Many, many years ago someone told me that “anything expressed in the right spirit could never be considered offensive.” I remember being charmed by the thought, while in my mind considering how naive and blank check that was for anyone and everyone to put forth their own offensive or ignorant on the unsuspecting community at large. The young man was a Mormon missionary; he and his partner at the time had befriended me after my separation from my first husband.
Fast forward 25 years and we remain in communication. Not closest of friends, but I do hear from him a few times each year. He is a sweet man with a kind heart, and after his service was over went back to Utah, went to college, got married, had a couple of kids, got divorced, and is now trying to figure out the dating game.
Anyway, this post has nothing specific to do with him, but I still remember the conversation and the earnest way he had said that to me. I so wanted to believe that, and that sins great and large could be forgiven and washed away. Considering where my head was at and what I had been through in life up until that time, I was torn between wanting to believe that and wanting to scream that some things, some people should be well beyond redemption.
This morning I am sort of stricken speechless by the judgment gene and having to just stop interacting with someone out of respect for their situation being absolutely none of my business and stating my thoughts and opinions doing little other than creating anger and strife where it serves no useful purpose.
So I am coming here to sort it all out.
An old friend had children later in life than I did and her only child is now 19. Said child was a bit of a handful and just barely graduated high school and has decided to put off college into some undesignated point in the future. She has a job at Walmart and is out of my friend’s home, living with her boyfriend in a trailer on his parents’ property. They cannot afford a car of their own and take the bus or depend on others for transportation. There is also a history of recreational drug use by both her daughter and the boyfriend.
And she’s now 5 months pregnant.
When my pal told me about it a couple of months ago, I could not hide my surprise and dismay. I know the daughter pretty well and like her as a person while wishing my friend had not been quite so permissive in her upbringing, but I had hoped that being out of her mom’s house would make her gain some perspective and maturity. Instead she’s now pregnant, her boyfriend and father of the baby presently has no job, has his GED but no high school diploma and has been fired or quit every job he has had in the last year. Bringing a child into a household with such immature parents does not seem terribly fair to the unborn one.
My face is pretty expressive. While I did not say anything negative about the situation my expression spoke volumes about what I really think and my friend was pretty angry with me about it. I stated my feelings as gently and as clearly as I could – their lives were about to get a lot more challenging and it seems unfair to any child to be born into poverty without any clear pathway ahead to be out of that level of economic uncertainty.
She has not spoken to me since. I have not apologized for expressing my thinking, but I have periodically wondered if I should. I guess anymore you are labeled a judgmental bitch if you express anything other than unicorns and rainbows when such auspicious news is presented. My friend, the soon-to-be grandmother has known me for 40 years; surely she is not surprised that I tried not to vocalize the thoughts in my mind. But she did. As she said when we parted, she expected better from me.
Hmmm. When did insincere congratulations become better? I tried to avoid anything other than a very neutral “oh … how is she feeling?” type reaction, but she pressed until I verbalized my reaction to and feelings about this news.
I was a young parent, and I remember the struggles of being 20-something and having to grow up really fast with my first child. And we had a lot going for us. We were married, both had good jobs and with full benefit packages, renting a little house in a pretty great neighborhood, and were very stable, responsible people. But we were in our early 20s when my oldest daughter was born. We were still so young and so very selfish. Being a parent requires that you put that helpless little person you have created first, take care of her needs before my own, put her first, and it was a hard lesson to learn and a challenge to adjust my thinking and change my world view.
That’s my experience and it has shaped my opinions and ideas about what makes a person ready to assume the responsibility to be a parent. I am quite well aware that if you factor in everything parents invest in raising children – time, money, other resources – there is never going to be a good time to have a baby and get started on that phase of life. But without much income or stability, it seems like a ready made recipe for a very tough life for all involved.
And I guess that makes me a bit harsh and judgmental, even if I tried my best to not state any of that out loud.
Fast forward to Wednesday, and in my mail was an invitation to a baby shower. Then this morning, a phone call to ensure I received the invitation and as an afterthought, a belated birthday wish. I recognize this as the olive branch it is, a conciliatory gesture to forgive and forget the preceding radio silence of texts and emails unanswered, phone calls not returned.
I have no plans to attend and to my best to be gracious and brief in my regrets, because after this long she knows I hate any and all types of showers and shower-like events. Unless it is for given for someone I am particularly close to, I always decline to attend and send a gift of some sort. I can hear the disappointment and disapproval in her voice, and she makes no effort to hide either. She knows my aversion to wedding and baby showers, despite enjoying most weddings and universally adoring babies. But this is her daughter, her future grandchild, and all bets are off and the protective mama grizzly claws are unsheathed.
Her words are not harsh or unkind on their own, but the intensity of emotion-backed demand leave me feeling frustrated and angry and completely misunderstood and misrepresented in her statements, but I am calm enough about it in my response. I say what she has just said – I am “punishing” her daughter for this pregnancy, I believe she will be a horrible mother, and I have absolutely no compassion for people in a lower socioeconomic bracket than my own – is absolute bullshit and she has known me since we were 14 and deep down she knows it is bullshit. She counters that people change, because I obviously have to become such a snobby, self-important bitch. That one lands and wounds, because while my general shyness or reserve has been interpreted as aloofness or worse, I have to work to overcome my social anxiety and fear to as warm and as welcoming as humanly possible. To suggest I am a snob of any stripe is uncomfortable and hurtful to me and she knows it. Self-important is not a term anyone who actually knows me would use to describe me. At least I don’t think so, anyway, but I can be insecure and worry about that some other time.
I can barely keep the hurt and mounting anger from my own voice as I tell her in the evenest tone I can manage that if that is what she truly thinks believes I feel and am, then it is probably best that I not attend this event. Her goodbye has the shrill tone of finality to it. *sigh*
Another old friendship bites the dust, but at least this time it is about something other than weight loss or the size of my arms.
My quandary is sending a gift. Or not sending a gift. I will in all likelihood send a gift, but I’m not sure what yet. Diapers? Something from the registry? Gift card? No matter what my personal thoughts on the situation, a new little human is about to become part of our society and will need things to get started in life. Where I typically feel very happy and excited about such events, I feel a sense of apprehension. Maybe I am completely reading the situation wrong, that these kids and their families will pull together and raise baby to a productive adulthood. I would like nothing more than to be wrong about the readiness of the parents.
In the end, I will pick a simple, practical gift, pretend the phone call never happened, send it with regrets about attending the shower, and call it a day. In the end, it will likely not matter much to my friend, or her daughter, or her future grandchild.
Anymore, friendship has its own currency, and I am learning the monetary value system placed on qualities like truth, integrity, honesty, frankness, and loyalty. Sometimes it seems being agreeable and supportive no matter what is the only things that matter. Maybe if I can learn to take a deep breath and express insincere platitudes in the right spirit I will not feel offended with myself. Maybe what I have long believed were valued friends and confidants will not leave me feeling hollow and a bit ashamed for my own naivete in things I have long believed in as real.
It is sad to be figuring out again that long camaraderie and association is not always indicative of a genuine friendship. Or perhaps this is me learning that friendship is not a Velveteen Rabbit; I cannot make it become real.