OK, I lied. This is not one of those helpful lists of what not to say to stay-at-home-working-nursing-formula-feeding-single-married-moms, blondes, brunettes, knitters or cilantro-haters. Why? Because such tutorials, while entertaining, are pointless. People say stupid crap. All the time. Since the dawn of time. No one is immune. If I had even a nickel for every instance I've been guilty of verbal vomit I'd never have to work again. Nor would my children. Or my children's children, or theirs, or... you get the point. And if I monetized each time someone's uttered something obtusely offensive to me, I'd be well on my way to out-wealth-ing Oprah.
I get it. Life would be exponentially easier if we could mandate what's said and not said to us. It's highly annoying to be floating along, minding our own beeswax and then, KA-POW!.... We're thwacked by someone's wily words. Then dammit all to hell, we're forced to feel something. And that something is more often than not unpleasant, resulting in the desire to sock said speaker into submission; a cycle which for me, seemed never-ending.
Then one day I realized the scale of my reaction was always in direct proportion to my clarity, or lack thereof on a certain subject. For when I'm foggy, loose-lipped commentary, however intended, awakens the slumbering Should Monster within. For example:
"It's so nice you can afford to stay home", as a stay-at-home mom to my firstborn.
"Can't you afford to stay home?", as a working mom to my second.
"Isn't a migraine just a headache?"
(SHOULD MONSTER enters brain left, monologues)
Oh Shit Balls. Maybe I SHOULD stay home with my baby. Maybe I SHOULD go to work and lean/fall-the-hell-in. Maybe a migraine IS just a headache and I'm a wussy that SHOULD be able to suck it up.
But when I'm clear and hear something like, "are you sure you don't like cilantro?" Said SHOULD MONSTER snores on, never once suggesting I reevaluate my stance on that soap-tasting Satan-spice.
The disparity between these reactions illuminates a truism I know, but don't always like: No matter how tempting it is to provide others with a roadmap on how to make me feel comfortable, my happiness is no one else's job. And no one, not lover or mother, should be as invested in my well-being as I am. The onus of my triggers, tragedies and triumphs is on me, and what I make of them. Creating scripts for others is akin to saying to the world you need to do something about the way I feel so I can enjoy my existence. Folks, and yes for some reason I feel the need to tap into my Southern roots here, that ain't ever gonna happen.
This is not to say we couldn't all benefit from a little more care and kindness with our verbal volleys. Too often, we use our gift of communication carelessly and even cruelly. But just as my reaction to being thwacked is about me, the thwacking of another has everything to do with the one wielding the words -- their insecurities, fear, ignorance, malice, and even desire to connect. They're usually deep-seeded and often unconscious. And as such, unlikely to change no matter how many helpful handbooks are created.
As inconvenient as this seems, I believe it's ultimately for the best as it forces each of us to captain our own contentment. It may be a small thing, but when I hate cilantro reverberates in every part of my being, it's an absolute, joyous truth no one can take from me. How great would it be if we all had more cilantro-certainty in our lives? Perhaps we could spend less time list-making our irksome differences and more of it creating space for authentic interactions with others, while impervious to their whims and whines, knowing that each of us is living our very best version of this life as the sole expert on the subject.
Photo courtesy of Aurora Reyes Photography