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March 11, 2012

Dairy violence no laughing matter

Parenting moral dilemma No. 117:

One of my sons had an issue at school this week. During lunch, a middle-school miscreant was ragging unmercifully on my child's friend.

Yes, it's true, kids can be cruel.

My son had countless options. Hang his head and pretend he heard nothing. Offer words of encouragement to his friend. Find a responsible grown-up. Instantly come up with a clever and cutting retort:

"I know you are, but what am I," or "That's what your mother said," or "Hey, why don't you just shut up, stupid head."

He could have pulled his chiseled, 76-pound frame off his bench and gone all Ralphie-from-Christmas-Story on the bully.

Instead, he opted for a different solution. He calmly walked over … and poured milk on the tormentor's head.

My son was, of course, handcuffed and herded to the school office, where he was chastised as firmly as the law will allow. Mercifully, the victim was not lactose intolerant, and true tragedy was averted.

I know that dairy violence is no laughing matter, and that I, as a parent, should discipline him, but my dilemma is this: How can I do that when it would make me a hypocrite?

When I, myself, was but a sixth-grader, I, too, was involved in a horrific food incident, one that was a watershed moment in my life. It was more than three decades ago, so some of the facts are hazy, but I'm certain that my friend Joey started it. He flipped some innocuous item at me — might have been a pretzel, maybe a raisin.

Dazed and angered, I responded with half a ham sandwich. He fired back a Chips Ahoy cookie. It was on.

In the movies, this turns into a free-for-all where everyone in the cafeteria begins tossing food around the room, but it wasn't like that. Instead, several dozen students were transfixed as Joe and I — two never-in-trouble geeks — re-enacted the battle of Guadalcanal.

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