For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?
Posts tagged: rude people
Watching the protests in Tunisia, other places, now Egypt unfold…and hold has me thinking about the twin virtues of patience and protest. Sort of a ‘yin-yang’ pairing, really–the Universe held in balance by opposing forces. In my tiny universe, I am currently involved in a bit of a showdown. The implications are at once clearly less weighty than the struggles of a country to find its way out of an oppressive regime and profoundly significant and complicated.
Generally, my practice has been to back away from conflict. To state my position and let it stand. I have done this recently when I elected not to continue communication with a relative who is profoundly disrespectful and self-absorbed. I tried to sort it out with her but realized that it’s not personal, it’s just how she goes about in the world. I couldn’t be respecting her and be comfortable myself so, for now, I let it go. Equanimity, kindness, gentleness trump being ‘right,’ having the last word, or coercing someone to change.
But, sometimes, when basic principles are being swept aside by another’s agenda–the need to control or their fear of being judged for what they have done (in this case, both) or some other motive–voicing the brutal truth is a virtue. There is safety in the truth, community in stepping out of the shadows, hope in enlightening the dark places and secrets and lies. The question is how to do it well, with integrity, clarity, and strength without being caught up in the other’s lack of principles or in our own egos. I look at those in Cairo, in the streets for over two weeks now, and am inspired.
So, I pray for safety for those who won’t stand down in the face of official unfairness and brutality. And I pray for the little angel sleeping in the next room, that I will be able to shepherd him through this tough time unharmed and provide him an example of the kind of compassion and strength it takes to navigate the big bad world of relationships and family.
…that I will not participate in any relationship that becomes dominated by Someone’s Unending Drama, emotional manipulation, and/or bullshit ultimatums. Consider this my declaration of independence from Trying to Make it All Right. Sometimes it’s just wrong. I pledge to accept when it’s just wrong and move on.
Yeah, I am taking the train out of Crazy Town. Maybe I belong there but that place sucks!
And a funny Saturday AM comic…unless it makes you a bit defensive. If so, tweet about it, rather than posting reactive rants on my blog.
“…people can be weird, man. People — straight, male people, in particular — sure can have some strange misconceptions about how the world spins. Also, they are usually loud.”
I am leaving a message for Elizabeth Gonzales when I start to cry. Ms. Gonzales and I have spoken before. She is an Ombudsperson for the California State Child Support Agency. Without going into the details, the other representatives of that agency have been jerking me around for over two years. Elizabeth has been helpful and kind. That’s her job–being helpful and kind to people her co-workers have jerked around but who are too persistent/empowered/unawarethattheydon’tmatter to just go away. I called her after receiving the latest ridiculous bit of information by mail, to clarify my options and figure out what to do next. “Hello, Elizabeth,” I began, “we’ve spoken before and I hope that you can help me. My case number is <sniff> zero, <sniff>three…” Obviously choking back tears, I proceeded to leave one of my hallmark rambling messages and hung up.
This crying thing really sucks. I don’t do it frequently but always at the worst possible moments, usually when I am angry or frustrated.
I have talked with other women about this phenomenon. While the men around me get less and less emotional, I get more and more so. This gives the illusion of my being illogical–we equate lack of emotional expression with rationality, even though the two frequently have no relationship–and has the very real effect of making me more difficult to understand.
It’s counterproductive and embarrassing. In this case, the convergence of over two years of bureaucratic bullshit and the fifteen or so balls I am currently juggling along with the sleepdeprivation/financialstress/loneliness that seems to be part and parcel of this single mom gig got the best of me and the dam burst. There was no way to delete the message, and, in her outgoing greeting, Ms. Gonzales stated in no uncertain terms (“Please do not leave multiple messages.”) that only one message should be left.
So, I hung up the phone. Let the tears out for a minute. Began to berate myself…for not holding it together…for not being more coherent…for being generally incompetent. Then stopped. Really stopped. Cancelled a couple of things that could wait. Ate lunch. Started writing out these thoughts.
Sometimes, I just feel so small when it seems that these immovable, monolithic entities have such influence over my life. I have to stop to remember my realm, the part I control. I can be mean to myself or nice. I can keep pushing forward, spreading angst in my wake, or come to stillness–let the swirling settle.
