I watched a mom hit her kid in a thrift store tonight.

I watched a mom hit her kid in a thrift store tonight.

Not spank. Hit.

It was loud, and it was awful, and immediately there were like fifteen people on high alert, drawn to the sound of solid hand making contact, again and again, kid wailing and full-voiced Don’t you EVER do that EVER EVER EVER AGAIN, I swear to god, DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT EVER FUCKING AGAIN. Employees running, people noticing, no one intervening exactly, but positioning themselves strategically nearby. The girl couldn’t have been more than two, red-eyed and wailing, a bunch of tiny pink barrettes in her hair.

It felt like forever, but then it was over, the mother noticing the surge of people pushing shopping carts nearby, looking anywhere but at her directly. Get your ass up, she muttered, jerking the girl’s arms upwards and rolling the cart elsewhere.

I felt ashamed. I should have intervened. I should have said something. I am bigger than that little girl.

But that mother was bigger than I was.

And if I’m being honest, she scared me, too.

I said as much to the couple nearby. They were older, in their sixties. “Don’t beat yourself up,” said the man. “You have to be careful when you approach strangers. You never know what might escalate if you had confronted her.”

“That just ruined my day,” said the woman, adjusting her scarf. It was purple and silky and floral, a touch I found endearing in a way I can’t entirely explain. “I feel sick to my stomach.”

“You just never know. You never know what’s learned at home. You never know what people’s problems are. You just never know.”

“Still,” I said. “I wish I could have … I wish I had said something.”

The man looked at me for a moment. And then he said, “Excuse me. I’m going to go hug that little girl.”

*

Want to believe in humanity for a minute? Here is what happened. The couple waited another few minutes until the mother seemed to have calmed down.

And then I watched this older man approach the cart, and say, “What an absolutely beautiful little girl. Hi, little one. It’s so nice to meet you.” He turned to the mother and said, “She really is a beautiful child, you know?”

They talked, the mother and the couple. It wasn’t perfect. She was embarrassed and defensive and putting up walls and lukewarm in her reception of them. They kind of ran out of steam after a brief while. But they had enough time to say, your child is small and should be loved and what just happened was frightening and it was not okay. And she had enough time to say I’m just so tired and I saw her choking her baby brother and I know that’s not an excuse but I panicked I panicked I panicked.

They didn’t end this with a hug. No Kum-ba-ya, Nicholas Sparks shit. Nothing really happened except a brief moment of nonverbal Ok, I see you, thank you, now excuse me, as the mother made her way towards the register.

But damn if that man didn’t ask permission – and receive it – to pick up a stranger’s crying toddler and hug her and comfort her until the crying stopped.

*

I called friends immediately afterwards who live about five minutes away. I had some vague business that probably could have waited until later – Hey, can I get that thing out of your basement? I’m in your neighborhood, can I stop by? – but the truth is probably just that I wanted to pull into their driveway and hear the sound of their three-year-old say, “Daddy? Listen, listen! I think Auntie Fritzie is at the door.”

I wanted to snuggle the crap out of that kid, and I did – went right from “I’ll only be a minute,” to “I would love to stay for dinner,” to “Would you like me to read bedtime stories tonight?”

I wish I had a tidy conclusion to draw here, some larger insight to share. Some deep thoughts about how those two kids probably live near one another, might even go to school together someday, how you wonder what kinds of people they will become. How that little girl experiences her mother’s anger as a hit and a GET YOUR ASS UP, NOW. How my little buddy, all floppy limbs and sweet-smelling hair and high-pitched giggles, experiences his parents’ anger as GO SIT ON THE NAUGHTY STEP. NO, YOU MAY NOT HAVE DESSERT.

I don’t have a tidy conclusion because it’s not so easy as good parent / bad parent. It’s not so easy as, “When I have kids, I will never do that.” It’s not so easy as that.

But I can tell you that I wanted to hug that couple in the thrift store. For being brave in a way that I wasn’t tonight.

