the smell of my desperation has become a stench

When it takes a village

Last Friday I took Leta to get an annual checkup with her pediatrician, and for three straight days leading up to it she asked me no less than forty times a day, “Will I have to get a flu shot?” I finally stopped giving her my usual answer of, “I don’t know,” and changed it to, “Yes, and the needle is seven inches long.”

“Mom,” she said in irritation. “You know that’s not true. Will I have to get one?”

“Would you like me to discuss my butt? Because that’s exactly where this conversation is headed.”

She was asking me that question again after we checked in and took our seats in the waiting room when two unsupervised and very young kids, a boy and a girl, started climbing up and over the seats in the middle of the room. I looked around for a guardian of some sort but couldn’t see anyone. At first it wasn’t a very big deal given the relatively low level of danger they were in. The seats were padded and close enough to each other that if one of them did have a misstep the resulting accident would not be life-threatening. But then I noticed that the girl’s pants were soaking wet around her bottom. I did not know what liquid she was carrying around down there, but if I’d been required to give one guess it wouldn’t have been Mountain Dew.

Aside from the OH MY GOD EWWWWW factor, she was getting that liquid all over the seats in the waiting room of a pediatrician’s office. Have you been watching the news lately? Right. This is exactly how we’re all going to die.

TANGENT: I was working out with my trainer the other day at the gym when a kid we see all the time started talking to her about what he’s studying at the University of Utah, something that has to do with mathematics.

“I’ve done the calculations,” he told her. “At the rate Ebola is spreading in Africa, the entire population of the earth will be wiped out in two years.”

My trainer’s reaction: “That’s horrifying!”

My reaction: “You mean I don’t have to worry if Social Security is going to run out? SWEET.”

And now back to your regularly scheduled child rubbing urine all over the waiting room.

I looked around again for a guardian, but there was no one else there. Right then the boy who appeared to be a few years older than the girl started punching her in the arm repeatedly. Right there in front of me. She began to screech and cry and flail and, I don’t know, call me old-fashioned but that shit is fucked up. Sure, it’s just two kids doing what two kids do. But they were unsupervised in the waiting room of a pediatrician’s office. If ever there were a time when someone from “the village” could step in and help out, THIS WAS THAT TIME.

Also, you may have heard. My Granny Hamilton used to throw rocks at cars parked illegally by her house. I resemble her more than anyone else in my family tree.

I stood up, walked over to both kids and yelled, “Nuh-uh!” And oh my god, the Southern intonation it had. It was so Southern that it was deep fried, drove a Chevy pickup truck, and routinely told racist jokes.

“You stop hitting her RIGHT NOW,” I said firmly, my finger pointed straight at the boy’s head. Both of them were so startled that they fell limp onto each other to stare at me. “Who is here with you?” I asked. But neither one of them said a word and just sat there with eyes as wide as hubcaps. “Sit right here while I go talk to someone at the desk,” I told them, my arm still outstretched to point an intimidating finger.

Right then someone came out and called for Leta and I to head back and see her doctor. I motioned for Leta to head to that door so that I could let the front desk know what was happening. They said they’d take care of everything, so I have no idea where those kids ended up, how many more surfaces were lovingly caressed with those pants, or if they are STILL talking about that awful, scary woman at the doctor’s office. But here’s the thing: if for some crazy reason (that I will not judge [and neither should you, at least not initially]) had to leave my two children unsupervised in the waiting room of a pediatrician’s office or ANYWHERE FOR THAT MATTER and one of them started hitting the other one, I would hope that someone would intervene.

Not everyone agrees with me:

Don’t you hate it when people don’t do their research?

And just so everyone can rest easy, Leta got the flu NASAL SPRAY. Same as the shot but without the seven-inch needle.

  • Anna Cabrera

    2014/10/15 at 2:43 pm

    But did Leta get a flu shot?!

    I routinely use my well-honed TEACHER VOICE and count it among one of my precious adult toolkit. And wasn’t the person who left two children in the office counting on some kind of village demonstrated by leaving them there?

  • KimFunk

    2014/10/15 at 3:01 pm

    If you’re gonna leave your kids unsupervised, someone should/will step in and supervise them. If you have a problem with other people supervising your beloved ones, supervise them yourself.

  • Megan

    2014/10/15 at 3:04 pm

    One time I yelled at three preteen boys in line at Panera for cussing it up in front of me and my precious angel children. As you can imagine, MY preteen daughter was thrilled.

