A couple summers ago, lnhammer and I were having lunch in a small town’s one small restaurant during a camping trip. We were still looking over our menus when a Mom walked in with three preteen kids in tow, the oldest girl old enough to look sullen and mad; she set them down in chairs, told them to stay there, and headed into the bar adjoining the restaurant, where she began chatting with friends.
For a few moments, it seemed very clear that this was someone who wanted to hang with her buddies instead of deal with–take care of–her children.
She did order food for them, though. When the food arrived, she came back out of the bar for a bit. She didn’t seem at all drunk, but she seemed mad, too.
The girl gestured toward one of her younger brothers. “He’s cold,” she said. I think that’s when we noticed both the boys had wet clothes.
“Well,” Mom said. “Next time he’ll know not to go into the resevoir.”
And that was when we understood. This wasn’t a parent who was neglecting her kids. This was a parent who was doing her very best not to strangle them with her bare hands, even though she just maybe had reasonable cause for doing so.
We had lots more sympathy for Mom after that.
I have no idea what exactly those kids did in the resevoir, or how she found them there. But sometimes, the best you can do is make sure the kids are safe and fed, and then get some distance.
Context is everything.
To this day, sometimes lnhammer or I will look at the other and say, “Next time he’ll know not to go into the resevoir.”
Because, you know, we both have sympathy for being one of those kids who learns only from hard experience not to go into the resevoir, too.