One morning while waiting for the bus to first grade, Andrea Murphy called me a booger. I kicked her in the shins. One driveway over, Mrs. Marino looked our way just in time to witness the deed. She clomped right over.
“Just what was that about young lady?” I looked at the ground. “Say you’re sorry.”
When I let slip to my mother that I was scared of Mrs. Marino, I had to tell her why. I got an earful about how I better have been polite to Mrs. Marino and how my mother had better never again hear about me kicking Andrea, or anyone.
And she would hear about it, I was sure, because back then, mothers unable to monitor their children’s behavior at all places and times, actually relied, gratefully and purposefully, on other mothers who were there, watching, ready to act.
We kids even had a name for it – The OMP – the Other Mothers Patrol. It was made up of moms with watchful eyes who expected good behavior from all children, their own or anyone else’s.
But that was then.
Now, so many years later, in the same New Jersey suburb, I am the mother waiting near my child’s class line in the parking lot of the elementary school when the third grade bully standing next to my son begins slapping my son’s face. Then he pokes a finger in his eyes. My reaction was not too different from that of my old friend Mrs. Marino.
“Scotty! Keep your hands to yourself,” I said, and not in the same tone of voice I might have used had I been offering him an ice pop on field day.
He dropped his flailing paws and shot a quick “sorry” in Paul’s direction. Then he turned to another child and together they began fake-farting.
Eight minutes later, as I put my key in my back door, I heard the phone ringing inside and quick-stepped across the kitchen to answer.
Angela’s voice was flat, firm.”This is Scott’s mother. I understand there was a problem this morning.”
“Not really. Your son was hitting my son and I told him to stop. It was over in three seconds.”
“I heard you yelled at him, and that Scott was very upset and humiliated.”
“Next time, if anything happens involving my son, I’d like you to call me instead. I’ll have a talk with him later. Please put my number on your cell phone.”
“You want me to call you?”
“Yes. You humiliated him in front of his peers. You embarrassed him. His self-esteem has been damaged.”