Well, it’s taken four months of hardcore blogging, but it’s finally here: the first-ever State of Affairs Reader Request post.
Over the last few months, you – my valued readers – have endured my often-controversial takes on subjects spanning the gamut from comic conventions to the environment, from burqas to Billy Corgan. And you’ve responded, sometimes in spades, with well-written, well thought-out missives in my comment section. For that I am endlessly grateful, because that’s pretty much why I do this – to incite conversation and arguments (okay, maybe more arguments).
But for the first time this morning, I received a message from a reader asking me to cover a news piece she found that made her scathingly angry. Since anger is pretty much my bread and butter, I agreed immediately. First, in case you don’t believe me, here’s the text of the message.
“Hey Alex , I have a State of Affairs request. Not long ago I read an article about a 60 year old man (in a Walmart) who walked up to a crying two year old and smacked the kid in the face…It’s 50 50 on the comments. Half the people think the guy was right for taking action but he should have slapped the mother. The other half wants the book thrown at the man. My personal opinion is there is a difference between a toddler crying because they can’t communicate versus an undisciplined 6 year old throwing a fit over not getting cookies… I think the man was abusive and if he was going to do that to my kid I’d beat the living shit out of him before he got the first smack in. But I just thought it would be interesting to see what you’d write. We all get a little aggravated when a baby is throwing a fit in a public place. Hope you are well and I enjoy reading your blogs. I wait for the newer onces to come out.
Okay, before I get into the meat and potatoes of Jodie’s suggested reading, I just wanted to say how awesome it is to get email like this. Believe it or not I work very hard on this blog, and it’s really nice to hear that people are enjoying it — and, of course, it’s particularly nice to avoid trudging through the news looking for stories every now and again. So thanks, Jodie, for your readership and your suggestion.
Now let’s get to the hate.
First of all, I tracked down the original article to get a little perspective on the case, because I figured I’d give the old man in question (whose name is Roger Stephens) the benefit of the doubt. The first thing that struck me was this picture (and I apologize in advance for the lack of clever MS Paint additions — my computer broke and I’m borrowing a piece-of-shit Mac that doesn’t have any programs on it. Donations toward a new computer are welcome):
According to the article, old Mr. Stephens approached mother Sonya Matthews in an aisle of an Atlanta Wal-Mart because Ms. Matthew’s two-year-old daughter was crying. He allegedly said “If you don’t shut her up, I will”, and a few minutes later he started laying the smackdown on the toddler — to the tune of four or five across the eyes. He then turned to a stunned Matthews and said “See? Told you I would shut her up.”
Wow. Okay. On one hand, if this was a scene in a movie, I’ll admit I would probably be defecating myself with laughter, because realistically, anybody who’s ever been stuck on public transit, in line at the DMV or on a red-eye flight with a wailing child has probably fantasized about clubbing the errant infant like a baby seal. But this wasn’t a movie — it was a fucking Wal Mart. It also wasn’t some seven-year-old pitching a fit, as Jodie pointed out, over cookies or Lucky Charms or something — it was a two year-old who was probably in pain due to teething or something.
I understand that Stephens is the product of another time — he’s a senior citizen and was raised in an era where it was perfectly acceptable to slap your child as a form of discipline. In fact, if my parents are to be believed, it wasn’t uncommon for someone else to do it for you if your kid stepped out of line and you weren’t around to deliver the gentle reminder yourself. Old people sometimes forget they’re living in the modern era. For example, my grandfather was in a grocery store a few years ago, looking for Brazil nuts, and wondered aloud to himself where they were hiding the “nigger toes” (an obviously-outdated colloquialism for the nuts in question). Upon realizing what he had said, he looked around frantically, hoping nobody heard him. The large black woman beside him at the counter took one look at him, correctly judged his age (about 80) and burst into laughter. My grandfather was mortified, but luckily the lady made the correct assessment — he’d meant no disrespect, it was just what his generation had always called that particular brand of nuts, so it was a forgivable error.
I took a look at the comment section, and Jodie was right — it’s just about 50/50 in the opinion polls. A lot of people want the book thrown at this guy, and frankly I tend to side with them — “out of line” doesn’t begin to cover the enormity of Roger’s actions. The rest seem to think he had the right idea but the wrong target — he should have slapped the mom.
Now, I’ve written considerable amounts on parenting and my opinions about it — if you’ve read my previous posts, you know I take the idea of being a parent very seriously, and I impute considerable responsibility on the role. You’d think from what I’ve written in the past that I would side with the people castigating Sonya Matthews as a shitty parent, but shockingly I don’t.
See, it’s one thing when your kid is misbehaving or throwing a temper tantrum and you as the parent either ignore it or cowtow to it. I have zero patience for that. When I was a kid I never threw a single tantrum because a) my parents raised me right and I knew better than to make an ass of myself in public, and b) if I had, my parents would have had no compunctions about tanning my ass right there in the store (this was back in the 80s when you could still do that without being arrested for child abuse).
But, as Jodie said, there’s a big difference between a toddler or young child and an infant. At two years old, I’d still place the Matthews kid in the “infant” category, because frankly a lot of kids can barely speak at that age. This isn’t a temper tantrum we’re talking about here — this is an inability to communicate effectively, and that is not a punishable offense. At best, maybe Ms. Matthews could have gotten her shopping done quickly and gotten her kid home for a nap or something, but irritating as it is for everyone involved, sometimes kids cry. It’s the way it is — deal with it.
You totally weren’t expecting that from crabby old Uncle Alex, were you?
Anyway, it’s reader feedback time. What do you figure should be done to this guy? He’s being charged with cruelty to a child, which is a felony in Georgia, and the kid didn’t suffer any permanent damage other than what you’d expect from a slap in the face. Before you make your decision, check out this video.
Pay close attention around the 0:50 mark. See that twitching? The shakiness? The jaw-clenching? There’s clearly something wrong with this guy. Maybe he’s a ‘Nam vet, maybe he’s just getting senile. Either way I think the appropriate response to this is some kind of criminal charge matched with mandatory anger management therapy. If he’s mentally ill, that should be addressed, because no matter what bolt of cloth you’re cut from, in no reality I’m aware of is it anything but really frigging weird for somebody to go ape shit on a kid in the middle of a store.
Tell me what you think. In the meantime I’m going to celebrate a friend’s birthday and try not to think about the fact that it’s September 11th. No, I don’t want to write about that, so don’t ask.
Enjoy your weekend, readers.