I couldn’t help but notice them as I arrived at Target. A family of five—a mother, father, school-aged son and daughter, and an infant—were walking through the parking lot. The mother had a scowl on her face I spied from 30-feet away. She was without a coat, even though the weather wasn’t quite warm enough to be without. The father was a large man, his belly barely contained underneath a t-shirt. The toe-headed young son, bespectacled and chipper, jogged alongside the cart the mom pushed, where the infant was perched high in her car carrier. The young daughter was hopping on and off the cart, hitching a ride for a few feet before jumping off.
Later, as I strolled into the store, I noticed them again near the $1 bins. The mom was barking commands at the daughter, while the son stood dutifully beside the cart. The father trailed listlessly behind, perusing the $1 items. I grabbed a basket, walked by, and continued on my shopping excursion.
As I was perusing the cleaning supply aisle, I heard a commotion behind me.
“Why’d you duck? Stop acting like a little queer,” the father whined to his son.
I felt like someone punched me into the stomach. My head whipped around to see who uttered such a reference. It was that family. They were hanging out in the sporting goods aisle, and the father was throwing a ball to the son.
I shot the father a dirty look, and I heard the son mumble a protest. I was hoping against hope that the mom would say something. She did, but it wasn’t what I expected.
“Yeah—stop acting like a little queer,” she said.
I was frozen to my spot. I wanted to run over there and kidnap the young boy.
Instead, I did nothing. And it still haunts me.
I struggled with publishing this post for awhile. I don’t want to judge other parents, but the simple fact is that words hurt. Please watch what you say to your children. Even something that sounds innocent enough to our adult ears and minds can have a profound impact your child. (And, for the record, “little queer” is never innocent.)