Last night, Eliana and I had a date at Creative Arts Studio in Royal Oak – painting pottery and making mosaics. My lovely daughter and I found space side-by-side at a broad wood table, selected our colors and spent nearly two hours creating art out of pieces.
We talked. She told me about the travails of little girls navigating social situations. We joked. She sidled up next to me and I stroked her long satin hair. After, we would have sushi together at a booth so cozy, it was as if we were the only two people in the world.
It was easy to forget, later, at dinner in the cold dark night, the horrific behavior of other parents at the studio. What is our social obligation when we see injustice toward children? I’d like to stand on my soapbox and say that I would speak up in the face of intolerable treatment of children in a public space – but I have to admit, I was too afraid of being struck to do anything last night other than discuss it with my daughter.
First were the white-trash folks who populated a long table in the center of the store. Neither the not-quite-2-year-old nor the non-walking baby were happy to be held while their grown-up relatives leisurely painted pottery. The squawks and squeals and outright cries were to be expected – after all, it’s the job of a baby or a toddler to explore, to touch, to wander.
So when the mother – or perhaps it was the grandmother – smacked the baby’s bottom and yelled at him to stop crying, a piece of me died inside.
“Mommy, she spanked the baby,” Eliana whispered, tugging at my side.
“Yes, it’s horrible,” I replied, hugging her close. “Babies can’t sit still. They shouldn’t be in a place like this. It’s not fair to the baby. The parents were wrong.”
And then the couple next to us, with their 3-year-old daughter painting a gift for some beloved uncle. After her attention span came to a close, and there was still painting to be done, all we could hear were mutterings from her father, “You’re getting a time-out when we get home. You have a lot of work still to do. Keep painting.”
Eliana balked at them, too, in disbelief at the apparent disregard for the nature of childhood, and the proclivities of youngsters.
“Adults need to have realistic expectations,” I told her. “Little kids can only sit so long. You’re right. They’re being mean.”
And I told her that I loved her again and again, so that she would know that my love was without condition and never-ending.
I know there are parents who think it’s ok to spank their children and I guess in our society it’s to-each-his-own. I believe that it’s unfair to strike another person, no matter the situation, but absolutely positively essentially the youngest among us – for they are helpless and innocent, trusting, and to be physically punished because they are acting according to their nature is just plain cruel.
My children are absolute gifts. Without them, I would be half the person that I am today, if that.
And it is my job, I have always believed, to honor who they are as individuals, to encourage their natural curiosity, and to create a safe foundation from which they can fly when they are good and ready.
Our character rests almost entirely on how we treat the people around us, especially those who are not at the same level of development or intellect or sophistication. Every morning, I check myself to make sure I am standing where I want to be. Where are you?