Monday, January 07, 2008

Was it any of my business?

Saturday was a pretty crazy day for me to decide that I had to go grocery shopping at the Coop mall. Here in my world there are two distinct seasons where all clothing items go on sale for a one month period. For winter that would be on January 5th. Everything is marked from 30% to 70% off and you can get some really nice deals if you wait it out until the new year. It took me about fifteen minutes to find a parking spot and then had a long trek to get to the mall entry. I got out of the car, grabbed a shopping cart and then lifted Evan and settled him in. I’m not a fan of bringing Evan shopping with me because he gets restless and complains after three minutes. In the past he would start to act out on everything and anything right in the middle of an isle. That’s when I started to get smart and either not bring him at all or entertain him. I whipped out my ipod where I had loaded up two children’s song albums (he loves to rock out) and two Winnie the Pooh narrated stories. He smiled, plugged the earphones in and zoned out while I happily shopped.

An hour later we were finished and I steered the cart towards the exit. As I was leaving the mall I passed by an accessories store where just the week before I had been looking at a new purse. I didn’t see the it in the window, probably because everything was marked off 50% and it’d already been sold. I wanted to check out the other purses but had to find a way to do this without losing sight of Evan who was now singing along with “Quarantaquattro gatti”. I parked the cart right to the side of the entrance so that I could clearly see Evan while I just glanced in at the merchandise. Blocking my entry into the store were two women wearing headscarfs with a total of three children in tow. The children were all under five years old and one of the little boys was crying. They were speaking in another language so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. All of the sudden the mother whips around and starts hitting the little boy on his face. He tried to protect himself with both his hands, a sure sign that this had happened before. Even at four years old, he knew what to do.

My father used to hit us when we were children. Whenever one of us would get in trouble there was always a belt ready. I can clearly remember an incident where someone had done something and nobody would fess up, so he just lined all four of us up and spanked us all. I was a pretty well behaved child so I didn’t have too many encounters with his belt, but my two brothers were constantly getting into trouble, especially my older brother. What I used to hate the most was listening to his cries while he was getting spanked. I would sit in my room and cry along with him while it happened. Even worse than listening to him get spanked by my Dad was going through the same thing at my Grandparents. It all stopped when we grew older though. In any case, we weren’t battered children and I don’t feel I suffered any trauma from it. That’s just the way a lot of adults disciplined their children back then. I think it’s a learned process. My Father had learned it from his father and he had probably learned it from his. When Olivia was around two years old I knew I had to teach myself a different disciplining method. I poured over a lot of child psychology books and tried out different methods. A lot of them were failures and I can still remember my frustrations with her. Quite honestly I don’t think I ever really arrived at a good solution until Evan came along. That’s ten years of trying different methods! What I learned from Evan, what I could still apply to Olivia is that if a child is crying or acting out or behaving badly, they’re trying to tell you something. And if you want to get on with things you have to listen to what they have to say. I’ve gotten to a point with both my children where I can just ask them what is going on and they can tell me straight out. Usually this involves getting on their physical level (kneeling down, face to face, making eye contact, touching them). Just asking them what they need seems to cut right into the bad behaviour and make it all good again. Adults that hit children are not listening to them. Hitting them just vents their frustration without resolving the situation.

I turned around to watch since all five of them were blocking the door. Evan was on the other side watching me, the scene and singing. The mother turned her back on the boy and walked in the store passed me. Still crying, the little boy tugged on her shirt and tried to get his mother’s attention again. She took a quick wack at his face and said something to him. I don’t know why but I put my hand on his head. I wanted to stop the scene. I wanted to comfort the boy and at the same get his mother’s attention. His hair was thick and course, I thought right away that they were probably Moroccan. She turned to me and I looked her straight in the eyes and said in a calm, firm voice “Non si picchiano i bambini” (you don’t hit children). Under her scarf I could see that she was young, not more than thirty years old. She answered me with a taint of sarcastic disdain in her voice, “Oh really?”. I kept her stare and at the same time kept my hand on her child’s head. I repeated to her “non si picchiano I bambini”. Then I left.

No, I haven’t solved the world’s child abuse problems. I’m sure that Moroccan mother thought I was totally crazy. But at least I didn’t passively watch a scene that I knew was wrong.


stronger said...

If not your business, than who's?

Sometimes it takes an outside voice. You have to think that the next time she raises her hand, it will echo somehow. Sometimes all it takes is planting the seed.

Nancy Toby said...

You're wonderful.

anji said...

Not enough people speak up. I remember being in Wal-Mart a few years ago and this mom repeatedly hit her 9-ish year old son. I've seen psycho looks in eyes before and I saw it in her. This pissed me off so much, embarassing a child in front of people like that - and hitting them. I remember going up to her and said, "Hey bitch, how would you like me to punch the shit out of you? I don't care what that child did, he does NOT deserve that..." Julia, you know me -- I'm the quiet, unassuming one in real life. THat's how angry this woman made me. EVERYONE stopped and looked at me and her, not believing what I just told her. Someone had to.

Thank you SO much for doing that to the woman. Maybe you won't make a difference with her -- but - that child, will never forget it. And that's important too...

Sam said...

Julia, you humble me, I don't know if I could have done that.