Friday, May 08, 2009

Still Searching for My Soft Gooey Center

I grew up in a family that just said what they thought. All the time. I don't ever recall any hurt feelings.
If one of us thought another was being unreasonable we told them so, in no uncertain terms.

If I was on the receiving end (as the youngest, I often was) I only remember thinking, "I guess I'm wrong." or "I won't do that again."

Our feelings were facts. You can't be insulted by facts.

The only time I found it unjust was, as a preteen, frustrated by the great disparity in treatment between myself and my teen aged brother and sister, I would declare - in tears, to my mother, "You treat me like a baby!" and she would point out my tears and say, "You're acting like a baby. When you act like a grown up we'll treat you like one."
In my frustration I couldn't explain the great injustice I felt. That I wasn't offered the opportunity to explain my position. Everything was already decided. And how could I act like a grown up if I was being treated as less?
Primarily, I didn't understand why my brother and sister had more freedom and autonomy than I.
I just wanted to be equal.

My family also operated from a position of universal awareness. Meaning, we were sort of expected to completely understand every situation so that we could evaluate every possible repercussion before a decision was made. Not that this was ever articulated. It just was.
You think in 360 degrees, so that you know how your actions are going to impact someone else.

It's sort of like mind reading.

Mom would only have to say, "There are clothes in the dryer." We knew that meant she wanted us to take them out, fold them and put them away. No need to elaborate. The message was clear.
When we were very small, if she said, "I'm on the phone." (accompanied by an exasperated glare) we knew she wanted us to shut our mouths and go in the other room and play quietly until she was done with her adult conversation. So that is what we did.

I've been out on my own for 20 years now, and I'm still learning that most other people don't operate the same way.

At first I found many, many people to be unusually over-sensitive. I still do.
I was also surprised to find that people didn't do what I expected them to do, based on the brief, blunt statements that I fired at them.

When I moved into my college dorm room freshman year, my roommate and I were chatting while I unpacked my things. She had arrived a few days earlier, her unpacking complete.
As I arranged supplies in my drawers I offered her the use of anything. But as I tucked my sewing scissors away (who knows why I even brought it?) I mentioned that it was for fabric only, "If I catch you cutting paper with it, you'll hear it from me." (that's how my mom and sister taught me to preserve the sewing scissors - and I knew that my new roommate didn't sew, so she probably needed this information.)
She nodded aggressively and rushed out of the room. She told me later that she left the room and burst out laughing at my inappropriate order! She had to get out of the room! (we are very dear friends to this day.)

I had no idea that you didn't talk to your peers that way. That was my first lesson.

In other ways, I just expected people to think as I did. When a co-worker suggested that it maybe wasn't a good idea to leave my purse out on my desk as I worked in other parts of the office - I said, "But why would anyone take something from my purse? It's not theirs." It didn't occur to me that I had some sort of responsibility to eliminate temptation for other people. I would never think of taking someone else's things - so why would anyone else (particularly my co-workers) consider it? It so clearly being the wrong thing to do.

Speaking of right and wrong. In my 20s, I worked as a reporter and news anchor - and before the newscast we all shared a room appointed with a large mirror and large counter to prepare our 'on-air' appearance. Most of us left brushes, hair dryers and cans of hairspray in that room so that we wouldn't have to cart them back and forth. One evening, the sports anchor and I were getting ready at the same time. He reached for my can of Paul M!tchell hairspray and applied it liberally to his already immovable, Brillo pad hair. He didn't even ask!!

"That's mine!" I announced bluntly and probably glared at him.
"I didn't know it was yours." he replied.
Notice there was no sense of apology there?
"Well, did you buy it?"

He was aghast.

It was so obvious to me that you don't use something as luxurious as brand name hairspray if you're not the one who shelled out the cash for it. (This is where I should tell you that small market reporters and anchors only make minimum wage - so I was on a pretty tight budget)
It was obvious to him that whatever was left out in the open was community property.

Hrumphf! I didn't spend fifteen bucks on hairspray for it to be wasted on Brillo pad hair!!

This exchange stayed with me for a while. It took me a couple more weeks to comprehend that - as a guy - he made no distinction between a $15 can of PM and $1.50 can of Suave.

Based on my upbringing, I just thought that everyone knew what I knew.

I've modified this perspective a good deal... but I am still rather blunt. I don't have the patience to coddle people. I have no use for it. I'm still learning that some people require the pleasantries that I view as contrived. I'm learning that this is why some people don't like me, (I'm always shocked!) even as I have countless loyal friends who get me and love me with fierce loyalty. As I do them.

That is what is hard to wrap my head around. If so many wonderful people love me unconditionally - how is it that others don't?

I guess that's okay. There are people out there that other people are crazy about - for whom I don't see the draw. At. all.

But what is really astounding to me is that it has taken me 38 years to understand this.
To understand that there are people who prefer to pussyfoot around, and talk in sticky-sweet voices.

And there are still other people who are much more gruff than myself. They too will soften over time.


Laura said...

Holy COW!!!! I was reading myself in your words! I am very familiar with the "phone glare", and WOE be the person who was caught cutting paper with Mom's sewing scissors!!!

At one of my many jobs - I was a vet tech in a very small practice - we had a 19-year-old trainee working with us. I was, oh, 27? at the time. She was learning on the job, which can often be a trial by fire, especially when you get an emergency in there. It's not all puppy vaccinations. Sometimes, there is a lot of snapping going on, "get me that syringe", "forceps, NOW!", "sponge! muzzle! Hold this dog!" There is no time for pussyfooting around.

So.... one day, we'd finished with a particularly trying morning, and I was teaching her to do surgical packs - this is where you wash a prescribed set of surgical tools and arrange them in a container, along with gauze, surgical gloves, etc., wrap it, and autoclave (sterilize) it. I'd shown her probably four times how to do it, gave her a checklist, and left her to do the rest - maybe four more.

Later that day, I was called into the Dr's office, and told that I needed to be nicer to her, that she felt "persecuted" and "bossed around" by me. I was her supervisor. I was training her. I didn't know I was also supposed to mother her.

She didn't last long at that job.... turned out that bluntness and capability trumped whining and insecurity.

I, too, find it surprising when people don't "get" my bluntness. Maybe it's our age? I'm 39. I don't have time to coddle anyone older than my 5-year-old, and I only coddle him when he needs it, which is rare. I'm not raising him for me, I"m raising him for him. I will NOT raise a "baby", although I am doing my darndist to instill compassion in him. It's a line to walk.

I guess we're a dying breed, T. But keep up your bluntness. We love you for it!

(ps, word verification... "cooki" great. now i need one)

Steamed Dumpling said...

You're not alone. My friend always teases me about not having the sensitivity chip. But I like to call it like it is and appreciate it when people are straight forward and to the point. I don't believe it does me any good to coddle me.