Instead, I hugged the crap out of a tiny toddler in an astronaut onesie. And gave a silent offering of thanks to the world: for love and for bravery and for the good ones among us. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.

**

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244 thoughts on “I watched a mom hit her kid in a thrift store tonight.

  1. You or no one did anything wrong the shock of what you saw most likely didn’t let you react in an “acceptable” matter… but truly what is acceptable now days. Saying that your article was beautifully written, that couple at least comforted the child. Hopefully humanity will progress and stop standing on the sidelines when abuse occurs..

  2. “Excuse me, M’am… but the way you just physically disciplined your child is way too extreme for the age of your child. You might want to be aware that you did this on the store camera. One call to the police will likely result in your precious children not being home with you tonight. The government protects kids from parents like you. Do it again in my presence and I WILL get involved to protect that child. Get help.”

  3. I too have witnessed these acts of abuse and like you it sickens me. It ruins my whole day. So sad and twisted. You wrote it well.

  4. I feel for that little girl and for the mother with 2 young children trying to keep it together while at a store.
    Some days are harder than others for some people and the lady at the store sounds like she needed a break.
    The couple that went over were brave and it was nice of them to have a few words with her.
    I’m praying for the little girl tonight and for her mother.

  5. What that man did, as well-intentioned as it was, was the wrong thing to do. I am speaking from experience. The shame you feel when your parent hits you in public is only magnified when others call attention to it. If you want to say something to the parent, that’s fine, but do it away from the child.

  6. A friend of mine was at walmart with her little girl who has had multiple surgeries and has been hospitalized a lot of times in her short little life. They watched a mom slap her child. My friend’s little girl went up to the little boy, handed him some stickers that were in her pocket snd told the boy “i’m sorry God gave you a bad mommy. You are a good boy with a bad mommy, it’s not your fault.” And then she went back to her mom. I know it is hard to watch something like that happen, I would probably do the same thing the man did and give the child to hug, and if she really was choking her brother then i would bring that up as well.

  7. I grew up with my parents giving me hidings, and sometimes when I didn’t react, they also went a little over board. I remember all of that, I don’t love them any less for that, I must admit I might love them more for disciplining me, not over doing it of course (my bum hurt for hours!!!) but they taught me manners.
    My cousins were brought up with no hidings and their parents just saying “No” and “Go to your room!”, and in all honesty, without being biased, my parents brought up the better children.
    I do condone hidings. However, I will NEVER do it in such a way that it would really hurt my children or any other child.
    The mother was right in that situation, there are too many deaths of newborn babies because the older sibling is too rough with them. That little girl will never hurt the baby again, and yes, my heart goes out to her, but you should ask yourself, to what extent would you go to save your child? Personally, there is nothing on earth I would not do for my family.

    • I agree with you. My mother only needed to clear her throat and I would shake from fear since that’s her way of correcting me. I turned out to be polite as I can be and I hope I’m not spoiled or rude. I’ve seen kids that were spoiled and they turned into jerks and druggies. Yea, I agree that mother went overboard but on the other hand that little girl will never choke or hurt her baby brother again. The mother was simply into overdrive trying to protect her new baby. (guessing the brother was months old, but that’s just a guess) btw, I love my mother dearly and I’m grateful that she raised me with spankings.

  8. I had a similar situation as yours, and it haunts me to this day, fifteen years later. I intervened and had cross words with the mother and her boyfriend. It was horrific. I said I was going to call Child Protective Services. But, I didn’t. I tried to get the number from the thrift shop but, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to call.

    So, I just now called the local Child Protective Services number here in Sonoma County. There’s a 24-hour hotline. I asked what I should do if I witness something like this again. They said that if I don’t have the names or home addresses of the people involved, I should call 911. I expressed concern that the 911 operator would just tell me to call Child Protective Services. She assured me that 911 is the best option when witnessing child endangerment like we did. So, I encourage those reading this to not only find a way to hug the poor child, but to call 911 and get the police officers out there so they can further investigate. It could very well save the child from future harm and emotional torment.

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