Early last evening, coming home from work, I felt spent and sat down on a bench in a teensy tiny park.
(I’ve described myself in previous posts as a “fat white-haired woman.” I’ll stand by that. I could add I’m presently trying to lose weight but if that’s the case then why am I eating so much spaghetti? Topic for a different post.)
Anyhoo. This so-called park consisted of two green benches and a concrete trough of pink and white geraniums. Across from me, an older man with a cane stood at the curb, waiting for a red light to change color while on another bench a mother sat with her two fidgety youngsters. I’ve changed the names of the children.
“Can I run around?’ the little boy asked.
“What does that mean– run around?” said the mother.
Without hesitation, the little boy got up and demonstrated. He ran around the park, circling the flower trough and ended up beside the old man who still waited to cross the street.
“Jimmy,” the mother commanded. “Come here.” He ran to her side.
“Do you know that man?”
“No,” he mumbled.
“What do we call people we don’t know?”
“That’s right,” said the mother. “That man is a stranger.” She actually shouted this so that the culpable old man at the curb minding his own business would be sure to hear. Good grief, I thought. Meanwhile, the little girl loitered next to the flower trough.
“Karen, come here,” the mother said. The little girl hummed a little tune, pretending not to hear.
“Lookin’ at flowers,” the little girl whined.
The mother covered the failure of getting her daughter to obey her with a new command.
“Karen, how many flowers are there?”
Mechanically, the little girl counted to six. It seemed to have little correlation with the geraniums. Then, the little girl looked sideways at me and whispered “hi”. “Hi,” I said back and gave my standard half-hearted wave.
“Karen talked to a stranger!” the little boy yelled triumphantly.
“Yes, she did,” said the mother. She couldn’t have been more displeased. “Karen.”
“Just sayin’ hi,” the little girl said in a small voice.
“That woman is a Stranger,” the mother announced in her grandest stentorian-esque-itude. It was a voice big enough to be heard by people with the windows rolled up in their cars, for passersby on the street opposite, for the jogger a block down, for the world. “Karen, we do not talk to–”
“Oh fer crying out loud,” I said and stood up. I tried to have a bit of dignity while I did this, but who am I kidding? Hey, I was just some fat old stranger struggling to get off of a park bench.
So–um– what do you make of this anecdote? Perhaps you say Bravo! to the mother. After all, aren’t we living in perilous times? Aren’t we frightened? We most certainly are. Don’t I know it! Still. Why do I find this mother’s behavior so misguided (and yes, irritating)? When does “safety” trump ordinary kindness? When is “safety” just an excuse to be rude?
These kids are the next generation. We better figure this out.