Sometimes Situations Have to Go SPRINGER
Before They Settle
As in Jerry Springer…the TV show we loved to hate because it was trashy – but oh-so-watchable. And why was that?
Perhaps because from the safety and comfort of our living rooms, we could watch the raunchy guests, sporting plaid lumberjack coats and rubber boots, battle it out on stage – screaming, swearing, finger-pointing and saying the nastiest things imaginable to each other – knowing that we would never stoop to that sort of boorish behaviour. Oh no, we would never partake in such low-brow attempts at solving problems.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I was a Jerry Springer guest, right down to the plaid coat and rubber boots. I wasn’t on TV, no. I was on my own doorstep, having it out with my neighbour…as other neighbours undoubtedly watched from the comfort and safety of their living rooms.
The worst of it, though, was that it was my actions that led to the confrontation in the first place. But let me explain
Ever since I moved into my home eighteen months ago, I’ve had concerns about said neighbour…loud music, old fridge in back yard (a three year-old child lives in the house, so probably not a good idea), rusted old pick-up truck in driveway, spilled kitchen garbage left in front yard for weeks, mysterious comings and goings from their large shed in the back yard…you get the picture.
But instead of dealing directly with my neighbour, I fussed and fumed and complained to whoever would listen about the mess, the noise and the possible drug-related activities next door. I wasted vast amounts of mental and emotional energy despising her AND making plans to sell my home i.e. moving away from the problem instead of solving it.
Well, one thing led to another and Child Services was called in early December.
The next day, the kitchen garbage was cleaned up.
The day after that, there was a very loud pounding on my front door. Uh oh.
I took a deep breath and opened it. And there she stood: my now steaming-mad 22 year-old neighbour.
Her eyes narrowed. “I know it was you that called Child Services.”
“Actually,” I said, “it wasn’t.”
This was technically true because I didn’t call them. But I had a hand in having them called – and my neighbour saw right through this.
“I know it was you,” she continued, “because everyone else around here knows what I have in my shed.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “Oh yeah? And what’s that?”
“REPTILES!” she yelled.
“Oh,” I said, rather quietly.
“I am NOT dealing drugs back there! You can come over right now and take a look.”
I went back inside and put on my blue plaid jacket and dirty rubber boots…I knew a good fight was brewing and wanted to look the part (just kidding).
Back on my front step again, my neighbour made some comment to the effect that I should be more careful before I go calling Child Services on someone.
To which I looked her in the eye and said, “Oh, my dear, the call wasn’t made just because I thought you were dealing drugs out of your shed. The call was made because you are raising a child in a pig-sty and I’m sick of living next to a garbage dump.”
Her mouth dropped open. I’m surprised she didn’t hit me – that would’ve been really Springer.
“I was wrong about the shed,” I said, “and I’m sorry about that. But the way you’re keeping your property is unacceptable.”
We stomped over to her place. After climbing over the low gate (the latch was broken), down the crumbling steps, past a couch (also plaid but having been exposed to the rain for a year or two, not looking so good) and around multiple toys, we stopped in front of the fridge.
She looked at me. “I didn’t know a fridge was dangerous for a kid.”
Obviously, the phone call to Child Services had mentioned the fridge.
“Well, now you do,” I said.
Then I (albeit rather dramatically) swept my arm across the collective mess and asked, “Is this how you want to live?”
“Well then why don’t you ask for help? I’m your neighbour and although I’ve done a lousy job of it so far, I am here to help you.”
Then we went inside the shed to see the critters. Yup, it was full of reptiles all right…bearded dragons and the like – oh, and rats and boa constrictors.
But everyone was safely caged and seemingly well cared for. And they all had names.
After the shed-tour, we’d both calmed down considerably so she showed me the inside of her house. It was really cute – and tidy.
“I’m a single mom,” she said. “I’m a cook at a local restaurant and I’m doing my best to make ends meet. I don’t have a car, so it’s tough to get rid of all that stuff. But I’ve arranged to have it taken away.”
“I get why you called Child Services,” she continued. “I figured you were concerned about the well-being of my son.”
“I am,” I said. “But to be honest, your loud music is also driving me crazy.”
A few days later, we exchanged Christmas cards. I gave her a Safeway gift certificate to buy leafy greens and bananas for her shed-creatures; she gave me a picture drawn by her son…and her phone number in case her music got too loud for my liking.
Over the next week, the rusty truck and other front-yard garbage disappeared. As for the fridge, it was moved so that at least the door faced the fence, for safety…and so that I didn’t have to look at it.
And what did I learn through all this?
1) Speak up sooner…don’t let a situation fester
2) Be wary of making assumptions
3) Sometimes things do have to go Springer before they settle
4) Resolving an issue can bring a sense of peace
5) Anger, resentment, fear and judgement require far more energy than empathy, understanding, humour and lending a helping hand
At the end of the day, however, perhaps it was my neighbour who learned the most valuable lesson about being a young mom: people are watching, people do care and people will speak up when something doesn’t seem right.
Even if it takes awhile.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening. She is the CEO & Founder of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc and the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. Please click here to sign up to receive her complimentary e-zine, The Watering Hole.
Throw (my) Momma from the Train Ship
(Blog revised May 15th, 2012)
Anchors Away…Letting Go of Anger
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Mothers can say the meanest things.
