Zen and the Art of Inclusion: How to Show Gratitude to the Parent Who Excluded Your Kid


To the mom who (repeatedly) didn’t invite my kid to her kid’s parties, I want to start off by saying two, little words to you. Thank you. No, seriously! I’m not being facetious. Thank YOU. I have spent my whole life trying to understand what you have just taught my child in one, unfair swoop.

When you chose, for whatever reason (frugality, early onset dementia, or a massive brain fart) to exclude my child (and only my child – magically everyone else was there!) from your child’s special activities – and therefore taught your child that it was okay to continue such exclusion during the school day – you were offering a very important treatise on life. Namely that there are assholes in this world. And they are everywhere, even where they are least expected to be.

Trust me – following the amount of tears that those actions have caused, it was an invaluable lesson that won’t be easily forgotten. By either of us. But here’s why that’s important and why I’m thanking you now. Because life is full of people like you. And your child. People who are callous, unempathetic and just plain rude.

People like you will someday fill the spots in her life as teachers, bosses, frenemies and maybe even in-laws. But that’s just how it goes. And we can’t make it better by wishing or trying or pleading with the higher reasoning of the unwaveringly cruel. Some people just don’t care about others. And they never will, no matter how many smiles are flashed their way or kind acts are offered in their direction.

So, now, thanks to you, my kid knows the truth about the big, bad world. Life isn’t fair. People are mean. Even people that we think of as friends. I expected a big, scowling bully to teach her that. Or a nun with a ruler in hand. Or maybe even a street thug – you know, the kind that they always show on T.V. But, I absolutely didn’t expect it would come from your direction.

Needless to say, though it happened earlier than I thought it would, it’s over and done now. The innocence of childhood utopia is finished for my daughter and now it’s off to the starting gates of adolescence. So, again, I say thank you for stripping her of this cumbersome youthful happiness and showing her what it really means to be human.

Thank you, also, for teaching her, through example, exactly what I have been trying to teach all along. How NOT to act and how NOT to treat others. As a parent, I have always taught the “Golden Rule” to my child. Tried with every effort to plaster it into all layers of her conscious and unconscious mind. Sometimes, though, as with all verbal lessons, I have felt that it has fallen on deaf ears. But, not now. I think she gets it. Finally and completely. Knowing firsthand what the pain of rejection and exclusion feels like, I am certain she will never do that to someone else. At least, I hope not.

Believe me when I tell you it hasn’t always been a picnic for us to extend birthday invitations to the entire class. The expense has often been A LOT and I’ve had to work hard to restrain my cheapo instincts from using the line “sorry, your invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.” Like it or not, we’ve always sucked it up and included everyone in our parties. Everyone! From the whiny kid that always tattles on others to the infectious kid who likes to smear cake icing with their booger-y fingers. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it has always been the right thing to do.

You see, in our household, the feelings of others matter. They factor into our decision-making process almost always because we realize that none of us is a universe unto ourselves. How we treat other people is important since our actions are like a ripple in a pond. Our life is a silly chain of dominos, endlessly clinking one against the next. We can pretend to live in a bubble, untouched by others, unable to bring about change, but inevitably we are all linked. And our actions are the very creations of tomorrow’s new horizons. For better or worse.

All of that aside – regardless of what you do or have done, regardless of the way my daughter found out about your kid’s awesome parties that she was never invited to attend (for whatever reason, it was never clear), regardless of the ripple effect that has since ensued on the playground (since kids are so easily swayed to act like their favorite alpha-kid), and regardless of the rage I felt towards you as her tears grazed my shoulder when she came home a sad mess – we would still invite your child to her party. Because that’s just who we are. And what you are, whatever you choose to teach your family, will NOT be allowed to shape what we do. The “Golden Rule” still lives strong under our roof and even your thoughtlessness won’t change that.

Soon enough, it will be time for another birthday party. Ours, not yours. I will be addressing envelopes and stuffing cards, tucking them in neatly and with great care. Even though a large, maternal part of me wants to tell you that your kid’s invitation just got lost in the mail, I won’t. Because it won’t. Unless, of course, it does. But, if so, it won’t be my fault. Rather, it would be the fault of the US Postal Service. And, if that day should come, I will only offer you one last word to go with my previous two. Karma!

