I spent this past Saturday as a volunteer for the American Heart Association’s annual Florida family conference as a day counselor for the children of families with a “Heart Hero” (a family member who has heart problems). 2010 marked the first year that the event has been in Tampa and the venue was the newly opened Glazer Children’s Museum downtown. The day consists of a series of lectures for parents, while the kids have supervised fun. I had a great time getting to know many of the kids in my group and escorting children who arrived later in the day to their families. It was good to be among other volunteers who were giving and upbeat, and to see so many kids and parents working together on health issues.
Just before lunch, my fellow counselors and I were escorting our charges – a group of thirty 7-10 year olds – up one floor to lunch. Everyone crowded into the main elevator, and just before the doors closed, a couple carrying a massive birthday cake with a Barbie doll in the center clamored into the elevator with their costumed daughter (who was obviously having her birthday party at the museum). I was a late arrival at the elevator having accompanied one little girl to the restroom; the two of us got on the elevator before the doors closed after the “cake couple” had jumped on board. When the doors started to close, there was a booming yell from the man holding one end of the cake – “Don’t push her!” he screamed as he glared at me. I had not touched anyone as I got into the crowded elevator, and I was taken aback. I simply remarked back “I didn’t push anyone”, and added “could you not yell any louder?” to the man. His terse response was “I just did!” and the woman holding the other side of the cake started to moan that she was going to drop her end of the heavy cake. “Close those doors!” barked the woman as close to forty children watched in horror. When the rear doors opened, she yelled again, and the man shouted at me “Don’t look at me like that” — it was like something straight out of a movie!
Finally when the doors wouldn’t cooperate fast enough for them, the woman finally made a sane decision and said “let’s get off this elevator and wait for the next one,” and the couple and their daughter left the elevator. Once the doors closed behind the obnoxious couple, everyone in the elevator: parents, volunteers and children. stood stunned at the selfishness and idiocy of the situation.
At lunch, several children remarked at how the couple were “losers” and “selfish” by expecting that they could crowd into an already jammed elevator and boss everyone around at will. I still shook my head hours later at the poor example the parents set for the birthday girl. What a “semblance of niceness” they set up and then tore down in front of an audience of children today!
Later I saw the couple and their daughter leaving the museum with the cake on a trolley (which they should have used in the first place) and perhaps 4 pieces removed from it. I shook my head when I realized that the birthday child obviously didn’t have many friends who joined her party, likely in no small part due to the shameless behavior of her family — it couldn’t have been the first time the father had exploded on bystanders.
It seemed awfully close to the overall theme of bullying that I posted about in the last week. These parents tried to bully “me” and didn’t care who saw it all. For my part, my mind raced to find a respectful way of shutting them down without creating an equal scene. It was bullying in raw form and I wonder what the couple’s life looks like – I can’t imagine that adults who are bullies have many friends.
Fortunately, the day ended without incident and the AHA families enjoyed a wonderful day of bonding and fun. The episode in the elevator was an unjustified rant on the part of disgruntled parents and unfortunately, an entire group of 7-10 year olds saw it. The day ended on a high note… true niceness prevailed with the energy and smiles and love of all the volunteers who interacted with all the kids and their families. The “semblance of nice” that the couple tried to represent with their extravagant, too heavy cake was overridden by their rudeness, and kids know the difference.
Wishing you a genuine week!