Fast food play areas are rougher than most prisons.
About six weeks ago, my wife and I were working a bit later than usual, so my wife’s sister took our kids to a fast food restaurant nearby. Once either my wife or I arrived, we would tag her out and we would resume our roles as competent parents.
I ended up getting there first. As I walked in, I could already hear the muffled chaos bursting through the “soundproof” door of the play area. All the parents were in that very real struggle of scarfing down their food before their child banged through the door to complain about who hit whom and who farted in whose face.
I tagged out my sister-in-law and sat down, peering into the play area. It had completely transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. At this point, my oldest son Jackson had decided he no longer wanted to be in The Hunger Games and came to sit with me in the booth. As we conversed about his day, I heard a very loud thud.
I turned to the play area just in time to see a prone elderly employee squashing a kid in the play area. All the other parents looked up to see what caused the fuss. I sprinted over and threw open the door to see the woman pinning my youngest son, Xander, to the ground, berating him. I removed my son from her grasp and let her know that she couldn’t lay hands on my kid. She shot back, “He was beating her up!” A little girl, maybe four years old, sat crying near the base of the slide. As much as I objected to the employee’s methods, I feared she was telling the truth.
I sat a traumatized Xander down in the play area and asked him if he hit the girl. After struggling to calm down, he finally confessed and said it was because he didn’t want to play tag anymore. I took him out of the play area to apologize to the little girl, and her parents assured me that the employee was clearly out of line—my son wasn’t “beating up” anyone.
My wife showed up right after the dust settled, so it was fun trying to explain to her that her son was body-slammed by a fast food vigilante while also helping Xander calm down. I passed off Xander to his mother and I went to the counter and politely asked for the supervisor on duty.
I wasn’t trying to get anyone fired, just wanted to inform the supervisor of behavior that was unacceptable. I left the manager my name and number and requested that I be informed when they reviewed the footage.
After we left, it hit me. Anger. Fierce, righteous anger.
That anger turned into a bloodlust for justice. Once we got home, I was completely consumed by it. I was irritable to everyone. I called my mom and my sister, wanting to infect them with this insatiable anger. Then, not an hour after we left, I got a phone call.
It was the day manager who wasn’t present at the time of the incident. He said he had reviewed the footage and that the employee had been suspended until further notice. My anger was immediately validated but never went away. I had to take a melatonin just to get to sleep.
The next day, I got a phone call from the restaurant owner. He said that he reviewed the footage and it was… silly. A few days later, I dropped the kids off at school and met my wife at the restaurant to look at the footage, and hopefully, grab some free breakfast.
The owner showed us the footage and it was indeed silly.
The Other Twenty-Seven Seconds
The riveting action thriller is only about thirty seconds long, but there were enough twists and turns to keep even the most astute audience guessing. It opened on Xander sitting calmly in the middle of the dumpster fire of a play area trying to put his shoes on in his attempt to get out of a rather aggressive game of tag. And just like in mafia movies, just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in as a child ran by and “tagged” Xander across the head. Xander took exception to this and yelled in the direction of his assailant. At that moment, the little girl that Xander was accused of beating up zipped down the slide and crashed into Xander. He took exception to this as well. He flailed about enough to make the little girl sit up and start crying.
The dust settled, and, just as things appeared to be diffusing, in rushed the employee, Defender of the Thunderdome. She tripped over a pair of red shoes and lost her balance, pancaking Xander into the ground. She then grabbed Xander angrily—which is not okay. But it was very clear that it happened because she was flustered. Then all the parents came in and the video faded to black.
So yeah, it was really silly. And I felt like a moron for letting my emotions consume me. The elderly employee wasn’t some rage-filled vigilante, she was embarrassed. It was at that moment that any ill will I had towards her completely melted away. Not because I saw the video and saw that she was innocent, she wasn’t. She still put her hands on my kid and that’s not okay, but I had better context now.
Context Is Still King
A 2014 study by the Media Insight Project says that fifty-nine percent of Americans read only the headlines of news articles. Only forty-nine percent of people invest additional time to go deeper and follow up on breaking stories. In 2016, computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute concluded that fifty-nine percent of links shared on social media have never actually been viewed, which implies that people are reposting articles that they haven’t actually read.
If a three-second video of an employee “assaulting” a kid in a play area popped up on Twitter, I guarantee there would be a gaggle of people ready to burn her at the stake and a gaggle of people saying that the kid probably deserved it. The devil is in the details and the details are those other twenty-seven seconds that people don’t see. Social media has given a megaphone to people who shouldn’t be screaming.
If I’ve learned anything from this whole situation is that there is value in patience. There is value in letting all the hands play all the way out. But there is also tremendous value in keeping your mouth shut. Even if you are right. I don’t think there is anything wrong with me having that righteous anger that I felt. I wanted justice. Justice is worth fighting for. But the desire for justice cannot outweigh the necessity for truth.