Those who know me well know that I often feel the need to talk about stuff, that I have to share experiences to try and understand my feelings, get some perspective and try and find a way forward.
I had an experience today that affected me very deeply, and even though I've already downloaded on a couple of understanding friends and discussed it at length with Beloved, I'd like to share it a bit further. This post is really a record for myself, so I'm sorry if it's rambling or overlong or pointless.
My office is about 10 minutes walk out of Civic (the CBD part of Canberra) and to get to the main shopping area I need to cross the main road through the city. I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing for the lights to change, and noticed that on the other side of the crossing were two women and two children.
One of the women was holding the hand of a little boy, aged about 4 or so. He was clearly trying to get her attention, although she was talking with her companion. She would turn to him every few seconds and say loudly "Quiet!", "Be quiet!" and then finally "Shuddup!". With this last word she reached up sideways with her right leg and kicked him, quite hard, in the back of the thighs, hard enough that he staggered forwards a step or two.
He started crying and his mother dragged him back to her side and turned to continue talking with her friend. I was quite shocked that first, she would quite deliberately hurt her child, and second that she had no issues with doing it in public, at the side of the busiest road in the city.
We all waited another 15 seconds or so for the lights, and the little boy was crying and still trying to get his mum's attention. I felt sick and appalled.
Just as the lights changed and the cars came to a stop beside us all, she turned to the little boy and raised her hand. "Are you gonna shuddup? Just shut the f*** up will ya?".
The little boy cringed away from her, and she said, again very loudly "Come on!" and pulled him across the road.
I had to force myself, after a couple of seconds, to step off the curb and cross the road, walking in the opposite direction to the woman and little boy. I wanted so much to stay on the side of the street and confront her, to say "do you have any idea that how you're treating your child will affect him for the rest of his life?". But then if she had no qualms about kicking, hitting and swearing at her son in public, then she wouldn't take very kindly to being embarrassed by a total stranger.
So I took a deep breath, stepped off the curb and crossed the road. By the time I got to the other side, I was crying. I felt ill. (Can we blame the hormones at this point? Makes me feel a little less silly). I kept my sunglasses on, walked very purposefully the 100m or so to where I was to meet Quilting Mick for lunch, and thought I was doing a fairly good job of holding it together. Until QM saw me, and exclaimed "Oh George, what's wrong?" (clearly not such a good job then). She very kindly listened and sympathised and discussed and distracted me with socks and yarn and noodle soup. Thanks QM. Then I went back to office and emailed Bells, who was sympathetic and understanding and distracted me with the steek jacket. Thanks Bells.
Maybe that mother was having a particularly bad day, and her son's behaviour was the last straw. There are myriad variables and circumstances that I don't know from those few seconds contact.
We've all had those days; I've had countless, when I'm fully ready to give him away to a passing stranger, but I don't kick and swear at PJ. I talk to him sharply, I withdraw my attention, I abandon whatever we're doing and come straight home, I take away things he likes, but I never physically or verbally abuse him. I had the feeling from the way they interacted, that this behaviour was quite usual for the mother and not unexpected by the child.
Perhaps this incident, even though it only lasted about 30 seconds, has affected me so deeply because my hormones are all arse-about, or perhaps it's because I'm beginning to realise how much of a social and economic divide has developed in our country in recent times. So that people who don't have access to resources and facilities (because they can't pay for them) just use the skills and tools they were taught by their parents and peers. (Although I'm sure it's not isolated to the results of 10 years of Howardism in Australia.)
How many people out there are parents, who have no idea how to be parents? Who don't know how to give a child the skills and tools they need to deal with conflict, anger, stress as they grow up? Because they were never given the same skills by their own parents. If they grew up in a household where it was normal to use violence and shouting and threats and anger to solve problems and deal with stress, then they think that's the way to deal with it in their own households. I am coming to believe that children learn what they live.
I worry now that the little boy I saw today will probably be yelled at or hit again today, or tonight when he doesn't want to go to bed or eat his dinner. That when he goes to school he thinks it's OK to hit other kids who make him mad or to throw stuff when he gets frustrated. That he wont have any respect for his mum, or any other women he meets, and so wont tell her when he goes out. That he'll get into fights when he's a teenager, that he'll hate authority and start rebelling by stealing cars or throwing rocks through windows or spray painting the underpass. That he'll leave school early because he doesn't deal with the structure and rules and will only be able to find unskilled work. That he'll wind up getting a girl pregnant when he's still a child himself, and find himself having to work to support a family he didn't want. And that I'll see him in 15 years at the pedestrian crossing, telling his kid to "shut the f*** up or I'll whack ya".
Maybe I'm a cynic, a glass half-empty kind, and he'll be a whiz at maths and economics and go onto to uni and work for an international merchant bank and live on the North Shore of Sydney with harbour views. Or he'll find himself an apprenticeship and train as a builder and make more money than you and I will ever see and marry his childhood sweetheart and have gorgeous kids and love them within an inch of their lives. But it feels like the odds are quite firmly stacked against him, and he'll have to fight every step of the way to break out of the cycle. On the other side of the coin, I know that not every kid whose life takes a rough path comes from a home where they don't have love and support and kindness, and that all the love in the world can't stop them self-destructing. Life is certainly not so straightforward.
Beloved and I work hard, every day, to do our very best to give PJ a safe, loving, supportive and happy environment. Yes, we have boundaries ("the" is not the most used word in the English language: its "no" by a country mile), and we have conflict and we have tantrums and we have meltdowns, but we work really hard to be consistent and explain things to PJ and be firm but fair.
It's hard; every day I question myself and how I'm approaching things; I read books and talk with others and Beloved and I are constantly reviewing our approach. But some days, oh, some days, I am within a whisker of lashing out, through frustration and anger.
But I don't; I never do. I walk away and go to another room and take a very deep breath (or cry or scream or yell at the cat). Even though I realise I am lacking in many qualities I wish for my children, and can't be the ideal parent, I do my best every day to teach the skills they need to navigate through a sometimes hostile and difficult world and find their own path and be happy and safe. If PJ goes off the rails, it will be because he made the choice, not because he had no choice.
Perhaps what hurts even more is that I don't have the first idea how to help kids whose parents aren't able to give them that happy safe place and those skills, or how to help the parents who were never given those things themselves. In a civilised, affluent society, surely there must be something we can do?
But I've already downloaded enough (if you're still reading that is!) and that is probably enough for one post. And I'm crying again so I can't see the keyboard (damn hormones!).
I think I need to go and give PJ a hug (and try not to wake him! Silly Mama!) before I try to forget that there are so many things I can't change.