We can not let go of things that we have never accepted or believed in in the first place.
This will be my first motherless Mother’s Day. I’m not at all looking forward to it.
Because things were complicated with Mom, I’ve never understood why we should pick one day of the year to demonstrate our affection or pay attention to our mothers. My mother, as complicated as she was, would likely make every day Mother’s Day, and in fact I recall her saying such a thing not ironically at all upon occasion.
But she is gone, and I must accept it. I have been faced with having to accept a lot these days.
Life gets complicated as we age. I tell my kids not to rush things; grown-ups are often just big kids, terrified, un-actualized and ready to fight, press through (fight) or flee when things don’t go our way. When things do go smoothly, we thank God; when they don’t go smoothly, who do we blame? Certainly not God; we are all given free will.
All this aside, the last two weeks have been especially taxing at my home.
I have been quiet, mostly, about what’s been happening here. But I hear Mom, I hear her say, “that’s not a friend,” about how we were treated. “That’s not what friends do…” she would add on, saying “No. That’s not at all friendly.”
My son, who is human and flawed like the rest of us, has been singled out on his bus by another student, by someone with whose family we’ve been friends, intimates, for about a decade.
Kids are kids; they do inappropriate things. They unwittingly project their stuff — be it fear, inadequacy, ignorance, anger, arrogance — on to other people. I get that kids are kids. It’s our job, as parents, teachers, adults, coaches, leaders, and examples to teach them. When we think we’re teaching, they’re paying attention; more importantly, when we think we’re just existing, we are teaching as well. “Do as I say, not as I do…”
What’s happened to us, Mom would be right. She is right. What happened to us, is not what ‘friends’ do to one another.
The student who singled out our son did so (or he liked to blame it and was supported by his parent in the thrust of it) in the name of “bus culture” — an antiquated and hazing-esque notion, that younger students simply by implied edict and a set of tacit rules, must sit in certain zones and not where they wish.
But there is no bus culture; least of all on this bus. It’s simple bullying. It’s simple targeted, strategic and chronic harassment. My son has been the only one called out –by anyone!– for sitting where he chooses AND this other student has only chosen my son. Why? Because we’re safe; because we’re “friendlies”; because … I have no clue. It’s been a longtime thing between these two. But I do know this, my son’s brother, who’d rather toss his brother into an oncoming Acela train, has testified that his brother has been harassed without provocation.
We’ve had a tough year: my mother died the day before school started. But my sons, all of them, rallied academically after an initial rough launch. The one who’s been harassed: his grades were strong first quarter: Bs. They started to fall in November. About the time the harassment began, according to reflective moments by both my kids. That’s when he also started to become reclusive. His sleep was disrupted. I chalked it up to Mom’s death, but he was OK with that, for the most part. He wasn’t eating well and he didn’t care about sports anymore. He became hard to deal with at home: openly defiant and then oddly affectionate. I suspected hormones. This particular son has always been a little more intense than his brothers, a little more needy, a little more … work. He has never been malignant; never openly hostile; never physical. It was changing. He was changing.
My grieving was now two-fold. I never suspected bullying because he’s very open with us about those things. He would tell us all the time about something if it were bothering him — usually about three seconds before I would fall asleep, after he’d had trouble doing so. But about this other kid, the one whose family was so close to ours? Not a peep. My husband saw them dis-board the bus one day; the other kid tackling my son on the grass and not getting off him at first; big-kid on younger-kid type stuff. It ended soon enough, but it left an imprint and we spoke to our other son about keeping an eye on family on the bus, especially with this other kid. They’d had a history.
Back to bus culture. That was a stupid premise. As I said, my son has been the sole target of this particular individual. The “rules” are one thing. I can understand and see that; I don’t agree with it, but I have been an older student on a bus wishing the twerpy freshmen would sit somewhere else. But did I call them slurs and push them around and tease them? Nnnnnno. The name calling, constant badgering, profanity, hate speech, hands-on, kicking, hoody pulling, hair-tugging, baiting with a pleasant conversation only to be shown gruesome imagery on a smartphone, “STFU”-ing and all the rest… that’s what I liked to call “unacceptable.”
