So the other day my friend, Meredith and I were riding the bus home after picking up our four-year-olds from pre-K. In fact I think we had our four-year-olds and a couple of other people’s four year-olds. Not an uncommon occurrence. The 15 minute commute is often spent making sure the seating arrangements are fair (everyone is sitting with whom they want to sit near a window that is to their liking), soothing snack envy by making actual fruit seem as inviting as Tommy’s fruit snacks, and/or encouraging kids to share the amazing plastic treasure Suzy happens to pull from her pocket. As you can imagine, this doesn’t leave a lot of time for other conversation, but Meredith and I work pretty hard at it anyway. This particular day the kids had worked out their own seating arrangements, enjoyed their own snacks, and freely shared their treasures, so we found ourselves deep in important conversation regarding a fantastic vegetable cobbler I’d made the night before. (Yes, vegetables, fall vegetables, mmmmm. The cobbler involved cream and butter. Turns out these are a winning combination-quelle surprise!)
The conversation hadn’t started there. We’d discussed other meaningful things, like what kinds of vegetables our kids would and wouldn’t eat, how no matter the parenting techniques some kids just won’t be persuaded to try new things. (Important slightly related side-note: we concluded it’s generally not a failure on the parent’s part, but merely an incredibly strong-will on the part of the child.) We had also shared freely the types of vegetables that do and don’t agree with our digestive systems and some of the not-so friendly side-effects. Though I believe and will hold to it, that we discussed this in an entirely appropriate and lady-like manner. All of this had transpired while the children happily rode along.
As we approached the bus stop a couple of blocks before our destination a woman who had been sitting several seats away gathered her cart, jacket, scarf, purse, and stood up preparing to get off. As the bus slowed to a stop she turned to me and began to slowly and deliberately clap her hands. CLAP . . . . . CLAP . . . . CLAP . . . .CLAP . . . .
“BRAVO!” she said, “WONDERFUL, AMAZING PERFORMANCE!” Now I liked my vegetable cobbler a whole lot too, but the look on her face and tone of her voice dripped with sarcasm and disdain, so I was pretty sure she wasn’t applauding my culinary efforts. I looked around me to see if someone else was meant to be the recipient of this praise. Nope, she peered directly at me, shaking her head as if she’d just eaten a raw turnip, no cream or butter involved. The eye contact didn’t lie, but I still felt baffled and had to ask, “Are you talking to me?” That sent her over the edge, or perhaps she’d already left the edge and my ridiculous question brought her back to the ledge long enough to return and berate me.
“AM I TALKING TO YOU? YES I’M TALKING TO YOU! I W O U L D N E V E R SPEAK TO MY CHILD IN THAT TONE, OR ANY CHILD FOR THAT MATTER!!” Now I hope I’ve brought you along on this journey in such a way that at this point in my post you are thinking, “Huh? What the heck is she talking about?” Because here is exactly what was going through my head, “What the heck is she talking about? Okay, she is in fact talking to me, but I have absolutely no idea what she means.” I looked to Meredith who had a puzzled expression as well. Our kids, our friends’ kids, the other passengers nearby all stared at the woman with alarmed attention. The angry expression on her face caused my heart to start doing that nervous anxious thing that sends way too much blood to your head and neck so you feel tense and hot really suddenly. I muttered, “I’m not sure what you mean. What tone?”
“OH, OH! WHAT TONE? THAT IS THE WORST PART OF ALL. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE WRONG! PSSST, BLECH, PLEEHHH!” (I’m not sure how to type exasperated, irritated sounds, but that’s what I’m trying to do there.)
At this point one of the other passengers looked to us and said, “Just ignore her, she’s crazy.” I was hoping she’d go ahead and get right off the bus, it had stopped and the driver was looking in his rear-view mirror waiting for her to disembark. She just kept standing and looking at me with disgust, so he started to drive away. “STOP THE BUS! I’M STILL GETTING OFF HERE!”
Meredith finally said, “I’m sorry, I can only assume that you’ve misunderstood our conversation, but if you really want us to learn something then you’re going to have to be more transparent because we have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’M NOT EVEN GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT IT IS. IF YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW THEN YOU’RE BEYOND HELP. IF YOU WANT TO LEARN SOMETHING THEN YOU BEST GO BACK TO SCHOOL!” After several more angry phrases telling us of our horrific inabilities to be socially appropriate parents she finally exited the bus, all the while shaking her head and rolling her eyes. One passenger leaned and asked another, “What were they saying? What happened? What were they talking about before she started that?” She answered her back, “They were jus’ talkin’ ‘bout vebetables.”
Meredith and I looked at each other, half-chuckling, half-cringing, still stunned. Her daughter asked me, “Why was that woman clapping for you?”
“That’s a good question. I’m really not sure.”
“Maybe she thinks you are in a show and she wants to tell you you did a good job or something.”
“Well, yeah, maybe that’s it.” We got off the bus and combed through all the past topics of our conversation. “Were we being too loud? Was that obnoxious? We did talk about how some vegetables make us gassy? Is that inappropriate?” One by one we ruled out everything we’d done and said on the bus as something deserving such disgust and anger. I chuckled nervously, as the anxious feeling in my chest let-up. It all seemed absurd, and yet I couldn’t get her out of my head. I was on my way to a friend’s house; I immediately told her what had happened, “That is so bizarre. I’m positive you didn’t do anything wrong!” I came home later that evening and told my husband about it, admitting that I kept wondering if I had done something unkind to the children or said something too rude to be shared in public. “She was just crazy! You’re fine. Don’t be ridiculous,” he assured. “She didn’t really look crazy,” I argued. I didn’t want her to be right, but it had all been so unsettling, that I had a hard time letting it go. People don’t criticize and yell at you out of the blue for nothing do they? Maybe there’s something I should be doing differently.
It took me several more days of replaying the experience in my head before I had a realization; I’d even call it a revelation. I felt a calm assurance that I’m doing a great job as a mother. I felt sure that if I needed major changes then the Lord would help me learn that and speak to me in a much different way. He would use his spirit. The spirit whispers, caresses, enlightens, and is gentle. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, “The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all.” (“The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge.” New Era. Jan. 2007) It is easy to become preoccupied, but the fruits of the Spirit are much more desirable than the alternative, “ . . .love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,” (Gal. 5:22-23). I am going to seek more for those fruits. Somehow it is easier to put stock in the things that others tell us about ourselves than it is to be sensitive to the things the spirit is trying to teach us each day. Well, you know, they are much louder.
Do you put more stock in what others (whether they be clapping or shouting or not) tell you about yourself than you do in the things you learn and feel from the spirit?
What helps you tune out the shouting around us and listen to the Spirit?