Monday, February 18, 2013

I Should Have Stood Up For Love...

To the lady at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden today:

Hi there.

You and I were at the Aquarium at the same time today.  I was there with my husband and two boys.  You were there with three boys - and a baby in a car seat.  We seemed to be on the same tour as we meandered around the aquarium.  Except I think our children had vastly different experiences.
You see, I have a son with special needs.  I took a chance and decided that Gavin would walk as much as possible today.  It was so crowded and kids were running everywhere - but Gavin, who is really just learning to walk at five years old, really held his own.  Sure it held us up - but from what?  We brought the kids to the aquarium to have a fun morning and we certainly weren't in a hurry!  Plus, Gavin walking is such a huge accomplishment as it is.  It's amazing that he walked amongst the overwhelming crowds for such a long time.  I hope you noticed how encouraging we were towards Gavin and how even his little brother would frequently pipe in with a, "Good job, Gavin!"  

Words matter.
Meanwhile, it was hard not to notice you.  You seemed to isolate your wrath on just one of your sons who looked not a day over seven.  The first time I heard you, your son was lagging behind your family.  

"COME ON!  HURRY UP!!  WHAT? ARE YOU SLOW?  CAN...YOU...NOT...UNDERSTAND...ME??!!??"  

I hurried Brian along and hoped that he didn't hear you.

Lately, Brian has been obsessed with snacks.  He tested me at every corner with "When are the snacks, Mama?"  "Is this when we have our snack, Mama?"  "Is it time for a snack, Mama"  "I'm hungrrrryyyyy, Mama!!!"  It got a little irritating, but I came up with a compromise.  I wasn't going to fight with him to "STOP ASKING ME FOR A SNACK!"  It wasn't important to me.  I hope you noticed that I picked my battle.  

Patience matters.
Meanwhile, you were having your own battle.  We were in the same place at the same time again.  Ironically, at the shark exhibit.  As I stood with my sons, watching the sharks circle above us... it was hard not to notice the sharks circling your son.  You were berating him for his shoe being untied.  

"GET DOWN THERE AND TIE YOUR SHOE."  
I glanced over several times to see his huddled body kneeling on the floor trying hard to tie the laces while your eyes - and the eyes of his brothers - pierced his rounded back. 

"WHY CAN'T YOU DO IT?"  "YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT, STUPID!"  

At this point, Brian caught on to the angry energy and caught my eye.  I just smiled and said, "Look at the sharp teeth on that shark up there!"  When I really wanted to say, "Hear the sharp words from that angry lady over there?" as loud as I could.  

I felt the urge to say something to you.  But I didn't.  And as I heard whispers and saw eyes dart your way, I noticed that nobody did anything.  We all minded our business.

It got a little too crowded for us, so we decided to leave.  As the elevator door opened to the lobby, my heart sank.  There you were, sitting on a bench with your family... still yelling at your cowering little boy.  Ed was kind enough to run out to the car on this frigid day and warm it up for us... which meant that you and I were across from each other for ten whole minutes.  

"PUT YOUR COAT ON, DAMN IT!"  

Mama, why is she yelling?  I don't know, Brian.  She seems pretty angry, huh?

"Can you help me zip it, Mom?"  I heard your son sheepishly ask you.  

"WHAT???  YOU KNOW HOW TO ZIP YOUR OWN FREAKING COAT.  DO IT.  NOT LIKE THAT!  YOU'RE GOING TO RIP IT!  I SWEAR TO FREAKING GOD, IF YOU BREAK THAT ZIPPER OR RIP THAT COAT YOU WILL NOT GET ANOTHER COAT I DON'T CARE HOW COLD IT IS. YOU ARE SO STUPID.  STOP CRYING! STOP IT! I'LL GIVE YOU A REASON TO CRY, DUMB ASS."  

As your other boys giggled at their brother getting pummeled with insults, one of them spoke up and asked, "Want me to zip it for him, Mom?"  

"NO! THE CRY BABY KNOWS HOW TO ZIP HIS FREAKING COAT - NO ONE HELPS HIM."  

I stood there frozen with my back to you - staring at my two boys.  I know what it's like to feel impatient.  It happens to the best of us!  And I'm surely not perfect and don't have any "Mom Awards." But as I looked at Gavin and Brian, and saw Brian's eyes as he heard you yelling... I wanted to cry.