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2014/10/15 at 3:05 pm

    We once ran into that at an oil changing establishment except boy and girl, both around age 5, were supervised by dad. They ran. They screamed. They pulled and punched and whined. Dad offered half hearted threats and punishments which worked for about thirty seconds at a go. At one point in the ruckus, where my kids of the same age were also very annoyed with these two, Dad took away one of their blankets and said in a Mo-authoratative way, “Snuggly IS A PRIVILEGE!”

    It took the strength of Hercules to hold our laughing.

    It’s been twelve years since Snuggly was a privilege but we still say it all the time. Have a fit? Well, Snuggly is a privilege.

    BTW, this happened in Salt Lake, so the family I’m quoting very well could be reading this. As such, I want to know if the ice cream that was offered for good behavior when you left actually worked…

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/10/15 at 3:06 pm

    I am stealing this so hard. Snuggly!

  • dc

    2014/10/15 at 3:11 pm

    you absolutely did the right thing. not that you need my approval, or anyone elses for that matter.

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2014/10/15 at 3:11 pm

    My husband and I have teacher voice. It’s awesome.

  • crosberg

    2014/10/15 at 3:17 pm

    When things get very serious, I combine my teacher voice with my father’s drill sergeant voice. I pulled it out once in public and a 7 year old boy just sat down in the middle of a sidewalk and refused to move, staring at me in shock.

  • kmpinkel

    2014/10/15 at 3:20 pm

    Could you just come over and yell at my children? I’ve grown tired. But if you are busy, I’ll try the”snuggly privilege ” thing.

  • LoLoWyo

    2014/10/15 at 3:22 pm

    I WORK in a doctor’s waiting room. And people leave their children out here unsupervised ALL THE TIME. I don’t like kids. I’m not a babysitter. Take your kid back with you or leave them at home. It’s very unsafe to leave your kids with a random stranger for any period of time. I get busy and run all around this office, I can’t watch your kids all the time. People are crazy.

  • Abby

    2014/10/15 at 3:29 pm

    Have you ever had to do this with your friends’ kids? When your friends are also right there, not disciplining the kid? That’s my faaaaavorite. 🙁

    We recently had to tell our friends’ child (who is 3, the same age as ours) not to climb over and out of our restaurant booth into an adjoining one, because “this is a restaurant. We don’t do that here. We sit in our seats.” To be fair, our friends noted that they almost never eat out with him (with this probably being the reason why), but when I had thought about whether I should say something, what ultimately helped me decide was, “do I want my own kid thinking this is acceptable public behavior?” In my view, if I didn’t say anything in that case, I’d basically be giving implicit approval to my own kid to do the same.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2014/10/15 at 3:30 pm

    I’m not a parent, but I do work in an office. Not even an office with a waiting room — just an ordinary office building. And my co-workers have a tendency to bring their kids in with them occasionally, but leave them unattended while they take a conference call or go to a meeting. This doesn’t happen all the time — but when it does, it is awkward. It is one thing to discipline a random, unattained child. But when they are the children of somebody you have to work with, it is a really hard line to walk. From the parents perspective, there are often occasions where the intersection of child care, work responsibilities, and school schedules simply don’t work out and bringing their kids into the workplace is their only option. It is often quite difficult how forcefully you can tell a co-workers child to keep it down over there.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2014/10/15 at 3:32 pm

    Like I said, I’m not a parent. But how far does this extend? I mean, you are going to see a lot of behavior in public that probably does not align with your personal parenting viewpoint. Is not saying something always giving implicit approval to your own kid to do the same? Or is it just because you were all at the same table?

  • Abby

    2014/10/15 at 3:38 pm

    It’s absolutely because we were at the same table, and this is someone that’s actually one of her “kid friends” — if I saw some other kid doing that at, say, another table in the restaurant, I’d leave it alone, because in my opinion, it’s none of my business. But since this kid was part of my party, I feel more responsible for their behavior in a public establishment. I gave his parents a few opportunities to speak to him about it before I said anything, but they didn’t really, and as noted here, sometimes a word or two from someone who isn’t the kid’s parent is more effective.

    We also spoke to our kid about it in the car ride home, just to check if she had noticed, and to review what is acceptable behavior in public.

    In your situation as listed above, I do think it’s harder — this was with people who we’re friends with, not co-workers, so while I wasn’t 100% sure they’d be okay with it, I was a little more sure that they would appreciate me saying something (especially if it worked!) than I would be if they were just people I knew from work.

