In life, I have discovered, unfortunately, that it is often necessary to take my children out in public. We tend to make a regular practice of it, actually. Frequently, our public outings go well, and we get our shopping or errands done without attracting too much attention to ourselves. My children, in my opinion, are generally well behaved out in public.
Now I'm not saying they don't have their moments. I can personally name at least 10 retail establishments in a five mile radius where I have carried one or more of my children screaming out of the store. In fact, I had the pleasure of doing so in Sears just earlier this week, after a mishap concerning a Spiderman coat. (They had all of the sizes except the one that fit, it seemed, and my son could not contain his disappointment.) The scenes my children can and do cause in public are brutal. They are not fun. And they are obvious to all who witness them.
Today, that did not happen. Today, I took my children on the train to go to the zoo, and they sat in their seats and chattered happily for the 40 minute ride. They exclaimed over the sights flying by outside the window: "Oh, a tunnel!" or "Here comes a bridge!" or "Look at the skyscraper!", but I did not really see this as misbehavior. In fact, it was a pretty pleasant, although crowded, ride.
When we boarded the train, it was difficult to find four seats together. A young man dressed as a thug stood up and gave me his seat, which allowed the four of us to sit close together. (On a side note, I have found that young men dressed as thugs on the train are always the nicest people. They always help me lift my stroller on and off the train or give me their seats. Every time. Go figure.) At the same time that we were sitting, an older middle-aged woman was heading toward the same seats. We got there first, and I apologized awkwardly, figuring since we were four people and she was one, and there were other single seats available, it really wasn't that much of a slight. Apparently it was.
We proceeded on our train ride, the children conversing at an excited, but reasonable decibel, and the woman standing near us, scowling and clinging to a pole. At one point, Tommy needed to be corrected, and I did so, and he cried. Loudly. But just for a moment. He caught my eye, which was giving him a mean Mommy look, and he immediately quieted down. (This is huge progress for him, by the way, especially compared to the Sears incident, and I was pleased.) The woman swore loudly, glancing over her shoulder at my son, shaking her head as if she was disgusted.
Tommy and I exchanged glances across the aisle, I smiled at him to let him know that he was fine, reminded him to keep his voice down on the train, and the ride continued as before. Twenty minutes later, the woman disembarked at her stop. Before she exited the train, she turned and said pointedly, "I sure hope those children don't treat your mother the way they have treated me!" and she got off in a huff.
Now, I know there are crazy people on the train. Crazy and rude. In fact, another young man dressed as a thug made it a point to remind me of this as I picked my jaw up off the floor. I know that this woman clearly had some issues that didn't have anything to do with us. But it stayed in my mind for the rest of the day, and I found myself questioning my perception of what really happened. Were they really being too loud, and I'm just so used to the noise level that I don't notice it any more? Do my children seem obnoxious to the general public, while I think their behavior is fine?
I've been around people who let their kids run wild. I see these children misbehaving, and I watch their parents just sit there, oblivious. I get annoyed at these people. Just last week, when I was enjoying a few days without my kids, a woman near me was holding a screaming toddler and it grated my nerves. It wasn't that the baby was misbehaving, he was doing what babies do, and I could not stand it. I found myself muttering that she should just leave. But today, I found myself wondering if I had become that oblivious parent.
Today, my children were just doing what children do. They were talking. They were laughing. They were playing. And it was offensive to this woman.
Obviously, she was way out of line. However, she did strike a nerve in my own heart, revealing to me again my own sense of uncertainty when it comes to the huge responsibility that is Parenting. That nerve is a tender one, and it has been struck before, on playdates with super strict moms or in Sears when my child is having an absolute meltdown. I can't quite get that nerve to heal, it seems.
Thankfully, on the train ride home, there were some truly obnoxious children running up and down the aisle, and I smiled proudly to see my brood sitting obediently in their seats. It restored my faith in my own parenting back its normal level of inadequacy.
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