We were at Target and had some time to kill while the pharmacy filled a prescription. Naturally T asked to go to the toy section. As we walked to the aisle with the Transformers I noticed the family already there. The father was a mountain of a man, physically intimidating. The mother was his opposite, a tiny slip of a woman with a hard face. Not kind judgements, but I’m trying to tell this story honestly. There was a baby in the shopping cart and a boy between the age of my kids walking around. The boy was being downright nasty to his parents and the Dad was getting angry. Frankly, the Dad was scaring me a little.
I turned the cart and headed for the lego aisle instead. The family made me uneasy. Again, not very kind. I was making a snap judgement, an unfair judgement, a judgement I try to prevent T from making when he looks at strangers.
The boys were having a blast looking at the Star Wars legos. I was having a pretty big internal struggle over avoiding the other family. The kid and the Dad were audibly bickering, but suddenly the father erupted. His shouting was so violent that my heart started pounding and I had goosebumps on my arms. “I AM SICK OF YOUR FUCKING SHIT. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT.”
T looked at me questioningly. I was frozen to the spot. I wasn’t a little scared anymore, I was terrified. If this man would talk to his three year old that way he might rip the head off a stranger who suggested he should tone it down.
T knew something was wrong, he looked at me for help and all I could do was stare blankly at him.
Listen, I know on this blog I swear like a sailor. But the truth is I try not to swear in front of the kids. I nag Z not to swear in front of them either. It isn’t cute to me when a kid says fuck or shit. Call me old fashioned, call me a raging hypocrite, but I don’t want my kids talking like that. And I try not to swear in anger. I try not to yell, “Fuck you!” at Z when we fight. To me swear words are fun, screaming them at someone equals loss of control loss and poisonous vitriol. I certainly have gone there in my life, more than I’d care to admit, but over the last nearly 16 years I’ve been with Z I try my damndest not to.
The poor kid being yelled at. I felt sick for him. What three year old deserves to be spoken to that way? Of course he was being a brat when I saw him earlier. He was clearly modeling behavior.
Z and I yell at the boys. Lately T has gotten a bit mouthy with me. Is it because I yell at him? Am I creating a monster? How different am I from that Dad? Is it just a slippery slope? How can I judge that man when I engage in a toned down version of the same behavior? Do I think I’m a better parent because I don’t yell in public or swear or lose total control? Is he actually more honest than I am?
The yelling stopped and I heard the family move away. I suggested T follow me in the opposite direction as I pushed C in our cart. Eventually we made our way back so T could salivate over his beloved Transformers. But I felt uncomfortable, ashamed, dirty even for the rest of our trip. Should I have spoken up for the poor kid? Who is going to protect him? What should I have said to T? He looked to me for answers and I gave him nothing. How dare I judge the family in the first place? How dare I feel momentarily vindicated in that judgement when the man freaked out?
Smart friends, what would you have done? What do you do when your kid is exposed to behavior you find abhorrent? What should I have done?
The most important task I have as a parent is to teach the boys to be decent humans. Yesterday I felt like a failure, a fraud.
How about a funny picture to lighten things up? How about some post-dessert chocolate drool from my sweet mess of a boy?