On the weekend, my daughter and I went to dinner at Marché Movenpick, a popular downtown Toronto restaurant. As is her irritating habit, halfway through the meal, the kid had to go to the bathroom. On our way to the stalls, we passed a woman and her 2 daughters, aged around 4 and 7.
After I washed my hands, I stood behind the younger girl, waiting to get a paper towel. I cringed as she grabbed a stack of about 20 of them and struggled to wrench them out of the dispenser. My daughter, having already washed her hands, was standing by the door waiting.
Before going back to our table, we stopped at the sushi station. While waiting for my order, we had this conversation:
N: You know that little girl who was in front of you at the paper towels?
N: When I walked by her to get to the sink, she turned around and pinched me really hard right here (she reaches out and touches me on the side of my stomach).
Me: What? Why?
N: I don’t know! I was just walking by. She did it really hard too!
Me: What did you do?
N: Nothing. I just looked at her and when I did, she went like this (she juts out her chin and jerks her shoulders up in a defiant shrug).
Me: What the heck?! I wonder if she’s still in there. I should say something.
N: No don’t!
Me: Well that’s weird and bad behaviour. She shouldn’t get away with that.
N: Just don’t say anything.
Back at the table, we talked about it some more. I asked her why she hadn’t done or said anything and she said she felt shy and didn’t know what to do. I can relate. It wasn’t too long ago that I was meeting a date for the first time and became frozen in action when he got all octopussy with his hands. Shocked by his impertinence, but not wanting to make a scene, I did little to dissuade him (apart from slapping his hands away and telling him to stop, but stopping short of walking out, which is what I should have done).
I thought about what might have happened had I seen the pinching take place and acted. What would I have done? Pinched the girl back? I can just see the headlines: “Girl, 4, assaulted by woman in restaurant restroom”. How about if I had told the girl’s mother? If her mother was to scold the girl harshly, I would have felt bad. What if the mother had accused me or my daughter of making the story up? I can see that. If anyone were to accuse my kid of wrong, in the natural defense that occurs in parents for their children, I probably would have doubted her.
I told my girl that although I could understand why she didn’t react, she should know that the next time the little brat was to do something like that to someone else, in a way, it would be like she had been helped by everyone before that who hadn’t said anything. I did not mean this as a guilt trip, but it probably came across that way. It was meant more as a lesson in consequence on how bad people get away with doing bad things.
A little while later, we watched the mother and her 2 daughters walk out of the restaurant. Clearly, the mother was distracted, tired, depressed, and/or simply apathetic, as her kids ran around the building, crawling on the floor and generally being, well, kids. In any other scenario, I thought, the trio would simply have been observed as a happy-go-lucky family. In my heightened state of melodramatic livid protectiveness for my daughter, however, all I could think was there go several tragic and traumatic events waiting to happen.
I also thought, this was a mere walk-by pinching, but think ahead to the future where far more nefarious events could unfold in a similar way. Isn’t this kind of how date rape happens? The prospects are too horrific to consider. But responsible parents must do their share of anticipatory teaching. So the two things I tried to impart on my daughter that night were:
- Hurt people hurt people. (I did not come up with this line, but wish I had.) People do bad things and sometimes they don’t even know why. You gotta expect that and try not to let it poison you. You keep doing good things because you are good.
- You have to stand up for yourself because no one else will. The bad guys in movies always go after those they perceive as weak. It’s survival of the fittest. You gotta show you’re strong so you don’t get taken out. Not more than once anyway.
I wish I could protect my kid from all the evils of the world forever–I really do. But I can’t follow 2 steps behind her for her whole life and at some point, she won’t want me to either. She will get pinched again–I can guarantee it. What I can do is fortify her so that she recovers as quickly as she can, hopefully without bitter bruising, and without the fear of future pinching.
And if I could talk to that mother, I would tell her to pay more attention. Watch your kids, listen to them, wonder about them. Raise them to be lovable because it’ll make life so much easier for them that way. Also, if I ever catch your kid doing something like that again, I’ll break her little pinchy fingers.