Thursday, January 04, 2007

where the park gets a bit dodgy

Sometimes I ponder my own courageousness. I babble on and on about social issues and how we all need to remember the humanity of it all and on and on and so forth and repeat.

And then I am at the park yesterday, M and I are kicking it, doing slide tricks and squirrel chasing and other mack-daddy park stuff, and we'd (I'd) had enough and were heading back through the non-playground park area when a man whom I will assume is homeless by his carrying of his belongings and his rather tattery clothing (if you were just a dude on the way to the laundry mat, apologies) all of a sudden lunged at M and started yelling. Aggressive, the dingo ate my baby sort of yelling. Norman's mother in the shower yelling.

I am about 5 or so feet away from M at the time, who is now frozen in her wee tracks, and I grab her, and decide I am seriously freaked out. And my mind is colliding with thoughts: 1. stay calm, dude is ill, it's ok, just stay calm. 2. get the fuck away from my kid 3. just plain scared.

So instead of using my power voice I mumbled something like she's a baby, man, please, and took off. Scared get us out of here taking off. And as I did he said something about fucking off uptight white bitch.

Oh, the indignity. Part of me wanted to go back and say lookee here dingo baby eater, I am not an uptight white bitch, in fact, bastard fuck, I could probably HELP you, but you scared my kid, you shithead, and you scared me, and so I can't. I can't, and I AM NOT .

And I've been bothered since. Bothered because I deal with this sort of stuff from time to time at work and I am almost never afraid. But with M, I was fearful and protective, and yes, rightfully so. But on some level I suppose I thought I am still the person I am at work outside of work. And perhaps if M wasn't there I might have reacted differently, but perhaps I would have been just as scared. Perhaps it was just a scary thing. But then I wonder why I am still feeling bad about it.

And a little bothered (how wildly irrational is this?) by the label he gave me, the label representing, maybe, people who walk around and avoid him. But I wouldn't have done that if he wouldn't have scared us.

Or at least I sincerely hope that to be true. All I know is I want to model courage for M. She sees in me what I show her, and I showed her fear and disdain and a lack of compassion, even if he was a scary baby eating dingo. Because maybe he was just having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day instead.


meno said...

He scared your child. That's really all there is to say. If you had been alone i'll bet you would have reacted differently, but that instinct to protect our babies overides all else.

Joker The Lurcher said...

what shines out of this to me is that you made the right choice.

your child will remember that you stuck up for her for the rest of her life. the scary man will forget it ever happened within a day or so.

if you had gone all fluffy-liberal and tried to find out what his issues were, when your child was scared, you can bet she would have remembered that betrayal for years.

sometimes we are just primeval creatures who protect our young and there is nothing wrong with that.

Joker The Lurcher said...


sorry to put 2 comments but i just thought of something else - i bet if you meet homeless people who are not scary baby eating dingoes when you are out with your child you speak to them and are friendly and kind.

and if a man in a smart suit did the same thing as this guy did you would react in exactly the same way as you did to this guy? there you go then. i'll stop now!

Bob said...

At her age the thing she needed most was for you to do what you did - protect her from the scary man. For all you knew he could have physicaly attacked her/you. She has many more years for you to teach her the compassionate, helping, caring person you are. Please don't beat yourself up over this.

NotSoSage said...

I am so there with you on this one. I've never actually had this experience and we try to always be friendly and responsive to the people in our 'hood but a few of the regulars do lash out at times and I always wonder what I'd do if it happened when T was with me. Call it anticipatory angst. :)

I imagine I would react much the same way you did, whether that's right or wrong. We are all animals and those fight or flight responses sometimes override our wish/desire to be compassionate thinkers.

Mad Hatter said...

Jen, your child WILL learn courage from you. How can she not? What you showed her yesterday is just as important. Your first instict was to protect her, to safeguard her from the unknown. This homeless man was a known entity to you. He was not for her. He was a monster and you held her and kept her safe from the monster. As she gets older she will also learn from you that what we think is monstrous is so much more complex and demands a much broader response than simply walking away.

Don't worry. That part will come.

acumamakiki said...

You are the person who comes here everyday, making all of your friends here, more aware and conscious and we love you for that. You reacted totally appropriately, especially because you were with your girl. And even if you had acted the same were M not with you, that would have been alright too. Being in a helping profession, we can't always help. It's been a hard one for me to accept, only now after 5 years in the saddle, am I able to believe the words I write here.
I'm sorry you had that situation ~ you made me laugh though, with the dingo ate your baby.

Tabba said...

I think this post just exposes you for what you are above all else: M's mommy.
And you are human. And despite what you do, what you deal with, you have an underbelly of fear that comes with becoming a mother.
I think M will learn what she sees, you do such a great job of modeling, and that has already begun to show.
But there is something to be said for teaching her to listen to her inner-voice as well. That she is something to be cherished and protected.
BRAVO, mommy Jen.

