“I hope you’re not LDS …”

This morning Crysanthemum and I took our kids to Ikea for breakfast, a little quality time in the Smaland play place, and some organization-supply shopping.

My kids love eating in the Ikea cafeteria, sitting at the familiar little tables in front of retro Goofy cartoons. Plus it’s free this month. Molly wanders around a bit, and I keep a close eye on her because she tries to steal food from other kids’ plates and because although she walks well for an 11-month old, she’s still my baby. As she stood at one of the toys (the cylinders that you spin to line up the three images), a boy about three years old came up beside her and pushed her sqaure in the chest, knocking her back from the toy and into the metal legs of a chair and onto the ground. Molly was unhurt and she didn’t even cry, but I was up and out of my chair, picking her up, and asking the ladies at the next table,

“Is this your kid?”

They shook their heads and I looked up and around, scanning for the kid’s parent. No one stepped forward, so I said,

“This kid just pushed my baby down, whose kid is this?”

A mother came over from the other side of the room as we sat back down, asking,

“Well, what do you expect?”

That stumped me. My kids misbehave, they don’t always want to share or take turns. One of the worst parenting days I’ve had was the time several years ago in Cairo that I bragged that Avery wasn’t a biter and five minutes later she bit the boy whose biting had occasioned my boast.

But I don’t let them get away with pushing littler kids down. And probably this is sexist of me, but the fact that it was a bigger boy child pushing my baby girl child around somehow made it seem worse. Maybe I’ve just been lucky with my girls, maybe I don’t understand or fully empathize with how naturally physical and rough boys can be. But still, I expect you to not let your son push my baby girl down. That’s what I expect. I expect you to watch your child and correct him if he does things like that.

(I also love the idea of Free Range Kids — I want my kids to work it out on the playground and the playroom. I’m not a referee, I don’t like tattling; if there’s no blood, I don’t want to hear about it. But she’s my baby. Can I be a Free-Ranger-with-caveats-for-my-baby?)

The mom picked up her little boy and told him to say he was sorry. He ignored her for a few seconds and then muttered,

 “Sorry.”

I said, in that overly-bright-encouraging voice, “Thanks for apologizing.”

The mom and the boy and what looked like the grandmother left several minutes later.

We finished breakfast and as I was putting our dirty dishes away a different woman approached me and said:

“Like your kids have never done anything to another kid. I hope you’re ashamed, you made a huge spectacle and really embarrassed that lady and her son has a disability and I hope you feel embarrassed of yourself.”

I got that fluttery feeling in my stomach, the guilty headache, the sinking sick feeling that I had really messed up. I took my kids to the bathroom and came back. I saw the second woman sitting back in her seat and I went over to her. I asked if she knew the woman, and she said,

“No, but why would that matter?”

I said, “I just wondered if you knew her so you could tell her that I was sorry.”

“Oh, but you made a terrible spectacle, you embarrassed her in front of everyone.”

I said, “I didn’t mean to make a scene, I just wanted to know where the boy’s parents were,” and she blew up at me. She said I did make a spectacle and everyone was staring and she knows the family from the agency and the kid has autism and she knows how hard it is for them when people like me make big spectacles. I tried to apologize again, and she said,

“I hope you’re not LDS, because if you are then that was even more embarrassing.”

I admitted I am LDS and that, again, I was sorry, I hadn’t realized so many people were watching, or that it was that big a deal. She wouldn’t stop berating me, and I finally left mid-sentence.

I wish I were a good enough person (or at least a good enough blogger) to figure out a neat way to draw out the moral or ending of this story. I still feel jittery inside about it. I wish I hadn’t made that mom feel bad, but I also wish her son hadn’t pushed my baby down, and while I know it was the right thing to walk away from the second lady, I wish I could make her admit that at least there were a number of things I didn’t do in my spectacle: I didn’t yell or swear or call the mother or the boy names. I thought I had handled it okay. (In retrospect not great, of course.)

But I hate that I made it harder for the other mother. The other day Lucy told me that her “eye muscle” makes it so that the cherry tomato under the fridge looks like it’s six inches to the left of where it really is. I’d forgotten I’d even explained to her and her sisters about her eye a few months ago. She’s totally fine with it. It’s just a trick she can do with her Duane Syndrome.

And that “disability” is freaking nothing compared to autism. I know that. I know how lucky we are, how easy we have it (knock on wood, it’s plenty hard even typical-ish, which makes me feel that much worse, augh.) 

Last week I started crying when I quietly responded to my girls in line at Thanksgiving Point that the reason that big boy talks and laughs too loud is because his brain works differently and that’s okay, and I made my grandma angry when I said that if there’s a way to fix things like my Aunt Coco’s Down Syndrome then of course we should fix them. (I think we agreed, or should have, that there is a gray area between obvious cosmetic surgery and chromosomal therapies, with fraught stops along the way for things like growth hormone for very short children and cochlear implants for deaf people.)

Is there a way to talk about this without sounding like an ass? I love how Amy talks about it.  

I think I’ve figured out the moral. Avery was with me when the second lady wouldn’t accept my apology on behalf of the other mother. She was instantly defensive, saying, that lady has a baby of her own, how would she feel if it was her baby who got pushed down?

But it wasn’t really about Molly or even the boy (who is probably young enough to quickly forget and forgive), and it most certainly shouldn’t be about the second lady, whose voice in my head I’m going to do my best to ignore even though she succeeded in making me feel bad and making me think again (and again) about how I act and the example I set for my own kids.

So —

Dear Mother of the Child who could be My Child Next Week,

I am sorry, more sorry than I can say. I am sorry I overreacted and drew attention to you in a public place. I know you’re doing your best and I’m sorry that I made it harder. Please forgive me.

Yours in motherhood-is-hard-solidarity,

Shannon