A rough start…
My friends can vouch that I’m generally a cheery character but today I cried. To be fair, my day had began badly – I accidentally left my oven mitt on a still hot ring causing it to catch fire before throwing it in a bin without thinking causing the bin to smoke. (Look I’m not denying I’m an eejit) Anyway, my mood was really low but I was determined to dust myself off and get myself out of the emotional quick sand that we are all too familiar with.
So I later went to pick my kids up from school. To make a long story short, I mistook a queue of traffic for a line of double parked cars. (Cars often double park in a line directly across from my daughter’s school so it’s not like I pulled this notion out of my arse). I stopped as I always would for the lollipop lady…Are they still called that?…..Children’s Road Safety Enthusiast?.
Livid Lollipop Lady…
I waited and smiled at the lady in question while children skipped across the road, letting her know that I could see her big Stop sign and was happy to wait. (Just like I do with any traffic delay. Good road etiquette is one of my few good qualities). I was a little taken aback when the last child crossed the road and the Lollipop Lady/Safe Cross Code Executive (I’m bound to get the correct term eventually) chucked her sign on the footpath and approached my car at speed. She hammered on the window and began shouting at me to NEVER overtake cars while she had them stopped again. It took me a second to process what she was saying but I immediately began to apologise emphatically, attempting to explain that I had thought the cars were parked and would certainly never have overtaken had I known it was a queue of traffic. (As I mentioned , cars park where the queue was regularly).
I understand that I made a mistake. I accept that the Lollipop Lady/Junior Pedestrian Assistant has a right to call me out on a road error. What really upset me was that she wouldn’t accept my very honest explanation and sincere apology. She continued telling me over and over not to do it again when I was making it clear that it had been unintentional in the first place and I deeply regretted it. And…this is what really stung…She said, “You’ve been here long enough to know”. I know the literal meaning of that statement. My family moved back to the area 6 months ago. However, has any normal human being been somewhere long enough to avoid EVER making a human error? Is there no margin for error?
Had this happened on a regular street at 5pm, would people have been pissed off and beeped their horns in frustration? Absolutely. The difference is that in a regular situation I would have signaled to the other drivers by putting my head in my hands and mouthing “sorry” and holding my hand up in submission (the universal signal for I’m blonde and confused in traffic) and they would have (at worst) shaken their heads and waved me on, accepting that I probably didn’t mean it.
There seems to be absolutely no mercy when it comes to any situation where one is in their parenting role. The slightest oversight will result in a note home, your child being excluded from a party, whispers at the school gate between mothers who’ve presumably never slipped up or a loud, public and intimidating dressing down by a Lollipop Lady/School Traffic Coordinator (Have I got it right yet?). Reading the atmosphere on the road, her attitude towards me had a chain reaction and although I had made an honest mistake, no one was willing to accept my apology and I had to drive away feeling universally judged and emotional. (And it had to happen on the day I took three months of wine, beer and champagne bottles to the recycling bank. I’ve probably been dubbed an alcoholic into the bargain)
Preying on the vulnerable…
Luckily, I’m surrounded by family here. I have good friends and support in the area and I’m not battling any mental health issues. If that encounter made me cry, imagine what it would have been like for someone who (like so many mothers in Ireland) are a flight away from their support network. Someone who was struggling with post natal depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or social anxiety (Something I do know about). What if I had been recovering from addiction or a family bereavement?
I suspect we’re all a little guilty of assuming the worst when people piss us off. Parenting is such a juggling act. It’s mostly fantastic and rewarding but it’s often stressful, confusing and overwhelming. We make mistakes because we are desperately trying to do our best and put ourselves under so much pressure, we end up messing up.
Set the right example for your community…
I bore my kids with lectures on the importance of acknowledging their mistakes and apologising for them. I also teach them that because we all make mistakes we also have to accept other peoples’ errors and their apologies. What did my son who was sitting in the passenger seat learn today? He watched me make a mistake, acknowledge it and apologise. I wasn’t heard or pardoned. She didn’t say she understood and accepted what I was saying. She continued to look angry and judgmental, repeating what she had said prior to my apology as if it didn’t matter…until I drove away in tears, feeling mortified. Who set a worse example in that situation?
Can’t we all switch our thinking and assume that people generally mean well? As parents can we put a little bit more emphasis on being supportive and spend less time judging and looking for the worst in others? It’s common knowledge that Ireland is a black hole in terms of Mental Health Services. Shouldn’t we be working to reassure each other and lessen each others’ paranoia and anxiety as opposed to feeding it? I challenge anyone who reads this to count to 10 the next time they feel like losing it at a stranger and then ask the person the reason behind their action. If they don’t atone for their mistake – have at them, If they do apologise, perhaps you should believe them. We can all do more to reduce stress and anxiety in our community, simply through kindness and acceptance.