Speaking out, Shutting up, and Learning to Apologize

IMG_3955Being quiet is not a family aptitude.  I remember being reprimanded for being too loud at sleepovers.  I remember being carried down the center aisle of St. Paul’s Episcopal church calling out, “What does the wine taste like?!” at my big brother’s first communion.  So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this lack of volume control has been passed down to my children.

Not that I don’t try to shut them up.  Or at least try to drown out some of the more embarrassing outbursts with a very loud “Shh!”  If I were serious, I would carry around a white noise machine.  Or a jet engine.  But at least by “Shh-shing” I am announcing my intent to shush them, thereby silencing any nearby busybodies who might feel the need to say “shush” themselves.  Then again, the only time my daughter has actually responded to a request to stop making so much noise was when an angry grandfather-type shouted “Be. QUIET!!” at both of us in the bank.

It was terrifying.  I practically wet my pants.  First from the shock of his sudden outburst.  Then from the shock I sustained when my child actually shut up.

After I recovered from the embarrassment of this moment, I got to thinking.  Where was this man when I really needed him?


Several months ago, my children and I were at an amusement park calmly and agreeably waiting our turn to ride a roller coaster.   I saw a girl ahead of us, about 8 years old, who had no hair.  My heart sank as I wondered, “Cancer?”  Then again,  she looked quite well and happy and given that she was about to invite a bout of motion sickness I thought, “Allopecia?”

Then my mind wandered to my own experience with childhood cancer.  I had lost an eye, but never my hair, and I wondered if I would be giggling and smiling like this girl if I had to be bald?  Then my thoughts shifted to her parents.  Where are they?  How are they doing?  Then I wondered if I really could be sure that she didn’t have cancer.  Surely she would look more ill if she had cancer? This girl is going to make it.  She’s not sick.  But then to go through life without hair?  Wouldn’t that be so hard for everybody?  I mean I am missing an eye, but how hard would it be to have no hair?  I was in the midst of admonishing myself for not being able to mind my own business and where-the-hell-do-I -get-off-comparing-myself-to-a-child-who-is-obviously-doing-just-fine-hair-or-no-hair-and-what-does-your-own-experience-have-to-do-with-this-jesus-mind-your-own-business-already-you-one-eyed-self-obsessed–

When my son called out, “Look at that boy.  He’s so funny.  He looks like a baby!”

He was talking about the bald girl, of course.  I had been so caught up in my internal blathering, that I had failed to keep my son from making this outburst.

He was laughing now.  My daughter, who mercifully was too short to see what my son was  laughing about, shouted, “What baby?”  And, as she often does when she is not fighting with her brother, started laughing too, just because he was laughing.  I came up with something lame like, “Oh babies do funny things.  Remember when your baby cousin  pooped in his pants?  Oh babies are so funny.”

I knew I was in deep doo-doo when my poop reference failed to get them off topic.

“Look that boy has no hair!  He looks like a baby!  Ha Ha Ha!”

As I write this I cannot believe he said something so cruel with such an innocent smile on his face.  I wanted to believe that he was not being malicious, that he was genuinely amused by what he saw because it surprised him.  Like a jack in the box, which somehow sends both of my kids into peals of laughter despite not being funny at all.  But I also knew, having spent many recesses as the only one-eyed person on the playground, that kids are just mean sometimes.

I tried to seize control of the situation.  I crouched down and screamed with a whisper, “Do not say that again!  Be quiet!  Be quiet!  Be quiet!”   Which, of course, resulted in his saying, “Why do you want me to stop talking about that boy who looks like a baby?”

The girl was ahead of us in line.  A couple rows ahead.  Far enough that I could at least make the argument that maybe she didn’t hear any of this.  It was an amusement park.  It was noisy, right?  Part of me wanted to pretend she didn’t hear it. Part of me wanted to take out my prosthetic eye and say, “Oh hey, look at this!”  Part of me wanted to give the girl a hug and say, “I am so sorry my son is such an asshole, but wait, well he’s four, so I guess I mean that I am so sorry that I am such an asshole and also a terrible parent and apologize to your mom for me, too, on behalf of all of us assholes who don’t know how to behave or stand in line and/or raise well-behaved children or speak properly or shut up ever.”

In short, the explanation I would have wanted to give would have been so long and tortured and full of inappropriate curse words that I guess it was okay that I let the “deny and do nothing” component of my character prevail as I stood there like a helpless, dumbstruck buffoon.

Still, I watched the girl as she got on the roller coaster ahead of us.  I continued to look for signs that she either heard us or didn’t hear us.  I tried to talk to my kids about how much ice cream we were going to get later and wouldn’t it be great to go on the magic tractors again and how there was a gift shop nearby and that Humpty Dumpty would be performing in the Farm Follies up by the Crazy Barn this afternoon.

I had almost convinced myself that, no way, definitely not, she definitely didn’t hear us, as she got off the roller coaster and we got on.  I settled in my seat, and made sure my kids were secured in their safety harnesses.  After a brief wait, our roller coaster left the loading zone and started its slow climb up the big hill.

As we were climbing, I saw the girl again.  She was talking to her mother who was sitting on a stone wall.  The mom was nodding her head, listening.  I couldn’t hear what the girl was saying, but, from the emphatic way she was gesturing (and, duh, from my basic appreciation of physics and the phenomenon of sound traveling through air) I could guess what she was talking about.  The mom reached over and gave her daughter a hug.  And I knew.   Our roller coaster was cresting the hill and I knew I was going to be sick.

I wanted so desperately to hop off the ride and do something.  Apologize. Something.  I did look for them after our ride was finished.  But they had left the area.  For the rest of the afternoon  I kept an eye out for them (not literally, although, as I mentioned earlier, I am capable of doing this) but I didn’t see them.

And what would I have said or done anyway?  The best remedy for these things is a hug from your mom, and she had already gotten that.

There was nothing for us to do other than to feel bad and to finally, yes finally, shut up already. But still.  If I could. I would like to apologize.  To you all, my ten followers!! At least you know I mean it.

About MotherJam

Trying to be insightful. But mostly just avoiding housework and ignoring my children.
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15 Responses to Speaking out, Shutting up, and Learning to Apologize

  1. Nena says:

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. This was beautifully written, moving and amusing. I am always more moved when situations are told with humour and humility like this. Just excellent. I think this story will stay with me.

  3. I said “roasted to death” twice. Punching myself in the brain.

  4. Tom Schiels says:

    Re noise blog. My parents used slight to moderate (to excruciating) pressure with thumb and index finger on the sides of the neck. Worked miracles!

  5. Jennifer says:

    You have me laughing out loud again. I met your man at the bank on an airplane last summer when he turned around in his seat before our plane even took off and admonished my son for playing with the tray table. I wanted to tell him that my three year old son had been up since 4:00 am and we had already spent 10 hours at the airport shuffled between help desks while hopeless airlines and booking agents sorted out our lost reservations and I wasn’t such a bad mother after all who lets her children disturb important investment bankers trying to tie up a deal on the flight from Madrid to Paris. But in the end, as my son sat quietly for five minutes, I just said thank you.

  6. Pingback: What Do I Recommend, a Music Fanatic's Dream Question - Sounds Like Orange

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