Tag Archives: judgement

Feeling weighed, measured, and found wanting

I did not stop to seriously consider the implications of my actions before stenciling a giant PATIENCE on Dominic’s cast.

Luang Prabang is a tourist town and it’s the tail end of the cool season here. There are thousands, literally thousands, of tourists in town. Not many of them, however, are walking around with babies, so our little trio already made an unlikely sight even before the accident. Now we’re a downright curiosity.

I watch people watching us when we’re out and about. First they see the stroller. They do a double take and search for the baby with a smile. Then they see the cast and their eyes go wide and a look of voyeuristic concern washes over their faces. Then they tilt their head sideways just a fraction as they take in the artwork adorning Dominic’s leg. Then their eyes jump up to my face.

The gaze seems confused and, sometimes, speculative.

But do you know, not a single person has asked me why on earth that word is on his leg? Plenty of people have asked me what happened to his leg, but no one has followed it up with, “so, uh, what’s the go with patience?”

I sometimes wonder if they know what I now know – that 70% of femur breaks in babies under 1 year old are the result of child abuse. I sometimes wonder if they suspect that the story about a fall down the stairs is just a convenient cover and that I needed a daily black and white reminder to reign in a vicious temper.

I would be willing to bet our first-born chi – OK, our dog – that the specter of feeling judged by strangers on these points has never entered Mike’s mind.

The difference between Mike and I in this regard was apparent long before Dominic’s accident.

Every time we go out walking with Dominic I need to build in several minutes to stop and exchange greetings with people who live on our street. There’s the friendly couple who own the small paper-supply shop and the unfriendly woman who blatantly rips us off at the fruit stand because we’re falang (foreigner) but who adores Dominic – he’s the only one of us she ever smiles at. There’s the disabled teenage boy who occasionally takes my hand when I walk past and gently kisses it. There’s the woman who sells donuts that ooze bright pink custard, and the one who sells organic vegetables from a blue tarp laid down on the sidewalk (sometimes she sells dead rats or cats, too, but let’s not go there). Then, of course, there’s anyone walking past who just wants to stop for a peek at the chubby white baby with coppery hair.

When I walk past with the stroller, none of these people hesitate to tell me when they think that Dominic is too hot or too cold, or that it might rain on us, or that he looks like he needs to sleep, or eat. When I was out with Mike one evening and the second person had stooped over my child, felt his fat little arm and then commented that it was cold and pulled up the wrap to cover him, Mike felt me tense.

“What’s the problem,” he asked as we continued on our way.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” I said. “All these people telling us that we’re getting it wrong? That we’re not taking good enough care of him?”

“What?” Mike said. “That’s not how I take it at all.”

“How do you take it then?” I said, wondering how else you could possibly take a phalanx of virtual strangers telling you that you haven’t dressed your child warmly enough.

“I take it as: ‘Wow, you have a beautiful little baby. We all love babies. Let’s find some common point of discussion whereby we can connect with you as parents and demonstrate that we’re paying attention to caring for the baby’s wellbeing,’” Mike said.

“That is a much nicer way to take it,” I said, not completely convinced.

“Do you really feel like people are telling you you’re not doing a good enough job as a mother?” Mike asked, amazed.

“Sometimes,” I admitted.

I wonder if this is only the beginning – whether I’m always going have to fight the instinct to take it personally whenever other people comment on what my child says and does. And I wonder where it comes from – what hidden deficit of self-esteem or deep-seated need for affirmation fuels this tendency to feel judged when others reach into the stroller and tug up my baby’s blanket.

I can tell you one thing though. If, heaven forbid, anything like this tumble down the stairs happens in the near future I won’t be adorning any casts with the words “gentleness” or “self-control”.

When have you felt judged as a parent? What helps you in those moments?

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First impressions of countries and people

So I was walking off the plane last month in Brisbane airport still feeling decidedly unstable after my in-transit bout with food poisoning and there they were. Two photographic murals ten feet high and thirty long, one on each side of the concourse, full of spiders. There were hundreds of spiders dotted across these pictures. Maybe thousands.

That seemed to be the point.

“Australia has more than two thousand types of spiders,” the mural proclaimed. “The most deadly of these is the funnel web. If you see one, run!

Right below this statement there was a picture of a funnel web so greatly enlarged that that the spider looked as if it could have brought down a pony without even biting it.

This visual gauntlet of spiders was all rather horrifying. It was also (for reasons I have not yet managed to figure out despite having been puzzling over this for a month now) an ad for a phone company.

What could have possessed anyone (much less the entire team of people that were undoubtedly involved) to: (a) create this ad; and (b) place not one but two of them in an international arrivals terminal? I guess if people are walking through the arrivals terminal they’re already in Australia and are unlikely to turn around and leave the country on the spot. But, really, is this the first on-the-ground impression we want to make as a nation? Really?

First impressions are important. Multiple research studies show that we judge things like attractiveness and trustworthiness very quickly, within 1/10th of a second after meeting someone or even seeing a photograph. We make very persistent judgments about whether or not we like someone and want to have a relationship with them within the first half a minute. Mind you, these aren’t necessarily accurate first impressions, but they are self-fulfilling ones. Most of us form first impressions and stick to them, looking for further cues that confirm our assumptions (for all you psych geeks this is called the Halo Effect).

Part of me doesn’t like this. I don’t want to think that I sum people up so quickly, but I have to admit that I do tend to trust my instincts when I meet people, and I would say I’m right more often than not when I’m judging whether I like them or we would get on. I am sometimes wrong, however. I can think of several instances during the last five years when I’ve been spectacularly wrong. All of them have been times when I’ve mentally written someone off as silly, shallow, and not a person I could ever be close to. Often I met these people at church.

Church is funny like that. I can’t think of any other part of my life that consistently throws me up against so many people I don’t naturally get along with. I also can’t think of any other area of life that facilitates me spending time with people that I have mentally written off as obnoxious and annoying. Sometimes when I spend time with these people in ways that allow me to get to know bits and pieces of their stories and to see some of their different facets I find much more there than I had ever expected – kindness, beauty of spirit, valuable insights on life, and fun. Sometimes, of course, I don’t find myself revising my first impressions much at all, but those I’ve met at church have taught me far more about not judging others too quickly than those I’ve met in bars.

I no longer have much idea what all this has to do with Brisbane airport and spiders except to say that I still think those murals are in extraordinarily bad advertising taste. Even if the entire country is literally crawling with spiders (and I did have three encounters during my first ten days back – one fell out of a bath towel and onto my foot right before I touched said towel to my naked, clean, self!) there is no reason to visually assault people with an arachnid parade the minute they get off the plane in Australia. After all, first impressions are hard to overcome.

PS, I was going to illustrate this post with a picture of a funnel web, but then I googled funnel web images and decided I couldn’t do that to you. So here’s a picture of one of Australia’s better-loved animals instead.

(photo credit: http://uncommonpics.com)