It started off like a perfect day. We were visiting the pacific northwest for a family wedding and we were gifted with a few hours of rare sunshine. So, I donned my mom-friendly swimsuit, lathered up my fair-skinned family in sunscreen and away we went with an obnoxiously heavy pool bag to find the sun and water.
My family was there (gathered from all corners of the earth) for the wedding and my daughter, Avianna, excitedly ran to find her cousin. My husband and I went on man-to-man coverage; he with our son and me with Avianna. While we were swimming and having a summery time, Avianna and I noticed bees began to swarm where we were. Alarmed, I picked her up and went to more of the center of the small pool hoping we would out-maneuver the little stingers. When they kept coming after us, I moved faster and finally got away from them. However, in all the maneuvering, my 4-year-old daughter began to clutch me tightly and quietly cry in my shoulder because, as she is with every other kind of bug or insect, she is deathly afraid of bees. (I blame her city-girl mother.)
After we had escaped, I hugged her tightly, gently whispering it was okay, and she immediately calmed. But right then, I felt a small, but forceful tap on my shoulder. Cradling Avianna in my arms in the water, I turned around to find a woman in her 50’s staring coldly at me and the scared little girl in my arms.
Staring at me as if I had just murdered her prized family goat in cold blood, she said in a stern and loud voice. “I have been listening to you and that girl, and I don’t even think children should be in this pool. So, why don’t you take her out of here now and make sure she has her tantrum some place else.”
Stunned. I completely froze. Perhaps I have been in the friendly midwest too long, because my brain could not compute the harshness of her statement. Children aren’t allowed in the…pool? Tantrum? What tantrum? Am I on some type of bizarre TV show? Where are the cameras? Looking around confused and not seeing any cameras, I looked back at her face as she continued to stare at me as if trying to bore a hole into my soul.
I turned away quickly, trying to shield my daughter from her crazy stare. I wish I would have said something in defense of my daughter. But instead, in a total daze, I just turned and walked away. I had not encountered such blatant hostility since…well, middle school. My daughter started to cry and said, “Why was that lady so mean? I’m sorry I was crying, Mommy.”
Pause. If you have read any other of my columns, you know I am the first person to admit I have witnessed public disorderly tantrums by my daughter, in which I quickly remove her from the scene and apologize. However, this just wasn’t one of those times. She was barely crying. She was simply scared. As I got out of the pool and dried my sniffling child, I got down and looked her straight in the eye and said, “You did nothing wrong, honey, let’s just get out of here.”
The rest of the day, I played that moment over and over and over in my mind. What had we done that so bothered that woman? What could I have done differently? Why did this whole scenario make me feel so…gross? And the more I thought about it, the more a grander picture began to materialize. This woman at the pool looked at my daughter as a mere inconvenience. My child, just by being a child, inconvenienced her.
When did children become such an inconvenience?
Aren’t children, as horrifically melodramatic as it sounds, truly our future? Aren’t they (duh) the key to carrying on the human race? If there are no children, there is no one to take care of us when we are old. No one to perform surgery on us. No one to keep our family name in play in the universe. No one to retell history to keep us from repeating it. And no one to tell us we are getting old and crazy.
Seems odd then, to treat the kings and queens of tomorrow as inconveniences of today.
Yet we all do it. We see it in our foster care system. Orphanages. Insanely short maternity and paternity leave. Underfunded schools. Abuse. Neglect. Abandonment. Or a dirty look and a roll of the eyes at a restaurant. And yes, we even see it when a woman yells at a 4-year-old at a happy pool in Portland. The systematic labeling of children
as “inconvenient” surrounds us.
Yet, despite that, there are still some that see beyond that label. What I didn’t tell you was that after we got out of the pool, a couple followed us out. When they approached me, they pulled me aside and said, “We are just so sorry. We cannot believe that woman said that to you. You need to know, your daughter did nothing wrong. We got out of the pool because we don’t even want to be near a woman like that. We love children and you’re doing a great job.”
Words cannot express how thankful I am for that couple’s words to me that day. I hope I, too, am always a fellow cheerleader of parents. I hope I always appreciate children and the parents that are trying to raise them. I hope I, like that couple, always remember that children are not ever, not even for
a moment, an inconvenience.
Follow Tracy on her blog, littleparentontheprairie.com.