Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience; You are raising a human being ~ Kittie Franz
We were shopping today at an (unnamed) big box store. My 3yo was sitting in the seat of the cart, contentedly chattering away, while my 6yo daughter was walking along side the cart, bouncing a small ball. Both of my children were conversing quietly and cheerfully with me. We were having a good time, enjoying the moment, and were on our way out. As we came around the corner of the shoe section, we were suddenly accosted by a stern, accusing voice: “You can’t bounce that ball in here. It’s against the rules.”
(Artist: Ctd 2005 Source: Flikr)
My daughter, immediately stopped bouncing the ball, and concernedly looked around for the source of the voice, as did I. The closest employee to our location was bending over her work in the shoe area – and hadn’t yet made eye contact with either my daughter or me. In retrospect, I assume said employee considered it part of her work to espouse “the rules” to unsuspecting passersby. Unfortunately, in conveying said rules, she didn’t think it appropriate to direct her comment to me – the parent – she instead preferred to dole out her regulations to defenseless children.
In the moment, I was caught off-guard, flustered (those thoughts above about appropriateness and eye contact didn’t come to me until much later). At the time, I was simply taken aback. I had been in a great mood, my kids were “behaving”, and suddenly a random person thought it acceptable to harshly correct my daughter, without addressing either her, or myself directly. I inquired over the shoe section to the general area from where the admonishment came (we had by this time already moved away from the source of the rebuke) a meek and less-than-eloquent, “Why”? To which I received the matter-of-fact (and disembodied) reply, “Because she could hurt a guest”. I really didn’t know what to say. I’m not one for confrontation, and apparently, neither was this faceless person.
My daughter, obviously embarrassed, had already put the ball down, and we continued walking. After regaining a bit of my composure, I told my dear daughter that she did not, in fact, have to put the ball away. I told her it wasn’t the rule of (unnamed big box store) it was simply the rule of an individual who at that moment, felt she had the right to dictate rules. I told her she was bouncing the ball well, and if she wanted to keep doing so she could (because I know recently, she’s been working on perfecting her dribble, and she was, in fact, controlling the ball quite well). She chose not to. I told her not to feel embarrassed, and that she had done nothing wrong, and that in the future, it was okay to ask why she wasn’t allowed to bounce the ball; that she didn’t have to immediately comply. But that good feeling was gone. I felt I’d missed a moment. I was chagrined.
Undeterred, my sweet daughter picked up a book out of our cart, started reading as she was walking, and we continued on to the check out, and before long, the irritating scene was forgotten. At least by her. I hope.
But I didn’t forget it. It’s not the first time a “stranger” has thought it appropriate to discipline my children in front of me in a store. And it’s not the first time I didn’t have the guts to tell that person off. And the whole situation really bothers me, for a couple of reasons.
In this, and the other instances I can think of, my children weren’t hurting anyone, they weren’t being overly loud, they weren’t damaging anything, they weren’t invading anyone else’s space. They were happily entertaining themselves while I, the adult, went about the task of shopping – which, all things considered, can be boring for small children after a certain period of time. They were simply being children: Joyous. Happy. Lighthearted. And yes, often blessedly frenetic. Perhaps my parenting style is more lax than others, but I find it hard to believe that there’s much merit in restricting children’s expression just because their childishness might irritate an intolerant adult around them. In this instance, had my daughter been throwing the ball or bouncing it wildly, or running, or yelling, I’d have stopped her – I like to believe well before any stranger thought it necessary to intervene. But she hadn’t been. So I didn’t. Yet, I also didn’t confront the person in any of the instances – I preferred just to let it slide. But I’m not sure that’s the best way. I’m not out to raise a generation of blind rule-followers. I want to raise children who are aware of their rights, who speak up when they have questions or are confronted, who won’t let their sprits be squashed by some grumpy curmudgeon.
Which brings me to the last thing that bothered me: why would a person take it upon themselves to squash a child’s spirit – just because they can? It’s not just this instance. I think it happens far too often in our society. Children are routinely shushed, corralled, restrained, and restricted for the sake of placating adults – from infancy onward. The quiet babies are the “good babies”. The “good kids” are the obedient ones. The character of children is so light and open, that it makes some adults uncomfortable. But really, instead of discomfort, we need to learn from children – embrace the beauty and wonder in each moment that our children freely see and enjoy. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we stopped worrying so much about the what ifs (she could hurt a guest) and started embracing the what ares (she’s really good at bouncing that ball). Imagine the possibilities if adults started looking at children as real, whole, people, not just as nuisances needing to be dealt with.