‘Excuse me,” she said and I turned from my perusal of the wall of cute khaki and navy pants to a woman standing near me holding up a blue and tan striped tank top and a blue skirt. “Do you think these look good together? Cute?”
I squelched the urge to tell her I’m the wrong person to be asking and instead decided to overcome my fashionably challenged induced low self esteem and give her my opinion. I smiled and gave the ensemble in question a quick look see.
It was cute.
“I think it looks good together,” I said and she smiled and said she thought so, too, but always liked to get someone else’s opinion. She seemed sweet. She said she probably could even wear the outfit to church if she added a sweater and I said yes, she probably could. Have a great afternoon, she said, and I told her to do the same. She disappeared with her tank top and skirt and I turned my attention to a rack of cotton dresses.
And then, there it was. I didn’t recognize it at first, the voice, not from the first few words at least. And then it hit me ... it was the woman I had just been talking to. Yelling. Loudly. At a little boy.
“Get your $#%@ hands off of my clothes,” I heard her say and I stepped out from the aisle to see her standing a ways down with her back to a small boy no older than four or five, I would guess. He reached up and pulled at her shirt and she ignored him, looking instead at sweaters laid out on a shelf in front of her. He pulled on it again.
“Are you stupid? Did you hear me tell you not to touch me? #$@%!,” she said and walked away from him, mumbling. The little boy started to cry. The woman stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face him. She stood there staring straight at his face as he cried and I watched as he mouthed the word “mama” between tiny sobs. A few seconds passed and I thought maybe, just maybe, she was going to console him.
But I was wrong.
“Shut up,” she said. “Your #@$ is getting on my nerves and I’m leaving you at home by yourself next time.” She turned around quickly and that’s when she saw me just standing there. Staring at her. I can’t imagine the look I must have had on my face. She didn’t say a word.
“Let’s go,” she said to the little boy and took him by the hand. Not gently. Not lovingly, even, but I could tell he was happy that she was holding his hand at all. I watched as they walked past me, her skirt and tank top draped over her arm. I felt sick, to think only minutes earlier I’d actually thought of her as a nice person. She wasn’t a nice person.
It isn’t the first time I’ve heard an adult scream obscenties at a child, treat them horribly, humiliate them in public. I stare at them. Sometimes I say something. More than once I’ve been told to mind my own business. “I’m having a bad day,” one mother said as she apologized for screaming at her little girl and cursing her, and I hadn’t even said a word ... just been standing nearby. Lots of people have bad days, but they don’t abuse — emotionally or physically — their children.
To the lady in the clothing store, I gave you my opinion once. If you asked for it now I’d have to tell you that I think you’re a bad mother and you should stop treating your child that way. Get help.
I’m ashamed I didn’t tell you that when I saw you.
Because you’re not cute. Not cute at all.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.