Like every parent, I'm always keeping one mama-bear eye peeled for any of life's edgier or more unsavory realities that might try to encroach upon the invisible magic Circle of Safety that my children live in. For instance, on Thursday, my daughter visited the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) with her third grade class. Fabulous, except that the exhibit featured work by international photojournalists. The docent apparently led them to four specific-and innocuous-photos. What did not escape the eyes of the astute nine year olds however, were more graphic and non-age appropriate images: a heroin junkie tying off a vein in a public restroom, bodies of dead children in Mexico,etc. My child's teacher felt compelled to explain these. So when my daughter came home and attempted to relate these anecdotes as she understood them, my small, conservative, retentive alter ego with hair pulled back in a tight bun, horn-rimmed glasses and clenched buttocks, reared its ugly head and duct-taped the mouth of the hippie artist person that usually wears the pants in the relationship between the Selves. I wrote a scathing letter to the teacher, and received for my efforts a response that would have to suffice. Because after all, my kid can’t un-see the pictures she has already seen. Basically, as parents, things are after the fact, and all we can do is damage control. So the conservative alter ego has slunk back into her tidy snake hole, and today is a new week. My son had tokens left over from his weekend visit to Chuck E. Cheese, and wanted to spend them. So we went. And all was as it should be, for a little while. Security measures in place, matching stamps on wrists, friendly staff, the flashing games signaling corporate greed and sensory overload all competing for tokens and attention, children running everywhere. Tired parents slumped in the booths, looking at their watches. Maybe indulging in the salad bar. I was doing what I always do…following my son at a comfortable pace, and taking a mental tally of what the profit margin must be on the prizes. When suddenly I became aware of an angry adult voice, and looked up to see a punk-ish gangster of a man in his early twenties, squaring off with the employees. He and his friend were reveling in their obnoxious defiance. One lit up a cigarette. I looked around to see maybe twenty mama bears tucking their offspring behind them. Some of us were queued up at the prize counter, watching curiously, but sniffing for signs of real danger. Always wearing my Nikon necklace, I snapped a couple unobtrusive photos, and decided maybe we’d come back later. Or not. It was at that moment that the staff guarding the exit decided to bring her A game and employ advanced safeguards I had not yet experienced. Put our wrists under the black light, of course. But then proceeded to ask my son if he knew who I was. This confused him a little. She said, “Is that a stranger? Your dad? Your mom?” He said, “that’s my mom”, continuing to look confused. Feeling bad that I had cheated him out of his prize, we meandered over to the Big Lots, where he chose a toy of comparable value. On the way back, we saw the predictable small fleet of police cars, and through the window I saw six or seven officers gathered around a booth, where the perps were sitting, handcuffed, having their immediate fates decided for them. The photo opportunity could not be missed. And as I blended in with the customers, taking advantage of my zoom lens, I waxed philosophical. When you find yourself handcuffed in a booth, at Chuck E. Cheese, you pretty much have hit bottom. It won’t even make a good story for your grandkids, it’s so shameful. This is of course assuming you live to see your grandkids. It isn’t even a cautionary tale, because it’s so random. The only real moral of the story is, Don’t be a douche bag. And definitely don’t be douche bag in Chuck E. Cheese. Some people’s children. On the way home my son kept his own council, saying nothing of what he saw. But then we settled in to our evening, and he played at the table, using his cowboys, his abominable snowman, and his army men. Two of these figures were put into a pioneer wagon, and slapped off the table. I asked him what happened to them. “They were bad,” he said, matter of factly. “They went to jail.”

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