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2014/10/15 at 3:41 pm

    I agree with you — sitting at a table together does make your relationship to the child a lot different then just a random family in the same restaurant. I think the question of when to discipline somebody else’s children is a very interesting one and I am glad to see different perspectives shared here.

  • That Teacher Lady

    2014/10/15 at 4:06 pm

    I’m a teacher, so I’m used to kid wrangling. It’s hard to turn that off, so out in the world I often end up giving all sorts of unsupervised kids The Look and asking them rhetorical questions about their choices, intentions, or behavior that usually leave them staring slack jawed, confused, or immobile (or some combination) or having one kid lean in and say “who is that lady?”

  • MallyMon

    2014/10/15 at 4:45 pm

    No, Leta got a substitute nasal flu spray.

  • MallyMon

    2014/10/15 at 4:46 pm

    Some folk should just not be allowed. And if you have to discipline others’ kids when they don’t want to, so be it. It’s definitely a societal thing. Or it should be.

  • Cassie Sue

    2014/10/15 at 4:59 pm

    I had the opposite thing happen.
    The other day at Home Depot my daughter saw an old man trying to put his stuff in the backseat of his car and his cart was rolling away. She ran over, stopped his cart and went to give it back to him, and he yelled at her “STEALING IS WRONG!” She looked at him with huge eyes, and looked at me like “what just happened?!?” and after trying to explain as he just kept saying, “You should be ashamed” we just walked into the store. I just told my daughter, she did the right thing and not to let the fact that he was confused stop her from trying to be helpful.

  • Kim's Kitchen Sink

    2014/10/15 at 5:14 pm

    I have been known to discipline unsupervised children, but I do try to be careful when disciplining friends’ children if their parents haven’t explicitly told me it’s ok. I am also not a parent, blah blah I have no leg to stand on…but if someone’s kid is acting like an asshole, I can’t just sit idly by!

  • JudithNYC

    2014/10/15 at 5:25 pm

    I lost a friend that way. We had taken her child to the movies but we had to leave because he was being so obnoxious. We decided to walk around the park then sat down for an ice cream. And the kid was screaming and being more and more obnoxious by the minute, hitting his mother, etc. She never disciplined and thought just ignoring the child was enough. (This was not the first time.) Well, it was not working. Finally, I was at the end of my tether and walked away with the child. I don’t remember if I asked permission first or just told her I was going to talk to the boy. We walked around for about five minutes and I explained to the child that such behaviour was just not acceptable. I did not even have to be stern, just calmly explain that it was not done. End of tantrum. Also end of friendship. Too bad, so sad but I don’t like kids anyways. The only ones I liked were my own, which by that time were close to 40 yrs old.

  • Teal

    2014/10/15 at 5:58 pm

    It seems like someone at the front desk should have noticed what was going on, and intervened. Or at least kept an eye on the little rugrats.

  • Jackie

    2014/10/15 at 7:16 pm

    My kids are 1 and 2. When the 2 year old sees kids misbehaving in public she leans over and “whispers” (as we know all 2 year olds do so well) ‘Mommy, are they being bad kids??’ At which point I smugly get to lean in and tell her yes. Meanwhile my husband is embarrassed beyond belief and sends the other parents (if they’re present) an apologetic glance. Pansy.

  • Lori

    2014/10/15 at 7:29 pm

    I discipline other people’s children all the time. I haven’t been yelled at because I’m usually providing back up for parents. Except for one time I told a kid he couldn’t eat all the candy (it was supposed to be shared with a group of kids). The kid lost his shit and his dad apologized to him for my behavior.

  • Mooooon

    2014/10/15 at 7:52 pm

    Unattended hildren who are being public nuisances are whatever, until they hit a certain level and I automatically go into Teacher Mode. It’s totally involuntary and just comes pouring out: “THAT is inappropriate behavior and we do NOT act that way here! etc, etc, etc”

  • Janeym649

    2014/10/15 at 8:12 pm

    You did good Dooce. Just wish you could have spoken to the person who was supposed to be watching them dammit!

  • carolyn farkas

    2014/10/15 at 8:38 pm

    I am laughing out loud reading this. When my daughter was 2 we took her to an indoor playground kind of place. A family with 3 or 4 kids showed up and promptly destroyed the place. They were completely wild. Knocking other kids down, taking toys, etc. The mom sat herself down in a chair and threw out the occasional “Don’t MAKE mama get up”
    Mama never got up. Not once. My husband and I still randomly yell that all these years later. It applies to almost every situation.

