Monday, July 14, 2008

Judgy McJudgerson

This morning is GORGEOUS. Fresh and cool but sunny, with a gentle breeze like mint in a mojito. It makes me want to take today off. That temptation could also have something to do with the fact that I don't feel like I actually had a weekend. Yesterday I went to a full-day photography workshop, which I enjoyed but I didn't get as much out of it as I would have liked. It went over time and then I got stuck in traffic so it ended up being an 11-hour day that ended with a big headache.

Because of the workshop, I had to switch my drop-in shift to Saturday afternoon, which I quite enjoyed despite all the other people's drama (OPD), but ultimately I didn't have a full day to just hang out with my fam the way I usually do.

Funnily enough, that boy's mother was at the Drop-In Centre this weekend. First person I saw upon my arrival was the boy and immediately I thought his face looked different somehow, smooth and unpinched - medicated? Maybe I read him wrong and he's mentally ill, not addicted. Or maybe he's self-medicated? I have no idea why, but his face looked smoother.

Then I noticed the woman beside him and wondered if she was his mother. It soon became clear that she was and they were arguing. I tried not to be too obvious about eavesdropping but they were RIGHT in front of me and I was dead curious and I'm big enough to know that I don't camouflage easily so if they didn't want me to hear they could move away. I got the impression that she'd lent him money on the expectation that he would pay her back today but he didn't have it. She had to borrow $10 from her landlord just to get through the next two days and she didn't even have any cigarettes.

Their argument got quite heated and I started to get really uncomfortable. The look on her face was one that I don't believe parents should direct at their children. At times she looked downright hateful. He fought back a little bit, but then he became totally impassive, closed-off I guess, hunkered down. Eventually he walked away, and she looked at me for sympathy. I tried really hard to muster it, producing a weak, neutral half-smile. I think she wanted to engage me in a debrief, but I couldn't really understand her words and I didn't really want to.

I've been struggling about whether to write about this, because I try to make a policy of not judging other mothers, especially mothers of children who are older than Swee'pea, because you can never know what you'll do when the time comes. So far, my mothering is all about survival, and survival requires different things at different ages. It must be VERY difficult to parent such a badass. On top of that, this is not my story. Many times I write about folks at the drop-in centre, but it's as much about my interactions with them and my feelings about those interactions as it is about them. This is different. This is a story that I have no involvement in.

Throughout the afternoon, the mother was a bit erratic: she kept asking for coffee and forgetting it. She'd get caught up in ranting about her son's wrongdoing, to whomever would listen, and her coffee would go cold without so much as a sip taken - again. Some of the people she spoke to, people who are recovering addicts I think, told her she has to stop giving him money, that she's ennabling him. That she has to stop expecting him to change.

Later, she told me that he'd just taken the money without asking, that it wasn't her fault, and how pissed she was that people think it's her fault.

"Honey," said the staff worker, who looks like Lucille Ball, complete with thin, dark, surprised-looking eyebrows like upside down smiles, full red lips, big false eyelashes, blue eyeshadow, leopard-print shirt, tight black jeans and stiletto boots. "It's always gonna be your fault until he takes his head out of his ass." I fell a little bit in love with Lucille (not her real name - although her real name is awesome: think Canadian province that starts and ends with the same vowel and isn't Ontario), with her 50s glamour look, her ability to tell it like it is and boss us volunteers around. She even directed me to take a break, which no one ever has before.

I can't seem to stop siding with the boy no matter how many times I try to wear the mother's shoes. It may have something to do with the fact that he's cute and young (I say this from a maternal perspective not from any other perspective) and so very thin that his shoulder blades poke through his shirt like fragile wings from his hunched, bird-like posture. He stands like an apology.

There were times in their various exchanges that I really felt the mother was going below the belt, maybe not so much with her words but with her tone of voice and expression. If we're not supposed to go below the belt in arguments with our spouses, who are our peers (and we're not!), then it must be doubly important to never go below the belt with our children. No matter how angry and hurt and confused and scared we are, sometimes we just have to step up and be the parent. Children shouldn't be made to morph themselves into armour, certainly not against a parent's tirade.