I turned around towards you.

I stared.  And I stared.  I was beaming energy your way and praying that you would look up at me.  But if you did - what would I do?  I wanted to show you a compassionate smile.  It would have meant, "I can see you're struggling, friend.  I don't know what's going on in your life that is so bad, but I'm sorry.  I hope you can stop taking out your anger on your beautiful son."  But I was afraid you'd misinterpret my look of compassion as collusion.  I didn't want you looking back thinking, "Yeah - see what I have to deal with?  This stupid kid??"



I continued to stare.  And stare.  What if you looked up and I shot you a look that clearly said: "What the hell, lady???" Would you get it?  Would that "check you" enough to stop yelling at him?  Or would you jump over your baby's car seat and try to punch me?


At this point, I realized I had to address this with my sons.  I leaned down and loudly said to them, "Boys, I promise you - I will never talk down to you.  I will always respect you as people.  And I will never, ever shame you... in public OR in private."  As I lifted my head, I caught the eyes of an old man sitting on a nearby bench.  He gave me a nod as if to say, "Well done."

Did I think my two little boys, only four and five, would understand what I was saying?  Not really.  But it was my promise to them, nonetheless.  And if they don't understand my words, they will surely feel that I respect them through my actions.

It's possible you are really struggling.  Maybe you have depression or mental illness.  Maybe your husband just left.  Maybe your house just burned down.  I thought of a thousand different scenarios in my head until I realized... nothing would justify your behavior.  Nothing.  

And it became clear to me that you were not new to this rodeo called abuse.  This child was not a stranger to shame, either.  If I had to take a guess, I bet you were treated that way as a child.  And I'm so, very sorry if I am right about that.

But ma'am, as much as you feel "in control" when you put that little boy with the sandy hair and untied shoe in his place... you are actually the exact opposite.  And as much as you think your other sons aren't paying attention... I can assure you, they are.  Every one of your four children will learn how to love, how to respect, how to make healthy choices and how to handle stress... from you.  You can be the one to break what is probably a generations long cycle.  That would be the most powerful thing you'd ever do in your lifetime.

Words matter.  Patience matters.  Changing matters.  
YOU matter.

I feel a tremendous amount of remorse for not stepping in.  And as I shared awkward glances with others around us that heard your stinging words, I know I'm not alone.  I should have stood up for your boy.  I should have stood up to you.  I should have told you it's possible to love yourself.  

I should have stood up for love.

(Please consider voting for my blog? I am hoping increased exposure might give us a lead on a diagnosis for Gavin!  You never know, right?!?  And check out the blog I vote for in the category "Blog Most Likely To Have You Achieve A Personal Goal - The Orange Rhino - which is devoted to not yelling at your children!  Very apropos to today's post!)
Parents Blog Award Finalist





27 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I think I was that parent today (not at the Aquarium, instead I snapped at my kids at Target). Yes, I had had a bad day, but that doesn't excuse it. Instead of being grateful to be away from all the stress of work, I let it out on my kids.

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  2. Wow. When I read this, my first instinct was to be angry with you. How dare you judge this Mom? You don't know what she's going through or how bad that kid is! But after thinking about it and re-reading it and seeing you had compassion for her as well, I realized I was angry because I am her. I'm not really her (I live across the country from New Jersey) but you could have been describing me. I go to bed every night feeling guilty. I have definitely insulted my kids, yelled at them in public and even embarassed them on purpose in front of people. The same thing was done to me by my Mom and Dad. It's the way I was raised. When I read your blog and see how much you love your boys and how you let them know how loved they are even at their young age, I want to be like that. But every day when I'm yelling again I worry that I don't know how to be that way. I don't want to raise my children to be like me. This entery today has inspired me to try to change. Thank you for being brave enough to write this.

