Last week I took Harry (now two years old) to the county library to pick up a book I had ordered through inter-library loan but accidentally had sent to the wrong place. We visited the children's room, which is huge and beautiful, and went to the back so that we could sit, read, and do some puzzles.
A group of young adults with developmental disabilities was visiting the library at the same time, and a number of them were lying on beanbag chairs in the children's room. One appeared to be sleeping, but as Harry walked near him he jumped up and screamed, "Can't you see I'm sleeping? Get away from me!!!"
Needless to say, poor Harry was terrified and became hysterical. It took me almost ten minutes to calm him down. The librarian came from her desk to see what was the matter and make sure he wasn't injured. When I described the situation to her, she got very angry. Some people in that group don't know how to treat children, she said, as she stormed off to talk to their chaperon.
Personally, I was not that upset about it. Everyone is different, and it's not like the young man was mean-spirited. I hope that Harry isn't permanently scarred by the interaction (though he might be, he's that kind of kid), but it gave me the chance to talk to him a bit about how some people are different and act differently in certain situations, but that the man meant him no harm. I'm sure he didn't understand what I was saying but I don't think it's ever to early to start to talk about these things.
But then I started to wonder: Should I have been angry? Am I am bad mom because I didn't stand up for my son, because I didn't reprimand the young man for scaring him, that I didn't seek out the supervising adult and voice my displeasure at Harry's treatment? Will my children end up feeling that I cared more about other people's feelings than theirs, and I was unwilling to defend them in difficult situations? Should I have gotten all Mama Bear on this guy's ass?
I think that comforting Harry was enough. I think that setting an example of understanding, compassion and forgiveness was the way to go. I didn't tell Harry to buck up and shake it off, and I acknowledged his feelings of fear and surprise, but I didn't make it into more than it was - just a young man with a developmental disability that causes him to be socially awkward acting out in an inappropriate way. And, let's be honest here - who isn't socially inappropriate now and then anyway? In the end, I guess we have to accept that we can never know how our children will interpret our behavior, how they will feel about the way they were treated and youngsters. All we can do is the best we can do - and if I had it to do over again I think I'd do the same thing.