Because, revelation as this might not seem to be, I have come to know that when I drop things/myguard/externalcontrol it’s not the result of my general inability to manage life. With a little empathy, I can see that it’s because I am trying to carry too much…that I need to stop and refuel and perhaps rearrange the luggage. Getting my bearings, I can strike out again with fresh mascara, a calmer demeanor, and a clearer sense of direction. And a fresh pack of Kleenex.
Long ago, I embraced the identity of the horrible mom. I consciously chose not to obsess about sippy cups or apply for preschool before my child was born. I have lugged my kid to story slams and New Years Eve at the Dresden. Most of the time, I think this makes me a pretty cool mom–even if horrible by current LA-obsessed-parent standards.
Recently, though, I have been feeling like I should do more with AJ. There are so many things for kids around. I have started to feel (dare I admit it?) guilty for not showing up for story time or mid-day kids concerts at the mall.
I can’t afford full-time childcare so Wednesdays have been our day together for some time. Recently, I have been working more and my mom has been helping out. But, it’s nice to have a re-connect midweek, so I am trying to resurrect Wednesday mornings as AJ and Mommy time.
Today, I had planned to take him to the mommy-n-me movies which, honestly, are for mommy. We haven’t done this in a while, as he has become so much more aware much more easily frightened by violence or noise and curious about, err, certain things. So, today, Inception was out but The Kids Are All Right and Eat Pray Love (the other two films playing at our neighborhood theatre) were possible, with strategic distraction/eye covering.
Then, this morning, he was playing and enjoying himself and I realized that either of those films would be so dialogue heavy he would be miserable and miserable to deal with. I remembered hearing other moms talk about and then seeing a poster for this great kids’ museum in Pasadena. We had never been. In a moment of now-uncharacteristic spontaneity, I decided to go. We had a great time, AJ and I, right up to the end. The end, however, required a letter to the Director of Operations and Chief of Staff. I’ll let you read about that below.
In spite of this fiasco, we left in high spirits, and I am determined to be a less horrible mom at least once a week from now on.
Dear Ms. Earp and Ms. Maclean,
I am not sure who to address this concern to but, after looking at the staff listings, it seems most closely related to operations and overall museum planning.
Today, I brought my two and a half year old son to KidSpace for the first time. It was great! He loved exploring and interacting with the exhibits and activities. I was considering an annual membership.
As we approached the end of our visit, we needed to use the bathrooms. He had gotten very wet in the water features and needed a diaper/clothes change and I, well, I needed a loo. We used the ones by the cafe. First, we had to wait quite a while as there was only one stall with a diaper changing table. Then, when I got inside, it was filthy (likely, because it is the only one and gets overused.) Have you ever tried to change a feminine product with one hand while balancing on a toilet and holding on to your toddler because the floor is SO disgusting you don’t want them to sit down? It’s not fun. I avoid many places to avoid this experience. After a morning of encouraging my son’s curiosity, I found myself barking “Just stand up. Don’t touch anything. It’s dirty.”
Then, the pieces de resistance. After juggling our personal hygiene needs, we emerged to wash our hands. The sink area is tiny, and we had to squeeze by a woman who had tired of waiting for the changing table and was doing a ‘stand-up’ switch on her toddler. I stepped past her, up to the sink and almost fell, catching myself and twisting my right ankle as I narrowly avoided sprawling on the floor. I looked down to see what my left foot had slipped on and it was, well, poo-poo. I admit, I used a more adult term in that moment, then realized that I was surrounded by children and corrected myself.
Someone, (I think the woman who was doing the stand-up change right then, but she denied it) had seemingly dropped a nice-sized, quite green and viscous blob of feces on the floor.
Now that’s pretty disgusting. Whoever did it shouldn’t have. But, being a mom, I have some empathy for the challenges of negotiating public toilets. I couldn’t be upset with the person who gave up on waiting on the one changing table and went ahead with the stand-up change. If they were in one of the tiny stalls without a changing table, struggling to juggle such an operation, a ball of poo could easily have escaped and rolled under the stall divider, into the path of the next unsuspecting hand washer.
