I grew up in a country where everything is everyone’s business!
All my adult life I’ve lived in a country where people generally mind their own business sometimes to the extreme.
Now, I’m writing about this experience because it hasn’t left me since it occurred three days ago:
The Good Husband and I were sat in a restaurant having a date night when I noticed a woman sitting behind me with her son in the pram.
“That kid’s about the same age as Chester,” I said to Harry for no specific reason. He nodded.
About 10 minutes later I hear the kid making sounds to get the mother’s attention, she didn’t even look at him. Her face was glued to the phone, she was furiously texting someone, maybe the baby daddy, perhaps he'd p*ssed her off.
Now, her son was my son’s age which meant he could probably walk and he could most certainly sit in a high chair and colour in or flip through a book.
The kid wasn’t free to move a limb at all: he was in a warm winter coat indoors, quite tightly strapped in his chair with a dummy stuck in his.
Ignoring the fact that the dummy should have been ditched at 12 months because it delays speech development beyond that point I was more frustrated by the fact that he was completely unstimulated but this is England, I thought, it’s none of my business.
30 minutes passed, then 40 minutes, we were coming up to an hour when the kid had been completely ignored despite several attempts to get mum's attention.
It was that time in the day when doting parents were serving dinner to their kids, bathing them, reading them a story and putting them to bed and this little boy was having none of that. In fact, he hadn’t received so much as a smile from his mother in the hour we'd been there.
I couldn’t stop myself.
My legs took on a life of their own before my head could take control of them; I turned to her and said, “You need to take care of your child!”
“I am taking care of him,” she argued.
“How old is he?" I asked.
“One and a half,” she scowled.
In a triumph of tact and diplomacy (because anyone who knows me knows I could have said much more) I looked her in the face and said, “He needs some kind of attention.”
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” she said, “he’s just being naughty.”
He wasn’t being naughty. I let that particular choice of wording slide as a language issue because English was obviously not her native tongue.
I turned back and sat in my chair and the Asian American lady sitting next to my table goes, “Oh my Gad, we were just talking about that.”
I should have said you and everyone else in eyeshot of her is probably talking about it but this is Britain, we make excuses for people so I simply said, “Maybe she never gets a night off" - as if that would be an acceptable excuse for neglect.
The lady and her baby didn’t stay long after that. Having lifted her head from her phone for the first time in an hour she suddenly realized she had been the centre of attention for a while and left. I worried about what punishment she'd mete out to her son for being "naughty".
That night as I tossed and turned The Good Husband woke up and asked what was wrong, “I’m still thinking about the little Chinese boy,” I answered.
I’m glad I said something.
This is Britain. We mind our own business but sometimes we shouldn’t especially when the people we’re speaking for cannot speak for themselves.
I know there are different forms of parenting out there and I do agree that most parents know what's best for their child. Indeed, some of the things I do would probably have helicopter parents and tiger mums around the globe tearing their hair out and I might feel the same about their practices. Ultimately we'd both fall into categories that are trying their best for their child. We're actively engaged in being parents of some form.
Nowadays people ignore bad things happening right next to them then they go home and write the now infamous "open letter" or Facebook post, a heartfelt note that will most likely never reach the intended audience - what's the point?
I can live with most parenting styles but neglect is definitely not something I can sit next to and watch…it’s not an acceptable form of parenting.