Mrs. Chicky said...

That man lunged at your kid. If that makes you an uptight bitch, then I would wear that badge proudly if I were you. You protected your kid and got her out of (potential) harms way. There's nothing better in the whole world.

mamatulip said...

I honestly think you would have done the same thing, had the same reaction, if it were the Queen lunging at M. You're a mother. She's your child. You protect. It's ingrained in you, it's what you're here to do as a mom (among other things, of course).

There are a million different ways you can look at this -- at the man, at what he said, at what you did. You protected your child and you did it without becoming hysterical and without shouting obscenities at him -- and that shows her courage. Trust me.

bubandpie said...

It is wrong to yell and scream at babies. Maybe, for various reasons, this man is not responsible for his wrong actions, but in your response you not only showed your daughter that you would protect her, but also that no one has the right to treat her that way.

That's a really, really important thing.

De Aufiero said...

OK, so you're white. Everyone's gotta be right sometimes, even dingoes.

I'm glad you wrote this post because some time last month I went to the store on a very cold (teens) morning and there was a guy sitting in the parking lot in a hooded sweatshirt with a 2 litre soda. As I was parking, a police cruiser came and the officer got out to talk to him. I had been thinking of buying the guy a coffee in the store, but was just as relieved that I was now off the hook. I thought, "Who do you think you are, Jen?" I thought more then about asking you if you are ever afraid and what you would suggest for the rest of us who want to be kind but might just be poking the bees' nest.

nomotherearth said...

I think that courage is knowing when to walk away. Your first instinct was correct - protecting your child. Even if you could have done something else, that is never a bad decision

ewe are here said...

You showed your daughter courage - you showed her you would do anything to keep her safe and protect her, no matter how frightening the situation for her.

It's just not acceptable to lunge at and yell at babies, no matter what kind of problems you're having in life.

Lillithmother said...

What you did was purely instinctual Jen...compassion in that circumstance was for your daughter first, you second and him third. Ain't nothing wrong with that. You'll have plenty of other opportunities when she's at a more cognitive age.

ECR said...

Yup, keeping your daughter safe is always the most important practical reality. The rest is theory that you can think about afterward and then come here to blog about.

Momish said...

There are times in life when being afraid and reacting as such is the right thing to do. Instict told you to get M and yourself away, so you did the right thing.

Mentally ill, rabid, murderous, evil, the list goes on. These qualities are out there in homeless people just as much as in terrorists, disgruntal employees, suicidal students, thugs, mafia, stray dogs, etc.

You kept your baby safe. Pretty damn courageous to me.

carrie said...

zThat is such hard one to call. I would've done the exact same thing, and then pondered it for days, just like you.

It is very hard to ignore the "mother bear" instinct, and since you had no way of knowing if it was a 100% safe situation, you listened to your instinct. Hands down, that was doing the best thing for M. You can show courage and bravery another day.

We had a similar situation at (eeeek, I hate to admit this, McDonald'd). A very weird and what seemed to be "off" guy was pacing in the kids play area. He kept his hand in his pocket the whole time, was alone and seemed to be not in his right mind. I left immediately. It scared me because all I could think of was, what is he going to do next? What if he hurts my kids? Unfortunately my boys picked up on my fear and I spent a few days explaining why he made me uncomfortable, along with why I was probably wrong and we shouldn't judge people yada yada yada. I hope they heard the "not judging" part. But it is impossible to explain to an 8 & 9 year old why a mother feel the way she does.

Sorry for the looooong winded comment, I guess I should've just posted about this.

I think you did the right thing, and feeling bad only makes you human.


metro mama said...

You did the right thing. Your first job is to keep her safe. You did that. It is perfectly understandable to be scared.

QT said...

I am with the others - keeping M out of harms way is going to be your #1 instinct. There are crazy mean people out there, some are homeless, some aren't. You can sort that out later, my friend. Don't beat yourself up.

s@bd said...

What a blow to be called that.

(If it helps, I agree with all and sundry who say you did the right thing.)

Izzy said...

Don't be so hard on yourself. There's not a whole lot in this world that can outweigh a mother's instincts to protect her offspring. We see it in nature all the time and the human animal isn't any different. It doesn't make you a bad person in any way, shape or form and as long as you know you would have handled it differently if M wasn't with you, that's what really matters.

deb said...

I think most mothers are like mama bears when it comes to their children. It's hard wired into us and it's what's kept children alive for thousands of years. It's okay to protect your child. She won't see you as an uptight, white bitch, but as her mum who would lay down her life for her child. That's a good thing.

J Fife said...

Agree with everyone else. Just wanted to add that I was also called a white bitch recently by a man I think was homeless. I was walking quickly and honestly hadn't even noticed him when he launched into a tirade about white bitches walking fast because they're afraid of black men. I had my kid with me and didn't know what to do. I slowed down, smiled at him and said, "I'm not afraid of you." He just kept cussing at me. Still, his comment bothered me.

