Tuesday, October 04, 2005

This is why I don't have kids (that and I don't have a significant other)

I was sitting at La Guardia today, waiting for my flight, when a family sat in the seats across from where I am. A couple, maybe in their late forties or early fifties, and a boy who looked to be maybe 11 or 12. Actually, I first noticed them not by sight, but when I heard the kid. I tell you, this kid just wouldn't stop. He kept ranting and raving- "I wanna fly now! NOW! I don't wanna wait! NOW! NOW!!!" His parents gently tried to quiet him without making a scene, but nothing doing- he stood up and started stamping his feet on the ground, throwing a little baby temper tantrum. You know, the kind like you see in movies but you can't believe any parent would tolerate? But these parents did. And after a while, he reached out and started slapping his parents intermittently in various parts of their body, as if to punish them for not allowing him to get on the plane. By this time, I was starting to get angry. I had been immersed in Cain's wonderful MILDRED PIERCE (a great American tragedy, in my opinion), but I couldn't concentrate with the overgrown baby putting on a show across the aisle. Eventually it seems he decided that his parents weren't enough of an opponent, so he began yelling at random people around him. He even looked over to me at one point, as I was pretending to read, and said "what are YOU looking at?" I then proceeded to make eye contact with his mother (or at least I think she was his mother) and she gave a weary, resigned smile and a shrug, as if to say "what do you expect me to do?"

Well, here's what I DON'T expect you to do, lady. I don't expect you to just stand there and let Bratty McGoo yell and scream and make a scene. You're his parents, for chrissakes. I'm not saying that you reach for the nearest mallet and pound him with it (though I would have been tempted myself were a mallet nearby). But do SOMETHING. Take the little bastard by the arm, firmly guide him into the nearest public restroom and assert your responsibility. Tell him that the world does not operate according to his schedule. Insist that there is no excuse for him to hit others, least of all his parents. And of course inform him in no uncertain terms that he's TOO FUCKING OLD TO THROW TANTRUMS IN PUBLIC. Seriously, this kid had to be in the double digits, and the stomping around and yelling routine loses its effectiveness long before this age.

Now, I'm not a parent (all you parents can breathe a collective sigh of relief) but last I checked one of a parent's jobs is to discipline unruly children. Again, I'm not advocating the use of the hand, the paddle, or my mother's favorite, Mr. Spatula. But just as one must reward good behavior, so must bad behavior not go unpunished, or else the kid won't learn the difference between the two. One look at the faces of Mom and Dad said it all- they looked tired, haggard, worn down. And if I had a kid who had been pitching fits for over a decade I'm sure I'd look like that too. But not only will letting this behavior slide not make the kid stop, it won't make you look any younger either.

To all you parents out there- am I way out of line here?


Champaign American said...

Nope...Sounds like the typical aloof parent that brings their little tornadoes into Wal-Mart. I don't permit my son to act bratty about things either and he'so nly 1. It's very easy to use positive forms of discipline or reinforcement to extinguish the undesierable behavior. But, it does take some effort.

Donna B. said...

I'm wondering how you time-travelled into two weeks from now to post the entry.

Don't know. My first thought, frankly, on reading your description was that this kid had a condition -- an emotional or developmental problem. Maybe that's just oversensitivity from having a child with a developmental problem, and often wondering whether I'm being judged by the other adults around me as a bad parent.

But if the parents aren't doing anything to isolate the kid ... well, it's hard to imagine that at that age I wouldn't at least try to keep him from ruining everyone's environment. But I don't know. Maybe the parents know what's possible and impossible. I don't know.

Paul C. said...

Yeah, I also got the impression that the kid had some kind of problem. To be that age and to throw tantrums in such an unashamed manner would seem to indicate as much, at least to someone who has no kids of his own.

What I was commenting on was more the parents' lack of a reaction to what was going on. They just stood there with weary, defeated looks on their faces, as if to say, "what do you expect me to do about it?" Which from an outsider's point of view doesn't seem to be a very effective way of dealing with the problem. Donna, I'm sure that, having a child with a developmental problem, there are instances when a child's actions could reflect poorly upon you, but as someone who doesn't have kids, my opinion is that any kind of action toward remedying the problem, however small the action may be, will be looked upon more positively than doing nothing.

But of course the impressions of others are, for the most part, incidental. What is important is that you do right by the child (if my thoughts on parenthood have any validity whatsoever), so that he is able to function within the parameters of society. In other words, teaching must take place in this situation, but you still have to be a loving parent as well, and the two are anything but mutually exclusive. It's a difficult and stressful line to walk, but one that must be walked by billions everyday. And the defeatism I saw in the faces of those parents in the airport that day will forever serve for me as an example of how not to deal with children.

Also, good catch on the posting date. I'll try to get that fixed ASAP.