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    1. I'm glad it inspired you to try! There's a great blog that I discovered recently through this Parents Magazine Blog Competition that you may want to check out. It's called the Orange Rhino Challenge. :-)

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  3. Thank YOU for writing on this subject! I was that child, i was the child who could do nothing right, who was abused physically and emotionally. I was the one so afraid of love, and later of having kids....so afraid i would screw up, or worse yet screw them up.....
    Being raised the way i was, has made me into the wife and mother i am today, I vowed all my life i would NEVER allow my children to hate me the way i did my parents, I vowed i would NEVER allow anyone to hurt my kids, the way i was hurt. & i have stuck by that vow.
    My husband showed me being loved is wonderful and doesn't hurt.....
    My husband and i have shown our kids that together.

    Do not be hard on yourself for not speaking up....You spoke up later...if you had said anything there and then, that kid would most likely have paid for it later...I pray he finds and knows love at some point in his life, like i did. That is a very hard life to live, just how hard doesn't even hit you until later in life.

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    1. I am so sorry you dealt with this growing up. When I watched the little boy cower - and worse, as I watched his brothers laugh along at him - it broke my heart. Your kids are so lucky that you have risen above your childhood pain and are using that to be the loving parent you always wanted for yourself!!! Thanks for sharing your story with us. xo

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  4. I read this posting and I want to tell you to get out of your high horse. The fact that you started by mentioning your special needs kid makes me what to tell you that just because you have a special needs kid doesn´t mean that you have cornered the market of suffering. You have no idea what that lady is going through. She could have been sick, her husband could have just left her, she could be anxious for some reason. She could just be having a tough time. I know because in my house we went through a bad difficult year and when things got tougher the quicker the kids got to my nerves. And I have yelled at them to hurry up, and I have not care if I am with them in public, but the last thing I sure needed is a person that clearly has no problems, like rent, or paying for bills or legal issues over her head, judging. But the one thing I know, and my kids know, is that I love them. I love them as much as you love Gavin and Brian. But some days are just not as easy as others and I make sure my kids know that.

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    1. I'm sorry you feel I'm on a high horse. I mentioned Gavin's special needs for a reason. Two reasons, actually. I wanted to show the parallels - Gavin was struggling physically with walking and he had a family that was encouraging and positive as he walked through the aquarium. Then there was this little boy who was obviously having some physical issues - he had a hard time tying his shoes, zipping his coat, etc. - yet his Mom (and his brothers) called him names and made him feel awful for his weaknesses. The other reason I mentioned it? Because I wanted to show anyone who is new here that Gavin WALKED through the aquarium despite his physical disabilities. If you're new here (welcome), you should know what a HUGE miracle it is that this happened. And you know what - that was the furthest he's ever walked in one stretch. We were so proud of him.

      I did mention the thoughts that ran through my mind - things that she might be going through that would cause her to act out like this. And if you think I don't have problems- you are definitely, 100% wrong. We have had a lot of hardship, a tragedy or two and stress that seemed insurmountable. But if it means I am on a high horse by saying that despite what I may be going through, I would never call my child a "dumb ass" or a "cry baby" in a loud, angry voice in public or private - then I am guilty as charged.

      I am sure that you love your children... and I'm truly sorry for whatever it was that you went through. I'm not sure why you were so quick to anger about my post, but I certainly was not judging people who "yell" at their kids. I was hoping to reach the obviously struggling Mom (or Dad) who verbally abuses their kids. There really is a very big difference.

      Thank you for your comment.

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    2. omg - why would you even take a second to explain yourself. first off - i get it people yell at other people and their children but to make an excuse for it is so annoying to me. you know what - i have lost it occasionally on my kids but i very quickly apologize because there is NEVER an excuse that could justify yelling at anyone!!! that is the absolute worst form of communication and it only teaches your kids that it is okay to talk to people in that way.

      also - you have every reason to have a different perspective BECAUSE you have a special needs child! whoever would think differently needs a reality check.

      BOO to that poster...Don't waste a second thinking about his/her ignorance. Life if NEVER about "who has it worse!" that is crazy. Everyone has their own situations - it's how you deal with those situations that makes you capable or incapable and taking your bag of junk of on your children is awful - I don't care what anyone says!....and I've had my own "bag of junk" and DO NOT take it out on my children - they do not deserve that. Guess I'm on my "high horse" and you know what - it's a great place to be!!!

