If you’re a parent, and you’ve seen Despicable Me, you may remember that scene in the beginning of the movie when Gru makes a balloon animal for a little boy, only to pop it a few seconds later. Yeah. Well, something similar happened to my son. And naturally, I was furious! Beyond furious, in fact. So livid that I had visions of flattening tires, keying sedan doors, and punching (yes, punching) testicles of the guy who was responsible. All very mature responses, no?
What happened was this: We were making our weekly trip to the library for story time one afternoon. At this library, there are double doors that open outward. Next to those doors, there is also a button that will automatically open them when pushed – either as a helpful service for the disabled, people with arms full of books or toddlers with a serious button fetish. As anyone with a small child can attest, these are the simple pleasures that kids love most. Pushing buttons. Especially little, round, gray buttons with magical door-opening powers! My son is no exception. In fact, whenever we go to this library, it is the one thing he does with such zeal, I would almost believe it to be his sole purpose in life. (Not really, though a doorman’s costume would look cute on him!)
On this particular afternoon, my son made a bee-line to the door exclaiming – “I want to push the button!” That was his usual phrase of delight, as he would run to the door, squealing in the ecstasy of what was to come. However, since he and my daughter have had their turmoil (read: pushing, pinching, and screaming battles) as of late, I thought I would try to teach him a lesson in courtesy and the importance of not always going first. So, I let my daughter have the first turn to push the button (since she never gets the chance) and then I explained to my son that we could wait until the doors closed for him to have his turn. His desire was hampered a bit by the seeming unfairness, but he sucked it up without so much as a whine or whimper and stood patiently by the door waiting for them to close so he could have his turn. Pretty good behavior, I thought, for a three year old!
Since our library is never particularly busy and we weren’t in any particular rush, it wasn’t a big deal to wait another minute and have them take turns in this way. In fact, as a parenting tool, this library’s button door system is a pretty good way to teach my children the virtues of patience and waiting for their time to do a task. In the past, I looked on this need to always press the button as another headache induced by overly curious kids. But more recently I have come to see it as a great tool as well as a treasured (and cheap) means of entertainment.
During the minute that passed from my daughter’s turn before my son’s, none of the patrons had entered or exited. There was no real hustle or bustle at this place. It was as calm as a country road. That is, until it wasn’t. Until “the incident” happened.
As the doors were finally making their close, and the twinkle in my son’s eyes glimmered with a similar excitement as it does on Christmas morning, out of nowhere walked a man. A tall adult man wearing a tank top and flip flops. He held no books in his hands. And he held no sorrow for what he was about to do. Despite seeing a mother and her patient son waiting quietly for a turn at the coveted button, or maybe in spite of it, he walked ever closer to our side of the entrance, reached out his hand, and pushed the button for himself right at the very moment that my son had just lifted his tiny finger.
I looked up at the man as he whizzed right past us, neck redder than a beet, a hint of sweat and noxious cologne swirling in the air around him. All I could hear was the word “sorry” he had verbally flung at us prior to pressing the button. Yeah. Sorry in the same manner that a bully would say it right before giving a wedgie or flinging a lunch tray onto the floor. “Sorry.” Not sorry. Not the least little tiny bit. Premeditated. Purposeful. Hateful. Rude.
What kind of person would do something like that, especially to a child, was all I kept thinking. And by the look on my daughter’s face, who had seen the whole thing from the lobby, she felt the same way. After all, in her eyes only she could be mean to her little brother – who was this guy to take her job?!
Our mouths stood agape for a collective moment. A sense of shock washed over me and a look of sadness washed over my son’s face. Here I was, trying to be a good mom, seeking to teach my kids about taking turns and accepting patience as a natural part of our time sharing this planet with others. And, in one fell finger swoop from a stranger, I now had another lesson to teach: that the world was sometimes a big, bad, mean place.
Before this cruel stranger traipsed too far across the lobby floor, my full-blown attack mom armor formed and I came after him with the only weapon I had: my words. I started by calling him a jerk (believe me, if my kids and our favorite librarian weren’t present, I would have had a few other words to say!). Then I told him that my son had clearly been waiting to press that button. I asked him why he would do that to a small child. And then I called him mean.
Barely giving any notice and certainly showing no remorse, he casually looked back at us, shrugged his bare shoulders and said in the very most arrogant way, “I said sorry.” Sorry. Still not sorry. Not the least little bit.
I repeated that he was a jerk. Not that it did any good. I wished I could have opened the flood gates of obscenities. I had visions of following him into the library. Taking his picture. Posting it to social media. Alerting the world that THIS IS WHAT AN A**HOLE LOOKS LIKE. Taking pleasure in others agreeing that he “looks” like one, indeed. But, that would have only made things worse. I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I scooped up my son, grabbed the hand of my daughter, and took them into story time as was our intended purpose.
My son was forlorn for a little while afterwards. He later talked about it with me at home. We all talked about it, in fact. We discussed how some people are mean and it makes us angry, but how even still (or despite that) we should never be mean because of it. I told them that we have to be good in order to balance the bad in the world. That was our job!
After the day was done and I had tucked them snugly into their beds at night, I thought more about what would cause a person to be so ugly and cruel for no reason. And it struck me hard that maybe he hadn’t experienced the same patience, conscientiousness, or love from his mother as I was trying to teach my own children. Maybe when he was three, he only received a slap on the head or a pat on the bottom rather than a word or encouragement or direction. In other words, maybe this guy was troubled. Maybe he hadn’t been cared for in the least little tiny bit. And he was doing the same thing little kids do when they can’t express themselves properly: acting out.
Suddenly my anger melted away into a pool of compassion. I felt sorry for him. A true sort of “sorry.” A whole big lot of it. I mean, I still thought he was a jerk, but I felt sad for him. When it’s all said and done, my son will have plenty of chances to push that button. But that course and hostile guy will probably miss out on a lot of the simple joys of life because he is so bent on making the world suffer for whatever it is he has lost.
Instead of wanting to key his car or call him all of the bad words I could remember, what I really wanted to do was hug my children a little more fiercely when they woke up, so they would never be counted among the world’s troubled or unloved.
Who knows?! Maybe it’s not like that at all for that guy. Maybe his backstory wasn’t sad and the cause of his brash behavior was without reason. Maybe his parents were stellar and his upbringing picture perfect. But whatever made him feel compelled to crush the tiny joy of a three year old is beside the point. All that matters, all that we can control, is where we go from here. We choose goodness. Compassion. Kindness. And, you know, maybe next time I will also choose to body-block that button, just in case the world isn’t as kind as we aim to be!