I almost didn't read this story: "What Happened When My Son Wore a Pink Headband to Walmart." I kind of figured I already knew what happened. People were jerks about it and maybe made a few snarky comments to her, she went home and wrote a blog post about it. And now we feel defensive on her behalf. The end. We've all heard stories like this before -- the boy in the princess costume, Jenna Lyons painting her son's toenails. I read the story anyway ... and my jaw dropped. It's so much worse than I thought it would be.
Kathleen Carpenter, (writing as Katie Vyktoriah) wrestled her 2-year-old son Dexter and her 5-month-old baby into the car to pick up a few necessities at the store. Moms have to pick their battles, so she made Dexter leave behind the huge stuffed bear he wanted to bring, but she let him keep the pink lace flower headband he was wearing. Maybe she expected a few looks, I don't know. But she certainly didn't expect her son to be grabbed and threatened by a full-grown adult.
A large man saw Dexter, stormed over, tore off the headband, cuffed the toddler on the side of his head, and said, "You'll thank me later, little man!" Kind of a terrifying and infuriating thing for a stranger to do to your kid, right? Kate went into mama bear mode and said, "If you touch my son again, I will cut your damn hands off." And that's when the guy upped the ante and snarled, "Your son is a f*cking fa***t ... He'll get shot for it one day."
Yeah, he said that to a mother and her 2-year-old son.
So that's undeniably horrible. However you feel about little boys in pink headbands, you just do not touch other people's children, you don't pull articles of clothing off their bodies, and you certainly don't call them a slur and tell them they'll get shot someday -- which sounds awfully close to a threat, actually. All of this is unacceptable, uncivilized behavior. (Katie said on Facebook that she did eventually report the incident to the police and can't comment further on it at this time.)
But can we talk about all the bystanders who did nothing in response? "There were several people who had witnessed the encounter, but not one of them came over to offer support or console me or my son." I bet some of them were parents, too. I don't blame them for not wanting to confront the bully. But not a single person could ask Katie if she was alright, or offer some sympathy, or anything? That's almost as bad, I think.
It's easy enough to not be the asshole. But being a civilized and compassionate human being requires a little more from us. However you feel about pink headbands on little boys, can we see what's most important here? More important than a 2-year-old learning that some adults will go apeshit if you don't conform to gender stereotypes? What's most important is that we affirm for each other, every single day, that we value kindness. And we do that through our words and actions. Don't be that big jerk at Walmart, but don't be those little jerks who stood by and said nothing, either.
UPDATE: According to the Orlando Sentinel, on Monday night officers investigating the event took Kathleen Carpenter in custody under Florida's Baker Act, which allows law enforcement officials to keep people in custody for mental evaluation. A deputy from the Lake County Sheriff's Office said, "Based on the continuing media response through Facebook and generated response to the incident by online subscribers, possible video of the incident may be obtained and viewed to in fact verify that the incident actually did occur or if it was all made up."
What would you have done if you'd seen this happen?
Image via Maegan Tintari/Flickr