      Amy from NH

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    3. Wow - you are really defending a woman who called her child a "dumbass and stupid". I am tired of people saying maybe this woman had problems or is having a bad day - it does not matter you do not talk to a child like that in public or at home. I often tell me daughter to hurry up, but no matter how bad my day is she is not going to be called stupid. When she has trouble with her coat she will be encouraged to try again and not called a "cry baby". I feel sorry for you that you would ever think it is okay to speak to a child that way. Kate - I do not think it wrong to not say anything - you may have made her mood worse - and she would have just taken it out on him more. I highly doubt speaking to her would suddenly make her see the error of her ways.

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  5. great post. i try very, very hard to keep things in perspective every single day (I lost my mother after a 5 year battle with cancer at 30 and I also watched her struggle with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis since I was 14....yeah - you can only assume I learned a little bit of "life perspective" at an early age).

    whenever i see injustice i tend to call it out. i probably would have flipped my lid. sometimes i feel like if no one ever says anything - no one will ever change but at the same time - you have to think of your own safety! there is a balance.

    you probably handled the situation really well focusing your energy on your boys. well done!

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  6. I can't help but speak up here...since when is the thought of defending a child considered being on a high horse?? Would I have said something to that parent-no probably not, but would I have come home and felt like Kate did-absolutely!!! My reasons for not saying anything...fear! Which is really sad...if I was afraid of this woman just imagine what that poor child feels. But would saying something really do anything...in most cases no, and chances are the child would have suffered yet more of the wrath of her frustrations later. But yet then I think about the stories we hear about the child who died at the hands of an abuser and the family/neighbors all come forward saying the suspected but were to afraid to say something-and now it is to late! Our society has become a sad place when we can't protect those who cannot protect themselves.

    I can't help but wonder why it seems this one child was singled out? And having a bad day, a bad break up, money problems, or any other issues/stressors really is no justification for abusing a child!! Where do you draw the line...a bad break up is an excuse to yell at a child...job loss, maybe then its ok to call them stupid, publicy shame them? Really?! If things were really that bad...why take the kids out to the aquarium in the 1st place ?? Nobody is perfect...I get that, but if no one shows us how to do better-we never will. And to the commentor who thinks Kate "suffers" with a special needs child...you obvioulsy need to read her blog again-I have never seen a parent celebrate and support a child to the extent that I see here. Kate may suffer from many things, but having a special needs child is NOT one of them!!

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  7. Hi Kate, First of all thank you for posting this. It is so sad when someone is verbally abusive and there's no excuse for it. I certainly hope this woman gets the help she needs so that her child/family can eventually lead a happy, healthy life.

    Secondly, I don't think the person who made the comment above meant to offend you. It's just that, in comparison to most people today, you do seem to live a relatively privileged life. I actually have never heard of anyone (barring the very rich) who has stayed at home with her children AND employed a full-time nanny at the same time. Not everyone is so lucky.

    Some people have to worry about paying bills, working outside the home, and taking care of their own children by themselves. Not everyone lives a life as blessed as yours...in fact hardly anyone does.

    That being said, every child deserves kindness and respect and I am glad you brought attention to this situation.

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    1. Hi Anonymous,

      First of all, I am pretty confident that the commenter meant to offend me. The tip off was when she told me to get "out" my high horse.

      Second of all, I think it would be unwise to assume you know everything about my "privileged life." You don't know anything, really. You don't know the reasons behind why we do things and it's, quite frankly, completely irrelevant to this conversation. I'm not sure why I was even brought into this.

      And finally - bringing me into this, as if I have no right to say anything about witnessing child abuse because I have such a "blessed and privileged life" is a bunch of bullshit. Abuse can happen to anyone. It happens in rich families - and poor families - it happens in gay families - and in straight families - it happens in black families - and asian families - and white families - and catholic families - and jewish families - and on, and on, and on. Not everyone is so lucky, you are right. No one is immune to being an abuser...or being abused.

      You are right - that every child deserves kindness and respect. And you know what? So does every adult.

