An Adult Stranger Screamed at My Son and I…Did Nothing

I feel the need to preface this blog post with a personal truth: I’m not a ballsy gal.

I don’t call out people for being terrible (out loud, anyway), I rarely send back wrong orders at restaurants, and I hardly ever raise a stink when it comes to customer service. It’s not that I don’t get mad, I just prefer to bitch in the safety of friends and family because one, it’s easier that way, and two, I don’t have to confront anyone that way. Win-win.

But not being a ballsy gal does not a balls-less mother make. There’s something about the role of “mama bear” that gives even the non-confrontational types the power and determination to fight it out when we have to. I’ve stood up for my kids on the playground, and advocated for their education and healthcare. By most accounts I’ve shown myself to be braver and ballsier than I’ve felt — when it mattered most. But a few weeks ago, when I should have done something … anything, I didn’t.

This is what happened.

I was at Walmart (because of course I was) with Boy Wonder, 11, and BooBoo, 6. Now, I’m no Walmart fool. I know when to shop there with my kids and when to not, mostly because I value my time and sanity. We arrived at 7:30am on a weekday (my kids start school late so sometimes we make these pre-drop-off jaunts), and the store was practically empty. I spotted someone picking up a cake from the bakery, a few more here and there for feminine products/deodorant/diaper runs, but all in all, Walmart Supercenter was a ghost town.

Good thing, because I needed a gift card and they had a giant gift card display.

If you’re a frequent customer of Walmart, you know that they’re famous for their giant displays in teeny tiny aisles, the kind that are not only dangerous, but impossible to navigate around. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those. This gift card display was a huge 360 degree, herculean display situated in a wide open space filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of gift cards. I’m guessing it was leftover from Christmas or something.

I parked my cart off to the corner of the display while Boy Wonder stood there guarding my purse. BooBoo bounced off within watching distance to fumble with Pez dispensers, while I perused my many, many gift card choices. Suddenly, I hear a man’s voice shout, “You’re in the goddamn way! That’s the problem with kids today; they have no respect for anybody or anything!”

Okay, so I didn’t actually see this exchange, but I obviously heard it. Everyone heard it. I whipped around the display to see a red-faced Boy Wonder burying his face into my purse within the cart and an even redder-faced older man standing off to the side. “Oh my God, [Boy Wonder]! Was that man yelling at you?” I asked in disbelief. “Yes,” he muttered quietly.

What the hell?!

Suddenly I felt hot. So hot. So hot I thought my face might explode. I looked at the man square in the eye and he stared back with exponential force. I opened my mouth but no words came out. I don’t know if it was my better judgment preventing me from speaking or fear against the weight of this man’s malicious stare and obvious nerve. Whatever it was, it jarred me enough to do nothing.

“Mom, don’t don’t say anything. I just want to go.”

“But —”

“No, Mom. Let’s go.”

The ride to school was weird. Boy Wonder didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t quite know how to talk about it without using choice words.

Why would a stranger yell at my son that way? He wasn’t blocking anything, there was nothing to block! Giant display, empty store.

In my bravado, I replayed the situation in my head dozens of times, each with comebacks more daring and clever than the last. But why did my words and conviction fail me when I needed them most?

You know, when my first grade son gets pushed around on the playground, he calls attention to the situation so loudly that everyone hears it. “Hey! Don’t push me!” He’s not afraid of repercussion or being thought of as impolite. He’s standing up for himself in a way that tells his aggressor and everyone around him that he refuses to be a victim. While I obviously wouldn’t expect Boy Wonder to do the same in this bizarre situation, I should have. Oh, how I should have.

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