things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 6

This is my first unhappy "things i heard at the library" post. Today I saw a child being abused.

It happened so fast, it was over and the parent gone before I had could clearly register what had happened. I was sitting on the edge of our lighthouse, the play space in the centre of our children's library, collecting books left inside.

A child was crying. He couldn't have been more than three years old. His mother was yelling at him in a language I don't understand.

She grabbed his arm roughly, jerking him backwards. His head hit the lighthouse, right next to me. Then she yanked him up by the arm, hit him once, then quickly dragged him out of the room, still screaming.

When they were gone, two other children in the area started to cry.

I went to my manager to tell her what I saw. We talked about it, talked about the limits of what we can do. If the woman had remained in the library, I might have been able to say something, we might have been able to intervene and let the mother cool off. We could have reported the incident. But it all happened so quickly, and the woman - likely embarrassed, if I was reading her gestures and face correctly - was quickly gone.

My manager said she has wanted to host a parenting workshop, perhaps under the guise of "child safety". We have a big problem with people leaving their very young children alone in the library, or letting them go home alone after dark, and this would be one way to address it. But because we don't have a stable population, a set roster of students and parents like a school has, she doesn't know if anyone who needs such a workshop would actually attend.

A little later, a man approached me. I recognized him: he also witnessed the mother's tantrum. He said to me, "I'm very upset. Who will protect that little boy?"

It was all I could do not to cry. Who will protect him, indeed. Children. Small, vulnerable creatures, with no control over their own environments, at the mercy of adults who are often out of control themselves.


deang said...

I get so angry when I see child abuse like that that I can barely talk at all. And my sister and I were just talking a few days ago about how common it was when we were children in the late sixties and seventies for parents in our Dallas suburb to spank their children in public after pulling their pants down. I guess there's some improvement when at least you don't see that anymore.

One of the most inspiring things I ever witnessed was two women in an Austin laundromat in the mid-1990s standing up to a man who started shoving his girlfriend. "She's my woman! You don't know what's going on!" he barked at them. "You don't have to hit her!" the two young women said, and stood their ground. Meanwhile, three men were in the place, too, and finally felt shamed enough by the small women standing up to the big man that they sheepishly got up and stared at the man until he walked out the door. Such a small thing but so important for that woman.

laura k said...

What happened in that laundromat was an amazing event.

My sister and I used to talk about seeing parents hit their kids in parking lots or malls. Our abuse only took place in private (although I was in my 20s before I recognized it as abuse).

This thing in the library left me feeling so sad - and so helpless.

impudent strumpet said...

I hate how no one (including me) knows how to make them stop in this kind of situation. We're the grownups, we're supposed to be able to fix these problems for children!

laura k said...

I know. That's what's making me feel so awful.