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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Watch out, she’s angry.

Last weekend we went to Ikea, because we hate ourselves and like to ruin our weekends. We put Henry in the playroom, where he romped and hid in giant shoes (there are giant shoes) and apparently he watched a movie in which a cook whipped a little girl. This is what the Ikeans show our children. And that’s not even what I’m mad about.

So when we were done remembering why we hate going to Ikea, Scott went to see if the chair we were going to purchase would fit in our car (it wouldn’t) while I picked up Henry. It was by now lunchtime and Henry, crazed by the ball pit and the (animated) whipping of youngsters, worked himself up into a froth about how hungry he was, how very very hungry. So I dragged him to the café.

My brain kept telling me not to do this. “Go to the car,” it said. “No café. He’s too hungry. Get him home and give him the same damn thing he always eats. He’s not going to like it in there. Hellooo. Am I talking to myself, over here?”

Yes! Because we were already in the café, and Henry was already having a meltdown.

We were on line, and Henry was in a puddle around my feet, shrieking, for no apparent reason. Or for these reasons: because there were so many, many balls, and was that his new home, maybe? With the oversized clogs? But no, now he was in this loud bustling place with all the clattering of the silverware and he was hungry NOW but wanted to go home NOW and CAN’T. DO BOTH. ERROR. ERROR.

So while he was shorting out beneath me, the two women in front of me did the very best thing any human beings can do, and this is the subject of this post, so pay attention!

They turned around, and laughed in his face.

One of them shrieked, “DON’T BE SAD, PRETTY BOY! WHATSAMATTA?”

Henry turned absolutely white with terror and began climbing me, using his talon-like nails. I tried to pick him up, but then he went boneless again and sobbed against my ankles.

“He’s having a rough time, so if you could--” I started, motioning at her to turn around.

One of them bent over to thrust her horrific visage into his. “GIVE ME A SMILE!” she suggested.

“Leave me alone!” Henry shouted, with tears streaming down his face. And they both laughed again. One of them continued to provide helpful suggestions to him (“ISN’T SMILING BETTER THAN SILLY CRYING? YOU CAN’T BE SAD ON THIS BEAUTIFUL DAY!”) while I dragged Henry out of the line and away and he shouted preschooler invective at them. (I believe he called them both poopyhead. I’d say he had a point.)

So, okay, an isolated incident, maybe? Two assholes bitter that their Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce were taking too long, seeking revenge on the youth of today?

But no! Because! Just two days later, at the playground, it happened again.

Henry was having a hard time making inroads with the other children, all of whom paired off according to some mysterious, prearranged order. Then he spotted a group of older kids. They were either eight or 21. Probably somewhere in the middle. They were sitting at the top of a slide, drinking soda and chewing gum, feeling dangerous. Henry was entranced. Before I could stop him, he was right there, standing outside their circle. I watched. Sometimes older kids are nice! Maybe!

The ignoring that ensued was brief but painful, as Henry repeatedly attempted to introduce himself and I considered tearing their lungs out through their mouths. Too much?

After he walked away from them, he looked over at me and started to cry.

“No one wants to know my name,” he called out, weeping. And two women standing right by him—c’mon, guess!


They didn’t just laugh—they laughed their asses off. They thought that was the funniest damn thing they ever heard. Such a cute little kid! So clever! With the stringing the words together! Just like a person!

Which of course set him off even more. The two of them tried to direct more commentary at me about my funny kid with his funny feelings while I dealt with my son, who was dissolving completely into the soil.

This happens to us not infrequently, and I’m sure we’re not the only people. I mean, yes, sometimes Henry can be jollied out of a funk, and sometimes strangers do that with remarkable aplomb, but this is not that. This is not a sympathetic smile or comment, it’s mockery. It’s insensitive to the point of being cruel.

At the very least, these people should figure out that their charm is not having the desired effect, and at the most, shouldn’t they respect someone’s feelings? If you saw an adult crying in public, would you point and laugh? Don’t preschoolers deserve the same courtesy?

What on earth is wrong with people?


Reader Comments (111)

It really is an insidious thing that is happening in our culture where children are viewed as objects not people and that makes it OK to laugh at them or control them. Whatever happened to letting kids be kids? Or teaching all feelings matter.You are right Alice, we all have had this happen way too much and I am outraged and frustrated as you sound.Have you seen this?
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDeb
The thing I find so sad is how terribly often people are heard invalidating a child's feelings. A child is crying and they're told: "You're ok, cheer up" or "There's nothing wrong" or my favorite "boys don't cry". Well, hmmm. If they're crying, something is NOT ok. Even if that something is small potatoes to us big people.

