Unfortunately for Chris, my “wide glide” didn’t do him any good, as the girls darted behind me and spotted their prey.

“Chris! We found you! Come and play with us!”  

“I don’t want to,” Chris whined, his voice muffed as he wrapped his arms around my right thigh.  “Leave me alone!”

“Chris,” I said, peeling him off me, “what’s wrong with you? The girls just want to play.”

My son glared up at me as if I’d agreed to sell him into slavery. “I don’t want to play with them. They’re pests, and they bug me!”

“That’s not nice,” I said in my most authoritative tone. “You shouldn’t say that about anyone. Apologize to the girls.”

He shook his head. “Not until you do.”

I frowned. “Why should I apologize to the girls?”  

Busted

By that time the veins were popping out on my son’s forehead and neck, and he answered, “Not them, Mom. Your friend. You know, Marcus and Daniel’s aunt. The one that comes over all the time, the one who you sometimes hide from so she’ll go away.”

“Chris,” I said, trying to maintain my calm, even as I felt my face going red-hot, “that’s not the same. Bernadine is—”  

“She’s a pest,” he insisted. “You said so. And you said she bugs you. I heard you—when you were hiding in the kitchen when she rang the doorbell. Remember?”  

I did remember.  I looked from Chris to the girls, who stood staring up at me, their eyes wide, waiting to see how I would deal with my son’s unacceptable behavior.

I was waiting to see the same thing. How was I going to handle this situation, especially since I knew Chris was right? That was the worst part—being busted by an “almost four-year-old” in front of three of his only slightly younger peers.

“You’re right,” I said, swallowing my shattered pride along with the growing lump in my throat.  “I do owe Bernadine an apology. Thank you for pointing that out.”

Chris’s eyebrows shot up, as it dawned on him that he had just pulled off a coup that could easily set him up as the godfather of the playground once word got out—and neither of us had any doubt that our audience of three would make sure it did. I realized it was up to me to head things off at the pass.

“You’re right that I owe Bernadine an apology, and I will call her when we get home and take care of that. But for now, you need to apologize too. If you don’t want to play with the girls, fine.”  I stopped and looked over at the deflated trio, whose shoulders  sagged at my pronouncement, and then turned my attention back to Chris. “But calling them pests and saying they bug you is not fine. For that you need to apologize.”  

Now it was time for Chris’s shoulders to sag. He gave one last glance of appeal, but I nixed it with a shake of head. He sighed. “Sorry,” he whispered.

“A little louder, please.”

He sighed again. “Sorry.”

“What are you sorry about?”

“Calling them names,” he mumbled.

“And why are you sorry?”

Our eyes locked in a brief battle of wills, but he finally gave in. “Because it isn’t nice.”

I looked back at the girls, who seemed stunned by the turn of events. “Girls, Chris has apologized to you. Can you tell him you forgive him?”

They nodded in unison as their singsong voices pronounced absolution.

"Good. Now, go play. Next time you want someone to play with you, just ask. If they say no, then respect that and leave them alone. Understood?”