Miles Still to Go

It happened again today.  And perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if this had been the first, second, even third instance.  But it’s not.  We’re well into double-digits now.  And each time my disgust is amplified and the sting worsens.

Our family had experienced poor customer service at a nearby business recently . . . actually, a series of episodes of poor customer service.  To tell the entire tale required a lengthy email; and on behalf of my husband and me, since he was at work and I was at home, I wrote it.  It took me slightly more than an hour to compose the correspondence—a letter that was well-worded, compelling, and still courteous despite our frustration.  I sent it last Monday to the General Manager of the corporation.

male femaleThere was no response or even an acknowledgment on Tuesday or Wednesday; so on Wednesday afternoon I followed up with a polite request, inquiring as to when we might expect a reply.  I addressed the General Manager by his title (“Mr.”) followed by his last name.  He addressed me as “Samantha.”

I let that go and read his message . . . that he was meeting with his team to review the situation and would be back in touch.  I thanked him and heard nothing more on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

Last night my husband wrote an email.

My husband is a male—lest that detail slip by.

Within hours of his email we had a lengthy reply, a concrete solution . . . and the email to my husband was addressed to “Mr. Farias.” I was not included in the salutation.  I was not copied in on the email.

Apparently, the men were taking care of this, and I no longer existed.

And before I launch into a diatribe about men and women and lingering, pathetic gender roles that persist in 2014, let me reiterate this is not the first time this has happened to me.  Countless times I have made calls or written emails—to have work done on our home, to get estimates, to compare quotes—and no reply is forthcoming until my husband picks up the phone and leaves a message an octave lower than mine or taps the keyboard and signs the missive with a masculine name.

Every time it happens it is as obvious as it is egregious, and to say it inspires rage is an understatement.

I can recite my accomplishments, academic and otherwise; sing my praises as a communicator and generally reasonable human being; share my bank balance and the number of dollars I have to spend. But none of that matters.  In some instances, with some businesses, with some people, all that matters is that I am female—or, more aptly, that I am not male.

IMG_2817I thought it would be better for them, but it’s not.

In 2014 this is still our reality.

My children’s reality.

My sons’ and your sons’ and daughters’ very sad, very real reality.

Rubber Lizards, Armpit-Smelling, and Cookie Monster’s Butt

As one who loves words and enjoys stringing them together to create semblances of coherent thoughts, I am always on the hunt for sentences I like to characterize as “those that have never before been uttered.”

Of course, the very small logical part of my brain accedes that the chances of a sentence never before having been uttered are rather slim, but the sporty English teacher in me likes to entertain the possibilities.

And with that I present to you for your weekend entertainment fifteen sentences I have said over the last week-and-a-half I believe have never been spoken, written, or—dare I say—even thought of before.

You can correct me if I’m wrong . . . but I’ll need context.

Mother's Day PhotoFor me, of course, these are all responses to something one of my three children said or did.  I’ll let your imaginations fill in the rest.

Does anyone know why there is a rubber lizard in the toilet paper roll?

Your dirty socks should be nowhere near an open bag of potato chips.

No, you cannot have a plate of bugs and/or garbage for breakfast.

You do not need to be in college to put on your underwear.

Please take that cow off my head.

You are the stuffed bear’s father and your brother is its uncle, so please stop fighting.

Weeping because we’re not having Indian food for dinner seems unnecessary.

You are not going to self-destruct because I won’t buy you a corn muffin.

I can’t come in and smell your armpits; I’m in the middle of making tacos.

No, I did not go to college with Buddha.

Get out of the bathroom with that pizza.

Yes, I’m sure Cookie Monster does have a butt.

Can you tell me precisely when there was a chicken running through our house?

Squidward and Buddha are not a married couple.

Do you keep a steady supply of snakes just to torture me?

Have a great weekend!

 

Under Pressure

Though my sons are still under five feet tall and haven’t even yet stomped through the halls of middle school, I am and remain consciously and constantly aware I am raising three future men.

