Monday, May 12, 2008

Intersections---the point at which different perceptions and realities collide


Photo by Chris De Lucia, "Tiny animal tracks criss-cross the dunes early in the morning, before the midday winds blow them away. Clearly mice or some other diminutive sand-dwellers had a lively night."

The children had finished eating and asked to be allowed to leave the table. Their request granted, they hopped out of the chairs, and the younger ones played a "rescue the toy" game beside the table. It was the second time in as many days that we were eating out, and at a place that, although it appealed to families, wasn't specifically designed for families.

We had chosen an outside corner table. If we get a choice, we do our best to opt for something where we aren't adjacent to other tables on all sides so we have a little "private" area the kids can use. I don't expect kids my children's ages to be able to sit at a table as long as adults who have come together to socialize will. It was a buffet brunch and we all took our time with multiple courses. We were there nearly two hours. We chose a family-friendly restaurant in anticipation of this. We chose the corner, by the grass area in anticipation of this. It was perfect. While waiting for dessert, we all leaned back, stretching our full bellies. I took the chance to move my attention from my own table to the other diners.

As it was Mother's Day, there were many, many children. Most children belonged to multiple families, together for the special occasion, all crammed around multiple tables pushed together to accommodate the parties of 8 or 10 instead of the more typical 4.

One of the tables near us held a couple, no children. I had the sense that they were in a routine because they seemed very comfortable, very settled, needed no explanations of the buffet by the waiter. I imagined that they had brunch at this restaurant every Sunday. I remembered the days before children, how we had routines like that too. I remembered how after lunch we'd run do some things we wanted or needed to do, without a care. I watched this couple reminiscently, a little fondly, thinking how enjoyable a day we were all having in our own different ways.

Then she turned and, not seeing me at all, shot That Look at the children. You other parents know the one I mean: the "may your tongues fall out and your vocal chords freeze and your legs and arms quit working because your mere existence is irritating to me and I shouldn't have to tolerate you" look.

My my my, I thought, so she's annoyed because, from her point of view, a bunch of breeding interlopers have changed the atmosphere of her favorite brunch spot. Apparently we weren't all enjoying our days in our own different ways.

I tried to study the children from her point of view, tried to think back to being childfree and how I felt about children in public then. I can't remember ever being annoyed by the mere sight or sound of children. I accepted that public space was public and we all had to share it, somehow. I also couldn't see that the children were being anything other than pretty good. They stayed by our table, no racing through tables, bumping waiters or anything obnoxious like that. They played with one another nicely, sharing a toy Patience brought, and chatting and laughing.

I could only think it had to do with unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, you want what you want, with no idea if that is at all reasonable as an expectation. Someday, you just might be in the other position, lesson learned, and understanding, now, later, how out of line it all had been.

I suddenly remembered a flood of times I had thought things along the lines of "when I'm in that boat, I'll always....or I'll never..." not catching that the absolute should have been my first clue that the expectation was unreasonable.

Sometimes you know...you know you are probably asking too much of someone, but your need or want overwhelms that.

That's the intersection and is when the perceptions collide.

I've been noticing a lot of intersections, lately. Some have to do with children, some have to do with other parts of life, such as politics, how to drive on the road, how to balance the different areas of life, and so forth. In the end, it's all about how others' expectations of us waltz with what we can do or will do.

It can be a struggle, and I have begun to theorize that you hit more intersections during transition times in life. I think that's why I've been noticing a lot of intersections lately.

By coincidence, or maybe not, last Thursday my husband and I were talking about work, and work expectations, and I stated that I believed, in general, that people can tolerate things they don't like from the beginning better than having those things come out later on. Because then, I said, it's a change, and we really don't like it when people seem to change, especially if we don't understand why.

We talked this idea through, pondering that it is about change and new expectations, and having to find a way to adjust to both, to new boundaries. We considered some obvious and general examples.

"People call it the terrible twos," I said, "But I've yet to meet a parent who doesn't think three is a much more challenging year. Why do you think two gets such a nasty rep? It's because it's a big change. It's the time when babies suddenly grow from mostly pliant* little bundles to sassy, walking talking oppositional people, people with needs that differ from what their mom and dad say or want. You hit the first big conflicts, and even though it may not be as deliberate as three, and so not as challenging, necessarily, in general, it's the first big intersection."

(* I know babies aren't pliant, really, and assert their needs, but honestly it's not like dealing with a two or three year old, or even older. With babies, it is mostly about needs. Later, that will comes into play, those wants, those differing opinions.)

It seems cliched and a statement of the obvious, but I think life is very dynamic. I can't say whether it is more so these days versus in the past, but it does feel a bit like that. It seems like we move around a lot more; big moves, as in from house to house, but also among expanding different opportunities. There's just so much we can do, so many chances we can take. Our culture tells us to grab opportunities when they come, and so we often do. I think we crave it, too. But somewhere, deep down, we also crave stability.

This just might be the biggest intersection of all.