  • Roberta

    2014/10/15 at 9:54 pm

    I was at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier this summer, sitting on the steps waiting for the Changing of the Guard. It’s a solemn place, where respect the quiet and reflect on where you are and the individuals that have sacrificed their lives, without recognition. And yet so many tourists don’t get that, and I’m sure at this point in the tour of a boring cemetery, the adolescent kids sitting on the steps in front of me couldn’t have cared less where they were. One of them started messing with his empty water bottle, making a very loud noise. After a while, I couldn’t stand it and shushed him. I didn’t say a word, just a loud “shh”. I swear, he turned around and looked at me like “who the hell are you?” and I just glared right back at him. He did quit with the empty water bottle, but I kept thinking, where the hell are the parents? I would have been mortified if my kid had acted that way, in that place, and agreed with an adult who disciplined him in that situation if I wasn’t around. Sometimes, kids hear it better, and it’s more memorable, from someone other than the parent. I guess it DOES take a village… such as it is these days.

  • Tracie

    2014/10/16 at 5:46 am

    I didn’t know there was such a thing as a nasal spray for the flu vaccine?! My five year old hasn’t been able to walk since his needle went into this leg. Must ask for it the next time.

    The people who give out about other people disciplining their kids – in this scenario if they’d been 10 or 15 years older – you would have called the cops. Putting some manners on them now, might save them from that fate.

  • Vickie

    2014/10/16 at 6:26 am

    Love it…. Someone needs to step up and show kids how to behave in public,,, Good for YOU!!!

  • Boaz Van Chris

    2014/10/16 at 6:33 am

    Hahaha nice one!

  • Boaz Van Chris

    2014/10/16 at 6:34 am

    Hey but be careful one day your hand might stick one of the children you are disciplining!

  • Beth Rich

    2014/10/16 at 7:49 am

    My mother has a look. And she delivers it indiscriminately at anyone who misbehaves. No matter what sweet words may be coming out of her mouth, if the look is there, you had best listen.

  • Rita Arens

    2014/10/16 at 9:03 am

    I do this shit all the time. I consider it my contribution to society. Those kids are going to grow up.

  • Jen Moore

    2014/10/16 at 10:33 am

    I sometimes use my parenting voice on my students

  • Rrrrrrrandall

    2014/10/16 at 11:01 am

    Along those same lines, if you refuse to parent your children, someone will eventually parent them for you. But that parent will be a teacher, a principal, a drill sergeant, or a judge. But you get to pick!

  • Leigh

    2014/10/16 at 11:09 am

    I would absolutely have done the same thing but for the record I grew up in Tennessee, too.

  • Stephanie

    2014/10/16 at 11:25 am

    I was a Cub Scout leader and moved to Boy Scouts with my son. As a mom, leader, and a regular person, I am always amazed at the level of disrespect parents allow and that they assume someone else will take responsibility for their precious little devil. Talking back, hitting someone, dancing through a cemetery on Memorial Day, to name a few. There are a lot of things that can be ignored but there are also a lot of things that can be stopped with a stern Nuh-uh or a glare and shake of the head. It is now interesting to watch who avoids the eye contact but they generally stop the stupidity. The parents, however, seem to be a lost cause.

  • Val Kurth

    2014/10/16 at 1:32 pm

    Maybe this has already been mentioned, but perhaps we should be quicker to compliment the correct behavior in children when we do see it. I try to tell the parents of obedient kids what a great job they’re doing while in the kids’ hearing. I think it helps parents to hear what they’re doing right as well, instead of focusing on the negativity that we’re surrounded by. Catch them being good and make sure to sing praises! =)

  • Samantha

    2014/10/16 at 2:33 pm

    Way to intervene with the unruly children! I would have done the same. Careful regarding the Ebola fears…people will accuse you of being a right wing cuckoo! There is no need to worry when we have our stellar President and his most dedicated staff at the helm running international affairs. Wait, what?

  • Sarah Wilson

    2014/10/16 at 3:59 pm

    My husband is a tattoo artist and the client’s husband/baby daddy tried to leave their young children alone in the lobby to go check on the woman getting tattooed. This was after they’d taken their shoes off to run and slide across the floor, found a Frisbee and started throwing it through the lobby, and had the mom ask the counter person to change the TV to Spongebob so they could watch it. When she was done getting tattooed she was asking about possibly getting her navel pierced as well and the man started getting handsy and said if she did that they’d probably end up with another kid.

