Matt Knutson: It takes a community to make positive change

Published 8:36 pm Thursday, June 21, 2018

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson


“Gracelyn got bit again at day care today,” I told my wife as we walked in the door of our house. Our 2-year-old daughter has experienced her fair share of bites over the past few months where the other children in her classroom learn what acceptable behaviors are and are not. Sometimes it is hard for me to understand why exactly this happens, as we’ve yet to ever have an incident reported to us of Gracelyn biting (or hitting, kicking, etc.) one of her classmates. Perhaps we should count our blessings.

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Her teachers reassure us that it’s just part of what this age group goes through, and though it may seem like it is happening a lot to her, it happens to all of her peers. It is comforting to know that she’s not the only one being attacked, and I also appreciate that it isn’t just a classroom bully. But as a father, how do you deal with your baby girl being abused? It’s hard to process when you’re not there to intervene.

Just about the only thing we can do is teach her to stand up for herself. She seems to be catching on, as the most recent incident before today’s she responded to the bite by saying, “No, thank you.” It is a bit more polite than the, “Don’t bite me!” statement we’ve been rehearsing, but at least she isn’t giving the vampire-children her other arm to bite. Practicing how to respond has made her much more aware of the situation, and also taught her how to cry wolf a bit. She has accused 7-month-old sister, Maeva, of biting her fairly recently, but I doubt those two baby teeth did any harm, if anything actually happened at all. A quick kiss from mom or dad seemed to make it better — a little too quickly, if you ask me.

Whenever there’s an incident report we have to sign at day care, her teachers always describe her peers as her “friend” who did something wrong. The first time someone did this, Sera immediately told me on the way to the car, “that kid who bite her isn’t her friend — I know what they’re trying to do by saying that word.” We are both communications professionals, so we get that if you call the biters “friends,” it might soften the blow on mom and dad. But what I’ve learned through this process is those little sharp-tooth 2-year-olds really are Gracelyn’s friends. They’re playing together the next day and even giving hugs at day care drop-off. Though it doesn’t make it right, it was good for us as adults to acknowledge that sometimes friends do bad things, and maybe Gracelyn is right to so quickly forgive them.

So often I think we finished learning what is right and what is wrong in elementary school. Our daughters are most certainly still learning it. There will always be gray areas, but by the time you reach adulthood, most people should have it figured out. But when I look at the divisive landscape of our communities, it’s clear that no one has it figured out all the way. Just earlier this week our nation was debating whether it is appropriate to separate children from their parents. The week before, I would have assumed we all agreed that it would be vastly inappropriate, but that was a false assumption. There are issues just like that one (though hopefully less egregious) all over the place.

How do we respond when that happens? What do you do when someone is hurting humanity, and you feel like you can’t do anything to intervene? It weighs heavy on the hearts of many. My daughters give me hope. If Gracelyn can stand up for herself, we can all stand up for others. And when you find your friend on the wrong side of morality, hopefully through dialogue and forgiveness we can rebuild what was temporarily lost. Gracelyn will keep getting bit (and if it’s not her, Maeva’s “friends” will soon follow suit), and people will keep falling short of perfection (most certainly including myself). It requires a community to create positive change. The silence of inaction is deafening and creates no progress in a world desperate for it.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.