I'm in my late 40s and I am finally maturing...at least I'd like to think so.
Last Saturday, Matthew and I were out for breakfast with one of his best buddies and one of my best buddies (who also happen to be mother and son). According to the boys, it has become an annual pre-Christmas tradition for the four of us to breakfast out together - the boys sit at one table, while the two moms sit at a different table.
About a half hour before we left, the boys were starting to get a little restless, so they asked if they could go stand in the entrance to the restaurant, between the double doors exiting the restaurant. We moms agreed and off they went, assuring us that they would check in with us once in a while. Sure enough, they came back to see us two or three times during the next twenty minutes, and then asked if they could spend the remaining minutes talking outside on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. No problem.
After my friend and I paid our bills we headed out the two sets of doors to where our boys were standing on the sidewalk. As I walked out, calling Matthew over to me, I noticed an older man standing outside by the door. He was glaring at me and my friend, and said something under his breath while waving his cane in our direction. I stopped beside him and said "I'm sorry, but are you talking to me?"
He then proceeded to lambaste, at high volume, my friend and me for being such terrible parents as to let our two boys act in the manner that they had been acting; he yelled that he had paid good money to be able to enjoy his breakfast in peace. On and on and on. Yelling.
Shocked, and wondering what could possibly have predicated this outburst, I finally interrupted him and asked him if he could please clarify, as I didn't know what he was talking about. He started to yell again, and said that they were going in and out of doors, in and out of doors, in and out of doors. You get the idea. He was utterly enraged.
My friend calmly suggested that he was being rather rude (an understatement) in his approach and I then noted that he'd obviously not had a great experience but that I still wasn't clear about what had been so problematic. I wondered whether he could offer any other observations about the boys that might concern him. "Was it the going in and out of the doors between the restaurant and the outside," I wondered out loud, "or was there some other behaviour that was troubling for you?"
I never got more information, and I am pretty sure it was just the going in and out of doors that had been bothering him. Now, you need to understand that between the doors into the restaurant and the doors to the outside is about a 20-foot-long space; that space is not visible from the restaurant at all, and so I am thinking that this man was standing outside and watching our boys talk and walk back and forth.
I frankly wasn't one iota concerned if the boys were wandering about in this space, or even in and out of this space. But, despite trying three times, this man simply couldn't offer up any other explanations for his rage - he just kept saying that they were walking in and out of the doors more than a few times and that were terrible parents setting a terrible example for society, etc etc etc.
I asked if he would like to continue this discussion another time when we'd all had a chance to think about things (basically so he could calm down) and he said no. Matthew said quietly from behind me that he really didn't think that they'd done anything they weren't supposed to do, and I believed him and quietly said so. Certainly when they had walked to/from their table to the reception area, they had been totally calm, heads bent towards each other as they talked quietly and walked...nothing untoward at all.
Eventually, after the man continued referring to us as terrible parents, I said that I was sorry that he'd had a rough experience that he associated with our boys; I added that we moms had given our boys permission to be between the doors and outside on the sidewalk and that I was ok with this. I said one or two other things, but I forget what they were. Then my friend and I both expressed that we hoped his day got better, and I repeated that I was sorry that he'd had a bad experience. He stomped off after his wife (who had been standing in the background looking embarrassed), who had waved her cane at him and was walking away.
My friend and I then took a few minutes to reassure our boys that everything was ok. They were upset that he'd called us bad parents, but we assured them that we were totally fine. I commented that perhaps he was having a bad day, or perhaps he was simply the sort of person who had a negative and harsh view about life or people; I doubted, given the look on his wife's face, that this was the first time he'd done this kind of thing. We never know what's going on in other people's hearts, I said, and with that kind of perspective it's a little easier to find grace.
I felt totally fine after leaving that encounter, though five years ago it would have been a traumatic event that would have taken me a day or two to get over. But today, over a week later, as I think back to that incident, I realize that I really am totally fine about it all. I haven't just been putting a good face on it; I'm really fine. No trauma here...I've barely thought about the incident at all since, beyond checking in with Matthew a couple of times in case there was more discussion needed. I have no regrets about how I handled myself in the face of extreme rudeness. In my response to this man, I believe I managed to achieve a balance between respect and 'having our boys' backs.'
This incident led me to think of my recent post about Facebook. I ended that post by suggesting that it is, in fact, possible to be respectful in the face of rudeness. Even when people act disrespectfully towards us, I said, I believed it was possible to offer respect in return.
This thought has been reaffirmed for me by this latest experience. That man's rudeness would have been a perfect, and arguably legitimate, opportunity to let my own frustrations find a foothold in how I spoke to him. I really could have yelled back, and no one witnessing the whole encounter would have questioned my behaviour because it would have been warranted. He really was extremely rude and disrespectful. But I remember at the very beginning of that exchange something flash through me...it was more of an impression, perhaps, something that just said Ruth, it's going to be ok. Hear him out. Protect the boys AND seek to understand AND model for the boys as to what it means to be respectful in face of disrespect. You. will. be. ok.
There's something very validating about maintaining one's integrity in the face of rudeness. It's a settling sort of feeling - a sense of assuredness that comes from knowing you did the right thing when a choice was to be had, when you have every reason to feel right but choose not to assert it with anything other than respect and a bit of grace. I really wish that I felt this way about F/book, but I have to say that mostly being uninvolved with it for the past week or so has only proven to be an awesome choice.
Maybe I am getting a little wiser with age.