We had never tried the diner before, but were anxious to try another greasy spoon. When we sat down the only other customers were a pair of gentleman at the bar and a family eating their lunches. Chris and I both found ourselves regularly distracted by the family sitting a few seats over from us. The father was correcting his five year old son and berating him for not colouring within the lines in his colouring book, he told the son that he would be punished for not eating his meal - the boy kept complaining that his stomach hurt. Finally when the boy did something (neither Chris or I could tell what the offence was from where we were sitting) the father yelled, "Don't make me slap you." The family appeared to be regulars at the diner and no one batted an eye.
Image of a megaphone courtesy of Wikipedia.
It was a rather unenjoyable lunch (for a number of reasons that aren't worth going into) and we will not be returning to the establishment. That being said, as we both got into the car and Chris asked me a really valid question, "What would you do if that man slapped his little boy?" I didn't have an answer because I didn't know. The man was intimidating and scary to me, a grown up, I could only imagine things from the perspective of a five year old child. The way he said, "Don't make me slap you." made it quite apparent that he has in fact struck this child on more than one occasion. Chris followed up, "Would you be mad at me if I did something?" My answer, No, of course not, but what could you do, other than instigate a fight with a man who clearly doesn't pick fair fights. The dad had yelled with a force that would've made Molly cry out of fear. Would I be more likely to react if my kids were there in some sort of mama bear defence to this? That this isn't right? Would it impact them more to watch Chris get punched out by a 350lb man?
For a few days now our incident with these strangers has really stuck with me. What do you do in a situation like this? Can you call child services over an incident you witness at a restaurant even though the family will be long gone before anything can be done? We all have bad days, where we lose our patience with our children and spouse and as a public we are too hard on ourselves as parents, but when has someone crossed the line and where do you intervene?
I am not that boy's teacher, or scout master or neighbour and I'll probably never see him again. I am not trained to know what qualifies as concern with Children's Aid, but I'm scared for him and ashamed of myself because I didn't know what to do, although if I had done something I suspect it may have gotten the boy an even worse punishment.
At what point do you step in? What's the line between busybody and concerned citizen? When do you call the police?
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