494. Examining a Situation

Today, on the bus, I heard a woman behind me yelling angrily at the children who were with her. As far as I could tell, the children weren’t doing anything for which they deserved to be yelled at; they were just being children. But angry yelling seemed to be this woman’s way of speaking to children. The other adults on the bus and I tried to ignore the commotion, but it was loud and annoying; ignoring it was not going to be an easy task.
I wondered whether this woman yelled like that at home, too, or worse. I don’t know how many of the children, if any, were hers, but at least publicly, she didn’t look at all like a gentle, patient parent, babysitter, or whatever. If I had been sure it would have had the effect I wanted, I would have said something to the woman about her behavior. But I wasn’t at all sure of that. I thought this might be a situation that could qualify as “none of my business.”
Instead, I turned around and spoke to the children (there were four of them). Not about their behavior, which looked fine to me. I told them I was an expert at guessing names and ages, and I would try to guess theirs. They looked interested. So did the woman, who looked very young. I pointed to the oldest boy and guessed both a name and an age I was pretty sure were wrong: “Your name is Bartholomew, and you’re forty-three years old.” The children laughed. I kept on guessing until I’d used up the entertainment value of this game, and then I changed the subject, but kept up the conversation.
The woman was silent, and she was smiling. If she had looked annoyed, I might have stopped what I was doing. No, I think I might have kept it up just to keep her from yelling. I realized that unlike times I’d faced this kind of situation in the past, I wouldn’t be seen as a smart-alecky kid. Instead, to her, I may have looked like an eccentric old man. And I was in a wheelchair. For a while, I could use my age and disability as a sort of shield. The children were having fun, the woman with them was quiet, I was having fun, and I think noticed some smiles on other passengers’ faces.
At the Amherst Common, the five of them got off the bus. I don’t know what happened after that, but an hour later, when I passed that way again, the
children were playing with a frisbee, and the woman was on a bench. I wonder, now, what were the details of that situation. Was that woman the mother of any of those children? If so, did she have any support in raising whichever of them were hers, and was the parenthood planned or accidental? Of course, in a way, none of this was really any of my business, but in another way, children are everybody’s business; they’re our future. So what do you think, and what would you have done?

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