“A Public Nuisance”
When your child acts up in public, do you ignore the behavior? Scold? Apologize? Remove yourselves from the situation? And how do you respond to other parents when it’s their child’s turn for a loud, public meltdown? I was recently surprised by my own answers to these questions.
With age, comes wisdom — and exhaustion. So I’ve stopped counting the number of times my kids have made a scene in public. I’ve lost count of the times strangers have smiled and said, “They’re a lively bunch!” Thankfully, I’ve also lost count of the jeers and judgmental stares from strangers who don’t know and probably don’t care that there’s a biological, neurological reason for our kids’ wild streaks. Over the years, this latter group has stung me repeatedly, which I temporarily forgot when I joined it past Independence Day.
We were at a city festival with bounce houses, food trucks, and other activities sponsored by local shops. Though it was a very hot Texas summer afternoon, we all had a ton of fun; a perfect setting for kids to act like kids. And our four were in heaven. They played games, splashed in the water fountain, made patriotic headbands, colored pictures of flags, and explored every inch of the festival.
After dinner, Laurie and I told the kids they could each get a treat at the frozen yogurt shop. They gave a loud collective “Hooray!” and the six of us filed into a very small and very crowded store. It took a while to place our order and even longer to pay. We were already exasperated when we heard it rising above the crowd noise: a short, ear-piercing shriek. It happened randomly, every few seconds or so, and it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth time that I realized it was coming from a small girl. I couldn’t tell how old she is, only that she was too young to talk but old enough to make the noise intentionally. She was unhappy about something and was determined to let her parents and the rest of the shop know it.
By the time we queued up to pay, I’d lost count of how many shrieks I’d heard. I finally said to Laurie, “It’s really out of control.”
“Yeah it is,” she said.
“I’m about to say something.”
As I looked around, the lady in line immediately behind us said, “That’s my daughter.” I felt a rush of blood to my head, and my face turned American-flag red to match my shirt. She paused a moment to let my embarrassment sink in, then she said, “My husband is taking her out of the store.” I felt bad until she put her hands on her hips and said, “But you can still say something if you want.”
I realized she wasn’t embarrassed by her child’s behavior or her inability to do anything about it. Rather, she was looking for a fight. So I said, “Well, if he’s finally taking her out of here there’s nothing left to say.”
I waited for her next comeback, but she said nothing further.
We waited in line to pay for a few more awkward minutes. Then we paid and left. When we exited the shop, Laurie said, “Wow, honey, good for you for standing up for yourself.”
“Really?” I said. “I don’t know.” I’d had a few minutes to think, and was beginning to regret the whole thing.
“The kid should have been taken outside long before you spoke up,” she said. “I’m glad you said something.”
I had to admit she was right. I just hated that it turned into a confrontation. I thought about all the times our kids had made scenes in public; knocked over displays, shouted at each other, bumped into strangers while running full speed. When I relayed this to Laurie, she said, “Yeah but we always removed our kids from the situation immediately. Everyone there who’s having a good time shouldn’t have to suffer because a kid is acting up. It’s not their problem if there’s a biological reason for the behavior or if the kid is just a brat.”
She was right about that, too.
The six of us sat in the shade eating our yogurt. The kids were offering bites to each other and telling us, “This is so much fun! Thanks for bringing us.” I thought about all we’d done that day and how well they got along with each other. Then I thought about all the times in the past they’d acted crazy. And I reminded myself that our kids are good kids, in part, because we have firmly communicated to them that being a public nuisance isn’t acceptable while also understanding that ADHD is not a choice. So the next time they act up, and a stranger shoots me a glare or says something, I won’t be discouraged or judge the stranger. They had their peace disturbed. And the best I can do is apologize, and de-escalate the situation so everyone can still have a good time.