The Freehold Raceway Mall has a large carousel and a children’s play area, with cushioned floors, slides and tunnels, and a little ceramic horse. A young boy was riding the horse when he suddenly kicked out his foot and shoved my 10-month-old son, Eddie, in the stomach, sending him flying onto the ground.
I missed the whole thing because I was dizzy with hunger and was wolfing down a sandwich just outside the children’s play area while my friend, Doris, played with Eddie inside. Doris said Eddie was just standing there when the boy thrust out his leg and shoved Eddie in the belly.
“He didn’t even cry,” Doris said.
“Was he trying to get up on the horse, and this kid was trying to get him to back off?” I asked.
“No. He was just standing there watching this kid,” Doris said. “That’s the thing about Eddie. He’s just in awe of everything. He’s not trying to go up against somebody.”
Doris said she scooped Eddie up in her arms and hugged him and told the young boy, “You should apologize. Are you sorry?” The boy said he wasn’t.
Doris said she saw an older gentleman sitting on a bench on the perimeter of the children’s play area and asked him if he was the young boy’s guardian. The man said he was the child’s grandfather. Doris told him that his grandson had kicked Eddie in the stomach.
“He had this ‘Atta boy’ sound in his voice. He wasn’t sorry, either,” Doris said. “Then he said, ‘Oh, he only does that because he’s always getting beat up by his sister.’ “A little while later, Eddie was standing at the top of the slide, and the boy came up behind him and started making a kind of grunting sound. Hearing it, Eddie suddenly burst into tears. He recognized the kid’s voice, Doris said.
“I just felt like he knew, ‘I don’t want to be near this kid. He didn’t treat me right,’ “ she said.
That night, Eddie fell asleep early, but he woke up crying twice during the night, as if he was having a nightmare.
They say children’s playgrounds are the most germ-infested places around. Almost half of the surfaces are contaminated by bodily fluids like feces, urine, blood and saliva, according to a recent study. I say germs are the least of my son’s worries.