Our current social network world puts everyone on the stage of life. Being aware of those around you and what they are up to has been charged with the lightning of involvement. Possibly our ability to comment on or record life and news as it happens contributes to this, but possibly there is just more involvement in society than ever before. People don’t look away. People want connection, have a say, comment, critique. Most of it’s for the good, but sometimes it feels like the train of life is off the track. Do we want our daily lives to be about making news?
Take various episodes of mothers with their children. In a recent article published in Salon, Kim Brooks reports on women who were arrested for child endangerment, cases that as she states: “seemed absurd, an over-the-top parody mashup of modern parenting techniques and the East German Stasi. Then it happened to me.” Like the women she writes about, she left her 4-year-old son in her car while she ran into a store. Someone filmed her and called the police. She was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Brooks writes: “…a charge most people associate with buying beer for teenagers.” To save herself, Brooks did 100 hours of community service and had to take parenting lessons. One hundred hours!
Back in the early nineties, I more than once ran into the post office while my young son stayed in his carseat. I could see him from the postoffice window, but in today’s world someone probably would have tried to have me arrested. To turn the absurdity of this situation on its head, I received a ticket when I hurried to HELP a child. I leapt from my car and ran because I saw a child fall from the top of a slide. I’m a nurse. The policeman appeared from out of nowhere, ticketing me for leaving my car running while I ran to help this kid. When I argued with the policeman at that moment and later at the police station–no go. Pay the fine. Brooks remarks that months later a child was screaming while waiting in a cashier line, the mother having another child in a baby sling. Brooks waited for the photo, the nasty comment–instead a women approached the harried mother asking to help, saying “You’ve got your hands full.” That’s truly the experience I’ve always had–the stranger wanting to help, not interested in having me arrested.
Then there’s the famous Baltimore mother, Toya Graham, who within view of TV cameras slapped her son, pulled him back, kept him from losing his head and making a mistake. This was during the Baltimore riots and protests that occurred after another black man died under arrest. Graham saw her sixteen-year-old son with a rock in her hand, she knew what she had to do–stop him.
“I am a zero-tolerant mother. He knew that, He knew he was in trouble.” Later, Graham admitted that she had lost it, repeatedly slapping the boy; and then wondered what her pastor would think of her. She realized later that her actions were the result of her only thought: if I can just get my son back in the house as quickly as possible, before something happens that I cannot fix.
In an article in the LA Times, Mary Mcnamara brilliantly compared this situation to a literary one. She recalled the tension-filled scene in To Kill a Mocking Bird, where naive Scout Finch walks into a group of white men whose goal is to break into the jail, get Tom Robinson who has been accused and unjustly found guilty of rape, and take him out and hang him. Atticus Finch stands before the jail to protect Tom, but the men, this mob, will beat him up if necessary to get to Robinson.
Then Scout arrives saying “Hey Mr. Cunningham,” and chatting about the man’s son who goes to school with her. Moments pass. Finally, Cunningham bends down to talk to Scout and as a result he calls off the mob and they gradually drift away.
As a teacher in a school that dealt with a few race riots in the early ’70s–I know that the ability to name a person always pulls them out of the mob, the crowd. They become individuals. Atticus tells Scout later that in that instance she reminded Mr. Cunningham of his humanity.
Mcnamara ends her piece giving Toya Graham the same praise–by pulling her son from the mob, even if it took a slap! she reminded him of his humanity. And the woman who volunteered to help an overcome mother instead of berating her or taking a film of her momentary inability to cope–again proclaims humanity.
Maybe, when considering the actions of people in public places, we need to pause, to look for clues that might guide our interpretation. Accusing an innocent person of a crime, no matter how large or small, is a heady responsibility. And on the flip side of that coin, we do need to remember to be alert so that the weaker members of our society–like our children–do not experience abuse. It’s a lot to ponder. But we can make history by supporting mothers, asking questions and looking for the humanity in each and every person we encounter.
drawing: normankoren.com photo: Macomb Tribune
Want to read more about mothers in various situations? A Mother’s Time Capsule, my recently released book of stories. Thanks for checking it out: elizabethahavey.com