"Someone's being mean up there!" they call. Their indignant voices reaching us before their socked feet and caught breaths do.
My girl's voice carries the furthest.
They still by the round, gray, plastic table. Their shoulders grazing each other in stunning shades. Caramel, coffee, chocolate.
"Oh, I'm sorry that happened," I say, sliding Chloe into my lap, where (thankfully) she still fits. I run my lips across her hair, noting that it glitters even indoors.
"You're alright," The mother across from me says, squeezing her own daughter tight.
I catch her eye and we smile, ready to send our girls back up to play.
Beside me, the third mother at our table sits a titch taller, raises her bare chin, slits her almond shaped eyes, and flips her hair behind one shoulder.
It sways against her back as her own voice carries to all of our girls.
"Hit 'em back," she says.
Their eyes widen, and I admit, so do mine.
"You don't need to be anyone's victim," she adds. "Ever." She looks them in the eye, not releasing their gaze.
"That's not nice, mama," her own daughter says, and this is what gives me pause.
I spend so very much of my own mothering words on Be nice. Be kind. Be a good friend. I believe in these messages with every fiber of my being. I think that kindness and empathy make the world go round and can, indeed, be modeled and taught.
But what if my messages of make your way through this world with gentle kindness were equally laced with Stand strong. You're strong. And I've got your back.
All three girls heard this mother's message this morning. I saw it fuse from her eyes right into theirs.
And with their own versions of shoulders back and chins titled and even eyes slitted, they turned on their heels and went back into the bouncy and the climber and the slide.
They drew Brody in between them, their arms laced around his shoulders. Each of them only a head (or two) taller than his, but they were his protectors; they weren't anyone's victim. And I see the goodness -- and perhaps the necessity -- in this as well.
So I have to ask, could you give this advice? Should we?
Photo credit Jennifer Liv Photography.