A Plea to Consider the Backstory

By Monday afternoon we were all feeling the effects. 

On Sunday night, due to the festive arrival of a six-foot evergreen in our diningroom, no one got to bed when they were supposed to.  So, we all greeted Monday more than a little sleep-deprived; and if Mondays weren’t hard enough and long enough already, sleep deprivation only made things worse.

We arrived home.   I pulled up in front of our house.  August was crying inconsolably for reasons I still don’t know.  Oscar and Edgar were in the throes of a vociferous disagreement.  There were grocery bags and backpacks and lunch boxes to bring in.  Dinner had not even been contemplated.    There was homework to squeeze in.

Oscar bounded into the house first–fresh from LEGO Club and eager to engage with a recent masterpiece.  His unsteadiness brought on by exhaustion caused him to trip and drop a creation on which he had spent an inordinate amount of time.  The fruits of his labor resided in hundreds of tiny pieces on the floor. 

He came out onto the porch as I worked to empty the car and let loose a barrage of language that would have made a seven-year-old sailor blush. 

And one of our neighbors was standing there–and heard it all.  And this neighbor said in response to Oscar’s display, “Well, I guess there’s one in every family.”

My response was quick, admittedly curt, and clear.  And it reeked of a parent’s protective defense of her child.

I have gone over a thousand times what my neighbor might have meant.  And I have finally concluded that the intent, while worth considering, is largely immaterial.  What matters is how it was perceived.  The comment implied that Oscar was that “one” in “every family”–the one people obligatorily invite to gatherings, the one people alternately talk about and dismiss, the one who isn’t quite like the others, the one who is volatile, unpredictable, the one whose histrionics make the rest of the family uncomfortable.

But Oscar is seven.  And whether the comment was meant to be funny or not, he is a child.  And he was tired–really tired; and something on which he had worked hard had been ruined–albeit temporarily. 

This person may have meant to be humorous, may have read in me my own propensity for sarcasm, yes, even where my children are concerned. But the person who made the comment did not know the backstory of that particular moment, did not know my own particular history–the fact that I had been raised by that “one in every family,” did not know what Oscar’s particular biological history might have been, didn’t think what a child’s reaction to that comment–had he heard it–might have been.

Did I speak to Oscar about his behavior?  Of course.  And right on cue, and in a move that proved Oscar is anything but that “one in every family,” he then asked if he should apologize to our neighbor.

And, honestly, I still don’t know how to answer him.


2 thoughts on “A Plea to Consider the Backstory

  1. Every family should have the good fortune to have at least one Oscar in the the family.
    I am extremely proud of who he was, who he is, and have no doubt that I will be proud of who he will become as an adult.

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