That’s what Mom would say, “That’s not friendly.” But as I said — kids are kids. They do stupid stuff all the time.
Mom would’ve said about it all, “consider the source” and “don’t throw your pearls before swine,” and her all-time favorite, “Oh jeeze … let it go, Maal. Let it be.” Or then again, maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she’d tell me to hunker down, to fight for my kid. Which she did, which I remember vividly her doing on my behalf when I was young and dragged through the school playground by a really mean kid.
So we did. We dug in and decided to advocate for our son. What we didn’t expect, what we didn’t see coming, what we couldn’t ever have envisioned, although we should have because history has shown us that no one is special to these people, that everyone is a target, is the tactical attack we endured.
Instead of a rational discussion, which we attempted to have because we have known these people for several years on a personal basis (and because we wanted to do what we could to maintain peace, harmony and freaking decorum), we were verbally abused in our own home.
The adults became control freaks. Despotism reigned supreme; there was no room for conversation; there was no opportunity, no matter how we offered it, for rationality. Instead we were attacked — with wide eyes and open arms, twice.
The father apparently had time to interview other riders on the bus. According to him, all these people harbor a just-below-the-surface-level, near-hate for my kid and that he’s always stirring up shit on the bus.
When he opened his best Sam Waterson a la “Law & Order” showdown in our home, complete with righteous indignation and lather, he named four other people (one of them his own child), and according to him, they all indicated to him that my son was the instigator and that ONE PERSON IS TO BLAME AND ONE PERSON ONLY… and he lunged from his seat and unfolded his forearm to aim his magic Uncle Sam / Charlton Heston Moses finger at my kid. He also commanded that his son had the floor, and that my son was to sit down [and shut up] and not interrupt. There was no “Let’s talk this out. We want to resolve a problem here…” There was the SS. There was the gestapo in my family room telling us what we were going to do. There was the Taliban taking a psychic shit in my house.
My kitchen and sink faces this family room. It’s separated by a wall / breakfast bar. My son was seated in a chair, his back to the breakfast bar and my face.
I was on the other side of the wall next to my sink cutting broccoli. I looked up, raised an eyebrow and took note. I let it slide internally thinking, Yikes. That was abrupt, but he’s on the defensive and he’s on our turf. Given the situation, this one can slide. If it happens again, it won’t slide. To show adult unity, despite its desperation, I also reminded our son, “Did you hear that? Gerhard has the floor. Be still.” My son, Finnegan, nodded, a little freaked out, but nodded.
It didn’t go well. The other kid opened with, “Finnegan is in seventh grade. He is the instigator. He can’t sit where he wants on the bus…”
I put down my knife. I looked up and I said, “Let me interrupt. I need to get this straight. Are you, Gerhard, basing your entire argument and your chosen behavior on bus culture and a tacit seating ‘rule’? Because if you are, you need to stop. This is America. There is no more Rosa Parks bullshit. There is no bus caste system…”
The dad. The dad went combustible. He imploded and impelled me to let his son speak. I said, “I’m laughing at this. I am. This is laughable. You’re defending this??”
“You have to! You have to let him speak…”
“No. I don’t. Not on this premise.”
My husband, the coolest head of all, ever — really — of all time, interrupted and spoke to Gerhard. “With all due respect, I need to ask this: Do you know what ‘instigator’ means?” He defined the word, we all agreed and Gerhard said, “Then, no. Finnegan is not totally to blame.”
The dad … deflated.
He started up again though, with the names of the other kids on the bus, that they all see Finnegan as the starter and jerk.
I threw that out on a simple technicality. My years of watching “Law & Order” have brilliantly educated me with the commensurate distance-learning Juris Doctorate. “You can’t introduce testimony of witnesses who aren’t called to the stand. It’s all hearsay, rumor, innuendo and if we were in a court of law, Hector, this would be tossed out and you know it. You can phrase a question any way you want and if we can’t do a cross-examination, it’s bogus. You know that.” Internally, I was dying to shout, “Mistrial! I move for a motion to dismiss this case…” but I didn’t. We were just getting started, apparently.
