Toxic Workplace

The long conference table was full of drinks, notebooks, buzzing cell phones, tubes of chap stick and napkins with cookie crumbs. A different woman sat in front of each microworld of her own creation.  Some had a place at the table for years, others only months. There was no cohesion between the co-workers, they were better termed as workers in the same agency rather than teammates or colleagues.

Another client had just been reviewed. Opinions about how to move clients forward or out of the program were tossed about as carelessly as the meeting had been planned and executed. The tension kept everyone on edge, outbursts and barely veiled insults took the place of constructive feedback or actual planning. This was all normal for a Wednesday.

One woman, a graduate-of-the-program-turned-employee-human-behavior-expert, ran her long black nails through her jet-black bangs, over and over. Someone had just suggested the use of empathy and another chance in making a major life change.  

Staring up towards the ceiling as though summoning strength from her higher power, she declared, “Y’all don’t know sh*t about sh*t.”  

And since that time, I have surrendered to this new understanding. I don’t know anything about anything. Everything is new and amazing with this perspective, especially all the potential job listings, as I also reached the realization that this unique environment is not the place for me.

Small Wonders

Inside of the car are two little boys, one of whom is refusing to wear his seatbelt or sit in his car seat. He has settled into the nook between his brothers’ feet on the far side of the car, beyond the reach of my arms. This is after multiple escapes from his seat and my best efforts to strap him into it.

We are both winded from the ongoing wrestling match but neither one of us is willing to concede.

Of course, we are late. We are always late. It has become our standard mode of operation after the last four years of having to run back to grab a forgotten sippy cup or change a last-minute diaper or getting everyone in the car only to discover that no one is wearing shoes.

And of course, the brothers think the entire situation is hilarious. Baby Brother giggles and Little Legs proceeds to hide him under a blanket.

In contrast, I am not laughing. I am about to scream like a teakettle reaching the boiling point.

I will not engage in the tried-and-true techniques of “behavior correction” from my childhood.

Instead, I close the car door. I take a deep breath and notice the cool air as it enters my nostrils and fills my chest. I blow out the warm air through my mouth.

I do this again and again until I have enough space to see myself standing outside of a vehicle with the two most precious people in my life trying to play and get my attention.

When I reopen the door, Baby Brother is in his seat like a perfect angel, smiling the toothy grin of a naughty two-year-old. Little Legs has already taken his shoes back off, but they are nearby on the floor, and we are only a few minutes late.    

It’s another day filled with a million small wonders.    

Boy Versus Cat

Hiss.

Scream.

Running feet.

Before me, Baby Brother appears with blood dripping from his face and hands.

He cries and holds his arms out for comfort.  

My brain is unable to process the scene, it is temporarily out of service and off-line.

“Little Legs, what happened?”

I demand an explanation from the most likely guilty culprit. I assume, wrongly, that Little Legs smashed his brother in the face with something heavy.

“Bad tat,” Baby Brother says between sobs.

He speaks for himself now.

“Tat scratched me hard.”  

Little Legs casually walks into the kitchen where his brother’s blood continues to drip and spill to the floor.

“The cat did it, not me,” he says with a shrug.

Apparently, he has become a cool-guy teenager at age four.

Next, the cat slinks into the room, sits and disinterestedly watches the humans of the house.

I gather myself and with a deep breath step into action, wiping the blood from my son’s face revealing a deep slice between his lip and nose.

We don’t need an ambulance, but this is beyond the power of a glob of Neosporin and a Paw-Patrol band-aid to treat.  

I call Daddy Longlegs for help locating the nearest urgent care with the shortest wait time and begin the process of peeling the bloody mess of a shirt from the still crying Baby Brother, getting socks and shoes on both boys and heading out the door for Destinations Unknown.

How did it all turn out?

Baby Brother got two stitches and now has a terrific scar about which he can brag of a knife fight or cat attack when he is older. His brother got a lollipop for being so patient. And the cat, well, she got a new home. Somewhere far away between here and there.  

Judgement Day (or everyday for parents in public)

As a parent, I feel I am always being observed by other parents, grandparents, non-parents and even dog-parents. While everyone seems to have an opinion on the correct way to care for and raise a child, they really have an opinion on the things not to do in childrearing. Topics like co-sleeping, bottle vs breast-feeding and spanking vs gentle parenting come to the top of my mind.

These spectators/parenting experts feel most called to share their thoughts based off a single moment like when the boys have been picking on each other all day until one grows tired of it and shoves the other. The onlooker only sees the shove, the moment of crisis, and makes the judgement about a lack of discipline, too much screen time or the need for more religion in a heathen world. Remember, we are in the South.  

Helpful, not really.

This weekend, we went to a Fall Fest at a winery. There was a face painter, activities for the kids, booths of junk, food trucks and, of course, wine. After the boys bounced out of their socks and shoes in the bounce house, we bought a jar of salsa, checked out the knick-knacks and retreated from the hot sun with water for the boys and wine for us.

Two well-dressed family sets walked past us, the women pushed strollers and tugged on toddler’s hands while the men brought up the rear.

