Opinion | Biff America: When kids are collateral damage
Sometimes you will see someone and get the feeling that, given the chance, you and that person would be friends.
That was not the case with the woman wearing the lavender sweatsuit.
Actually, calling it a “sweatsuit” would be a misnomer. She did not look to be a lady who worked out. I watched her exit a grocery store in Hurricane, Utah. She temporarily blocked traffic to light a cigarette and then pushed a shopping cart toward her car.
I was sitting in my truck waiting for my mate to shop for a few items to fill our small RV’s pantry and refrigerator. Ellie’s top-end shopping speed is 20 items per hour, so my wait would be close to 45 minutes.
The fact that the lady’s lavender outfit stood out in a jeans-and-flannel town was what got my attention. And I must admit, I was impressed with the structural integrity of the thin fabric of her outfit.
I had looked away when she began to yell. Turns out, her vehicle was parked very close to mine. I glanced over to see that her decibels were directed at a skinny, little boy — about 7 or 8 — who cowered in front of her. She said something to the effect of, “I told you to stay with me. Where have you been?”
I could not hear the child’s response, but I saw him hold up a small bag of popcorn as if to offer some to his mum. She knocked the bag out of his hand, grabbed him by the arm and began to shake and scold him.
When she let go of him, he rubbed his arm and started to cry.
She ignored his tears and began to look in her purse and pat her pockets.
She yelled, “See what you’ve done? You’ve made me lose my keys.”
Every fiber in me wanted to jump out of my truck and protect the little boy from his mother’s vengeance. But I was afraid any intervention eventually would be taken out on the kid.
I don’t believe any person sets out to be a bad parent. I’m sure as the nurse hands the mother and father their infant, no parent says, “I’m going to screw this kid up.” Unfortunately, due to stress, emotional instability or unforeseen hardships, parents often don’t have the wherewithal to raise an undamaged child.
I felt like crying from the unfairness of it all. Perhaps this was an isolated instance. Perhaps that woman in lavender was a kind and loving parent. But my guess was that the little boy would spend many years enduring, and then recovering from, the result of having a mother who probably was doing the best she could.
I watched as an older couple approached. They looked to be in their 60s or 70s and, like my wife and I, seemed to be tourists. I had watched them earlier get out of a new-looking RV.
I hoped for them to intercede on the child’s behalf but instead they asked, “Are these your keys?”
The mother looked up, annoyed, and snatched the keys out of the lady’s hand. I heard no “thanks.” The older man said, “We found them just in front of the store.” (That’s where the lady stopped to light her cigarette.)
The older couple walked away toward their camper, which was parked near mine. They were holding hands. As they passed my truck, the husband let go of his wife’s hand and patted her bottom. She brushed his hand away, gave him a little shove, and they both began laughing.
Life isn’t always fair. To a large degree, nature, nurture and choices — bad and good — define our circumstances. Whether by luck, merit or both, the older couple was happy, the mother was angry and the child was collateral damage.
Ellie came out of the store pushing a cart and carrying a bag of popcorn, exactly like the child’s bag that now was next to our truck. She told me they were giving away popcorn inside. We put groceries away, then I picked up the discarded bag and put it in the trash.
As we drove away, I sent some good thoughts to that little boy. Some might call it praying.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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