After I pulled a Judge Judy, Hector was even more deflated and as fate would tell, more desperate.
Someone recalled the bus culture thing. I wasn’t having any of it.
“We all make choices, Gerhard, to behave or not to behave. If we based our internal choices on what the rules were, we’d all be perfect citizens. I wouldn’t have gotten speeding tickets all those years ago and there’d be no need for jails. But we don’t. We make choices and you have chosen unwisely to do what you’ve done. And defending your actions based on ‘bus culture’ is a pathetic move…”
Gerhard was the most composed of all of us. I was impressed actually. I envisioned him in a three-piece suit, like Atticus Finch, defending a wrongly accused person.
The energy escalated intensely. The dad brought up old tiffs, desperately trying to peg something, some form of egregious wrongdoing on my son seconds before he tried to walk out of my house.
I called him a coward for introducing that old wound. (Anyone who’s had nanosecond of therapy will tell you you can’t throw old fights into a new one just because you’re losing the argument.) I again called him on hearsay — because he wasn’t there for any of it: the offense nor the apology and that his wife and his child along with myself and my kids were in attendance for the apology and discussion and that before it all ended I cleared everyone to say one last thing if they were still bothered and no one said anything — and that his attempt to leave after throwing that “pipe bomb” and that “molotov cocktail” at us was unacceptable, that he had to listen to our response.
I remember he sarcastically tossed back at me, “Molotov cocktail? Really?” as though SOMEHOW in this entire incident we had surprised them. Oh, by what? Hitting our limit with the bullshit on the bus? By trying to talk it out? Criminy.
I was hot. I was on fire by this point for now my integrity had been impugned.
That. That was when Finnegan spoke up and defended himself and our family and me and his father and our home with a vigor and a passion and sense of justice I’ve never seen. He nailed in detail and enumerated each of Gerhard’s abuses, in front of his father. He raged at the father, tears streaming down his face. He shouted and ardently defended his reputation, and his absolute and God-given right to exist on that bus. He gathered his breath and he narrowed his eyes and looked at Gerhard, “You taunted me! You said to me, JUST TODAY, ‘are you gonna go cry to Mommy about this, you little bitch?’ and HELL YES. You bet I am you jerk! You can’t treat me the way you have! You have no right!”
Finnegan was unleashed. The dad hightailed. Heretofore, his dislike for my son was mostly suspected, but palpable, and only on an energetic level for we had yet to verbally understand and appreciate his long-borne distrust and enmity for my son. He saved that for his anguished condemnation outside my house when he shouted at it from the street:
“I told you, Gerhard! I told you to stay away from Finnegan! I told you he was a bad kid! I told you that he would cause you trouble! But you ignored me! This is what has come of it! This!” Along with this serenade, was the invocation yet again of the bus culture, that Finnegan can’t sit where he wants, that there’s a code (like a Code Red a la “A Few Good Men” if you ask me) and that it must be abided.
I shouted from my house an invitation for the dad to go have intercourse with himself. But I used street terms. This is not good for a yoga teacher, to spew this stuff, but I was now done. I was at eleven. My home, sanctuary, castle, safe place had been invaded.
My husband, still the cooler head, replied, “You can’t justify this, any of it, on bus culture. You can’t. It’s pathetic and desperate and not real… It’s inexcusable.”
Back up two minutes: once shit hit the fan, once I decided I wasn’t going to hear of it, Gerhard smartly noted they were outgunned. He was pleading with his father to move out. To pack up. To stop. To stop. To stop.
Once it moved out to the street in front of my house, like scene from The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Gerhard grew quiet, perhaps realizing the thrust of what was going on. He tried to get his father to stop. He was seeing parent bear behavior in full swing. My mama bear in my cave versus his aggressive frantic papa bear shouting from the street, outside the cave.
That was Friday.
Within 30 seconds of the rage out on our street, up comes the wife, my friend, to talk. I was in no condition. She and I have had our moments, all of them civil, but still icy. I relented and walked with her on the wet sidewalk. It had recently stopped raining. We walked for about 30 minutes. I don’t remember much of what I said. I was unreliable. In fact I said I was. Her opening statement was worry that this whole thing would come between her and me. I agreed that I didn’t want that to happen, but I recall this: I knew things had radically changed. This door had come off its hinges. I made no promises.