A man in a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt watched them from a nearby table with a nearly empty wine bottle in front of him. He said loudly to no one in particular, “Yee-haw. One has the fan on the baby and the other has the fan on herself. Makes you wonder which one is the better mom.”

Everyone who heard the man gasped and asked the nearest adult for clarification, “Did he really just say that?”

Somehow the only people who didn’t hear the man were the mothers as they continued pushing their strollers and tugging on their toddlers.  

Daddy Longlegs and I looked at each other and whispered, “Hillbillies.”  

While the hillbilly was offensive, he brought up an interesting question about self-preservation and self-sacrifice, which one makes for a better mother? Its something that each parent should decide for their family. One thing is for certain, moms don’t need judgement. We get enough comments and side eyes from the outside world, not to mention the criticism that generates from our own heads and hearts about what we should or should not be doing.

We need support and understanding. And some of us need fans.  

Fight or flight

While waiting in line for a pancake house, a man with greasy, grey hair and a sunken-in mouth pushed his way through the backdoor of the kitchen.

I held Baby Brother, who is now quite a big two-year old, in my arms and Daddy Longlegs pulled Little Legs close to him.

“Something tells me that guy isn’t supposed to be in there,” I said.

Little Legs yanked Baby Brother’s shoe off. Baby Brother kicked him in the face and Little Legs started to cry. Obviously, we didn’t have the time to speculate long on the unwanted guest in the house of pancakes.

We went back to making observations about the length of the line, the weather, and trying to keep the boys from bumping into people around us with their wrestling.

Suddenly, the kitchen door swung back open and the grey haired man flew through the air, landing on the sidewalk. The cook, a man in a white apron with a backwards ball-cap, stood in the doorway with his arms crossed.

“You ain’t welcome here,” the cook said.

“You can’t tell me where to go,” the man said.

He grabbed the top of the trashcan and threw it to the ground, not unlike a certain set of boys, in an adult-style tantrum. The weight of the lid surprised the man, and it didn’t go far, landing next to his feet. Returning to his rampage, the man snatched the hat from the cook’s head.

The manager of establishment appeared, a woman with frizzy, blonde hair and black pants.

She said, “You gotta go,” and thumbed the air.  

The man threw the hat down and grumbled something at her. He puffed his malnourished chest up at her like a sick rooster.

She planted her feet firmly in the ground and said, “I am not afraid of you.”

Another kitchen staffer arrived on the scene with a four-foot-long wooden stick, wrapped with white tape. He held it in one hand as he approached, prepared for battle.   

“I don’t need this,” the man said, eying the weapon and the growing crowd of kitchen staff.

The man shoved his way through the line of onlooking, prospective pancake eaters.

While this was happening, I slowly crept backwards, carrying Baby Brother and pulling Daddy Longlegs and Little Legs along with me, not wanting to draw attention to our retreat.

In this open-carry state, it would take one vigilante of justice to pull out a gun and fire shots. I was not interested in one of us catching a stray bullet or trashcan lid as the two sides waged a breakfast war.

That night, Daddy Longlegs asked Little Legs, “Did you have any questions about what happened today?”

Little Legs nodded, “Why did Mommy run away and make us leave?”

And now I have questions. Am I a total wimp? (Yes) Should we have stayed? (No) How do I teach my boys to be brave in a safe way? (Still unsure but accepting any and all advice.)

On Making Friends at the Park

Tired of going down the slide, the boys decided to climb up the side.

It was the natural order of events that gave me little concern. They were taking a risk by ascending where most would descend but the sweet reward of reaching the top without having to run all the way around the playset was too much to resist.

“I have sticky hands,” Little Legs said as he embodied a boy-sized gecko using his hands and feet to move upwards.

He had the advantage of perpetually sticky hands, from a love of candy and reluctance of washing, to help with the climb. All signs of a bad parent, I suppose, but useful in the case of slide-climbing.

“Feet sticky, too,” Baby Brother added as he lizard-walked effortlessly behind his brother.

From the hill leading up to the playground, a little blond girl ran towards us.

“I’m going to make some new friends,” she said to her mother.

Her mother lagged a few steps behind her, loaded with a backpack, another smaller blond child, water bottles and a pink scooter.  

“Guys, get ready to say hi,” I prepared them.

They were about to make a new friend and I was going to make a new mom friend and we were all going to be the best of friends. We already had blond children, overpacking and the need to get them outside in common.

The girl went straight to the slide having observed the boys from a distance.

“You don’t climb up the slide,” the girl said.

“You go down it,” she explained.

Her mother caught up her with and said, “You aren’t their mommy, that is for her to tell them.”

As the window of friendship potential closed, she gave a meaningful look in my direction. Her dark sunglasses made it impossible to tell her intentions. However, the tight, lipless line that was her mouth filled in the gaps of my assumptions.

I laughed and said, “Boys, slide down. No more climbing.”

Of course, they listened.

They promptly climbed, lizard boy style, back up the slide and camped out at the top where they declared, “No mommies allowed,” and returned to catching flies and scaring off bossy girls and their mothers.   

