Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Said It

August 21, 2007 @ 7:47 pm | Filed under: ,

But I did.

I took the kids to the San Diego Museum of Art today, for Free Tuesday. Admission to the various museums and gardens in Balboa Park is free one Tuesday a month on a rotating basis. We plan to hit them all, eventually.

To our delight, we arrived to discover the museum is hosting an exhibit called Giverny, featuring canvases by several well-known Impressionists who came together to form a little artists’ colony in the rural French village of that name. We met Monet in person for the first time today. I had goose bumps. I’ll write more later about the paintings we saw today. I have lots and lots to say about our outing, but for now I’ll just tell this one story.

We stopped by the museum gift shop on our way out. It’s long and narrow, and the free-Tuesday crowd was clogging the aisles. I parked Wonderboy’s stroller in a nook by the door where no one would trip over him, and I left Jane to keep watch over him while I bought a few art postcards. The register was in the middle of the store where I could keep an eye on the kids while I stood in line.

On the whole, they were being pretty patient, I thought, and well-behaved. But Beanie reached out to touch something on a shelf and Wonderboy let out a screech. He can be quite strict with his sisters. He had seen me issue instructions not to touch anything while I was in line. Thus the screech.

Two women happened to be passing behind me at that moment, and one of them rolled her eyes at the other.

“Why do people let their kids scream like animals?” she muttered.

I couldn’t help it. I had to say something.

I turned to her with a big bright smile. “That animal,” I said, “is DEAF. He’s doing the best he can.”

Her face blanched, and she choked out an apology as she hastened past, hurrying far, far away from the poisonously sweet mother of the screeching animal. I’m pretty sure she hid in the back of the store until I left. Poor thing; she had a long wait, for the line was long.


Okay, so maybe it was a cheap shot. In truth, his shriekiness probably has more to do with his being a high-strung three-year-old than his being hearing impaired. And yes, he’s only partly deaf. Medium deaf, if you will. Not all the way deaf.

I just get tired, sometimes, of how intolerant our culture seems to be of little children. I feel like I’m always shushing my brood, reining in their high spirits. I love to take them places, love piling in the car for another adventure in nature or art or history, but there can be so much tension in the role of the mom who is on don’t-annoy-anyone alert.

They are obedient and pleasant children. We get plenty of smiles and compliments when we’re out and about. We also get lots of stares, and sometimes frowns. If you’re walking behind us on a narrow path, we’ll try to get out of your way because I know we can be painfully slow to be trapped behind, but I can’t always pull it off. My stroller wheels stick, and I’m preoccupied with keeping Beanie from walking every wall like a tightrope and Rilla from picking my pocket from her perch in the sling. And whoops, there goes Wonderboy’s sippy cup under the stroller. And Jane wants me to look at a new species of butterfly she just spotted. And Rose requires a detailed explanation of exactly why we couldn’t buy the $60 framed print we fell in love with in the store.

Bright, happy, eager, reasonably polite. Doesn’t that balance sometimes inconvenient and occasionally noisy?

Of course I know it does. I’m not really angry about what that woman said. “Like animals” stung a bit, perhaps, but I know words like that cannot have been uttered by anyone who has walked ten steps in my shoes. And I don’t know what her own shoes feel like. Perhaps she has bunions.

She certainly does not have my screeching, high-strung, hard-of-hearing animal, who sees me taking off his baby sister’s clothes at bedtime and trots off down the hall to fetch her pajamas, unasked, chuckling with the joy of the task, and delivers them with a kiss for the baby and another for me. She does not have those skinny arms around her neck, that gaptoothed grin, those busy little fingers flashing and twisting to shape words in accompaniment to that funny, nasal, charming, tuneless singing.

One woman’s animal, another woman’s heart.


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32 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Katie says:

    Oh my, oh my! Amen, my sister!

  2. Abigail says:

    Well said! We had our heartbreaking moment at Good Friday Mass this year (at 8 PM). I was super pregnant, and couldn’t drive. Still, I desperately wanted to go to Mass and so I took my husband, a 4 year old and a 2 year old son. My son had been studying the stations of the cross so intently all day. Way past his bed time, yet he was unusually good in church. He took in all the changes of the Mass with eager eyes. Then my son made one loud sound, (I think his sister stepped on his foot) and a parishioner who’d been giving us the evil eye all Mass, actually told my husband to take him outside so other people could focus on the solemnity of the day. It was a good thing this was directed at my husband, because I would have said- “my son is a Catholic who needs to focus on Jesus, too!”

    After these remarks, my son kissed the cross so sweetly that it brought a big smile to the priest’s face. The priest actually thanked him for coming. I felt more at ease and validated. It’s a tough job dealing with the unwelcoming to the young & loud, but the joys of motherhood are well worth it!

