Try Not to Judge, Would Ya?

Have you ever encountered the “not my kid” parent?  You know the one: perfect child, impeccable parenting, never an embarrassing interaction, moment or, gasp, event?  The one who will rip a kid to shreds over an infraction against their darling?  And then do their level best to smear the kid (and her parents) throughout the community?  I have.

Since the beginning of time (my parenting time, that is) I have adhered to not the “not my kid” paradigm, rather the assumption that it was my kid.  (Okay, in fairness, when Harrison was just a little tiny fella I might not have been quite so ready to take the hit for his behavior, but , rest assured, by the time he had entered early toddlerhood I was a card-carrying member of the “it was my kid” club.)  I have found it to be the more pleasant, diplomatic and appropriate method by which to interact with other parents when kids do what they do: get into it with other kids.

Perhaps my “mom of boys” methodology is showing.  I did spent ten years, after all, being just that.  The rough and tumble so widely experienced and, frankly tolerated was a part of the very core of their being and helped to formulate my particular flavor of parenting.  It has always served me well.

When Georgie[i] was not quite two, I got a call from his preschool informing me of an infraction.  Georgie had bitten Katie.  Ugh.  Seriously?  I absorbed the hit and then did what I considered the appropriate thing: I called Katie’s mom who, at the time, I had only seen in passing during drop off and pick up.  I took a deep breath (and perhaps a swig of wine), found her number in the class list and settled in fully prepared to apologize for the transgression of my toddler.  The conversation went like this:

Me: Hi, this is Julie Ross calling…Georgie’s mother? 

Other Mother: Hi!  How are you?

(Crappy, I thought.  I have to take the hit for my kid’s overactive chompers)

Me: I’m good, thanks.  Um, I am calling because apparently today at school, Georgie bit Katie.

Other Mother: Oh, don’t worry about it…she probably deserved it.

We have been friends ever since.

And that, my friend, is how it should go, what the attitude should be (assuming there is no bodily injury, of course)and how we, as the parents, the adults, should teach our children to treat one another.

walkintheirshoes

I can assure you that I never once sent either of my children out the door with the directive to push, bite, shove, poke or in any way “assault” another child.  But, guess what?  At one time or another, they both did.  I am not proud, but I am a realist.  This.Is.What.Kids.Do.

Why the rant, you ask?  Fair question.  Jess (who admittedly is far beyond the age when biting and pushing are considered even remotely appropriate) got into a scuffle with another girl where Jess was the (physical) aggressor.  She was provoked and she reacted inappropriately by pushing the other girl out-of-the-way, inciting screams and cries from the “victim”.  Her reaction, in turn, resulted in one hysterical, infuriated, screaming parent.  And then it got ugly.

The incident itself was, in actuality, fairly vanilla.  Jess was provoked, made a bad choice and all hell broke loose.  The girl was fine, albeit it angry and startled.  The father, however, chose to escalate and escalate and then escalate a little bit more, going so far as to tell Jess that he was going to call the police and have her arrested on assault charges.  Yes, this happened.

By the time I arrived, the other child was off to the side, giggling with her friends all of whom had congregated, along with some of their parents, to watch the scene that was unfolding.  I, in my best you-want-me-around-in-an-emergency calm, quietly implored dear old Dad to take it down a notch.  This, as you may have guessed, pissed him off further, prompting him to tell me that he “was done with me” (which was fine)…”and where was my husband?” (which wasn’t.)

I walked away, ripped Jess a new one for being the aggressor and (foolishly) thought that was the beginning, the middle and the end of that.  But wait, there’s more.

At the very moment that I was sitting with Jess, both of us eventually in tears, trying to determine what she was thinking, why was she so aggressive and how would she somehow apologize for her role, the other family was doing everything in their power to make sure this incident was not forgotten, seeking in fact, further shaming of my kid.  Ouch.

Fast forward to this morning.   I was getting dressed for the day and had the local news on in the background.  There was a story about a young man from a town I am familiar with who has been accused of beating his girlfriend senseless because she rebuffed his sexual advances.  By all accounts a horrible, disgusting and judge-worthy incident.  This kid allegedly behaved in a gruesome manner and after a moment in which I began to judge I quickly regrouped at which time my heart broke for his parents.  We teach our children to make good choices, do the right thing and to remove themselves from situations which could turn ugly and what do they all do (to varying degrees)…they make bad choices. So, to, do some of their parents.

The news piece reminded me of a story in my neighborhood about ten years ago.  A kid I had known since he was a little boy was newly licensed, “stole” his father’s car, had a few drinks and hit a young woman crossing the street.  I readily admit that I initially judged, until I bumped into a neighbor who said, “there but for the grace of G-d go I” and it shut me right down.  I am 100% sure that his parents were already facing enough pain, fear and horror and certainly did not need others who had not walked in their shoes passing judgment.

