Browsing Tag

compassion

Bad Choices

To the Parents of the Three Stooges at My Daughter’s Concert Last Saturday . . .

My daughter sang in a choir concert last week. Thirty kids. A couple of songs. It was lovely.

EXCEPT

The couple next to me brought three young children.

In my head, I got judgy. Really judgy. Like I couldn’t focus very well on the second song my kid was singing about nature because these three kids were talking and dancing and whining about an iPhone and throwing a baby doll at the ceiling.

I also have three children.

So I get it.

Three children is bonkers.

Three children is somebody always crying about the game and how it wasn’t fair or the bacon and how she got more or the bathroom and how it’s my turn or the elevator and how he got to press the button last time.

Three children is hard.

And having three children was kicking that mom and dad’s butt last Saturday. At least, I think it was. Because when I wasn’t judging, I was wondering. What is going on over there? Are they okay? Should I say something?

I wanted to. I think maybe I should have. The kids were actually closer to me than they were to their parents. I could have asked in a super-small voice if they could please keep it down because my little girl was up there on stage singing about fireflies and maybe could they please sit down or play the silent game for 45 more seconds? Pretty please?

Except, I did not know their parents. And even if I did use my best preschool teacher voice, mom and dad would have wondered who was that strange scary lady talking to their kids?

So I could have said something to the grown-ups. You know, in between songs, just crouched or scooted over there to say little Larry, Curly, and Trixie were kind of ruining my mommy mojo. Maybe tell them about the bake sale outside in the breezeway.

But I didn’t say anything.

Know why?

You can’t say anything.

You just can’t.

Those were other people’s children. Not mine. If they were my cousin’s or student’s or my best friend’s kids, I could have gently intervened. Dudes, pop a squat, my child is singing about wildflowers.

My own children have been corrected by strangers. I usually don’t mind it. I figure if it doesn’t apply, let it fly. And I appreciate when someone tells me: Your son is climbing on that window ledge. Or I think you left your daughter in the ice cream aisle. I will take all the help I can get. Mostly.

But not always. One time during church, when my grandmother was sick and my heart was aching, I just kind of handed over the parenting reins to Jesus. As I quietly wept, my kids argued over the hymnal and knocked over a kneeler on someone’s foot during the Sign of Peace. It was not our finest hour. And it was made worse, not better, when the well-intentioned stranger came to me afterwards to give me some parenting advice. She had a book, she said, and she would send it to me. It helped moms like me raise kids like those.

Moms like me. . . kids like those.

We never entirely know, do we, which kind of mom or dad anybody is. If you see me on my best day, I’m baking bread with my kids, reading, singing, dancing, gardening. We’re riding bikes. We’re playing games. It’s all love and joy all the time.

But catch me on a bad day and I’m swearing. Not at the kids, but definitely about them. And near them. Closing their car door, frackin’sacking-frackin’sacking, and then opening my own. There are days when my kids feel like too much for me.

Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Choir Concert Crumb Bum were having one of those days. Maybe the games and the bacon and the bathroom and the elevator button had just done them in. Or maybe those kids weren’t even theirs. Maybe they were watching somebody else’s kids on that parent’s worst day and the babysitting adults were just as horrified as I was.

It is possible that they were just crappy parents. That’s what I was thinking for most of the song about sadness. And I wanted very badly to tell them that.

But even if they were the worst parents, they didn’t need my judgment right then. They needed my prayers. And my kindness. And looks of solidarity rather than scorn.

And I needed some perspective. It was just a kids’ concert, after all. Not an ordination or a wedding or funeral. And who knows? Maybe what looked like a family falling apart was actually a family trying desperately to keep it together.

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Skool Daze

Crying at School

I was 19 years old the first time I cried at school.

Okay, actually, that was the third time.

The first time I cried at school was because I spilled grape juice on my white corduroys. Nobody was home at my house to bring me new pants, so I had to go back to class and the other kids laughed at me.

The second time I cried at school was when I lost the Arbor Day poster contest to my classmate, Tracy. I was jealous. I thought my poem about a tree was better than her picture of a tree. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.* When I did not win, I told my friends at recess to play 3-square instead of 4-square, so Tracy could not play. Which was a total dick move. (Tracy, I’m so sorry. Seriously. I don’t know where you are living right now, but if you are ever up for a game of 4-square, please give me a call.) Tracy told the teacher, who pulled me aside and pretty much told me I was being a dick, and when we went back to the classroom, I put my head down and cried until the bell rang to go home.

If we are being technical, I also cried in the bathroom during junior high dances because Steve was dancing with Allison and not with me. But everybody cried about that, plus, it was after school, so I do not think it should count.

But the other first time I cried at school, the one I remember most vividly, was not an occasion when I was clumsy or jilted or mean. It was because someone was mean to me.

I had prepared a presentation about the poet, Elizabeth Bishop, who was not only a luminary writer, but someone who fought during her lifetime to be recognized in the literary canon, which was snooty, and patriarchal, and totally biased against the contributions of women. I gave my presentation with all the exuberance of a college sophomore. I was naïve and excited and proud that I had quoted so many of Bishop’s poems in my presentation, which I thought made me seem smart. I argued that Elizabeth Bishop had paved the way for all poets to unite beneath the banner of POETRY and that even though it was sad she did not reap the gains during her lifetime, I did not think there was any longer a need for a protected space for women’s poets. WE HAD ARRIVED. It was about at this point in my presentation that my professor, an avid women’s poetry guru, interrupted me. “Had I learned NOTHING in her class?” “Had I not been listening to the way women’s voices are SILENCED?” She announced she could not hear one more word from me, and if I did not have something better to say then I should sit down.

