I went to the library around the corner yesterday evening and ended up spending awhile searching through the stacks. The very fact that I had time to just go to the library on a whim on a weeknight had me feeling pretty vulnerable…I don’t really like that I’m no longer needed for parent volunteer projects at school, not needed to rush out and find just the right color tie for a particular occasion, not needed to cheer someone on in the college scholarship race. So the public scene I witnessed while I was there hit me in a way that it might not have another time.
Just to set the scene a little, we live in a ridiculously affluent suburb. Our little area of the suburbs, though, is widely varied sociologically, racially, economically, ethnically. We’ve been here for 25 years, and we love it.
So I’m browsing through the mystery section, and a hoarse sobbing enters my consciousness. I realize then that it’s been going on awhile and it’s getting louder and more insistent. Now the sobbing breaks into full-blown meltdown. Nonchalantly I move to a spot where I can see what’s happening.
A boy, about six or seven years old, is standing at the circulation desk. Mom – or someone who I think is his mom, though she looks awfully young – is next to him, but not reacting. At least he’s not lost, I figure, and I go back to perusing the stacks.
The wailing continues. The next time I look up to see what’s going on, Mom has vanished. The boy still stands at the circulation desk, and now the librarians (the real ones, with the Library Science degrees, not the volunteers or the part-timers) are trying to handle the situation. I’m not thrilled with what I hear them say to the child:
“You have to be quiet now.”
“You can’t make that kind of noise in the library.”
“Where’s your mother?”
“Stop crying and be quiet.”
As I try to decide how to get involved the librarians discover where Mom is and put the two together (along with a toddler and a preschooler who were in tow). Of course, the librarians have to make a few comments:
“You can’t just let him cry in here.”
“You can’t just leave him on his own.”
“He was disturbing the entire library.”
“You’ll have to leave.”
Those first three are true enough, I think. And the last suggestion wasn’t 100% wrong, just rather rude. What shakes me up is the severe tone, the lack of empathy, the look of distaste, and the very clear subtext from two obviously affluent and…yes, I’ll say it…white people. It was all directed toward a seemingly not affluent…and yes, I’ll say this, too…black young woman.
I don’t hear much of the conversation after that point, but I gather that Mom is rather put out and may have said as much. Once she’s gone, the librarians carry out a post mortem on the entire scene, loud enough that I can hear it from across the room. “I wouldn’t want to be a school principal these days.” “What is wrong with people?” “No parenting skills at all,” and so on.
Fact: I have had these same kinds of thoughts when I see questionable parenting.
Fact: I have, on occasion, judged people harshly when I clearly didn’t know the whole story.
Fact: This mom did not handle her children well, and the loud, long-term crying was irritating.
Fact: There were moments in my own parenting when I didn’t handle my own children as well as I wish I had.
Fact: I’m done with judging.
Because here’s what we don’t know:
Was she their mom, or was she an older sister who’s been saddled with way too much responsibility? If she was the mom, did she ever have a parenting role model who could show her ways to deal with three kids at once, including a screamer? What might she have going on in her life that’s weighing heavily on her young shoulders?
Here’s something else we don’t know:
How might a kind word, a sympathetic glance, a tiny bit of understanding and empathy have made a difference?
In that particular situation, I’ll never know. But I’m storing it away in the back of my mind, in case I can make some little difference next time.
3 thoughts on “Judging.”
I love how you trigger memories for me. Most times, I had to leave my 3 kids at home when I went shopping. The times I took them, they received the ‘you need behave’ speech before entering the store. I actually left the store a couple of times–leaving behind a full cart because they were getting carried away. It was just easier to shop when their dad was home to watch them, even if it meant shopping at odd hours.
One time, I took my youngest grocery shopping. He was in the stage where he wanted to do everything on his own..like get in the car and sit in his car seat by himself, help place groceries in the cart, etc. We were standing at the frozen juice section and I reached in to get some juice and was going to place it in the cart. That was when the wee one decided he wanted to put it in the cart, so I handed him the juice. NO! That wasn’t what he wanted, he wanted to reach inside the freezer and get the juice, then put it in the cart. He was too small to do this, and I knew he couldn’t reach. Right then and there, he had a loud, screaming meltdown. I swear, all the people that were in the store at that moment were surrounding me. I would bet my face was tomato red. I looked at them and laughed. It almost turned into hysterical laughter, because I was mortified.
I don’t know how many people judged me that day, but it made me a bit more empathetic to crying-screaming children, and what their parents are experiencing at the moment.
However, I do see kids running through stores – alone – heading straight to the toy department. Something I would have never allowed, and I’m not sure why some parents do this.
The library was like Candyland to my oldest two. My youngest hated it, but he and I would find a quiet place, where I could keep my eye on the other two, and I would find an interesting book to quietly read to him. This kept his energy and impatience to a controllable level, since my oldest would set up camp and come away with more books than he could carry on his own. Oh, how I miss those days.
I really miss those times, too…in fact, just had a good cry before rallying to walk into the grocery store…
I had plenty of horrific scenes over the years while out in public with our three, which may be why I’m reluctant to pass judgement on others in the same spot. But I’ve found that there are too many people (many of whom assume they would have been perfect parents if they had kids) who are very quick to jump in with condemnation. Poo to them.