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After another recent shift with a predominance of patients suffering from lingering flu symptoms, I decided to swing by our local Walmart to stock up on our home supply of pediatric medications, just in case. Some acetaminophen, ibuprofen, decongestant, and cough suppressant would hopefully get us through the rest of this winter season. And, of course, what a great variety of favorite flavors--orange, bubble gum, berry, and grape. Heck, some of them taste so good that faking the flu for the little cups of "candy" might be to my kids' benefit.
Unfortunately, on the way to the pharmacy area, one of the first aisles I always encounter is the candy and gum aisle. Not a good thing for me, since I have quite a recent fascination and taste for Gobstoppers, a Wonka jawbreaker product (don't tell my dentist). The yellow psychodelic boxes scream at me from their shelf, "Jim, come and put a couple of us in your cart," and regardless how much I fight it, the pull is too strong.
Needless to say, my kids love going to Walmart with me.
On this particular day, then, I walked to the mid-aisle to grab a few boxes of the candy. I wasn't alone in the aisle, though. To the right of the Gobstoppers, two parents stood looking at the shelf of big Hershey chocolate bars, immersed in a conversation (yes, I listened) of milk chocolate versus dark chocolate. To my left, a grocery cart with a makeshift, rigged-up kiddy car, driver seats and steering wheels included, on its handle-end. Two kids sat in those seats--an approximate four-year old girl and a three-year old boy. The Gobstoppers sat waiting for me between the parents and kids.
As I approached the family, I was caught off-guard with the screaming and fighting going on with the young kids. In fact, at one point, as I was kneeling down to grab the boxes of candy, I was appalled to find the little boy trying to punch his sister in the face, her hands rapidly moving to block each of his thrown punches, protecting herself. Still on my knees, I looked toward the parents, who must have completely tuned-out their kids. I was just about to say something when the little boy stopped, but not before his sister screamed out, "Get the hell off me, God damn it!" Still no reaction from the parents.
After this, I stayed kneeling, observing these peculiar parenting skills (or lack of) while looking at a box of Junior mints. While I was debating getting the mints, the little girl and boy started to talk to one another. About me! I actually wrote the conversation down in the pharmacy because it had shocked me much. It went like this.
Little girl: "Who the hell is that guy?" I looked at them looking at me.
Little boy: "I don't know, but if he gets close enough, I'm going to kick the shit out of him."
Little girl: "That will be fun. Try to knock him out." For good measure, she added, "God damn it." Again.
I was disheartened. I was shocked. I was annoyed with the parents for not addressing such obnoxiousness from their young kids. I looked from the kids to the parents, who had quickly glanced our way before figuring their conversation about chocolate was more important. I looked back to the kids again, before standing up and walking away with my Gobstoppers. I was upset and figured this was the best option for me, at that time. I knew it wasn't the kids' faults, but rather their parents. Their role models. But I wondered to myself, "What kind of adults are these kids going to become?"
This happening got me to thinking about our society. For the most part, we all know great kids in our lives, from our own to our friends' and families'. To raise respectful, kind, compassionate and loving kids and guide them appropriately into adulthood, when we choose this road of parenthood, should be the primary goal in each of our lives. We may not always succeed, darn it, but we have to try our best and throw our energy into the effort. Because that effort translates into the brilliance of the future generation coming up to govern our world.
These parents demonstrated no effort. And, unfortunately, they are not alone.
How many of us see the changing pattern with our society's kids. Talking back to well-meaning adults. Not respecting our elders (at least hold the door open for them and smile!). Tolerating vulgar language and meaningless violence via computer games and TV. Not respecting one another's uniqueness. Forgetting manners. Immersing oneself into texting instead of holding actual conversation. Avoiding volunteerism and chores. Placing more importance on material possessions rather than relationships.
Although I see both ends of the spectrum every day in the ER, I can only imagine the stories a teacher can tell.
I carried this Walmart story with me for a few weeks, bummed at the behavior of those children, constantly on vigil to find a hopeful story to balance out this disappointment. And then, the other day during an ER shift, I found it.
I walked into Room 17 to see my next patient, a nine-year old girl who had sustained minor anterior chest burns after bumping into her mother, who had been holding a pot of boiled water. Because the room was quiet and calm, I was quite surprised to find five people in total in the room, four kids and their mother. The mother was standing to the patient's right, beside the cot, while the oldest and youngest children, girls, shared a corner seat and their brother sat to their left on a stool.
Despite a TV in the room, it was not on, and the children all sat with an opened book before them, reading. Mom was whispering to her daughter with the burns, consoling her with her words and touch, gently stroking the back of her hand and her ribboned braids.
I walked up to Mom and the patient and introduced myself. "Hello, Doctor," the patient said, bravely trying to smile over her discomfort. She melted my heart, trying to be respectful while a three inch patch of skin lay peeled from her body between her clavicles. The mother turned to the other children. "Say 'hello' to Sissy's doctor," she said, and I was greeted with three more genuine smiles and greetings. They spoke with a bashful confidence that I fully appreciated.
We talked, the mother and patient and I, for quite a bit about what happened that brought them to our ER. After a stable exam, the nurse came in to clean the burn and show Mom how to care for it the next few days at home.
While finishing with this patient, I felt compelled to share with Mom how impressed I was by her kids. Not once did they talk without calling me 'sir' or the nurse 'maam'." They took turns, one at a time, to step up to their sister's cot to be supportive of her. No arguing or fighting, only kind words were uttered. No scowls, only warm smiles were worn. They were unabashed with their hugs and physical contact, sharing their seats and coats with one another. The mood and energy of the room was lighthearted and fantastic.
"Your kids," I shared with Mom before discharge, "are absolutely wonderful. It has been such a pleasure to see how well-behaved and loving they are with one another and with you. Even most of our staff has commented on their excellent behavior. Well done, Mom."
Mom was somewhat embarrassed by my compliment. "Trust me," I assured her, "I mean my words. What a wonderful job you are doing raising such fine young kids." As I spoke, the kids all grinned, bumping into one another with their elbows and bodies. I looked at all of them and smiled.
Mom thanked me, shyly, before explaining that she was a single parent. "Although I get tired by the end of the day, things seem to be going quite well with the kids." How could they not? This was an amazing woman, a role model for all, well aware of the importance of raising good children. And she was accomplishing, on her own, what two parents with less children weren't.
After complimenting the children on their behavior and their impeccable church clothing, I ran to the freezer and grabbed four Italian ices. Grape. And lots of stickers from the nursing station. Just some small gestures to acknowledge their good behavior.
My hopes for our future have been restored. It took a few weeks, but I'm back to focusing on the good of our children. Thanks to the brilliant unselfishness of a great mother...
As always, big thanks for reading. Well done job to the mother of these four children! Also, thanks for your support in the recent Medgadget Medical Blog Awards voting. It continues until Sunday at midnight. If you enjoy my blog and posts, I would greatly appreciate your support and vote.