Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The "Idiot" at the Craft Fair: How Do You Know When to Step In?

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I was with my two youngest (8 & 2) at a local craft fair a few weekends ago. We were eating some snacks and sharing a table with a lady and her granddaughter. While we were sitting there, I overheard the lady being quite short and rude with the little girl several times. Yet, she'd been perfectly civil with me in asking about other craft fairs in the area.  But I decided to give her some grace and compassion... Maybe she was tired. Maybe she got wrangled into babysitting when she'd actually planned to attend the craft fair alone.  Maybe she was a grandparent who was surprised into raising her granddaughter.  I honestly wasn't trying to judge.  Usually, in situations like these, I try to empathize with the struggling caregiver. On more than one occasion, I've shared a lighthearted comment with moms at the grocery store who are trying to maintain their composure when their children have none.  Heck, I've been *that* mom....
But as we got up to leave, the lady went to take a drink of her water and spilled it down her front. Then she turned to the little girl and hissed "Idiot." I watched this little girl shrink... It broke my heart. The lady accused the little girl of loosening the cap of her water. (I'm still struggling to understand what that has to do with her spillage.) I. Lost. My. Shit.
My son (8 years old) looked at me with that "What are you going to do about it?" look that kids have when they witness a perceived injustice.  This woman's reaction to her own minor accident was to accuse a 10 year old child and call her names to make her feel bad.  That is the definition of bullying... if not verbal/emotional abuse.
In a split second, I remembered what I've always told my kids about bullies....
If you see someone being bullied, it's our duty to step in for the victim.  Because we'd want someone to do the same for us.
And I knew that I had the choice to ignore the situation as a private caregiver/child interaction or to actually walk the walk and do what I've preached should be done.  I was standing.  I was angry. I was loud.
I told the woman that it was absolutely inappropriate to call a child an idiot. Her response? "Well then, I'll just call you an idiot." I told her that was fine, but calling a child a name like that is reprehensible. If she'll do that in public, what is she say to the child at home? I let the little girl know that she didn't deserve to be talked to like that. That she was a smart little girl.
I was so angry.... We had more words. I raised my voice because, I'll admit, I wanted to embarrass this woman. Others around us had heard it all and were cautiously watching our interaction.  I got several nods and what I interpreted as approving looks.  As we were walking away, she began talking to the little girl in a calm voice.  But I was shaking.... Did I do the right thing? Should I have kept my mouth shut? Did I make things even worse for this little girl when they got home?
So I've got to ask... I think of situations like the one in Texas where a man had his daughter's hair wrapped around the shopping cart handle and was dragging her tearful little self through the store.  A bystander stepped in and called police. When you see a parent/caregiver handling a child in a questionable way,
How do you know when to step in?
We've become desensitized to so much in our society. We're so big on "different things work for different families" and supporting parents' rights in regards to how they choose to parent their families.  But at what cost?

I don't know that I did the right thing.  Maybe I went too far.  Maybe I made things worse for the child.  But, maybe... just maybe I was a voice of reassurance to that little girl.  That it did some small bit of good in her little world to have someone stand up for her.  I'll never know.  But the look on her face will haunt me for some time...

I'm anxious to know if anyone has ever experienced anything like this.... Did you step in? Walk away? How did you know when to interject yourself into another family's business? They say it takes a village to raise a child. But how do we know when to act as members of the village or as just tourists in someone's private life?

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