And what's sad about that is kids then grow up thinking emotions are bad and are not able identify when they're mad, sad, or even glad. And the therapy fees... oh my.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlisa
How incredibly sad. Mean, ignorant and assholish people suck.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Rani
My BF says this always happens to her on airplanes. OK, this might be fun: How about we come up with a few alternative responses people could say/do to support a kid who's having a hard day and not squawk in his face?

What would not make you as a parent NOT want to throw battery acid on someone's face? Really, I myself don't want to come off as a moron.

Like should you just flash the kid a kind but quiet smile that says: I feel for you kid.

Other ideas?

October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney
I own brass knuckles if you would like to borrow them alice.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEmily
Sick. Rotten people just make me sick! I am SO sorry Henry had to deal with such horrible people. Well intentioned or not, could they not SEE that it was NOT helping?! I'm furious for you and Henry, how hurtful.

My daughter is 19mo old and it absolutely breaks my heart to think that some people don't see her as a person, with legitimate feelings and fears and needs. WTF is wrong with people? I swear if ever a day comes that someone acts like that when Cadence is having a meltdown, I will look them square in the eye and either tell them to piss off or say, "is that appropriate? Would you like someone to act like that to YOU if YOU were having a breakdown?"

And the kids at the playground? I'm seething. Sure, Henry will have to understand that big kids don't always like to play with little kids, and that sometimes kids are mean, but the ADULTS should never mock him. Poor little guy. Many virtual hugs for you and Henry, from this lurker who's come out of hiding.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLorie
I see this a lot, and most of the time I think the people involved have a difficulty relating to the child involved as a person. Children's feelings are funny, apparently, and not to be taken seriously.

Poopyheads, indeed.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBethany
One of my favorite comments is, "Oh, she must be tired!" or it's varation -- "That's a tired girl!" and I want to say, what the eff do you know? Maybe she doesn't want you looking at her and "decoding" her emotional state. People can be insensitive to the fact that children don't like to be placed in boxes any more than adults do. I don't get it.Did you get your purchases home in 2300 pieces, so you could kill yourself putting them together?
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSara
And here I was thinkinig that children were just little puppets there for our personal amusement.

Damn. My bad, Alice.

People suck. The end.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeather B.
People? People suck.

I wish I was a dog.

(hugs to you and henry, that's just so not right...)
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkelly
Courtney, when it comes to what you as a stranger can do, I find with infants and toddlers, mirroring their expression can work wonders. So can catching their eye, then making a slightly silly face (not an exaggerated scary one, and from a safe distance) or acting like you're looking at something interesting in another direction; they'll often get distracted by trying to figure out what it is you're looking at.

For older kids, like Henry, just give the kid or the parent a sympathetic look.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCountry Mouse
Oh, that hurts my heart for Henry. I'm glad he's got a mom like you to affirm and reassure him the he's the normal one and it's the crazy people around him that are acting like mean idiots! Ahhh! I can't stand it when people are insensitive.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStar Shine
Yes! I hear you! It's like 'cause my kid is verbal enough to communicate her feelings they are therefore funny. "Hey stranger, would it be better if she just sat there and screamed in your face?"

October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. HUGE. Especially since I have a child with some separation anxiety issues who might get teary and get over it, but will dig her heels down and totally lose it when nosy strangers get involved. And I have gotten to the point that I just say, throught politely clenched teeth. "I know you mean well, but you are not helping at all. Please let us work through this, Thank you."
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDawn
I think this laughing at children comes from the whole 'laugh it off' line of thinking, you know; kid falls down and is perfectly fine but can still cry like s/he lost a body part, They say the best response it to tell the child s/he is okay and make it fun and a joke, laugh watever. I think that has turned into the idea that to make a child feel better you need to laugh at them. It is wrong and a horrible thing to do, but some people believe that it is the right thing to do. I am suprised the two women on the playground laughed at something so sad. Just reading the words made me want to cry and ask H his name ... right after I took away the soda and gum from the teens and shoved them all down the slide.Hope I made some sense ... don't think so but hope is the last to die.SincerelyD.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDaria
I think there *are* people who would point and laugh if an adult were weeping in public, which is a pretty depressing commentary about our society but what can you do, right? There's this sitcom-led perception that children's statements and observations are pithy and cute rather than attempts to accurately reflect their emotional state. And the getting all in the kid's face thing? I so don't get that. People do it to my nine-month-old all the time, and then they're surprised when he starts wailing. *shakes head*
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercranky mama
On the flip side, I've had other parents complain that nobody offers to help when their kid has a meltdown.

