During the summer I helped out at my church’s Vacation Bible School, and I led a group of kids grades 1-6. On the first day we stood in the church’s courtyard listening as a game was being explained. Each group leader was given a sign that said their group’s name on it, while each kid was given a paper bag to hold their toys and things. As we stood listening I indiscriminately patted the little girl standing in front of me on the head with my sign. We’ll call her “Ashlyn.” Ashlyn turned around, looked up at me, smiled, and returned the favor by patting me ever-so-gently with her paper bag.
It became a game for us. I would tap her on the head, and she would playfully tap me back. Her taps were so gentle, it was as if I were being tapped by an angel. One time I tried to tap her, but she was ready for it, and she ducked. I tried again, and she ducked again. She kept ducking lower and lower to make me keep missing.
I asked her, “You know that game whack-a-mole?” She nodded. “You’re like the mole.”
She paused for a second before realizing that I had just called her a mole. She smiled, then scrunched her face up to try to look mad. But she laughed, and she obviously liked it.
She and I became friends. We would tease each other, and continue our “whacking game.” Her taps that had started out so gentle turned increasingly violent, and pretty soon she was hitting me full force as hard as she could. Every week when we saw each other, she’d say, “I remember you called me a whack-a-mole!” Then she would turn to her friends and proudly say, “He called me a whack-a-mole!” This continued for a while.
One night we were doing arts and crafts. I said something to her, but she turned away without saying anything. Usually she liked talking to me, but I noticed she hadn’t said anything to me for a while.
“Huh. That’s strange. She’s acting weird all of a sudden.” But I didn’t put too much thought into it.
But she continued to give me the cold shoulder. When I’d say something to her, she’d shrug and mutter a short answer while avoiding eye contact. But then she’d be extra nice and happy towards everyone else.
“Wait a sec…is she…ignoring me?”
I asked her how her craft was coming. She shrugged. A little later I tried saying something to her that she would normally laugh at. Nothing. But of course she was being super nice towards everyone else.
“Yup. She is definitely ignoring me.”
I took a moment to marvel at my own incompetence.
“Congratulations, Rob. You’re on a roll. You got an 8 year old to give you the silent treatment. You really know how to make a woman mad. What amazing thing will you do next?”
Sometimes I just get so exasperated with myself.
Now that I had gotten that off my chest, I replayed the day’s events in my head, trying to figure out what I did to deserve the wrath of Ashlyn.
I realized what I’d done. She was eating nerds, the candy, and asked me if I wanted some. We teased each other all the time, so without even thinking about it, I called her a nerd. She obviously liked it when I called her a mole. But I guess when I did that, she knew it was a joke. When I called her a nerd, I suppose it sounded a bit too real.
“Are you mad I called you a nerd?”
She looked away without really looking at me.
“Pretending not to be mad when she obviously is. Man. She is really good at this. I think this proves that women are just born with this ability. 8 years old, and she’s already mastered the silent treatment. I’d hate to see what she does when she’s older.
“Okay, let’s think about this clearly. She’s upset, and for understandable reasons. What I did may have been stupid, but it was an honest mistake. I meant no harm. I’ll just try to fix it.”
As we were leaving to the last activity of the night, I went over to talk to her.
“I’m sorry I called you a nerd. It was just a joke because you were eating nerds. You’re not a nerd. I think you’re really cool.”
She looked at me, then looked away.
“Well,” I thought. “I apologized, tried to fix my mistake, and continued to be nice to her even when she was cold to me. There’s not much more I can do. If she still wants to be mad, all I can do is let her.”
By the next week (it’s a good thing we have a week in between these things) she had gotten over it (I think, anyway. With girls, it’s hard to tell.) We became friends again, things returned more-or-less to normal, and we resumed our whacking game.
One night after the activities were finished we were playing in the courtyard. Ashlyn got her friends to grab my arms and legs and pull me down. Ashlyn had hit me many times before, but that had always been on my legs or torso, since she was too short. With her friends holding me down, though, I was finally short enough for Ashlyn to reach my head, and she relished the moment.
“Now you’re the whack-a-mole!” she said, whacking my head.