Saturday, January 08, 2011
Natalie is a beautiful little girl with long dark hair and huge brown eyes. She is three years old, is an only child, and doesn't go to preschool. Natalie, her mother and I were sharing a waiting room with Paula, whose favorite thing is reading; Diane, who is a special ed teacher; and Scott, who mostly kept to himself but was very friendly when spoken to. The reason I know more details than normal about my fellow strangers-in-waiting is that little Natalie was serving as the social director, introducing herself to everyone, asking questions, and just generally being a friendly and vivacious three year old.
Natalie's mom was tired; I could see that just by looking at her. Tired and most likely stressed, and possibly feeling beat down by life in general. I say that with sincere empathy, because I don't know what kind of hand she's been dealt. I don't know her life story, and I don't know where she's coming from.
All I know is that she was treating her daughter very unkindly, and her daughter didn't deserve it (not that any child ever does)
She was short and impatient as she spoke to her, and the first time she actually yelled - when Natalie stood up on her chair - she yelled so sharply and abruptly that everyone in the room looked up from what they were doing.
"Sit DOWN! And leave that poor lady alone!!"
Undeterred, Natalie sat down, and picked up a book.
"Can I read this to you?" she asked her mother.
"You don't know how to read," her mother snapped. "Just sit there. And sit there quietly."
That was when my heart truly broke for her, for this innocent little girl who I'd never seen before and would never see again.
I was called to see the dentist then, but she didn't leave my mind. Later, when I was at the checkout desk scheduling my next appointment, I felt a tiny presence beside me. A little hand suddenly appeared on the desk next to me, holding a pink ball covered in suction cups. I turned to see Natalie looking up at me. I said hello and told her what a cool ball she had. She smiled at me, stuck her ball on the desk, and plucked it off again.
As I was finishing up with the receptionist, one of the dentists came by and showed her how to throw it against the wall in the hallway. They were playing, and laughing, when her mother came around the corner.
There you are!
Stop throwing that!
I don't care what he said!
Give me that ball!
The last image I had of little Natalie was of her crying because her mother had taken her ball, and was demanding that she say "please" and ask nicely before she would consider giving it back.
I don't remember getting reprimanded a lot as a child, but I do remember how it made me feel. Some incidents, as many as 30 years ago, are as fresh in my memory as if they happened yesterday. I still remember when once as a kid I really needed to tell my mother something when she was on the phone. I knew she was talking on the phone, but I also knew that I just. couldn't. wait. So I "Mom. Mom. Mom"'d her until she put her hand over the phone, looked me in the eye, and yelled, "Shut UP!" I still remember how ashamed I felt, how devastated. I still remember that sick, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
My husband tells of a time when he was helping his mother change the sheets on the bed. He was holding the edge of the mattress up, and slipped and dropped it on his mother. She yelled at him for the mistake, called him a "little sh*t," and he was so crushed he ran off to cry. He'd learned not to cry in front of her, because that would lead to his being called a crybaby.
If we can remember these isolated incidents with such clarity, what must a girl like Natalie grow up feeling? How indelibly those negative words must be marked on her soul.
I can't do anything about Natalie. And I can't do anything to change my past mistakes with my own kids. What I can do - what we all can do - is to remember that feeling we had as kids, to remember that with each time we yell or belittle or cut them down in any way, we take away a piece of not just their happiness, but of their soul. That each time we're less than kind to our kids that we risk damaging not only who they are right now, but who they're going to be. That just because we're the ADULTS, we have the responsibility to love, nurture, and protect not just our own children, but all children. If we as adults can't treat them with kindness and respect, how will they treat each other? How will they treat their own kids? When does the cycle stop?
As I was finishing up this blog, I received a comment on Facebook telling me that I needed to stop judging Natalie's mother. And I'm not. This really has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with an innocent and defenseless baby who did not deserve to be treated that way. We need to stop letting political correctness stop us from saying the things that need to be said.
We need to be adults. We need to start treating our kids better.
Yes, even when we're sleep-deprived. Even when we're sick, when we're fighting with our spouses, or when we're stressed about finances. Even when we're having a really crappy day, and the last thing we want to do is be patient and kind to anyone. Because we are the grownups. Because if we don't do it, no one else will. Because somewhere along the way, someone decided that it was okay to treat kids with less respect than we'd treat fellow adults.
It's not okay.
Think of the last time someone hurt your feelings. The last time someone said something truly unkind, or unnecessary, or mean. The last time someone really insulted you, or belittled you, or was even just less than supportive. Think of the last time someone said something to you in anger, something that was so cutting that even if you knew they regretted it and they instantly apologized, you will carry the scar the rest of your life. Have the feeling? Now imagine that you've gotten that hurtful treatment and you're 3 years old. Or 5. Or 12. You're still figuring out the way the world works. You're still figuring out who you can really trust. You're still figuring out how to treat people. You're still figuring out emotions, and self-worth, and social nuances. You're still figuring out where you fit in. You're still figuring out your own sense of YOU. How do you feel now?
Let's break the cycle today. For ourselves, for our kids, and for Natalie.