Thailand Gal said...

The guy approached you and your child with aggression. Aggression can't be met with compassion in a potentially dangerous situation. In a dangerous situation, it's time to bring out the inner warrior and be prepared to kick ass. That guy called you something that he has probably called many others, showing not only a complete disconnect between his behavior and reactions he might get, but also showed a remarkable lack of creativity. I'd blow it off.



Laurie said...

There's nothing else you could have done. Your Super Mom instinct kicked in and you handled the situation the way it needed to be handled. Being a mom supercedes everything else when your child is in danger.

Oh, The Joys said...

Part of what makes me angry when this happens to me is the simple assumption that I am the "uptight white bitch." The label is wrong, right? It fails to recognize the community work I do, who I am, etc.

But then I think about the reverse... the names that person get's called and I decide that I DO have to wear the badge of all the uptight white bitches. That I represent them simply by the way I look.

But. BUT. Scare my kid and I will scratch your eyes out and forget all about race, class and justice.

I don't make a bit of sense, do I?

Maybe it's just late.

KC said...

You did right by M.

That man, no matter where he sleeps, could have become violent.

In no way does this make you less courageous. Or compassionate. Or inspiring.

It makes you a mother.

Deezee said...

I thought about this post all day. I find it extremely complex - not your behavior, but the emotions that the incident has stirred in you and how you report all of that to us.

Oddly, it made me feel angry because suddenly your right to walk down the street fear-free was trumped by this man's anger or his illness. Whatever the reason for his behavior, you absolutely shouldn't - mustn't - feel even remotely guilty for your behavior. Isn't your first responsibility to your safety and your child's? Aren't you entitled to feel legitimate fear in such a situation?

I know I haven't captured what I really wanted to say...but I somehow wanted to share how I felt for you in this situation...

hel said...

I often have the same feeling. I want to speak up, need to speak up for myself or someone I love. I feel the words burning in my heart, sticking in my throat yet I feel unable to utter them. And the anger against myself for not speaking my truth is something I struggle for days to let go of.

However you acted quickly though and got your child away in time. That is the most important thing.

The following post writes beautifully about speaking one's truth:

swampfishwitch said...

I read your post a long time ago, but just didn't comment because I was in a stupor. How scary for you and your baby. Bad day or not, that's no way to behave. Had you ever seen this person before? This would make me angry and upset for many reasons, one of which is that it will certainly put a damper on your next visit to the park. Take someone with you next time, just in case the baby eating dingo is there again.

edj said...

I was going to comment about how protecting your child taught her so much about your dependability and how that's so important, and how this one incident won't ultimately affect her views on courage, and how we can't worry about the labels that others give us because we can't control that (and I'm a "rich" white American living in a Muslim country--I get given a lot of labels). But everyone else has already said it so well.
Sounds like a rough day though. Sorry. Hope it got better. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

kim said...

1.Mother trumps all.

2.Sometimes the labels people yell or think aren't personal. Sometimes people presume things because that has been their only experience.

A mother I met recently on a school field trip gave me major cold shoulder, for no apparent reason. The reason became clear when I overheard her talking about another mother, me, and white women in general to the busdriver who was also African American.

At first I was really offended. I had done nothing to warrant being lumped into the white bitch category. But then I thought maybe she's had reason to be wary. I decided that I would get over myself and just continue to be friendly to her in spite of her frosty vibe. I'm pretty sure we're not going to be BFF's any time soon, but she did begin to thaw the last time I talked to her.

kim said...

Sorry-forgot to add how funny (in addition to scary and sad) this post was in the beginning.

flutter said...

Your baby is more important than what he thinks of you.

Truth is, he wasn't thinking of you. Truth is, he wasn't thinking.

To serve the masses, as you do, takes a skin much thicker than most of us possess. I wouldn't have faulted you if you had ripped his eyeballs out with your bare fingers, for freaking out your little one.

Karen said...

Have you read the Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker? It's about using our fear to protect ourselves. Even more harrowing and powerful is Protecting the Gift by same, about using our powerful instincts to protect and teach our children well - only harrowing because tender-hearted moms have to work up courage to read it; I don't love thinking about this stuff, but it helped teach me what to share with my child as he grew bigger and asked questions about moments like yours. In short, don't feel guilty or insulted or second-guess, you went on auto-pilot and in moments like that one, it's the best thing to do.

Nicole from Washington said...

I came to your blog by accident today, lurking you might say. I am glad I did. We need to teach our children at this age what strangers are and what we do when approached by strangers whether they are scary or normal. You did the exact thing that you would want her to do if she were not with you. -
"Run/walk in the other direction and make noise while your are doing it." It was not the time to teach her about compassion. If you want to teach her about helping those in need you do that by helping in a soup kitchen or bringing old sleeping bags to the homeless in the fall and winter, not when being verbally attacked by a stranger in the park. Good job, mom!