  3. Nicole in MN says:

    I’m happy you said it.

    I often feel the pressure of taking my crew out into the world. My 10yo ds must feel the pressure also as I overheard him reminding his 4yo brother to behave, “or some people will just think children are too much trouble!”.

    I do my best to train our children to behave politely and quietly, especially in public. I hope others will respond with charity and tolerance.

  4. Becca says:

    This one made me cry. I’ve been feeling this so much lately–I try to take my reasonably well-behaved little crew out, and the whole time I’m on high stress mode trying to keep perfect order. I’m losing some of the joy of our outings trying to maintain the world’s crazy standards.

  5. chickadee says:

    oh, so well said and the photo of your sweet boy made me cry a little.

  6. Melia says:

    Oh honey, I’m with you. I just wish I had your courage to say something. I still remember the time a few years ago when a woman yelled, yes, literally yelled at my 18-month-old in Costco to “shut up” when he let out a scream as you described. I just turned around and left without a word, but have thought many times of what I should have said.

  7. Baleboosteh says:

    Hurrah for you! I am so glad you said what you said.

  8. Amy says:

    What they all said! ^ 🙂

  9. Margaret in Minnesota says:

    Yep, you’ve hit a chord with us, Lissa.

    “There can be so much tension in the role of the mom who is on don’t-annoy-anyone alert,” you say. Don’t I know it. I HATE having to temper my children’s enthusiasm for life just to appease that crabby lady coming toward us down the aisle. We (try to) save our grocery-cart cavorting for the parking lot, where there’s more room and far less glares.

    Most of all, I hate feeling like I have to cater to the strangers for fear that they’ll judge my largish family. If they’re gonna judge, they’re gonna judge. I just wish I were better at focusing on my beautiful kids and not on the ugliness I’m imagining or perhaps not imagining.

    I’ll leave it at that, though I must close with a great big {{hug}} for you, and a great big smooch for your little man, too.

  10. Lisa says:

    That’s like the elderly lady who recently said to me (concerning one of my kids): “Well my goodness! Kids sure weren’t THAT LOUD when I was raising mine!”

    (Talk about “deaf”!)

  11. Elizabeth says:

    You handled it beautifully! Society needs to remember that our community includes people of all ages, races, and abilities. God has made us all and loves us all. You reminded that woman of these facts and did so with kindness and generosity.

    I love your response of, “He’s doing the best he can.” I’ll be using that the next time someone asks why my language and hearing impaired son “speaks so weird.” (Classy interregations!) Oh, the questions I get when I’m out with him, my typically developing daughter, and my 32 year old sister with Down Syndrome. It’s so frustrating when people neglect to recognize that people with disabilities are PEOPLE first.

  12. SmallWorld says:

    Beautiful post! It’s amazing how one statement like the “animal” one can stick with us for so long–but you are focusing on remembering the preciousness of your family and, by doing so, will effectively WIPE OUT that negativity! Plus, you scored one for kids. 😉

  13. Theresa ♥ says:

    What an endearing post Lissa. You touched a cord in this mother’s heart.

  14. Jane says:

    Sadly, a too many people today are not only intolerant of children, they outright hate them with a hatred that is frightening. They refer to parents as “breeders” and even the presence of well-mannered children is an anathema to them. I find this truly scary.

  15. rachel says:

    Yay, for you, your response, and all yours. One reason I left America to go back to the Middle East is because I didn’t want to give my kids the feeling they were nuisances.

  16. Rebecca says:

    This was quite lovely. We are trying to raise Violet to be a free spirit, to not squelch her imagination or independence, which sometimes means chasing your 15 month old around the mall. Good on you for saying something. I don’t know if I would like myself very much if I didn’t stand up for my kiddo.

  17. Amie says:

    What a beautiful post. And, yes, it’s truly saddening how our culture has a tendency to try and stifle children, or make people feel guilty for daring to have them out in public. I think you handled that situation perfectly.

  18. Jennifer says:

    I am so sorry that you had to go through that. I like what you said. I also know what you mean. My 4 year old gets extremely upset over certain things and no one understands. I don’t want to use his problems as an excuse, but sometimes I just want to smack someone and point out like you did, that he has a disability.

    The culture today in general does not tolerate children well at all. Probably because most parents these days don’t seem to do much in the way of actually raising their kids – they leave it to others and then wonder why the kids aren’t turning out very well. People automatically think that kids are bad, wild, loud, rude, etc and don’t take the time to watch and find out if these kids that just came through the door are behaved or not. I see it all the time. I wish that people would be more tolerant in general of kids, but especially kids with disabilities – and take that into consideration before they more a judgement call.

