So, one good thing about blogging is that you begin to notice patterns of behavior that are potentially problematic.
For instance, in the past 48 hours, I've had several moments of panic in which it seemed that something was out of order:
- Man lying flat in Walmart
- Elderly woman wandering around without clothes
- Schools and institutions casually supplying babies with computers
The first thing I do is bounce my response off other people.
Oh, no one's freaking out? Everybody's cool with this? I guess it must be ok.
And then I glide forward, comforted that no one else has a problem with the problem.
I'm looking around, I'm judging that this family over here has well behaved kids who are respectful and smart--and they let their kids have iphones.
Or on a different day, when I'm feeling differently, I'll look around and say, that family over there has disrespectful poorly behaved children, and their children have iphones.
Either judgement can be a salve to my mood, depending on the day. What I'm mostly concerned with, the thing that most influences my decisions, is whether or not I feel alright. I have a predetermined idea of what I sort of want to happen, and I seek out the evidence, and the particular witnesses that support the conclusion I want to live with.
Yesterday, I had this whole theory written up about about how it's all the fault of the media that I cannot hang onto a conviction for longer than ten minutes. Because I have empathy fatigue, you see, and in those times when I've allowed myself to really FEEL the horror of what's happening in the world, when I've cried over the kitchen counter and behind the steering wheel about the culture my kids will inherit, and the potential horrors they may encounter--I end up feeling so wasted and helpless. And it's exhausting.
It's true that I am at the age where many of my friends have encountered real sorrow and loss, and I want to walk with them in the reality of their experiences. It's difficult to do that while also shriveling up into a puddle of hopelessness every time I read the news, so I've developed coping mechanisms, which include just limiting the amount of empathy I can exude for people I don't know in real life. Click on through to the heartwarming story of triumph, to the video of goats dancing, to whatever makes me feel that the world is a livable place.
Plus, I don't like confrontation. Real confrontation anyway. My husband's convinced, "We're dumping pre-school."
But I've expended all my outrage on two unsent email drafts and a blog post, and now I'm wondering if maybe I overreacted.
If I'm going to be a grown-up about this issue, I'm not going to send the apocalyptic email drafts schooling the principal on all the research I've done on the effects of technology on early childhood education (research which included telling my husband "If we're going to ask for our money back, can you at least Google up a couple of peer reviewed critical articles that make our point so it looks like we have no choice?").
I think I must be able to have a non-reactionary real life conversation, where I calmly express my concerns and ask if they have any suggestions about how they might be able to work with us.
But that makes me nervous!!!!
Just like having a real encounter in real time with a suffering person at Walmart makes me nervous.
Why? Because it's moving forward in blindness? Because my whole day might get sucked into it?
What exactly am I protecting when I am unable to remain faithful to the initial horror I feel in the face of suffering?
Maybe it's just resistance. I see the good, but I do not do the good I wish to do.
Or maybe it really is that I'm not empathy exhausted, but that I've always been a little empathy limited.
I kissed my older kids off to school this morning with a poison tongue. ....Because we have one shower for the eight of us, and they are always, every one of them, waiting for the last minute to use it. And once they're in it, they stay in it for.....ev.......er. So I shut the water off on my oldest after several warnings, even though he had soap in his hair, and he just didn't have time to rinse!!!!
I gave everyone a big lecture on how I have no empathy for this argument, because I used to have to take three minute showers in cold rusty water, and how many people don't have running water, and yada yada, and if your hair is crusty today, it's your own fault.....! And I'm leaving at 8 no matter what, and if you miss your ride, you ride the bike, and you were still in the shower at 7:55, blah blah blah...
Save your tears for a time when you really are suffering. I mean, maybe that's a legitimate message they need to hear. No one is persecuting them by asking them to plan ahead, to shower during "off" hours when no one else needs the bathroom, to limit shower timing out of courtesy to the rest of the family.
It's just the way I deliver the message that is unsavory. These are the blind, reactionary confrontations I never avoid. I go in for the HARD correction at the exact moment I discern a need for it, with little plan for getting out of the conflict, and no thought to a charitable delivery. And it really does eat away my whole day, because I repent of my poison tongue the second they're out of the car, and I weirdly miss them, and think Oh, they're just kids. And I loooooove them! But I'm SOOOO BAAAD At showing it.
One small victory:
My new Freshman was not waiting outside the door when I'd made it through the pick up line after school. I'd already spent 20 minutes in the cattle pen at the elementary school, and I needed to be at the Middle school simultaneously to pick up my daughter who would be waiting in the 90 degree heat (to say nothing of the poor AC in my car).
Couldn't wait because there were cars behind me, so I went ahead to get my daughter, which meant long lines at two four-way stops. The after school traffic is so bad, that it takes about 20 minutes to travel around the corner a mile away. Finally made it back to the high school to get my freshman, and the gates were locked so I had to send my daughter to look for him inside.
And of course, every minute that passed was another minute for my irritation to grow. I was planning a big lecture again about courtesy and timeliness.
When she finally came back with him, and he was smiling this big apologetic smile, I was able to say when he got in the car: "First I would like to hear about your day, and after that I'm going to deliver a lecture about after school protocols, because what happened today does not work for me."
And that really was all that needed to be said on the issue. He knew it. I knew it. If I'd lectured first, there would have been no way back to pleasant conversation.
That's the problem with confrontation, I think, is that I haven't developed peaceable exit strategies.
And I wonder, outside of therapy, how this is done: How do you speak your truth, calmly and rationally, while providing everyone involved with a dignified pathway forward?
What tools do I need in my toolbox, aside from expecting everyone to subjugate themselves to my demands?
Help me, internet!