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How to Throw an Awesome Pity Party


I’ve been feeling down lately. I mean, really down. Like so far down into the turnpike of the blues that all I want to do is cry, sleep and zone out with mindless TV. I know I’m not alone. I mean, I feel alone. I feel like no one cares and that my purpose in life is questionable. But, I know that I’m not special in this feeling. Others have felt this way a billion times over. It’s not a condition unique to me.

But it’s dumb. It’s not like I have a real reason. No one in our family is dying. We aren’t refugees forced to flee our home. No one has been indicted for a crime they didn’t commit. Heck, at the moment, I don’t even have a hang-nail, a paper cut or a neck spasm (which is rare for me, truly). But even though times seem fortuitous and everyone in my house is clothed, sheltered, fed and in good health, I just can’t get out of this funk.

So, despite all of this, in the thick of such deep emotions, I have felt it necessary to have a party. A pity party, no less. And, since I’m throwing one on a semi-daily basis, I thought it would be helpful to put together a “how-to” guide for all of those awesome people who have never indulged.

 ***

Step One: Make a mountain out of a molehill 

Now, for those who don’t already know, molehills are small and mountains are big. So, your goal is to take something really tiny and make it the size of the sun. But, make sure there aren’t any cracks in it or the mountain won’t maintain its height. And, you’re going to need that height in order to scale the madness like a martyr and make a non-issue into an issue.

Step Two: Read between the lines

So, there are things that people say. And then there are the words, hidden between parsed lips, that hold the real meanings to what they have said. Learn to differentiate between the two. For example, when one of the insanely involved PTA moms says, “What have you been up to lately?” she is really asking, “Why haven’t you volunteered more, you lazy cow!?” Understanding the subtleties of hidden language and learning how to decode it is key to the pity party process.

Step Three: Make connections where none exist

Remember last Tuesday? Some of your friends were talking about a yoga class they all attended en masse. And they didn’t even think to invite you! Clearly, it can only mean one thing – they hate you. But that’s just the beginning.

The book you’ve been trying to get published has been rejected, again – so, you are a talentless twit. A thoughtful meme you posted on Facebook didn’t get a single “like” – you have no friends. Your house has been on the market for five months and hasn’t sold – the universe must hate you, too. Your kid didn’t get a part in that school play – you failed them on every level. Be sure to notice how one thing has a cross-connection with something else. Always. And, even though, in a court of law, your opinion could not be backed with any traceable form of proof, you feel like it’s right. So, golly, it must be!

Step Four: Hold unreal expectations

This is a great step because it is really the key to having an epic pity party. Maybe you always dreamed of being a CEO by the time you were 40, but instead you’re 38, pregnant and folding your family’s towels for the 9,077th time. Maybe you feel like there is some unspoken rule about iPhone etiquette in the presence of company that your friend just doesn’t follow to your liking. Or perhaps you think your husband should finally, after 20 years of marriage, know where the Lysol resides in the cabinet. But he doesn’t. And he never will. Holding on to unreal expectations, in any setting, can bring about the biggest disappointments in life (read: the best fodder for the blues).

Step Five: Dwell on the negative

This is the final step, and without it the party would not be complete. Hold on, with vigor, to all things morose and grim. When something good happens, wait for something bad to take its place. When something bad happens, wait for things to get worse. And if they don’t get worse, keep waiting. But, while you’re waiting, reflect on all of the other bad things that have happened to you. Ever. And try to go back to step three, just to see if there are any new, negative connections you can make that haven’t already been visited before.

 ***

After having done all of these things, let me assure you, a pity party will be epic and unavoidable. Probably the best one of your life. And, by best, I mean ABSO-effing-LUTELY worst. Party. EVER! So, go solo. Bring a box of tissues. Hang out in your comfiest pajamas. And cry until you’ve gotten it all out of your system. And then, when you snap out of it, maybe you can throw a party. For real.

