Yesterday some man I’ve never seen before came at me, enraged, shouting in my face.
Emboldened, if slightly less loud, the second stranger also berated me with his finger-pointing at my glasses. As I turned away, the first guy was coming back to shout in my face again.
All of this happened on a playground, with my children under my feet, and dozens of other caregivers and kids standing witness, their jaws agape.
To make matters that much worse, each man had a small child in their care.
Let me pause here and make something abundantly clear: I’m nowhere near a perfect parent. Moreover, I admit I made a mistake in how I handled my kids today.
However, even if I am the dumbest of all moms, that would not make what transpired okay.
Both my kids and another of their friends were getting out of hand on the swings. The three of them were taking turns on one swing, pushing, spinning, giggling like the 5 and 7 year olds they are.
In fairness, I could see the dad pushing his younger son on the swing next to them was getting a little nervous. Chatting as I was with the friend’s mom, I may have seemed too casual in reminding them to be cautious, to make sure they were not getting in the way of another child’s swing.
This particular playground is a hub of after school activity, where children ranging from toddlers to teens mix it up daily. Like me, most of the parents and caregivers are there nearly every day. We see the size differences, and remind all the kids, big and small, our own and everyone else’s, to be aware of each other.
So, when my daughter backed into the boy’s swing, jostling it a bit, I wouldn’t have been surprised, nor would I have been upset, if the guy had said something to our kids.
What I did not expect was for this man to whirl around and immediately start shouting at me.
Even now, I am shaken by the level of anger this man directed at me. As I crossed over toward the swings, he stepped up to me, calling me names, hollering about how dumb I was. I never had a chance to ask about his child, say sorry, or even admonish my own kids.
I stammered out, “Sir, I…” as he dragged his child off the swing and out the gate.
I turned back to check on our children, only to find another, larger guy, bringing his child to take a turn on our swing.
First wagging his finger at me, then giving me the full “talk to the hand” treatment, this brawny dude angrily advised me not to even open my mouth.
“Seriously, he was right. Don’t even start arguing with me, there’s nothing you can say. You should be controlling your kids, not letting them endanger everybody out here!”
“Sir,” I choked out again, “I’m not arguing with anyone.”
“Don’t even start with me. He was right. You are totally dumb.”
Blinking hard, I turned around to walk out of the swing area. Only to find the dad was back, hollering again, headed straight for me. He leaned in to look me directly in the eye, inches from my face, shouting me down.
Yelling at me for not bothering to apologize, he dragged his kid across the park, then turned heel and hauled the boy back over to the swings.
All I could hear was his son wailing.
As I reached my friend and we readied our daughters to leave, I nervously scanned the park for my son who had taken off in the commotion of these confrontations.
Seeing my distress, she told me not to take it personally.
I wish it were that easy. I wish I could say I shook it off as soon as we left the park.
The reality is I barely held myself together on the short walk home. My son began to pepper me with questions, wanting to understand what that man had said that made mama so upset. Boy told me he wouldn’t cry too, he just wanted to know what ugly words could so hurt my feelings. Why mama couldn’t let it go the way I would tell him to.
Safe at home, I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed.
Later, through another round of tears, I tried to explain to my husband. I searched to find the right words. When this man tore into me, I felt helpless. Worse, I was truly, deeply afraid. I was terrified.
For anyone to be so angry and in my face is uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with enraged people on occasion.
I’m 43 years old, and I have lived in NYC for nearly half my life. I may just barely stand above 5 feet tall, but I have travelled alone all over my city, my country, and in Europe.
I have never felt threatened like that before.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked to find we live in a world where not just one, but two different men thought it was ok to aggressively berate me, intimidate me with their size, physically confronting me in a public space surrounded by all our children.
After all, we live in a world where it has become common to let our outrage overtake our common civility. Where we spread around our poisoned words, delusional that they won’t touch the hearts and minds of the young.
We live in a world where our leaders too often set us against each other, call each other names, and throw tantrums like temperamental children.
We see people sowing the seeds of hate in every crack of society, yet we are shocked when there is no obvious motivation for random acts of violence.
No, this is not okay. I refuse to accept this is the new normal.
Not in my home, not with my kids, not in my city. Not anymore.
Civility, compassion, kindness, understanding, manners: Treating one another with respect is not a big ask, not in 2017.