  19. Rachel says:

    Goodness, you were brave to say that to her! (I am definitely more shrinking violet like, but my DH would have stuck up for us ;)).
    *I* think your little boy is darling… and not only that, do people really think mother’s have control over their children’s voiceboxes? My kids will scream (and they do NOT have any excuse) and the best I can do is hush them up AFTER the fact!
    You’re a great mother Lissa, and an inspiration to all of us 🙂

  20. Becki says:

    First of all: even the sweetest and best behaved child alive is not perfect, and screams sometimes.

    Second: How exactly is a mother to anticipate and prevent a spontaneous scream? Were the kids issued along with a remote that has a mute button that I somehow lost? If so, I would like it back.

    Third: I heart your direct but kind education of that judgmental woman. I would be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts she doesn’t have kids.

  21. Karen Edmisten says:

    I’m with you on all of it … what you said, how you said it, that you said it at all.

    And with you on the heart. 🙂

    And with you on the goosebumps over Monet, too — we saw an enormous “Waterlilies” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum and it was amazing to be in its presence.

    Almost as amazing as being a mom.

  22. Faith says:

    The thing is, Melissa, when you come back with a response to someone’s snideness and call them on it, you are actually doing them a favor! They need to be reigned in. Sometimes shame is a good thing; it means there’s hope because she’s still got a conscience!

    You were much nicer than I am. I tend to say angry things before I can stop myself, like “he does that because he’s three; what’s your excuse??? Or “Who put the burr up your …….? See, I just say things that make people mad. But you handled it really well and now that woman will think twice before being so insensitive.

  23. Beth says:

    Good for you. I think you handled the situation beautifully.

    Sometimes, responding is by far the better choice than quietly ignoring the person and going about your day. Especially when my children have heard a nasty comment from another — about *them* — I will always respond to the commenter.

  24. Tom E. says:

    Oh, you should have said it. You should also have opened up a can of something.

  25. superstella says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for making this post!! [I’m a long-time lurker, hello =]

    I’m grateful you made it, not because I’m in your shoes, but because I often find myself in the snide woman’s shoes. I keep comments like that to myself, but that doesn’t meant I don’t think them. Reading a post like this, however, reminds me to have grace and compassion in my heart always.

    I suppose, in my defense, I only make comments like this to myself when a parent is simply ignoring their screaming child to talk on their cellphone or letting their child break mannequins in stores. [I worked at Banana Republic for a summer and I realized most of the working mothers that came in thought the associates were there to baby-sit their children. I wouldn’t have minded, but I felt bad for the kids.]

    But still. This post has strengthened my resolve to rebuke those kinds of thoughts in my heart because that is a terrible example of Christ… and if I do have kids someday [Lord willing] I’d want to raise them to be people who can have grace and compassion on everyone, regardless of their situations.

  26. KC says:

    Lissa, hugs to you and what everyone else said.

  27. tracey says:

    I’m glad you spoke up! She should think a little more about how hard it is to be a mom and how commendable (and brave)it is to take young children to places like the museum.
    I think had it been my kid who screamed I would have said, “I don’t LET her scream, she just does it when she needs to.” Kids aren’t well-oiled machines for goodness sakes.
    I’ll bet she’ll think before she judges next time. It’s all you can hope for.

  28. NG says:

    Of course children aren’t always as well behaved as they should be. Just like adults aren’t always as polite and tactful as THEY should be… as I believe this story illustrates.

  29. Sarah S. Chicken says:

    Thank you for writing this. It helped me clarify some of my feelings about a recent occurrence in my neck of the woods. I wrote about it here:

  30. Tara says:

    Thank you for this post, from both sides. This will help me to know that it is possible to speak up and also help me to remember not to make assumptions.
    A great lesson all the way around.

  31. patience says:

    I feel sad for people who make such unkind comments (which is considerably more than just *thinking* them), because obviously they have never known the joys and stresses of parenthood. Or they have – in which case I feel sorry for their children!

    I loved your response to the woman, and I loved your post in general. Obviously, it touched many hearts.

  32. mamacrow says:

    coming out of lurking for this one!
    great comment – succint, not snippy. Totally agree with other posters that it needed to be said – honestly, sometimes people just don’t think about what they say before it comes out of their mouth! (me included sometimes 🙁 )

    secondly, abigale – re the church incident – people that are concentrating on other children so much obviously aren’t there for the right reasons!

    This is something I feel strongly about, seeing as we (me, DH, four boys) all work hard to make sure we are being considerate to others in public situations (NOT running around, shouting, breaking stuff etc). The odd mishap is going to happen. People shouldn’t jump on them, and be compasionate to others who havn’t quite ‘got there’ as far as desirable social skills are concerned!