Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Overheard

There is a coney island restaurant where I like to eat my lunch when I am working. It's just a little place, does a good business, and so it's impossible sometimes not to hear conversations going on around me, especially since I am by myself.

There was the young gal who went on for half an hour about fashion, her friends' love lives, and her dog. I loved eavesdropping on her, I found her delightful. I set down my book and just listened. There was the table full of starched businessmen, with one of them holding forth about the most killingly dull subjects while his protegees lapped up every word. Then, too, there was the upscale middle-aged gal who was sitting with her daughter and new grandbaby. Her cell phone rang and she cheerfully shouted her conversation to the entire restaurant until we all knew more about Shayna's breasts (her daughter was, apparently, nursing) than any of us ever wanted to know. All this and Greek omelets too!

Today it was crowded and I sat in a booth in front of two adults and a little boy. While I try to avoid sitting near men of a certain age who are holding forth in confident tones, I don't mind kids at all. This boy's name, it soon became obvious, was Sammy. Well, poor Sammy. Apparently, he had gotten syrup on his hands, and his mom, a 25 or 30 year old blond gal, just went nuts.

"I can't take this from you! I just can't!" she cried. The woman was hissing at him. I mean, she sounded like she could have killed him.  Now, I raised a son, and I know that children can press all of your buttons and leave you tearing your hair and dancing on your very last nerve. I get that. But I also know the sound of a child who is testing, or tired, or in a down-to-the-mat power struggle with a parent. That was not this child. She went on and on, about his attitude and his "whineyness." I didn't think he was being whiny at all, but she did, and let him hear about it. He kept saying "okay, okay!" and I could hear it in his voice that he had nothing on his mind except to somehow placate her and make her stop being angry with him.

Apparently, he did something with his drinking straw, and she went crazier, even, than before. "Why would you do that? Why would you do that? What were you thinking?" she demanded. Desperately, he said he didn't know why. He didn't know what he was thinking. I remember enough about being little, that I can remember that I truly had no idea why I did half the things I did. I was experimenting with the world, I suppose. Or just not thinking at all. As an adult, I don't have a thought-out plan for half of what I do. Kids certainly don't. Sammy was getting scared, and I was getting scared for him. She was so angry, and so relentless. "I will jerk you right out of that chair! Not another word until you eat all of that food, or I'm not giving you anything else to eat for the rest of the day!" I thought, who would feel like eating, if they were that little boy? I mean, I was ready to cry myself. 

I wondered why the man didn't put a stop to it. I had assumed he was Sammy's dad, but when I got a good look at him, I saw he was older, and dressed for business. He may have been a friend, or something, not the dad. He did say "thank you, Sammy, for eating your bacon." 

Anyway, here comes the part that really got me. After his mom had been after him non-stop for fifteen minutes, just letting him have it about how rotten he was, he goes, "Mommy, why do you hate me?" I know that every child flings "I hate you!" or "You hate me!" at a parent sometimes when they have been denied a privilege or been punished. This was different. His voice was so fragile. I felt so bad for him! I knew that, right about then, he probably wanted the restaurant booth to open up and swallow him. He was confused and had no idea what to say or not say, that wouldn't bring still more disaster down on him. But through it all, he sounded reasonable, though scared and distressed. It was her that was out of control. 

Anyway, she went, "How could you think that I hate you? I would jump in front of a train for you! Where do you get these ideas? Television?" I thought, he gets the idea from your entire tone and manner, lady. "I just want you to learn manners, and the right way to do things." I thought, she is well on her way to raising a young man with wonderful manners, who will throw himself in front of a train one day. Funny how perspective can be lost. She wanted him to learn manners, and her way to do that was to verbally horsewhip him. 

He asked her again, "Why do you hate me?" It was all pretty awful. 

I don't know that woman from anybody. Maybe she is a single mom. Maybe she lost her job yesterday. Maybe she can't make the rent. Maybe she is three days sober. Maybe she is hormonal, or bipolar, or any number of other things. But I know this: she was wrong. And Sammy had to pay the price. It bothered me all day, and now I am writing about it. 

:-(

_______

20 comments:

ellen abbott said...

There have been so many times I have witnessed the same thing. Once a father dragged his small daughter (4 or 5 perhaps) out of the lobby of the movie theater (we were approaching) and just went on and on at her for 'wandering away'. Literally whipping her with words. You could see her just shrivel up. I wanted to tell that guy that it wasn't her fault, that he was at fault. It was his job to keep his eye on her. He was still going at it when we passed and entered the theater. I know he had probably had a real scare when he couldn't find her, but still, loving concern would have been so much more appropriate, telling her how frightened he had been.

TALON said...

"Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you" - I've always hated that old saying. Words leave wounds and the wounds leave scars and the scars never fade. Reprehensible to have those wounds inflicted by a parent. Yes, we're all guilty of losing it as a parent at one time or another, but when a child starts asking why they are hated, you know those words haven't been occasional.

