I saw you today, at the shops, my sister. I saw you pushing a pram, perusing scarves, unable to respond to the bleating, hiccupping cries and jagged breaths of your newborn. I heard the babe cry out over and over, “Help me. Hold me close. Comfort me. Show me I’m not alone.” and yet in your aloneness, you were kept from responding. Was I seeing the trauma of your babe’s birth in action? The fragmented care of a brutal maternity system which prizes compliance above wellness? The ugly effects of industrialised parenting and the mould into which we are all shoved in this 21st century Sparta? I saw your babe’s face as she shut down and stared blankly at you from the pram and I felt my heart break for you both.And it has encouraged me to write about something I saw today.
I see you, woman that could be me. I saw you stalk by, wound up tighter than a spring and glowering at everyone who passed. You were a woman on a retail mission today, something clasped in your hand and an item in your mind. You and many others were in the store and they were in your way and I could see that everything was going to annoy you. How much it clearly annoyed you that your child was with you, that your child existed in your timeline for consumption today.
I saw your daughter, frisky and boisterous in her enjoyment of the freedom of childhood. Probably irritating as fingers through cornflour, but really, what harm is there in a little frustration at your offspring's mercurial and inexplicable moods? As you stalked by she stopped to gather a trolley for her treasures. Isn't that what childhood is about? Learning to borrow a trolley, learning to keep your treasures safe and enjoying the excitement of a trip to a store when the reason is lost on you? Isn't it about taking time slowly because childhood whips past so quickly? About learning the tradeoffs between having to suffer the inconvenience of accompanying your mother to the shops instead of the park, because you get a trolley for a few minutes?
Is it really important that you had to stop a moment to untangle the trolley for your daughter? Her yelp at being caught up on another trolley was one of frustration but perhaps, if you'd waited, she would have sorted it out and you could have had a wry smile on your face, a mixture of pride and amusement and something to salve your own anger. And she would have happily gamboled along with you instead of slinking along, rubbing her thigh.
Instead, at that yelp, I saw your anger, your hurt, your baggage, gather suddenly and focus on your child and instead of helping her, you rounded on her and took two swooping fast strides down from the pedestal you are on as her mother, and even as she said "No mummy!" in a thin piping but strong voice, you picked her up and bundled her down an aisle and slapped her. I heard it, clear as day. You smacked her, in public and in a way that made me shake on the inside. In a way that reminded me of a childhood, and made me feel sick.
No one stopped you. No one asked if she was alright, even as she cried and you picked her up roughly and continued to stalk down the store. I hope you were mortified and embarrassed, just as I was shaking and upset at this and had to take a few deep breaths.
And I'm no better for putting my employment above standing up for a child.
If my husband did that to me, there would be police called and cups of tea made but because it's a parent doing it to a child, it's ok in many people's eyes. I hate people who hit their children. There is not justification for it. It is wrong and a symptom of how screwed up the world is that people are going to argue with me on that.
I remember being smacked by my parents and what I remember isn't the lesson learned - I remember so many other things and so many chips in our relationship.