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Tales From The Crib

Explaining why I yell at strangers

Saturday morning. Ten a.m. My 5-year-old and 4-year-old daughters and I were holding hands, walking, and talking about the day&

s events. We were hurrying down to the Stratford Inn so I could drop them with my mother-in-law and be on time for a work appointment. The weather was perfect, the day full of expectation.

Until, that is, we stepped into the crosswalk to cross Siskiyou Boulevard. The car coming towards us, an SUV, slammed on the brakes, tires whining across the tarmac.

&

This is a crosswalk,&

I gestured as the driver rolled down his window with his finger pointed at me. While I find it infuriating that everyone in Ashland speeds and that I&

ve almost been hit by a car several times, I was in too good a mood to be angry.

&

You!&

the driver began, his face clenched. &

It&

s my responsibility to stop for you but you have no right to be in the crosswalk until I stop my car!&

It was true that we had stepped off the curb but we hadn&

t actually stepped into the crosswalk. I hadn&

t expected that car to stop anyway, he was speeding too fast, but I had noticed that the road was clear behind him. The driver&

s implication was that I was at fault for trying to cross the street, mothering my children in an unsafe way. Now I was angry.

&

This is a crosswalk. If you hadn&

t been speeding you wouldn&

t have had trouble stopping,&

I shouted back at him, wishing a cop car would cruise by, wondering what makes a middle-aged man find it appropriate to yell at a young woman in front of her children.

&

Hey, what do you know? How do you know I was speeding?&

The man&

s voice was ugly, his tone was rude. He clearly had not expected me to respond.

But the evidence was right there on the boulevard: His car was within inches of the crosswalk. If he had been driving the speed limit and paying attention, he could have stopped for us where he was supposed to: at the stop line 6 feet back.

During this verbal altercation my girls were stone silent, watching me with hawk-like awareness. The man revved his engine noisily and drove away.

As we crossed the street I worried for a moment that I shouldn&

t have been yelling at a stranger in front of my kids. My own parents never expressed their anger in public or in private. I can still remember the one time my father &

who swallowed his emotions so completely he probably didn&

t know what they were most of the time &

yelled at us. My brother and I were fighting and my father had had enough.

&

Shut up!&

he shouted. Startled into complete silence, I felt instantly sorry and hurt. But the anger in our house was unspoken. I learned about it only by reading the signs of sarcasm or an impatient voice or a tightly clenched fist.

I never saw my parents defend me, or stand up loudly (and perhaps even rudely) for something they believed in, and I grew up with a sense of not being protected.

I&

m not like that with my kids.

When a wrong is being perpetuated &

whether it&

s a clerk&

s refusal to let my 4-year-old use the bathroom or a driver&

s dangerous speeding &

I am like a mother bear protecting her cubs. I have to stand up for them and for what I believe is right in order to teach my daughters and my son that they are worth fighting for, and that I won&

t let people harm them if it is in my power not to. I don&

t find it easy, but I believe it is necessary.

I also realize that the way I act is a model to my girls. If I am willing to stand up for them, I have to undo what I learned in my childhood and learn, also, to stand up for myself.