I was out doing some birthday shopping for the little ones tonight, after I tucked them all into bed, and I got a chance to observe a few of the ignorant and abusive parents that seem to make up a majority of the general public. A couple of times, I walked away feeling uncomfortable, anxious, and sad because of what I witnessed. I know that there are good people out there, and good parents, and that there are even a few good people out there who also happen to be good parents. But oftentimes, I see a lot of selfish, ignorant, rude parents showing glimpses of their private lives in public.
I've noticed that there seems to be a connection between the lateness of the hour and the general shittiness of the parents. As it gets later in the day, the parenting skills of the parents seen out in public seem to plummet. Tonight, that was one of the first things I thought about as I got to the store at 7:00 PM: that some abusive parents keep their kids up really, really late. Why? Because they are ignorant and choose not to pay heed to all the relevant studies and doctor's suggestions that children need a lot of sleep. Because they don't care that their children are overtired. Because they don't realize that tired children make cranky children. Because they want to shop or eat or bowl, damn it, and their immediate wants or needs take precedence over those of their child's. Because of one or several of these reasons, tonight I saw three different parents out with their young children WAY beyond the time that those children should have been awake.
For the record, I'm not talking about the occasional instances when we keep our kids up late; and I'm not saying that every parent who maintains a late bedtime routine is necessarily abusive. But given what I know about parenting, my personal experience with children, and my skills of observation, I can usually tell when the incidents I'm witnessing are a way of life for that family, and when they are unusual; and it's also pretty easy to tell which of those parents are abusive and which are not. We all keep our kids up late from time to time. We all lose our patience with them and yell when we shouldn't on occasion. We all have moments where we think to ourselves, "I feel terrible that she's upset because she can't have that toy and she doesn't want to go to bed, maybe she can stay up just a little longer to play" What I'm talking about is more extreme than that. But it can also be very subtle.
Some of the things I saw tonight shook me deeply. Others didn't bother me as deeply. But they all got to me on some level.
Parent 1: As I was walking into the store a little after 7 PM, I saw a little girl who was probably about two or three years old. She was cute, but having a temper tantrum and I gave an understanding smile to both the little girl and the mom as I passed, sort of to acknowledge that I knew what they were both going through. I gave this mom a pass at first, hoping that maybe she was just finishing up shopping and was heading home to get her little girl (and an older boy) to bed. But as I walked past them, my heart sunk. The mother was yelling at the crying girl, in a tone that was sickeningly disgusted, "Sit down! Get down right now, you hear me? I SAID SIT DOWN!" The little girl was wailing, and I felt awful. She was miserable and it was obvious. Probably over-tired and likely lacking in communication skills, she obviously couldn't cope with her exhaustion or her mother's anger. She just kept crying. And the mother grabbed her by the arms and pushed her down into the grocery cart rather forcefully. I don't think the little girl was physically hurt, the mother didn't seem to have grabbed her that hard, but it wasn't gentle and it certainly didn't show any empathy or understanding. I swear, walking past, my heart just sunk into my feet. I had been in a good mood walking in, and in a matter of seconds, I felt like the wind had been taken out of my sails. I had a brief moment of wishing their was something I could do, but then realizing there wasn't much. I realized that if I could, I'd rescue ALL the children I came across who needed it - whether what they needed was a safe home, or all they needed was a hug, I would do it if I could. I feel like, if only that mother had known (and cared) that what her little girl needed most of all was some understanding, some compassion, some rules, and some god damned sleep, then everyone would be better off. But that's just not what happens, is it?
Parent 2: Closer to 9 PM, I saw a young woman with her son, who looked to be about five years old. Older children have a slightly higher tolerance for later bedtimes then younger children do, which could be why he was doing okay when they first entered the store, but his behavior took a turn for the worse by the time they got in the check out line. And again, my heart went out to him, even though, to the general public, HE would probably have been to blame, instead of his "poor" mommy. And this is what I saw - once again, an over-tired, spoiled child with no self-regulatory skills or knowledge of boundaries. They got in the checkout line behind me and I was absolutely sickened by the woman, who kept whining at him in a nasally voice to be quiet and stop complaining. While he cried and carried on about a toy he wanted and she paid for the one she was currently buying him, she said things like, "Everyone always tells me I'm crazy for buying you a new toy every day. A new toy everyday!" and "Do you want a new toy everyday? Do you get a new toy everyday?" The poor kid just kept crying and wailing and saying, 'yes!' and then he'd add something about the OTHER toy he wanted, either in addition to or instead of the one she was paying for. And the stupid cunt didn't get it at all: that what the kid needed was some fucking sleep, and some fucking rules, and a mother who would stop buying him material shit and start offering him true love, by way of positive attention and social skills and emotional support. The kid didn't need a new fucking toy. He needed a new fucking mother.
Parent 3: I guess I'll end on a "better" note. The third asshole I witnessed was a guy out with his three or four year old son at 11 PM. Other than keeping the kid up WAY too late and having the general appearance of a moron, this ignorant father didn't seem to be doing any other damage. But I was pretty fucking pissed that his kid was still up at 11 PM. Like dude, take a fucking parenting class. His child was the third one I saw tonight who was miserable and crying, probably due entirely to the fact that he was exhausted. It reminded me of the time last year when DH and I went bowling with my brother and best friend and saw a young mother there with her three young children, ages (roughly) one, five, and seven. We were bowling at midnight. So were they. And we left before them. I left there thinking to myself that anyone who does that to their kids on more than just rare special occasions (fireworks in the street in the middle of the night on the fourth of July, Halloween, a campfire in the summer, etc) is probably abusive, and that, at least for that woman, the fact that she took her kids bowling at midnight, on a school night no less, was indicative of how they lived life everyday.
Man, fuck that shit. There are too many children out there who need a Jonsi and not nearly enough Jonsis to go around. I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't see myself as being this perfect, angelic, always does the right thing parent. But I do think I'm more compassionate than the ones I've seen tonight, and I think those children could have used some of that. My heart aches for them.