I think a lot about the boys they are and the men they’ll become; and though I do not have a crystal ball in any sense of the word, I think a lot about how behaviors today might manifest as patterns and habits later—and which of those will be palatable to a future partner and which most assuredly won’t.

This might be the reason I do my best not to overreact or melt into a puddle of excessive maternal sympathy with every sniffle, why I am grateful my sons have each other and are forced to encounter and negotiate compromise on a daily basis.

Of course this has occasionally backfired.  When my oldest told me in first grade his ears hurt in what I thought then was an attempt to dodge a day at school, I told him he would be fine and to eat his oatmeal.  I turned to rinse some dishes and the next thing I heard was “Mom, why are my ears wet?”  Blood.  Ruptured ear drums.  And clearly no Mother of the Year trophy for me.

But for the most part I feel I’ll be able to look my future in-laws in the eye and honestly say I did my best.

However, sometimes it’s not always as clear cut as teaching my sons to clean the bathroom or how to fold their own laundry.

Sometimes it’s bigger and way more complicated.

IMG_6652My soon-to-be-ten-year-old has taken lately to following me around the house, asking where I am going, what I am doing.  When I go out, he wants to know what time I will be home—precisely.

Initially I bucked his inquiries, told him he was safe and fine but that he can’t expect people (read future partners) to answer to him for every move, that he needs to trust people and to give them space.

Nothing abated and in fact got worse.  I probed further.  He said he was afraid to be alone and worried about intruders.  We talked about statistics and how my being in the laundry room when he was in the living room did not render him alone.

His level of stress only continued to escalate.  If I was out of sight, he stopped everything he was doing—reading, watching a favorite program, playing a videogame—and ran through the house.  It was intense, and it was sad.

I decided then to start accounting to him—against everything in me.  If I was going upstairs to brush my teeth, I told him.  I told him where I was going, what I was doing, and how long I’d be gone.  Precisely.  The pain he experienced when he didn’t see me—whether for the reasons he had articulated or something else—was real, and, as his mother, if I could alleviate it, I had to.

So I did.

I stopped asking him and put a bandage on it until it naturally unfurled.

And last night it did.

“Mom, what are the symptoms of a heart attack?”

I didn’t know if this was the future scientist in him or just the curious young boy, but I told him.

Then, “Can you live after a heart attack?”

I told him people do live and sometimes they don’t.  He immediately wanted to know how to ensure the former.

And then it clicked.  He knows my mother died of a heart attack, that both my brother and my father have had significant cardiac issues.

“Mom, what if you’re in another room and have a heart attack?” 

Little by little I tried to lift the weight he’s been carrying on his very young shoulders—letting him know I don’t smoke and never will, that my doctor monitors my blood pressure incredibly closely, that I have submitted to a daily medical regimen and am incredibly responsible in its administration, that I plan to be here for a very, very long time.

“You know, Mom, that’s why I follow you around.  It’s not because I’m trying to be controlling.  I would never do that to you or to anyone.  I just love you.”

And, oh, my heart, I just love you, too.

Orange Is the New . . . Catalyst for Discussion

IMG_8116“Mom, how do you see orange?”

When my nearly-ten-year-old approached me recently with this question, I thought, “Uh-oh . . . high school physiology review courtesy of Google .  . .  Let me look up rods and cones and try to figure this one out.”

But that’s not what he meant.

He clarified.  “I mean, Mom, how do we know how other people see orange—you know, the way you see orange is the same way I do?”

So, I stopped.  This isn’t a question I could readily answer, and I wasn’t sure how to respond.

Luckily, my son was not nearly as tongue-tied.  He continued, “How do you ever know how anybody sees or feels anything?  How do I know what feels sad for me feels the same as sad for someone else?”

And I realized these weren’t questions of science but of empathy—the ability to put yourself in someone else’s situation, the quality of not necessarily intellectually understanding why people do what they do, why they feel what they feel, but the power to put yourself in their shoes, even temporarily.

This was about compassion.

I told him that the best we can do, limited creatures that we are, is to ask, to talk, and to care enough to ask and talk about what is important to other people—and then to listen—very carefully—when they respond, if we are lucky enough to get—to deserve—a response.