  • KristenfromMA

    2014/10/16 at 5:03 pm

    You sound like a right wing cuckoo.

  • Lauren

    2014/10/16 at 7:36 pm

    I hope to god people will take part in disciplining my children too. Friends, family, neighbours. Takes the pressure of us to get it right all the time, and be able to witness all “teachable moments” our kids have. Bring back the village!

  • Crystal

    2014/10/16 at 7:44 pm

    I totally would have done the same thing in the absence of another adult. In a somewhat backward related story.. one time My son wasn’t listening when I told him to get come with me to the restroom and leave the play area. SO when we got in the bathroom I scolded him and disciplined him and he got very upset and started to yell and cry in the bathroom, telling me to leave him alone and he wanted to be in there alone. I told him to go to calm down and go to the bathroom so we could leave. In walks a lady and her 5 kids. She stood there next to me while I waited for my son to calm himself down and leave the stall. So he calmed down and we headed to the hayride (We were at a local animal park). Lady from the bathroom ends up sitting next to me and telling me and my father how disrespectful my son was in the bathroom and that I needed to get my husband involved in his discipline. Although I wish I would have said something more powerful to her to explain that she has no right to openly scold me because she has no clue what she was talking about – I told her he was upset because I had just disciplined him for not listening and then she tried to get all “oh I am so sorry” and I kept running into her at the park and then again in the bathroom where she tried to apologize for being so judgmental and her daughter kept interrupting her to ask her what judgmental meant. Then I saw her all over town the next week then found out she lives 3 streets away from me in my neighborhood. Sometimes I want to throw rocks at her parked car. My goal in life is to raise a kind and independent child. It still pisses me off that she had the audacity to speak to me on my parenting. She could have judged all she wanted in her head, or on her blog if she has one. I would have been more okay if she would have said something to my son about not yelling in the bathroom.

  • saqib

    2014/10/17 at 4:38 am

    what is this?

  • Michael

    2014/10/17 at 9:01 am

    It seems like someone at the front desk should be doing their own job and not babysitting random children. If your kids need to be watched, it’s a parent’s responsibility to do so or to provide alternate care. It may take a village but not everyone lives in your village.

  • April May

    2014/10/17 at 1:00 pm

    Unattended kids…a huge pet peeve of mine. I work in retail and can’t believe how many kids are left to run around the story, knocking things over and plowing past unsuspecting customers. The worst, by far, was the woman in my check out lane who told me to hurry up because her toddlers were in the car (it was about 90 degrees outside) because “it’s so much easier to shop without them climbing all over the place.” I sent my manager to go check on the car and CPS was immediately called. Parenting should require a license.

  • Sara

    2014/10/17 at 1:47 pm

    One day, while crossing the street downtown, my daughter decided to throw a fit. Kicking, screaming, the whole nine yards. I focused on getting her out of the middle of the street and when we finally got to the other side, I knelt down in front of her to talk. We talked, calmly figured out the issue, hugged each other, and moved on. I could SEE this man, walking toward us, trying to make eye contact. I KNEW he was going to step in & say something, so I just kept avoiding eye contact and tried to keep us moving. When he got right up next to us he decided he needed to tell my daughter that she needed to behave for her Mom, because one day I was going to be DEAD and she would miss me. It was frightening & hilarious all at once.

  • Jenn

    2014/10/17 at 8:00 pm

    True! Last summer I was commuting by train with my 5 year old and 2 year old for a torturous 35 minutes each way. Each ride was an ordeal of me trying to keep them quiet to avoid bothering the other commuters, usually by reading to them and working really hard to engage them in the story. It was exhausting and frustrating. One day, as we approached my stop, a random man said, “You are doing a really good job with them.” It made my day, and honestly I still think about it and smile. What a difference that one comment has made.

  • Anja6819

    2014/10/17 at 9:58 pm

    I’ve done similar in our pediatrician’s office. In this case the mother was at the desk, ignoring the boy when he started to throw books at his sister. When I loudly said “Oh hey buddy, I don’t think it’s a good idea to throw books in here” the mother called them over after she angrily glared at me.
    Sorry, but I’m not going to let your asshole kid throw books and possibly hit my kid.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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