I saw parents walk into my favorite restaurant this morning. They sat their boy down in a booth. The server asked what the boy wanted to drink. He said root beer. The parents responded, “Really, that’s what you’re going with? You’re not having root beer. Get over it.” The kid started crying. Once the server walked away, the parents said, “Stop it, you’re such a weirdo.” The kid made some remark. The parents said, “Shut. Up.”
This kid was maybe seven years old.
It’s hard to know what to do in situations like that. Do you step in and tell the parents off? Do you say something sweet to the kid? Is there anything you can do that might make the situation better and not worse?
Life isn’t an episode of What Would You Do? At the end of the day, anything said to those actors becomes a vague memory as they go their separate ways. What happens when you speak up to real families, real parents? Are you going to piss them off and essentially put the kid even more into harm’s way? People aren’t likely to see reason. You’re not going to say something that makes them go, “Oh, I’m being a really shitty parent.” Wake-up calls like that don’t come from strangers in restaurants. Wake-up calls come from the worst possible experiences.
I don’t want that kid to grow up feeling humiliated and ashamed of himself. Sure, maybe he’ll work harder in school, but maybe he’ll put so much pressure on himself that he’ll crack. What happens if he cracks? What happens to him when he tries to go to his parents and they tell him to shut up and stop being weird? Even worse, what happens if his parents have seen their mistakes, but he feels he can’t go to them for fear of being judged? What happens if he feels alone?
Short term frustrations have long term effects, people. The idea that “children should be seen and not heard” is fucking absurd. Children are brilliant, innocent. They see the world as it is; they see things we’re afraid to admit. No. We have to respect children, their creativity, their insights, their black and white view of the world. When we respect them, they grow up respecting the people around them.
Imagine a world where children of all nations were raised to respect each other. Imagine a world where child abuse and spousal abuse never occurred, because men and women were taught strength of character, not strength of fists. I know it’s idealistic. I know John Lennon already wrote a song about it. Still . . . what are we fighting for if we keep creating a society that breeds two castes: superiority and inferiority? I’m sure as hell not going to fight for some fat cat looking down his nose at me. I am not inferior to him, and that kid–the one at the restaurant this morning–he’s not inferior to his parents. When they’re old and grey and incontinent, they’ll be depending on him, trusting him with their care–if he’s still around to help them out.
Fuck love. This world needs more respect.