Sunday, September 13, 2009

All parents feel sting of 'Walmart slap'

To be honest, watching the media implode with anger and stunned disbelief that a stranger would strike a crying child in a Georgia Walmart seems like watching a train wreck from the safety of the wrong side of the tracks.

When I heard that story — after I fretted for the child, placed myself in her mother's shoes and telepathically hugged them both — I wondered if the man was having some kind of medical malfunction rather than merely exhibiting the manifestations of a man as mean as a junkyard dog.

Surely he must have had a stroke or is presenting with Alzheimer's disease. Something, anything, that would explain such abhorrent behavior.

In her essay about the slap heard 'round the world in the Huffington Post, Deborah Copaken Kogan ponders not the strange news story that had mothers from coast to coast clasping at their virtual pearls, but how it relates to all the strangers who would slap parents in the face with their unsolicited judgmental comments.

She calls it as she sees it: Unwanted or unsolicited advice from strangers is "aggression" plain and simple.

Yet somehow, as I was agreeing with the overall point of her message, the label seemed outlandish.

Even the anecdote Kogan related in her essay — her response to a stranger's concern that the boy, who was sitting in a hole on the beach, could be carried away if a tsunami-like wave were to somehow make its way from the sea to the place they were sitting — only seemed to reinforce the same judgmental snark she wishes to stop perpetuating: Snipe, snipe, dismissal. Fester, fester, fester.

It is not fair; People shouldn't just say every thought that comes into their heads. They should realize they don't have the full story. They don't have all the answers. Likewise we should react with the same measured resolve. Yet, aren’t we all a little guilty of wanting that perfect retort that will demote the pompous fool to the underside of the bridge most befitting their troll-ness?

When Ittybit was born, in December, we took her everywhere despite it being the most brutal winter I could remember. Numerous people chided us for "taking a baby out in such cold." The anger and indignation of being challenged rose in us. It felt like a slap in the face.

We slapped back, too: "Thank you for your concern, but you can go poop in your hat and pull it down over your ears."

I think it may have been the first time my husband gleefully told people he hails from Minnesota, where he spent a few of his less-than-memorable teenage years and where no one would ever leave home if they were waiting on timid weather.

When The Champ came around — a summer birth — I'd convinced myself that we'd avoid the same type of ear boxing.

But no. As I stepped out on the street one August afternoon, a sleeping infant in a sling and a preschooler in tow, a man sneered at me about what a "crime" it was to have a baby out in such heat.

I shrugged and gave him that pained expression that translates into "what-am-I-going to-do? I-have-to-buy-groceries." And I let it go.

He's never going to understand my seething rage. It's not going to change his genuine concern or beliefs. I know my baby was in no danger. Inhale. Exhale.

Instead I try to remember the kindness of strangers: people such as the older woman who leaned toward me in the lunch counter line as I juggled The Champ (who was wriggling to get down) and tried to assure Ittybit I’d heard “I’d like PEPPERONI pizza, PLEASE” the first time AND 50th time she'd said it. The woman smiled and said, "I don't know how you women do it. Little kids, groceries, shopping, up, down ... Maybe it's because I never had kids, but I'm always in awe of how you manage.”

I laugh and tell her what I know to be the truth: "Mostly we do it thinking we are failing."

She answered in kind: "Not from where I'm sitting you're not."

So now I make it a point to smile at the women who have their babies out in the cold, or in the heat. I mention how beautiful their children are as they cry or tantrum at the checkout. I tell them some days I'm there, too, with that same "what-are-you-going-to-do" expression.

I don't need to rage against injustice so much as I wish to offer a hand of support — a hand I know one day may be slapped away.

No comments: