Wednesday, May 8, 2013

This is water.

Why are mothers so mean to each other?

This morning when I picked Oliver up from preschool another mother asked me, in an obviously passive-aggressive manner, why Oliver wasn't wearing a hat.

"It's so cold, don't you worry about his head being cold? I would never let my daughter out without a hat," she said.

Oliver was of course standing right next to me, and he quickly ended the conversation when he spoke up.

"No. It's not cold. I don't want a hat. My coat has a hoodie, see?"

She couldn't really say much after that.  I smiled at her and walked away to my car, but I was so angry at her.

This woman always has her daughter bundled completely from head to toe. The kid looks like a little snow princess in her coordinating hat and boots and scarf and mittens. But you know what? She only has one child and she doesn't even dress her child herself. Her nanny drops off her daughter before school, and after school she has the teachers bundle her daughter and bring her out to the curb.  She never leaves her car.

I was angry because by insulting how my kids go to school, she was insulting me.

I dress both of the kids in the morning myself. I park the car and I walk them inside and I hug Oliver goodbye and I walk back out to the car with Colin. I come back to pick up Oliver on time and I park my car, haul Colin inside, and I help Oliver get dressed to go back out again.

I am the one doing all of that for my son. Not my son's teacher. Not my son's nanny. I. I do it.

I was angry because it is so easy for her to want a perfectly dressed child because she doesn't have to do any of the work. I was angry because I know I'm sitting here doing the best I can with my own two hands, while she is hiring out the dirty work to others.

The angrier I got, the more I started to personally tear her down in my head.

Her daughter isn't as good as my kids are. Her daughter's just a doll. She's pretty to look at, but there is nothing running through that girl's head. She can barely talk. She doesn't play with the other kids. She can't do anything for herself. She's a baby doll, and it's probably because her mother doesn't give her the time of day.

I was really thinking those ugly mean things about a 4 year old and her mother. I probably would have kept stewing in my anger except Oliver piped up from the backseat:

"Why aren't you asking how my day was, Mom?"
"I'm just kind of grumpy."
"Because that other lady made me grumpy."

And then I had to think a lot about what I said to Oliver, because at that point I realized that I was being mean and ugly and terrible to somebody I don't really know. I realized I was being meaner and uglier and more terrible to her than she was to me, even if only in my head. I had to think carefully about what I said to Oliver, because I know he watches what I do. I know he's there studying me and emulating me and I don't ever want him to think it's OK to be mean.

"She hurt my feelings a little."

And that was the truth. I was angry and I was thinking those mean hurtful things about her just because she hurt me a little bit. It was retaliation. It was retaliation over one stupid little thing she said to me that I should easily have been able to turn the other cheek towards.

I want so much for Oliver to grow up continue to be a compassionate person, and I know I have to model that for him. I want Oliver to be a shining example to the world that humans are good and wonderful and amazing, and I have to model that for him too. I want him to be that kind person who only has positive things to say about everyone else, and I'm trying to be that too but it is so so hard. It's an enormous responsibility.

In an effort to make up for all of the hurtful things, I thought about the reasons why that other mom felt like she had to make a snide remark.

 Maybe she truly was concerned about Oliver, and I took it the wrong way. Maybe she's jealous of the awesome relationship I have with my sons. Maybe she spilled her coffee this morning. Maybe she suffers from depression. Maybe she has years and years and years of hurt that she is struggling to deal with. Maybe she needs help because she's going through a terrible divorce. Maybe she needs help because her daughter is battling some unseen illness or disability. Maybe she needs help just because everybody needs help sometimes, and that's okay.

The truth is that I don't know and I probably won't know why she said what she said, and it doesn't matter. She had some reason, right or wrong, that made her say it.  "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle" is the quote that comes to mind. So I will try to be kind. And Oliver will see that. And he will be kind. And others will see that, and they too will be kind. And our tiny corner of the world will be more kind.

As hard as it is for me to be kind, Oliver already gets it.

"Oh. When we get home I will give you a big big BIG hug. Does that sound great?"

He gets it better than I do. If I can just shelter that kindness and let it grow, he will be 10x the person I am.

"Of course, Oliver. That sounds great."

*****Edited to add*****

I wrote this post a month ago, but I never published it. I didn't think it was communicating what I meant to say. I write a lot of posts that I never hit "publish" on. Sometimes they're too personal. Sometimes they're filled with feelings and ideas that I don't want to perpetuate. There are a lot of reasons why some things I write stay hidden.

Today I saw a video somebody put together using a graduation speech by David Foster Wallace, and I was reminded of this post. He says it better than I do. I decided to publish my post with the addition of his good words and a creative video:

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