Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Great Baby Ban

Today I laid my hands on another person’s child…actually, I could have easily walked off with said child and, except for the fact that he and I were of widely divergent colour, nobody would have blinked…not even his so-inattentive parent that s/he didn’t object to my manhandling the child, probably because s/he never saw it happen.

There is a movement afoot these days to ban children from…or at least limit their access to…certain venues where, for the last couple of decades, they have been increasingly allowed to behave like uncivilized, unrestrained wild animals. This child today was a case in point: no more than six years old, he was hanging around the bottom of an up-escalator, playing with the device and blocking access for people who wished to use it. Shopper after shopper stepped around the child, gaining precarious access to the moving stairway while the boy obliviously continued to treat the device and its moving rails like his own exclusive amusement device.

I’m old. I’m cranky when it comes to the ill-mannered of any age. I also have a bad back which causes me balance issues. There was no way I was stepping onto that escalator without having unimpeded access to both the steps and the handrail the child was using for his personal playtoy. First I stopped in front of him and stared at him. Most young children, when glared at by an adult, particularly a grumpy-faced old woman, will have second thoughts about whatever it is they are doing. Not this kid. Obviously so poorly reared that he did not even recognize this common social cue, he looked at me and, with no change in his expression whatsoever, kept right on blocking access to the escalator, clinging to the moving guardrail with his hands until it transported his upper body upward a bit, then letting go, standing up straight, and then repeating the process.

I found myself wondering what kind of parent allows a child this small to 1) wander loose and unsupervised in a busy mall; 2) allow the child to play on something as potentially dangerous as an escalator (people have been caught and died on them!); 3) fail to teach a child about such things as blocking the access of others; 4) fail to teach a child the most basic of social cues; and 5) pay so little attention to their child in this busy environment that s/he could easily be stolen by an ill-meaning stranger. But wondering wasn’t getting me up the escalator, so I reached down and firmly grasped the child’s upper arm and removed him from in front of the escalator to give myself access…dragged might be a better term, since he was reluctant to remove himself from his command post.

My first surprise was that he did not scream bloody murder when I grabbed him. I fully expected an outraged parent or irate security guard to accost me and demand an explanation for me putting my hands on a child clearly not my own. The second surprise was that no parent arrived, indignant and ready to give me a faceful of invective for manhandling little Johnny. In fact, nothing happened at all, except that the child was temporarily moved, like a gate, to allow me and my husband access to the escalator and then he resumed his amusement, playing on the escalator and hindering the access of all those who came after me, not a parent in sight.

It is winter here and it is cold outside…very cold…cold enough that some of our outlying suburbs reported snow flurries in the last few days. The sky was a brilliant, crisp, cloudless blue…the kind of sky that truly frigid days are made of, with no cloud cover to keep even a modicum of heat trapped to the earth. And so instead of outdoor activities, everybody went shopping…the mall was crowded. And crowded malls can be noisy, a combination of the various shops broadcasting their music into the walkways, people talking to each other, the rattle and clatter of bags, high heels on the tiled floors and, of course, the inevitable screaming child having a meltdown while Mama continues to shop, Junior’s eardrum splitting wails conveniently shut out. The older I become, the less inclined I am to suffer these indignities silently. As I passed one toddler shrieking his displeasure from his stroller (pram) while his mother obliviously chatted with a friend, I said to my husband in a voice designed to carry to the oblivious mother “My, it sounds like somebody needs to go home and have a nap.” I have little hope that she heard me, though, because if she could tune out the hellacious racket her little darling was broadcasting, it is unlikely she was able to hear my none-too-subtle suggestion that she take her noisy brat out of the earshot of the rest of us.

Then there was the kid, barely two, I would guess, whose mother just abandoned him in the queue for the cashiers when it became her turn to pay. I don’t know…maybe today was the day for other people’s children to act as impediments to still other people’s progress. Anyway, the kid started snatching candies from the impulse-buy displays and, instead of putting them back, Mama instructed the cashier to ring them up, meanwhile leave her little man standing at the head of the queue, blocking the rest of us from getting to cashiers as they became available. Who, after all, wants to trip over a little toddler with her arms full of crockery or shoes or a stack of pre-season sale summer dresses? We gingerly skirted the child…whose mother’s back was to him the whole time, making him fair game for the kind of monsters who steal and abuse children…and while my husband paid for the purchases, I was treated to an example of what becomes of children whose parents teach them that they are the centre of the universe and respect is something other people are supposed to give them.

