Dear Miss Manners:My son just turned 3 1/2. He has moderately severe hearing loss and wears hearing aids in both ears. As a result, he has even greater problems with volume control than the standard 3-year-old.
This Saturday afternoon, we were at the library. We looked at books for about 15 minutes, checked some out, and then stopped to put his snow suit on to go out. At this point, a man in his 50s came over to me and asked me to keep my son’s voice down. I showed him the hearing aids and said that my son was doing the best he could.
The man was disdainful and walked off saying, “Excuses, excuses. Everybody has excuses.”
I was cut to the quick and blush to admit that I called after him, “And you’re perfect?”
Had we been inexcusably loud at any point, a librarian would have said something. As we were on our way out, could the man not have suffered another 15 seconds?
In any case, a stranger took it upon himself to school me. I should not have responded by showing him my son’s disability and asking for tolerance. I didn’t think I was trying to put him in his place, but it’s possibly how the man felt. And it’s possible that it is what I was trying to do, on an unconscious level. After all, parents are not famous for rational reactions when being approached about how they’re handling their kids.
What would have been the polite reaction?
Miss Manners gives a reasonable answer, I think, though I have absolutely no experience with disabled children and how best to guide them socially. What do you think?
Gentle Reader: The offense that most concerns Miss Manners here is the one you committed against your son. Whether or not he picked up every word, he undoubtedly understood that he was being cited as a special case whose hearing loss excuses him from being considerate of others.
There are two bad lessons here, in addition to the embarrassment he will feel increasingly at being singled out. One is that he can get away with behavior that others cannot, and the other is that he doesn’t quite fit in with normal people.
The stranger, while no great example of manners, was correct when he said that you offered an excuse instead of an apology. “Sorry we disturbed you” was all that was necessary.
But I also feel like a public library is not, these days, the same kind of somber, quiet place that we expected 50 years ago, or that we expect today in academic libraries. Yes, there should still be an air of respect for others and for learning, but especially in an area where a three year old would find himself, there are surely other children playing, reading out loud, and making noise. This could cut two ways....either this man maybe needs to find another corner, farther from the children's section, or maybe the fact that this mom and boy stood out among all the other chatty kids indicates that, in fact, he was being significantly louder.
I think I agree that overall, the best thing to say would be exactly what Miss Manners said: "Sorry we disturbed you," in as neutral a tone of voice as possible, and leave--since they were leaving anyway. Does this strike anyone as too hard on the mom, or the child? What about the complainer, what do we think of him?