Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Forgive my ignorance..."

There's a new worker in the childcare center at our gym.  A very tall, muscular, black man.  There aren't very many men that work in the childcare center.  In fact, I've only ever seen one other man.  Lily loves the new worker!  I was a little taken aback the first day I saw him there.  He was in the infant area, with a baby propped up on his shoulder.  He made a special point of saying goodbye to Lily as she ran out the gate to me.  Seems maybe he's taken a liking to her too!  When I went in to pick her up the other day, he checked her out and then proceeded to ask me numerous questions about diabetes.  In the middle of it all, he says to me, "pardon my ignorance".  Oh my!  Seriously, no pardon needed!  I don't mind when people ask me questions about diabetes and I appreciate the opportunity to spread knowledge, to help people understand.  There's nothing to forgive if someone lacks knowledge and is open to hearing about it.

Here's why I'm bringing this up...I trust my children's instincts about people.  Normally, a man in the childcare center might cause me some concern.  But my kids took to this man right away.  I avoid taking my children to the gym in the morning.  Partly because I have no motivation early in the day and partly because they're not as happy to go.  There's always the same two workers in the childcare center in the morning.  A pair of middle-aged women who have so far shown no signs of having any tender feelings towards my children.  Not a big deal, but my children are so much happier to go in the afternoons when the workers they're acquainted with are working.  And the workers they see then are always happy to see my children.  One even confessed to me one day that Lily and Leo are one of her favorite pairs!  So, I trust my children's instincts about people and don't force them when we're around people who make them wary.  Why is it so hard to trust my own instincts in the same area?  I have a prime example of this to share with you....

There's a woman who I've thought I should be friends with for convenience purposes.  She's married to my husband's oldest friend.  This friend is a wonderful person and the times I've been around him, he seems very genuine, easy-going, and personable.  So, for the past year, I've spent some time with his wife.  Having her and their daughter over for dinner and playing.  Meeting up for playdates.  Meeting up for drinks or coffee to chat.  But I've never been completely comfortable with her.  I've always had this fear inside that I was being judged or that she didn't really like me.  But I pushed the fear down and ignored it.  This last week, I met up with her and another mom that she's good friends with.  We met for drinks.  We talked about a couple of news stories that have come up in the last couple weeks in our area.  One about a mom who put her older child into the SUV, forgot about the baby in the stroller behind the vehicle, got in and backed over the baby.  Very tragic, we all agreed.  Another one about a 2-year-old boy who drowned in a hot tub.  One of the other two women made a comment that people should watch their children better.  Now, I have to admit, this comment kind of set me off.  How many of us have had to deal with judgement over the fact that our children are diabetic?  The last thing a parent who's lost a child needs is the judgement of others.  And after having Leo, I can totally understand how an accident can happen.  He can go from perfectly-safe to in-mortal-peril in 5 seconds flat!  I explained that it didn't sound like it was a case of them not watching their child.  And then I promptly stuck my foot into my mouth by adding..."I assumed when I first heard the story that the family was black".  Stupid, right?  Totally did not come out in the right way.  One of the women asked me what I meant and I said something along the lines of that "black people watch their children differently."  Yup, just made it worse.  Neither one asked for further explanation and the conversation went on to other things.

Here's what I meant from that comment and what neither of them heard:  I assumed the family was black because of my experience with my own family's structure and what I know of the families of minority groups.  Here's the thing with my family...when we get together, we mind our own children.  Each individual is responsible for keeping an eye on his or her own child.  That's not to say that we wouldn't step in if we saw danger, but we don't relax and trust that our children are in a safe environment.  In fact, whenever we go to my MILs, for example, we have to make a quick sweep of the area to make sure things are safe.  She has a habit of leaving knives and scissors within a child's reach.  In contrast, when I've been around my friends with minority backgrounds, there's been a very different feel to the gatherings.  I can only describe it as a "community" feeling.  Everyone is responsible for every child.  They trust that even if their child is not in their eye site, someone has an eye on them and their children are safe.  It's a wonderful thing, I imagine, to know that your children are that loved and cherished that everyone around you will help you keep them safe.  Maybe I'm completely off-base with those ideas, but that's just the impression I've come away with when I've spent my time with friends of different backgrounds.

Neither of the women asked for further explanation.  We parted.  I went home and told my husband about sticking my foot in my mouth.  I felt bad for giving them the wrong idea.  He told me that his friend's wife should know me well enough by now that it shouldn't be any big deal.  I let the matter drop.  Until I got this message from a fourth mom that all three of us know:

I don't know what planet you come from, but I don't appreciate you saying that black people don't take care of their kids. I mean who the fuck do you think you are??Are you that fuckin' clueless to think like that?? DON'T EVER classify me as your friend because I don't tolerate stupid and ignorant ass people such as yourself. I feel sorry for you. You clearly have issues that need to be dealt with. And before you say "oh I didn't mean you" what ethnic background you think I'm from?!?YOU OFFENDED ME. I actually tried to give you the benefit of the doubt when other told me how ignorant you are. What a waste!!
Yup, lovely message, isn't it?   I felt bad.  Really bad.  I sent an apology back to her, trying to explain what I really said and what I meant.  I sent a message to the wife, trying to explain and apology.  And then I realized something.  I've been ignoring my instincts and I really shouldn't be surprised by this at all.  You see, the friend's wife, every time we got together, spent a great deal of the time gossiping about other people we know and judging them.  She was aware that she was doing this and often made comments about how she probably sounded awful and shouldn't gossip.  I always just blew it off and told her it was fine, I didn't mind.  But I did!  Inside, that niggling feeling that made me fearful?  That was my instincts trying to tell me something.  If someone spends a lot of time gossiping and judging others while with you, chances are they're gossiping and judging you when you're not around.  I fully admit that I'm guilty of gossiping and judging at times too.  I ask forgiveness for it.  I'm not perfect and I don't imagine myself to be any better or any worse than anyone else.  We all have flaws, we all have strengths, we all have sins.  But deep down inside, we all have goodness too.

Now that I've had some time to think about all of this and process it all, I've come to a few conclusions.  I have absolutely no desire to be friends with people like this.  People who know me know that they can approach me about anything, tell me when I've said something stupid, ask for clarification on something I said or about what I meant.  My friends know I have a good heart and a kind and generous soul.  I have flaws, plenty of flaws, but deep down inside, I'm a good person.  People who know me know that.  I don't do things to hurt other people intentionally.  I may say stupid things.  In fact, I'm pretty great at saying really stupid things and my husband and I fight frequently over misunderstandings.  But I'm never offended when someone points them out and asks me what I meant.  I am offended by people who gossip and judge unfairly though.

I told my husband about all of this.  I don't want his friendship ruined because of it.  His friend really is a wonderful person from what I can tell and I know he and my husband both enjoy each other's company.  They have a lot in common.  I even told my husband that I'm willing to continue doing "family get-togethers" with them.  He nixed that idea though.  He has no desire to expose his family to someone who might gossip about us and judge us.  So, he'll meet his friend out and they can continue to have a good time together.  As for me...important lesson learned.  Trust your instincts when it comes to people!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Cindy...I could just feel the awkward "foot in your mouth" situation from your text here.

    Good lessons on trusting your instincts...and I love the image of the kids with the guy in the gym...sounds like a special person for sure.