You Must Be This Tall (to avoid conflict)
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
The smell of cotton candy and fried snacks were making my stomach growl. I had my eye on the Italian sausage concession because I was getting a contact high from the aroma of peppers and onions wafting down the midway. But my son, Alex, then 5 years old, was tugging on my sleeve and pointing at a big kids' funhouse kind of attraction with levels of zig-zagging catwalks that led through an obstacle course of conveyors, shaking platforms and clusters of what looked like heavy bags in a boxing gym hung in rows of primary colors. Between these, giggling kids were bouncing and swinging them this way and that.
"Ok," I said and walked over to the woman in the booth where they sold tickets for the rides of this little street carnival. "How many tickets for that thing?" I said and pointed up at the ride. She shook her head and said flatly, "Can't go." I was confused and said, "What do mean, 'can't go?'" She added in the same mixture of boredom and annoyance, "Too tall."
The ride was clearly for little kids and it's true that Alex was always tall for his age, but I thought he looked not that much bigger than most of the kids whooping and laughing up there. But rather than litigate the point, I decided to retreat and I broke the news to Alex that he was apparently too big to be allowed in. He didn't take the news well.
My wife, who was standing about 20 feet away, turned to the sound of her child's distress and hurried over to see what the problem was. I explained what the woman in the ticket booth had said about him being too tall to be admitted and just then I looked up and saw a girl of maybe 12 hopping along the upper reaches of the course and having the time of her life. I pointed up and said, "But, hey, that kid is lot taller than him." At that, Suzanna was suddenly filled with a mother’s righteous indignation and grabbed his hand and said, "We'll see about this!" and went marching off in the direction of the ticket booth. I suddenly felt some advance sympathy for the ticket seller and hurried to catch up in case I needed to referee.
When my wife reached the ticket window she demanded, "Why wouldn't you allow him to go on that ride?" The woman gritted her teeth and said sternly, "Because he's too tall! There's a height requirement and he's just too tall!" Like a wily lawyer, Suzanna now had her right where she wanted her and stabbed her finger in the direction of the girl cavorting along the swinging foam bats above us. "You let that girl on and she's a head taller than him," and she punctuated the last word by pointing directly at our son who was now too wide-eyed at the drama playing out at the ticket booth to remember to be upset.
The woman looked confused at this and then after a moment looking back and forth at each of us, sputtered, "I didn't say he couldn't go," and pointed at my son, "I said he couldn't go," and I saw her finger now leveled at me.
"What?" I said, and I saw this woman, my wife, my son and a not unsubstantial crowd of onlookers who had been drawn in by the scene all staring directly at me. I shook my head and said, "I don't want to go!" I saw the people regarding me and realized they all were envisioning this strange man leaping and careening through the obstacles and air blasts surrounded by kids. I shook my head and held my palms up saying, “I don’t!” But it was clear that almost no one listening really believed me (and, full disclosure here, I kind of did want to go).
We all have conflicts from time to time. Some are because of different priorities or personality styles or a hundred other causes big and small. But some are simply because we think we understand and off we go. Before we settle on a conclusion that puts two parties at odds, I have learned that just taking a second to ask a question or two for clarification can save a lot of unnecessary conflict...and more than a little embarrassment.