In the days that followed, I thought of many better things to say:

–“As a matter of fact, I do have more to say, but I don’t want to hear one more word from you. Good day, madam. I said, good day.” At which point, I flipped my cape over my shoulder, and strode boldly out of the room. (In this version of the daydream, I am wearing a cape, but not a weird cape, more like a sort of poetry ninja/superhero.)

–“If you are so concerned about how women’s voices have been silenced over the years, why are you silencing mine? Please sit down, professor. I am not yet finished.”

–In one version of the daydream, I simply return to my desk, gather my things, and walk to the door. At which point, I turn and say to the rest of the class, “Are you going to sit there or join me in the fight?” One by one, my classmates gather their belongings and exit the room, leaving my professor with her shame. She calls later and begs me to return, begs all of us to return, but we refuse. Instead, Mary Oliver—who was an actual guest professor at my college that term and who, because I was too busy suffering from poetry abuse down the hall, I did not even learn about until much later in life—Mary Oliver agrees to teach me and my classmates about women and poetry.

Instead, in the real version of events, I shook my head, quietly indicated that No, of course I did not have anything else to say, and sat down. As the next terrified presenter took her place at the podium, I began to weep quietly. And though there were 14 other young adults in that classroom, no one said anything to me. No one even looked my way. No one wanted to ruin a chance of an A. Only Dana, who sat in front of me, a usually flamboyant and playful fellow, who had sung “Beauty School Dropout” in a recent school production of Grease, reached over and took my hand. He awkwardly held it for the remaining 45 minutes of that godforsaken class. Afterwards, he said we should go see the dean and file a formal complaint. There was no excuse for the way I had been treated.

But I was cowardly and afraid and thought I had done something wrong by floating an idea with which my professor had disagreed.

I did not fight for myself.

And I did not allow someone else to fight for me.

Instead, I attended that horrible class for the remainder of the semester, accepted my B-, and never took another poetry class again.

 

When I talked to my kids about going back to school this week, I did not harp on the homework or the spelling tests, or how they should eat their vegetables at lunch. I just told them to be like Dana.

Whenever you see someone left out of four square, go to her.

If you see someone sad about posters or slow dancing or a presentation or pants, comfort her.

When you see someone crying at school, reach out your hand.

And, if that person needs help that is bigger than you, find it. If someone does not know how to stand up for herself, help find her voice. Tell a teacher, tell a grownup. Find Mary Oliver. Don’t let anyone be schooled at school.

Be a Dana.

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*What does it feel like to be a tree?

Swaying your branches and shading me.

Does it hurt when you get stung by a bee?

. . .

The poem languished on for about ten stanzas, but my poster paper was really only big enough for about eight, so the final lines had to be squashed in at the bottom, letters smaller and smaller, like the opening credits to a terrible Star Wars prequel.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

That Woman

We all know who she is. That woman who can’t quite handle her kids.

It isn’t fair, of course. Since there are plenty of men who struggle to keep their own children in line. But for whatever reason, we give those guys a pass. It’s that woman. She is the one we notice, and in our weaker moments, gossip about. And we all know who she is.

Her kids scream at her in the grocery store. They slug one another during school pickup. They tantrum in the slushy line at the carnival.

We see them. We see her. We know who she is.

And we judge her. She is obviously doing something wrong. Otherwise, her children would act better, especially in front of all of us. They wouldn’t cuss each other out over the last French fry or lie when they broke another child’s toy. If this woman were a better mother, her kids would have the good sense to save their bad behavior for home. Like ours do.

We pity her, this woman whose children bite, shriek, and scratch. We feel so very sorry that she wakes up to this mayhem day after day. We can’t imagine how exhausted she must feel. We wouldn’t want to do it.

We are also a little thankful for her. But for the grace of God. . . . She reminds us that we are okay. We aren’t the worst parents in town. Sometimes we don’t feed our kids any vegetables. Some days we like our children best when they are asleep. But at least they don’t hit each other in the face with t-ball bats. Our offspring never pee on the tree in front of church. We love our kids a little more because they aren’t as bad as hers.

Some of us try to advise her. We share our success stories, about potty training or that one time our kid threw a fit at the mall. She listens politely to our unsolicited advice. “You know, if only you would ___.” Or, “I’ve found that when my kids say ___, it is best if I ___.” She nods and makes us feel helpful. But the next time we see her, we shake our heads. There’s her daughter mouthing off again. There’s her son punching the dog in the ear.

We all know who this woman is. We disdain, pity, value, and preach at her, but how many of us ever hold her hand? Do we walk together or offer comfort when she cries? Do we keep her children and send her to yoga, to church or to bed? Have we brought her a meal or asked her to tea? We say we know her, but have we ever tried to understand how she lives? Have we lightened her load? Have we ever helped her breathe?

We are not alone on this journey. And, like it or not, whether we have nine children or none, whether we are experienced parental ninjas or still figuring out how to fold the stroller, each one of us will have a turn being ‘that woman.’ Because that woman is inside all of us. (It was my turn the other day in the Trader Joe’s parking lot when I lost my cool about the melted ice cream and the baguette that was to be for company but which the kids decided to lick.  Sorry to all who heard the yelling.) We are all in this together. We are one another’s keepers. We owe it to ourselves, our communities, and our world — the world that our children will inherit — to comfort instead of criticize, to offer ease rather than pity, and to make each other’s burdens light.

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