The problem, really is the set-up. I had a particularly unpleasant experience with the toilet facilities but overall, and unlike the rest of the museum, the toilet facilities are not at all set up for parents and young children. Also, there are very limited facilities for women, though all together in our time there I spotted exactly four men there with children…and only one who was there alone with a child. Most of the children were attended by women.
So, here’s where I get positive. While having more and more spacious facilities would be ideal, I have some concrete, possibly not-that-costly suggestions to make the bathroom situation more like the rest of the museum experience:
1. Allocate more toileting facilities to women or to be not gender specific. Do an attendee census and have bathroom facilities reflect typical usage.
2. More frequent cleaning of facilities, especially on busy days like today. Sanitation and regular stocking of diaper changing tables.
3. Install child containment seats in all stalls. This one retails for about $120 but I found it for only $72!
4. Clear signage in each bathroom indicating the location of other toilet/changing facilities and the procedures for reporting unsanitary conditions.
In our case, I cleaned my shoe the best I could, went to the ticketing window and told the young man there what had happened. He called the cleaning crew and said they would help me with my shoe. I waited a few minutes but, honestly, my son was verging on a meltdown and I wasn’t far behind him. We made our way to our car, I stuck a napkin to the bottom of my shoe to keep any residual crap from getting on my car floor, and we came home.
Again, though this was a horrible way to end our time there, I really loved the museum. I hope that this message is helpful to you in improving the mommy friendliness of your facilities.
So there’s this situation. It wasn’t of my making but has come to affect me. The whole ‘he was single only he wasn’t and kept saying he was when he wasn’t…long after it mattered…until I get an email from the other woman involved who is first ‘so sorry’ and then vindictive and says pretty horrible things about me and my son and his father’s intentions and in the next virtual breath tells me not to contact her again and I ask him to address it but he won’t and I feel, once again, wronged and shat on and I am supposed to just sit here and take it? situation.
Yes, that is a ridiculous run-on sentence. This is a ridiculous run-on situation. I need some punctuation, some way to make sense of the many threads of perception and treachery and accident and intention.
So, I put the onus where it belongs: on the one who started it all by swearing that he was single (indignant that I would lump him in with the all-to-common breed of man who carries on parallel but compartmentalized lives while living overseas), by knocking me up and telling me he was in it for the long haul, by letting me find out the truth when it was too late to take a different path.
And he won’t man up. He won’t own his actions, his untruths. He won’t stop this game of telephone and state the truth, unvarnished, to everyone involved.
Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I take on his dirty work and set the record straight? And if I have to do that, do I have the right to present my story truly honestly?
Because I want to. I want to say “The love of your life denied you, over and over, even when being with me wasn’t an option. It was and is his default to deny your relationship, to refer to you as his ex, to say that he always knew things would not work out with you.” I want to say, Ha. I don’t want to be in his life. I have, at not insignificant cost to myself, allowed him to be in our lives. At his request.” I want to say, “You self-absorbed little ____, this isn’t all about you. It’s not all about me. It’s not even about him. You and I have been affected…both betrayed, my life turned upside down…but that is not more important than the fact that there is a kid. His kid, our kid. I get that you are still practically (and apparently, emotionally) a kid yourself but you are a much bigger kid than your ex-boyfriend/fiancee/whatever’s son and certainly old enough to understand that a kid comes into the picture, the grown-ups take a step back and that kid’s needs become the priority.”
And, yes, that last bit would be a bitchy retort to her pointed-yet-inaccurate comment on the age difference between the baby-daddy and I. (1) She added a couple of years to my life and 2) I apparently am supposed to be insulted that he lied about his age because he knew I wouldn’t date him if I knew how young he was.)
And, yes, that last bit is the problem. I want to be bitchy. I want to respond in kind, with unkindness. And I am good at that. It’s 90% not my nature…but, man, that other 10% could rip this poor girl to shreds with my keyboard and enjoy it.
