Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What NOT to Call My Child...

The second we step out of the parking lot and up onto the curb, Ethan lets go of my hand and takes off. He's headed for the door of Starbucks, which is just around the corner. His feet kicking up behind him, he pumps his arms and manages to get up enough speed that as he approaches the store, he has to put out his arms to stop himself from crashing into the door. With all that letting go and running, he never manages to get more than 4-5 paces ahead of me, and is always in sight. I watch as he reaches up to pull the door open. And I see a woman inside the Starbucks, a customer, holding the door closed against him so he cannot get in.

What? She is looking down at him and holding the door closed on her side. She looks up, makes eye contact with me as I approach, realizes that I am with Ethan and let's go of the door. She doesn't help Ethan open it (he's strong, but Starbucks doors are still a bit weighty for him) but at least she's no longer forcibly keeping him out, pulling back against his attempts to gain entry to the shop.

As I pull the door open, she looks at me and says, "I didn't want to let it in until the mother showed up."

I'm sorry, what now?

"I didn't want to let it in. Until the mother showed up." It. IT???!!! IT.

Let's unpack this whole statement now, shall we?

First, let's start with Egregiously Offensive Part of the Comment #1. "It" This kind of blew my mind. Now, perhaps she was confused, as this long-haired, I suppose you could say gender-neutrally clothed ball of energy hurtled towards her; maybe she couldn't tell in that instant whether Ethan was a boy or a girl. I suppose that could be the case. BUT. Seriously? "It"? Clearly, what was hurtling towards her was a child of the human persuasion, which in and of itself should preclude the pronoun "it" from being a remotely appropriate option as a descriptor. Right??! Go ahead and take the chance of offending me by calling my son "her." It's okay; I'll get over it. I know he like his hair long; it's all good. Or even the grammatically incorrect "they" would be preferable. I'll take an honest mistake and/or grammatical error any day over my child being referred to as "It."

Now, as for Egregiously Offensive Part of the Comment #2: "the mother" Um. You mean me, right, lady? You didn't want to let "it" in until you saw me show up. Me. The person standing right in front of you. The person you're talking to. Not an abstract concept or absent entity. I'm right here--you can acknowledge me as a person, it's okay! If "you" is too intimate, you could even have said, if we're going to stick with Egregiously Offensive Part of the Comment #1, "it's mother." I'd have accepted that too, in so far as it would have just been thrown in with the first "it" and not ended up as it's own Egregiously Offensive Part of the Comment. Perhaps she would have felt better if my child were still holding my hand, or attached to me via a leash? I don't know.

But I'm guessing by calling my child "it" and by referring to me as "the mother" she was trying to make a point. Which brings me to...

Egregiously Offensive Part of the Comment #3: since WHEN did it become okay to hate on kids? At what point did our culture decide it was reasonable to treat children disrespectfully? Just because they're kids. Since becoming a parent, I've noticed it over and over again, and given the lessons I try to teach my child about how to be a respectful member of society, I'm frankly shocked when I see older people who are so cavalierly disrespectful to younger generations.

Clearly this woman, for whatever reason, felt it was perfectly acceptable to refer to another human being as an "it" simply because the human being in question was young, and it is my sincerest hope, not really capable of understanding the connotation & tone that went along with the comment--because believe me, there was a tone. I realize some people may think I am over-reacting, but there was quite a tone included in the statement. This woman did not want there to be any mistaking what she was getting at--that my child was somehow less significant, less welcome and less deserving of the basic respect you give to another human being, simply because he was a little kid. And she refused to let him into the store before I, "the mother" got there because who knows what kind of ruckus and havoc he might wreak.

Seriously? Go ahead and insert ANY other population or demographic into that statement: "he was somehow less significant, less welcome and less deserving of the basic respect you give another human being simply because he was.....___________." Its hateful and discriminatory. Calling any other population or demographic "it" would result in people clutching their pearls in horror, and rightfully so. But not a little kid.

