Mid-day on a glorious Sunday. The sun is shining, and my husband and I are in the car with the kids. Everyone is in a great mood.
As we are leaving our neighborhood, we see a father with his two children on the sidewalk. The kids are riding in a little motorized car as the father shouts directions from behind them.
My husband and I laugh. “Yeah, we’ve been there,” I say, recalling running after my little monsters as they repeatedly veered off the sidewalk and into the road.
“That was so frustrating,” my husband said.
Then, the child who looked younger than my 4-year-old strayed from the path one too many times. The father grabbed the front of the car, screaming at his child about the danger of riding into the street.
Then the father wound up and struck the back of the child’s head with such force that the kid’s little body jerked forward and he let out a painful wail.
Let’s pause there.
What would you do? At that point, my little family was right alongside that little family. We saw it. My son saw it.
Both my husband and I were spanked growing up. We knew if we did something wrong, there was a good chance our parents’ hands would swat our bottoms. And believe me, we tried to avoid getting spanked at all costs.
While we are no strangers to corporal punishment, this incident felt different. It hit me in the gut instantly brought tears to my eyes.
My husband would later post the situation we witnessed on Facebook, asking people what they would do. He got responses that ranged from congratulating the father for teaching the son a valuable lesson, to calling Child Protective Services to report abuse.
We didn’t have the luxury of time to think about the situation before we reacted. We simply reacted. Both of us instinctively let out a, “Whoa!” and I stopped the car.
Up until this point, I didn’t know anything about this little family other than they were out for a ride and the child needed some practice. I don’t know what kind of day they had. I don’t know how many times the child veered off the sidewalk or ignored his father’s orders.
What I did know is what I saw prompted both my husband and me to involuntarily drop our jaws and yell. Because we were so close in proximity to the family, our reaction grabbed the man’s attention, and he looked up at us.
I simply said this to him:
“Look, I know you’re frustrated. Believe me, we have been there. But that, THAT was hard to watch.”
The father hung his head as he put one hand on his sobbing child and held one hand up to us as if to say, “I know. I know.”
We drove off, and I felt sick.
I know what it is like to be in his shoes. I would be lying if I said I never had the urge to strike my child. I have been frustrated to the point of tears, to the point of yelling, to the point of cursing. We don’t use corporal punishment in our house, certainly not to the degree this man exhibited.
Yet in that moment he looked at me and I saw his immediate remorse, I had hope that I had simply seen a parent in his lowest moment. I hoped this was a parent who reacted terribly out of fear and frustration. I don’t condone it or justify it.
I don’t know if I should have said something. Maybe I should have ignored it. Maybe I should have called the police. I don’t know if I will ever get that scene out of my mind.
I’m not perfect. I don’t have the answers. I do know I never want to make my child cry the way that man’s son did, and I never want to feel the way that father did.