Saturday night, my youngest son cried in my bed for about 20 minutes, terrified of the dad, that he would “rage at me” too. He was mostly afraid he’d never see his friend again, their youngest child, because the man was so angry. We were hunkering down. My family had grown closer, tighter and more resolved than ever to stick together.
The other family, on the other hand, had “vilified” the dad, according to him, for 36 hours later on Sunday he came by unannounced (which threw my youngest into a tailspin again) to apologize only to Finnegan for yelling at his parents in front of him. Finnegan said, “What about when you yelled at me?” the dad didn’t remember. He apologized for that as well, if that was what he did.
But this was a forced apology; he explained that he was the bad guy in his own home. He wasn’t ready to give the apology and we weren’t ready to hear it. See, that’s a funny thing about apologies: the body language was all off. The index finger was wagging in my husband’s face and the torso was leaning in toward my husband. It wasn’t an apology, it was “and another thing…” No matter, it failed. Finnegan said, “I’m not ready to accept it,” and turned away.
I spoke with the wife Sunday evening to tell her we need space. To tell her we can’t have these drop-ins. That we’re all feeling quite raw and vulnerable. She said she understood, that her heart was broken, that she loved me. I listened. I told her this was all still recoverable. That it could be ok given some time and space.
I heard Mom, “this isn’t what friends do…” I hushed it away. I wanted to fix things. I wanted to be the exemption, I wanted to be different, historically, and move forward, ignoring “past as prologue.” So I did, somewhat. I put my best and trusting foot forward. I said “Finnegan is going to give Gerhard a wide berth and we hope you’ve instructed Gerhard to do the same.” She was quiet and said, “yes, sure.”
I then said, “Finnegan, like Gerhard, can sit where he wishes because there is no assigned seating and also because it’s his civil right. He is not to acknowledge Gerhard. He knows this; if he defies me there will be severe consequences.”
She said, “Isn’t that like poking the bear?”
“What? Come again?” I asked, shaking the ice cubes in my head.
“Isn’t that like poking at the fire? I mean, that’s like starting it all up again…You’re going back into the bear cave and poking it…”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Once again, I was being told what to do. This situation showed me that this person didn’t understand the reality and that there was no negotiation. That I was to do what I was told.
My jaw set. I took a deep breath and became terse; I was done. “Look, I’ve told Finnegan to mind his fucking business on that bus; he assures me he has all year. I’ve told Finnegan that if he crosses me or steps into Gerhard’s space, short of an actual bus emergency, that I will rain down on him an unholy mess of hell. He won’t cross me. He has promised me. So it’s up to Gerhard. If Gerhard can do the same, we will be OK. There will be no ‘bear‘ to poke, right?”
I wasn’t going to do this again. We agreed to end it there. I had no idea what to expect, but what happened the next day, never would have occurred to me in a gazillion years.
She instructed her other child to video record the bus ride home, focusing mostly on my son, according to my other son, and according to the comments from the other child when I called to inquire on the phone moments after my kids walked in the door with, “Mom, you’re not gonna believe what happened today on the bus…”
When the mother called me back, I expressed my confusion, my dismay. “We had an understanding. We had an agreement. What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you invade my son’s privacy like that?! WHY?!”
As cool as a cucumber on an Indian Summer day she said, “I instructed my child to do so to protect my son…”
“FROM WHAT?! The puppet master Finnegan? He’s so powerful that everyone loses their senses and acts like an asshole because he has the power??”
Once again, I sit in awe of my son’s omnipotence. (That was deep and dripping sarcasm.)
She hung up on me. I get that. I was irrational, but she started this next wave, again. I don’t know what they eat in that house: raw seal meat? The predatory nature of all of this, how this whole thing has been handled by the other family is … boggling.
