A supermarket carpark, in a suburb near me. A woman about my age walks away with a knee-high girl.
As they near the curb, the woman's words blow to me, as sharp as the cold spring wind. "I told you to hold my hand, you "f*cking c*nt!"
What a slap of reality for a vegan middle-class white mummy blogger among the babble exchanging versions of ideal parenting advice to raise confident children with high self-esteem and compassion for all.
Was this woman the girl's mother, or not? Which would be worse?
Helping the helpless
Could I help that girl? I am no role model when it comes to anger management. I have lashed out in anger beyond my own children's capability to cope. But can I actually reach a woman who delivers obedience and early road safety education to her tiny girl with the most shockingly anti-female obscenities in the English language?
I could have chased after them to deliver my shock and disapproval. But I can't gift this woman my world view. She didn't invent these child-rearing weapons - she was taught them. Her family probably didn't read the right mummy blogs or books either.
I can't offer that little girl a replacement mother. I can't offer her legal protection - it's not illegal to swear at your child. It's only just become illegal to hit them. Is verbal abuse or physical abuse worse? (Answer - Yes)
(I have been corrected by Elizabeth Harrop of Motherhood Denied - it IS illegal to swear at your children. The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 covers emotional abuse. Thank goodness.)
Children in our care
What happens when this woman gets really angry about something? I worry that this is exactly what people see before the sensational news story breaks - complete with coroner's report. If you can handle more real life shocks, read New Zealand child abuse statistics and weep.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to live in a country where things are better for your children.
Speaking the language
The problem is so much bigger than one bad mother story. This girl was getting her vocabulary lesson to join the permanent underclass that our "money above all" economy has designed. Should she be taught "better" - and lose all capacity to communicate with her family and friends?
Many of my favourite issues - veganism, minimalism, anti-consumerism, breastfeeding, attachment parenting - could help on a global scale, but we are still a world away from that sort of impact.
Apologies in advance, but this blog post contains no answers.
When the song Go the F*ck to Sleep went viral, I couldn't listen all the way to the end. Parental frustration is universal. I have witnessed both "crying it out" and simply growling into the dark at a crying child, "Go to sleep!" As a co-sleeper who practices natural weaning, I do have some extra tools for easing children into sleep, but no method works 100%.
But that song felt like riding along with a wave of parent vs child crashing into verbal abuse and worse. As a parent, I don't need more of this, and my inner child still trembles at an increasingly angry male voice.
And a little voice kept whispering "some people really talk just like that to their kids"...
Does it matter what we say to our kids? Yeah. And it's not f*cking funny.