"Look at what you did. You just peed your pants! You lied to me!"
One moment, he was happily building a sand castle, planting a flag made of seaweed and driftwood in the turret. He was just another kid. And then, in an instant, everything changed.
He wasn't quite six. I knew that because the man - his father? stepfather? - shouted it loud enough for everyone to hear. "He's not a baby anymore! He's almost six - five and three-quarters - and he shouldn't be doing this anymore!"
He was just a boy who had an accident. But the man didn't see it that way. It was an act of vengeance, of defiance. "I went to the bathroom, and I asked you if you needed to go. You said you didn't need to go. Why did you lie to me?!"
The boy sobbed, shouted that he still didn't need to go, while urine dripped down the crotch of his pants. They exchanged insults. "Let me go, you big stupid head!" the boy growled. They seethed at each other as if they had had this same fight a hundred times before.
He had a hold on the boy's arm. The boy tried to go back to his sand castle, back to the sand and seaweed. The boy either took a swing at him or his accuser thought he did. "Are you trying to hit me? Did you try to hit me?"
The shouts got louder. The boy's insults sounded feeble, and to write them out would make them seem childish and funny. They weren't funny. They were the sound of a boy who was accustomed to being abused. This was a boy who was used to spankings, and maybe worse. He was used to fighting back against abuse, however futilely, using the methods that had been used against him. He struck out. He shouted names. He used sarcastic insults.
But he was a boy, not even six, and finally he just kept sobbing while the man berated him.
He never hit the kid while we were there. By that, I mean he never slapped him across the face, never pushed him down in the sand, never took off his belt. At some point, the boy turned his back on the man and the man swatted him on his behind a few times.
The boy asked him why he was being spanked, and the man smugly said, "that wasn't a spanking." So there were different levels of violence in the house. There were spankings, and there was just hitting your kid for the sake of hitting him.
Everything about it was wrong - the tone in the man's voice, the rage in that little boy's voice, the way his mother sat idly through the entire scene, only offering a feeble attempt at compromise once. We left sickened, grateful that Oliver had been out of earshot for most of the confrontation.