The Truth About Santa (and other people)


There comes a time in every child’s life when the leaps of faith in fantastical beings (like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus) get trampled and overtaken by more mature thoughts of probability, pragmatism and logic. My friend’s daughter reached that stage this past weekend. There were some tears (from both sides). They had a talk. And, then that evening she left her daughter a note that she would find when she awoke. Here is what that note said:

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To back up a little, this girl has been a “believer” in all things big and small since she was a mere tot. And, her mom had a huge part in shaping those beliefs. They basked in every holiday, adding magical lore and fanciful figures to each and every celebration.

At Christmas, the traditional tales of Santa were told, as well as many untraditional stories her mom made up. These stories explained everything from why there were different Santa’s at every mall, how he made it to all of the world’s houses in one night, and of course the amazing “Santa election process!”

At Easter there was an Easter Bunny. But, unlike most that just leave Peeps and cheap trinkets, he would instead leave plastic eggs with scavenger hunt clues that lead to a bigger prize in the end. And then the Tooth Fairy – she left glittered notes and a magical two dollar bill in exchange for each tooth lost. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me! Of course, the story behind why she needed children’s teeth became very intricate and had something to do with powering an entire city. Ever heard of “tooth juice?” Yea, me neither, but her mom did and that was a whole other topic of its own!

Yes, my friend had created a very elaborate world of lovely folklore that her daughter ate up with delight. The very best of them all, however, was the Elf. You know, those elves that everyone displays during the holidays. That brilliant Elf on the Shelf from which some ladies amassed and empire?! Yes, those! My friend had gone above and beyond each Christmas season, preparing intricate and exciting Elf displays. Each year had a theme. The first year started off small, with little inspirational quotes.

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The following year got more educational, with the elf embodying notable figures throughout history. (If you want to see all of them, go here. They are pretty darn cool! http://www.boredpanda.com/inspirational-elf-on-the-shelf/)

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And last year, the Elf went all out reenacting scenes from movies. (More here: http://www.boredpanda.com/the-quotable-elf/)

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It was pretty great!

But now it can be no more. Her daughter no longer believes! I know I was sad to learn of this new reality. And I wondered, in my time of pondering, was there anything wrong with instilling such a detailed belief system only to have it shatter and fall to the ground one day?!

The answer is simply: of course not! By telling these stories and keeping this mythology alive, she did a wonderful thing for her daughter. Though it’s not quite how we do things in our house, I understand the logic (or madness!) behind it. She gave her child something we are quite lacking today – the gift of imagination, belief in something grand as well as pure and simple joy. Even though none of it was real, even though some could contend it was nothing more than a web of lies, it was done with love and the good intentions of a parent who wanted nothing more than to give her daughter some special childhood memories. And, that’s pretty great, if you ask me – a cynical girl who always knew such things didn’t exist.

Maybe those tears they shed together were necessary. Maybe this conversation about the “truth” was hard. But, from what I hear, it also ended in hugs and a new sense of wonder. This time, though, the elation existed over what *other* things they could create, together, that could be just as fun as an Elf, a city run on tooth juice and a fat guy who delivers good memories for all! And, boy, I can’t wait to see what they come up with together!

Life (A Poem)


I’m not usually one for poems, but I dug this out of a drawer – something I had written while in the depths of despair and loss years ago. I hope to send it along the channels for those who have been touched by loss in Orlando and beyond. Life isn’t fair, it’s true. But, when we find the goodness in our communities, there can still be much for which we can be grateful.

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Life isn’t fair
and it never will be,
but it continues on
like the old oak tree.
Its branches swing
in the cool, crisp air.
Its leaves grow anew
without any care.
Its roots grow strong
in the deep brown soil.
And it always carries on
regardless of turmoil.

 
Life isn’t fair
though we wish it were.
We weep and cry,
console and confer.
When times get hard
it’s difficult to see
that there is a reason
for this life, for you and for me.
We sometimes drown
in an ocean of despair,
for a time so endless
it seems without repair.

 
Life isn’t fair
though we try to make it so.
We do our best to live
until it’s time to go.
We try to rise up happy
and grateful for each day.
We aim to make a better place
for those along the way.
Often despite our efforts
we come upon a wall
and find that our best actions
are no help when others fall.

