Today, for a moment, I was proud.
My daughter told me she was nervous about going to a party,
‘Why are you nervous sweetie?’
‘I think they’re going to beat each other at the party Mum.’
‘BEAT EACH OTHER??’
I was worried for a second until I realised she didn’t mean that kind of beating.
‘Oh, you mean they are going to have running races?’
‘Don’t worry’ I said. ‘It’s not winning that’s important, it’s the taking part.’
‘No’ she said ‘I’m not worried about winning or not. I just don’t want to make new friends and then race them. If I win or if I lose, they might not want to be friends anymore.’
As her words sunk in, I realised what a lovely, smart little girl I have.
And what a brilliant viewpoint.
Her choice, before the party had even begun, was to avoid any competition to keep the status quo. She wanted to make sure her and her friends stayed on equal terms.
‘Well done’ I said ‘You don’t have to race if you don’t want to.’
‘Ok, I won’t.’ she said ‘Can I have an ice cream now?’
As we walked towards the shops, my heart filled with joy. I felt privileged to me her mum.. So much so, that I let her have two scoops of rainbow flavour in a chocolate cone with double sprinkles.
‘The running race’… her brilliant philosophy, got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all lived like that? A life with no competitors, a community without expectation or judgement. A world where we learned to slow down and help each other to the finish line.
Her little anecdote reminded me of a situation recently when I judged and put someone on unequal terms for no real reason.
I was standing on a curb outside the supermarket waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.
It had started to rain. I must have looked like a half-drowned Afgan hound with my hair all stuck to my face and overflowing shopping bags at my feet.
Just as an orange rolled out of a bag a beautiful woman, with olive skin and long legs stepped out of a car that had pulled into the space in front of me. She pulled a hood over her head and hurried around the side of the car to let her two kids out.
‘Come on darling. Mummies got to pick up Atticus from the dog groomer then go to Pilates afterwards. Let’s get a move on’
One child shuffled along the leather seats and she undid the seatbelt of a baby that was in a little capsule. She then pulled out a (non-banana stained) pram from the boot and a plastic giraffe toy fell to the ground at my feet. I picked it up and held it in my hands looking into its horrifying googly eyes. The woman hadn’t seen it fall from the car and at first, I didn’t hand it back.
I just stood in the rain staring.
From the moment the woman had stepped out of her vehicle I had judged everything. I was judging her voice, her clothes, her pram, her car. I was even judging the quality of the toy that had landed at my feet.
I didn’t know the woman; I had never seen her before.
She seemed organised, healthy, like she might own a horse and play tennis. She probably had a husband that was a lawyer and had holidays in posh hotels where cleaners left mints on your pillow and ate in fine restaurants where waiters placed a napkin in your lap.
I stood in a puddle with water seeping into my shoes, judging her. Wrapping her life into a neat little box to enable me to dislike her. As I stood there I wondered why I was doing it.
Why was my default emotion towards her to pin myself against her, like a race?
Why was I placing her and I into an invisible rivalry? Why do we humans do that??
Pitch ourselves against one another?
She hadn’t done anything to make me feel less than. She hadn’t looked down at me or said anything derogatory to me, yet I was standing in the rain full of animosity for this woman I didn’t even know. The only thing I knew was that she was different to me. That’s it.
And when someone’s not alike, my brain tries to work out why they are different to me.
I list why we should remain on different planes, hoping our differences are what will keep us apart.
I wonder why I want to make people different rather than find common ground?
Instead of making a friend or seeing good in this woman I was automatically
creating a competitor. I was conjuring the worst in my head instead of giving her an equal, fair start.
I was judging a stranger on how she looked and on how I imagined her life to be.
How ridiculous of me!
I almost wanted to slap myself around the face to snap out of my negative opinio.It was so irrational and unfounded.
I took in a deep breath, and I decided to change tack.
Instead, I imagined her screaming into a pillow at night along with the rest of the tired mothers on the planet. I thought of her struggling with shyness or trauma. I imagined her feeling the things I felt, suffering like we all do at times, hoping for better and trying to fit in.
I realised she was doing her best just like me, probably trying to impress her mother’s group, trying to keep up with life, with kids, with being good enough.
I had empathy instead of judgement.
I bowed out of the race.
Before I knew what I was doing I called her,
Excuse me, you dropped this.’
I handed it over.
‘Oh Thanks’ she said with a big smile.
‘Would you like a lift somewhere, that rain doesn’t seem to be slowing.’
‘It’s ok, My husband is on his way.’
‘Well then, take my umbrella. You can keep it.’
And, without a word, I took it from her.
Then she was gone.
I smiled and put up the umbrella.
‘A nice lady gave me an umbrella and now I feel all warm inside.’ I said when in the warm car.
He just looked at me and said,
‘Did you get the chocolate puddings I like?’
And drove home.
It just shows, my daughter was right.
We can spend our entire lives guessing and judging who people are, what they are like and how they feel. We can spend our lifetimes refereeing life and looking for faults.
But what good does it do when we don’t actually know?
Let’s face it, everyone has a story, no matter if they seem happy or rich or have perfect children in the back of a Range Rover eating bliss balls. Under every happy surface lies a history, some pain and low self-esteem. Some sadness and some trauma.
Realising this, listening to my negative chatter made me kinder that day. I changed my mind before she even handed me the umbrella. I cognitively changed my neural pathway and even though that’s sounds hard to do…. It wasn’t.
I turned it around, stopped myself in my well-worn tracks.
Like my daughter, from now on I’m going to try harder to start each interaction with equality. Being more aware of how I treat people might be a sober thing, or an age thing, or I’ve just realised I’ve been a bit of a twat for many years, but whatever it is, it feels better.
I’m hoping these small changes will mean this race doesn’t have to feel so fucking long.
Judging is tiring and unhelpful.
I’m done racing. I’m out of breath.
I can’t keep up anymore.
Instead, I'm trying to ditch the negativity,
be a bit more umbrella.
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