"Hey you!" she yelled down the bike path towards my eight year old son.
My son didn't respond, but kept walking.
"Hey kid, stop!" she yelled again.
Again my son didn't respond.
She tried again, this time shouting even louder than before, "Hey stupid kid! Stop walking, so my dog can sniff your dog!"
This time my son heard her and stopped walking. She had a look of pure annoyance on her face as she stomped up to my little boy. She was an older woman, probably in her late fifties. She had shoulder-length gray hair, and was wearing a knee-length jean skirt to walk in.
She had been following behind him on the bike path for quite sometime, trying to catch up to him, she'd explained. She really wanted their dog's to meet each other by sniffing each other.
"Why didn't you stop when I called you?" she asked.
"Uh, I don't know," my son replied. "I didn't know you were talking to me."
"Well, who else? You're the only one here, aren't you?," she asked.
My son just looked at her blankly. He isn't one to bother with superfluous questions such as the ones she was now throwing at him.
"What are you doing anyways?"she began again.
"Is this your dog or someone else's?"
"Why didn't you stop when I told you to?"
He finally gave quick, short answers to her questions and then hoped she'd go away.
"It's my dog."
"I didn't hear you."
She seemed satisfied enough, lingered for a moment longer, letting her little dog sniff our big dog's behind, then continued on her way.
Every morning after we drop off my 6 year old and my four year old at school, my home-schooled 8 year old and I spend the next hour exercising. Sometimes we take our two dogs hiking up in the hills, or sometimes I jog on the bike path while my 8 year old rides his bike in circles around the baby and I. Today was a beautiful, sunny day, and we chose to both walk the bike path, bringing one of our Border Collie dogs with us.
Sometimes I walk at a faster pace than my son, and then wait for him at one of our meeting points. It was there that I was waiting, watching from afar, when that woman approached my son. I couldn't hear what they were saying, so I waited until he got closer to ask him. I could tell something was wrong by the look on his downtrodden face.
"What did that lady say to you?", I asked immediately, figuring something in their dialogue must've caused his change of mood.
"She called me a stupid kid because I wouldn't stop and let her dog sniff my dog."
His voice was soft and sad. His eyes were lowered to the ground. My heart instantly hurt for his hurt feelings.
"I'm so sorry, sweetheart." I gave him a big hug. "Some people are just mean and say the wrong things," I explained. "It was wrong of her to say that to you, but all we can do is ignore her and move on. Some people are just crazy like that." I felt satisfied with my response and could see that he was feeling better already. I know from experience that there are some very unreasonable, grumpy people out there, who will be cross with you no matter what you do. I've had to let many things go in my life that I could've taken very personally, been very hurt and angered by, but chose not to. Choosing to ignore mean people and walk away takes huge amounts of courage and maturity, in my opinion.
This is where I wish my story ended.
But, in true Sally fashion, I'm afraid I've got more to add to this situation.
I looked down at my son again. His big, brown, innocent eyes looked back up at me.
"But why would she call a kid she doesn't even know, stupid?," he asked.
I could suddenly feel my blood starting to boil. I could feel my calm, cool demeanor melt away and be replaced with red, hot, steaming anger. It was starting to seethe over the top of the pan, and I knew I was going to have to say something to that lady. He had a point: why would some strange lady call my son stupid?
She had no right to say that! In fact, she wasn't going to get away with this!
My pulse quickened, my heart-rate started soaring. My inner-mama-bear was starting to growl. I looked ahead up the bike path and spotted her 300 yards away. I smiled sweetly at my son and said,"I'm gonna run real fast and catch up with that lady. We need to have a quick chat."
I had 300 yards to decide what I was going to say. I had 300 yards to sort out my angry feelings and decide how I was going to let this strange woman know that it's actually not okay to call my son stupid. I had 300 yards to keep asking in my head, "What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do?" I also had 300 yards to change my mind and turn around, to forget the whole thing.
My 300 yards ended quickly, and suddenly I was right behind her and her sniffy, little dog, too. I blurted out of nowhere,"You grumpy, old witch! How dare you call my son stupid! How dare you think it's okay to call my child names!"
