The date: 20 September 2008
The scene: Courtyard at the Hyde Park Shopping Center
The event: Annual mum and bulb sale
Cast of characters: Couple with two boys in the 2 to 4 age range, two large dogs, and a pile of gifts: a couple in the 30something age range holding hands over a café table and nursing Nantucket Nectars; an elderly woman manning one of the flower tables; an observer (me)
I noticed the couple and their boys when one of the latter took off toward 55th Street. The mother, fussing over something next to me, yelled at him to come back. The father, who remained mysteriously useless during this entire episode, wandered in and out of the scene but didn't contribute much. The mother did most of the talking, reprimanding, and worrying.
The boys, especially the would-be runaway, seemed to be out of control, taking advantage of the mother's distractions. She kept up a loud, running series of orders like, "No, come back here!" "No, don't do that!" etc., none of which had any teeth behind them. Finally, the problem ran up to the elderly woman's table and ripped a display poster of flowers from top to bottom. Mom, still fussing with various things, told him she had asked him not to do that, then had him apologize to the woman, who by then, with the mother's help, had re-taped the two pieces of the torn poster to the table. The boy didn't seem to be particularly sorry or to find the admission all that punishing. In fact, a minute or two later he tried to rip it again, laughing with glee as his frustrated mother remonstrated with him.
In the meantime, someone with with a fluffy little white dog had appeared, which set off one or both of Mom's big dogs. She tried to explain to little Mr. Trouble how difficult it was for her to manage so much—him, the other little boy, the two dogs, and the pile of presents. He remained nonplussed.
Because all this was happening next to me, I couldn't resist noticing it. I would look over, look back, and find the 30something woman in front of me either looking at the mom or at me sadly as she clutched her lover's hand. "That could be us . . . that could be me . . ." seemed to be passing through both their minds. From holding hands sweetly to yelling in a public display of harried parenting in just a few short years. Both she and her lover looked ahead and at each other soberly. Finally, after Dad had made himself useful by strapping Mr. Trouble into the stroller the 30something couple got up and walked away wordlessly. Oh, to have true psychic powers . . .