My husband asserts that one (among many) of the reasons why he married me is because I am not the sort of woman who picks fights in clubs and then runs to him to “take care of it.”
He’s right. I’m not one for public scenes. Raised by Soviet immigrants, I was taught to keep my head down and to avoid trouble, not court it.
Last week, while riding the NYC subway, I was reading a book when the sound of a child shrieking prompted me to look up. The source of the shriek wasn’t hard to locate. Two seats over and across from me sat a little girl, surrounded by four young women, one of whom, presumably her mother, was repeatedly smacking her along the head, while looking defiantly up and down the subway car and demanding, “What are you all looking at?”
Her eyes settled on me and, once again, she repeated, “What are you looking at?”
The irony here is that she zeroed in on possibly the one person in the car who stringently believes in minding her own business when it comes to other people and their kids. As the mom who was excoriated here on Kveller for leaving my own children home alone and letting my son walk home from school unaccompanied–in a blizzard–I am of the mind that pro-choice means I (and others) have the right to decide how we raise our children, not just whether or not to have them. (I’m sure you can guess how I feel about the mom recently arrested for sending her 9-year-old to play in the park unsupervised).
Everyone else in the subway car was pointedly looking away, pretending not to see or hear the commotion. When the mother glared at me, I’m sure she expected me to do the same.
Except that, in addition to being raised by Soviet immigrants, I also attended San Francisco State University, known nationwide as the most anti-Semitic college campus in America. While I was the Hillel president there, the largest group on campus was The General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS). That year, the student union passed six resolutions. One had to do with school business. The other five were anti-Israel. The GUPS held demonstrations every week. They counter-protested our Yom HaShoah commemoration. They physically blocked the door to Jewish students for a panel on the Middle East–which included representatives from every nation… except one.
As a result, I had to learn how not to be intimidated. Which means that, when someone glares at me defiantly, I lack the good sense to meekly look away.
That response on my part was enough for one of the mother’s friends to get up out of her seat, stomp across the aisle, arms flailing, lean over and, inches from my face, commence screaming, “I’m going to beat you like she’s beating that child! Why don’t you keep reading that book of yours and get yourself some knowledge before I beat you. I’m going to beat you right here and now. I’m going to beat you like you’re my own child!”
And still, I didn’t look away. Some hard-won habits are hard to break.
Eventually, in what I presume is a well-rehearsed bit of business, realizing that I was neither going to give her an excuse to hit me by engaging in a screaming match or physical altercation, or admit that I was wrong by cowering like she wanted me to, another one of the friends got up to drag the howling woman away, telling her, “She’ll call the police on us, and they’ll believe her!” (Ha, joke’s on them! I don’t even own a cell phone.)
It was only once they’d returned to their seats, loudly exchanging notes about what a bitch I was, that I turned away from them and towards my 10-year-old son, who’d been sitting next to me the whole time and witnessed the entire thing.
He was crying, begging me to get off the train at the next stop (which we did). He’s a sensitive kid and, the fact is, he has never seen people behave in such a manner in his life. It absolutely terrified him.
I didn’t go looking for trouble. In addition to respecting other parents’ rights, I also know for a fact that my objecting wouldn’t have done a spot of good and very possibly may have even made things worse. When she saw that she had an audience, the mother kept hitting her child defiantly, to prove that she could do what she liked.
But, I didn’t avoid trouble, either. And I should have. For my son’s sake. I should have considered what seeing the woman threaten me would do to him before I defaulted into my usual refusal to be intimidated by bullies.
I talked to my son afterwards, explaining why I did what I did. But he remained upset for days afterwards.
I’m still not sure if he’s over it.
And I know for sure that I’m not.