As a little kid, I quickly earned the title of Playground Defender – which I get totally makes me sound like a mini Buffy, but if you’re imagining some bouncer-to-be or heavy weight champ, I’m gonna stop you right there. I was puny, y’all. I was tall and gangly with sticks for legs and blunt, uneven bangs (thank you mom for that one) that always clung together in a sweaty, hot mess. Nothing about me screamed, “Oofta, better watch out for that one!”
…But don’t let that fool you, my friends. Yeahhhh sure you betcha I was every bully’s worst nightmare. I was a Robin Hood: 2nd Grader in Tights, swooping in out of nowhere to help the poor and downtrodden. I’d appear with my tiny fists in the air as a warning, yelling to leave whoever was being picked on alone. I roamed the halls like an elementary school sheriff. No kid was going to get their Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll stolen at the lunch table, or be stuffed in a garbage can. Not on my watch!
No one really knows for sure how it started. My parents said I was always feisty and full of sass. But when my kindergarten best friend started routinely getting teased by one of the more aggressive boys in class (Bobby Stinholf I’m looking you, buddy), I wasn’t having it. I’d demand that he stop. I started off using my words, like everyone suggested. And when that didn’t work, I channeled all my miniature rage and smacked the boy with a wooden building block, leaving am impressive welt on his mean, smug face.
I still remember the ride home after that incident, worried about the reaction and punishment for my actions that was inevitable, only to have instead my mom and dad secretly sneaking me high-fives from the front seat.
People soon learned if you were going to mess with the people I loved, I was going to make them wish they didn’t. Small or not, I could pack a punch. Sure, I (thankfully) graduated past the physical–the block to the face incident was the one and only–and now, as a fully-formed adult (or at least fully-formed adult adjacent), I’m not likely to pull at your hair for being mean to my friend or other loved one. I’m not going to smack you with a library book (because that would just be book abuse) or a wooden building block (though Mr. Stinholf stopped making fun of kids after that incident sooooo….). But that doesn’t mean that protective instinct doesn’t still exist inside me. The Playground Defender, the Robin Hood is a part of me. A very real, instinctual part.
There are very few things that get my blood boiling: mean people, the Cubs, mean people, paying full price for a pair of jeans only to have them go on sale the very next day, mean people, a bag of chips that 99.9999% air and mean people.
Especially mean people who are mean to the ones I love. As weird as this may sound, I don’t like confrontation. I’ve never liked confrontation. In fact, I avoid it like the plaque. I don’t like seeing people upset, hurt or in any kind of pain. I get very uncomfortable, start sweating and break out in hives. It’s not an attractive look, guys.
But there’s something different that comes over me when the ones I love are in the line of fire. My Mike Tyson patronus comes out and is ready and willing to defend, stand up for and protect. I would literally do anything for my friends and family (okay mayyyybe not anything—my hair is epically on point today so anything having to do with wind or humidity is off the table).
To those I love (you know who you are):
I know I can’t save you from this world.
Rationally, I know that. No matter how hard I try, something out there is going to hurt. You’ll have your moments of disappointment, discouragement, when you feel like everything is stacked against you. A failed relationship, the loss of a loved one, job stress or challenges to your health. I can’t stop those things from happening. My love isn’t enough to keep you forever safe from all the things.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop wanting to try. I love you, so that means I’m going to do what I can to help you, to encourage you, to be by your side and fight with you. The Defender has your back. Even when you feel alone, I will be in the background. You just have to look in my direction. I’ll still be there. I’ll still be doing what I can to protect you.
Because that’s just what I do.
Because I love you.
Because you weaseled your damn way into my heart and there’s no turning back now.