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What Would You Do?

I love watching "What Would You Do?" with John Quinones every Friday night.  The show often attacks topics of interest, and watches from behind the scenes to see how everyday Americans react to outrageous situations.  I always hope that I would react appropriately, but when you are actually in the situation, your mind just spins and shock seems to take hold more than action... but then, the adrenaline sets in.

As we travel the United States, we encounter many people.  We are talkers, so we start conversations with strangers in restaurants, in hotel lobbies, and at the campgrounds where we stay.  We love to talk to others, and to learn about the people that live where we visit.  We are curious, and we love to get in the know!  Most of the time, the people we meet are wonderful.  They tell us about local sites, they share their stories about the area, and they are usually willing to share their insights for our best possible visit.  We love this!

And then comes the dreaded...
Out travel plans were halted this week by needed repairs on our 5th wheel.  It being only a year old, it is frustrating to learn that your day must be spent in a repair shop waiting area instead of on the road.  So, to make me feel better, my hubby decided to take me out for a fancy, relaxing breakfast.  We went to the local McDonald's! 

With the free internet access, I decided to get some work done as I enjoyed my breakfast.  Then came the noise!  Two children, cute little red-heads, one about 3 and the other just a baby, were running around the restaurant.  The parents and a grandparent were ordering their food, and then chose a table just two over from us.  As they settled in, I resumed my focus on my email.

Then I heard it.  But did I really?  I looked up, looked at my husband, and looked around the rest of the McDonald's to check my reality.  Did I really hear what I thought I heard?  And then it continued, but this time I saw it with my own eyes.  I was in shock and complete disbelief.

The father (term used loosely) was screaming and cursing (language my former Navy husband does not use) right in the face of the baby.  His tone was sharp and cutting and his volume was resonating.  Sadly, the child shrieked, but appeared to be used to this behavior.  I turned to be facing the table, and looked directly at the grandmother.

Rather than sharing an understanding eye contact with empathy as I expected, she yelled across at me, asking what I was looking at.  Oh, no!  Is it my business?  What about the kids?  This is crazy.  What do I say?  It was that moment when your head starts spinning and you want to shrink under the table, but then, at the same time, you want to jump out of your seat and raise your battle shield in protest!

I simply stated, in the most balanced tone I could find, "I just hate to see children hearing such language.  When they begin attending school, they will get into such trouble if they repeat those words."  Trying my best to be an educator, and not judgmental, I really wanted to scream, "How can you treat your children that way? and how can you, the maternal figure sit there and approve?!"

Maybe I should have prefaced this entire entry with some of my personal history.  I was raised by wonderful grandparents for much of my childhood.  I was spoiled with love and attention, and I learned early that hugs and kisses were "what family is."  But then there were the years when my mother took custody.  Those were not good years.  I was subjected to verbal and mental abuse on a daily basis, and while infrequent, some physical abuse also plagued our relationship.  It was not "family."  It was punishment.  And, at 44 years old, I am still haunted by those experiences today.

Now, I have taught my lesson for the day with my simple statement.  I am finished and hoping that it may make some impression on the parents to make change in their lives.  Unfortunately, they are not. 
The father begins an all out verbal attack, screaming and yelling with threats and vulgarities.  His words are now attacking me as well as his children.  He, with the support of his wife and mother, is asking me to "take it outside."  Really?  People actually say that?  And they mean it?  WOW!

Still seated, I simply reply by phoning the local police and asking to file a report with the CPS.  As they hear my request, they continue their behavior, further disrupting the entire restaurant.

Long story short, the police arrive.  The young man continues his behavior in front of the police, inappropriate language and threats included, and the police ask him to step outside.  Another officer comes up to us, informing us we can go ahead and leave now, and adding, "Unfortunately there are many people around here that should not have children."  And that was it. 

We left the restaurant, joined by an elderly couple who shared their approval of our actions, and then watched as the police returned to their cars, leaving the abusive father to his breakfast.  And, leaving him to continue a cycle of abuse that will leave those children scarred for life.

What Would You Do? I did what I thought would start a process of reaction.  A process that would help those children.  I thought..., but I was wrong.

But now, the greater question is:  Will it make a difference?
I am saddened to think the answer to that last one is NO!

As teachers, we are required by law to report child abuse that we see in our classrooms.  Unfortunately, that does not mean that our responsiveness will result in saving these children from their devastating daily lives.  But, maybe... Just maybe, our saying something gives those children hope.  Maybe it tells them that someone does care.  That there are people in the world that are different from what they know.  That they can have lives filled with hugs and kisses instead of sharp words and angry attacks.  That there are people out there who do What You Should Do!

Michele