Friday, March 03, 2006

What It's Like

It was just another moment.
Thursday evening, we went to school to see Sam and Emma both recieve their "Good Citizen" awards; Emma for January, Sam for February. No one has ever defined the criteria for this award for us - it seems to me that every student there without any outstanding warrants or restraining orders gets this award annually. In any event, this event is held in the auditorium, which seats 150 comfortably, but usually holds about 225. The awardees sit onstage in rows, and come down the steps to the stage when called to receive their certificate, bumper sticker, and ice cream coupoon, stand briefly while the parental papparazzi fiddle with their cameras, and then go outside, only to return to the stage to wait for the group photo at the end - assuring, of course, that the good citizen parents stay for the entire proceeding, so that the last kid called still has an audience. We live in such an ill-mannered society.
We had three, well, four options (and the nice part is that there was no one telling us what to do):
1) Put Emma up on stage and hope for the best - not really an option, just yet.
2) Put Emma up on stage next to Sam - not really fair to him.
3) Sit up on stage with Emma and 100 kids - not our idea of a good time.
4) Find a place near the front. That's what we did.
We sat through the obligatory PTA meeting, so that they could pad their attendance numbers and claim that we are all now well-informed, active participants in the process. We were actually sitting along the wall on a table, helping Emma fidget, which means that we were already in full view of all, with the requisite sidelong glances and smiles conveying all of the different messages that people display in Emma's direction. Emma got hard to handle, so I moved her to the doorway, and then back again. Then it was her turn. I slid us off the table, and we made our way up front. Emma froze. So I kinda pushed-carried her to the front, got her paperwork, and managed to get her back to our seat, not too long after the applause quit. Okay.
The event ended, and I started to move Emma toward the front, to join the group picture. A very nice woman, a teacher, I think, who had greeted Emma earlier brushed past us and said to me, "I bet you guys just can't wait to get out of here." Then she was gone. I cocked my head to one side, and kept moving. Sam (have I mentioned that I love my Son very much?) came down and sat next to his sister on the steps for the photo. When it was all over, we got a snack, and headed for the ice cream store.
Now, I'm not angry. As a human being and a preacher's kid, I've been subject to misplaced, well-intentioned commentary for some time now. She may have just been witness to the at-times wrestling match between myself and my angel. That's probably it. For me, at the time, I'm pretty sure that I didn't want "to get out of there" any more than anyone else over the age of 13 present. Handling Emma is what we do. But the whole comment just gnawed at me for the rest of the evening. I'm sure I took it the wrong way; already feeling self-conscious, on display, and guilty for feeling that way. I'm sure that the same comment would have been appropriate, for example, had Sam gotten nervous and upchucked on his shoes, or done his 'Elaine from Seinfeld' dance (don't tell him I said that) on stage. The point is that she pointed out to me that we were different. Guess what? I felt that way before Emma existed. I feel that way all of the time. The visceral effect of her message was "GET OUT!"
I'm old enough - some might call it maturity, but I'll never know for sure - to know that she's not responsible for that message. It was just a moment, and it's passed, but I think I have a better understanding of how subtly we can damage each other, sometimes, even when we're trying to do the opposite. I used to not understand things that were labeled 'racism', offers of social programs and things that turned out to be, in truth, segregation or worse - when explained from the discriminated races' perspective. It does depend on your perspective; "seeing" requires more than merely sight.
One of my favorite U2 lines, all by itself, is "to touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal" . . . it often reminds me that I don't want to be a thief. The majority of moments pass without notice. Some change our lives completely. Others shape who, where, and how we are. I'm hoping, more often, lately, to recognize and perhaps anticipate them a little better. I know I've stolen a lot of moments. Trouble is, you can't give them back.