 
Life isn’t fair,
no complaint will change this fact.
It’s a truth, inconsolable,
not hypothetical or abstract.
Life has no senses,
it cannot see or hear.
It doesn’t worry over things
or cower under fear.
Life is just a progression,
the growth of everything.
It moves with an even ebb and flow,
but it pauses for no one, for nothing.

 
Life isn’t fair
and it never will be
but it continues on.
Watch and you will see.
A place is made for all
though temporary it will last.
What is here today will
someday be the past.
What will come tomorrow
will be a question mark.
A riddle with no answer,
a shot in the dark.

 
Life isn’t fair
but it reveals this –
when our dreams are lost,
when our best intentions miss,
when we come up short
and lose along the way,
when we fall apart
and wish not to stay,
when it gets too big,
too much for us to hold,
when our greatest senses
are left out in the cold –

 
Life isn’t fair
we shouldn’t expect as much,
but life can still be worthy
of our gentle, human touch.

 

 

 

Troubled People: Part 2 (A Hand in the Crowd)


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The end of the school year often brings about a plethora of evening gatherings and events, celebrating and showcasing the work that students have done for the entirety of the school year. At my daughter’s school, this was very much the case with their Annual Family Night presentations. They had worked hard for the entire semester perfecting their speaking abilities and mastering their knowledge on one topic. And this night, this event, was rather like the crown jewel in their efforts. The cherry on top of the sundae that was a strained and loathed curriculum.

My daughter, who was not too eager to step into the limelight, slunk through it all with the ease of any wallflower, wishing her part would come and go without notice, praying away the minutes until it was time to leave. And I would be remiss if I weren’t secretly admitting the same. Not from a shyness standpoint (though I am, painfully), but really from a boredom standpoint. Not boredom about her topic (which was the tropical rainforest, by the way – see, I do listen!). Really just distracted detachment due to the plight of being there as an unfocused mother of another child, one who was three-years old and headed for a meltdown.

After the first hour of doing everything in my power to maintain a wrestling hold on my little squirming monster, I was pretty well spent long before her grade level was even on the brink of stepping out. I kept checking my watch, hoping the time would magically whiz by in a rush of warp speed. All I could think about was the bedtime we would be late to catch, the punch-drunkedness that was starting to take effect on my little guy, and how to keep him from saying his new favorite word (poopy) at the top of his lungs. No small feat!

Of course, we were in the middle of the middle row, so I could neither escape quickly nor with any sort of grace. But, the time was coming. I knew I had literally minutes before the ticking time bomb of a toddler would go off. Countdown was already happening – it was just a matter of when!

I kept checking the exits, measuring whose legs were longest and which direction would be the best point of leave. I glanced at the back, looking for a safe spot where I could take my cantankerous son while still being able to watch my daughter. Ever hopeful that I could live in both worlds at once – like all good mothers. And, of course, it felt like I was the only one in the auditorium suffering through this sort of ordeal. Everyone else had older children, better behaved children. Silent babies. Mannerly toddlers. And they also had complete focus on the videos they were recording. Complete involvement in the world we were so focused on removing ourselves from.

Just as I could hear it, the start of my son’s soliloquy of potty words, I made a mad scramble for the exit. I jumbled through the legs of many, reciting a pitiful “sorry” and “excuse me” with intermittent bouts of eye contact and half-hearted smiles. In the moment of my passing, I was blocking parents from seeing their kids’ presentations. Snickers could be heard. And over that, my son’s loud voice was starting to cause a ruckus. We were both, together, ruining the moment. I felt like a pariah. Like the person who was responsible for wrecking the night. Like the one that all eyes were watching.

Though I know so many of the moms who were present had been in my shoes before, I couldn’t help but feel a little judged. If I were able to hear their thoughts, I was certain they would have sounded like: “Why can’t she keep her son quiet?” “Looks like she’s raising a brat!” “Where’s her husband?” “Why did she sit so close to the front?” “Does she even have a kid in this school? I’ve never seen her at a PTA meeting!” “One word, lady: babysitter!”

