Monday, December 10, 2012

Better Than Better

The mom at the table near me says to her son, “Stop. Stop it. You look like one of those kids who needs medicine. Do you need Ritalin? Oh my God!”  Immediately, the agitated boy tries seriously to contain himself. 

She is dressed in faded black, her jeans and short-sleeved shirt a possible uniform. The boy, maybe eight or nine, has homework strewn across the patio table and his jacket is pulled over his T-shirt in similar disarray.

She tells him he is embarrassing, she says, “You look like that kid Joshua who needs medicine. Do you need medicine? DO YOU?” Her other son, under the din of her disapproval, is repeating the same three sentences. He’s just a twig of a boy, biting on a toy truck, battling for her attention. She turns toward the little one, but cannot focus on anything other than the bigger one who is flicking his hand in the air, conducting an unseen orchestra. I can tell she wants to grab his wrist, grab the scruff of his neck, and organize him.

“OH   MY   GOD,” she says again, pressing hard against each word. "Are you RETARDED? What is wrong with you?"  I feel the tension in the back of her throat and clear my own before creeping a peep out the side of my tinted sunglasses. She is tilting forward, as far as the table will allow, the top unyielding against her ribs. She strains to make eye contact with her rumpled boy and it seems, he strives earnestly to receive.

All the while, the younger son leans on her, repeating his urgent message, “Mom, I was… Mom, I was just… Mom…” with a disturbingly mechanized inflection, like the skip of a needle on a dusty turntable.

But the mom has her sights locked on the older one. She tells him he looks ridiculous, she says he should apologize, that it’s hard on other people to be around him, that it’s hard on the mother who has to deal with him, that he, that he, that he…

The barrage is narrowly fixed yet I feel assaulted by proxy.  The kid in me cringes.  My hand travels unnoticed to my cheek and it’s as if I hear this mother saying to me, “Don’t pick at your face. Stop biting your nails. Sit still. Just wait. Shhh. Just. Don’t.” I promptly squish my fingers into a fist and press my knuckles into my knee. Oh. I know this. No, not exactly, but I know this.

The adult in me shoots muted energy their way, wanting to cover the brothers and the mother in a bulky blanket. Anything to dull the words and warm their eyes.  I want to ease the weight of what she is imposing on their small-boy-shoulders and insulate them all.

I try to think for a moment of her plight, a context that could justifiably contain – maybe single mom, maybe working two jobs, maybe married to a man who is harder on her boys that she is, maybe she tries to correct them so that that he won’t have reason to, maybe she is so much better than she used to be.

And that's good, really good.

But the kid in me resists and says, it’s not okay. She’s the Mom. She has to do better than better. Even if they will forgive her someday and someday she will forgive herself. She has to do better soon, for all of them.


  1. soooooo tough. such a great piece Kimberlee. x

  2. Holy shit, that's awful. I know it happens everyday, but witnessing is something else. I hope those kids can afford therapy when they're adults. I hope they reach adulthood. Thank you for shining light on the ugliness none of us want to see.