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    2. HELL YES. Sending you love in your time of need, Kate. xoxo

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  8. OMG, I can't believe I found your post by accident. I was at the Aquarium on Monday and I know EXACTLY the lady you're writing about. I was looking on Twitter to see if anyone was tweeting about the aquarium that day and in particular about that family. That is how I found your post and I'm so glad I did. When I opened your blog and read this, I showed it to my husband and he said he remembers you. He said the two of you exchanged worried glances down by the exit outside if the elevator. You were kind in describing this woman. And, for those who seem to be bashing you as a rich lady who lives the high life, they should know two things. One, this woman seemed very rich. She had designer everything and a very expensive stroller. And two, she was extremely abusive to that little boy. It made my husband cringe. He is still kicking himself for not stepping in. No one stepped in. I feel as bad as you.

    I don't know you at all, but I would have no idea why anyone would bash YOU after reading this. You couldn't have been nicer to this wicked woman. I am a nice person, but I have no compassion for anyone who treats a child the way she did. It doesn't matter WHAT she's going through. It's not the kids fault she's a bitch. We wanted to scoop him up and bring him home with us.

    So to the commenters who really have no idea what they are talking about - I WAS THERE. YOU WERE NOT. The way I see it - if you are feeling defensive about what is written here, maybe it's because it describes a part of yourself that you're ashamed of. Don't take it out on the writer.

    Christine from NJ

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    1. I'm so happy to hear from someone who was there and witnessed what I did. I feel so validated! If you see this, would you email me privately?

      Ironically, I just received an email from the Aquarium asking me for feedback on our visit. Well....it was wonderful and lovely and great except for the horrible pit in my stomach and terrible anxiety I felt for that family. :-(

      Thank you so much for writing - I'm so glad you found me!!!

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    2. This is a wonderful post. I am so happy that someone validated this story! No matter what anyone is going through there is NEVER an excuse for treating any human being in that manner. Struggles in any form do NOT justify abuse.

      Kate - thank you for speaking up about this!

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  9. I've been reading your blog for awhile now and I enjoy your posts and admire your attitude given all that you've been through. Your family is gorgeous. But this is the first post you've ever written that has rubbed me up the wrong way. Going by the comments, I think your tone in the post could be misconstrued as condescending. I"m pretty sure this was not your intention, but it does come across a little as so. I am by no means defending the mother and I am sure if I had been an observer, I would have been staring in shock too.

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    1. Thank you for your nice words and for being a long time reader! I apologize if this seemed condescending to you. It definitely wasn't my intention. Each time I heard that woman throughout the aquarium, I had terrible anxiety. "Should I say something? Maybe she'll stop. Why isn't anyone stepping in?" Then, when we were across from each other my emotions were all over the place. My first instinct was to help her. Ask her if she was ok. Maybe it's condescending to assume anyone needs help from anyone else, I don't know. It's just what I felt. Then I felt anger towards her. And anger that my kids heard it. And anger that this little boy was getting wrecked by words. The whole way through the aquarium...the whole way home...the whole night...it's all I thought about. The only thing I know to do when I feel this way is write. So I did. And now I'm feeling anxiety because I'm pissing people off and rubbing them the wrong way...I get so nervous now whenever I see a "new comment" come through. I think the funny thing about writing is that there are always several interpretations. To be honest, if the actual woman had looked over at me and I could see in her eyes that she was struggling, I would have walked over. Or if she saw this post and emailed me, I would try to help her if I could. Who am I to say that? Why would anyone need help from me? Well, why would anyone need help from anyone. We're all in this crazy life together. I feel tremendous guilt for not sticking up for that little boy. I hope that shines through this post more than anything else. Because that's what I truly felt.

      That was totally rambly, I know. I'm so anxious right now!!
      Xo

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  10. Kate- You know I love you and am a long time reader- but even if I were not both of those things- if I were reading you for the first time- I could totally feel your anxiety and even your empathy over this situation and for this mom. Anyone who chooses to read it differently needs to look deep inside their own lives and maybe do some evaluating!!
    That being said- I DID step in one time in a situation very similar to this. I watched a mother yell, smack the hand of, and berate a very small child ( maybe 15-18 months old) at a large super store one evening- After following them up and down 4 or 5 aisles I could no longer take it. I tried to be understanding, sympathetic and kind in my approach to this young mother. However she turned on me with such hatred and venom that I worried for months really that she had taken it out on that sweet baby later because if my gentle observations. Before it was over I did threaten to call the police and I DID notify store employees.
    I will never know if my stepping in made it worse or better but to me in the moment- it seemed to make her even angrier.
    I said all this to say- We never know what is the right way to handle things sometimes. We do the best we can in the moment ( and you had your own sweet boys to protect) but you writing this post? I KNOW it has opened so many more peoples eyes and I hope will make each of think before we speak to our own precious children ~
    Keep writing the truth Kate... we all need to hear it ♥
    Kristi

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  11. Thank you........