About a year ago, my mom and I were chatting on the phone. We made it through the first five minutes of me telling her about my life and then fifty-five minutes of her telling me, in graphic detail, about hers — and everyone else’s she happened to cross paths with over the previous days.
Then we got on to current events, which I admit keeping up with is not always on the top of my priority list. She asked me a question about a recent event mentioned in the news.
I wracked my brain, trying to recall if I’d heard anything it. I drew a blank.
“No,” I said.
“Oh for God’s Sakes,” she snapped. “You’re an embarrassment to the family!”
Now, I know my mother didn’t literally mean this. Rather, she was just telling me, in her own odd way, that I should keep more up-to-date on world affairs.
As such, I could justify her comment by explaining that, despite the nasty remark, my mom is actually a loving, caring person who is very proud of me. But that’s not what this article is about.
This article is about the timing of receiving that nasty comment — and what happened next.
Although there’s never really a good time to receive a verbal jab like that, my mother’s timing was particularly potent. For I’d just spent the previous three days diligently preparing to give the keynote presentation at a workplace safety conference — about the circumstances that had led to my husband’s death, which was the result of a preventable fall at an unsafe workplace.
So being told I was an embarrassment to the family was the last thing I needed to hear at that point in time. Public speaking on any topic requires significant confidence and self-esteem. Speaking about a personal tragedy also requires courage and support.
And there was my mother, telling me I was an embarrassment to the family because I hadn’t listened to the news that week.
I was so astounded — and hurt — that I had no comeback. Instead, I quickly ended the call and then burst into tears in my kitchen. It was as if I was suddenly able to see, with painful clarity, how my mom still perceived me: as a little girl who could be controlled through cruel comments. For truth be told, that had been the status quo for much of my life up till then.
Call it an Irish temper, call it a nasty comment, call it a manipulative mother, call it what you will…verbal abuse is emotional abuse and it’s not acceptable.
So, there in my kitchen, I finally found the courage to say, “Thus far and no farther.”
But I didn’t say it to my mom — not on the phone that day nor in the weeks to follow. I said it to myself…and I meant it. I accepted that I cannot change who my mom is, what she thinks, what she says, or how she treats people.
All I can change is what I’ll put up with and how I will allow myself to be treated.
Still, I continued to cry on and off for the rest of that evening and then started again on Sunday morning. Then in an ironic twist to this story, I picked up the newspaper (better get up-to-date on current events!) and came across an article about an old anchor being found off the coast of South Carolina. Historians thought it was an anchor from the pirate, Blackbeard’s, ship.
Alongside the article, there was a photo of the anchor, moments after it was pulled from the water. You could see all sorts of sea creatures clinging to it. However, not surprisingly, it wasn’t the sea’s most beautiful specimens adhering to an anchor at the bottom of the ocean. Rather, it was the significantly less desirable-looking — but still important — creatures stuck to said anchor, apparently attracted to the decomposing iron.
Upon thinking further about this photo and article during a walk in the woods later that Sunday morning, the writer in me couldn’t help but see a parallel between the ugly anchor and my anger at my mother’s rude comment. It wasn’t just her remark that had hurt; it was the blatant disrespect to me as a person.
So right there in the woods, I metaphorically hauled a rusty old anchor of my own out of my psyche — and held it up to the light to have a look. It was really ugly and had all sorts of nasty-looking things dangling from it!
The image in my mind was so clear, I could practically see all my mother’s disrespectful jabs, mean comments, rude remarks, and unrealistic demands over the years, clinging to an anchor that had been weighing me down far too long.
A flood of memories came rushing to the surface: her ridiculous behaviour during the planning of my wedding, her wreaking havoc on my marriage and then, when I became a young widow, her manipulation of my time…until I finally found the courage to leave the familiar waters of my hometown and seek new shores.
But I had obviously dragged the anchor along with me to my new life. And boy, did it feel good to haul that horrid and heavy old thing out!
Sorry to the sea creatures getting a bad rap in this story but as a metaphor, they are perfect to explain our old hurts. For if we don’t deal with the uglier things — hurtful comments, toxic relationships, tragic events, etc. — that have caused us pain in the past, then we can’t get them out of our heart, mind, and soul.
Rather, the negative bits just stay there, stuck to a decomposing anchor that’s attracting even more hurts.
So once I’d yanked the anchor out of me, what became of all those wee creatures clinging to it? Out of the water, surely they’d die. And well they should. That’s the point of pulling them out! The deep-rooted anger, resentment, and old hurts I’d been harbouring were gone; what remained was forgiveness.
For she is my mom and I love her very much. I just don’t have to always like her. And I certainly don’t have to tolerate rude comments.
So then the question became: what to do with the anchor?
Well, as luck would have it, I happened to be going on a cruise with my family the following week — and my mother and I shared a room with a balcony. In other words, I had the perfect opportunity to return that old anchor from whence it came
But it wasn’t my mom I wanted to throw overboard. Rather, it was all the old anger that got the metaphorical toss.
More than a year has passed now, since my mom made that mean comment. And I am pleased to report there has been none since. Granted, she’s getting older and I’m getting wiser. But I also suspect that me letting go of old anger has lightened both of us up.
So here’s to anchors away…lighten the load and let the healing begin.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. Interested in reading more mothering-related blogs? Please click here to find out about the Mothering Matters blog series.