little earthquakes

So, I’m back to blogging now, apparently.  I will, perhaps, write more about what I was doing in my absence at some point in the future; for now, let it suffice to say that I celebrated a victory – a tremendous victory – this past weekend.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today.  I’m writing about two lousy situations, one from Saturday, one from a few hours ago.

#1.  Walking down Church Street with a friend on Saturday morning, we passed a trio of “adults” – two men and one woman.  With them was a child, probably 2 or 3 years old.  The kid was crying.  One of the “men” was screaming at him to “Shut up right now!” and pushing him along to keep him walking.  Unsurprisingly, this did not calm the child, who kept on crying.  The other two “adults” were not intervening in any way, they just kept walking along like nothing was going on.

Situations like these are hard for me to watch.  I think they are hard for anyone to watch, but they are really hard for me to watch.  I know what it’s like to be that kid, and it’s the scared, needy little kid inside of me who comes to the surface when I see anything like that happening, thus making it basically impossible to act or even to know what to do.  So I stood and watched, mouth agape, my rage rising without an outlet.  Eventually the “woman” (I put it in quotes because I find it hard to think of any of the three as adults) looked at me and said, “What?”  I didn’t know what to say, so I turned around and walked away.

When E and I got to the restaurant (right around the corner) I told her that I had to wait outside for a moment before we went in, to calm down.  So I stood against the wall and tried to calm myself, but I could still hear the “man” screaming at the little kid, all the way down the block, and I still didn’t know what the hell to do, and could not think straight, so we went inside.

I felt like a coward.  I spent most of the day angry at myself for not doing anything, and impotently fantasizing brutal retaliation against the “man” who was abusing the child.  I wondered if I’d misread the situation, if my own experiences had led me to view the situation as more dire than it was.  I don’t think that’s the case.  I know what an adult out of control looks like, and I know what a child in the middle of a meltdown looks like, and I know it’s a terrible combination, and I know which one has 100% of the responsibility to step back and figure out a better way to handle the situation.

Eventually, I realized that it was time to stop beating myself up for not doing anything, and time to sit down and figure out what the right thing to do would have been, so I’d know what to do the next time this happens.  The answer came to me quickly.  I should have called the police.  It wasn’t my situation to handle, and an intervention from a police officer may have been the wake up call that these three “adults” needed to stop abusing their kid.  So I put the phone number for the New Paltz police in my cell phone.  I hope I’m never again in a situation where I need to use it.

#2.  Less upsetting situation.  This afternoon, I pulled into a parking lot just as someone else was pulling out.  I stopped to let him out so that I could take his spot.  He took his time exiting the spot, did not seem to know how much space was around his car, or how much he needed, did not back up far enough, and just barely squeaked by my car.  He could have backed up further, or I could have backed up, but I really didn’t think I was crowding him, he’d just done a lousy job of leaving the parking spot.  As he passed, he rolled down his window and indicated for me to do the same, so I did.

Me:  “What’s up?”
Him:  “You couldn’t have backed up to let me out?”
Me:  “Your car doesn’t have reverse?”
Him:  “Fuck you!”
Me (loudly, as he drove away):  “Have a nice day!”

This interaction was not nearly as upsetting to me as Saturday morning’s, but it still was a little.  I always feel terrible after interactions in which someone is mad at me, legitimately or not.  The more space I get from this second interaction, though, with Monsieur Nissan, the less bad I feel about myself for it.  He did a lousy job of pulling out of his parking spot, and wanted to blame someone else.  Why the hell should I have been conciliatory?

My brother’s girlfriend and I made a pact to be more bad-ass this year.  Generally, I’ve approached this as trying to be more honest and hide my true feelings less, but it also involves letting people walk over me less.  So I’m adding a check mark to my bad-ass-ery counter.  I didn’t lose my cool with him, I just didn’t take his shit.

Also, when did it become okay to say “Fuck you” to random strangers whom you blame for minor inconveniences?  This man was probably in his sixties.  He should have known better.  I’m not opposed to vulgarity, in its place, but let’s save the f-bombs for when they’re really warranted, okay?  Let’s not cheapen the language by using the foulest bits at every possible opportunity.


4 Responses

  1. #1 – I’d probably have gotten into an ugly verbal exchange with those a-holes, which would have likely just made matters worse. (btw, never was aware that you had similar experiences to the child in this event)

    #2 – I’d probably have yelled back loudly as well, though likely with something a little less civil than your response.

  2. I am almost always at a loss for how to react in similar situations. A week or two ago I was at the mall and a woman had bought her daughter (who was maybe 4 years old) a soft taco to eat for lunch. She spent the entire meal telling the child she was eating it wrong, to eat faster, to not make a mess, how she’s not going to bring her out anymore and this is why she likes to take her other sister out more, etc. She pretty much spent the entire time making this kid’s life miserable — or at least turning what I’m sure initially made the kid happy (getting to go out with her mom without her sister tagging along) into a bad event. Near the end the mom snatched the girl’s soft taco and ate it herself and then had the girl throw all of the trash away.

    I wanted so badly to intervene, but then I also felt like it wasn’t my place. Often in these situations I try to reach out to the child and compliment them or give them something to smile about — and I nearly did in this above situation, but for some reason I did not, and I wish I had.

    Here’s a question: Let’s say someone who lives behind you has a very disorganized (see: hoarding-like) backyard with items strewn all about (tarps, empty cages, etc.) and they keep pigeons in small cages covered with tarps. Would you call this in? I’m so torn as part of me worries if it’s his food source, but the other part of me feels it isn’t right to have all these pigeons caged. Plus, the pigeons attract feral cats to the area and I imagine this also terrorizes the caged birds. I’ve done some investigating and my landlord’s wife has called him in before. I guess they made him get rid of some of them and he was given clear instructions that there must be clear pathways to the remaining cages. I don’t know — it just doesn’t feel right.

    As for situation #2 — that was likely all about that guy and nothing about you. I try to recall the Four Agreements (by Ruiz) in these type of situations and to keep the second agreement in the front of my mind to not take anything personally. Perhaps he was having a bad day, perhaps he was distracted, and more than likely he felt humiliated by not getting it right the first time and so he acted out. Still doesn’t mean he should say what he did — as he should be more impeccable with his word (first agreement)! I’ve probably said too much — but I like seeing the internal dialogues that so many of us have going on all the time!

  3. Mike – #1, Believe me, I wanted to, but I was too freaked out and also I didn’t want to make matters worse for the kid. And yes, this scene could have been pulled directly from my childhood. #2. Actually, I’m pretty pleased with myself for my “Have a nice day!” It let me feel like I kept the moral high ground, if only by inches. Plus, it was just funny.

    Jannette – ugh. I would have ended up crying if I’d witnessed that scene in the mall. No idea whatsoever what to do in a situation like that, because it’s *not* a case in which someone should clearly intervene, it’s just another case of incredibly shitty parenting. I probably would have just given the woman the stink eye, which probably wouldn’t have helped any. Regarding the pigeons, I’d call it in. Even if your landlady says she’s called before, you haven’t, and you’re the one living there. About Monsieur Nissan, I did ask myself it maybe he was just having a bad day. It’s very possible. It’s also possible that he’s spent 60+ years treating people like shit and setting up situations in such a way that he gets others to lose their cool so that he can continue blaming them. Either way, I’m glad I told him to have a nice day. And you certainly haven’t said too much! I write blog posts because I want to have dialogues about these things, so I’m glad you both responded!

  4. I usually blow kisses in the second scenario…. its a cheap but deeply satisfiying and much better than hanging them the finger!!

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