“Can I ask you a question? With your child, are you more patient than you would be with the average person?”

The question for this was coming from an unexpected source, namely, the lady who stands behind the counter at one of the gas station convenience stores in town. But it was an interesting question, and I didn’t think it was overly personal, so I answered it.

And the answer was: Well, yes. My daughter is six years old. I don’t expect her to know what appropriate behavior is at all times, and it’s my job as a parent to teach her. I don’t believe extra patience means letting your kid act like a jerk, and on the thankfully rare occasions Athena is acting like a jerk in public, I’ll remove her whenever feasible so she doesn’t bother others. And if I have to do that — and I suspected that was coming to the heart of the questions — I’ll do it without going nuclear on my child in front of the entire world (I also avoid doing that in private, too, but that’s another matter). It does actually matter how you behave with your child in public, because among other things people are watching — and your child is paying attention, too.

And so I said (with rather more economy) to the lady behind the counter. The answer met with her general approval, and the additional comment that when one works in retail, one sees many things, including how people treat their kids. She hinted, but did not say specifically say, that sometime just before I get there some parent when a little nuts on their kid, and that it was all she could do not to say something about it. I think when I came through the door she wanted to vent at what she’d seen, and possibly also get reassurance that not every parent was a jerk.

And she said something else after I said my part, which was “I thought that’s what you’d say. I’ve seen you in here with your daughter before, and I’ve seen how you treat your child.” This goes back to what I mentioned earlier: how you respond, react and treat to your child gets noted, even by the people you’re not aware of. I was obviously aware this woman had seen me with Athena, because we go into the convenience store on a frequent basis. What I was not particularly aware of is that she was noting how I interacted with my kid while I was in her store. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised — I note how people interact with their kids, after all — but there you are. It’s the difference between saying that people are watching how you treat your child, and knowing they are watching how you treat your child.

I found it an interesting moment in my morning, and reminder that I’m part of the world in unexpected ways, and so is my child, and so is our relationship with each other.