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Does it Matter?
My daughter tunes into emotions. Whenever she hears someone crying, she always points it out. I’ve encouraged her to hug people when they cry, to try to help people if they are sad by being kind. Mostly, the other kids push her away, but I praise her anyway. I don’t want her to be scared of people who are hurting.
The other day, we walked into a popular pizza place on the beach strip. We were quickly ushered to the crumb-littered section for people with small children. Fine, whatever, I understand. We sat down at a four-top, with my daughter and I on one side, my son in a high chair on the end, and my husband on the other side. A young mother and son sat directly behind my daughter and I. They weren’t but two feet away, and when the little boy turned around, I could see his baby blue eyes. He was probably four.
A minute or so after we sat down, I heard the mother scold her son quite loudly. Now, I am not one to judge other parents. Believe me, we are all doing the best we can. My first thought at hearing this was sympathy for her. I know that kind of frustration well.
My daughter tuned into the woman’s harsh tone immediately.
Five minutes passed and the woman had now scolded the little boy for turning around, spilling food, grabbing food, and talking. Throughout it all, I never heard the boy’s voice. The first time I heard him ‘speak’ was through his cry.
That’s when my daughter let me know that he was crying.
Ten minutes passed and the mother took him to the restroom. On their way back, she was pulling him by the arm and he was crying again. They sat back down and things continued just as before.
My daughter was fixated on the toxic exchange between them. She doesn’t know enough not to stare, so she did. Blatantly. “Hey honey, let’s color. Hey honey, do you want some pizza? Do you want to play with my phone?”
Nothing could take her attention away from this mother and son dynamic. Each time he cried, my daughter would let me know. She alerted me three times in 15 minutes.
At this point, every time the mother spoke harshly, I made passive-aggressive loud sighs and whiplash head turns. She was unfazed. I looked around to see if anyone else was witnessing this scene, just to make sure I wasn’t being, you know, too sensitive.
I struggled with this mightily. I didn’t want to judge this mother. I know what exasperation and frustration feel like with toddlers in public. I have yelled, too. But there was something sadistic in her berating of this little boy. He couldn’t do anything to please her and he knew it.
When the little boy turned around in his chair, my daughter looked straight at him and yelled, “Hey, you turn around!” She said it just like his mother had done minutes before. I was shocked!
I turned to my daughter and said, “No, no honey. You don’t talk to people like that. His mommy is talking to him…” I paused, and then said a little louder, “…and I don’t like the way she is because it’s not nice.”
I cringed a little inside. I was nervous to have said something so judgmental so loud.
“But he needs to turn around,” my daughter insisted.
“No honey, he doesn’t. He’s okay. I don’t like that his mommy is talking to him like that and we don’t talk like that, do you hear me?” I said it in a whisper this time. My daughter looked confused.
We resumed eating. The mother resumed berating.
When moments like this happen, a little voice creeps into my head. The voice placed there by my mother in response to a seething hatred of injustice. A phrase started repeating in my ears. The same phrase that always comes up when something feels hard, but somehow right.
Be the change. Be the person you are trying to teach her how to be. Be the change.
The next time she admonished her son I turned around and said, “Excuse me, but can you be a little nicer to him? My daughter is mimicking you.” I was doing my best to squelch the anger I was feeling inside. Somewhat shocked, she gave me an awkward half-smile and said in a shaky voice, ”Umm…okay.”
For the next five minutes she was nice to him. She changed her tone. She didn’t yell or insult him and he didn’t cry. It was an uncomfortable five minutes for me and my husband because I had just confronted a stranger and my husband didn’t agree with me on that. We tried to act nonchalant and barely spoke.
I don’t know if I what I did was right. I don’t know if there was any one right thing to do. I do know, however, that I wanted my daughter to see me stand up for that boy because children will do what you do, not what you say. I wanted my daughter to know that it was NOT okay to talk to anyone like that, even if it was his own mommy doing the talking. I wanted her to see me say something because all it takes for evil to persist is for good people to do nothing. Now, I’m NOT saying that this mother was evil per se, just that she wasn’t doing right by her son in that moment.
That much I know.
Looking back on that day, it was not my daughter that I worried about, it was that little boy. He’s just a boy with bright, baby blue eyes and too many confusing things to figure out in his world. I wanted him to hear someone, say something.
If there is one thing I dislike even more than embarrassing myself in public, it is regret over what I could have done, should have done, but did not. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but I do know that I don’t regret it.
Speak up or keep your feeling to yourself? Does it matter? What would YOU have done?
Shannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber turned writer and stay-at-home mother living near Seattle. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues at Shannon Lell.