civility lost

So this afternoon I was loading my car with a bag of groceries, in a race to get home before some epic meltdowns (nothing says post-lunch “nap time” like a hyperventilating teary baby and overstimulated cranky toddler). A few cars away, I noticed a confrontation between two customers who were also getting into their respective cars, parked opposite one another.

“Three times,” one guy said to the other. “That’s the third time you hit the car door next to you, man.” The guy who was trying (unsuccessfully) to open his rear door all the way was surprised as he looked up like a deer in the headlights to see who had witnessed it. “Three times,” he said again, “What’s wrong with you? That’s someone’s car.”

Clearly the guy caught in the act didn’t appreciate being called out. “Why don’t you just mind your own business?” he said, snidely.

“Are you so oblivious that you’re not even paying attention?” asked the witness. “Are you so selfish that you don’t even care?” While the guy certainly had a point — the other dude was slamming his car door against the adjacent car, repeatedly — witness guy was also being a bit high and mighty and harsh in tone. He went on about how selfish slamming guy must be.

“Why don’t you just fuck off?” said selfish guy. “Like I care what you think.”

At this point, I was strapping Jaye into her carseat just two cars over. I had heard enough. As soon as he dropped the f-bomb, I chimed in. “Hey, language!” I piped up. “Language. There are kids over here.” Yes, I went there. I was that mom. After I said my piece — honestly, I couldn’t help myself, it just came out — I just kept talking to Jaye so she wouldn’t be able to hear them anymore. There was another exchange that I tried to block out as I climbed into the car. As I backed up and drove away, I could see selfish guy doing some deep breathing after pompous guy drove away.

I was most concerned about how to explain the confrontation to my three year old who hears (and remembers) everything. Once I started the car, Jaye immediately asked, “Mama, what does ‘language’ mean?” and “What Mama say to those people?” So, thanks to the jerk-off in the Whole Foods parking lot today, I had to explain that people sometimes don’t always use nice words and sometimes people aren’t nice to each other, that sometimes people can be downright rude. “Why?” she asked. Always with the why. “Well, honey, we can’t always know why people do the things they do or say the things they say,” I told her. “Sometimes people need to be reminded to be nice and to use nice words.” I told her that Mama had to remind one of those men to choose his words better.

At home we talk a lot about how we need to “use our words.” Jaye has always had a lot of words. While she only had a handful at one year old, since about 18 months she has been very verbal and spoke in sentences early on. She has an extensive vocabulary and is quite articulate for her age. She can often (not always) articulate what she wants. Still, as a deeply emotional and sensitive three year old, she sometimes forgets to use her words and resorts instead to whining and tears, or worse, pushing or hitting. It doesn’t happen often and until just recently was reserved only for me or Mac. But just this weekend, she shoved her 5 year old cousin more than once. On other occasions, she’ll use words to hurt. For instance, she has told me more than once that she didn’t want me in her room, and she often tells me to leave when I pick her up at preschool. (I tell myself it’s wonderful to have such an independent child who loves school so much, but she also knows those words hurt my feelings.)

Mac and I have a curse jar in our living room. It’s actually a pretty bank with a painted tree, and under it is a list of words and their value if uttered aloud near children. As someone who once swore freely, it takes concerted effort to watch my language, especially if I make a mess or hurt myself, or if I’m angry (or drunk, but that doesn’t happen around them). Mac says inside is our “Disney fund” but it would take a lifetime to save enough for a real vacation. Maybe dinner. A really nice dinner.

Still, the point is that we adjust our level of civility as appropriate. It’s not that I expect this from other people, necessarily, but you can bet that this mama bear will remind someone of the need to be civil, if it means not exposing my kid to some asshole’s rude behavior in a public place. Note I originally titled this post “Thanks, asshole from the Whole Foods parking lot, for the lesson I had to teach my kid on bad language.” But it didn’t really fit.

~ by luna on September 5, 2012.

7 Responses to “civility lost”

  1. I have also been that Mom. I also have a tendency to curse like a sailor, so I know if I can control myself in front of my kid, other people need to as well.

  2. Ugh. In an attempt to inject a bit of levity into this experience, see here:

    Something tells me you might like it, if you aren’t already familiar.

  3. Too funny, I love your original post title but yes that might now fit with what you were writing about. The do remember everything don’t they? oh well at least you got to have a nice discussion about it. Glad all is going well or at least normal.

  4. You remind me how difficult it is to civilize a human. First, we must deal with our own flaws — I had to clean up my language a lot after my kids were born. Even today, I pay a thousand times over for any slip.

    Second, we need to deal with the impact of our teaching on others. For example, Husband and I may have overdone our anti-smoking messages with our kids. The consequence is that our children are prone to get preachy when they come across people who smoke, and kind of see smoking as a character flaw, which, of course, it isn’t.

    And we deal with our kids, which is everything else coming together.

    I’m glad you were That Mom. They may think twice about being selfish and/or pompous if they are in such a situation again.

  5. That song is hilarious. There IS something about the Whole Foods parking lot. So many hybrids, so many problems! I don’t like going to our local.

    Swearing is hard: I tend to swear a lot. More than most people, probably. I mostly avoid doing it in front of the kids. Mostly.

  6. you are really a very good mom. You know the perfect way to upbringing your kid. Your baby is too lucky to have a mom like you:-)

  7. Ha! You have to be true to who you are as a parent … but it’s a good thing we are internet friends because I hereby am not allowed to be anywhere near your children! I have a terrible mouth and my kids already know the difference between “in our house” words and “outside” words. My only rule is that we do not use words to hurt other people. So, if my kid said (which they haven’t): I can’t get this *effing zipper up. Fine with me. If one of them says “idiot” to another. Absolutely not.

    And now I’m embarrassed and blushing 😉

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