Just as I made it to the back, I saw her. You know, the mom that all the other moms talk about. As I passed, I noticed a faint smell of whisky looming in the air around her. Her dark, curly hair was a slight birds’ nest of a mess. Her clothes, ill fitting, aimed desperately to be professional in appearance, though fell short because of the small specks of food (or something) that had stained the corner of her lapel. I watched her for a moment, almost gawking that someone was more awkward than me – me with my over-tired babbling boy, screaming through the rows about his new found fecal philia.

This mom, she clapped ferociously after every child’s pause in speech. And sometimes when they weren’t yet done. She cheered occasionally the way that college girls do at Mardi Gras when they catch a string of beads. A long “WHHOOOOOOOOOHOOOO,” even raising up her hands as if she were on an amusement park ride. And toward the end, she started throwing out phrases like an eager and raucous church lady, saying “Uh huh, that’s right” or “You tell ‘em!” And to one of the boys she even stood up and said “You go, girl.”

In my prior haste to get to the back of the room, I had noticed the thick and steaming snickers of judgement pervading the air around me. Because I can be a bit self-centered, I had misinterpreted it to think that they were all aimed at me. But they weren’t. Not most of them, anyway. After watching for a moment, I realized that they had been directed at this mom. The mom that all the other moms avoid.

Finally, as it was time for her daughter and my daughter (who were in the same class) to make their presentations, I noticed the kids shuffling out with timid confusion. They each came out in a small groups, mumbling briefly into a dusty old microphone before scooting off into the shadows. I was able to catch my daughter’s presentation before she scurried off with the rest. She had been so nervous, but when she saw us in the audience, even though we had moved so far to the back, she smiled with ease and seemed to instantly relax. The juxtaposition between my daughter and her classmate, however, was profound.

This woman’s little girl seemed to have the opposite reaction when she saw her mother. Her otherwise fearless countenance flickered with a hint of panic. You could tell she was holding back tears – tears of disappointment, tears of upset, tears of sorrow. She seemed to have the whole weight of the world on her tiny shoulders, aware of all that could, and probably did, go wrong when her mother was in this “state.” And her mom, who was near us, rose from her seat to a standing position and projected louder her boozy pride from the distance. Clearly the daughter wanted to quickly hurry into the shadows, too.

The evening’s event ended as they always do, with a big heap of gratitude offered from the flustered and ever-perspiring Principal. I walked through the crowd, with my tired son wriggling in my arms, on the quest to round up my daughter to go home. As I did, I overheard a lot of people’s conversations. Most of them, sadly, were about the mom with the drinking problem. The one the other moms wish would just go away.

They talked about how unfortunate it was. How sad for the girl. How many days on the wagon she had been before falling off again. There were even a few guesses about how many drinks she had drunk before coming. And how many more she would have when she got home. Everyone was talking about her. But no one was helping. No one was even considering lending a hand.

Not that there was a lot anyone could do, right? Our culture is one that recognizes problems and then just expects the person to suck it up and move forward. But how? How does one do that if they are living with a debilitating mental condition? How can they get help if the “village” has moved to the other side of their reach, thereby cutting them off from community or the support needed to get such help?

I didn’t know enough about her to answer those questions. And I wasn’t a therapist (unlike one of the other moms, who should have known better than to be so…cruel). But what I did know was that she had not long ago moved here from another city. She was a little rough around the edges, sure. She hadn’t ever really folded into the mix in terms of the group of moms at the school, obviously. But then again, neither had I. We were kind of the same. Both subject to the scoffing of other more perfect parents. Both feeling outside of the loop. Both hampered by big, loud diversions that caused constant embarrassment. Yet, despite our flaws, both of us were here to support (loudly or otherwise) our daughters.

Maybe because I saw myself in her a little (minus the Jim Beam infusion), I decided later on that I would stop being one of those people whose actions and deeds didn’t match. If I spoke of concern, I would act on it. If I thought someone needed help, I would offer it. And if I presented myself as a friend, I would actually be one. Not like those other parents. The ones who sat and judged everyone else, wishing away all those things/people that weren’t perfect.

We can’t save the world. No! But we can be real and show real concern for people in our communities. And maybe that small impact can make a larger ripple in the lives of those we would have otherwise cast aside. Just offering to be that friendly hand in the crowd may save someone’s life.