She looked shocked. I was still fuming. I'm pretty sure there could've been fire coming out of my nostrils. Or claws protracting from my fingers....
"I am not mean!" she responded emphatically. "I am a very nice person!"
"Yes you are mean! You're the grumpy old hag that called my son stupid! And now you have two choices here: You need to either apologize, or go back into your house and don't come out until you learn to be nice to children!" I responded just as forcefully. I stared her right in the eyes, waiting for her next move.
"Well, I'm sorry." she replied. "But you're no better than me, calling me names like this."
"Well, I'm not a grumpy old witch out to hurt the feelings of an eight year old boy, am I?" I shouted back.
"It doesn't matter who it is," she said back.
"Yes, it does!," I said back.
"No, it doesn't," she said back.
"Yes the hell it does!," I said back, even angrier than before. "You hurt his feelings, and ruined his morning, and it matters to us."
And then we parted ways. I grabbed my son and our dog, and huffed home. She took her scowl and her dog, and huffed home. "What a terrible lady." I said to my son. "Let's make sure we never pass her on the bike path again, if we can help it!"
I went home feeling really terrible. I'm pretty sure I felt more terrible than my son even did in the first place! I'm pretty sure I felt more terrible than If I had just...moved on. Let it go. Ignored her. Walked away. When we set out for a walk that morning I never wanted to make an enemy in my neighborhood, but now I had one.
The inner turmoil I now felt was way worse than the entire situation, and I brought this on myself. On that day I made a choice to go against my first instinct and then do the one thing I shouldn't have done--lower myself to her level.
True, that lady said a mean and inappropriate thing to my child, but it's my job as the (mature, responsible) parent to teach him how to respond appropriately in these types of situations; because they will happen again. And again. And again. That's just the crazy way of the world.
Since becoming a mother 8 years ago I've discovered an inner-mama-bear I didn't know existed. I try to keep her tame and locked up in her cage, but every once in awhile she escapes with the hungry, ferociousness of a wild animal in late winter. This mama-bear wants to protect her children from the unpredictable cruelness of the world. She wants to Roarrrrr at those who offend her children, and claw at those who may want to hurt her young, baby bears.
My inner mama-bear is more aggressive at times depending on the level of stresses happening in my life, but that's no excuse for calculated anger and retaliation.
I am still learning to use my mama-bear instincts as a tool for good. I think as mothers we've been hard wired to naturally want to protect our young, and when the timing is right, our mama-bear jumps to the occasion and saves the day; like the time I turned around to see a large dog about to jump on my child at the park. My instincts kicked in and allowed me to kick the dog back before he pounced. Or the time at the beach when a random kid was throwing sand at my children. My mama bear swept in and made him stop without a second thought. Or the time a kid at the park broke my child's toy, so I spoke with his mother immediately and made certain he replaced it with his own money. You see, mama-bear often just wants to protect, nurture, and make sure her young ones get treated properly in life.
This other creature that came out that day might have been more of a mama-Mountain lion. They are more calculating in their actions. They carefully sneak up on their offenders and pounce when the timing is right. They aren't only trying to defend their young, but also trying to attack and take-down their victims with a vengeance. There have been many cases of mountain lions pouncing on people without notice in the recent news. I may be part of a growing statistic!
Over the past month we've seen "The Stupid Kid Lady," as my son refers to her, walking on the path at the same time as us. Each time we pass each other, we awkwardly look the other way. Sometimes I pretend to be on my phone. Sometimes I look down and pretend to fuss with the baby. Sometimes we cut across the grass to avoid her completely. Sometimes the collective powers of my inner-wilderness-creatures begin stirring, ready to defend the dickens out of my child once again. But most of all, I feel a knot of regret in my stomach for allowing this women's bad behavior to affect mine.
I hope I can do better in the future.
**Has your inner-mama-bear ever come out in a situation like this? How did you handle it and what did you learn from the experience? (tell me I'm not alone!)