We were in the mall this past weekend and you, a stranger, shouted at my three year-old son.
My little guy was excited, running with the glee of a new-found freedom to explore, and not listening to my instructions to look where he was going — which was straight into your electric wheelchair.
You wouldn’t have known this, but during her last years, my mum was often in a wheelchair and I couldn’t believe that people would randomly walk into her or cut her off. How careless, I thought, how needlessly rude. So I do understand that having to dodge people and put up with them taking for granted their ease of mobility all day, everyday, must be irritating beyond measure.
Except there’s a big difference between loudly saying “Stop!” to prevent an injury, either to yourself or to another person, and shouting at a child, angrily telling him “you have to get out of my way because I won’t!”.
Yes, my son should have been listening to me.
Yes, I should have had better control over his running along, happily window shopping with his beloved G-pop.
Yes, I should have anticipated that toddler-logic means he would make a b-line for the one person in the mall who would not find his antics endearing.
But none of that excuses your berating my child. It’s my job to correct his behaviour. If you have a problem with his behaviour, berate me (if you dare).
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? People like you who shout at children typically do so because they don’t dare to shout directly at the parents. Like the recent incident in the Portland Diner, you picked on a small person who could not defend themselves and exploited the shock value of the encounter and the desire of parents not to enter into confrontations in front of their children.
I’d like to say I called you on your rudeness, pointed out that the walkways are 20 ft wide and you had ample opportunity to avoid his erratic trundling.
But in the moment all I did was stare, incredulous at what had just taken place.
I looked down at my little boy, wondering if he was going to cry, but after a moment of raised eyebrows, he was off investigating the contents of a nearby potted plant.
I saw you a few times in the mall after that event. You kept your distance, unwilling to meet my gaze, perhaps knowing that what you’d done and said was neither reasonable nor acceptable.
What I would have liked to tell you is this: by shouting, you missed a golden opportunity.
If you had calmly explained about the limits of your own mobility, about your chair (with which he would have been fascinated), you would have taught him not only why he must listen to his mummy and look where he is going, but also about respecting other people and public space. It would have been a lesson his ever-eager three year-old soul could have understood, and one that would have allowed us to begin to correct some of the problems faced by people with disabilities by educating future generations?
So the next time a small child makes to run in front of you, by all means stop them. But rather than shouting angrily, try taking a moment to talk and to explain. After all, isn’t that what we all want: to be listened to, heard and understood?