I think the more intersections we reach, the more chance we have of collision. I'm not sure what I think of this.

What intersections have you noticed lately?

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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17 comments:

SciFi Dad said...

Honestly, Julie, I can't think of any intersections like the ones you've described. You often have a very unique perspective on things, and I really appreciate that fact. It's why I keep coming back. But sometimes, I just can't contribute to the discussion like I'd like.

Regardless, Happy (belated) Mother's Day.

crazymumma said...

I like the notion that formed in my head while I read this that my children were the ones bringing the intersections together. Tying the knots as it were.

anniegirl1138 said...

The increasing odds for collision get back to other people's perceptions and needs/wants running into/over our own. Our reactions to these mishaps will depend a lot on the importance of the relationships we have with this people, but for the most part, I don't see that we veer much off our chosen course once we've decided to head off in a direction.

Intersections for myself of late - career vs. paycheck, situational friendships changing/ending, aging parents, step-parenting, my own expectations for myself at mid-life.

I recognized myself a bit in your description of that woman. We were at the waterpark the other night for my husband's company's family event. My 5 yr old and I were trying to change and get our things put away into a locker surrounded by a gaggle of preteen girls who'd been dropped off it seemed - not a parent in sight - and I finally lost my patience with them. Given that I am a former middle-school teacher, I have this "teacher look" that kids just know and I used it. Momentary lapse. It happens.

slouching mom said...

not catching that the absolute should have been my first clue that the expectation was unreasonable

you are so wise.

Cathy said...

My intersection is the place where children and career meet.

jen said...

ah..as i just mentioned at another spot, i'm running up against my participant vs voyeur roles...where i watch or just wait and see, jump or stand at the edge.

Beck said...

I really like three, actually. It's a fun, busy year and only a little bit awful.

Magpie said...

i stand and watch children so differently these days - more tolerance for other's kids, and more understanding of why it is mine and others act up in public - they're kids!!!

there's a local restaurant that has a "kids eat free" policy on monday - so we go there from time to time. one day, we ran into a daycare family - and the two little girls shrieked and played under and around the tables. a couple across the way were so awful and so not understanding - but to my point of view, they were having dinner at 6:00 on monday and should have been more tolerant of the children at every other table. oh well.

Jeff said...

My wife starts her first job outside the home in 15 years in a few weeks. That's a huge intersection in our lives seeing as how we'll need to make major adjustments over the next few months. We stood on the corner of this decision for a long time, and we've finally chosen this path.

Don't know if that qualifies toward your question... but it a change for us nonetheless.

Kathryn said...

The intersection for me will be trying to figure out when I should go back to school and back to work. Luckily, I won't have to think about that for a long time. Still, I know in my heart that it will never really feel like the "right" time. We'll see.

Melissa said...

We're about to do some major life changing here at my place and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

I like your absolutes comment. So true. I need to remember that sometimes. Ok, a lot. :)

atypical said...

I'm pretty certain that my whole life as a parent has been one huge series of intersections. I always seem to have an internal dialogue going between my analytical expectations of myself (the analytical side understanding when perfection is not reached) and the emotional side of me - the mama bear who loves these children so fiercely that she cannot accept her own shortcomings.

But transitions are rampant this year as my oldest approaches 18, receives college acceptance and voter registration in the mail...as my baby girl gets ready to turn 5 (FIVE?!?!?!?)...as all of the children in between stretch and grow and become even more defined as separate entities from me.

Transitions lap against my ankles (for now, though I expect the tide to rise) as my parents and my husbands' begin needing more from us.

Intersections of the spirit are usually not laid out in the neat parallel lines of urban streets, but they are often just as numerous.

-t

P.S. I've been reading even if I can't seem to comment much anymore!

Kyla said...

We're hitting that terrible two/18 month stage and a little bit of the threes all at once, that's what happens when the kiddo has a social/emotional age of 16 months and a cognitive age of 3! Wow, it sure is something to behold.

wheelsonthebus said...

Like 3 much better, I must say.

Transition hurts and aches, but that is because you are growing. This I have learned in the last year (partly through your help and support, btw.)

womaninawindow said...

I haven't noticed intersections per se, but have noticed things out of my peripheral, like there's someone present. My husband's noticed this too. Strange. This and many coincidences which make me wonder. For the record I think 2 gets a bad wrap because kids haven't developed their communication skills but have developed larger wants and the mobility to try and satisfy them! Two for me and my kids was magical, not terrible at all!

apathy lounge said...

I guess I've started seeing myself the way my kids see me. For the 14 years I wrote for papers and magazines from my home office I don't think my kids were the wiser for it. Once I started working OUTSIDE I realize that they still see me as this person who is just at home to do stuff for them. That realization suddenly hit me just the other day.

Family Adventure said...

Having a massive intersection of boy verging on teenage years right now, and his mother wanting him to stay a little baby.

Also, I've been experiencing quite a lot of cultural intersections/collisions of late. Mulling over a post about it, though it could never, ever be as eloquent as this one.

Heidi