Monday, October 4, 2010

Modern Family.

A few weeks ago I was shopping at my local Target store. I was in a hurry, running in to grab a birthday present for a party my son was going to, on the way to the party (natch.) There was a young family shopping in the toy section, a black mom, a school age boy, a toddler girl, and a white dad. The dad especially stood out, not just because he was white and the rest of his family was not, but because he was covered in tattoos and had some interesting piercings, whereas the mom didn’t seem quite so alternative. (Given my penchant for people watching, I’d say she has an office job, whereas he might be in the music industry, or a bouncer.) Both kids were dressed normally, with light brown skin. The girl had a pretty little afro the color of brown sugar, but the boy’s hair was darker.

At any rate, they had been shopping for back to school stuff, I could tell as I quickly ran past their cart, and for some reason had migrated over to the toys (danger, danger, Will Robinson!) This is when the toddler girl started to lose her mind, over a doll she wanted. She began to wail, sharply, “MY DOLLY I WANT THAT DOLLY GIMME THAT DOLLY I WAAAAAANT IIITTTTTTT!”
The mom sighed and gave the dad That Look. And so the dad picked her up out of the cart, and did what most of us would do. He walked out of the store with a screaming, thrashing child, going back out to the car.

I went through the checkout not thinking anything else about it. But as I hit the parking lot, I realized there was some kind of disturbance, and it was this dad. A woman had stopped him, along with a Target employee retrieving stray shopping carts, and was trying to intervene as he was trying to strap his screaming, thrashing daughter into her carseat. He finally got the girl buckled in and turned around to the woman, apologizing, pulling his i.d. out of his wallet and trying to explain. “I know what it looks like,” he said as the girl continued screaming “NOOOOO” at the top of her lungs, “but I promise this is my child!”

The woman was so upset she was crying. She had pulled her phone out of her purse and was getting ready to dial, presumably 911. I said, “No! I saw them in the store. She threw a tantrum and melted down. I saw him with his wife, who is still inside shopping. They are fine. It’s fine.”

The woman looked at me, unsure, but put her phone back in her purse. He approached her to show her his i.d., I don’t know why, it was all he could think of to do, I suppose. The woman turned away from him toward me, thanked me and started walking into the store, she didn’t speak to him again or acknowledge his driver’s license. The teenager collecting carts went back to his texting.

Exasperated, the dad turned and looked at me. He was near tears. I smiled at him and continued to my car.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

So many times I have left a cart full of groceries in the middle of the frozen food section of the grocery store and taken my screaming, thrashing child out to the car, giving up on shopping. So many times I have forcefully strapped a bucking bronco of a toddler into a car seat, red faced and screaming, and then quickly driven away. Has anyone ever thought I was taking a child out of a store that wasn’t mine?

Probably not. My kids look just like me, blond and blue eyed. Well actually, they look like their father, but still, close enough. I’m sure if one was to study this little family long enough, say in a picture, you would be able to make out features of these children that resembled the dad, despite the ethnic differences.

Here is where I’ve arrived after pondering this for a few weeks. I probably would have done the same thing that woman did, given the information she had at the time. I am not a fan of stereotyping based on race. However, I think it’s better to offend someone and be safe than sorry. Sometimes we have to make quick decision in a parking lot to keep children safe, it is indeed our responsibility as human beings to do so. And that may involve stereotyping.

I don’t know what it was that concerned the woman most, that the child was so upset, that they did not appear to be related, or that he was covered in tattoos and piercings. But I think it may have been that the family vehicle he was struggling to strap the child into was an older model white cargo van.

Totally not making that up. A white cargo van. I mean I AM SORRY, but be more self-aware than that, people.


Lisa Correu said...

A friend of mine told me years ago of trying to get her son out of a Toys R Us when he began screaming, "You're not my mom! Stranger danger! Help!" Of course everyone came running and she had to convince them otherwise.
I look a bit on the dark side, Mex/Irish, and my son inherited NOTHING of my coloring. We've gotten a few looks now and then. Perhaps they think I'm the nanny. So while I sympathize with the father completely if it had been me I might be a little grateful as well that someone cared enough to call me out.
And yes, dude, think again about the serial killer-mobile.
Good post Jenny!

Heather said...

Wow. Well, I am glad you were there and stepped in. I have often thought of my (white) friends who have adopted children of different ethnicities and wondered if they ever encountered things like that. And the kids generally have no idea that people will really take their reactions for real fear.

I do remember when my son was 2 weeks old we took our daughter and her cousin to a Wiggles concert. Part of the concert scared her when big inflatable things appeared on stage. She freaked out so my husband took her out of the arena to calm down. He was approached by a security guard to ask what was going on. My daughter looks a lot like her I guess it can happen in any circumstance. And I wish it happened more. Maybe fewer kids would be missing now.

Jules said...

Great post, and great stuff to ponder. My oldest looks just like his dad and me, but my youngest doesn't at all. I have carried him, fitting, out of Target plenty o' time, but never been stopped. Interesting to ponder...