“Boy, you sure have your hands full”: the rebuttal

This isn’t what I usually write, or how I usually write. It’s actually a really great example, from the point of view of a professional writer, of why you shouldn’t write when you’re all het up—or why you shouldn’t press “send” right after you’ve written something that had you all het up. Think on it a bit. Emotional angst makes for great drama—it rarely makes for great writing in the moment. Too much confusion, cloudiness… self-absorption.

What the professional writer in me wants to do is to file this under “bad drafts,” come back to it three or four months hence when I don’t remember the incident that fired it, take the nugget of insight from it (generally found in the second-to-last one-sentence paragraph), and build a proper essay around it.

My inner child wants to publish it as is, because she’s wilful and has poor impulse control and it’s her blog, goddamit, and she’ll write what she wants.

The wilful inner child takes charge, grabs the lead and starts to write this:

I was rude to you the other day, I realize, and the soft, peace-making, acquiescing part of me wants to apologize. It’s not nice to be rude to people and I should have made some effort, taken the high road, etc. Etc. Especially as you weren’t malicious—nor rude to me, particularly. I was just tired of mediating with the world, and you were just… stupid, I think is the word I’m looking for.

The adult within asserts a little and starts to edit a little:

Damn, this apology is not going well. Stupid’s unfair. You may have been a perfectly intelligent, thinking person under most circumstances. With a flaw, perhaps: the desire to talk to strangers about the first thing that occurred to you. There’s probably nothing wrong with that trait. Probably helps you make friends in new places. You just had the bad fortune to select the wrong mother at the wrong time to talk at. I’m sorry.

There, that’s a better shot at an apology. And now, the inner child and its super-ego start to compromise and work together… They write this:

I suppose before I go any further, I should recap what you said—and what I did. So there I was in the library on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with my three kids. The seven-and-a-half-year-old (“I’m actually closer to eight, now, Mom, shouldn’t you say that?”) was checking out our stack of books at the self-check out. The ten-year-old was amusing the not-quite-three-year-old (“Amusing? Well, that’s one way of putting it, Mom.”). And I was lounging against the wall between them, occasionally toning down the volume on the amusement, and occasionally helping my checker-outer when the machine didn’t read the book codes properly. Last book went through the check out. I divided the books between four sets of arms, and said, “To the car, dudes.”

Arms full of books, the kids ran joyfully—and noisily—to the door. I followed more slowly.

And, somewhere from the periphery of my vision, you let out a (well-meaning) chuckle, and said, “Well, that’s what your day off looks like, doesn’t it.”

I half-turned my head to ascertain that you were talking at me, and then I said…

 Nothing.

I tried to offer one of those smiles of acknowledgement, but I suspect it didn’t come out genuine, because I didn’t particularly feel like smiling. I thought what you said was really silly—and I didn’t feel like offering any of the conventional responses you expected. What would they have been, anyway? What were you looking for? “That’s the way the cookie crumbles?” perhaps? Or “Good thing we love them?” Or something else that would validate your assumptions that a) this was my day “off”, b) that I’d rather be doing something else, c) that spending a Sunday afternoon at the library with my kids was somehow hard? I’d had a really tough, exhausting week, and this Sunday afternoon was, frankly, one of the week’s jewels, one of those moments in time that underscore just how good my life is. I wasn’t frazzled or ticked or yelling at the children (that was Thursday afternoon, but you weren’t there… wonder what you would have said then? “That’s what your day on looks like?”). My children were by no one’s compass behaving inappropriately or in a demanding, taxing manner (though by Zeus’ third testicle, on Tuesday they did). What the hell were you commenting on?

And as all this flew through my head at lightening speed, the fully rational part of me also knew I was completely over-reacting, because it had been a tough week and because I was tired and my defences were down, and you did not mean to be in any way rude, —you were just a friendly stranger trying to make conversation, and you said the first thing that came into your mind. So I tried to force that smile to be a little less fake, but I still said…

 Nothing.

You were a few steps behind me in the parking lot as we both walked to our cars. My children had raced ahead to mine. They opened the doors, and loaded themselves up into the card. You caught up to me. And said:

 “My daughter’s thinking of having a third, but looking at you, I don’t know—boy, it’s a lot of work.”

And I turned my head again, and looked at you, and said…

Nothing.

