I was having a surprisingly good day today--somehow I was feeling inexplicably chipper despite my usual back-to-school dread. I even did some spontaneous hopping and skipping in between classes, and during them I did a fairly good job of keeping my attention on the lecture. But my good mood all but evaporated on the bus ride home when I was reminded of one of the reasons I take such a dim view of most of humanity.
A young woman got on the bus in North Oakland with a small child in tow--kid couldn't've been more than three. I wasn't really paying attention to them until I heard the mother cry out "Look where you're going!" and whack the child over the head with a folder full of papers. I don't know if he'd stumbled in the aisle or if he'd failed to go where she was steering him, or what--he certainly didn't seem to be doing anything more unruly than putting one foot, albeit hesitantly, in front of the other--but after lifting him onto the seat next to me she demanded to know what was wrong with him and whether he had lost his mind.
"Great," I thought, "someone with completely unrealistic notions as to what level of cognitive functioning can be reasonably expected from a small child, who also likes to hit first and ask questions later." But I didn't react outwardly. I knew it'd be unwelcome, and hey, she used a portfolio, not a belt, right? Still didn't make me happy, but I didn't really have a case for its being capital-W wrong. So I relaxed my guard a little bit when she abandoned the interrogation (if the child had answered her questions at all, it was pretty darn quietly; I couldn't hear him say anything from about a foot and a half away), but kept an ear out as she proceeded to carry on a rather confrontational cell phone conversation with someone whose identity I couldn't make out. After a few minutes of her attention being thus directed elsewhere, the munchkin laid inquisitive hands on the folder and made to go through it. She responded to this with an angry yell and a hard smack to his hand.
I wish I could say I intervened with an impressive display of righteous anger at this point. Unfortunately, the most I could muster was a Look. In some sense, at least, it was a pretty effective Look; she appeared to have caught its meaning perfectly well and immediately wanted to know if I had "something to say." Here, my inability to come up with a sufficiently concise and emphatic explanation of What Was Wrong With Her combined with my innate cowardice to suppress any verbal response I might have made; instead I dropped eye contact and seethed for a few moments, but her next words, an assertion that she'd treat her child how she wanted and I'd better not look at her like that, sounded to me like a gauntlet I was juuuust capable of picking up, and I was already a little ashamed of myself for having let the first one lie. I therefore redirected my reproachful gaze to her face, but was saved from having to manage more than that by the intervention of an older woman across the aisle.
"We're all looking at you like that," she said, "not because you hit him but because of the way you hit him, because you're out of control." Well put, but to little avail; she got about the same response I had. She persisted firmly, maintaining that the child wouldn't continue to belong to his mother if his mother went on taking her frustrations out on him whenever she pleased, but was met with ever more strident "shut the fuck up"s. I finally found my voice after the third or fourth assertion that this was nobody's business but the mother's: "It'll be CPS's business if you keep this up." I was told to shut up too before she hit me as well; I responded calmly that I'd call the police if she did. She wasn't afraid of the police, she scoffed; I muttered "obviously not" and we both subsided resentfully. I almost wish she had tried to hit me; I'd have really liked an excuse to report her to some authority figure or other, but I hadn't actually observed her being abusive enough to warrant it. She got off at 12th Street without further confrontation, and will no doubt remain the pathetic human being she is now for the rest of her life, as she obviously won't tolerate the suggestion that her behavior could be improved.
Selfishness and entitlement, that's what it all boils down to. Are children small and relatively helpless people that you need to dedicate your life to taking care of, or are they possessions, over which you have sole authority because they are "yours"? Are their needs paramount, or do your desires come first and how dare theirs conflict with yours? I'm tempted to declare that anyone with the latter attitude, as a general rule, ought to be sterilized, but hell, that's probably not enough. I mean, my stepmom never had kids of her own and look how that turned out.