the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: parenting

Man vs. Boy

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Later today, I’ll be walking into therapy with my head held high.   Yesterday, I took an important step towards being assertive.   I spoke up for myself.  I stood my ground, despite the aggressiveness of my opponent.

It all started when I entered my local coffee shop, a business named Hawaii Coffee or Aloha Coffee — I’m not entirely sure, because although the coffee shop has been opened for a year and a half, they still haven’t placed a sign outside.  Inside, the walls are brightly decorated with photos of surfers and real ukuleles, all there to remind you that the shop is Hawaiian-themed.  It is a decent-looking place, but they should have saved some of the money they spent on the kitschy ukuleles, and bought a sign instead.

The “Hawaiian” coffee shop have several different types of coffee, including their “famous” Hawaiian Kona coffee which, ironically, is their worst-tasting coffee.  But there are free re-fills and free wi-fi, so I can’t complain too much.

Usually the shop is empty when I come in, but today it was packed — with mothers and kids.  It was Martin Luther King Day, so the schools were closed, and all the mothers were schlepping their kids around as they did their shopping.  All the tables were already taken.  The only available seating was in the corner — two cushioned chairs with a large table in front.  An eleven year old boy was kneeling in front of the table, playing with a toy construction set, similar to the Erector Set I had when I was a boy.   There were dozens of metal pieces strewn all over the table.  His mother was seated elsewhere, gossiping with her friends.

I bought a cup of coffee and headed over to the chairs.

“Are you using this chair?” I asked the Kid, smiling at him.

“Yes,” he quickly answered.

I made note that he was kneeling on the floor.

“How about this other chair?”  I asked.

“I need that chair, too.”

“Why’s that?”

“I need a lot of SPACE!” he announced.  He went back to playing with his metal, a Donald Trump in the making.  He smashed the pieces together as if he was building a Transformer.

“Screw it,” I said to myself, and decided to go outside.  I would drink my coffee while sitting on top of my car.  Then I stopped.  What the hell was I doing?  This was an eleven year old kid!  I retraced my steps back to the Kid.  I leaned down to face him.

“You’re not using these chairs right now, and you can’t use both of them, so I’m going to take one of them, OK?”

I probably shouldn’t have asked his permission because it just made him more adamant.

“I need the space!”

Let me remind you that during this entire exchange, his mother didn’t even look over once.

“You can have your space,” I told the annoying Kid.  “But I’m going to take this empty chair and move it over HERE, so I can sit.”

“Fine!”

I slid the chair several feet away from the kid.   I sat and enjoyed my coffee.  The Kid went back to destroying his metallic city.  The mother kept on gabbing.

I was proud of myself.  I didn’t back down against my young, but worthy, nemesis.

It was a moment to remember.

Now, who’s going to take me on next?!

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:   Why I Write

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Last Halloween, while all my friends dressed up and went to Halloween parties, I stayed home under the old-fashioned belief that Halloween is supposed to be a children’s holiday.    I have so many fond childhood memories of going door to door with my friend, Rob, and collecting all our loot, as well as the pennies for UNICEF, back when the United Nations was a reputable institution.  Rob and I still talk about our famous “old-men” Halloween costumes, with the gray beards and old hats borrowed from my father, which has become less funny as we have started to get actual gray beards.

I bought tons of candy (at the 99-cent store, of course) and waited for the cheerful smiles of the local children.   I even bought this scary Frankenstein mask that lit up, hoping to give the kids some thrills and chills.  I waited and waited.  Not one child came knocking on my door.  Not one.  I still have some of the candy from last Halloween.

My only conclusion is that in Los Angeles, most parents do not want their kids knocking on strangers’ doors, even if the kids are accompanied by an adult.  Now, I didn’t live in a “bad” neighborhood.  I lived in what they call Beverly Hills-adjacent.  (Hah!)   I think parents are scared for their children, thinking that every stranger is a potential pedophile.

Now I know this is a serious issue, so parents, please don’t throw tomatoes at the monitor just yet.    Every day, I read about some young boy or girl who is being lured somewhere by some crackpot on MySpace.  But a red flag goes up in my mind when every “Inside Edition” and “Dateline” is about the same issue.  I know how much these TV shows love selling danger to a scared public.  “Eat spinach and risk death… or worse!” a squeaky-voiced female newscaster recently said on Eyewitness News.

From doing a little reading tonight, I’ve learned the obvious — MOST problems with children are with extended family members.  Going around for Halloween might be less dangerous than leaving your kids with Uncle Joe.  While I understand the fear of strangers, I think it is bad for kids to grow up feeling afraid of ALL strangers.   How are they ever going to empathize with others if they are only taught to trust their own family?

Today, I was at my local Starbucks.  It is situated next to one of those Gymboree’s.  As I was drinking my coffee, some little girl came running over to my table.  I smiled and said hello.  The mother, at the next table, gave me a glare, as if I SHOULDN’T be talking to her daughter.  

I just thought that was a little weird.   Should I not talk to children anymore? 

Well… I was unshaven…

But, I’m not giving up yet.  Not everyone can be so fearful.  After I left Starbucks, I did go and buy some more Halloween candy, just in case someone shows up.

A Year Ago On Citizen of the MonthJohny Kops, Remember That Name

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