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  12. I have no words for the utter heartbreak I feel for this poor, sweet little boy. I just has close the door to my office because I practically started sobbing. I have had those days where my patience with my own, sweet little 5 year old boy is short, and I lose my temper. Granted I don't go to the lengths this woman went, but those days when I do lose my patience or I am not as loving and kind with my PRECIOUS, precious gift of a child as I should be are the days I feel the worst about myself. I don't know what I would have done in your shoes. My husband would probably would remind me it is not my place to step in, and I probably would worry that he would catch more of her rath later. I also don't know that I could have kept my mouth closed either. My heart just absolutely aches right now. I told my husband the other day (after he was really ugly with our boy) that we need to remember that he will encounter unkindness in his lifetime, and that he should never have to experience it from us. I'm not perfect, and I'm sure there are times when I will lose my patience and act ugly, but I make an effort every single day to remember my son is a gift, and his precious little soul needs loving kindness from his momma, nothing less than that will do. I would give anything to hug my baby right now, and I would give anything to hug and show that poor little boy love too.

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  14. Kate, I followed the link from the Parents blog competition, and the first impression I had of your blog was this aquarium post. I chose to follow other blogs that I discovered that day, however, all of the other blogs that I followed were craft oriented. Yours was the only "life" blog that I followed. Your words really touched me. My children have both mentioned to me recently how scary they find my anger. I don't hit, and I don't call names, but I do get really angry (menopausal craziness!). I told myself I was not doing any damage, but when I read the part about them learning how to handle stress from their parents, it really hit home. My father was an anger junkie and I can remember how it affected me. You have reminded me and inspired me to do a better job. I have been honest with them about the menopausal train wreck, but for everyday issues, I WILL be better. Thank You, and I look forward to reading more of your blog.

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    1. Hi Andrea,
      Thank you for your note! I'm glad the post touched you - and I hope you stick around! I took a lot of heat for that post which really took me by surprise. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I have no right to preach any kind of parenting method to anyone... I was just expressing my feelings about what I saw. What I saw filled me with such anxiety while it was happening and for over a day later. I HAD to write about it for my own sanity. It still haunts me that I didn't stick up for that little boy. He wasn't just getting yelled at. He was shamed and insulted and just verbally assaulted. I was worried about my own kids witnessing it - I can only imagine how this little boy felt.
      I'm really glad it inspired you. I love when I find inspiration! Mostly, I am inspired by my readers and people like you that are so kind and brave to comment. There was another great blog in the competition - The Orange Rhino. It's all about challenging yourself not to yell at your kids. Lots of my readers have headed over there to "take the rhino challenge" and said it's great!
      Thanks again, so much, for writing...

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  15. Kate I myself am a mother to a special needs child. She has cerebral palsy and uses a walker. We often push her to practice walking instead of riding in a shopping cart or wheelchair. It requires an extreme amount of patience as it can be very slow going for us, I have a hard time with people that rush and look at Chloe as though she is a nuisance in their way and nothing more. Thank you for writing this blog it's lovely and that woman needs to realize as Dr. Suess writes "A person's a person no matter how small" our children deserve the same respect we would show to a fellow adult :)

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  16. Wow. I don't know how I stumbled upon this post, but it really touched me. I have a child who suffered from the same fine-motor issues that this little boy seems to deal with. Instead of being of any assistance, my child's Kindergarten teacher yelled at him, put him down, and humiliated him. Although he excelled academically, I honestly think that woman hated my kid because had had fine-moter issues. When I politely asked for an occupational therapy evaluation, I was shot down and told that my child had to be classified as a "special needs" or else no services would be available to him. I am still wondering what my tax dollars pay for.

    Fortunately, my child is kind and forgiving. But, I will NEVER forgive that woman.

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