That Awkward Mom Thing

I was on the dance floor. I guess I could have been sitting on the sidelines because I'm not 21 and thin. But I wasn't. I was on the dance floor. All night. Dancing with kids, with my husband, with my son, with my daughters, with random people, with groups of people, alone, line dancing... you know, all the different things that happen on a dance floor at a wedding when the band is great and they never take a break. And you're with the people you love. Or around people you probably would love if you talked to them. And life is good. 

And a woman a little older than me (but not much older) came over and said, "Don't do that awkward mom thing." Or "Don't be that awkward mom." Or some such encouraging remark. I've repressed the exact words though the spirit of it has stuck with me longer than I'd like to admit.

WHAT?!?! 

What are the appropriate responses to that?

"Oh, ok, I'll go sit down. Sorry if I humiliated our generation."

"Thank you for letting me know I move awkwardly (you're in fact right)." 

"At least I'm on the dance floor. I haven't noticed you out here."

Tempted to feel shame, I think I gave her a big, God-empowered smile (I didn't have one of my own to spare) and danced off in the other direction... to a hidden spot in the very middle.

But I keep thinking about her. I wonder what's in it for us ("us" because I probably do the same thing sometimes and don't realize it) when we need to tell someone they look foolish or tell someone anything that shames, shuts them down, smooshes their spirit, or hampers them.

I would have spun off the planet with joy if she had said, "Look at you, go!" Perhaps even if she'd needed to add, "It's amazing that at your age you can still dance for three hours."

 

 

The Pain that Walks through the Front Door

I needed somebody to fix something in my house. I called a repairman. He said he could come out in two hours. In spite of having hoped to get some solid, uninterrupted time to concentrate on some projects, I said, "Come on over."

He did.

I was business-like and, I hope, pleasant enough. But I wasn't particularly warm or curious about him or about his life experience. I was thinking I just needed the toilet to stop leaking.

As he was leaving, somehow a conversation about his car having been wrecked turned into an admission that it hadn't exactly been a good season. His wife died on Christmas morning. In the midst of having the ambulance come to get her, it was discovered that he had too many cats, and so they were taken away too. His son moved away recently, leaving him without a car, and his other two children have had rough break-ups, one just yesterday.

Thanks to my son, Charlie Umhau, for sharing this sketch he did, one that comes to mind in circumstance after circumstance. For more of his work, see https://www.instagram.com/thecowboyprince/.

Thanks to my son, Charlie Umhau, for sharing this sketch he did, one that comes to mind in circumstance after circumstance. For more of his work, see https://www.instagram.com/thecowboyprince/.

He said, "I'm doing a little better, but for a long time I just cried." I said, "Well I'm going to cry now." And I did. 

I had almost let a grieving person walk in and out of my house without hearing his story and naming the pain of it. And letting him see my tears on his behalf. 

I hope he felt a little less alone to tell someone, but I almost missed seeing his brave face and watching him walk slowly to his company van, heading home to ... what? 

I just wanted the toilet fixed and wasn't much thinking about the human who would come and do it.

But now I am.

 

He Used a Bullhorn

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Observing someone's actions doesn't mean I know his heart or motives; I acknowledge that. Yet I'm trying to sort out what it means when someone screams at people through a bullhorn and then won't engage someone who stops to respond to the message.

I fear that I do it sometimes, even if I don't own a bullhorn.

Ascending the escalator at the Farragut North subway stop in Washington, DC, I was early to meet a friend for happy hour. I was barely into daylight before I heard the rants of a middle-aged man, bullhorn in hand, worn Bible under his arm, urging repentance, telling everyone on the crowded sidewalks and, I imagine, those in offices nearby too, that they were going to hell and needed Jesus, that it was almost (but not quite) too late to turn back.

It was an assault. People weaved around him, creating a wide berth, and tried to ignore him. I know I was tempted to.

And then it hit me how sad I felt for the man, perhaps well-intentioned, thinking he was doing something helpful or important for people but nevertheless using methods that -- to my eyes at least -- seemed likely to have the opposite effect than what he intended. 

And I felt sad for those walking by... some of whom may genuinely wonder if God would take them back after what they've done and where they've been, prodigal sons and daughters like me who've thought life would work by figuring out our own pathways (when God invites us to depend on him, to rest in the fat cushion of his love for us, and to operate in this crazy world out of his strength, bearing his hope to a hurting world). Because all the bullhorn guy was telegraphing was anger, judgment, hatred. I doubted anyone would want to run to the God he described. Which is a shame. Because the God I know is kind, even as he cares how we live.

So I decided to talk to the bullhorn guy. I wanted to approach him with kindness and curiosity. To just ask what his own story is, what change or reaction he hoped to effect in those passing by, how his day was going out there alone with everyone walking way far around him.

I took up a position about 10 feet directly in front of him. And with my best benign, "I'm open to conversation" smile, I waited and stared, assuming he'd draw a breath soon and see that I wanted to talk. Maybe all day he'd waited for someone to stop and talk, to ask him to open that Bible and tell them a story of good news. And I'd be that person. That's what I thought.

But as four minutes stretched into five, the only reaction I got, the only acknowledgement that I was there, that I was a human person in front of him, the very man so eager to "talk" to people that he was using a bullhorn... well the only reaction I got was that he clenched his eyes tight and kept on yelling. And ignored me entirely.

Thinking better than to walk up and touch him, I eventually moved on. 

And I've wondered since about the role of bullhorns. If we have so much to say and insist that others hear it regardless of context, interest, invitation, curiosity or relationship, what are we yelling for? Who are we yelling for? And how can we expect someone to listen?

Is he still there? Will he keep going? Is anyone listening? 

And more important for me to consider: How often do I answer questions no one is asking? And how often do I forget that people don't care what we have to say until they know we care about them.

And that takes time.

And rarely happens with a bullhorn in hand.

 

He ate alone.

A friend and I were in a café eating Tater-Tots (really). Cold Tater-Tots actually. The food's not great but the people who work there are, so we go often. And sit at the same table.

One day a guy who looked like an acquaintance of mine walked in. And sat nearby. I thought it might even be the guy I sort of knew. So I was staring. But he looked bad, not enough like himself for me to be sure.

He spoke to me, because it was the guy. And we bantered back and forth a minute. He told us that it was his birthday and he was treating himself to a birthday breakfast.

We wished him a "happy birthday" and went back to our Tater-Tots and conversation. 

I thought about asking the acquaintance to join us but when I looked over to do it he had his eyes closed in what looked like deep prayer, so I left him alone.

Later in the day I went on his Facebook page to say that I'd wished I'd asked him to join us. And there I saw the notice that his son had died, the day before. Unexpectedly. At age 23.

And I'd missed the chance to sit with a grieving father who ate alone on his birthday, the day after his namesake died.

And that's not okay. 

New policy: err on the side of asking someone to join me. And let them, not me, decide.

May we never eat alone when we don't want to.