I seriously wonder how we survive childhood. I really do.

Kay said...

you're right, who knows what the full scope of things were? It was but a moment of time witnessed...

however, some people just really aren't ready for children and unfortunatly don't realize that (or just don't realize options-- ie adoption, etc)...

sigh.. it's sad. but, heck, kids are resilent and that little Sammy has just as much potential to survive and become a wonderful man!

:( hopefully, unscared.

Lynn said...

Poor Sammy to have such a terrible parent. I am worried about him now.

Cloudia said...

As a child, I wondered the same thing...






Aloha from Honolulu :)

Comfort Spiral

faye said...

That would ruin my lunch.. my day
and I would think about it too much. Good that you can write about it and perhaps ease it
to the back of your mind.

Another good reason to plug in the earbuds and listen to the Ipod at
lunch. It won't break your heart.

Riot Kitty said...

You have amazing self restraint. I couldn't have kept my mouth shut. Then I'd go home and cry.

Boonsong said...

This sounds very disturbing. I think that you handled it well.

All the best, Boonsong

Brian Miller said...

dang. had one of these happen today...posting on it tomorrow...it just makes me shake my head...i sometimes wonder if some people realise how much of an ass they are to their kids..and the impression it leaves on them...

Senorita said...

I grew up like that, walking on eggshells at times and not knowing when I would get punished and if I did, what it was for.

I admit I love "eavesdropping" in restaurants while pretending to read my book or enjoy my meal. But it is always sad to overhear conversations like that.

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh Shay! I had tears in my eyes as I read this. I WAS Sammy. And you are right. She is well on her way to raising a man with perfect manners AND the desire to throw himself in front of a train! GRRR! Makes me MAD!

G-Man said...

Shay...
I can't help but think that the Mother was treated the very same way. How could anybody raised with love treat a child publicly OR privately like that??
Sad Sad Sad....G

Fireblossom said...

First, I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for your comments on this post. I've read each one with keen interest, and I love you all for reading and adding your thoughts.

Like several of you, I was Sammy, too, and I know just what it feels like to be on that hot seat. I wanted so much to say or do something. If she had actually hit him, I would have, but this was just as bad, and I couldn't think what to do that wouldn't make it all worse. If I had restraint, RK, it was reluctantly, and only because I didn't want Sammy to catch it even worse, later. I wished I knew that woman enough to be able to talk to her later, to try to make her see the damage she was doing. Talon, you are so right, about words. But I didn't know her at all, and so I did nothing, except write this post.

G-Man, I had the same thought, that she probably was raised that way herself. And the beat goes on. But the chain CAN be broken. It's just got to be.

I worry for that boy's spirit. As far as I could tell, except for getting syrup on his hands, he didn't do a single thing wrong. A napkin and a water glass could have solved it. It distresses me thinking about it, still. My heart goes out to Sammy and to every Sammy.

Thank you all again, for reading and responding. My readers are the best.

TechnoBabe said...

Sammy's life is like that every single day, can you imagine that? It is hard enough to grow up to be halfway sane and become a contributing person in society but kids like Sammy have such an uphill battle.

Ily said...

Even if you had said something I doubt it would've changed things and the mother would've inevitably blamed Sammy for the confrontation and discomfort it caused HER. She appears to be a self-centered bitch, or as you pointed out, she could be going through a number of personal problems...but she's using the best thing she has going for her, Sammy, as a punching bag and that's just wrong and sad. I would've felt like crying, too.

Daryl said...

this morning on the news they reported a murder of an toddler, his father smacked the life out of him because - well I dont know I stopped listening when the news reader went on to say: Mr So&So when confronted with his child's murder said 'I loved him to death' ...

Mama Zen said...

I'm just going to go hug my Puppy, now.

LL Cool Joe said...

I know that woman...it's my mother.

Eric Alder said...

(I'll bet I've been to that restaurant)

Your story emphasizes the fact that so many parents are (basically) still children themselves in many ways.

Kids can be extremely frustrating (I have a son and a bunch of nieces and nephews) and I've had my issues dealing with their unreasonable demands.

But in the end it's up to the adult to, well, be the adult.

It may be hard to remain calm when a whiny kid is grating on your last nerve, but who ever said it was supposed to be easy?

One thing's for sure: I learned to appreciate my parents so much more after having my own kid.

Mojo said...

I started to read this one yesterday and then realized it was going to take more time than I had just then. I was right. I'm not sure there is enough time to digest all of this.

I hope you're wrong about Sammy's future. This is clearly a smart, sensitive kid who is capable of great things if he's not hounded into an early grave.

It's too bad he can't read this post and the comments it's sparked. Hopefully someone will enter his life with words very much like yours. Hopefully he'll listen.

It's just too bad it probably won't be his mother.