Someone almost punched out my lights today. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.
I had several meetings in the city. The last one took place in a restaurant across from a movie theater. After the meeting, there was just enough time to catch a movie before heading home.
I hurried to the box office, purchased my ticket, and rushed to my seat just as the movie was starting. When it was over, I went to the ladies room where a young woman stood in front of the mirror applying her makeup.
As I washed my hands, I could hear a young boy calling from outside the restroom. When he did not receive a response, he entered the area where his mother and I were standing.
In a flash, the mother turned on the boy and began hitting him unmercifully. “I told you to wait outside!” she screamed.
The boy curled up on the floor in a defensive position and I reacted immediately, “What are you doing?” I demanded.
“None of your f**king business!” she yelled.
“That boy is my business!” I shouted back at her.
The woman lunged at me. But when I didn’t flinch and continued to glare at her, she turned and yanked the boy to his feet. Then she started dragging him out of the restroom toward the escalator.
I followed close behind while the boy looked at me with terror in his eyes.
While we rode the escalator to the ground floor I told the boy, “It’s against the law for your mother to hurt you. So if she does, tell your teacher, your principal, or another adult who cares. They can help make sure your mom doesn’t continue to hurt you.”
Oblivious to the horrified looks of the people around us, the mother screamed, “Shut the f**k up! This is my kid and I’ll do whatever I want to do with him!”
By this time we had reached the exit, and before I could say another word, the mother and son fled the building and disappeared into the crowd.
Since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve had two similar encounters with adults disciplining children in violent ways. One involved an out-of-control mother who angrily forced her distraught daughter into a shopping cart seat and severely scraped the child’s leg in the process. When the child screamed in agony, the mother slapped her and demanded that the toddler stop crying.
The other time involved a frustrated young mother or nanny (I couldn’t tell which) who repeatedly slapped a crying infant who was lying helplessly in a stroller.
Before I moved to New York, I had ensconced myself in quiet communities that sheltered me from these kinds of horrors. Child abuse had become an academic subject by then. But now, I’ve been pulled back to the visceral place I inhabited as an abused child.
As I write this story, I am at a complete loss as to whether or not I did the right thing today, and I’m still trying to think of better ways to handle these kinds of situations. But until I do, future episodes will most likely end as did the one today with me numbly making my way to the subway and crying my eyes out all the way home.
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