****

After my shift, Sugar D, Swee'pea and I went to the library. Funnily enough, given the OPD of the previous few hours, I discovered Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine. The inside cover asks something about how can a 15-year-old honours student suddenly become a junkie living in the underbelly of drug culture and what does a parent do about it - or something like that. I cracked it as soon as we got home, hoping to feel more kindness and understanding for that mother, and I could not. put. it. down until my eyes were closing against my will. It's harrowing but beautiful and the thing that keeps me going is the "and Back" in the book's title. Otherwise it might be too difficult.

The book is not really helping with my judgment of that mother, though, because the program that leads to the daughter's recovery also includes a lot of work for the parents to recognize their own role in the behaviour of their kids and to change their own ways of being that aren't working.

This is a very uncomfortable post for me. I'm all about self-acceptance and not holding ourselves to a standard of perfection, especially with our parenting. I tell myself that kids are resilient and it takes a lot to fuck them up, which I still believe, but parents were kids too once, and some parents are more fucked up than others. Judgment doesn't help anyone.

10 comments:

Cloud said...

I don't know what to say other than it was a wonderfully written post, and I'm glad you wrote it. There is no getting around the fact that some parents aren't as good as we, as a society, would like them to be (from the standpoint of producing happy, productive members of society). I also try not to judge other mothers, but sometimes you see things that makes that a hard policy to have. There is a big difference between the not perfect parenting that we all do and belittling your child in a public place that is probably a place of refuge for your child. I think it is OK to recognize that. My compromise is to try to remember that I don't know the whole story and don't know what happened to make the parents the way they are.

I hope that boy gets the help he needs, if not from his parents, then from someone else.

Heaher in the 'shwa said...

I'm in agreement about the not being a sancti-mommy and try hard not to do it with myself but every time I'm in youth court I'm confronted with parents who have, at least in my opinion, completely and utterly failed their kids. I'm left wondering how the kids could end up anywhere other than court to be frank. Bad parenting just seems to set them up for failures, and they end up there without failure. It's so disheartening to deal with these kids (i always work in the "regardless of your background, you choose your life" social work talk in with the lawyer stuff).

jen said...

lovely post, Sin. I see why it was hard to write. And you are correct, judging helps no one. And yet we do it, consciously or not. Yet you noticed it and it didn't fit right and that's the juice right there too. Oh, and Lucille. She's the real deal, isn't she?

I feel for them both.

crazymumma said...

I often wonder about what will be my 'and back'. with my girls that is. you gotta wonder about that.....

Janet said...

I think most people judge. And most people don't give it as much thought as you obviously have so I think you're doing pretty well.

I know the name of which you speak. My husband's grandmother was also named after the non-Ontario province with vowel bookends.

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Mad said...

Do you think that maybe you were a bit more reluctant to judge b/c of the context you were in? Or do you think that you judged anyway but then were a bit more apt to judge yourself for doing so?

cinnamon gurl said...

I think I may have exaggerated my judgment of the mother. I kept writing and cutting what I'd written because I didn't want to write a sermon, but perhaps I cut key pieces.

I certainly have a lot of sympathy for the mother. I can't imagine the challenges of being that boy's mother right now. I think I was just surprised that I kept coming back to the boy's defence (in my head). I usually identify more with the mother in these situations. But she was just so unpleasant...

I'm so naive that I caught myself feeling like someone just needs to hug him, that love can conquer all. And of course I don't really believe that, I just feel it now and again.

Zoom at knitnut.net posted today about a man who lost his son to a heroin overdose and how harm reduction may have helped... I'm interested in all these issues.

Aliki2006 said...

This was a fabulously written post, c.g.--really it was. I keep thinking about it.

It's hard not to judge. It's hard to be judged, too, as I'm sure many outsiders judge me when I'm out and about with L. I know my face could never register such an intensity of anger as you saw, but I'm sure people view me as a push-over, doormat mom and wonder why I don't reign my loose-cannon boy in more.

I hope that boy finds help and a friend, and the mother, too,

monkey said...

this was so beautifully written. aside from the fact that this is something that is on my mind constantly, wavering back and forth between protecting myself from the judgement of others regarding my parenting skills and passing my own judgement onto the neighbor who screams incessantly at her four year old across the hall from me, you've expressed the murky ground so well.

"he stands like an apology"
that line will stay with me forever. so beautiful.