Mother and son walking
Photo: Thinkstock
The other day, on the sidewalks of my neighborhood—a leafy suburb, rife with young families—I was walking behind a mother and child. The mother was encased in spandex, save for her tennis shoes with soles that implied they might allow you to bounce up to heaven and pull down a star.

I noted her firm step, her purposeful air, her toned and tidy stomach muscles, which I could not see, but I suspected she had. She seemed confident, powerful. I was so busy admiring her and wanting to be her that I almost overlooked her son who was trudging along beside her. He was 5ish, with round wire glasses and curly hair and a little scar on his temple. He looked like the kid that goes to the nurse every recess to avoid the horror show of the school playground. Worse, he wore an Iron Man T-shirt with the all-powerful metal figure surging over his chest that only made him look littler.

"Honey," the mom said, in the most loving, enthusiastic voice, a voice kindergarten teachers use for getting kids to clean up their toys. "You're going to love karate."

Nothing but trudging from the boy.

"Just think, you'll be walking down the street and nobody will know it, but you can defend yourself. You can hit them—pow! pow!—right in the solar plexus." She made a series of violent chopping gestures.

Nothing but trudging from the boy.

"They might think that they can hurt you, but really you'll be the one who can hurt them!"

Another woman moved up beside me. She was older, a grandmother. She caught my eye, shook her head angrily toward the mother, then plugged in her music and walked very fast away from all of us.

"It'll be you," said the mother. "Pow! Pow! Right where it hurts!"

Her son finally looked up, nodding desperately. The naked hope in his eyes, the hope that his mother's vision would come true, the belief in her—my heart died a little.

My heart died a little. In my imagination the mother and I had a conversation. It went like this:
Me: Do you know what you're saying to this little boy? That it'll be great when he can inflict bodily harm on people?

Her: Are you saying I'm a bad mother? Who are you, lady?

Me: A fellow human being! I'm worried about your boy. He's a gentle guy. He's a sweetie.

Her: Listen, he's my child! Butt out!

Me: Oh...you're right. I am butting in. I'd kill anybody who did this to me. Sorry.
So I walked along, saying nothing but silently crying. I have been a little worried about my crying lately. This is why I wear sunglasses. It's not to prevent wrinkles (99-cent sunglasses, named the Eliminators as if to make the wearer think of laxatives, do not, I suspect, help with undereye skincare) or to look like Nicole Richie. It's to hide my tears now that I am what I think of as an "easy weeper," which I find acutely embarrassing.

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