen my grip.

Possibly I’m the only one perpetually surprised by this.

My child, who is entering this story late, behaves beautifully at school but at home can be a terror. Her tantrums are like a bespoke suit, custom-made to drive me nuts. Was I about to give Amaan’s mother advice?

In fact, the night before my husband had offered some critical remarks on my disciplinary methods. “Very ineffective. You say if she doesn’t stop banging her chair she won’t get dessert. Then you give her a three count, which might work, but not when you count like this: ooooone, twoooooooooooooooooooooooooo — ”

He was having a good time imitating me, this man with whom I have conjoined my life. “Oooooooooooooooone, twooooooooooo…Ha ha ha! She knows you’re never going to take her dessert!”

I’m weak, he said, but why speak to a child of four with anything but softness? My elongated vowels give her an opportunity for reform, as well as adequate time to process my threat.

“What’s Amaan like at home?” I asked his mother.

“Amaan is an angel.”

I doubted it, but admired her determination. Standing on the wood chips, I had a strong desire to text my husband and tell him he’d been wrong to mock my softness; it’s our job to love our children, especially their furious and discordant parts. Of course, he’d be in a meeting and not especially receptive to the point.

As Amaan’s mother and I stood elbow to elbow, not talking, and not intervening in the playground antics either, I felt an abyssal calm I don’t usually feel when surrounded by small children. I relished our temporary sense of detachment even as I knew it might be contributing to some chaos on the ground (Amaan, having unleashed his victim, was bellowing; my daughter was burying her shoes in the dirt).

But I am telling this story as a testimony of future concord. Amaan’s mother, like all mothers, was doing the best she could, and don’t all humans struggle to make themselves into more than a clod of appetite and grievance and rage? When I was a child, the adults didn’t even come to the playground. I behaved badly at home and badly at school, but for the most part, I was swaddled in privacy, my viciousness unremarked.

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Sara Levine is the author of the novel Treasure Island!!! (Europa Editions) and the story collection Short Dark Oracles (Caketrain Press). You can also find an essay here or there.