When Passive Aggressive Meets the OT Waiting Room
So there’s this lady in the waiting room at the OT office. She’s got bad attitude written all over her. She’s yakking on and on into her cell phone about how some kid got hurt and she would never, ever, never, not ever hurt a kid . . . It was painful to listen to.
Unfortunately, you couldn’t help but listen because she was so loud, not to mention we were in a one-room waiting room. It felt like she was justifying her actions of harming the child over and over, and what better way to do that than with an audience. There were probably about ten or twelve people in this one room, including adults and children.
All the while this lady was yakking on and on, Mason was playing his 3DS and I was on my computer, trying to get some work done. This woman talked about how she would never hurt a child and again about how she would never hurt a child and . . . stick a fork in my face, I don’t want to hear it anymore!
Her conversation continued.
It clearly became time for me to mention to her that I was right there, forced to listen to her incessant talking, not to mention my nine-year-old son was able to hear what she was saying. I waved my arms as inconspicuously as possible to get her attention. She didn’t take note of me.
So then . . . and oh, people, to know me is to know I’ve got to say something . . . I got up from my seat, bent over as kindly as possible, and did the whole flat hand “lower your voice, please” gesture.
Good Gracious Gammy Goo . . .
That woman looked at me with eyes bulging out of her head. There could have been steam smokin’ from her ears. She moved the phone away from her mouth and said, “You may not ask me to talk quieter. I am a forty-seven-year-old woman and you better not shush me.”
Heart beating. Deer in headlights. To her “I’m forty-seven and I can talk as loudly as I want” comment, I replied, “Well, I have a nine-year-old son here, and I believe your conversation is inappropriate for him to hear.”
Here’s an interesting side note: When I said “son” to this yammering lady, I can imagine how confusing that was for her. Mason is this very beautiful child with long hair down to his lower back. He happened to be wearing a purple shirt and pink furry boots this particular day. Nobody in his or her right mind would have thought he was a boy. So I’m telling her to be quiet in front of all of the people, and I’m telling her that this long-haired, pink-fuzzy-boot-purple-shirt wearing child is a boy.
As this moment in time stretched on, another gentleman was at the receptionist window across the room. That guy was having a conversation where he was talking about someone picking up a child by the neck and shaking them around and how the person who did it was only getting a ten-day suspension and they were going to sue.
Clearly I had entered the twilight zone. All of the conversations in this waiting room were about child abuse and this was a child therapy office. Maybe it was appropriate—but I wasn’t seeing it, and I felt like I was going out of my mind.
So now picture this: at the very same time, in this very same waiting area, in the other small area . . . there was another little boy with two adults. He ended up running into the gym when he wasn’t supposed to. There was an older lady caring for him, and when she realized he had gone into the gym, she stormed over to him and yanked him back by his shoulder. He instantly started crying. It looked like it hurt really badly.
I am completely beside myself at this point. I’m listening to one side of a conversation about children who were hurt at the arms of adults, and now I’m watching a woman yanking a child so roughly that he was hurt and crying.
I’m in hell. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what action to take. It’s too much and nobody is saying anything to anybody. It seemed to be one of those idle moments of “let’s just wait for our kids so we can be done with therapy.”
I say out loud with all of the inaction and passive aggression I can muster to no one in particular, “Kindness matters.”
Take that people in the waiting room!
My heart is still racing a mile a minute. I’m rendered inactive, not knowing what boundaries to cross, which ones are inappropriate to step over, and what to do as I witness people treating children in a way that I define as abusive.
So I text Stephane something like, “People are fucking assholes.” And he’s all replying, “What?!?!” And I’m all heart racing, “I’m at OT and these people are treating their kids like shit.” And he’s all “What happened?” And I’m totally not wanting to respond because it’s too long of an explanation, carpel tunnel syndrome, and you have to be here to understand.
And Then It Hits Me Like a Ton of Bricks
With my heart still racing, I had the very clear realization that this is what children must feel when they are scared. I felt really scared and completely angry in that waiting room. I also felt incredibly helpless. Yes, I could have called social services and reported an arm yank, but that would have led down such a long path in front of my kids and their child. Schedules would have been interrupted . . .
And so I felt what it must feel like to be someone who has no power and feels hurt and helpless. When children are scared of their parents or caregivers, they must be terrified. And their hearts must race just as mine was. I’m an adult with many years of therapy under my belt, and I didn’t know what to do in that situation.
So I wonder, what do kids do with that racing heart? What do they do when they can’t protect themselves? What do they do when they have no defenses to stop what’s happening around them? What do they do when nobody is there to protect them?
What did you do when you felt this way?
At one point, as I daydreamed far away from that waiting room, I kept fantasizing about standing up to that woman, inches away from her face. I see myself saying, “Talking about child abuse in front of children couldn’t be more inappropriate. I’m very sorry if you were hit or yelled at when you were a kid. It wasn’t okay then, and I’m sorry if that ever happened. But it’s certainly not okay now, and as a forty-seven-year-old woman, I would hope you would understand what’s appropriate in front of a child and other people and what’s not appropriate.”
And for a brief moment, my daydream veers off into her either crying or trying to punch me as hard as she can, square in the face (I duck in my visual, just so we’re clear). I know in my fantasy world we would then head outside and I would have to finish what I started. And I’m okay with this in my daydream, even if Mason is watching, because sometimes you have to get in the ring and stand up for children’s safety. In fact, it is always the right choice to stand up for children’s safety. We’re all they’ve got.
I know I need to take action. I know it’s worth getting in the ring for. It’s worth standing up to bullies and loud obnoxious people who have no right to shove their inappropriate conversations onto other people.
It was an ugly scene for sure. I didn’t know what children were hurt, how badly, or who was caring for them, if anyone. I knew none of that. What I did know was that I felt powerless and afraid and I knew how difficult that was for me. I could only imagine that for a child.
What I also know is that innocent children—and all are innocent—need (and are worth) kind, caring adults to love them, protect them, cherish them, provide for them, and give them play and opportunity for life. Every child deserves to discover their passion and be creative and learn all the things they want to learn. That’s what I know, and I can start with myself. I can honor the life that I provide for my own children.
Hopefully Mason learned what was appropriate. I didn’t change that lady’s actions, but I did take action as kindly as I could against someone who was doing something I believed was inappropriate. If it were me, I know I would have walked outside and made sure nobody else was listening. We have an obligation to protect children in that way, and I believe that includes limiting mature information that they’re exposed to.
I was afraid to go back to this waiting area, but I had to. Michael has an amazing occupational therapist and I’m a big girl. I can stand up to my fears and other people who may not make the same decisions I do.
On this day, I was grateful for the realization about how children must feel at the arms of abusive caregivers and providers. I know that when I was raised, I was scared at times. I know I have raised my own voice. I have seen my children scared of me.
We can work on not scaring others and we can work on how we react when we’re scared. We have the power to make our lives better. I’m grateful to know that.
Lesson from an OT Waiting Room:
You have the power of choice in each and every moment. You can offer apology; you can say something in a kind, gentle way. And you have permission to go further if needed. Because every child is worth protecting.
Sent with love, solidarity, and a wish that you’ll make appropriate choices in your local waiting room and that you’ll kindly stand up for what’s right when needed.
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