I noticed this same blatant disrespect last month as well, in reading the comments that went along with the New York Magazine article, "All Joy and No Fun," in which the author presents the case of how parenting makes people miserable. One commenter snarked, "City parents have ruined many parts of New York, they are rude and expect you to get out of the way of their double wide invitro twin strollers, they expect YOU to put up with the disruption their children cause in stores and restaurants and most of them have very poor parenting skills and can not control their children. I am so nostalgic for the days when having children meant that you moved to the suburbs."

Granted, the commenter foists the blame on parents, and there are probably some parents who are less than stellar in his neighborhood. But I'm also guessing that said commenter is child-free himself, and has perhaps never tried to deal with a child in a restaurant, or a store; or has never had to maneuver a double stroller down a city side-walk (and let's also take a jab at the issue of infertility by tossing in "invitro twin" as though those parents should be doubly-shamed for how they are messing up the neighborhood). The idea that his New York city neighborhood has gone straight to hell because of all those kids? Is prejudiced and, frankly, in my opinion, ageist.

I get that no one enjoys a screaming kid. Or a rude one. Sure, we try our best to keep our kids looking adorable and behaving beautifully in public. But you know what? Sometimes they just aren't. They're 4 years old. Or 3. Or 2. And they are people with complex emotions and hormonal craziness and developing sense of communication. And there are times that no matter what you do, no matter the consequence doled out or the bribes attempted, they just fall to pieces or are balls of crazy energy. But you still have to go to the grocery store, or the post office, or pick up the take-out, or whatever. And a child, even a tantruming one, has the right to live and be wherever his or her parents are. Because a child, even a tantruming one, is a person. A real, whole person. Who deserves to be treated with respect.

This morning, Ethan was neither rude, nor destructive, nor tantruming. He was running gleefully towards his neighborhood Starbucks, anticipating that absurdly chocolate-y chocolate milk. I don't know if he heard of the woman call him "it" or me "the mother" or what he made of the fact that when he attempted to open the door she held it closed against him, barring his entrance. I don't know if he noticed my face turn red once we got in line and I processed exactly what the woman was getting at.

I wish I'd thought of something snarky to say back to her, but honestly, I was so taken aback by the Egregiously Offensive Comment that I just found myself glaring at her every once in awhile as we waited for our drinks, hoping she could see and feel the daggers I was mentally pitching at her head. I hope the whole thing just sort of washed over him and away as a tiny little blip in the way of his chocolate milk. At 4 years old, Ethan really does still think the best of people and rarely notices if someone isn't perfectly nice to him. I'd like to absorb those shocks for him for at least a few more years.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that happened to you. People are assholes.

When you can't come up with a clever retort quickly you can always fall back on, "Shut your whore mouth." Say it in french or italian to add flare ;)

Sarah said...

Oh my goodness! It? The mother?? That's totally freaking nuts.

Harry was running way ahead of me to my gym's playground the other day, and an older lady stopped walking and stood near him until jack and I caught up. She asked me if he as "mine." When I said yes and was about to thank her unnecessarily for watching out for him (I could see him the whole time), she said something snarky about my letting him run wild.

WTF is up with people butting in?

Anonymous said...

I blame some of the hate on the Child-Free Movement: adults who are proud of their decision to not have kids, but 90% of whom look down on parents (often called "breeders") and their offspring with dirision.

Then again, this isn't anything new. "Children should be seen and not heard," after all. And God forbid you ever catch them *playing* or having a good time (the horror!!!1).

Becca said...

Why do I picture this cow as wearing a full length fur coat and carrying a little dog under her arm?

What a JERK! I would have been SO ANGRY. But I also would have limited my reaction to dirty looks, like you did.

I've had some rude encounters myself and it helps me to imagine they are cranky because they have fecal incontinence.

Would it be over the top for you to teach Ethan to open the door with a bow and a tip of the hat and to say "After you, Madam" in case you run into her again?

Corinne said...

I am absolutely blown away.
And now my blood is boiling for you!
That's just ridiculous. I think there are so many people who still just do not understand that children are little PEOPLE. PEOPLE. Again, PEOPLE.

Anonymous said...