I am all about the sisterhood: moms sticking together, parents supporting one another, empathy before judgment, support over disapproval.  My children have at varying times and to varying degrees, behaved in a manner that has embarrassed me.   Truth be told, I’ve let loose on each of them as a result.  But I have never, ever gone after another kid or their parents.  Ever.

We are all doing our best.  We each have battles we are fighting, fears we are facing and pressures we are under.  Be kind, boys and girls.  Have empathy.  Feel for, don’t judge, the parents of the kid on the news.

Put yourself in their shoes…because someday, somehow, somewhere when you least expect it, your kid is going to have a misstep.

[i] Name choice intended

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November 18

The alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m.  but I need not have set it at all as I had been wide awake praying for sleep since ten o’clock the night before when I crawled into bed, Ambien on board.  It was the pre-Facebook, pre-Words With Friends, pre-iPhone era, so my options were limited.  I knew I needed to rest, to prepare, to go in strong, but there was just no damn way I was going to sleep.

I was due to arrive at 6:30 a.m., thirty minutes prior to my procedure.  I took a shower, washed and pulled through the curls of my hair, styling it to within an inch of its life, but (and this is notable) stopped short of applying any makeup…even my beloved mascara.  There would be no need for it where I was going, and, in fact, it would only become a smeared mess which could well have been the thing that put me over the edge.

My mother arrived promptly at 6:15 a.m.[i] to get the boys off to their respective schools – Georgie[ii]  to daycare, Harrison to his first grade classroom.   It felt sneaky leaving before they were awake, but I couldn’t bear to say goodbye, so we split as they were just starting to stir awake.  It was better for everyone.  Well, for me, anyway.

As we got in the car, I noted to myself that the fact that I had not slept for weeks did not seem to be impacting my energy level.  In fact, I felt as though jumping directly out of my skin was a very real possibility.  I popped a Xanax, took a deep breath and settled in for the ten minute drive to the hospital.  It was time for me to actually have the bi-lateral mastectomies that we had been discussing for weeks.

There are parts of the day and following weeks that are so vividly etched in my mind that they could have happened this morning: walking into the pre-op area, not nearly as looped from the Xanax as I would have like to be and being warmly welcomed by the team of nurses that were going to take care of me; my surgeon, marking my breasts and commenting that I had great tissue..but I was quite sure, positive in fact, that I heard him say “great tits”; and chatting with the orderlies about how my surgeon just told me I had great tits.  And then, not a single memory until nine hours later when I woke up, thrashing not from pain or anxiety, but from the cuffs around my ankles which were keeping my circulation going and, of note, driving me out of my fucking mind; sweating and not being able to lift my arms to secure a ponytail; wanting my glasses so I could see, but learning that they were already in the room that I would occupy once I was deemed stable enough to be transported from recovery.  And the little mounds that my doctor (yeah, the one who liked my tits[iii]) made sure to create so that when I awoke there would be something, anything where my breasts used to be.

The two days I spent in the hospital are a blur.  My one recollection is the walk I took around the hall with my father who was, at the time, dying of lung cancer.  It was the first time ever that I was actually walking more slowly than he.  We were shaky, tentative and scared.

That was ten years ago: November 18, 2004.  It was the Thursday before Thanksgiving which has become a holiday which threatens to knock me down every year, but has yet to succeed.  In that time so much has changed that it is nearly impossible to believe.  In 2004 my two sons were approaching respective birthdays: George would be three, Harrison ten.  I now have a nearly 13-year-old named Jessie and a soon-to-be 20 year-old who is far more man than boy.  My father is gone…for close to nine years now.  I am no longer married, no longer live in the home in which I raised my children and no longer have two sons.  Those ten years were my forties.  And now, with my, gulp, choke, egad, 50th birthday on the horizon I feel so many different things, but mostly grateful.

ten

Not only am I alive, but I have cancer in my rear view mirror and the scars to prove it.  I have met so many incredible people along the way – my team of doctors, the oncologist and the plastic surgeon (who I affectionately refer to as the one who took ‘em off and the one who put ‘em back on), my nurse who was considerate enough to go through a divorce at the exact same time as me and has become my friend and the people who have been with me through every single upheaval that has defined my forties.

Today is a big deal for me.  I never quite know how it is going to go down.  I have had November 18th s that have been marked by shopping sprees, crying jags, malaise and euphoria – and sometimes all of the above.  I do not know what today will bring.  I do know it is an anniversary I will never ignore, forget or not appreciate for what it has given me.

[i] If you know my mother, you know this is notable.  The “promptly” part, that is.

[ii] Name choice intended

[iii]  He did NOT say I had great tits (which I did) but to this day, every time I see him I remind him just so I can see him blush.