You'll never believe what I saw at Target

Pluck
Kim Schomburg

While driving in my car this morning, I heard a snippet of a call-in show on Chicago Public Radio. The details escape me at the moment (I just underwent the semi-harrowing process of getting Ida to see that a nap is in everyone’s best interest so my brain is a little fuzzy) but the topic was related to violence in the city. The host was taking calls from folks with theories as to what should be done to curb gang violence. As I was pulling into Target to run some errands* a caller came on the air to proclaim one of my least favorite anti-violence strategies ever. “Parents need to do their job. If they did, we wouldn’t have this problem”, he basically said. He also said that parents unwilling to do their job (prevent gang violence in this instance, I guess?) should never have become parents in the first place.

You guys, he fixed it! A round of applause for radio caller guy! Oh wait…

The second part notwithstanding (because I’m pretty sure we can all agree that blaming folks who became parents before they were ready/who never wanted kids in the first place is going to get us exactly nowhere. Plus, it’s super-mean), on a grand ideological level, he’s probably right. In a perfect world, parents (along with their communities – this part never seems to get any air time in this argument) raise their kids so that they grow up and become productive members of society and recipients of its attendant benefits (this part also, not so much with the lip service). But in our imperfect world where the reality for many parents is a constant struggle to make enough money, never having enough time, completely devoid of the kind of community it takes to raise a kid to the caller’s standards, telling parents they’re also responsible for violent crime prevention is a pretty dumb thing to say. It takes a village, unless the village doesn’t come through and then it’s the parents’ problem. Did I misremember how that saying goes?

I have to imagine that this argument is especially abhorrent and bitter to mothers who’ve lost children to gang violence. 

I feel like I hear and see a lot of this sort of thing – -that parents need to do better –- in the media. And I’m not sure about you, but for the most part, the parents I know and interact with are doing a pretty fantastic job. They are most certainly doing the best they can. Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m just in a bubble of exceptional people doing exceptionally kick-ass work as parents, but I suspect that this isn’t the case. I suspect that almost all of us are crushing parenting pretty hard.

When I start a sentence “I saw this mom with her kid at Target today”, do you hear it in a disapproving tone and with a sour faced-delivery? I definitely do. I assume that if someone is going to tell me a story about some parenting they witnessed, it’s going to be a judgmental account of something horrific. Well, after the WBEZ caller reminded me that parents are the source of all our problems, I went to Target today and witnessed a lot of parenting going on. Here’s what I saw:

I saw a parking lot full of empty cars in the oppressive heat. Not a trapped kid or window-rolled-down-a-crack in sight.

I saw a girl about Ida’s age losing her mind in the checkout lane and heard her mother say “honey, I know. But a tantrum is not going to change my mind. We need to find a way to calm down right now, because this is too loud and there are other people we need to consider here.” I thought to myself “Imma try that next time.”

I saw a dad helping his son pick out a prize for potty training (I know this because when I said “excuse me” while reaching for something nearby, the little boy said “I PEED IN THE POTTY!”). I heard the dad say, “I’m so proud of you.”

I heard a caregiver kindly say “no we can’t get that kind, you mom said we need to get these” regarding some crackers.

I saw two teenagers come to collect (probably?) their mom who was waiting for them in the Starbucks. I overheard that they bought a birthday present for one of their friends.

I saw a mom helping her daughter try on shoes.

I saw a dad remind his son to hold hands on the escalator.

I saw two (maybe new?) parents, exhausted, laughing at each other trying to figure out the best way to get the car seat with their tiny sleeping baby into/onto a shopping cart in the parking lot. I saw a woman who went over and helped.

Basically, I just saw what I usually see – the everyday stuff of parenting that we’re all doing so well. Sure, we’re not perfect (duh), but on the whole, I’m proud of the work we’re doing. I think we could all, radio caller included, benefit from really looking around and noticing what an excellent job we’re doing at something that pretty much everyone agrees is fairly hard. Sure, there are parents that suck (and perhaps more relevant to this conversation, circumstances that create an impossible failure trap for those parents), but I didn’t see a-one at Target today.

*Can anyone explain to me why school supplies are already displayed while there are no long sleeved garments available for my toddler? Some of us are going to Alaska in a couple weeks and sort of didn’t realize it would be a lot colder there and that the toddler outgrew all of her warm stuff hulk-style. Which begs the question; what am I feeding this kid?

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