Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Uncomfortable Turtle

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.


shannon said...

Gaby has this habit of saying "But I want to be nice" when she's in trouble (whether it be for throwing a fit or just having attitude), and I'm always afraid when we're out in public, people must think I beat her.
Clearly we don't. We were in a store one time and a little girl was clawing her grandfather (like they do when they're about 2), and the mother reached up and whacked her across the face to get her to stop. Hard. Gaby started sobbing, because she was so upset to see another child hit.
The mother looked at me and I said "She's not used to seeing other children hit. We don't hit in our house."
I got the finger then, too. I've never seen what you saw Sunday, but I think it would have made me physically ill.

Cindy W said...

You handled it a lot more gracefully than I would have. I probably would've been all up in her face, like "what the f*&! is wrong with you???" As for whether you should've called 911... eh. Tough call. Who knows if they would've done anything if there were no bruises or obvious signs of abuse.

And not that this relates AT ALL, but once I parked in a McDonald's parking lot while I was talking on my cell phone to my mom. She was in the middle of a story, and I thought it'd be rude to go through the drive-thru while chatting on my phone, so I parked until we finished. This woman came out of McD's, walked over to the hedges along the perimeter of the parking lot, semi-hid herself behind them, then dropped trou and peed there. (She was in a business suit, she had to remove pantyhose to do this. No easy feat, I tell you.) I was really confused, because um, hello? There's a free public restroom in the establishment that you just left. The hell? She saw me sitting in my car staring at her, and she gave me the finger as she got in her car to leave. To this day, I still have no idea what that was about.

But just so you know, you're not the only person who's been flipped off in a McDonald's parking lot.

Cara said...

Please, please, please call the police or Maryland Child Protective Services. CPS will at least get a report to get this family on the radar. Unfortunately with child abuse, the worst stuff happens behind closed doors. The home visits I used to do were for stuff like this and the home life was inevitably 1000 times worse than anything that was out for people to see.

Alissa said...

Yeah, I would tend to agree with filing a report with CPS. It won't take long, and they should follow up with it, and even if nothing come from it, at least there will be a report on record, and if another person in another McDonald's parking lot reports it again next time, maybe eventually it will build enough evidence that someone will do something. And maybe just having someone from CPS look into it will be enough for the mom to realize that the situation is getting out of control. Or maybe CPS can refer them for some parent-training classes or something to help the mom learn how to discipline more effectively. You never know. But if that mom was doing what you described in public, just imagine what happens at home behind closed doors....

Chunky Photojournalist Barbie said...

No, I know. I already followed up on Cara's suggestion. Thank you for the link. :)

Cara said...

It's really great that you made the report. Hopefully something good will come of it.

Judy Gaul said...

Glad you made the report. Perhaps MD does a better job than PA does with their child protective laws. So sad.....Love, Mom