I debated whether to call a woman in the story below “Pestilence” or “Petulance.” I certainly thought the woman’s behavior was destructive and evil, but because she displayed such impatient irritation over a trifling annoyance (Webster), I decided to call her “Petulance.”

A friend and I were standing upfront on a crowded bus when I spied an empty seat next to an elderly woman. I took it. A little girl approximately 4 years old snuggled up to this woman while standing between the woman and the next row of seats. I couldn’t hear what the little girl said, but I assumed she complained about me taking the seat because the woman (“Petulance”) started telling the little girl over and over again that she was not an adult and adults should sit down before children.

Maybe the little girl continued to voice her unhappiness about having to stand. Petulance started hitting her while angrily repeating again and again that adults should sit down, not children.

The hits got harder and harder and more and more frequent until the little girl started crying. I stared at a woman and child across the aisle, hoping they were with Petulance and would say something, but they stared straight ahead, pretending not to notice what was going on.

In an effort to dissuade Petulance from hitting the child, and hoping not to make Petulance angrier by my interference, I said quietly to her, “Perhaps your little girl is just tired.” Petulance barked, “She’s not my child. She’s my grandchild, and she’s not as tired as I am of her.”

My stomach dropped. The little girl buried her face in her grandmother’s sleeve. Shortly thereafter a woman (whom I shall call “Quieta”) seated a little further back came to the front of the bus, holding the hand of a smaller child. My friend took one of seats they vacated, and I got up and took the other. The little girl with Quieta sat down next to Petulance. Petulance said nothing. Since both little girls wore identical coats and hats, my friend and I concluded that they were related. Quieta said nothing and didn’t look at Petulance. I wondered if Petulance was Quieta’s mother, if Petulance was senile or just mean, if Quieta was embarrassed or afraid to say anything, or if Quieta approved of Petulance’s behavior.

When the bus arrived at their stop, the little girl scrambled off her seat and Quieta took her hand. Petulance pulled the little girl around from where she stood and pushed her toward the exit. I wondered what this little girl thought of adults, what her concept of love was, and what she thought of herself. Petulance arose from her seat with difficulty and hobbled off the bus using a cane.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” people say to justify hitting kids for every little thing. Everys state has laws about hitting kids.

Spare the rod, folks. Let’s practice patience, love and respect for our children and hopefully, they’ll practice the same with their children. They really are our future.

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...