How the Children Play

He was irritated with me.

I probably should have explained why in the moment…

But I didn’t.

I probably should’ve told him that the rules were different when he plays…

But I didn’t.

I probably should’ve said to him that he wasn’t like the other kids…

But I didn’t.

And he was irritated with me.

One of my best girlfriends had called me the day before and suggested we take our kids to a local playground since we hadn’t seen each other in a while. I jumped at the chance to catch up with her and let our kids burn off some much needed energy.

We settled at a table in perfect view of the play area (a massive wooden castle that hides the parking lot from view) and chatted lightly while our children played with the kids who were already there.

My children challenge my general introverted personality. They immediately fall into groups of kids they’ve never met, playing games they’ve never played, and end up having the time of their lives. This day wasn’t any different.

I tried to placate my genuine anxiety because I often worry how my kids are received when their boisterous personalities are introduced in any setting. My best girlfriend knows this and did her best to distract me from myself.

It worked. We caught up on life, chatted about frivolous things, and commented on how thick the southern air was on this pseudo fall day. When she had to make a phone call, I focused back on the playground, making a mental note of where all four of my children were.

And then it happened.

A young boy, with tousled, brown hair and freckles, ran by with a toy gun. But it wasn’t any toy gun. Because I watch too much real crime TV, I recognized it to be an exact replica of a black, .45-caliber pistol.

My heart was in my throat. Surely no parent would allow their kid to bring the real thing to a playground, however, there was nothing on it to prove that it was fake. When the young boy, with tousled, brown hair and freckles, passed by again, it looked like the orange, plastic piece, that usually sits over the barrel to show that the toy is in fact a toy, had been scratched off.

And this young boy, with tousled, brown hair and freckles, had rallied most of the kids on the playground, including mine, to play a rousing game of “Murder Mystery.”

I was….well, I wasn’t sure what I was. The Las Vegas shooting happened a mere four days prior, so this kid bringing something like this to the playground just seemed like a poor toy choice.

And this young boy, with tousled, brown hair and freckles, had no problem sharing this toy with his new friends. Each kid in the game was getting a turn at being “the one who done it.” The kids would identify the killer, then go running and screaming in different directions.

This was inappropriate. Wasn’t it?

I mean we played “cops and robbers” when I was a kid…but this was different…right? We didn’t have props.

My anxiety finally got the best of me and I called my oldest son over to the picnic table. I had to call him twice…he didn’t hear me the first time.

He ran over, shiny from sweating, with a big grin on his face.

It’s rare to see him not smiling.

“When it’s your turn,” I said firmly, “don’t touch that gun.”

His brow furrowed almost immediately. He stared right into my eyes…with exasperation, disappointment, and questions…all within a millisecond. My oldest son has an unwavering allegiance to his parents. Whatever we tell him to do in the face of something that is pressing, he’ll do it, without question…even if he doesn’t want to.

And I should’ve explained it to him….maybe…


“Do you understand me?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am.” He replied. He understood what I was saying…but not why.

He retreated to back to the playground, walking instead of running. He arrived just in time to be summoned by the young boy, with the tousled, brown hair and freckles.

“Hey, kid!” the young boy called, “it’s your turn.” And he offered the realistic looking toy, butt first, to my son.

“My mom says I can’t,” I heard my son say.

“What?” the young boy with tousled, brown hair and freckles asked.

“My mom says I can’t,” my son repeated. I could hear the irritation in his voice…he was irritated with me.

The young boy shrugged and ran off; and eventually my son found pleasure in another game.

My brain was loud.

Should I have done that?
Is it really that big of a deal?
Should I buy into the stereotypes?
Should I let the news dictate how I parent?
Did I lock the car?

Wait…did I lock the car?

My A.D.D. had reared its ugly head in my moment of reflection and I genuinely couldn’t remember if I had locked the car. I swiftly got up and trotted around the enormous castle to get to a point where I could see my car to lock it with the key fob.

And when the parking lot came into view, I stopped…and stared.

Sitting in the parking lot, facing the playground, was a police cruiser. I don’t know how long he’d been there. I don’t know when he had arrived…but there he was. Watching the playground.

I stood there a long time questioning the reason for his presence. So much so that I forgot why I came around to the parking lot in the first place. But it was at that moment that I was ok that my son was irritated that I wouldn’t let him take his turn.

My son. The boy who meets no strangers, loves helping others, and is respectful to every authority figure he meets. My son. The boy who’s IQ and gifted status is registered in our state, who makes straight A’s, who loves to learn, and wants to be a robotic engineer when he grows up, as long as he doesn’t have to “go too far from home.”

My son…

an African-American boy
who’s 5’3,
129 lbs,
with an athletic build.
who wears a size 9 ½ men’s shoe.
who has been mistaken for a high school student on several occasions.

My eleven year old son…
who is only a year younger, a few inches shorter, and a twenty pounds lighter than Tamir Rice, who was also playing in a park in his city, three years ago.

The rules of play are different for my son.
For the comment section taught me that Tamir “didn’t look his age,” or “should’ve known not to play with the toy,” or “should’ve been parented better,” or “was big enough to be mistaken for an adult, ” or “should’ve responded immediately when the officer arrived.”

The rules of play are different for my son.
Because the other mom thought that toy was appropriate for her, tousled, brown haired, freckled-face, fair skinned, rosy-cheeked boy; and even held it for him when he went to get water…promptly returning it with no worries as to how it looked.

The rules are different for my son.
And even though I’m not ok with that…I’m ok that he was irritated with me.

You want to know what’s funny? I’m a mom of lessons. I actually watch to see if my kids are going to walk into a bad decision willingly, and when it doesn’t work out, I say, “Wasn’t a good idea, huh?” Because sometimes experience is a better teacher than mom.

Just not that day.

Those experiences our kids don’t come back from.

You know I’m right.


-Danita LaShelle


4 Comments Add yours

  1. I.Am.Tash. says:

    Hmph. My Dad used to say that…”Experience is the greatest teacher.” Wow…what a time we live in now.


  2. Karla Brown says:



  3. adi2996 says:

    Thank you so much for this. Your writing is breathtaking in its pacing and your reveal was a gut punch delivered with absolute perfection. Kudos and please keep inspiring 🙂


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