It’s about not dismissing people simply because they don’t do things the way we do.

It’s about knowing the way one person sees orange may not be the way you see orange.

And truly believing that for this mystery, for these differences, we should be grateful.

A conversation brought to me by a fifth-grader for which no high school class or Google search could have prepared me . . .

 

The Force of a Revelation

“We are so happy you are having fun, but, remember, you need to use your inside voices.”

The scene was the children’s room at our local library, the speaker, of course, one of the beleaguered librarians.  The recipients, my children . . . naturally.

IMG_8183They were loud; they were boisterous.  They were laughing the infectious laughter of childhood, the kind that starts in your belly and ends sometime shortly after middle age.

But no doubt they were disturbing others.  Or at least distracting them.

It is a library, after all.  People are there to do work, ostensibly, even in July.  At the very least they’re there for a semblance of peace and quiet and air-conditioning.

There is just one problem.

My children were not giggling with enviable delight over something they shouldn’t have been, weren’t running wildly through the stacks.  In the corner of the children’s room there is a wind machine—the likes of which you’d find in a children’s museum.  Next to the wind machine is a large container filled with foam discs, ribbons, small pieces of fabric.  Emblazoned across the wall near the machine are words like “science” and “discovery” and “experiment”—a veritable invitation to animated if not occasionally rowdy responses from those it beckons.

Children instinctively put the objects in the wind machine, watch them do some sort of dance involving physics I can’t explain, then pop out from four feet above and, invariably, land on their heads.  Cue the giggling.

Adults should be pleased that audible joy is the result—not just for the palliative benefits for our at times dampened spirits but for the fact that children are associating science with positivity, with wonder and excitement.

That is until someone tells you to use your inside voice.

Of course, in 2014, the euphemism of “inside voice” seems light years better than other importunities to “be quiet” or even “shush.” But the feeling inside the child is the same.  At best it’s temporary, but no matter it is always crushing, a metaphorical slap.

Standards of behavior exist, and they should.  A person who is going to a five-star restaurant for an elegant (expensive) meal should be able to expect a quiet, sophisticated experience free of clowns, dancing dogs—and, yes, rowdy children. Similarly, if a library expects quiet “inside” voices, it should not bring in objects that invite children to make noise—or at least place them where their very reasonable reactions will not intrude on the very reasonable expectations of others.

I took my children out of the library yesterday lest their persistence in enjoying themselves caught the attention of the librarian a second time.

As we exited as unobtrusively as possible, my children repeatedly asked me if they were “in trouble.”  I told them they were not but that the library needs to be a place of quiet so people can work and learn.

My five-year-old looked up at me and said, “But, Mom, I thought you said learning is messy and learning is fun.  You said that kids learn best when they’re playing.”

I told him that was true—sometimes—and sometimes it’s not, that it depends.

He crinkled his nose, and I saw something float off from the force of this revelation.  But this time there was nothing funny or whimsical about it–because it was a little piece of his childhood joy.

A Young Man’s Fancy

There is a lot of talk about marriage at our house, about weddings.

This is due in no small part to our five-year-old, who fell in love completely and unabashedly at age four and is now counting the days until his true love’s return.

So, the fact that our nearly ten-year-old would think about his future with a significant other is not particularly surprising.

“Mom, I don’t think I’ll ever get married,” he said, not a little forlornly, in the car yesterday afternoon.

IMG_8012We talked about why he thought that would be the case and, if he did, in fact, decide to, the type of person he would want to marry.

I expected him to say what a soon-to-be ten-year-old would say– “pretty,” “likes Minecraft and Cartoon Network and macaroni and cheese.”

But he didn’t.

Instead he looked out the window, lest he look at me, and said, “Smart.  And hard-working.”  Then he quickly added, “Caring and kind.”

And that was it.

He took his new swim shoes out of the bag and started fiddling with the Velcro strap.

Smart, hard-working, caring, and kind.

He may change his mind a thousand times between now and when he needs to make these decisions.

But I sure hope he doesn’t.