Troubled People: Part 1 (Pushing Buttons)


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If you’re a parent, and you’ve seen Despicable Me, you may remember that scene in the beginning of the movie when Gru makes a balloon animal for a little boy, only to pop it a few seconds later. Yeah. Well, something similar happened to my son. And naturally, I was furious! Beyond furious, in fact. So livid that I had visions of flattening tires, keying sedan doors, and punching (yes, punching) testicles of the guy who was responsible. All very mature responses, no?

What happened was this: We were making our weekly trip to the library for story time one afternoon. At this library, there are double doors that open outward. Next to those doors, there is also a button that will automatically open them when pushed – either as a helpful service for the disabled, people with arms full of books or toddlers with a serious button fetish. As anyone with a small child can attest, these are the simple pleasures that kids love most. Pushing buttons. Especially little, round, gray buttons with magical door-opening powers! My son is no exception. In fact, whenever we go to this library, it is the one thing he does with such zeal, I would almost believe it to be his sole purpose in life. (Not really, though a doorman’s costume would look cute on him!)

On this particular afternoon, my son made a bee-line to the door exclaiming – “I want to push the button!” That was his usual phrase of delight, as he would run to the door, squealing in the ecstasy of what was to come. However, since he and my daughter have had their turmoil (read: pushing, pinching, and screaming battles) as of late, I thought I would try to teach him a lesson in courtesy and the importance of not always going first. So, I let my daughter have the first turn to push the button (since she never gets the chance) and then I explained to my son that we could wait until the doors closed for him to have his turn. His desire was hampered a bit by the seeming unfairness, but he sucked it up without so much as a whine or whimper and stood patiently by the door waiting for them to close so he could have his turn. Pretty good behavior, I thought, for a three year old!

Since our library is never particularly busy and we weren’t in any particular rush, it wasn’t a big deal to wait another minute and have them take turns in this way. In fact, as a parenting tool, this library’s button door system is a pretty good way to teach my children the virtues of patience and waiting for their time to do a task. In the past, I looked on this need to always press the button as another headache induced by overly curious kids. But more recently I have come to see it as a great tool as well as a treasured (and cheap) means of entertainment.

During the minute that passed from my daughter’s turn before my son’s, none of the patrons had entered or exited. There was no real hustle or bustle at this place. It was as calm as a country road. That is, until it wasn’t. Until “the incident” happened.

As the doors were finally making their close, and the twinkle in my son’s eyes glimmered with a similar excitement as it does on Christmas morning, out of nowhere walked a man. A tall adult man wearing a tank top and flip flops. He held no books in his hands. And he held no sorrow for what he was about to do. Despite seeing a mother and her patient son waiting quietly for a turn at the coveted button, or maybe in spite of it, he walked ever closer to our side of the entrance, reached out his hand, and pushed the button for himself right at the very moment that my son had just lifted his tiny finger.

I looked up at the man as he whizzed right past us, neck redder than a beet, a hint of sweat and noxious cologne swirling in the air around him. All I could hear was the word “sorry” he had verbally flung at us prior to pressing the button. Yeah. Sorry in the same manner that a bully would say it right before giving a wedgie or flinging a lunch tray onto the floor. “Sorry.” Not sorry. Not the least little tiny bit. Premeditated. Purposeful. Hateful. Rude.

What kind of person would do something like that, especially to a child, was all I kept thinking. And by the look on my daughter’s face, who had seen the whole thing from the lobby, she felt the same way. After all, in her eyes only she could be mean to her little brother – who was this guy to take her job?!

Our mouths stood agape for a collective moment. A sense of shock washed over me and a look of sadness washed over my son’s face. Here I was, trying to be a good mom, seeking to teach my kids about taking turns and accepting patience as a natural part of our time sharing this planet with others. And, in one fell finger swoop from a stranger, I now had another lesson to teach: that the world was sometimes a big, bad, mean place.

Before this cruel stranger traipsed too far across the lobby floor, my full-blown attack mom armor formed and I came after him with the only weapon I had: my words. I started by calling him a jerk (believe me, if my kids and our favorite librarian weren’t present, I would have had a few other words to say!). Then I told him that my son had clearly been waiting to press that button. I asked him why he would do that to a small child. And then I called him mean.

