I must admit that there are many times as a parent that I wonder what difference it makes. Because I am a parent only by adoption, I do not have the birth parent route to contrast or compare with; as a result, there are times when I say, "I'm not sure it would have been all that different for my kids had we not adopted them." My wife is always quick to correct my moments of self-doubt. Melancholy that I am, however, I need to be reminded in ways that I could not otherwise manufacture, that this is so.
I was reminded tonight that maybe I'm doing OK as an adoptive parent. Shortly after I submitted my previous blog about my meeting up with Mike tomorrow morning, I took our two youngest kids, Dominyk (12) and Wilson (9) for a quick bite to eat. It has become something of a tradition in our home that they and Claudia and me (or one of us parents) will eat our Sunday evening meal together when the older kids are all at youth group. Claudia is the driver for youth group kids tonight, so it was only the three of us.
We voted. It was 2-1 in favor of McDonald's over Wendy's (you can probably guess who was the sole voter for Wendy's), so the three of entered a local McDonald's at about 7:30 PM, not exactly primetime for eating in our southern Minnesota town. It took very little time for our order to be taken and processed. We sat down at a round table near what appeared to be another family grouping, although from external observation it was hard to figure out the connections. There were two adults a bit younger than myself (late 30's maybe), another adult (probably in her early 20's), a grade school aged boy (sitting with the older adults) and a young girl, probably 2 sitting with the twenty-something adult female.
Dominyk, Wilson and I were chomping on french fries and discussing the details of the newest McDonald's Monopoly game when I heard, "What the hell are you doing?"
Usually that's a sentence that emanates from one of my own children while we are eating out, so I was momentarily taken aback as I surveyed the verbal landscape. It was not the older two adults; it was not the young Hispanic family of four sitting t our right (they were speaking in animated Spanish, and while I know a little Spanish, I would not have understood that phrase spoken). To my shock (and I am not always very shockable these days) it was the twenty-something female speaking to the two-year-old child in diapers, who I now assumed was her daughter.
"You sit down and eat your food now," she continued to command. The toddler said nothing, seemingly unfazed by the barrage of negative emotion accosting her young ears.
By this time Dominyk had craned his neck around to see who was using the words that delight him so, and he began to chuckle. I chose to ignore his response, as I didn't want to further inflame his giddiness. Within seconds he was once again focused on his Monopoly pieces. Young mom with young child, however, was not yet finished.
"Stop it now. You can't put the whole damn thing in your mouth at one time. What's wrong with you?" she berated the young child.
I never really know how to respond in such a situation. I am always troubled to see a child verbally abused and wonder if that's what I am hearing in a public setting that perhaps it's even more vicious in a home with closed doors and windows. I could be wrong about that assessment, but I wonder. I had glanced at the young child earlier and didn't see any signs of physical abuse or neglect. Since the older adults sitting nearby (connected with these two) didn't flinch an eyebrow and move a muscle in her direction, I assume that she may have learned her interactive style from one or both of them.
I don't think I'm a coward, but it just didn't seem to be the time or place to confront negative parenting, and any intervention with a stranger it is certainly outside of what Minnesotans consider to be "appropriate." It appeared that things were calming down, the young child was eating as her caretaker directed, and so I relinquished my irritation, although I prayed briefly for all involved.
And so I moved my attention back to my own two boys. As they enjoyed their fast food fare they did not have to hear words of condemnation (although at times at least one them does receive words of direction, quietly issued and not with profanity), they did not have to be degraded for being humans. They simply ate, chatted on about what they might win from the Monopoly promotion and enjoyed these brief moments together.
Sometimes I think I'm doing OK as a parent.