While at the mall we made a stop by the book carousel. It's a fundraiser operated by a local charity whose name and function I do not presently recall, where second handbooks are sold by donation. By donation translates into whatever coins I have in my person, not to exceed 50¢ for a hardcover, 10¢ for a kids' title, with the understanding the books are being re donated soon, because I am not a book hoarder. It's not so much about buying, it's a rental fee. Or so I tell my children.
In close proximity to the book carousel two women were sitting. One was on a bench, the other a rocking chair. The bench was one that belongs to the mall. The rocking chair was a temporary addition. The rocking chair lady was wearing a long flowered skirt, an honest-to-goodness blouse, practical footwear, and a shawl. She held a stack of picture books on her lap. On the tile floor in front of her, she'd spread a blanket upon which sat a forlorn looking girl of six or seven.
"Just so you know" I said quietly to Klaxon and Zarf, "I think those women are hosting some kind of storytime. One of them will ask you to join. Be prepared with an answer."
They looked at me dubiously, then carried on sorting through the books.
Less than sixty seconds later:
"Hello, boys. We're just about to start a storytime session. Would you like to come hear a story?" said the non-rocking chair lady.
"No. Thank you." said Klaxon with nary a second of hesitation.
"I'm not interested, but thank you." Zarf's answer was spoken with a tone of voice that conveyed the message that he could think of few things more unappealing.
That's when the old bat turned to me and said, "I don't understand children these days. In my day I loved having stories read to me. I read to my children all the time. But nowadays? Kids just don't care."
I very nearly said, "Yeah. Kids today are spoilt. Who wouldn't want to sit on the tile floor of a dingy mall and hear an old woman read to them from a book aimed at much younger children? Get over it. They're too old for that. They are busy finding chapter books to read for their own enjoyment. Plus they just read a chapter from their grade 6 science textbook, they've done independent reading today, and want to head home to hear the end of their Island of the Blue Dolphins audiobook. They declined politely, so put a sock in it."
I did not say this.
I did not show the same restraint a few weeks ago.
On that occasion we attended a community event and encountered a local man who I've known for many years. I would hesitate to call him a friend, since most of our socialization is incidental or coincidental and not by design. Still, our families have been on convivial terms for almost a decade.
As he has done for the last five years -- WITHOUT FAIL -- he greeted my family by commenting on my sons' hair.
"Well, I see that at least one of your kids has found their way to the barber." He gestured toward Klaxon who shaved his head in July.
I truly believe that he thinks this comment, and all the rest fall, into the category of good natured ribbing. Whereas I think he's just being rude.
Since we were obviously doing away with the conventions of polite society by exchanging pleasant salutations, I replied "Listen, [man's name]. Zarf's eleven. He knows that you are judging and mocking his appearance. It's rude and you owe him an apology. Say you're sorry."
He waved away the suggestion obviously believing me to be overly sensitive.
I turned to Zarf, "As of now you have my permission to mock this man's appearance. I would start with his weight. Or maybe the fact that he's a grown man wearing overalls."
In the background his wife barked with laughter. "His weight! Make fun of his weight! He's really sensitive about it."
The man responded by loudly and hotly exclaiming "What's wrong with my overalls? They're Carhartts."
Later I asked Zarf if it offended him when the man commented on his shoulder length hair. "No. I don't care what other people think about my appearance. I like my hair," he said.
I think it's great that my kid has enough confidence not to worry about his appearance. Particularly when the derision comes from an overall wearing adult. But this means that instead of teaching my son to stand up for himself, I'd shown him that it was okay to respond to rudeness with rudeness. It also meant I would never become a successful mommy blogger by authoring a viral post about the ills of bullying.
Which is why when the old bat was rude to my kids about storytime, I just smiled and shrugged.
And saved up my vitriol for a post that will not -- I am happy to predict -- go viral.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
And for no real reason here's a photo from Benedict Cumberbatch's AMA on Reddit.
BeckShorter says this question from the session was not posed by her husband:
I mostly believe her.