I can remember when I was nearly 10 years old and at the neighborhood grocery store with my mom. We were in the checkout line, I wasted time petitioning my mom for a Twix, then begging for some Skittles when she denied my pleas for chocolate. My mom was not paying much attention to my whining, but was instead concentrating on the checker’s transaction with a tween who was buying milk and a candy bar just ahead of us.
The boy buying milk was certain he’d given the checker a $20 bill and the checker was attempting to short-change the kid by passing him back just a few bucks change. The boy’s voice was getting smaller and weaker as the checker voiced her certainty about the amount of money she was handed. And with her certainty came a tone that suggested the boy was insignificant and less of a person due to his ripe age. He must be wrong because he’s young.
But my mom, who had fervently observed the situation, piped up, coming to the aid of the boy, ensuring that he treated with respect as well as given the correct amount of change.
A swift statement and a bit of encouragement to the young boy and the situation was rectified, the boy able to deliver home the correct amount of change to his mom and the checker receiving a polite quip, that I’m sure she remembered for quite some time thereafter.
I remember, despite my immaturity, asking my mom why she got involved with the situation. She said that as a mother to her own children, it was one of her responsibilities to make sure that all children were treated fairly and with respect in her presence – “it goes with the territory,” she said.
As a parent myself I try to lodge the same amount of responsibility in advocating for all children as well. But there are times when an adult’s behavior toward a child can stun you silent.
I had such a moment on vacation last week while waiting in line for a turn on a double-raft waterslide with my 7-year-old.
It was nearing 95-degrees, so even at the top of the 100-step structure, the slight breeze came as a relief. We had carried the double raft up the stairs to the dual slides. The slide on the left was for rafts, on the right was a single slide you rode alone on your bum.
The low hum of conversations between raft partners was all you could hear as you waited your turn in a line that was only about five minutes total, even though you would estimate it to take much longer given the amount of people waiting.
The mellow conversations were interrupted by the grading and aggressive voice of a rotund, middle-aged man with a receding hairline and short, stalky legs.
“What are you doing,” the man said, his hostile voice shattering the happy, warm environment near the top of the slide.
A boy not more than 12 years old timidly answered that his brother was saving his spot for him while he went the bathroom.
“There’s no saving spots, psshhh, there’s no saving spots,” the man’s grading voice increased in volume. “I’m not waiting longer because your brother was saving your spot,” the man said, his voice more forceful.
His loud command caught my attention, even though this occurred about two people aside of me. And through my transparant double raft, I could almost feel the hollowness of the boy, as he stood there, embarrassed and attacked by a man – a father – who treated him as though he had egged his house or slighted his daughter.
I was so shocked by this exchange that I was -- for once in quite a long time -- rendered speechless. I watched as the adolescent boy, most likely weighted down by a pit of frustration, shock and embarrassment, sulkily ambled down the stairs, passing the end of the line on his walk down. I was certain he was headed to find his mom, where he would breakdown. I watched it all happen and didn’t throw a leash on the pit bull of a bully who treated the boy so poorly.
It took only a second or two for my own frustration to mount. I was filled with rage not only for the jerk who treated the young boy so badly, but also for the jerk who idly sat by and allowed it to happen without interference.
I should’ve have told Chachi, (who I named later when retelling the story at dinner), that it’s not like we’re waiting three hours for a quick spin on the Matterhorn on a hot August day at crowded Disneyland. You’re waiting in line for a kid’s waterslide, who cares? Is it really worth ruining this kid’s day? I get it that “cuts” aren’t allowed, but there is a kind way to let a kid know that if everyone saves spots, the line will take a whole lot longer – the child would most likely take a hint.
I also wanted a chance to tell Chachi that if that kid were the same age as he, the kid would have dropkicked his butt down the waterslide before he had a chance to say a thing to him with that tone.
My thoughts were interrupted when my eyes met those of another mother in line with her preteen daughter, who produced a look that said all that I was feeling. She was shocked by the manner in which the boy was treated and seemed ashamed for not piping up herself. We chatted briefly about how rude the man spoke to the boy before I barreled down the waterslide with my own boy.
Being an advocate for children is one of those unspoken and understated oaths we take when we decide to have children of our own. As moms and dads, it is our job to watch with focused intensity to ensure that our own children and those of others are being treated fairly and with respect. It’s the village.
I thought about that poor boy the rest of the day at the pool. And I searched high and low for Chaci, whom I never spotted at the crowded facility again. I was hoping I would, because I had words to say at that point… either that or a perfected cannonball to plant directly beside him while he was toweling off for the day.