“It takes a village to raise a child,” Hillary Clinton so wisely put it. I take that as a go ahead to discipline your child in public places, and you can be damned sure I’m going to do it if you are nowhere to be found. Who took the parent out of parenting? Despite the fact that you may be able to fit as many Doritos in your kid as in your Louis Vuitton Speedy handbag, your child is not an accessory. You can’t just plop them down and expect them to sit still, take care of themselves, be quiet, not be kidnapped, etc. All of the above are learned behaviors, and generally the type that are learned FROM someone else (ideally a PARENT).
I accompanied my mum to her company lobster cookout last week and bore witness to quite a disturbing scene. “New Guy,” as I’ve been trying to get her to refer to him (he’s one of those sort of small barrel-framed, slick haired, you-can-tell-he’s-douchey-from-at-least-4-feet-away kind of dudes), was there with his wife and little girl. His little girl was adorable, probably a little over a year old. She was walking, but you could tell it was still new by the way she led with her head and would occasionally topple over. This cookout was on the company lawn, which was a nice field with a big pond. Unattended babies and open water are not a winning combination. New Guy didn’t seem to make this connection. He and his wife would let their little girl just wander off and not pay any attention. They would stare at their plates of food while their baby girl meandered treacherously close to that pond. She could have drowned. I was horrified. I am not a parent. And I don’t babysit. If I am paying more attention to your child than you are, we have a serious problem.
Luckily, this little girl would notice that her parents were ignoring her and after a while, she’d keep wandering back to her parents and then yell at them. She didn’t have words yet, but I’m sure if she did, she would have been shouting “HELLO! Why in God’s name aren’t you watching me?! I am a BABY. It’s your job to give a shit! Pay attention!” I sometimes wonder if that’s what a lot of crying babies are trying to say. Have you ever noticed those women in the mall who are just wandering around with their screaming child in the baby carrier with their ears turned off as if they were just holding a lunch sac? It makes me want to smack them. “I’m sorry, but do you not hear that your baby is screaming bloody murder? Maybe you should acknowledge it?” Can you imagine if you treated an adult that way? Your boss? Of course, your boss wouldn’t scream at you because adults actually have the faculty to use words. “Jane I need you to do such and such.” Jane ignores boss just like she ignores her baby. Jane gets fired. It’s unacceptable. Jane wouldn’t dream of treating her boss that way so why does she ignore her child?
Back when I was a child, children’s needs came first. That is not to say we were coddled. If we were screaming and rude in a public place, my mom would haul us out. And if that meant mom didn’t get to do what mom wanted or needed to do, she’d be rife with rage and we’d be punished. It seems nowadays the moms stay and do what they want and instead punish the rest of us by forcing us to listen to their rude and badly behaved, poorly disciplined child. This is not the child’s fault either. Children aren’t like dogs and cats, which have instincts allowing them to survive in the wild. One of my favorite child negligence examples was while I was working in the Natick Mall. In the mornings, I would watch new moms leave their children in strollers at the top of the stairs and then run up and down the stairs for exercise while no one attended their children. It’s a wonder none of them were kidnapped.
My great aunt Fern was known to say things to errant children along the lines of “Go get some razor blades and play in traffic.” Or “Go tell your mother she wants you.” I have adopted some of these phrases, and others. I have stopped and scolded children considering stealing rocks out of store displays with the threat of being hauled off to prison and told some middle school age boys how incredibly inappropriate it was for them to be running around in a shoe store. To the negligent parents, I see the fear of God in your kid’s eyes when I speak to them in my low volume, predatory tone. And you may think I’m out of line, and I really couldn’t give two shits. Do you know why? Because your kids are going to grow up and be full-fledged members of society, at that point too old to scold. And at that point, I am going to have to deal with them even more than I have to deal with them now. And I REALLY hope they don’t turn out like you.