It was over for me. I was done. I had thrown a bone, I had made the call, I had created a space of trust or so I thought. My oldest son and I walked over to their house with their house key and exchanged them. If they’re willing to video record my kids on the bus, how do I know they’re not willing to do it when we are in our own backyard? There is no relief; I had to find it internally. Externally, the relief eluded, like a terrified defensive bear.
This is not the first time I’ve been attacked by a “man” in front of my family for defending a child. It’s just the first time I’ve been attacked for it in my own home. This must be what comes of crossing a man… of doing the right thing. I can’t be bothered with “codes” and “rules.” If you’re being a jerk to a kid and I’m around to see it, you’re going to hear about it from me. No one should ever yell at a child. I’m not innocent of it, but I’ll be damned, truly, if I let a grown man … never mind. It’s ridiculous.
This bus thing all went down, the first wave anyway, two weeks ago. I have meditated on it. I have sought counsel with God, through religious people, with spiritual people, with friends, with my Mom’s spirit. All of it has led to the most challenging reply: “Accept what is.” and then this: “Let it go. Let it be.”
I thought to myself, “I have accepted this.” I have accepted the notion that people can be assholes and they do assholic things and I’ve had to deal with it; that despite my best attempts at rational behavior, that even I, yes I, can be an asshole too. So I accept that.
But no, I haven’t. I’ve reviewed my words describing so much of what has happened to me in my life: my crazy childhood; my bizarre parents; my complicated relationship with Mom and other women; Mom’s death!; issues with the school over the years and now this situation: all of it, from the treatment of my son to the apoplectic dad and the scheming mother; I’ve looked at so much more. All the offenses that have occurred to me were thusly described as:
So when I think about it that way, being a wordy person I see the discrepancy. These things were and are acceptable, tenable, conceivable, believable, possible and bullshit? — they were and are all these things because … drumroll: THEY HAVE HAPPENED! THE FATES AND THE UNIVERSE AND GOD HAVE LET THEM HAPPEN!
All of this begs the question then:
Who the who am I to think I’m above it all? Who do I think I am that I’ve got some magic pass that somehow separates me from everyone else who is shit upon? Especially by those people?
No. Clearly, this family has shown us, me, that we’re just as marked as anyone else. That we’re just as un-special as anyone else they’ve gone after. Screw the decade of relationship. Screw the travel and the house sitting and the dog watching and the kiddo playdates. Screw it all to heck. We are no different. We are able to smiled at and then attacked in our own home. We are able to be cried upon and requested of for forgiveness and then video recorded. We too are raw seal meat.
God has shown me. This I must accept.
My back was KILLING me for days after the initial incident. I thought I’d been t-boned in a car accident. Hit out of nowhere. I couldn’t walk. This is not good for a yoga teacher.
I asked my friend for remote Reiki to heal me and help me. The Reiki was given by an unknown practitioner who had no knowledge of the situation or of my life. She sent me the messages from her reading:
As I began the session I kept hearing the words “Let it be.” I then saw you bending over and picking up pieces of what seemed to be broken glass. You kept saying: It is back-breaking work picking up the pieces.” Your spirit asked: “What am I to do?” You were told over and over to “let it be.” “It is not your job to pick up the pieces.” Your spirit then asked: “How can I help then?” You were told: “Accept what is.” You then asked: “How?” You were told: “Love what is. Don’t try to change it (the situation). Change how you feel about the situation. Accept it for what it is now. CHOOSE to accept it. It is about how you handle the situation. You are not responsible for the reaction of another. Your only responsibility is to yourSelf and how you handle the situation. How you respond is what is within your control. Trying to fix things is an attempt to control the situation. The situation is what it is. It is neither good nor bad–it just is. It is how you respond to the situation that determines the outcome. It is what you do with the pieces. You can accept that the glass is broken and can’t be fixed (now). You can change the type of glass you use or you can not to replace the glass at all. The choice is yours. Take the next step. Just picking up the pieces changes nothing. It is what you do with the pieces that matters. What you do when the glass keeps shattering.
