Recently our social media was barraged by an angry mother and 30 or so of her closest friends trying to destroy our reputation of being respectful to all of our young customers. Trying to “go high” I wrote the following. Don’t know that I made it quite as “high” as I wanted to go but, hey lady, you are attacking pretty much my central mission in life! ┬áHere’s my response:

It is kind of adorable that one of our employees has sent 80 or so of her closest friends to defend us on our Facebook page. And a little sad too. I’m mostly hoping that in these days of easy anger and crowd sourced bullying, compassion and truth seeking prevail.

But truth is more important, in my view, than loyalty, and the truth is I failed one of our customers. She came away from our store with the belief that I’d judgmentally banished her from a story time intended for children twice her child’s age. Her feelings were hurt and she likely felt embarrassed. Her outrage was fueled by the fact that her baby was disabled.

Despite my earnest apologies and protest that I had been seeking a solution that would work well for everyone involved and that there was absolutely no shunning, she rejected my attempts to communicate with her and instead sent an onslaught of friends and relatives to publicly harangue us.

I get it. Life with a child who is different is a tremendous challenge. My own experience taught me that my ego needed to be checked at the door as I focused on helping my child have the best experience possible within the constraints of his environment. One becomes a fierce defender of their child, always on the alert for potential situations, antennae scanning for misunderstandings, unintended hurtful looks or remarks from the less aware.

Anyone who knows our store knows I am a passionate advocate of respect for children. New employees are schooled to avoid condescending to our smallest customers, how to listen to and respect a child even when, especially when, the adult with them may not be doing so. I have given talks on this at bookseller conferences. These ideas are deep in my bones and I adhere to these values in honor of my son who taught me these things. I don’t expect people to understand all the multiple layers of these ideas easily, but respect for children has been the central mission of my life.

That is why I am both saddened and deeply frustrated by this woman’s attempts to hurt me, to send others to hurt me, and her unwillingness to have a dialogue with me despite the fact that I’ve invited her.

The facts are that at a hugely attended event, publicized as best for ages 4 and up (parents know their children best, we advise and never insist), we had a story time. The room was packed and I strained my voice to make sure the eager group of listeners got what they came for. Amidst the group was one little one (20 months old) who was loudly vocalizing a repetitive sound. We often entertain noisy babies so I hoped the kids had no problem with it as I read even louder. The toddler was also rattling a puzzle that had a very noisy chain on it. As I read the third book, I hoped the mom would gently distract the child with, at the very least, a chainless puzzle.

By this time most of the under four crowd had already left with moms who knew they were ready to move on to the other treats and happy distractions around the store. When this noisy little one’s mom turned her back to both the reading and her child to chat with the friend behind her (not the first of her conversations for sure) I knew, if I were going to finish this story for the kids, we needed a better solution. It seemed obvious the baby,by this time,was less interested in the story than she was the loud rattling puzzle and so I suggested as gently as possible to her chatting mom ” I think it might be all the same to her if you bring the puzzle she’s enjoying into the tea shop” I conjectured this as a possible “common preference” – a win win with a happy resolution for everyone involved.

What I hadn’t anticipated clearly was the mother’s fear of social shunning because of her child. I realize that’s her own issue but I am there to support kids and their parents and, seeing her reaction, I wasted no time when the stories and songs were finished, seeking her out to say “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t feel chased out of story time… it was really intended for an older audience and your daughter seemed happy playing with the puzzle…” She snapped angrily that I would be getting an email from her.

I waited for that email, eager to reassure her that I had tremendous compassion for her, and that I was deeply sorry for having caused her any discomfort.

Instead she directed her energies against me, including 30 or so friends and relatives who conflated supporting her and her little one with supporting her misguided anger at me.

Keep in mind that this mother had attended numerous regular, non- event story times and had, by her accounts, a lovely time here with her baby, calling it a safe space. I am saddened that she did not take responsibility for the fact that this little one was not only disruptive to the group but needing her mom’s full attention as well. I am saddened that the mom chose to go after me with hurtful intent instead of helping us become a better bookstore for her and her daughter.

I am currently working on a set of Rules for Caregivers to post in our story room and would be grateful for suggestions to avoid future misunderstandings.

Thanks for reading.