But I gave you The Look. I know I gave you The Look, because you took two steps back, and then almost ran to your car without half-a-backward glance at me. It’s possible I made you cry. I’ve never seen The Look on my own face, but I’ve bequeathed it to all three of my children, and I’ve seen it there, and it’s a pretty terrifying thing; it’s a “You’re too stupid to live, and you should leave my sight before I do something about it” kind of look, and apparently it frequently creeps onto my face during business meetings, and my colleagues, as well as the people who have the misfortune of being interviewed by me live and repeatedly, live in terror of me one day turning The Look on them (and my husband and children treat it as a sign of my undying, clearly unconditional love that no matter what they’ve done or said, I’ve never turned The Look on them… yet).

Anyway. I gave you The Look. You skedaddled. I got into the car.

“Can we put one of the new books on tape in?” the 10-year-old asked me, as the seven-year-old finished buckling up her little brother in his car seat. The books were piled around them.

“Sure,” I said. I started the car. He put the CD in.

As we drove home, I tried to parse what it was that you had done that ticked me off so.

 “Well, that’s what your day off looks like, doesn’t it.”

“My daughter’s thinking of having a third, but looking at you, I don’t know—boy, it’s a lot of work.”

Two sentences. Kindly meant, really. What’s ticking me off here? Is it that you interfered in a moment I was having with my children. Sunday afternoon. At the library. The four of us. Chilling. Not performing for you, or awaiting your commentary.

Mothers today live essentially in constant defensive mode from verbal assaults—er, commentary—from well-meaning strangers.

This mother’s tired of it, and is done responding to it. See me in the park or the grocery store with my kids? Whether we’re in a moment of bliss or a moment of strife, it’s our moment, and it’s none of your business. The only two acceptable comments from a stranger to a mother (or father) in a public place are:

 a. What a beautiful family you have.

and, its more effusive variant,

 b. How lucky you are to have such a lovely family.

Feel compelled to say something else? Shut up.

Was that it? The above rant notwithstanding, no, not really. A little—it sure didn’t help—but not really. It wasn’t even that your comments were so completely… inaccurate. I mean, there are plenty of times when I’m out in public with the brood when it does look like hard work. Like the time I had to get Cinder to sit on Ender at the deli while I paid so that I wouldn’t have to buy $200 worth of broken jars of imported honey and olives. Or the time… well, anyway. There are times. This wasn’t one of them.

But even if it was—here’s what really got me—even if it was. Even if it looked like hard work. You vocalized the thing that I’m convinced will be the reason Western society collapses:

 You think if something’s a lot of work, it’s not worth doing.

Is having three children hard work? A lot of work? Having any children? Yes. It requires effort. But everything worthwhile does. My work requires effort. Living in my community requires effort. Maintaining relationships and lines of communication. Eating well. Learning a language. Unlearning bad habits. Cleaning house. Gardening. Fixing your car. Making supper. Some days, getting out of bed in the morning.

It all requires effort. And it’s all worth doing.

If I didn’t do things that were hard work, I’d… I don’t know. Sit on my ass watching bad tv because it was too hard to find the lost remote and too hard to get off the couch? Watch life and opportunity and everything pass me by because it was too much work to seize the moment, make the change, do the thing I wanted to do?

My fingers pause over the keyboard. I’m not sure how to end this rant, which isn’t quite going where it started out heading. Then Ender putters in. He’s carrying a giant, giant rock. Into the kitchen—which means, he must have lugged it in from the garden, up the two flights of stairs.

“This hard work,” he says, with an oof, as he plops down for a rest beside me. “This hard work for a little me.” And I look at him in awe, because what’s the first thing that I was going to say in response to this amazing feat of toddler strength? I think it probably was going to be, “Then why did you do it?”

Ender gives another oof. “This hard work for a little me.” He looks with pride at the stone. “Me did it.”

You did it, dude. And that’s that.

Inner Child Art --Rescued!

Inner Child Art –Rescued! (Photo credit: Urban Woodswalker)

Post-script: So. The writer in me sat on this draft long enough that my seven-and-a-half year-old is now eight and change. But the inner child still wants to share it with you more or less in its original form. And she still has poor impulse control. Plus, her super-ego is rather tired this week.

Blogger love: I got the nicest cyber ego stroke from one of my absolute favourite daddy bloggers, @PapaAngst last week, in his post Balsa Wood Forever, and you should wander over to meet him if you don’t know him already. Actually calling him a daddy blogger does not do him justice: He’s a daddy and a blogger, but what he is, on line, is a story-crafter and talented writer. Who knows how to work his inner child just right.