Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. -Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet (1854-1900)

‘Shut your — damn mouth,” the young mother said to her child. Whenever I hear a young mother cursing her child, my heart sinks. This kind of language causes me to want to do something. Then I think if I say something, I will make the situation worse.

One of my earliest experiences occurred outside a supermarket. I was parked near the store’s entrance, and I was putting grocery bags into the back seat of my car. A young mother, pushing a grocery cart, and her son (about 7 years old) came out of the store. She took several grocery bags from the grocery cart. She hung one bag on each of her son’s shoulders and handed him one.

“Mom, can we call a cab?” the son asked.

“Have you lost your ##^^***~~mind?” the young mother asked. “Call a cab? Hell no.”

I tried not to let this language affect me, but it did. I wanted to offer the young mother and her son a ride to their home, but I was afraid of being cussed out myself. Although the young mother became angry at her son’s question, his question seemed reasonable to me since the mother had an awful lot of full plastic grocery bags. Even though the son seemed untouched by his mother’s language, I felt bad for him. I feared that the bad language might affect his response to normal conversation.

On another occasion, I was at the Y. It was during a family night swim. Parents and children were changing into street clothes. There were several benches along the wall in the locker room. A girl about 5 years old got up from the bench to tell her mother she was hungry.

“Shut your [expletive deleted] mouth and sit your [expletive deleted] down,” the young mother said. She used offensive language to answer her child who said she was hungry. The mother’s angry words were like knives plunged deep into my heart.

About three weeks ago, I was at the local grocery store and witnessed another young mother cursing her son. I was standing at the checkout counter while the cashier rang up my sales.

“Put that back in the bag (##*+<>^),” the young mother said.

I turned my head to look behind me. The child, who looked to be 3 or 4, was replacing whatever he had taken out of the bag. I looked at the young mother’s face and turned my head forward. The child ran to the front door of the store. The young mother called after him.

“Come back here, honey,” she said. I thought maybe her mood had softened a little because I looked at her without a disapproving or angry expression.

After the cashier returned my items to a huge red grocery cart and gave me the receipt, I walked to the front door. The child stood in front of the door. The security guard was standing near the door. I shook my head to let him know I didn’t want him to open the door for me. I wanted to see if the young mother might have sympathy for an elderly woman and hold the door for me. If she held the door, it meant I had made an impression on her. I pushed the grocery cart so that it was as close to the threshold as possible. When she came to the door, she opened it, let her son go through, and then let it slam against my grocery cart. She did not look back.

The security guard came over; he held the door open for me. Unsuccessful in my effort, I went out.

Editor’s Note

This is Sandra Johnson’s second to last monthly column for the Austin Weekly News. She is branching out to fiction writing. We greatly appreciate her contribution to the AWN over the years. Part two of Terry Dean’s column “Pimps, politicians and effective opinion writing” in next week’s paper.