Monday, October 23, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Flip

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

It started innocently enough. Sitting in a coffee shop with hopes of finalizing my lecture tomorrow, I was quickly becoming distracted by a young girl who was bouncing on the bench next to me. Looking up, the mother quickly caught my eye while she bounced a newborn on her knee, rolling her eyes and mouthing "sorry."

"Don't worry about it," I responded with a smile, thinking that would be the end of the conversation.

"It's just so hard sometimes!" she exclaimed.

"I know," I absentmindedly responded while turning my attention back to my computer screen. "My twins are at home with a sitter."

"Twins!" she shouted, for the whole shop to hear. "Why, that must be SOOO nice! Every aspect of parenting done at once. So much easier than doing this one at a time!"

I think you could have heard a pin drop in the moments that followed as all eyes quickly became glued on me. Everyone in the shop seemingly waiting for a response, with the energy and looks suggesting anticipation for a fight.

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One of the things that is guaranteed to put me in a fighting mood is the comparisons from others about how difficult their lives are. I struggle with others jumping in, cutting people off with their attempts to share and empathize by exclaiming there's no possible way as this situation is extraordinary. With infertility and parenting, the situation is much more tangled as there's this assumption that those who are not parenting have zero frame of reference. From sleep deprivation to financial issue to simply juggling the day-to-day of a new reality surrounding a little one, the thought process is that of exclusion.

Recently, though, my outlook on the Pain Olympics has shifted. Part of it comes from having a family building story that can easily cause the audience to fall silent fairly quickly, but the other has been me learning to stretch and search for the root cause of this complaining main due to my own fumbles and belly-flops I've inflicted on others. Being socially awkward, I'm frequently an offender especially in the arena of answering the question "so what do you do?" And as those awkward pauses have come, usually with me kicking myself immediately afterwards, I've thought about the snarky remarks or the stone-cold silence and how I've struggled being on the receiving end.

There's another element, though. Being an educator, the core of my job is identifying misconceptions and helping guide people to new conclusions. As I walked home from the coffee shop, I thought more and more about a compulsive need most of us have to top one another's venting episodes. That sometimes it can be about an oddly failed attempt at commiseration. While other times it's actually a sign of something terribly wrong; that either this person is feeling isolated or overwhelmed or abused or feeling trapped. Often they are hurting, sometimes in ways that will even surprise them. Geared up for a fight as that is really their only form of being able to connect with humanity.

And if you look at the situation that way, flipping the view from someone who is unnecessarily venting due to privilege to someone who is broken on some level, all the sudden addressing the problem at hand becomes a lot different.
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I honestly don't know why I responded the way I did. Maybe it had to do with it being a warm, sunny day or me fighting fatigue from staring at a computer screen for way too long. But following the comment, I looked right at this women with small children and I saw someone who was overwhelmed and tired. Quietly packing up my things, I pulled out a set of crayons and some scratch paper that I always keep on me in case the Beats are getting out of hand. Immediately the bouncing young girl's eyes lit up and she swiftly settled into coloring.

"How old are your kids?" I asked, hoping to initiate a conversation as I observed another older woman slide in next to the young girl to encourage her with her drawings. And almost as if the flood gates were opened, the whole shop spent the next 10 mins with this woman listening as she told life story, including her frustrations with being a single mother and finding balance in life. Discovering very quickly that this was someone who was actually pretty lonely in life and struggling to find connection.

And though the interaction wasn't a long one and the transition wasn't completely smooth, the outcome was one where the atmosphere in the coffee shop changed with someone offering to buy this woman another cup of coffee, most others smiling at the little girl as she proudly showed off her drawings and even others beginning to open up about their struggles with loss and failed life goals.

All of it stemming from seeing the situation as it actually was, which wasn't about someone wanting to fight, but about trying awkwardly to connect.

6 comments:

  1. What a lovely story about connection and not leaping to defensive behaviours. Your last sentence says it all: All of it stemming from seeing the situation as it actually was, which wasn't about someone wanting to fight, but about trying awkwardly to connect.

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  2. Perfect post. You made a real difference to that mother's day. Brava, Christie!

    I agree though. I've been given lots of good advice, but amongst the best was a rather harsh "it's rarely about you, and almost always about them." It helps remove the sting of the comment, and taught me to see that they're hurting too, just in a different way.

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  3. This is such a beautiful post, because of the message of patience and empathy. In a world where everyone is so quick to jump to a fight and our "leader" goes to knee-jerk insult mode frequently, how refreshing to see something work out so beautifully because of waiting, and stopping to think about someone else's reality, and putting your own knee-jerk response to have a sharp comeback quelled so you could make the day better for someone else. Bravo, amazing. Hard to do always, but you were inspired in this interaction. Love it.

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  4. I love this Christy! What an amazing thing you did. You've definitely put this in a different perspective, because as a fellow awkward person, I'm so guilty of this, and am usually the one making the escape. So thank you for inspiring me.

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  5. Hoo boy, it would have been soooooo easy to take offense to that young mother`s dumb remark (& let her know it too). Kudos to you for taking a deep breath and responding with kindness and patience. A good lesson for all of us!

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  6. Oh wow, this is amazing wisdom (found it in Mel's second helpings, and I will be back to your blog). I really commend you for being able to see beyond the obvious awkward comment to the pain hiding beneath. What great wisdom to treat such remarks as a cry for help and connection rather than an intended slight.

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