Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ain't Misbehavin'

Just thinking out loud here. Bear with me.

Started with this article off the AP wire in the World's Worst Newspaper. Money graf is that 1/8-ton autistic 13-year-old gets canned from church for his tendency to "spit, wet his pants, made loud noises and nearly run) over people".

So, I'm thinking, here we are with the Peeper, who has become the all-world little drama king and Lord of the Tantrum Dance.Michael Flatley has nothing on my boy for kicking his heels. And we're in church, or a restaurant, or a library and he starts fussing, crying and screaming.

We're outta there.

I don't care if I'm literally carrying him like a screaming toddler sack. We're in the car going home. It's not the business of the other parishioners, diners or readers to have their eyes and ears assaulted by my uncontrolled offspring.

It doesn't matter to me if he's not being "bad" or naughty. It's not a question of "punishing" him for his tantrum. It's my personal conviction that my child's, and my family's emotional outbursts are not your or anyone else's problem. You, and they, shouldn't have to listen and watch for longer than it takes me to remove my kid from the area.

I feel a little less responsible in noisy public places like parks, pools or supermarkets. If he melts down there we just move away far enough for the screaming to be lost in the crowd noise...

Now obviously autism is an unusual case. But I'm not sure how this makes the circumstances different. Here's one of the moms from the AP article:
Barbara Coppo, whose 30-year-old son, Kenny, was banned from a Vallejo, Calif., health club for screaming, said Americans need to learn about living with autistic children. "Autism may frighten people because so little is known about the disorder," said Coppo, who wrote a book about her son. "The cause has not been scientifically proven and the victims often act in ways society doesn't understand."
While society may not understand, I damn sure understand that my treadmill workout isn't going to benefit from a thirty year old man standing next to me screaming like a factory whistle in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I don't know at that point whether he's autistic or just being a dick. Take it outside, Jack; your "why" is not my problem.

My opinion has always been that my right - and, by inference, my kids' rights - to swing our fists ends at the tip of the other person's nose. I'm not talking here about finding stuff to be offended at; violently objecting to, say, a mother quietly nursing on a bus or kids playing quietly in the library. I'm talking about out-of-control stuff like my little boy's tantrums. Like the dirty work in a Shakespeare play, I think it's my - and the autistic parents' - responsibility to ensure that it happens offstage for the rest of you. The "why" my kid is screaming is not your problem. Should it be? Is this an issue of public civility or basic rights for everyone to be in a public space?

So what do you think?


srv said...

Not that I think less drama would be a bad thing for the XL Generation, but we have always had the tendency to shuffle undesired, unpopular or uncomfortable behavior into the figurative closet and literal padded room.

A few weeks ago, a young woman with ipod broke out singing on the bus. I was struck by those who enjoyed it (she had quite a voice) and those that were upset about it.

I guess part of the question is how much you really feel you're intruding on others rights when trying to 'control' behavior and how much you are embarrassed by it.

Personally, I'd rather put up with a little screaming than someone reaching for the Vitamin R.

Brent said...

While at work, my cubicle neighbor occasionally breaks out into rap lyrics that he's listening to in his headphones. Many times, the lyrics contain lightly offensive words/suggestions/actions, but it's always refreshing to hear him belt it out. The short outburst of emotion - happy, sad, or angry - is a major component missing from our society these days. Too many people dope up on soma to keep their keels even and keep the emotional lightning storms at bay.

That being said, Chief, I agree with you too. Major tantrums, screaming, or prolonged public arguments should be moved away from innocents simply for the reason of common courtesy. No matter what the reason - phisiology, romance, or not-getting-that-cool-toy.

Anonymous said...

My darling progeny have been known to throw a doozy of a tantrum while outas well. I have more often than I would care to admit found myself stalking through a public place with a small, shrieking and flailing child tucked under my arm like a sack of potatoes. I love my kids beyond belief and I don't generally want to listen to their fits, I can't see any reason on earth why someone who doesn't love my kids would want to be subjected to the assault on their senses.

I think it goes back to the whole parenting approach we have moved towards. Every kid is special, every kid is a winner, every kid is the best that can be.

