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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Troubled People: Part 1 (Pushing Buttons)


button

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!

Wilson


wilsonWhen I was a kid, I used to talk to myself. As an only child with few playmates and friends, this act grew as much out of necessity as it did out of imagination. And when I relate this detail, that I talked to myself, I don’t just mean here and there, bits and pieces, occasionally and only during certain types of play. I mean I would carry on long, full-blown conversations with myself – or, creatures I would call my “imaginary friends” – all day, every day. In truth, I knew there was nothing there. I didn’t even pretend to myself that there was anyone fictitious on the other side of my words. I just kept up the pretense so that it wouldn’t seem *as* crazy to others that I simply liked the sound of my own voice. The bonus was that some family members even thought it was cute. For a while, anyway.

Ultimately, as I grew older, it became less amusing to have a fictitious world of imaginary souls floating around me. This was a truth I knew quite clearly. So, despite the fact that this talking to myself continued, I kept it very much hidden from the world. And on some days, it was a mighty task indeed keeping my running dialogue silent and hidden in the gray matter of my mind.

Flashing forward several decades, I feel as though nothing much has changed in my persona. I still talk to myself. I still hold true to my more formative ways of being. Only now, instead of thin air, the exchange of words resonates and booms within the earshot of my infant son. Of course I include him in the discussion. He is, in fact, my imaginary friend come to life. Only capable of crying or smiling, his responses are nil and remain, therefore, akin to my childhood “friends” – in other words, malleable and open to the interpretation of my thoughts.

I often am asked by my contemporaries, other stay-at-home moms, if I feel what they feel – a deep loneliness that can come from being in the company of a baby all day. Since babies don’t speak, their houses often remain quiet – barring, of course, the random speckles of shrieks and screams that splotch the day. They confide that they are bored to tears, utterly anxious for naptimes to end so that they can pack up the kid and stroll around the mall just to feel like they are part of humanity. I, on the other hand, never feel this way. I just don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I do need people. I need them to fix my transmission, unclog my drains, ring up my groceries and mass-produce my jeans; but, I have never, ever needed them to fulfill that one human necessity – conversation.

Since dialogues and discussions can be reproduced to simulate the real things, I have never felt deprived of this sort of interaction. Call my crazy, but I guess you could say I’ve lived by the mantra “fake it until you make it.” The only thing is, I’ve never tried very hard to “make it.” One-sided conversations have become my new norm. So much so that I almost feel like I’m having an awkward out-of-body experience when I am forced to chat with a real person.

Having thought a lot about this way of being, I decided that it has become a survival technique of sorts. It got me through grade school when tormentors called me names and classmates excluded my very presence. It got me through long summer days that would have otherwise been spent watching a barrage of overblown soap operas with my mom. It even got me through a trying time in adolescence when I couldn’t quite cope with my changing body, the loss of a loved one and a horrific car accident. In essence, talking to myself got me through times when I felt displacement and detachment from the rest of the world.

If this were a deserted island situation, you could chalk it up to the fact that there are two kinds of people: those who would hurl themselves off of a cliff because they were driven insane by the desolation and the ones like me. My kind are the ones who live, regardless, even if they do so differently. To call it the same as being a survivor sounds like a pride-laden word that doesn’t quite describe it fully. No. People like me are merely vessels reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway.  He got through tough times because he spent half of the movie gabbing away at Wilson. Wilson was, for all practical purposes, his saving grace; but, to the rest of the world he was just an anthropomorphic volleyball. A prop turned human. Because of this, his lack of flesh and blood, there were a lot of people who didn’t shed a tear when he was carried away by the waves. But, I did. I cried a lot. In fact, it was one of the most poignant moments in a movie. Ever. It really evoked great emotion in me – and, now I think it’s obvious why. My baby is my Wilson!

In my current state as a stay-at-home mother of a baby, I can draw more parallels between my life and Castaway than ever before. There are many times when I do feel as though I am on a distant island, far removed from my fellow humans. And most days I do feel as though my baby and Wilson are one in the same. He goes with me wherever I go. Of course, I have to carry him in order to get him to those places. I talk to him all day long. Occasionally I even wish that he would talk back to me. But, unlike Wilson, someday he will. My only fear is that, after years of breaking the silence only for survival’s sake, when I reenter the “real” world of conversations, when I am rescued from my metaphoric island of mothering an infant, that I will still remember how to converse with my child instead of just talking at the air around him.

In a way, I am glad that my childhood was so fraught with social awkwardness otherwise I may not have been so prepared to be alone with my baby each day. It’s kind of nice to hold “adult” conversations and use regular words with my infant son. I feel that it will allow his brain to develop and his words to build nicely in the running dialogue of his brain. Perhaps he will be an orator. Perhaps a lawyer. Perhaps just another of the countless souls in the world who love to hear themselves speak. But, whatever the case will be, I just hope he will know that he was my saving grace on days when I otherwise would have sunk into a pit of loneliness. That he was my salvation. That he was my smiling ball of hope, dangling gently from the raft of my life. And when he someday slips into far and fleeting waters away from my grasp, that I will cry, I will miss his constant presence, but I will be ever grateful that I had such a wonderful package along for the ride during this amazing voyage.

*******

Seriously, folks, if someone…anyone…is reading this, please leave me a comment. No matter how small. No matter how meaningless…it would just be nice to know if my words are finally being heard (or read) by an outsider. After all of these years of being in my own head, it would be nice to hear the words of others…

Thanks!
-Maya