I once cut in line.
It wasn’t that long ago.
I was following my six-year-old and eager to see the clouded leopard cubs at the Point Defiance Zoo. Not realizing that the ten-foot wide mass of moving children and parents actually signaled a place to wait patiently, I chased my own little boy up past the crowd straight to where a zoo worker stood, patiently holding back the mob and letting a trickle of people in to see the baby critters in their enclosure behind a protective wall of glass.
“Um, you have to wait your turn,” the soft-spoken young woman in the zoo uniform said to my back after I had passed her and peered toward the cubs with Quinton pulling me at full speed.
At this point my teenager, who could see there was a line, had abandoned us in embarrassment. He went to the back of the mass of humans and waited for us to join him there.
I stepped back to where the young woman was, still not realizing I had cut and trying to wrap my brain around what was happening while dragging along a squirming kid.
“Did you just cut in front of all these people?” a lady asked in a voice that carried across the chaos and made everyone turn to look at me.
As she spoke these words, she looked down on me in utter disdain. She reminded me a little of Mr. Dursley in female form with short cropped hair and the air of someone who always followed the rules would never dream of having a squirming kid.
I didn’t make eye contact with the much taller woman. Instead, I turned to the young zoo worker with long blonde hair.
“Is there a line?” I asked her in a half whisper.
She smiled kindly at me and nodded.
I mumbled something about not knowing that, stammering about a need for more signs even as I knew I was in the wrong.
I literally hung my head, still holding on to my boy and making my way back to the teenager.
We moved on to the tigers, never getting to really see the cubs that day.
Yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that moment only this time I was the Dursley lady.
Quinton and I made the trek up to our favorite mountain lake at the top of Chinook Pass. Lake Tipsoo sits in a place full of traffic where thousands of travelers stop at the crest of the highway. In the past the tourists trampled it, but now the rangers and signs guard the area, telling all to kindly stay on the paths rather than kill the wildflowers, butterflies and tadpoles with our clomping feet.
I spent a good deal of motherly energy teaching Q how important it is to walk gently so we all can enjoy the beauty.
Right before we left, he insisted we go back to view the tadpoles one last time and see if we could find that salamander who hides under the foot bridge.
“Mom! There’s a lady in the water!” Quinton said as we got to our favorite spot.
Sure enough. Some foolish and uninformed woman stood up to the middle of her calves in previously untouched mud. She had not seen or ignored all the signs telling her not to wade, not to touch, and not to leave the path. She was squashing the tadpole territory and looked like she enjoyed doing it.
I did not make a cutting comment to her. I did not, as my son suggested, tell her not to do that.
I took his hand and we left even as she spoke to my son about how cute the tadpoles were. I got the feeling she thought I was a mean mom for not letting him get a better look.
In my head, I was furious and didn’t trust that I could say anything to her without making the whole situation worse.
I wish I could have said something kind and true to her, but even as I imagine it, I can’t come up with a good thing to say.
So, dear readers, here are my writing prompts for you today:
When did you break a social rule like cutting in line or stepping off the path? Did someone point it out to you? How did that go?
When did you see a rule broken and it hurt your heart? What did you do?
When did your character break a rule or see a rule broken? What happened next?
And if you ever successfully pointed out a transgression with a kind heart, I’d sure love to hear about that!
May you walk gently and get to see the leopard cubs,