How to Motivate Maniacs

Two hikers raced past me down the paved trail. They were small boys with dirty blond hair and scabbed over knees. Their dusty, black, Velcro-d New Balance tennis shoes pounded the pavement in unison, differentiated only by the size and the worn heels of the smaller, now twice used pair.

“Red light,” I yelled.

I grabbed my bag to prevent it from bouncing my keys out and ran after the maniacs.

“Red light, yellow light, red light,” I yelled.

They laughed in their temporary state of deafness and ran around a blind curve, accelerating as they went downhill.

I imagined one tripping and rolling down the side of the forested hill or the other slamming into an unsuspecting person on a nature stroll.

Clearly, the light system was not working.  I would have to work with the maintenance department for a reset but in the meantime, I had to put the brakes on the situation.

“Stop,” I screamed.

It was a futile use of my vocal cords.

I assumed they would eventually run out of gas or steam or whatever mysterious energy force gave little boys who refused to eat full meals the energy to still have the zoomies. Yet, I also knew that the chance for mishap was quite high at any point before they petered out and wanted to intervene before the expected accident.

If its expected, is it still an accident when objects collide? Does it become Fate or destiny? Perhaps that is a question better directed to an insurance claims adjuster or someone in the ministry.   

As I continued to consider the possibilities, two older women with grey, curly hair and hiking sticks watched the spectacle as we emerged from around the bend.

“Do you want us to help catch them?” one offered.

She stuck her stick out, indicating her plan to trip or whack them, whichever came first and was easier.

What could I do but laugh? The old stick method was sure to bring the critters to a screeching halt, but it felt wrong to allow strangers to break their high spirits or to use such serious means to an inconsequential end.

“No, thanks. Maybe another day,” I said as I raced past keeping the duo in my sight.

They retired to a bench for a bench break and waited patiently like they hadn’t just gone full racehorse on their old workhorse of a mother.

“Guys, we have to work on listening better.”

I explained that they needed to stay close for safety reasons, obviously, I used the example of a bear or a bobcat grabbing them and taking them into a cave. After that, they stuck around, and we finished the excursion with minimal accidents.   

No tripping, whacking, or yelling needed, just the mention of a wild animal carrying one of them off and they were back on track.      

The Power of A Lifesaver

“If you listen and follow me, then I will give it to you,” I said.

We were in a parking lot, at the edge of a wooded area with a short and shaded trail. It should have been perfect for my young hikers who were already protesting exercise in the heat.

I held a single wrapped, green lifesaver.

“I promise, just give me that green thing,” Little Legs begged.

Baby Brother raised his arms up, “Mine.”

It was impossible to promise the candy to one boy and not the other, so I renegotiated the conditions.

“If you both listen and follow me, then I will break this in half, and you can each have a piece.”

Surprisingly, they both nodded in equal agreement.

Inwardly, I laughed as the ease of the negotiation. All I needed was a pack of lifesavers and I could motivate my sons to do anything. I thought we could tackle a trip to Kohl’s, visit their great-grandparents and maybe even get some yard work done.

We set off on our walk, three brave explorers filled with the promise of candy and good behavior, which lasted about one minute before they began their end-the-walk initiative by alternately crying and sitting on the path, refusing to take another step, like two stubborn, coordinated mules.  

No one got the lifesaver.  

Great Snips

A skinny woman in an outfit of all black ushered the boy through the salon to an adjustable chair. She tapped a silver lever near the base with the tip of her tennis shoe. The chair eased down closer to the ground, while a blurry snake tattooed on her ankle wrapped its way around her leg.

“Climb on up there,” she said to the boy.

“Its too high,” the boy said as he clamored onto the seat, one limb at a time.

“What are we doing today, mom?” the stylist asked.

“Let’s go a little shorter than usual,” the mother said from behind the chair.

 Nodding her head, the stylist ran her fingers through the boy’s hair. 

“And then I get a lollypop,” the boy said.

The stylist shook the folds out of a crinkly cape and snapped it at the back of the boy’s sun-browned neck.

“If your mom says its ok,” the stylist said.

“She says its ok,” the boy said without a moment of hesitation.

He stuck his tongue out at the reflection of his mother in the mirror and turned to his own countenance, admiring the shaggy brown hair as it edged into his eyes and over his ears unaware as a wooly lamb that he was about to be sheared.

He Who Needs No Introduction

A man knocked on the door. His camel-colored company shirt had many, possibly too many, pockets. How many matchbox cars could fit into those pockets? I wondered in my toddler-boy-brain conditioned state.

The name “Brad” was stitched on his shirt, right over his heart. Shaggy, brown hair was pulled back from his face with a grungy bandana. In one hand, he held a black nozzle which was connected to a round, silver container on the ground.

“I’m Brad, bug guy. You want me to start on the inside?” he asked.    

Here was a man who needed no introduction, yet he gave one.  

And while the contents of his container were to remain a mystery, his mission was clear.  

He was there for the bugs. No dilly. No dally. And certainly, no small talk.