Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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The Day I Confronted Another Parent





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I’d just dropped Norah (my four-year-old) off at her preschool class, and was walking across the parking lot when I heard a young girl screaming in a minivan.

Normally I don’t take Norah to school because I work during the day. We’d just had a baby, so I was home on paternity leave.

It was a green Ford Windstar, a little faded, with bad tires. Inside was a young boy around five years old, and a two-year-old girl. Both were strapped in car seats. The boy was punching the girl in the arm and in the chest, and the girl was screaming.

I couldn’t see a parent anywhere.

I didn’t know what to do. I’d never really seen anything quite like this. I really hate to judge other parents, because I always assume that other parents are judging me. And frankly, there are a lot of things that I do as a parent that people probably think are horrible. In fact, I’ve been known to leave Tristan and Norah in the car as I step into our house, or return a movie to a Redbox outside McDonald’s. I never do it in a situation where I can’t keep an eye on them, and they’re several years older than these kids were. I’m never more than a few feet away.

But is what I do any worse than what this parent was doing by leaving an obviously violent five-year- old with a two-year-old in a van while they run into a school? I don’t know. What I do know is leaving kids in cars is a hot topic right now, and this seemed like a very extreme situation.

I walked up to the van, looked inside, and the boy stopped. I assumed we were good, so I walked past the van and to my car. As I did, the boy started hitting the girl again.

I walked back and tapped on the van window. “Hey!” I said, and I pointed at the boy. “Knock if off! You leave her alone.”

The little shit looked me in the eyes, gave me a gapped tooth grin, and started hitting her again. Only now, he was looking right at me as he did it, and his face seemed to say, “What are you going to do about it?”

“Stop it!” I said.

He hit her again.

There were so many things I didn’t know about this kid. Perhaps this was the first time he’d ever done something like this. Maybe he had a disability. Either way, I knew that I needed to defuse the situation.

I tried to open the van, but the door was locked. It was then that I started to think about how hot it probably was in the van. It wasn’t running, so there was no air. I had no idea how long it had been parked. All the windows were up and it was noon on a warm day in late May.

I told him to stop a few more times, but it just seemed to make him swing more.

Finally I said the only thing that I thought might strike fear into his heart: “I’m going to get your mother!”

I didn’t even know if he was with his mother, but what I did know is that mothers can scare the hell out of little boys.

Nothing. He just kept swinging.

I quickly walked back to the school. I didn’t know how I would find the owner of the van, but I was determined to do something. I’ve heard people say, “someone should smack that kid,” but I’d never honestly wanted to slap a child until that moment, and thinking back, it’s probably a good thing that the van doors were locked. I know that violence is never the answer to violence, but in the moment I pissed.

I was almost to the school doors when an older woman, probably a grandmother, exited with a ten-year-old girl. They walked across the parking lot and unlocked the van.

“Is this your van?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“That boy in there was hitting that girl. She was screaming. I could hear it across the parking lot. I told him to stop, and he looked me right in the eyes, and did it more.”

“Oh… Those two have been at it all day!” she said. She smiled as though it was just some normal thing. She smiled at me like I was going to laugh at it.

I didn’t.

I’m not one for confrontation. In fact, I hate it. I don’t get in arguments. I don’t yell. I did when I was younger, but not now. There were so many things I wanted to say to this woman. I wanted to ask her why she’d leave this violent boy with this young girl, alone in a van. I wanted to come down on her. I wanted to question her parenting. I never wanted something like this to ever happen again.

But right then, I got a little tongue-tied. I always seem to in situations like this. So I said, “That’s just… Not cool. Ok. Don’t do it again.”

Thinking back, I’m not sure what “it” was. Was she not supposed to leave young kids unattended in a hot car? Was she not supposed to let this boy hit this girl ever again? There were so many things wrong with this situation.

The lady went on, telling me that she just didn’t want to bring the kids in. She looked at me like I’d understand, but after seeing that little boy repeatedly hit who I assumed was his sister, I just didn’t.

I put my hand up, stopping her mid sentence, and said, “Never again.”

I got in my car.

I’m not really sure what to make of this situation. I don’t honestly think that this woman is going to change her actions. And I am sure that there is someone else out there, doing the same exact thing. I want to give this person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe these kids were dumped on her by one of her kids. Perhaps she’s a single parent. My grandmother raised me after the age of 12, so I know that it happens. Perhaps what happened is part of a much larger problem, and getting pissed at this woman for leaving young kids unattended is just a small piece of a much shittier situation. Maybe the boy has spectrum disorder, or something, and if that is the case, than he surely should not be left alone if he tends to be violent.

I don’t know, but what I do know is that shit like this needs to stop, and I’m not sure how to make that happen. And honestly, I'm not sure if I handled this situation properly. It was stressful and strange and I hope to never run into it again.

I suppose my question to you is: how would you handle something like this? What is best? How can we prevent this kind of action from happening again?

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter
Photo by Lucinda Higley


northoftabor said...

Even if it feels like you had no impact on the behaviors you witnessed, you still stood up for that little girl. It's possible that nobody has ever done that for her before. Who knows, you may have changed her path with that one small gesture.

Victoria said...

Good on you for saying something to the adult. Brothers and sisters are natural sparring partners but the boy here was definitely crossing the line.

Gumpie Gump said...

Be proud of yourself for saying something, a lot of people wouldn't. They'd complain n say how disgusting it was etc etc, but ultimately a lot of people would have tut tutted & turned a blind eye, because sometimes its easier.
For me its not so much leaving them in the car, its the whole situation in general, but more the little boy. Generally kids are scared (for lack of a better word) by other adults & would be embarrassed to be growled at, obviously this kid isnt one of them. Regardless of the reason for his violence, whether he just be a little turd or if hes disabled etc, she commented that theyd "been at it all day", so he was obviously hitting her before so he should never have been left in there with a defenseless 2 year old.
As you can tell, I'm pretty peeved off on the wee girls behalf, but knowing you had the guts to say something makes the situation a little better. The woman may not think twice about doing it again, but hopefully when you walked away she was embarrassed. I would be if another parent hit me up about something. Im FAR from a perfect mum, but I give it a damn good go & I try not to judge other parents also, cause lets face it - being a parent is bloody hard!
Good on you for stepping up and saying something, it would've been easier to walk away, good on you for sticking up for that wee girl :-D