I had a very odd experience this evening. As is the way of these things, two distinct events, by their coincidence, have both increased in importance in my head.
I was walking home from the cinema, discussing the movie Unfriended with my partner, when I heard a "Hey you!" from across the street. I ignored it, and continued to press some silly point. The shout was repeated. I looked across the road and saw four kids aged between, maybe, 9 and 12. (I'm absolutely terrible at this sort of thing, mind.)
What followed was very confused, because: 1) we were attempting to communicate across two lanes of traffic, 2) I'm pretty sure they were using a British expression for some sort of tit-for-tat game with the soccer ball one of them held, and 3) I wasn't really listening very well, because, hello, there are some kids over there, yelling at me and gesturing like they're going to throw that ball into busy traffic!
And then they did!
And... I was going to say, over the honking, screeching traffic of my imaginings, but that isn't what happened. Over the cars that silently stopped and then moved on once the ball was out of their way, they shouted, "Throw it back!"
I guess one of their number must've run across the street to fetch it at some point, because, even as I launched into my "Boys..."
I'm not kidding, I really think I said, "Boys."
"You can't play in traffic! Someone will get hurt! Honest, this isn't a game!"
That last bit's a direct quote; I remember because part of me was thinking, "Really? Really? That's the best you've got?" I was just so upset and wrong-footed.
Even as I threw myself to these young wolves, I saw they had the ball again.
Until they threw it once more. With similar results. (Thank goodness!)
I was beside myself at this point. I think they could tell. I don't remember what I said, in response to their entreaty to follow their lead, but I suspect it was more of that terribly-compelling stuff about getting hurt.
When I look back on it now -- and after the post-mortem (not literally, thank goodness!) with my partner -- I'm sure their ringleader -- who didn't appear to be the oldest, interestingly -- was genuinely confused by me. Whether it was my accent, or that the guy in a hoodie actually turned out to be his dad, I couldn't say.
They then left us alone, amazingly (with hindsight). Even after a cyclist, who'd passed us as I was twisting my ankle on a curb -- I hadn't even watched where I was going, such was my concern for these budding misanthropes -- came back our way and, kicking their ball with him, said, "This is where you steal their ball." His expression screamed, "Wow, you don't get this much, do you? Might want to keep your head there, mate." I don't know whether they ever came back for it.
But it might not have gone that way, under other circumstances. I assumed I was the guy who would just ignore that sort of lot; that I certainly wouldn't provoke, nor even invite banter. But apparently I was wrong. Apparently, my outrage at such blatant public endangerment can reach dizzying heights. Either that, or my threshold for speaking out has dropped considerably since last I checked.
Which, honestly, is a probably the case, and a big surprise.
It's that most pedestrian of things, though, isn't it? I'm getting older. I cannot possibly relate to these kids. I couldn't conceive of acting with such blatant disrespect for others at that, or any, age. If I did, and it ever got back to my parents, a hiding would've been the least of my worries. I mean, obviously the air's thick with a failure to parent here, but, as hinted at earlier, again my coincidence presses with likely-false significance.
During Unfriended, I couldn't help but think that many of the compromising positions the central character had been caught in were, in the grand scheme of things, not so bad. Survivable, certainly. And here too is my complete failure to relate. That to unplug from a persona that's been completely razed is just as impossible as picking up and leaving a 'real' life when you're under your parents' roof.
Which all points to an underlying worry: how do you raise a child in this environment? How do you instill in them, sensibilities about the consequences of posting a video of their peer paralytic drunk in their own mess, or of throwing a ball into traffic? I'm being a bit facetious here, of course: I think I have a handle on the latter, but the former isn't so simple; it's tied up with all sorts of things, like when do you buy them their first phone? Are the instincts that I've developed, from my own childhood on -- "Shut that off and go out 'n' play" -- going to impede my own child's ability to make and nurture relationships, or worse, ostracise them?
I keep thinking that a neighbourhood of like-minded parents with children around the same age as mine would be most helpful. (That, or at least another generation of one or both of our families in very regular contact.) But then I remember that I don't really know any of my neighbours now, and many of those who I do have to interact with minimally, I don't like very much. But the point stands: this just doesn't seem like something one can do on one's own.