Sometimes it seems as though if you ignore a kid on a playground/grocery store/IKEA cafeteria having a fit, you're insensitive and if you say anything (or even express any acknowlegement that your eardrums are being pierced by the screaming) you're an a$$hole.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlyndey
Jesus, I think these people are members of my family. My parents and their siblings are FAMOUS for laughing at the younger members of our family. I was talking to my father in the company of his brothers about credit cards, when my 3-year-old niece piped up, quite innocently: "Do I have a credit card?" Totally innocent question, which prompted them to make merciless fun of her. I ignored them and answered her question ("no, sweetie, you don't, but one day when you're grown up and have a job, you probably will"), but I'm still seething about it.

Poor Henry. Hang in there.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChookooloonks
Ack, that is beyond suckitude all the way to suckitude AND dumbfuckery.

I have been known to try to cheer up a melting a child in the grocery line or at the park. But, yeah, if you're a normal non-autistic human, you follow the cues of both the kid and the kid's parent and WITHDRAW if you're making it worse.

Is it possible that everyone around where you live has Asperger's Syndrome? No? Then they're just assholes, I guess.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMir
I wish, SO MUCH, that I knew what was wrong with people. My son, who is developmentally delayed has been picked on by kids on the playground in front of the parents. Who pretend to not know what their kid just did or said. And bury their noses deeper into their magazine.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSonia (DDM)
Kids TOTALLY know the difference between laughing AT and laughing WITH, just like grownups do. I think most people don't get that unwanted attention generally enhances the tantrum effect and makes the parent's job harder.

It's a rare person that can seem safe, happy, jolly, and nonthreatening enough that they actually make things better when they enter into someone else's kid situation.

And most people are NOT that person. Old people -- well meaning, SOMETIMES -- can often be the worst for thinking, "Oh, Silly Parent. I can fix this." without realizing that a) they don't know the child, and b) their children may be messed up by how they "fixed" things.

The only time I've ever interceded was to offer to help a mom who had a baby, a three year old having a meltdown, and a kindergarten-age kid pulling things off the shelves. And I didn't mock the kids or speak to them, I just said, "Can I help with anything?" since I had no appendages and no babies with me. She actually got me to help her kindergarten age kid put things back on shelves, and we made a game of it. I wouldn't normally do that (I don't want to disrespect how someone is handling something) -- but she was making the "OH PLEASE HELP ME" face.

I think you definitely handled both things gracefully, so kudos to you.

October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMeg
Poor Henry. You tell him he has plenty of friends here who ALWAYS want to know his name!
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAllison
people are so odd sometimes. before I had kids I was the type of person to really 'judge' parents when I see their kids having tantrums in public, but as a mom...

if my almost 4 year old says something that is so cute and mature for his age, occasionally we can't help but laugh, but kids are very sensitive and perceptive at that age and even though we are not laughing at him, he gets a little upset and I have to explain its because he is just so cute and it makes us happy.

I'm so sorry that your son had to go through that, as a rule I think people should just mind their own business in those situations!

October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commentershaz
Laughing in his face? Really?

That has to be the most ridiculous thing I have EVER heard. If it weren't true. Really. I've had family do this to my little one. Family.

Tell me about it. Makes me shriek.
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBethany
Hmm...people can sure be unkind. I wonder what you could do if this happens again.

If it were me, I would want to try to:1. help him regulate his current mood2. help him be more resilient in the face of mean people in the future, and (if I was really feeling on my game)3. maybe even help the nasty people think twice next time.

As an adoptive parent of a multiracial family, I deal frequently with the scrutiny my kids get in the grocery store, etc. One thing that helps when you notice a recurring problem is to have a pre-arranged code word to use when your kid is feeling uncomfortable with the attention. It can be some goofy word that only you and your chid will understand, but that will be a way for you and your child to acknowledge to each other that, yes, here is another nosy person who doesn't understand about personal boundaries.

Your little guy may be too young to understand such a game, but maybe it would be something to keep in mind for the future...? It can be really stabilizing to the child to have a private joke between the two of you. (And if that is disconcerting to the rude stranger, all the better!)

The cafe situation may have been unsalvageable anyway, with him being overstimulated and all. However I know I usually have the best luck helping my kid mellow out if I am (or at least fake being!) mellow myself. Be sympathetic to your child's feelings, but kinda shrug at the bad behavior of the stranger and model a casual attutude of 'ah well, some people don't know how to act.' Then move on. When I make a federal case out of something, my kids will overreact even more next time.

I'll shut up now. Hope at least a bit of that helps...

Mary, mom to about a gazillion kids
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterowlhaven

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