Several months ago my friend, Laurie, told me about a board game her sister had given their family called Safetyville. On her recommendation I purchased it for my children and it has sparked some really great conversations that I would not have necessarily thought to have before about guns, playing in cars, keeping secrets from parents, taking other people's medicines, strangers, fire, water, etc...
Each game card has three different levels of questions making it age appropriate for several years. As we were playing this afternoon even my husband remarked at what a great purchase this was. I always worry about scaring my children in my attempts to inform them and keep them safe, but this game really does make it easier.
(By the way, this is a totally voluntary endorsement with no compensation whatsoever. I have not purchased any of the child identification products from the company who makes the game... just the game!)
It is ironic that we were playing this today because I also had one of the more disturbing experiences of my recent life in regards to the safety of a child this afternoon in the Dollar Tree. I ran in to make one quick purchase, leaving my husband and children in the car outside. A woman and her older elementary aged daughter entered the store about the same time I did. I noticed them immediately because of the mother's erratic behavior, strong body odor and loud, menacing voice. I was astounded at the way she was talking to the little girl in her care.
Don't misunderstand me. I am a Mommy that prays a lot for patience. I, unfortunately, get snappy with my children. I have empathy for being frustrated and tired. What I witnessed this afternoon was beyond that.
"Sammy. Sammy!" she snapped "Get over here. Get that for me. Sammy! No. Stop asking me questions. Sammy. Sammy! Don't even think about asking for make up. Why would I buy you anything? Sammy. Stay with me." The woman never stopped shouting at her daughter from the time they entered the store. It wasn't what she was saying as much as how she was saying it. There was not even a notion of tenderness in their interactions. Every person they passed seemed a bit disturbed by the situation.
The young girl had long, unbrushed brown hair that almost covered her face as she hung her head and followed her demanding mother around the store. Because I am insanely driven by a need for justice--especially when it comes to the weak members of society--these types of situations are time bombs for me. I simply cannot walk away. So, I did the only thing I could. I followed her around the store at a distance...but always within earshot. I have no idea what I really thought this would accomplish, but it did make me feel like I was somehow, if even for a few moments, protecting Sammy. When she would get particularly harsh I would shoot a look in her direction. (My friends call me the "equalizer," sounds about right doesn't it?)
I finally made my way to the check out line and the woman got in line behind me. Sammy was a few paces behind her, when I heard her cry. "Uh-oh, Mama.I peed."
The mother went ballistic.
"Oh My G-d! How does a twelve year old pee on themselves? Are you kidding. Sammy! You peed on yourself? You are twelve. I can't believe you!" She was shouting. I was cringing.
A humiliated Sammy meekly said, "I told you I really had to go, Mama."
"But you are twelve. You shouldn't be peeing on yourself at twelve. My G-d!" She continued to rant and rave loudly. There were about 8 sets of eyes on them at this point.
The mother then snatched Sammy by the arm and said, "I am gonna take care of you! I am gonna wear you out! Come with me now," as she angrily escorted the girl to the restroom in the back of the store.
My chest was tight, my heart was pounding. I could not stay silent any more.
"Someone from mangement or security needs to follow her. She has been cruel and mean to that child for the last 5 minutes. She is going to hurt her. Please send someone back there." I pleaded with the woman behind the counter.
There were 6 women in line, at least one other one had tears in her eyes. Everyone's eyes reflected their concern, but no one knew what we could really do. Should we mind our business? Was this a family matter or was this something far worse? Perhaps it is my experience working with girls from the group home, but I know that a 12 year old wetting their pants is often a symptom of far greater problems.
So, I followed her to the back of the store. When they got to the back, she sent the girl in alone and huffed about how she was going to have to call her Daddy to get some clean clothes. She got on her cell phone and proceeded to rant and rave again about how "his daughter had peed on herself" and he needed to come in, bring extra clothes and hold her place in line while she dealt with it.
I returned to my place in line and felt my eyes fill with tears. The Daddy stood in line behind me silently. When the mother returned he muttered something about how "everything smells like pee now." There was absolutely no sign of compassion for or protection of the dignity of this child. I was heartbroken, but I really did not know what I could do. Nothing had happened to warrant calling the police. Unfortunately, being mean and publicly humiliating your daughter is not a crime.
I wanted to tell the mother about resources available in our town for early intervention. I managed to make eye contact with her only once in line and God somehow gave me the strength to politely ask if I could help her with anything. She brushed me off.
When I got back into the car I cried. That poor sweet child. If today's glimpse was any indication, her mother, her assigned safe haven of unconditional love, is ripping her young heart and soul apart. I realize I should be careful to not judge based on a brief snapshot, but let me assure you, this situation was not at all normal. If this is how they behave in public, I shudder to think at what might be going on out of sight at home.
Am I overreacting? Have you found yourself in situations where you knew a child was likely in a very bad situation, but you lacked sufficient evidence to intervene? What is the right thing to do?
I don't want to be 'that woman'--the noisy one who butts into situations about which she knows very little, jumps to conclusions and assigns false accusations. I also don't want to be the one who stands by and allows evil to persist while I quickly avert my eyes and retreat back to my safe little life.
Anyone have any tips for how to help diffuse a situation like this without making it worse?