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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