It was an overcast afternoon in June, too cold for the pool and too rainy for the park, so Gavin and I headed for our town’s fantastic library. Not only does it have lots of special programs for kids of all ages, it also features a huge children’s area with a magnetic train, puppets, puzzles, a child-size doll house, an enclosed sand toy and rows and rows of children’s books. Basically, it is a toddler’s dream.
Gavin had just settled in to taking apart the train tracks when we heard the shout from over by the computers. At one section of the children’s library there are computers set up with games for preschool and elementary aged kids. A boy who looked to be in the fourth grade was the one who was yelling.
“I am NOT done!! What are you doing? Don’t turn it off! Stop! STOP! NOOOOO!” Now he had the entire library’s attention. I assessed the situation and realized that his mom was attempting to get him off the computer and out the door. She was trying every method known to moms to convince him, but he refused. She offered to let him play one more round, gave him consequences, told him he could play games at home, and even bribed him with ice cream...all to no avail.
“What kind of mother would allow her child to act like that?" I imagined her as the stereotypical indulgent parent; handing out treats and bribing her kids to behave. I smiled down at my well-behaved little boy, internally assigning myself gold star stickers and handing her large ugly X’s. In my own mind, my child behaving nicely plus her child having a temper tantrum equaled me being the better mom.
Throughout my entire internal conversation, the boy’s rage only increased in fervor and volume, disrupting not only the families in the children’s section, but the entire library. His shouts were punctuated by his fist pounding the table and his head banging the computer. His mom looked helpless and humiliated, and his sister, who I now noticed in the background, stared silently at her shoes.
Librarians appeared from the stacks of book, admonishing glares on their faces. I saw them begin to slowly approach and surround the mother and her son. “Ma'am, excuse me, but you and your son need to leave the library right now.” Neither the mother nor her son heard the librarian over his screams. The librarian became more persistent. Reaching out, she grabbed the woman’s arm and turned her, repeating the command. “Ma'am, please exit the library immediately.”
It was at that moment that they mother whipped around, her face turning from helplessness to rage. “Can’t you see that I am trying to leave? My son is autistic. He has no idea what he is doing.”
My stomach dropped wildly and I felt the sour taste of shame in my mouth. Here was a mother trying with all her might to love and care for her special needs son, and I had sat silently a few yards away, judging her and patting myself on the back. My cheeks burned red and I turned away to hide my tears. As a former teacher of full inclusion classrooms, I prided myself on my ability to be sensitive towards autistic children. Here, again, my pride had fooled me. I had behaved no better than anyone else.
I lifted my head to see what had transpired in the few seconds that these thoughts rushed through my mind. Surely the librarians were assisting this mother, doing whatever they could to help her. NO. Instead, they were raising their voices, repeating their mantra in louder and louder tones. You must leave. You must leave. You must leave.
I was shocked. Could they really be this insensitive, this out of touch, that they would continue to nearly shove her out the door without a hint of understanding or compassion? Was their treatment (and mine, I am ashamed to say) any different than my father’s friend who had been denied admittance to a swimming pool in the 1960’s due to the color of his skin? Have we really changed that little?
The question has haunted me all this week as I have gone about my daily routine. How should the librarians have responded? And more to the point, how should I have responded? What allowances should we make for others? What code of ethics do we follow in this situation? I am afraid to say that my questions outnumber my answers.
There is one thing that I have taken away from the situation, and it is this: we as mothers are not in competition with one another. A mother with a child who is acting out does not add to my prowess as a parent, just as a mom with perfectly polite children does not detract. We cannot judge one another on a one to ten scale, feeling pride when we “beat” someone and failure when we are “beaten.” Because, at the end of the day, if we don’t stand up for one another, who will? We may have been blessed with gifted kids, special needs kids, or just “normal” kids, but we all are all blessed to be mothers. May we reach out to one another with friendship, not judgment, extending a helping hand without reservation.
Becky Cella is Mommy to one year-old Gavin and wife to Matt, a school teacher in Philadelphia. She taught high school English for six years prior to earning her Masters at Cabrini College and becoming a student teaching supervisor at Philadelphia Biblical Unviersity. In her free time she enjoys helping out with her MOPS group at church and writing about the experiences of being a new mom.