Thursday, March 1, 2012

Masters of the Obvious

I know I'm an open book when strangers comment about my appearance, my actions, and my child's behavior. I'm just not sure which book.

While on vacation in New Hampshire last week, a woman whom I had never met greeted me with, I kid you not, "You look exhausted!" I had just walked into the child-care room at a ski area to drop off younger son Charlie so that older son Christopher and I could have a little one-on-one slope time. As it turned out, I had spoken to her over the phone two days earlier. Yet she didn't know that yet because she didn't know who I was. She was just speaking off the cuff.

Another woman might have taken silent (or not so silent) offense at such a statement. After all, it could have been an insult. What . . . do I have bags under my eyes? Are my lids heavy? My gait sluggish?

But I chose to ignore the negative interpretation and, instead, view the observation as validation of how I felt at the time. Indeed, I was exhausted, having spent a sleepless night listening to mysterious slamming noises from the person next door, a snowcat grooming the mountain outside my window, and a Zamboni heading to the ice rink at the crack of dawn. Surely, I looked the way I felt. Rude Lady was only speaking the truth.

Two days later a woman directing traffic in the five-minute skier dropoff zone saw me coming on foot again and chirped, "You have been back and forth so many times today!" Her cheery tone suggested that I might actually enjoy lugging skis and boots for two people, poles for one, and a clothing bag for three repeatedly to and from my car. I tried to return her good nature with a smile, but it was definitely forced. Here's what I wanted to say: "Damn resort meal plan! Having to go back down the road to pick up the friggin boxed lunch or sit down to the buffet in the middle of the day while we are trying to ski. Where's my $&@!#% husband when I need him to help me carry all this s***?! Oh, yeah, silly me. I don't have a husband. Well, I could really use one about now. I hate having to do everything myself all the time!"

Neon Yellow Vest had no clue about my nasty thoughts. She was just trying to be upbeat, trying to offer me a verbal smiley-face cupcake.

Yet another day my sons and I were in Dunkin Donuts celebrating the last day of our town's basketball clinics. As usual, Charlie began to act up. He was getting in Christopher's face and invading his space. Before long napkins were flying, and Red's chocolate-milk bottle top sailed off the end of the table like a shrunken Frisbee. "Charlie, please pick them up!" I implored. "Other people want to sit here, and you've made a mess." I try to appeal to my five year old's sense of empathy. Oops, forgot. He doesn't appear to have any.

"Impulse control," I heard a woman at the next table say. "Your son has trouble with impulse control."

A million thoughts raced through my mind: Oh, puh-leez, can't we just enjoy a bagel and a few munchkins without some busybody butting in? Who is this person who thinks she knows my son? Am I about to be criticized for my inability to control Charlie's behavior? How should little old Christian Science-bred me respond to what sounded like psychological jargon? Charlie, I am so angry with you right now for embarrassing me YET AGAIN by causing YET ANOTHER scene in public!

Argh. Make that double argh.

"I know all about problems with impulse control," she went on. "My husband has them and his daughters, too." The man sitting with her, presumably said husband, nodded in agreement.

She kept talking and talking and talking. Then a funny thing happened: I had an epiphany. A stranger's observations coming completely out of the blue made me take notice in a way I had not before. Chatty Cathy might actually be onto something, I realized.

I'm quite certain this was not the first time I'd heard the term mentioned in relation to my son. A couple of my friends have boys capable of the same sort of rash, instinctive behavior as Charlie. We have commiserated many, many times along the lines of, "Wait till you hear what X did last night!" The sharing of wild stories about over-the-top behavior, socially unacceptable aggression, and other inappropriate conduct can be a source of amazement and amusement, bonding and catharsis. It has been suggested that Charlie be put in more activities to properly direct his energy. Comments have been made that he is a macho little guy, one who will grow up to be typically male, i.e. primarily physical rather than verbally expressive. (Christopher, by contrast, possesses many more feminine qualities.)

Charlie's sixth-year pediatrician appointment is looming later this month. As I did last year, I will tell the doctor all about his behavior. Previously, Blondie has been labeled on the rambunctious side of average. However, thanks to Chatty Cathy, I will use the phrase "impulse control" when I speak to her. As much as I want answers, I do fear a diagnosis like ADHD. I know ADHD is common, but I do not want to have to medicate my kindergartener. Even if I hadn't grown up in a religion that shuns medicine, I am convinced I would feel the very same way because I have a natural aversion to putting medicinal substances into my body. No question I would feel this even more for my young child.

As if I hadn't very recently been put on notice about appearing tired, yesterday a barista at Starbucks asked if I'd like an extra shot of espresso in my drink. Seriously. I'd been to the shop countless times before and never been posed this question. So my immediate response was one of paranoia: "Do I look like I need an extra shot?" I retorted. Caffeine Pusher mumbled an apology of sorts. Now I'd made him embarrassed.

Maybe it's time to start wearing makeup.

How do you respond to unwanted comments from strangers?


  1. should have told her: We came for donuts, not psychotherapy!

    Your boy is probably fine. She was looking for validation, justification for her husband's use of the "impulse control" card anytime he gets in trouble. Ha~

    Of our four kids, one of them has more impulsive tendencies than the others. Just needs re-calibration on days he's left of center. Books, articles and sometimes counseling are always good resources!

    I can relate well to the llama mama syndrome. But, here's a though: have the boys carry their own skis. My kids could and did, and that includes my youngest, my only daughter, who started skiing at 5.

    With three boys, I have told myself my biggest goal should be to be sure that when they grow up their wives don't hate me. LOL. Give em responsibility. Then give em more.

    Love the blog! You're amazing....and your boys are lucky indeed!

  2. Thanks, Drew! I appreciate your advice on the impulse control. The boys did carry the ski equipment quite a bit, but it was a long walk and there was a lot of complaining, stopping, and refusing. The dropoff zone was also a little dangerous, especially for a five year old who can't easily be seen by a driver when he is walking behind. So I chose to do the ack and forths

  3. So I chose to do the back and forths to keep them out of the dropoff zone.

  4. Sorry, my typing keeps freezing up in this comment box. I totally agree on responsibility. Charlie is actually very helpful in many circumstances. When he has a task, he does very well. It's that unstructured time that is a problem. XO