Bridges and a Brontosaurus

Brian and Kevin Wilson were my childhood friends. They were also my tormentors.  We played together on a regular basis. They kicked my ass on a regular basis. Well, that is, whenever Amber (my older sister) was not around. They did not mess with her. Yes, she was only one year older than me. Yes, it’s all a bit embarrassing. However, in my defense, girls mature more rapidly than boys at this age. And, she had the “do not hit a girl” social constraint working in her favor. Even the Wilson boys had to adhere to that rule.

I have an image of her standing like a sentinel in our front yard with her head on a swivel looking for any signs of trouble. When such trouble was spotted, regardless of the geographical location of the altercation, she could reach me in three to four strides. She had unusually long legs for a child.

However, on one occasion, when Amber was not around, the Wilsons got the best of me. Who am I kidding, they always got the best of me whenever she was not around. However, on this one occasion, what the Wilsons did not know was that this occasion would turn out to be the last occasion.

What changed?

My mother.

Like previous ass-kickings, I retreated to the safety of my home in tears, reached for the screen door and began yanking on its handle feverishly. It would not open. I looked up in desperation to find my mom standing on the other side. She looked down at me and said:

“Don’t ever come back to this house crying again.”

For years, I would reflect on that moment and think “Damn that’s harsh.”

That’s no longer the case.

It turns out that my mother was a game theorist.

As Dixit and Nalebuff discuss in their Art of Strategy:

“Recall the advice of Sun Tzu: “When you surround an enemy, leave an outlet free.”  One leaves an outlet free not so that the enemy may actually escape but so that the enemy may believe there is a road to safety. If the enemy does not see an escape outlet, he will fight with the courage of desperation.” (emphasis mine)

By telling me “Don’t ever come back to this house crying again”, she had burned the bridges, scuttled the ships and taken away my escape route. Soon after, things would play out to justify her strategic move.

I was in my front yard playing when the Wilsons approached. Amber was nowhere in sight. I turned to the house to retreat. My mom appeared in the screen door. She had her hands on her hips and no emotions on her face. At that moment I had a choice: face the Wilsons or face my mother. Anyone who knows my mother knows that this was (and still is) a false choice. I was desperate. Having no retreat, I turned toward my tormentors and let loose a flurry of punches, kicks, bites, scratches, and guttural screams.  The neighbors came running out of their homes (Ruth and Bob, Claudette and Roger). My mother stayed behind the screen door. No one tried to stop me. Indeed, they cheered me on. Not sure how long it lasted but the Wilsons limped home that day while a few high-fives were being exchange between me and the neighbors.

Brian and Kevin never bothered me again.

My mom’s strategic moved worked. Looking back, I can only image how hard it was for my mom to play it. Thanks, mom.

PS Just for the record, my mother was not a master of strategy.  The same woman who pulled off the whole “burn your bridges” move is the same woman who sent me to school in fourth grade with a t-shirt that said “No More Mister Nice Guy” spelled in stone letters with a Brontosaurus sitting on top.  I quickly got my ass kicked by Ray E. at the water fountain.


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Thanks. – shawn