I am angry. With him for creating and sustaining this situation. He wants to move forward, past the wreckage of his past actions. I say that wreckage is piled up in the middle of my house. I have to edge around it, try to minimize it by arranging the furniture different ways…so that we can move forward, step by step, stubbing my toe now and then, keep space clear for my son’s needs to be the center of our ‘unconventional family.’ I say he needs to clean that shit up.
I am also angry with this girl I don’t know. She dragged me into their drama this time around. Dropped an email on me without knowing anything about me or the situation. I offered to give her information if it would help her and she responded with such a retaliatory flurry I came to see that she doesn’t want to live in reality…she would rather swallow the admitted and repeated liar’s latest treacle than face the fact that her life has been based on these lies, that she knew it and chose to continue, that perhaps she still is. I don’t really know. I don’t really care if they are together or not. I do care to know if I can trust him at all…if I am setting up my son for disaster.
And I do care about being slandered and attacked and maligned. Maybe I shouldn’t but there it is. And any action I take right now will be driven by that…the ‘ego’…the desire to be acknowledged as right…which is the path 10% of me finds irresistible. For now, the other 90% rules and I don’t write my vengeful opus…only say these things in a relatively incoherent way–for anyone to read.
It’s a bit ironic for me to be writing this on Fathers’ Day. If you had asked me a couple of months ago what I would like to be writing today, it would have been perhaps the different ways that fathering can happen. I would like to be reflecting on the value of maintaining connections, my hopes for my son and his father, the beauty of possibility and compassion.
Instead, I am thinking about shipwrecks. The metaphor of the boat has come up a number of times in my reflections on this process with AJ’s dad. This week it came up again in a conversation we had.
Without going into details, let’s just say that the whole question of if and to what degree I can trust this guy is still very, very open. Recently, I have taken stock of the situation, checked out the information I had, and tried to establish some basis–a starting point–for building up some trust with him.
We last talked on Thursday. His Thursday evening, 4:00 to 6:00am my Thursday morning. Yes, that’s four o’clock in the morning.
In that conversation, he asserted his desire to avoid jeopardizing his relationship with Addison. He said “Now I know the tipping point.” I asked what he meant and he said that he knew my limits, the point he couldn’t push past. I didn’t realize until later but THAT was my tipping point. More on that in a minute.
What I said then was that the first email from his ex or fiancee or whoever she is to him was my tipping point. That, since then, I have been in the boat that is listing to one side, leaning as hard as I can in the opposite direction, trying to keep it from going completely under. I told him that I couldn’t be the one doing that any more, that he needed to take over the effort of righting this ship.
I have realized a couple of things since then. First, after that conversation (which I was kind and generous enough to have with him at all, let alone in the wee hours of the morning, exhausting myself and throwing the rest of my day off) he has done nothing to follow up with me. I thought that I would give him a couple of days to process and even went so far as to write an email summarizing and clarifying my key concerns out of that marathon discussion and texting him to tell him it had been sent. I set my internal deadline for three days later, giving him through his Sunday to reflect, to plan, and to act in some way toward creating a situation that would be workable for me. I didn’t expect a full resolution but hoped for some steps toward what we ostensibly both want.
About mid-day on his Sunday, tired of waiting for his initiative, I called him. Newsflash, he hadn’t even bothered to read the email. He asked if he could call me the next day as he was heading out to Sunday lunch. No, I am not kidding. I told him how disappointed I was, that it was really crazy that I am putting more energy into this than he, that I don’t need him in my life–let alone his drama. I told him that I would be moving ahead with my decision making and planning. He seemed oblivious to the fact that I was making other plans. Even though I had told him I might not come at all, he was shocked that I am looking into whether to come and, if I do, how to use that time for things other than AJ and I spending time with him.
I have come to the conclusion that his relationship with Addison is not his priority. If it was really as important to him as he says, there is no way he could sit there for three days and do nothing about that conversation. There is no way he would ignore and thereby devalue my communications with him.
I have realized that the existence of a ‘tipping point’ in his thinking about me is my ‘tipping point.’ Why should I continue to engage with someone for whom I am not a person but a thing to be managed, to be loaded up and pushed around right up to a ‘tipping point.’
