Now that school is once again back in session, and every minute between violin lessons and soccer practice must be scrupulously accounted for, it is only a matter of time before the playdate season will be upon us; although, in my case, the phrase “playdate” might be a little ambitious: “sobbingdate,” “not sharingdate,” or even “fightingdate” would all be more apt. In fact, playdates with my son, Clyde, are so guaranteed to result in at least one round of tears and recriminations that it is a constant source of amazement to me that we can show up at the park and not be preceded by a girl in a bikini holding up a big sign proclaiming “Round One”.

In all fairness to Clyde, though, I must admit that at least most of the fighting he does is not of the physical variety; even though, in all actuality, this is not such a good thing: at least the physical fights are easy enough to referee (or, if you choose not to act, easy enough to watch: if you like the bum fighting on pay per view, then you’ll love watching a pair of four-year-olds trying to sit on each others’ heads).

No, unfortunately the fighting I’m talking about is usually of the verbal, tormenting variety, the kind that does not make for good TV (unless, of course, you happen to be a big fan of “Mama’s Family”). This is the kind of fighting where every 30 seconds or so one of the playdate participants comes running up to the mothers’ group sobbing about “He called me a jingafoo!” or “She said I don’t know how to play terwickle!” or some other kind of unfathomable nonsense. (One quick note: even though, when the sobbee is asked what exactly a jingafoo is or what terwickle means, their response will always be, “I don’t know”, it will do you absolutely no good to point this out; like the Supreme Court justice who once said he didn’t know the definition of obscenity, but sure as hell knew it when he saw it, a four-year-old might not understand the exact nature of an insult, but he sure as hell can recognize one when he receives it.)

Lately, though, even the obscure verbal taunting has become passe, as Clyde has now gotten old enough to engage in the cruelest form of torment of all: shunning. These days, instead of merely kicking his opponents in the shins, or even calling them made-up and vaguely insulting names, he instead lets fly the biggest playground bomb of them all: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”

This is a particularly effective piece of torment for the simple reason that it always guarantees such a good reaction from everyone present. From the mothers, (most of whom probably last heard this phrase back in high school, right before they found out that the speaker was sleeping with their soon to be ex-boyfriend), there is consternation; from the child thus tormented there is the speedy deflation of the ego; and from the child that says it there is that bright glow of pride that comes from knowing they are the possessor of a weapon of infinite power (at least up until, in a sort of playground MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) it gets turned around and used against them).

Some people will claim that at least at this age the fights are easier to break up and soothe over, but as for me, the sight of a sobbing, heart-broken four-year-old makes me long for the day when they will simply resolve their differences by agreeing to beat each other up behind the high school after last period. At least then they will be the ones that have to negotiate a free moment between violin and soccer.

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