Barely giving any notice and certainly showing no remorse, he casually looked back at us, shrugged his bare shoulders and said in the very most arrogant way, “I said sorry.” Sorry. Still not sorry. Not the least little bit.

I repeated that he was a jerk. Not that it did any good. I wished I could have opened the flood gates of obscenities. I had visions of following him into the library. Taking his picture. Posting it to social media. Alerting the world that THIS IS WHAT AN A**HOLE LOOKS LIKE. Taking pleasure in others agreeing that he “looks” like one, indeed. But, that would have only made things worse. I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I scooped up my son, grabbed the hand of my daughter, and took them into story time as was our intended purpose.

My son was forlorn for a little while afterwards. He later talked about it with me at home. We all talked about it, in fact. We discussed how some people are mean and it makes us angry, but how even still (or despite that) we should never be mean because of it. I told them that we have to be good in order to balance the bad in the world. That was our job!

After the day was done and I had tucked them snugly into their beds at night, I thought more about what would cause a person to be so ugly and cruel for no reason. And it struck me hard that maybe he hadn’t experienced the same patience, conscientiousness, or love from his mother as I was trying to teach my own children. Maybe when he was three, he only received a slap on the head or a pat on the bottom rather than a word or encouragement or direction. In other words, maybe this guy was troubled. Maybe he hadn’t been cared for in the least little tiny bit. And he was doing the same thing little kids do when they can’t express themselves properly: acting out.

Suddenly my anger melted away into a pool of compassion. I felt sorry for him. A true sort of “sorry.” A whole big lot of it. I mean, I still thought he was a jerk, but I felt sad for him. When it’s all said and done, my son will have plenty of chances to push that button. But that course and hostile guy will probably miss out on a lot of the simple joys of life because he is so bent on making the world suffer for whatever it is he has lost.

Instead of wanting to key his car or call him all of the bad words I could remember, what I really wanted to do was hug my children a little more fiercely when they woke up, so they would never be counted among the world’s troubled or unloved.

Who knows?! Maybe it’s not like that at all for that guy. Maybe his backstory wasn’t sad and the cause of his brash behavior was without reason. Maybe his parents were stellar and his upbringing picture perfect. But whatever made him feel compelled to crush the tiny joy of a three year old is beside the point. All that matters, all that we can control, is where we go from here. We choose goodness. Compassion. Kindness. And, you know, maybe next time I will also choose to body-block that button, just in case the world isn’t as kind as we aim to be!

We Are Who We Are


The social world, for me, has always been an awkward thing to navigate. Especially now that I’m a mom. I always hoped, in my youth, that these things would get easier as I aged, but…nope…they haven’t.

I am essentially the same string-bean girl with pigtails and dusty, white-canvas Keds that I was in grade school. Only now, I’ve added some girth, dropped the ‘do and opted for dusty Nikes instead. In essence, I have grown into a larger form of my same self. But haven’t we all, really? Isn’t that what aging, growing, maturing is all about? Becoming yourself in a bigger version?! Well, sort of…

The sad fact is that though we do age and we do grow, we don’t always change. I’m starting to see the cracks in my own development and have noticed, through the course of PTA meetings and play-dates, how I am the same person I was in school. And I’m starting to sense that this is true for most people, as well. For better or worse.

I’m sure everyone knows the typical archetypes that play out repetitively, either in the schoolyard or outside of it. There is always a popular person – that one special soul everyone wants to know or emulate. And, equally important, there is the life of the party – someone who is so comfortable in their skin that they make everything seem lighthearted and fun.

And then there others, like the helper (who you can rely on for anything), the organizer (who is able to get things done) or the clown (who helps lift your mood). Each of these people were born with the innate ability to be one with themselves and offer a skill to the world that has an absolute value. They are needed. They are loved. They are celebrated. From cradle to grave.

Then there are other, less-desirable types who make our time on Earth less pleasurable. There is the braggart – he always looks to one-up your experiences or make your talents/abilities/fortunes seem nominal in comparison to his own. The snob, similar to the braggart, is never able to find contentment within their surroundings.

