So often I have heard people speak abusively to their children in public.
I have always become enraged.
Usually I just glare at the parent.
On occasion I have even said something to the parent, which has always lead to an escalation of their anger.
I could lie to myself and say that I was trying to help, but really I was just angry and trying to make the parent feel bad.
Really, I was just lashing out from my own childhood wounds.
I have had moments, as a parent, where I was later appalled to think what others must have thought of me.
I stopped speaking to publicly abusive parents several years ago, when I realized that nothing I could say was going to make the situation better.
Why would I want to make an angry person angrier?
Wouldn’t they just take it out on their kid?
Still I always left these situations feeling defeated.
I always left feeling like I should have done something.
Saturday, while thrift-store shopping with my daughter and a friend, I heard a baby crying.
As it continued to cry, I heard a woman say to it “SHUT THE FUCK UP OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!!”.
I moved closer to access the situation.
There were two young girls, approximately 20 years old, one was holding the crying baby, while the other, the angry one, had a cart with four little babies in it.
They all seemed very stressed.
Then she said “I will fucking shoot a motherfucker. I have a gun in my purse.”
I watched as the customers around her tensed.
Everyone was afraid.
For a moment I contemplated dialing 9-1-1, but I realized this was an aggressive response based out of my anger at the situation.
I breathed out.
I let the anger go.
It was cliche.
It was an old feeling.
It was just a habit and it had never gotten me anywhere.
Peace took over in the vacuum and I saw this woman clearly and I had love and empathy for her.
I saw this poor little girl, who had undoubtedly never been taught any better.
I saw that she had been duped into becoming a baby machine somehow and he she was, still a child herself and she had all these children and no ability to deal with them.
I quickly walked back to the toy aisle and grabbed several stuffed animals.
I did not grab just any stuffed animals.
I spoke to them.
I said “Hey guys. I need a few volunteers to help me with a very important job.”
A few very special stuffed helpers practically jumped into my arms.
I went back to the front of the store and approached the lady.
“Having a rough day?”
She raised her hand defensively and said “Get the FUCK away from me!”
Speaking very softly I said “I’m sorry. It just seemed like you could use a little help.”
“I swear to god you best get the fuck outta my face, before I go off.”
“I’m sorry. I know you have everything under control. It’s just that I’m a parent and sometimes I could use a little help, so I thought maybe you were struggling like I do sometimes.”
“It’s not the kids. It’s the people.” she said.
“Oh yeah. I know what you mean. I was just telling my friend about how at another thrift store, someone shoved my little girl out of the way so they could get a toy she was looking at. So I know exactly what you mean.”
“It’s ridiculous.” she said.
“It bullshit. And honestly, I got really angry and I wanted to hurt them, so I totally get it. We want to protect our kids. I can tell you are a good mom, but assholes like that aren’t worth setting a bad example in front of our kids over. I can tell you already know that and I watched you exercise control over yourself, so I know you have it all together and I’m sorry to bother you. You just reminded me so much of myself that I felt compelled to help. Sorry to bother you.”
“No. You’re cool.” she said, and her face and voice softened so much that she looked like a completely different person “I’m sorry I was mean to you.”
“You weren’t mean. You were just like this little guy here.” I smiled to the baby who had stopped crying. “You were just overwhelmed.”
“You’re cool.” she reiterated.
“Yeah. It was really nice to meet you two. Just remember, assholes aren’t worth flipping your shit over. Just walk away, breathe and realize that if they keep acting like that, someone else will beat them up, so you don’t even have to.”
I smiled when I said this, because I was kind of joking.
A half hour late we were in a different thrift store and the same girl came up to me and said “Hey. It’s you!”
She was so bright and happy.
I could truly see her as a little girl when she smiled.
“Are you stalking me?!” I said.
She replied by showing me this beautiful dress she was about to pay for.
I complimented the dress and we went our separate ways.
And for once in my life I felt like I had beaten fear with love.