My kids aren't any more special than anyone else (except to me), they aren't always winners and they aren't always the best or right. I'm all for self esteem but there is something to be said for learning how the real world works while you're young and the disappointments you have to handle are small. Nothing sucks more than getting to college and than reaching adulthood and discovering all of a sudden that the world really doesn't owe you the treatment you were raised to think it did (trust me, I was there).

Anyway, I'm fine with kids being loud and exuberant in public places. Mine have been known to sing and dance through the grocery store to make the shopping more fun. When the happy, playful behavior becomes screaming and swinging fists "the look" comes out which either stops it cold or away we go.

Lisa said...

Of course, Brent, spontaneous outbursts of song does not guarantee a medically ummediated response. A bloke properly under the influence of pharmaceuticals is as likely to begin rap as one not taking Soma.

I do agree our society is pathologized and overmedicalized, but that seems a separate issue from Chief's.

I am in agreement that out of control individuals should be removed from common areas. That said, so many adults are out of control that they may fail to adequately identify it in their charges. That is a shame. I have asked parents to please restrain their children.

I don't get why so many people just pull a grimace-smile when a kid is out of control and offending and/or endangering those around him. Why not offer the mother help if she needs it, or alert her if she is just ignoring it? There's nothing cute about endangering my hearing.

FDChief said...

srv, brent: Interesting that both of you mentioned singing.

I had an incredible, beautiful thing happen to me one long-time company Christmas party ago. We were feeling flush that year and booked the do in one of Portland's nicer lunch places. We had our food and the gift exchange and were sitting there with our last drinks when one of my coworkers started singing "O Holy Night" and without thinking I followed in with the bass line harmony.

It helped that Nancy's contralto and my bass were both a tonal quality that blended well. But I'm not sure why we were so good. We had never sung together; I hadn't sung in public since college. But we were THAT good. We ran through all the great seasonal harmonic standards. And when we were done, everyone in the dining room applauded. It was freakish, like something from some awful mawkish Lifetime Christmas movie, and yet it was lovely and a moment I'll treasure all my life.

So I'd agree that there are "outbursts" that work fine in public places. I think the things I was reacting to were:

1. that these kids were being really violently disruptive: screaming, slamming around, acting out in scary-loud ways, and
2. that some of the parents reacted with the attitude "that's autism, get used to it".

So I think I'd draw the line based on a matrix of the behavior and the surroundings. Mild crooning in church? OK. Screaming in the toddler msh pit? Also OK. Flailing and hooting in the meditation parts of martial arts class? Not so OK. Loud random screams in church or in the gym? Not OK.

FDChief said...

Anon: I eny you your "look". The Peeper is as impervious to innuendo and censure as a drunken frat boy at closing time. Nothing short of naked force works when he's really off the rails...

Lisa: Unfortunately, often the unwritten Law of the City Dweller, "Do Unto Others If You Want To Risk Get Your Fuckin' Head Blown Off" gets in the way. There's just so many creeps and crazies out there...

I'm afraid that I've walked past harassed moms just because I'm not sure if an offer of help wouldn't be received as an insult: "Do you think I can't control my child!?"

Come to think of it, since the answer is "Yes", it IS an insult...

Lisa said...

Yes, The world is full of creeps and crazies. I've witnessed some ugly behavior from mothers when a stranger merely makes a sweet comment -- "This is NONE of your business." Yikes.

Still, if I see a mother who is trying to balance boxes and toddlers and things are falling down, an offer of help is in order, I think. But yeah, people are on the edge, defensive, and many highly medicated, so you never know what you'll get in response.

walternatives said...

The Goob and I have made a solemn pact to remove (our) screaming kids if public tantrums ensue. We'll let you know in a couple years how that panned out, `kay?

FDChief said...

W: You two rock. If you're interested, I can get you a terrific price on the Ronco "Dart-a-Tot" toddler tranquilizer and capture system. Field tested by Marlin Perkins on the "Wild Kingdom" show, this gentle but effective child sedation and restraint combination promises to quickly and effectively end those annoying public meltdowns by first using the Wetherby .370 trank gun to decant an adjustable dose of Nembutol into little Sissy's system and then enveloping her in the "Little Mermaid" capture net, by which she can be safely and securely tied to the fender for the ride home.

The "Dart-a-Tot" - your hope for a quiet tomorrow!