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!  Here’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.

 

 

 

 

 

In reading about the Marcy’s Diner debacle this past week, I needed to remind myself to not be upset or horrified by the well of angry emotions that boiled up in the comments by readers. Vehemence against children seems an all too easily triggered meme, and my guess is it reflects our own childhood experience of being seen as an unworthy little annoyance.

I wish I could invite all those angry readers into my cheerful children’s bookstore. I’d give each a sticker and read them a story, and really listen to them and take them seriously as learning people. I’d show them books that would make their eyes sparkle with joyful anticipation, and do what I could to help give back their birthright of a joyful childhood.

I’m afraid I couldn’t fit all those needy adults in my store, however, but I wouldn’t force them to leave if they cried loudly at realizing they were gypped out of the happy childhood they deserved. Because they would cry – I’m certain that’s why they are yelling now.

Most astonishing to me was how the internet conversation centered around etiquette. A person is in despair and howling and we’re focused on manners? Are tears worth less because they are from a small person? Is anyone at all concerned with WHY the child may have been wailing? How was that being addressed and by whom? Why is it expected that small children cry irrationally? Just because we misunderstood or are unable to determine the cause of a child’s distress doesn’t mean the child isn’t crying for a very valid , to him or her, reason. Isn’t it a parent’s job to HELP the child? And too, as a store owner, my role is to offer help if *any* of my customers is in distress, regardless of their time/space coordinates.

In my view, children need to learn that there are people in the world who will help them (hopefully, their parents, who have a deep moral obligation to do so), help ease their distress until they develop the skills to do so themselves. Isn’t that what we all need? In my view, that’s much more important learning than mere manners.

Also, making one’s child a priority ahead of “what people think of me or my parenting” is, from my experience, the absolutely right approach. With a modicum of creativity, seeing that your child’s needs are met shouldn’t need to inconvenience or upset others. Quite honestly, I’m far more upset when a parent drags a screaming child out of a public place than I am hearing a parent trying to respectfully help a crying child. At the same time, I sympathize with the parent for so many reasons, not the least of which is a clear view to their childhood self, and their own deeper needs unmet.

I would have served free pancakes to everyone with a whopping dollop of “I’m so sorry.” The owner and mom could have apiggone on squabbling while baby and I had a good time and some yummy pancakes.

Waiting for the storm …

October 29, 2012

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I write this while working from home, book store closed, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to officially show up. So far, the announcement of her impending arrival has been dramatic, as branches and leaves fly recklessly across the backyard and the whooshing in the trees begins to sound like a train.

It is an odd limbo-like place to be, awaiting a storm. And yet, in truth, not unlike our every day existence if we admit it, only a vague idea of what peril or pleasures await us moment to moment.

I’m always impressed by human resilience and bravery (sometimes foolhardiness). There is a spirit of survival in each of us that is remarkable in the face of even the worst tragedies and circumstances. Grim news, divisive politics, monster storms and yet we struggle and fight to assure the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. For all our vulnerabilities and flaws, as a species I think we pretty much rock.

I am amazed by all the technology involved in storm tracking, the ability to forecast and measure and project … all things that help us plan and prepare for safety, creating better odds of survival. It is breathtaking to see how far we’ve come. The ancient forecasters with animal entrails, offerings to the gods, superstitious attempts to curry favor with a random universe, seem like children playing compared to the sophisticated methods of our scientists today.

Still, as the wind gathers strength, and envelops our aging shelter, tile and stucco, rattling windowpanes,  there is a part of me that thrills at the power of this elemental force. With the primal spirit of ancient ancestors, I want to run out into the wind and rain, shouting and dancing like the excited children next door. I hear their shrieks of wild laughter as I once again refresh the online navigational chart of the path of the hurricane and worry if I’ve secured the porch furniture well enough. I’m probably safe.

Quality Matters

January 4, 2012

 

I strongly believe in honoring our children’s learning and respecting their evolving choices. As my children were growing up, that meant supporting their inclination to read books that I might not have chosen for them. There was a long stretch of Berenstain Bears, with the doddering dad and preachy lessons. We even had a brief spell of Precious Moments books at our house, which are, in my view, the literary equivalent of Hallmark cards. Thankfully we missed the Doras and Sponge Bobs, though admittedly, we had our share of Thomas (that cheeky little engine). At the same time I filled our bookshelves and library basket with as many wonderful, quality books as I could.

I see our children’s choices as part of a learning process about their own subjective taste, as well as the essential development of a critical view of objective quality. As parents we can appreciate our child’s developing tastes while also taking seriously our responsibility to offer and provide upgrades in quality.  It’s difficult to understand our own learning needs much less those of our unique child. I understand why a preteen girl might want a “girly book” about crushes and cupcakes; don’t we occassionally need a fluffy beach read ourselves?  Should we feel guilty for not having mastered The Western Canon?  Of course not, but you don’t have to be a book snob to want a more engaging, thought provoking read when you choose to give your valuable time to a book. So our children ought to be part of a rich environment of quality books.

The bonus, of course, is that when you read a book you wholeheartedly enjoy with your child, that pleasure is communicated to your child in the shared experience. Those are truly the “precious moments.”

I sometimes hear parents say  ” I don’t care what they read as long as they’re reading.” Would we say the same about food or is intellectual nourishment somehow different? Any thoughts on helping children develop their reading tastes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Day … a beginning

December 25, 2011

Every time I get to the end of “A Christmas Carol” when poor old Ebeneezer Scrooge realizes he’s been given a second chance and vows to “keep Christmas in his heart every day,” I feel so completely inspired. This idea of a fresh start, a new beginning, invites all of us to believe we can become better, become more of who we want to be, in this next moment.

Suddenly the old miser is filled with a radiant generosity, a newfound desire to live life to its fullest, now that he’s peered into the future’s dire possibilities.

I have wanted to blog for the longest time now, having more ideas to share than time to write them, and would hate to grow old and realize I’d missed my opportunity to do so. As many of you already know, I am nothing if not, er, of strong opinions. So a blog provides not only a space in which to share these ideas, but hopefully a place to get feedback on them, to be challenged, inspired and enlightened by all of you … and mostly, to continue learning and growing, something I hope to do til I’m old as Ebeneezer.

With warmest holiday wishes to all … here’s to a new beginning!