There's a sweet mom that always comes to my daughter's gymnastics class exceedingly late.
Even for a mom, she always seems disheveled. (And that is coming from me, someone who is never in a cute pair of J. Crew green skinny pants and doesn't wear lipstick because simply, I often have no idea where my make-up bag is.) This mom has three kids under the age of 3 and she always wears a brown parka that does nothing for her sandy hair and light complexion.
The class begins at 10. This past week, she was so late that she showed up at 10:32. I want to describe the withering looks she got from the waiting room. It was cold man, and I'm not talking about the wind chill factor.
I want to be the first person to say I try very hard to get my children and myself to places on time. Sometimes though, I fail. I do believe that if you're habitually late your life is out of control so I try not to be habitually late. I also find it annoying when someone I'm meeting is always late. They know this. I tell them. I tell them that this must mean that their lives are out of control. Then they start coming on time. It's like magic.
But that being said, Late Mom rushed in, hair flying willy nilly, kids covered in crumbs and juice stains and, of course, still wearing the unflattering brown parka.
She said to the room "You know it's bad when your 2 year old tells you that you need to manage your time better!"
And there was silence. And it hung there. And it felt like judgment. And I think we were all feeling rather smug because we had gotten our children to class on time. Certainly, we were all doing better than that mom least. And then I saw that Late Mom looked really bummed out. And then I felt kind of ashamed because we were all silently patting ourselves on the back for getting our little kids to a class on time. Big fricking whoop.
There was a mom there who was basically putting out a bid for connection and we were all shaming her? No one was throwing her a bone and the rather bitchy receptionist was even giving her a superior sort of look.
So I my book of Maeve Binchy essays aside, (which is a huge sacrifice since that hour in the waiting room without any kids is very precious to me) and, all in the name of being less of an asshole than I was being, I did what I do best. I white lied. I'm a great white liar, (it's sad but true) and lately I've started owning it. I learned this skill post-college, when white jeans were in and people were asking if they made their respective butts look big.
"I know, RIGHT?" I yelled back at her.
She looked relieved that anyone was talking to her late, pariah self. A smile flooded her cute, albeit caked-with-something face.
"It's like we were already so late...my daughter wanted a juice box, so I had to run back inside the house and get it....and then she wanted apple juice instead of grape juice...so I had to run back inside to switch it," she says.
I squelched to urge to give her advice like "How about next time tell her either "no!" or "it's grape juice or the highway" and I remembered a time (perhaps many times) when I too, indulged my kids because I was just plain too tired for a fight.
" I hear ya, sister!" I sang out. (My whole demeanor changes when I'm white lying. I sound like someone testifying in a gospel choir, I don't know why.)
"I'm embarrassed I'm so late, I am" She sort of fake-laughed nervously.
"Oh, come on! You're not late for your daughter's inauguration. It's a tumbling class." I encouraged.
Cue very bitchy look zinging my way from receptionist.
"I know!" she said. "It's the same with the movies...it's like why do I need to get there on time?"
ohdearohdearohdear. Because your arrival disrupts the entire movie? Because you miss all the previews which is the best part?
"I hear ya!" I say again. Because that's what this was about. She wanted to be heard
This nice mom and I clearly didn't agree on our respective timetables, that was obvious. It was also certain she wasn't looking for advice on how to organize her life. (Not that I'm qualified to give any) But she was having a tough morning and reaching out for some reassurance. And if I couldn't extend my hand for 1 minute with a few kind words than really, what's the point?
It took me back to a time when I burst into tears outside my son's swim class, so horrible was my week. The kids had been acting up, my husband was away and one of my book reviews had been criticized by a reader for being anti-feminist (as IF!) One my friends told me her kids could be gargoyles also, her husband left a sopping wet towel on their down comforter that morning and people were crazy. I was comforted.
Another mom we don't know that well piped in, "my kids have actually been behaving really well this week. And my husband made me breakfast in bed today!"
We don't sit with her anymore.
The point is if you have a choice between being a giant beeotch who thinks she's got it all together or a an empathic human being willing to connect, please go with the latter, especially if someone seems to be in need.
Be kind, even if it means telling someone their white jeans don't make them look like a cannoli.