I witnessed something at the park yesterday that really bothered me, and I can't seem to quit thinking about it. We make a spur-of-the-moment trip to the playground, and it ended up being rather crowded because in our area, it's spring break for the public school kids. (I forgot about this.) There was a group of boys, probably around 8 to 10 years old, who were picking on a girl of about the same age. Now, this beautiful little girl appeared to be of mixed race, and was the only child of color on the playground at the time - probably not an unusual situation for her, as the area is predominantly white. At first, I noticed one boy who was yelling at her, "You're pretty!" and I thought - how sweet, he has a crush on her. But as I watched, he just kept following her around and repeating it and his tone actually seemed more mocking than sincere. A bit later, I noticed the boys chasing her around, and sometimes she would be chasing them. I heard one boy call her dumb, and our friend P. who came with us, also heard one of them call her an idiot. It was clear that it was upsetting to her. I was only catching bits & pieces of the interaction because I was busy chasing my 2-year-old around the whole time. I really began to feel compelled to say something, but I am shy and generally tend to avoid conflict, and wasn't sure what to say. I know that I would probably not take kindly to strangers reprimanding my kids... but I didn't know where the parents of these boys were, either. No one seemed to be paying attention to them.
That part, though, wasn't even the most upsetting thing. What really bothered me, was an interaction between this girl and a woman who I presume must have been her (white) grandmother. Grandma was sternly reprimanding the girl for her reaction to their taunting, and her chasing them around. "STOP IT! YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! Stop chasing those boys!" I heard the girl plaintively defending herself, saying "But they were [doing such-and-such] and calling me [list of names]..." Grandma's tone was completely harsh and unsympathetic as she virtually spit these words at the girl, "Remember, sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you. Come on, we're leaving."
I know that kids can be jerks. I know how it works - they are just trying to fit in, in the Lord of the Flies-like setting of their public-schooled world, and I know kids have a tendency to single out those who are different. But for an adult to be so cold and so completely lacking in empathy... I was speechless. Perhaps her intent was to help the girl develop a thicker skin...? Maybe she, too, was angry at those kids' behavior and didn't realize how she was coming across to her granddaughter. But to reprimand a kid for reacting to being picked on seemed incredibly insensitive to me. I am still kicking myself for not saying anything. I wanted to say to the girl, "I heard those kids. I heard how they were talking to you, and it wasn't right. You don't deserve to be treated like that. You're beautiful. Ignore them." I really wish I had said that, now.
Afterward, I did do one thing. I asked Monkeyman and P. if they had noticed how those boys were talking to that girl. Both said yes, and P. had even noticed more mean comments than I had. I said to them, "I better never, never, ever, EVER hear you talking to a girl like that... or any other kid, for that matter." And Monkeyman replied, "I know! I wouldn't do that, Mom!" We talked about it a little more and he confirmed that he knew that would hurt someone's feelings and that it was wrong. So I guess I have to be content with taking ownership of raising my kids to be kind and thoughtful people as the best course of action. I know I have no control over the behavior of others - however, I can try my very hardest to raise my kids to offer better examples.