Oh, my, this parenting thing brings a whole new layer of perspective to rude people. I tend to thrive on confrontation. In business and personal relationships, I am quite forward about what I need, want, and will tolerate. I don’t mince words and it doesn’t make me any extra friends. But having a small child watch my every action and listen to my every word has changed the way I do things. Even when people are really nasty and horrible.
We were in Target this weekend, which is now a whole different adventure than it used to be. I used to avoid Target because I found so many things I “needed” and would walk away with a whole apartment redecorating project, garden renovation, and new beauty regimen. Now I’m lucky to run the half mile to whatever random household product we need and make it to checkout before Peanut loses his patience with the whole shopping thing. Luckily, he has no tolerance for shopping, whether in sling, cart, or on foot. I relish this because, aside from the biannual Target spendfest, I loathe shopping and would rather get everything on amazon (once they stop including disgusting McD*n*ld’s advertising in every one of my organic, vegetarian food shipments). So it’s nice to have a child who, likewise, has patience for 4.2 minutes in a store, and then wants out.
Anyway, he needed to use the facilities, and we headed toward the ladies’ room. (He prefers it when I take him into the men’s, and when we’re somewhere that it doesn’t matter, I do. I told him that our society has some people who think everyone should use the same potty, and some people who think men and ladies should go in different rooms to pee. I don’t know why, I told him. It seems silly. Nobody has a men’s and ladies’ bathroom sign at home. Whatever. I blame a lot of things I don’t understand on “society,” and I’m sure some year he’ll go dressed as “society” for Halloween.)
On the way to the ladies’ room, he saw a standalone handicapped-accessible bathroom. He was excited, because he knows that means more room and a lower sink. He’s used to the family-friendly bathrooms at the hospital and the mall (shudder), and prefers them greatly to the cramped quarters of a single stall. I looked around to see if anyone was headed that way. There was a woman with a cane in her cart making a beeline for the same bathroom. So I stopped and asked, “Are you headed in there?” I figured if she wanted the room, it was hers.
“Yes,” she barked. “That’s what it’s for.” She grabbed her cane and waved it. “I’m handicapped.”
No problem, I thought. But Peanut, of course, began his now standard line. “No share. No share that lady. Peanut turn. Please no share.” It used to be, “Hit that lady! No lady! Hit! Hit! Hit!” but we’ve managed, through talking, ignoring, and offering new words, to eliminate the hitting chorus of his skipping record. But the lady didn’t like the sound of his new song.
“It’s not for children, you know. It’s for handicapped people.”
“And families with small children,” I answered. That was my first mistake. I know damned well it’s for people with different abilities, who need more time, more space, more features. I know that. But don’t tell me off, and don’t snap at my kid. It just pushes my buttons. Imagine a family with three or four kids, who has trouble keeping them all perfectly well behaved in a huge, cavernous Target bathroom. If they want a shot at an empty, unwanted handicapped standalone bathroom, I say they deserve it. I don’t care what the picture on the door says. If the standalone is empty, my recently potty-trained kid with a fear of regular bathroom stalls gets it. I don’t believe in expectant mother parking. I don’t believe parents should get privileges that the child-free don’t have. But I think if a bathroom is empty and nobody wants it, a family that walks the balance beam of keeping everyone in a socially-acceptable mood can use the differently abled standalone. I know it’s not polite to occupy that bathroom in case someone else needs it . But life’s not fair and I have a kid with bathroom avoidance issues.
Plus, she goaded me.
“No, it’s not. It’s not. I’ve been handicapped for a long time and I know that much,” she sneered.
“No share that lady,” repeated Peanut. “No share. That lady no share.”
“Yes,” I said calmly to Peanut, mostly for the woman’s benefit. “We’re going to share with that lady. It’s her turn. When she’s done, you can have a turn,” I said calmly. I wanted to tell her we were there first, but I knew we didn’t really have a right to the bathroom, so I wanted to teach him that we wait graciously when someone else needs it first, even if we were technically in the geographic area first.
She left her cart and cane outside and started into the bathroom. “Wait,” she said, as she had almost closed the door. “Do you mean for changing diapers?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to silently hurry her. I have a recently potty trained toddler, lady, who needs to go. Please, please just go in there and so I can convince him to use the other bathroom. He won’t listen to me while you’re here and he con’t compromise while he can see into the Holy Land of Big Potties. There was no way, I figured, that he would let go of the idea of the big room. Not now. He had seen it and he knew he was next. So either shut the door and let me reason with him, or get down to business so we can be next.
“There’s a diaper changing area right over there.”
“Thank you. We’ll wait.”
“I’m handicapped you know, and even I know there are diaper changing areas in the other bathroom.”
I’m not an idiot. I know there are diaper changing areas elsewhere. I know most babies hate the changing tables and most moms wind up with babies on the floor. I know I don’t need a diaper change, I need a small bladder emptied in the potty. Get the f*%& in the bathroom! “Thank you. Please. Go.” I indicated the room. “Go ahead. Have fun.”
“Have fun? Have fun?!?! You’re an a**! You’re an a**”
Without Peanut there I might have chosen a few words for her. I might have walked away. I might have done a million different things. But I felt little eyes on me, and felt a warm calm come over what is normally a very hot temper.
“I don’t like that kind of talk.”
“You’re an a**!”
“That’s not nice talk. Please don’t talk that way in front of my child.”
“I have raised all my kids and I know you’re an a**!”
I picked up Peanut. I whispered to him, ignoring her. “That lady is feeling grouchy. It’s okay to have a grouchy day. It’s not okay to talk like that to people. She’s being not nice right now. That makes mommy sad and angry.”
She was FURIOUS that I was talking to him instead of her. She was railing on about how long she’d been handicapped. By myself I thought, so did you start out nice and being handicapped made you horrible, or were you horrible to start with? But that’s not nice talk. I know nothing about her life, and I just can’t do this right now. I’m holding my child and trying to put myself in her shoes. Maybe someone else had been rude to her today. Maybe she’d had bad experiences with kids playing in the handicapped bathroom when she needed to go. Maybe her different abilities include developmental delays that make outbursts more common. All I knew was that I treated her just like I would any other human being. I believe that people who need help should get help without feeling like it’s charity. I believe people should have every chance to have some of that pursuit of happiness stuff that seems to get disproportionately distributed lately. I hold the door for people who look as though they might need or appreciate the help. I offer my place in line or my seat to someone who looks like they’ve had a long day. I want to be as helpful as I can to anyone who needs it, handicapped or not. But I don’t like rude people. I’m sorry if life dealt you a shitty hand. I’m sorry if you’re usually nice and are having a hard day. I smiled at you, I le you go first, and you’re really pissing me off.
“GO AHEAD!” she shouted, pointing to the bathroom. “Go ahead and I hope you’re never handicapped.”
Me, too, I thought. I stared right at her and calmly turned around and walked my scared son into the main bathroom. Because he was distracted, he didn’t notice the loss of the fun bathroom. Because he really had to go, we had no issues with balking and refusing the small stall. And because I have to be a different person now, I talked with him quietly about how feeling grouchy is okay. How being rude is not okay. How I felt sad and angry that the woman yelled.
Unlike my former self, I didn’t want to have a whole conversation with her. I didn’t want to explain my point of view and feel satisfied that we were both heard. I wanted to take a deep breath and walk away.
If that’s what I’ve learned from child-centered parenting today, it was a really good day.