A short time earlier I had been in the shoe department of the store, trying on bedroom slippers as my 10-year-old Walmart specials have popped a big hole in the sole. I found a pair to try on but, with the back issue giving me balance problems, I opted to go to the other side of the department and sit down to try the slippers on rather than drop them on the floor and stick my foot into one to see how it fit. Now, mind you, this is not an elegant, up-scale department store…this is Ackerman’s, the housewares and clothing equivalent of Safeway…and the shoes and slippers hang on racks by little plastic hangers. The aisles between the rows of shoes are narrow, not wide enough for two super models to pass each other, not even if they sucked in their tummies.

The slippers fit and my husband, thoughtful man that he is (and aware that I have been trying to find replacements for the Walmart specials for several months) offered to buy two pair, an offer I readily accepted. Unfortunately, when we returned to the rack, we were greeted with an enormous bum…bigger than mine, even!...bent over and blocking access to the one display of slippers I needed. This woman was not trying on a pair of flats or sandals she could drop on the ground and just quickly stick a foot into to check for size, no…she was bent over assiduously buckling one of a gazillion buckles on a particularly hideous pair of “gladiator”-styled demi boots. I waited politely for her to finish.

When she removed the boot and began looking again at the rack, still blocking my access to the rack behind her, I said “Excuse me, can I get in here?” She ignored me! I tried again: “Excuse me…” She flicked her eyes in my direction so I know she wasn’t deaf…but she didn’t move an inch. So, I just stepped forward, bent down, and reached into the size section I wanted and retrieved a pair of slippers. Did my shoulder inadvertently graze some unnamed portion of her anatomy? Yes. Did I acknowledge or apologize? No. Did I ignore her just as diligently as she had ignored me? Yup—there was nothing else to do if I didn’t want to start a row over her rudeness, which would have been rude in and of itself.

But the story of this self-absorbed adult brat doesn’t end here. I walked away from the rude cow and went to the tills, was treated to the candy-pilfering toddler and eventually got to a till myself. As I was observing the toddler while my husband paid the cashier, who should wander up to the cashiers but Shoe Cow herself, with a plastic basket full of shoes and boots. I kid you not…one of those baskets, like you pick up at the supermarket when you don’t need a whole trolley, and it had no fewer than six…and it looked more like ten…pair of shoes and boots in it. And, true to her oblivious behaviour in the shoe department, when one of the cashiers called “next!” this rude, selfish, inconsiderate cow simply skipped the queue of half a dozen people patiently and politely waiting their turn and marched straight up to the open cashier, plunked down her basket and began rummaging around in her handbag for her wallet. The woman who was supposed to be next was half way to the till when Rude Cow stepped in front of her and put her basket down and if she even saw the woman, she did not acknowledge her any more than she acknowledged me in the shoe department.

This woman was a young adult, young enough to have been brought up after the concept of teaching your children manners and respect for the rights of others had begun to decline. Obviously she had learned her lessons well: spoiled and entitled, she could not courteously share space in the shoe department and neither could she take her turn in the queue like everyone else. What she wanted is what she got and to hell with the rest of us.

This is the attitude I see parents actually teaching their children today…screw everybody else. Don’t like the grades on your child’s report card? Blame the teacher for “giving” your kid a bad grade, don’t blame the kid for earning a poor mark. Don’t feel like taking the time or making the effort to teach your kid some manners? Make excuses for your kid’s behaviour (“kids will be kids”), inflict them on other people in places they shouldn’t be in the first place (like five star restaurants, evening screenings of movies, supermarkets at 10 pm), then blame others when they get testy about your brat stealing morsels off their plates, talking over the screen dialog, or screaming with fatigue when they should be home in bed. Do you know what kind of adults these kids become? Rude cows. Selfish, disrespectful, inconsiderate cows who have no sense of propriety, no sense of respect for others, no sense of anything outside their own immediate wants…and who raise brats and bullies just like themselves.

So it is no surprise that restaurants, movie theatres, even airlines are beginning to listen to grumpy old people like me…there are so many of us fed up with the world becoming dominated by obnoxious children!! we complain about unrestrained children allowed to run amok, turning what could be a pleasant excursion into an Excedrin moment. Kids will behave like kids, it’s true, but that has only become a problem since parents have stopped behaving like parents.

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