Of course, there is also the social-climber – someone who is friends with you just long enough to use you for their gain…and then leave. Their cousin, the back-stabber, equally has no sense of honor when it comes to allegiances and will sell you out in a heartbeat for a pack of gum.

But, worst of all, a fixture of all playground drama, is the bully. The bully is able to embody all of these negative aspects on the inside, while somehow hiding them so well under the exterior of one of the other, more positive characters, she will often go unrecognized by most. Yes, in the adult world there are still bullies. In my case, she was the mom with long blonde hair and a tray full of cookies.

This awkwardness I felt around her had lasted for a couple of years. We would encounter one another at school carnivals, children’s birthday parties, book fairs and holiday events. We would say hello to each other. Fake smiles. Wave in carpool. But, what I didn’t know was that under the surface of smiles and years of forced conversations, she was seething with animosity towards me. It was totally unprovoked. And it was not in my head.

The cause, I would later come to find out, was because four years before I had posted an article on Facebook about the devastation big families cause the environment. I didn’t say anything damning. I just posted the article with a response that “this is why I will only have one kid.” Obviously, I didn’t only have one kid, so that logic flew out the window. But it was just a silly article I chose to share years ago. One that held very little value over my life, but one that she saw as a personal attack to her family of seven and, therefore, felt the need to cause my destruction.

I always felt the sense of something being “off.” I knew, for whatever reason, that she didn’t like me. Not really. But I was okay with it. It bugged me. I didn’t understand it. But, I dealt with it. That was, until the veneer came off and her reasoning for disliking me bled over into her reasoning others to do the same.

Under hushed tones, I know she whispered about how my “sad little career” was a joke in comparison with her own, thriving business. I discovered how she had adopted some of my friends as her new “besties” and asked them pointed questions about how they could feel comfortable having an atheist (meaning me) influencing their children during play dates. To my best knowledge, I had held very little impact influencing anyone to do anything…but that was beside the point.

I started to feel sorry for her, how insecure she must be, how lonely – until I realized that I was the one! Insecure. Lonely. A loner. And I had always been. Because of people like her. It was her very ilk which had marked me from the start, put me in my box, and left me there like a prisoner. For my entire life.

Schoolyard drama had never ended. It had just shifted. Grown. Increased in its value in my life. Perhaps in all other lives. It was all the same as it had ever been. And, no matter how much older I got, not a darn thing would change that fact. Worse still was the fact that I was passing it along to my own children to repeat and rediscover. A family of loners. Alone, again. Naturally.

So, now that I watch my daughter, in all of her social experiments (some floundering, some faltering), I worry about the thing that plagued me more than bad hair and orthodontic halitosis: the unrequited friendship. It is the sure-fired fast track path to becoming a loner. And loners are easy fodder for bullies.

When I was a kid, I remember always wanting to be friends with people who were not quite as interested in me as I was with them. There was never an equal footing and, as a result, the ones I considered to be my best friends were people who only regarded of me as “okay.” Sadly, sometimes, I see this path coming along the horizon with my daughter. So, my new goal, as any parent’s would be, is to nip this in the bud.

There have been times when she comes home in tears after being excluded from a game or told about a birthday party to which she was not invited. In those moments, I coach her as fervently as I coach that hurt little girl in dusty Keds, the one I used to be.

Simply, to both wounded children, I explain that these things happen. People get left out. But it doesn’t diminish the worth of the outsider. The outsider just has to harness this feeling and treat others better than they were treated. They need to learn to dance to their own songs and sing to their own rhythm. They need to bask in the beauty of silence and live with the knowledge that observation makes them kings. And, more importantly than any other lesson, they need know that, though life isn’t fair, it can be just.

Cookies will make everyone fat. Mascara, after enough tears, will run. And mean people will lose friends. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But in the end, it is far better to be forgotten in the crowd than remembered as an asshole.

I cling to that truth. The smaller version of myself clings to it. And, hopefully, if I have any influence at all, my daughter will cling to these words as well, whether she follows my dusty loner’s path or that of her more clown-like father!