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!

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!

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!