Judgment callsWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Parents often say there is no manual for raising children, but there certainly should be a pool of common-sense standards we can agree on. A few incidents I witnessed during recent holiday activities have made me question even that low expectation.
I do not mind taking my daily exercise walk in the cold, but the slightest sign of ice will chase me inside. While walking laps at Franklin Park Mall on Dec. 5, as I rounded the corner of the Macy’s entrance where the Santa Claus village is set up, I saw a woman walking with a little boy probably just under 4 years old. Santa called out, “Merry Christmas!” to him and the boy tugged the woman’s hand, did an antsy little dance/shuffle and said, “Mommy, Santa says hi!”
The woman tugged him away brusquely and said, for all to hear, “You ain’t seein’ no Santa. Santa ain’t even real.”
I could not see the boy’s face but his entire body fell still and shrunk into itself. The woman did not slow down and needed to pull the boy in her wake. He turned to look at Santa over his shoulder, his face impassive, his eyes confused and searching.
A number of us witnessed the moment but none of us said or did anything, a temporary prudence indicative of a permanent cowardice.
I posted the story to Facebook, which I am obligated to do under federal law, and followed the resulting teapot tempest for a few days. Most posters understood my shock and dismay at the ugliness of the scene, but more than a few sought to rationalize or justify the woman’s behavior. Their main arguments were that maybe the woman either doesn’t observe Christmas, — or more specifically doesn’t follow the holiday’s more commercial traditions — or is too poor to indulge her children in Christmas and therefore was just keeping it real, as the kids say.
I admit to instantly judging and convicting the woman of being a terrible parent and miserable human being. It does not matter to me what her qualifiers for being so brusque were. Let’s say she was horribly traumatized by Santa as a child, has lost several family members to a Santa Claus-themed serial killer and is so destitute that the mere thought of Santa and the presents she can’t afford for her children inspire heartbreaking desperation and irrational emotions. None of that is an excuse for publicly berating a child, attempting to yank his arm out of its socket and attacking the concept of Santa Claus in front of several other families and kids.
It goes beyond rude into abusive on a number of levels, and there is no explanation she could offer that would dissuade me from convicting her of being a bad parent. If she acts that way in public, who knows how she parents in private?
Two days later, we took our kids to see the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo. It was in the mid-20s, so we layered the kids’ clothes and made sure they had their warmest hats, gloves and coats. That’s not superhuman parenting; that’s common sense. So I was amazed at how many people were marching around in the cold like those idiots who jump into freezing lakes in January.
If you are an adult and choose to walk around in freezing weather with your head, ears, hands and whatevers exposed to the bitter cold — well, OK, take your chances. But we saw scores of people walking around with their kids clearly not dressed properly for the weather. I am not suggesting that every mom and dad drop by the Coach store on their way to pick up their daily fresh Beluga caviar to buy mink-lined hats and gloves, but how about slipping into Big Lots or Kmart to get the basics? The Salvation Army and Goodwill stores are stocked with winter clothes. Some of the kids we saw at the lights exhibit had nothing on their heads or hands; I know we’re not living in Anchorage, but — spoiler alert — it gets freakin’ cold in Northwest Ohio. Let’s prep our children for the cold temperatures, OK?
On Dec. 8, a guest invited us to bring our two boys to the Huntington Center for the latest incarnation of Disney on Ice. Being a Disney enterprise, there were hundreds of plastic lighty-spinny things for sale, in the shape of Ariel, Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan and their pals. I am not a retail expert, so I cannot say if $15 baseball caps, $20 pressboard framed photos and $22 programs are overpriced, but it was made clear to our 7- and 5-year-old boys that with Christmas just a few weeks away, they weren’t going to be given money to buy anything from the souvenir booths. They did want to look, and we let them; while a few things caught their eyes, as they are designed to do, they walked away with a few more ideas for their Santa lists but more excited about getting to our seats.
Not so much for a little princess who wanted a Barbie-size Tinkerbell doll that went for $26. She was probably 5 or 6 and was stamping her feet, pinwheeling her arms and demanding her mom and dad buy the doll. Perhaps the child had developmental or mental challenges not apparent to a layman like me, but she seemed fairly articulate, just in the throes of a hissy fit. You can tear up my Father of the Year nomination, but if one of our boys had acted that way, not only would they have left the merch booth empty-handed, there is a strong possibility we would have left the arena and they would have missed the show as a consequence of their behavior. But the little princess’ mom and dad not only bought the Tinkerbell doll, they bought a matching Ariel doll and presented them to her with the broken reluctance of a caveman couple proffering a goat to an angry moon god. The princess, temporarily mollified, hugged her boxed treasures and started announcing her intention to get cotton candy.
Casting judgment with little information can be dangerous, but God help that little girl’s future if her parents fail to get a handle on her tantrum-driven behavior.
There is no absolute right way to raise kids, but there are plenty of wrong ways, in my judgment.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star and news director for 1370 WSPD. Email him at mmiller@
Postscript: The entire weekend wasn’t full of bad examples. At the Dec. 7 Toy-A-Thon at Franklin Park Mall, the radio personalities from 92.5 KISS FM and 101.5 The River broadcast for eight hours to collect toys for needy kids. We had our boys pick some new, unwrapped toys to donate, and explained to them how blessed they are. It was gratifying to see scores of families bringing their kids to the event to teach them the importance of recognizing their blessings and in engaging in community philanthropy. As Sid Kelly from “The Morning Rush” writes in this week’s TFP Star, “I am proud of you Toledo. Every year you go out of your way and give to others who don’t have anything. I see you stand in line with your kids, fight the crowds and drop off a gift. You make sure your kids see you do that, and for that I am grateful.”
Tags: 101.5 The River, 92.5 KISS FM, Ariel, Barbie-size Tinkerbell doll, Christmas, Facebook, Franklin Park Mall, Goodwill, Holidays, Lights Before Christmas, Macy's, Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan, Salvation Army, Santa, Santa Clause Village, Sid Kelly, Toledo Zoo, Toy-A-Thon