Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moment of Truth

For the record I've only ever had one physical confrontation in my life (in second grade and a girl named Terry Daniels got upset with me for some reason or another; she puled my hair so hard it made me cry, so I yanked hers back, made her cry and that was the end of it). That was all before this morning.

Because my son's college tuition deposit to whichever institution of higher education he chooses will be due in four short months, I've taken a few side gigs to help squirrel away a couple of extra dollars to pad the 529 account that took a bit of a hit when the economy dipped. My morning job is a before-school program for parents whose work hours start before their children's school days do. For two hours each weekday, I play board games, draw and read to/with a few kids before their school days begins. Our time together ends when I drive them from the activity center we meet in to their bus stop.

This morning, my own son missed his school bus. Dropping him off at the high school made me 10 minutes late getting to the activity center. When I arrived, a very angry parent who almost never drops his kids off was waiting. The two kids - ages 8 and 5 - were just inside the door while dad was outside with a cell phone stuck to his ear. I pulled up to the door and waved to him before lowering my window and apologizing for being late. Before I could even tell him why, he started screaming at me, called me a bitch and told me that since he paid a lot of effin' money for the program - and hence, paid my salary - I should effin' get there on time. He then walked over to my car, stuck his finger in my driver's side window to wave it in my face and continue to berate me for jacking up his day - all while his children watched from about 10 feet away.

This past Christmas, Sensei S. bought everyone in the dojo metal kubatons. We've had a class or two on using them and since they came attached to a sturdy key ring, I keep mine on clipped to my house and car keys. After psychotic dad called me a bitch the second time, I have to tell you the thought of sliding the kubaton off my key ring and shoving it right into his windpipe most definitely crossed my mind - but instead of acting on that, I asked him if he would please move away so I could back my car into a parking space. He refused and actually moved to the back door of the vehicle, stuck his foot under my rear tire and dared me to move. Yeah - exactly...

It occurred to me that I had three choices at that point: run over his foot, get out of the car to try out an ippon combo I learned last night or chill and figure out how to get this idiot away from me as fast as possible. I put my window up, locked my car doors and reached for my phone. Calling the police was my plan, but, probably thinking I was either calling 911 or getting out of my car to move him out of the way, he motioned to his children, got in his car and drove off. I was so upset, I was literally shaking.

After I calmed down and called my boss to let her know what happened, I contacted Sensei S. and told him that I almost had to make use of his Christmas gift today. Once he assured me that I did the right thing by avoiding a conflict, he reminded me that yoking an unarmed (albeit angry) man with a weapon would probably net a legal issue. Like me, dad had choices - and he chose to walk away. Had he taken a different route, I would have been prepared, Sensei said, to defend myself.

The adage that there is no "first strike" in karate rings in my head now and I know Sensei is right, but I hafta tell you that I felt very vulnerable sitting there waiting for him to either stop the foolishness or make a definitive move. I did feel threatened, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it.

But there's something else I felt, too: how easy it is for a "situation" to spiral out of control. Everything happened so fast! If he would have reached into the car to grab, hit or even spit on me, I would have had a reason to do something. But because he didn't, I couldn't.

A non-martial artist friend commended me on taking what he called the high road. "You're a better person than I am, because I would have hit him as soon as he stuck his body too close to mine," he said. I'd probably be explaining all this at the town police station right now if I'd done that, I bet. The reality is that I had no control over how the angry person would act. I guess all I an ever do have control over is how I react to it.

What would you have done?


  1. I have no idea what I would have done...the main thing is you did the right thing in the face of being threatened. I commend you for applying the true meaning of Budo.

  2. Whatever anyone else says they would have done is purely hypothetical. Unless they are standing there in your shoes, there is no way of telling.

  3. Oh Felicia, what a scary situation to be in. I admire you tremendously for dealing with it the way you did. Like David and Rick say, no-one knows how they would really react if they faced the same situation (it's easy to be a hero in your head!)

    Any other action could easily have escalated the situation. I think you should count this as a successful outcome. However, I hope that Dad gets banned from bringing his kids to your breakfast club. At the very least he should apologise to you.

  4. I agree with you all, Shinzen, Rick and Sue. Successful in that no punches were thrown and the children witnessed no more ugliness than dad's ranting, but I'm still a little shaken. I actually filed out a police report last night just in case dad revisits his stupidity say, tomorrow morning or the next. I needed to cover my backside by documenting legally what happened in case the next time I do need to use my hands or kubaton.

    Interestingly, the police told me that although every situation is different, I would have been justified to lock Dad's finger when he stuck it into my vehicle to further berate me. But I'm sure it would have only escalated an already heightened situation even further.

    And, no, my employer has not banned dad from dropping of his kids, which is the biggest reason I wanted the police to have a record of the incident. He did apologize - to my boss, not to me (I know, I know), so in their heads, it was all settled - until I mentioned the police report I was filing. Shame it would take all that for them to consider the safety of their employees, but...

    More to follow, I'm sure. I'll keep you posted...

  5. Scary...

    I am glad you are ok.

    Like the other commenters, I have no idea what I would have done. I am very surprised the man is not banned from the before-school program. You would think an employer, who is in the business of taking care of children, would have the safety of their staff and participants as a top priority.

  6. I would have done exactly what you did. Or at least, I hope I would have. Well done Felicia. You took the high road.

  7. Hi Felicia,
    I've been reading and enjoying your blog for some time, and only now commenting. I admire what you did. I would have been very tempted to respond physically when he invaded my space, but I hope I would have been able to restrain myself as you did. I think taking the matter to the authorities is wise.

  8. I don't know what I would have done, I doubt I would have kept my cool, but I have to say, when you said he stuck his foot under you're rear tire and dared you to run it over, I imagined myself putting the vehicle in drive and going the other way. This is assuming his foot was to the backside of the rear tire. At any rate, you continue to amaze me, Felicia. The depth of your poise and composure is inspiring.

  9. I have to agree with everyone here. Your behaviour was incredible, your self-control amazing and your clear-headedness with regards to legal proceedings astute. Well done on locking him our of your car! Let him vent his anger with words - his kids are standing there, seeing their father rave like a lunatic, while you present them with a role model of civilized behaviour.