Friday, May 27, 2016

When Another Parent Decides They Know Better Than You

This week, I had my first experience with another mother trying to hurt me via my kid. I have struggled to process it since it happened on Monday, because it's just such a foreign concept to me. I mean, there are plenty of people I don't like. You know what I do? I avoid them. But this mom went out of her way to hurt me, and the fact that she did it through Jack made it a million times worse. Here's the story:

This mom (we'll call her Mary) was nice to me when I first got here. We hung out a few times, our kids were both entering Kindergarten at the same school, and I liked her just fine. I thought she liked me too. My first tip-off should have been a few months after I got here, when I met someone new who said, "Oh, I've heard about you from Mary." Huh, I thought. That was weird. But nothing had ever happened between Mary and me, so I didn't make much of it. In fact, she'd had us over multiple times for playdates or parties during our time here. Our husbands and kids got along. There was no reason to think anything was wrong between us.

Then one day, Mary messaged me on a Friday to ask if I'd received the invitation for her son's party that weekend. I immediately wrote back and said no, I hadn't. On Saturday I texted again to ask if the party had already happened. Mary never wrote back again. I let it go, even when a mutual friend posted pictures from the party on Facebook on Sunday, and I recognized many of the moms and kids in the photo. I didn't tell Jack about it because I didn't want his feelings to be hurt. But then Mary's son and another kid in the class told Jack he hadn't been invited, and I messaged Mary just to ask what had happened to the invite. She never wrote back.

A couple of weeks later I ran into Mary, and she somewhat aggressively told me the invite had gone to my husband's office. That was odd, since I'd been in John's office multiple times to collect mail (he was out of the country that month) and never saw it, but all I said was, "Okay, but I wrote you back saying we hadn't gotten it and you never responded." She walked away from me. The invitation never materialized.

I ran into her a couple of other times and she was always perfectly nice. And then on Sunday evening she emailed to ask if Jack could go to a playdate at her house, because they're moving soon and her son wanted to have a last playdate together. Sure, I said. I was happy Jack wasn't being excluded, and she just lives down the street. I told her John would pick Jack up around 5. When he got there, Mary said to him: "I hope Mara's not mad, but Jack had two hotdogs."

If you know me as more than a casual acquaintance, you know that I'm a vegetarian. I have been for a long time - nearly twenty years. I started eating fish when we lived in Russia because I was starving, but I try to limit my intake and I am careful to choose sustainable fish when I can (we order our tuna online specifically for this reason). John and I decided before our kids were born that they would be pescatarians. I became a vegetarian in the first place because I didn't believe animals needed to die just so I could eat them, and that reason still holds for me. But it has become about so much more than that in the years since. I'm not going to lecture anyone on vegetarianism here. It's a personal decision that I don't impose on anyone, other than my own kids, who can choose to eat meat when I believe they are capable of making informed decisions that don't require me scaring them with facts I don't think they're ready for. My kids are happy and healthy. That's really all anyone needs to know.

Mary knows we are vegetarians. She knows this because we have been to her house for multiple parties and pizza nights, when she has always been gracious enough to offer us a veggie alternative. I appreciate when people do this, but I never expect it. I am happy to bring something if the host doesn't know how to cook vegetarian (but let's be honest, this isn't Texas in 2003, when I had a hell of a time being vegetarian; most people can come up with a veggie alternative these days, especially since we eat fish too). So I was shocked to hear this from my husband. "I hope Mara's not mad..." This didn't imply that she'd forgotten Jack didn't eat meat. This didn't imply that she'd tried to call or text me (I was at home, and she hadn't). This didn't really imply that Jack had snuck the hotdogs when she wasn't looking, because there was no apology. And let me tell you, Mara was mad.

I stewed on it for twenty-four hours. Half the people I talked to said I should let it go because Mary was leaving and there would be no future playdates. The other half said I should say something, because what she'd done was wrong and she should know it. After all, Mary doesn't know why I'm a vegetarian. She didn't know if it would make Jack sick (two hotdogs could make any kid sick, let alone a kid who's never eaten meat). Jack didn't even understand what hotdogs were. I was surprised he'd eaten them, honestly, because he's usually very opposed to the idea of trying meat, but I think he saw his friends eating them, and they looked tasty (he's eaten vegetarian corndogs and loves them) and he's getting to an age where he's very curious. I'm not surprised Jack liked the taste of hotdogs. They are designed to be delicious. They are also probably the last meat I'd ever give to my kid (some free-range chicken might have been a different story). But none of that really matters. What matters is that a parent took my child into her care knowing his dietary restrictions, and then decided that she knew better, that her feelings were more important than mine.

I tried to let it go, but I couldn't. I felt like my trust had been violated, and because of the other weirdness between us, it didn't feel benign. It felt targeted. So I sent a Facebook message saying I'd appreciated her having Jack over, but in the future she may want to ask a parent before giving their child a food she knows they're not supposed to have. I said that perhaps she'd forgotten in the chaos of her move, which was understandable (I didn't believe for a second she'd forgotten, but I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt), but that this was very important to me and I would have appreciated a call or text.

This was her response:
"Mara, I did not forgot [sic]. I purchased an alternative especially for him, but he declined, and asked for seconds."

That was the entire response. No apology. In fact, she tried to rub it in my face that my kid had liked the hotdog. As if the reason we don't eat meat is because it doesn't taste good. As if she was justified, because my child enjoyed it. As if offering him an alternative that he declined (I don't know what this "alternative" was; Jack mentioned that he was offered an apple and chips, but he's six, and I don't take everything he says at face value because HE'S SIX) let her off the hook for asking me if I was okay with it, or simply telling Jack he'd have to take it up with me. As if she was right, and I was wrong. 

When I shared that with my friends, the opinions of what I should do were a lot more forceful: "Brass knuckle throat punch"; "Flame that bitch"; "GRILL HER"; "Time for throwing stars and full metal war."

Fortunately, I was with my yogi friend when the message came, and she wisely advised that I let it go. I cried through our yoga session and came home and blocked Mary on Facebook, and then I decided to write about it, because that's how I process things. As Anne Lamott said in her wonderful book Bird by Bird, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."

I don't think I need to remind other moms that having a kid over for a playdate doesn't mean we can override his or her parents' rules, whether or not we agree with them. But maybe I needed to be reminded that sometimes we have to trust our own judgment about people, even if we don't know why they dislike us, even if it means our kids might feel left out from time to time. When it comes to "friends," there are some we're all better off without.


manda said...

So sorry Mara, that really sucks.

Aaron Joseph said...

Wow. That's a pretty terrible thing to do. That's as bad as converting my kid to fundamentalist Christianity while at a playdate and then telling me, that, "well, as a Buddhist, you're going to hell, but now you can be glad that your child is saved."

Your response was remarkably sane. Good work.