At some point during the Winter Olympics, Alissa told me about an interview with an athlete she saw on TV. I guess Katie Couric was interviewing a downhill skier of some kind about his run, and he said something like, "I'm sorry; these interviews make me really nervous." So Katie Couric tried to relax him and rephrase her question, and his response- in a singsong voice- was, "Uncomfortable tur-tle!" while making a turtle-esque hand gesture. It's kind of like the "Quiet Fox" thing that elementary school teachers do when they want you to quiet down. Personally, I always thought that looked like the death metal gesture aka sign of the devil.
Anyway, I'm beyond digression here, and I have yet to even describe the thing that made me so uncomfortable.
Right. So. I was at a McDonald's just off I-95 in suburban Maryland this weekend, throwing out a really embarrassing amount of trash that accumulated in my car on a road trip over the weekend. Joel was inside, buying himself a burger and me an ice cream cone. I'm shoving the trash into the bin when the door opens and two small girls, both about 3 years old, are hustled out by their mother.
One child is crying really hard. Then I see that her mother is all but CARRYING her by her hair. Her mother doesn't have her by the ear, not by her shoulder in a no-nonsense, "I said no more whining, young lady, now MARCH" way. The child is hustling on her tippy toes. It looks so painful, my heart skipped a beat. The mother proceeds to berate her daughter, standing over her in a very intimidating way, shouting right into her face, while the other child climbs meekly into the car.
I'm full-on staring now; I don't even care. The mother slaps her child, HARD, across the head. I reach for a pen and paper and write down the license plate #. Then she shakes her, and spanks her- WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM- four times before she grabs her by the arm and shoves her into the car. My hands are reaching for my cell phone to call 911. I'm scared. I can't imagine how the little girl feels, but I'm most afraid because she slows to a whimper, limply defeated.
And yet, I'm not sure what I'm seeing. I wish Joel would come back and see this, too, and give me his opinion. Is this really this bad? Is this really happening? And if it is, should I do something?
The mother straightens up, and says, "I'm sorry you had to see that." I measure my words carefully and say, "Don't apologize to ME." She said, "You don't know what a bad child she is. I get it. You're just an innocent bystander; you're trying to figure it out. She shows me no respect. I had to spank her to make my point. Why don't you mind your own damn business?"
Yes, why don't I? On the other hand, when DO I? I mean, really. And also? YOU ARE BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR KID IN A MCDONALD'S PARKING LOT. We have a little staring contest. I win.
She says, "I love these girls. No harm will ever come to them while they are in my care. I never leave bruises when I hit them." So I said, "Actually, it was when you carried her out by her hair that really caught my attention." And she said, "Oh, that. I make sure when I pull their hair not to pull it hard."
Jigga-WHA?!?! Someone call Kathie Lee, we've got ourselves mother of the year here!
So I make my voice calm and even. "I'm just hope you both get the help you need." And she said, "Me?!?" So I said, "I'm worried about you. You just really seem like you could use an extra pair of hands and maybe some time to yourself." She says, "That's probably true, but you're being kind of rude." She flips me off and slams the door to the driver seat behind her. She has left an open container of Moo Juice, McDonald's novelty milk productTM, on the roof of the car.
In my mind's eye, I see the milk falling, running down the side of the car, making sour rivelets into the three inch space of the open window. Into the backseat. I gesture wildly, pointing at the top of my own milk-free car, calling "Milk!" She stops and sticks her head out. "You left milk on the top of the car." She says, "Okay. Thank you. You're being kind of rude" - yeah, lady, you mentioned that- and peels out of the parking lot (after taking down the milk). Frankly, I just didn't want her taking out her frustration over the milk on her kid. I was still shaky when Joel emerged 3o seconds later.
Have you ever witnessed anything like that? What did you do? Should I have called 911? I can't stop thinking about them.