Thursday, December 8, 2011

If Someone Acts this Way on Metro...

I've definitely seen some less-than-stellar parenting on Metro, and I've seen many tweets from people who've also seen it, which leads me to believe it's not that uncommon.

From Kate Woodsome:
It was a stressful day at work. Adults acting like children. I boarded the train and stood in the crowded aisle distracted by the office drama. Two of the seats near me were occupied by a young girl and her even younger brother. Another brother was standing up with their mom, who seemed tired from more than just the day.

A scowl punctuated her clenched jaw and furrowed brow, which moved only when she barked at her children. A bright orange smiley face sticker was on her cheek, the kind a kid might get from the doctor after a checkup. Her daughter wanted the sticker, and she started naming everyone she'd give it to. Among them was the lady in the striped dress. Me.

I shifted my stance to face the little girl and said, "You're going to give that sticker to me?"

"Yes!" she beamed.

"Nah. It looks good on your mom. It makes her cheek look happy."

The girl immediately lost interest in the sticker and focused instead on my outfit -- a long black and grey striped dress and bright green clogs. "I like your dress," she said. "And your shoes."

"Thanks. I like your skirt," I replied, pointing to her blue and green plaid skirt.

"It's my school uniform."

"You look official," I said.


"Yeah, official. You look like an official student."

She looked down at her skirt, smoothed it out, then tugged on her slouching socks.

"How's school going? Like it?" I wondered.

"We're learning Spanish," she said.

That apparently woke up her mom, whose eyes blazed as she snarled, "She don't know nothin'."

Her daughter furrowed her own brow. "I do," she said, hungry for approval. "Adiós. Vámanos. Excelente." "Adiós!" her brother chimed in.

"Wow. You know a lot," I said.

"Yeah, we can count," the girl said, and she and her brother supported each other as they stumbled from uno to diez. I learned that the girl was siete, seven; her brother cinco, five; and her other brother tres, three.

I was impressed and told them so. This excited them. And upset their mother. She yelled at them to shut up.

The three-year-old lurched toward me with big eyes, away from his mom. She yanked him back and raised her fist above his head, drawing her lips over her teeth. He cringed and the others just paused, watching.

I've seen this before. The Metro is everyone's and no one's home. Parents verbally abuse their kids there, threaten violence and, sometimes, actually commit it. Yet no one seems to notice. No one seems to care. But I do, and I'm always conflicted when I see an adult taking out their pain on an innocent.

"Your son's so cute," I told the mom, trying to break her from her trance, to make her aware that we were all there, watching.

"You can have him," she said, disgusted.

The sarcasm was lost on her daughter, who wrapped her arms around my legs and shouted, "No! I want her!"

Her brothers reached for me, too. "No! I do! I do!"

When a child hugs you, you have to hug back. But what do you do when that hug is an outright rejection of their own mother? When that hug could lead to a harsh beating once the train ride ends. I didn't want to provoke their mom any more, but I figured she was going to beat them whether I was kind to her kids or not. So I put my arms around the little girl stuck to my legs and smiled at her brothers. "You have each other. You have to love each other."

I used to be that little girl. The girl with the scared, desperate eyes, silently pleading with strangers to take me away. Nobody ever heard me, or if they did, they didn't respond. Because how do you help a child escape?

With care and warmth. You tell them they're cute and clever and funny. You tell them they're going to be okay, that life gets better. Even if you don't know that it will. Especially if you don't.

Anonymity can be as empowering as it is paralyzing. So shower them with love and then slip away. Because you're not going to be there when the hitting starts behind closed doors, so you might as well be there when you can. 
According to DC's Child and Family Services Agency, you can report child abuse or neglect 24 hours a day, seven days a week to 202-671-SAFE (7233). There is a wait, and an automated menu to start, so if it's an emergency, call 911. If it's not, you will eventually be asked for the name, address, age and gender of the child; who is caring for the child; and the nature and extent of the abuse or neglect. This gets more difficult if you witness abuse on the Metro. A CFSA hotline worker cautioned that it is up to the individual whether to intervene in an abusive situation, and to bear in mind that you do not know how the abuser will respond. "The consequences will be yours. They can be good or they can be bad," she said. The hotline worker suggested it is best to alert a transit police officer or station manager. Make sure to give a detailed description of the abuser, and remember the train and car number. For more information, visit:
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