It is sad to consider that AJ’s dad may, in effect, make the decision to exit his life again. It is hard to set the boundaries and refuse to tolerate inappropriate behavior. On the other hand, I have already seen the negative effects of AJ’s seeing me treated disrespectfully and the diversion energy it takes for me to cope with that. I can’t let that continue.
I don’t need any of this. AJ and I have a full, busy life with heaps of good people. I have allowed his dad to begin to enter in and be a part of that life. Since his visit, the positive effects of that involvement in our lives has been far outweighed by the negative. It has become clear that he doesn’t respect me or value the significant efforts I have been making on his behalf. And, let’s be frank, at this point it is on his behalf. AJ can go on with his life and, sure, will have some difficult feelings and thoughts about his dad’s absence. But I have been very good at surrounding him with love and support and safety. He is secure and happy, was before his dad came into the picture and will continue to be if his dad is out of it again.
Happy effing Fathers’ Day, kid.
I am really, really sorry.
Many, many checklists/tips/suggestions are available for parents on this topic. So, I will skip those and get on to the meat of this piece. Which are the tips I have for other people who are traveling with/in the vicinity of a two year old. Some of these tips could be generalized to all people using a mode of transportation that puts them in close proximity to other people.
- Do not, given any other option, sit in the empty seat of a row occupied by a mother and her child. I don’t care how cute the child is or how much fun you think it will be to play with them. Give them space.
- Should there be a mishap or tantrum–whether caused by your unnecessary proximity or not–do not, I repeat, do not tell the mother “It’s OK,” or “I don’t mind,” or “Don’t stress out.” It’s not OK, travelling with a toddler is tough, mommy doesn’t really care if you mind, and you have no freaking business telling her how to feel about it.
- If you are going to talk to your neighbor or a friend in another row, do not do this while listening to your iPod. Talk only loudly enough to be heard. This is especially important if there is a sleeping child near you. Especially if that child was involved in item 2.
- If you see a mom struggling, do, always, once the dust has cleared, offer her a drink. There is a special place in heaven for you if you do this.
I am writing this at something like thirty thousand feet, my sedated child awkwardly asleep in the seat next to me. He is sedated because, on the flight to our destination, he experienced fairly severe distress from pain in his ears. This was the first time this has happened. It was awful. Three full hours of him alternately crying and nursing. Made me very glad that I have kept up the nursing past age two. I know that freaks some people out but, seriously, it rocks. Nothing else can make a little guys ears feel better like mama’s ‘ba-bas.’ So get over it.
But I digress. For the trip back, I got the kid some Benadryl. First, the congestion that presumably caused his discomfort on round one of this trip has continued. Second, the return flight involves a stop in Las Vegas and is two, count them, two hours longer than the flight to Houston. Sigh. I know that it is further evidence of my horribleness as a mother that I even considered this in my decision to give my two-year-old child a medication that has recently been re-classified as inappropriate for children under four. The real deal is that the pharmacist, who ultimately told me “Unfortunately, I can’t recommend that for a two-year-old,” also told me that Benadryl was the best option for preventing the discomfort that had my baby in tears for the prior flight. My son has taken Benadryl before without a problem so I am rolling the dice and giving it to him again. He is, finally, sleeping soundly next to me, much to the relief of the passengers around us.
Which brings me to what I really want to talk about here. The passengers and flight attendants are relieved in great part due to the scene that preceded his sweet slumber. The kid was tired. The kid was antsy. We were hemmed into the window and center seat and there wasn’t space for him to lay down and sleep as he wanted. At some point in his efforts to settle down/express his frustration at the situation, he kicked my tray table up, dumping the contents of my full cup of juice into my bag below. Yes, folks, into my bag. Had I not invested the $12.99 at Target a few days ago to purchase a netbook sleeve, I would likely not be writing this little rant right now.
Now, my bad for having asked for the juice before he slept. Should have known our cramped quarters made that an unreasonable action. But, seriously, he had already nursed and I was thirsty.
