Toy Section

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.

chocolate drool

How about a funny picture to lighten things up? How about some post-dessert chocolate drool from my sweet mess of a boy?


15 thoughts on “Toy Section

  1. I most definitely would not have confronted him. I’m a coward like that. I might have said, “Excuse me?” or “Could you please calm down? You’re scaring my kids” from the safety of being an aisle away.

  2. I probably would have run. I maybe, maybe, would have gotten a security guard. My heart would want to help the little boy, though.

  3. Ugh…I am sorry you all had to experience that. I can’t say that what I would have done would have been better or right, and I agree with you that I would not have approached him directly, but I probably would have found a Target manager and had them deal with it. The fact is that he was having a negative impact on your shopping experience, so he shouldn’t have been in the store. But that is the short term part–the longer term part is, what happens to the kid when they’re not all in public? It can’t be good. Speaking to a kid like that seems to call for social services to at least be alerted, but then what? Would they remove a kid like that from his house? Probably not. The foster care system is certainly riddled with problems of its own. Maybe if I had been alone, I would have watched the person go out to their car and gotten a plate and reported it, at least to local police. Is there a way to trace a plate and get an address? If alone, I might have written and sent a letter to the dad explaining my concerns for the kid. Or maybe post a craigslist rant or something–you never know, sometimes someone could see it and know who the family is and help out in some small way. But you had the kids there, so you made what I think is the best choice, given the situation–you modeled the flight response well. There’s a reason we have that; it can keep us (and our kids) safe.

  4. Get the store team leader and complain. If the idiot is ruining your shopping experience……..confronting him might have made life worse for the kid or mom

    • After working at WFM I tend not to complain to management unless a team member has provided unacceptable customer service. Had the same thought about making it worse for the kid, though. I mean really, this was just an uncomfortable moment in my day. It is that kid’s life.

  5. I might have called for a sales clerk. The store has some responsibility for unruly patrons. It seems like tattling, but the idea is to enlist the help of others to keep kids safe, including yours.

  6. This is a hard one. If you confront the family you run the risk of meddling with another family. The father could then turn on you and threaten you or your family. Sometimes when you see something like this you may not see the entire picture. You also never want to see a child harmed emotionally or physically. I have no answer, I just know I would have had the same reaction as you.

    • I agree that you never really know what is going on inside a family. But I also sincerely believe it is never ok to yell obscenities with complete loss of control at a three year old. No matter what the entire picture is.

  7. I think you did the right thing to move your kids away and not confront an angry stranger. I’m not sure that a store employee would have been any help, to you or to that poor child. You could still use this as a short teaching moment with T, asking if he remembers the incident and how he felt, and noting that if he encounters a scary adult sometimes the best defense is to quietly keep your distance and not provoke unwanted attention.

  8. Talk to your kids about empathy. Share your empathy with them. You are so amazingly aware. It’s terrifying to watch a child be mistreated, and talking to the parents wouldn’t help the child.

    • You are right. And the boys need to know. They need to know how incredibly privileged they are. I know I’ve also been ridiculously privileged. It’s hard to explain that kids are mistreated in this world when that fact is still so horrifying and unbelievable to me….

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