Saturday, March 03, 2007

Scene at the Airport

As most vacations do, our trip to Palm Springs started at the airport and the craziest sh-- happens to us there.

On the way to our departing gate Wednesday morning, Ken and I made a pit stop at the restrooms. Within 100 feet, we could see and hear a wailing child being disciplined by his mother outside the women's restroom.
She said, "If you don't get in there, you will not get any DVD's on the plane. I'm going to count to five. 5-4-3-2-1...Okay no movies on the plane." At this, the child, who I judged to be about 3-years-old, cried even louder. Then she threatened to take away his books and he approached hyper-ventilation.

But something was odd about this public disciplining: It seemed like the mother wasn't trying to find out why he was so freaked out and the worst thing was the way she interacted with him. She gestured and projected her voice like she was performing on stage. Every woman coming or going in the restroom gave the "this-woman-is-crazy" look to one other. But no one said anything.

Ken, who was waiting for me, saw all of it. As we walked away, Ken grew more agitated by the scene. He wanted to say something to her. But I told him that interfering with parent-child situations is muy complicado.

"We are only seeing a snapshot of this situation," I said scurrying toward our gate. "We have no idea what else is going on."

But he made some good points: the way she was dealing with the child could be construed as a form of psychological abuse. She seemed to revel in his frustration and didn't do anything to defuse his anxiety about being in or going to the restroom. The disruptive way she "performed" for the crowd indicated a lack of judgement and the tone of the child's crying hinted at actual terror.

"Are we to mind our business so much that a child can get psychologically abused?" Ken asked. "When do we have the right to step in and say something?"

Now, I truly admire and love Ken's sensitivity to people. It is a trait I don't have enough of, but it's a slippery slope getting involved with strangers. We arrived at our gate and while I mulled over the safety of my isolationist policy, I couldn't help but feel less human and cowardly. Ken meanwhile decided that he wanted to go back and "see" what was going on and say something if warranted. So with reservations, I accompanied him.

A full 15-minutes had passed since we'd last been down the corridor and there was no sign of them. But soon we could hear the familiar howling from within the women's restroom. I walked in and exchanged "the look" with all the ladies. This time the mother was in a closed stall and I could see her kneeling down with the child facing her. She said in a volume that the entire ladies room could hear, "There are no bathrooms on the plane. You have to go now!"

Unbeknownst to me, Ken had alerted a TSA official. The official came into the bathroom and paused outside the closed stall and just as she was about to knock, the mother rushed out with the boy tucked under her arm like a Sunday paper. He was still crying, red-faced.

The TSA gal chased after them, "Is everything alright here?" she asked.
"Fine!" the mother replied.

By then the mother strode toward the exit with the TSA lady following. Ken stood outside and when the mother passed him, he shouted at her "You need help! You need help!"
I froze.

Another bystander inadvertently blocked me from getting to Ken's side but secretly I was glad. The confrontation, the child's crying and Ken's outburst brought tears to my eyes. Suddenly I felt sorry for that mom. Because no one wants to be "the bad mom" who loses it in public with a screaming kid. And certainly no mom wants to be called out by a stranger. Then my husband came face-to-face with the child's father and I feared the worst.

"Do you have children?" the father demanded, holding his squirming, crying son.

Ken had to answer 'no' and that effectively eliminated all his credibility.
The man said, "You should talk to some parents or become one before you make any judgements. Do you want to take care of this?" and held out his crying, squirming son to Ken.

Ken stepped back but later regretted that he hadn't tried. The mother sarcastically thanked Ken for his "helpful" advice and the family stormed off down the corridor. And these were older, (seemingly) educated parents in their late 30's.

The TSA gal said she'd have an officer check on them at the gate.


Needless to say, the incident left us both a bit rattled.
Can a person without a child judge mistreatment? When is it acceptable to get involved?


Beverly said...

Golly Kali, I know your conumdrum. When do we step in?

One answer is to look to the law.

As a teacher I am REQUIRED to report not only what I see but what a child tells me.

Two weeks ago a 15-year-old told me his mom had been driving after drinking. She hit him three times in the car and then had him get out.

I repeated this story to our school counselor and she said I had 48 hours to make a full phone report to Child Protective Services, the principal and send in a written report.

The last thing I wanted to do was lose rapport with this women who had been working with me to get her son to stay after school for extra help. Now the last thing I feel like doing is calling her to continue that arrangement.

I am monumentally embarrassed I had to make the report. However, I understand the law sides with the possible victim.

Let the authorities intervene to find out all sides of the story.

I know that Ken did the right and brave thing. It sounds to me like that poor child was been terrorized. His ethical courage is something I noticed earlier, with the deck of Republican cards.

It isn't the hypocritical kind of ethics that castigates one side's actions and laughs with the side he's on. He is above all that.


Beverly said...


Under state law, if school employees do not make a report within 48 hours they will lose their job and be subject to a court trial.

This very unfortunate consequence occurred at my school to a counselor two years ago.