All this could have been avoided had I done better on one thing. As the plane was loading, I got on and took a seat near the back, in an empty row. Now that AJ is over two years old, he has his own seat. It didn’t look like the flight was full and I was hopeful that we would have the row to ourselves so that he could actually lay down and sleep. We were settling in when a woman asked if the aisle seat was taken. I pointedly looked around, scanning for other rows she could fill, but answered honestly, ‘No.’ So she sat.
Hence, I did not have the extra table, out of reach of his tiny but surprisingly powerful feet, on which to put my drink. My son did not have space to stretch out without kicking something (which is stimulating enough to keep a two year old awake). I ended up with a bag full of cranberry juice and a hell of a bad attitude. I called an attendant who asked if I wanted another glass of juice. “No,” I told him, “I need something to clean this up.” He returned with about five paper towels. Great.
“Don’t worry about it, “ my helpful neighbor cooed, as I pushed the attendant call button for the third installment of paper towels, “don’t stress out.”
“Well,” I replied, “it is a little stressful travelling with a two year old.” Yep, I put the blame on my kid when what I wanted to say, what I should have said, was, “What is your problem? Who sits next to the mom with the kid when there are empty seats in two of the rows immediately across the aisle?”
Indeed, there were two seats, four happy travelers with an extra tray table between each pair, working and chatting and relaxing just across the aisle.
I was pissed and I was dealing with a huge mess in a small space and I talked to AJ like a mother never wants to talk to her child. In the presence of dozens of other adults. “Addison, SIT DOWN” I told him, as I desperately mopped juice off my netbook and camera. We struggled for ten minutes or so as I went through a stack of paper towels trying to soak it all up.
It sucked. I sucked. I was mean to my son and passive-aggressive with our row-mate. “We just need more space,” I muttered under my breath, refusing to look in her direction.
Finally, strapped into his seat belt, the Benadryl taking over, AJ crashed. Awkwardly, his head leaning to one side. I tried to prop it up with my jacket. I kissed his head, whispering, “I’m sorry.”
A few minutes later, I pushed the attendant button for what I hoped was the final time. One of the guys who had brought me part of the tree I had consumed in mop-up appeared. “Can I get a vodka cranberry? “ I asked. “Sure,” he replied, returning shortly with the requested beverage. “I’ll take care of this,” he said, “enjoy.”
My faith in humanity was restored. I love that man.
I have to thank Jess for my new favorite noun: the retread. Well, I knew the noun before but this is the application of the word to our, er, affiliations. We all have them. Those relationships with friends/exes/family members we keep going back to and patching up even though we know they are shot.
I have never been one for cut off in relationships. I really value valuing people and relationships and acting with compassion and gentleness and acceptance. This is the core of my spiritual and relational practice. I am quite proud of having sorted things out to a workable place with a number of people–especially family members–and happy to have those people in my life.
Still, at some point, trying to sort things out becomes a bit like patching a bald tire. It’s one thing to patch things up when there has been a rift or a misunderstanding. It’s another to try to hold something together by layering more stuff on. Yet, we do it all the time. We talk and talk and try to sort it out. Or we shut up, swallow it all, and smile just to keep it going.
I say ‘we’ because I am pretty sure, I want to believe, that I am not the only one pouring in time and energy trying to make the thing whole, hoping it can be like it might have been.
This is where wisdom comes in. The wisdom to let something be what it is. Or, rather, what it isn’t. The wisdom to separate the fixable and desirable from the terminally unsatisfying and dangerous.
This is a hard lesson for me.
Because it is so hard, the Universe has given me a number of opportunities to let people go recently. There was a minor series of guys before my son’s father…some entertaining, some lame stories…warming me up for that big one. There was, this past year, a very painful but necessary break-up with my sister.
I am still not sure I am right to do this. To relegate a person, a relationship to the recycle heap. It feels wrong. By personality and now by profession I try to mend relationships, to build understanding and connection.
But sometimes, people, it’s just the right thing to do. Stop trying to make it better. Don’t patch it and put it back on thinking it might get you a few more miles when you know full well it could blow on you when you’re doing 80 on the freeway and bang you up real good. Let it be what it is. Leave it on the side of the road for someone else to pick up and make into a planter or some flip flops or playground topping. Yes, playground topping. Did you know that stuff is made from old, worn out tires?