Glass. Shattering. “Keeps shattering.” Yeah. I referred to this latest situation as my reality being shattered. But it wasn’t the reality that was shattered was it? It was my belief that we were safe. My belief that I was different, separate somehow unique: that my mother wouldn’t die despite the obvious declines in her health; that I’d have more time to make amends and show her love; that all my Work would reward and protect me. No… I am not separate. I am like you. I am capable of the unacceptable. I am capable of the unbelievable. It reminded me of the time I fought with a beloved family member. Space was requested and space was given. It chewed me up, to give all that space; I wanted desperately to fix things, to move beyond my horrid treatment of that person, to wash it off and let it go… but no, I had to sit with it. I see the value in that, no matter how sticky and smelly the muck.
So I’m looking at this paragraph every morning when I wake and every evening when I sleep. I have written about each sentence in the reading. I am doing the Work to heal myself and I am no longer ignoring my intuition, which has told me many times, to “watch it with this one; you are no different than anyone else…” and so yes, the door is off its hinges. Every time I’ve tried to fix it, to think of things in a different way, to let bygones be bygones, my back hurts again. Reminding me: this is not mine. It’s like a slam back to reality. Accept what is. This is what it is.
After the report of the video recording, we involved the school. I’d had enough. Gerhard, after an apparent sob to his parents and some form of ownership, started back up on Monday pestering Finnegan and his sibling was urging him to stop so that footage of Finnegan could be revealed on the video.
But the school stepped in. Reviewed the video they have on all the buses now, and confirmed that Gerhard and the sibling were doing exactly what my kids reported and that Finnegan was doing nothing. Just to clarify: for Gerhard to pester my son, he had to turn around in his seat.
Again, I sit amazed by it all and saddened by it because people have blinders on. All my years — almost 10 now — of self-reflection, accountability, ownership, therapy, writing, therapy, therapy, and therapy! Oy! have revealed to me that we must be self-aware. We must listen to our hearts, to our souls. As one of my energy healer friends said to me the other day, “We are remembering what we forgot…” in terms of how to live in a pure way, according to our inner guides and intuition. We were trained as children to be polite, to make nice, to be friends, despite the twinges, the gentle nudges inside us which whisper, “Nooooo… not that one…”
Free will, dude. We screw ourselves all the time.
The other mom and I have made amends, as much as I am comfortable extending. She apologized for hanging up on me and for instructing her child to video record my son; she volunteered that it was a crazy, irrational thing to do. She told me that the video didn’t record. I don’t know whether to believe that. I don’t care. I told her the trust has been shattered. That we were looking for houses last weekend to move into to get away. To keep ourselves safe. That we still don’t trust and we live with a fair amount of vigilance. That I still need some space is an understatement. I’m not mad anymore; I’m just smarter now. The surfaces are very spongy.
I repeated to her, we played by the books. We didn’t triangulate. We didn’t try to smear anyone; we certainly didn’t launch an offensive investigation into her son’s behavior and treatment of my son on the bus; we simply tried to keep it bilateral.
To me, this looks like a case of parental sadness and familial hemorrhaging. This child of theirs has a history of pot-stirring, of outbursts, of aggression. But it’s not mine. I have one lifetime to protect my kids. Motherhood is so so so very challenging.
I’ve been very very very quiet about it online.
But it’s time I share what I’ve processed of it; perhaps show you (if you’re still with me) about the words we use when we are hurt and frightened.
In order to let things go, in order to let things be (God has shown me too — last Sunday I saw a man at the nursery wearing the shirt emblazoned with “Let It Be” and an image of The Beatles) — we must accept them in the first place. We must love them, welcome them in, sit with them, feed them and let them stay. Then, and only then, can we let them go.
We can not let go of things that we have never accepted or believed in in the first place. Good God, how I wish Mom were here right now. She was good this way; as she aged, for me anyway, she would go right to the heart of things.
But we all die. Moms die. Every day, someone’s mom dies. Every day. And we are left to decide what to do with all the pieces. All the glass. I like to think there are different pieces of glass in this situation. The bus glass, it’s not mine to pick up. I don’t care. I’m not special. I am just like you; we are not special. We must accept that, feed it and love it in order to grow.
We moms get one life to get this right. Lots of chances, but one lasting opportunity.