While this woman certainly didn't take the most tactful approach, I can't help but picture the other side of this story...Ethan did get out of your sight briefly and you couldn't locate him quickly enough because a helpful adult opened the Starbucks door and he wandered in.

sarah said...

Anonymous, please consider re-reading my post a little bit more carefully before you criticize my parenting. Ethan was never for a second out of my sight--he was at most 4-5 preschooler paces ahead of me. There was no issue of me being able to "locate him" I knew where he was at all times and he was within my sight the entire time.

That is, of course, how I could see the stranger barring him from entering the store, not, as you somehow concluded, opening the door and letting him in. There was no "wandering in" without me.

I appreciate your attempt at sharing the other side of the story with me, but your facts are a bit off.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry...I was offering that as a what-if scenario but it was received pretty much the way I anticipated.

sarah said...

Fair enough, anonymous & if he'd been out of my sight or I'd let him run wild and disruptive, your what-if would make sense and I'd be open to some constructive criticism--I'm far from a perfect parent.

But your "what if" didn't seem to take into account most of the details I provided. And, calling my child "it" is just not excusable in my mind, regardless of what the woman at the door, or you, think of my parenting. I'd imagine we could agree on that. :-)

Tricia said...

I'm actually speechless! I can't believe the nerve of some people.I keep trying to picture what I would have said to her had it happened to me and my son and I think I would have been shocked into silence. It's not as if Ethan disrupted her and her morning coffee.

Amy said...

At that point, I would have let Jack run wild right next to her table and encouraged all the bad behavior I usually punish for. That would have served her right. :)

gringa said...

I had to really process this again as well as "Anonymous"- comments. I have sometimes entered places like Starbucks and seen a young child trying to get "out" and have held the door shut or stood in front of the opening until I have seen the adult with the child -- but it would have NEVER occurred to me to keep a child from coming IN to a place like Starbucks -- I really can't imagine what she might have been thinking -- I think that if I had seen a child by himself/herself I might have opened the door and asked where mommy or daddy was if I didn't immediately see an adult who seemed to be related -- but--- oh my gosh --- IT??????

Major Bedhead said...

If I saw a small child running towards a business, my first thought would have been "Is this kid in trouble? Let me open the door and find out." Because it's not always easy to tell a kid running in glee from a kid running in terror in a split second. She could have opened the door and asked him where his mother was, at the least.

lonek8 said...

wow. When I am unsure if a baby is a boy or girl (can pretty much tell by the time they're 1, no?) I always just say "e" and let the he/she be implied. I know tricky. And vaguely cockney, which is always fun.

That woman was an asshole, plain and simple. And you are completely right about some people not thinking children are equal or even human sometimes. When I was 6 and just learning to answer the phone properly a woman called my mother. As I had been instructed I asked "who may I ask is calling?" She refused to answer, confusing me and making me cry. As I recall, my father spoke rather harshly to her about it, but she continued to refuse to answer even the most simple civilized question from me for the next ten years. eventually my mom told me i could just hang up on her if she refused to tell me who was calling (my mom didn't like her anyway), and I can say with great relish that telling her to shove it (in the most polite manner of course) felt really awesome.

I'm sure I would have done exactly as you did in the situation, but I confess I wish you had found a way to spill the chocolate milk on her.

lonek8 said...

after reading some of the comments, I'm just wondering why people seem to think it would be safer to allow a hypothetically unsupervised child to run free in a parking lot (where I'm assuming on occasion there are MOVING CARS) than safe in a small coffee shop while the parent was located? Personally, if any of my children were lost and approaching a Starbucks, I would hope that they were let in where they could sit down until I found them rather than left ouside where they could easily wander into the street or be hit by a car pulling out. My kids run ahead of me all the time (again within my sight) and I am fine when they run INTO the store, but if they run OUT, they get read the riot act.

Hyacynth said...

Jerk.{Her, not you.}
Also, how do people expect children to know how to act if we don't take them, well, you know, to public places?
These are the same people who gripe about disrespectful teenagers ... probably the very ones who got left at home when mom and dad went down the street for coffee or to the grocery store. Just sayin'.