Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Sun Revolves Around Us

Turn It Off - Phantogram (mp3)
Dial - School of Seven Bells (mp3)

The sky is not falling. We are not the worst people in the history of the world. Things are not always getting worse.

As an educator, a father, and a spiritual seeker, I do not look for the worst in people or in situations, nor do I try and approach things naively or with unrealistic expectations. My approach is not unlike millions of others, who feel that experience and measured optimism are invaluable companions for all encounters.

But over the course of five straight hours this week, the petty clueless self-absorption of others became fairly cumbersome.

First it was a coworker.

Another administrator and I have been methodically moving forward and honing a plan to create some energy and idea generation in our departments. Due to budget constraints, we’ve all been fairly landlocked these past four years. No conferences, no school visits, nothing. So we pushed and got approval to plan several “summer field trips” where small groups would visit a series of schools over several days, and at the end of the summer, we’d have a day-long retreat where we compiled the experiences and ideas and pushed forward on our own paths to professional and program improvement.

The director of the other department is set to retire next spring. He has served our school loyally and well, and he is a fine man.

When it was clear that one school we needed to see was located in Massachusetts, he emailed us and suggested he should take this trip, that he should go alone, and that he could report his findings back to the team. Translation: he’d love to go to Massachusetts; he’d love to take his wife; he’d love to see the scenic Northeast, and he’d even visit the school since it would help pay for his fun trip.

I can think of no better way to build camaraderie, motivate a desire to improve, and create energy for an immobilized staff than for the boss to take the travel money, spend it, and come back to tell us all about his trip. Great idea. Can't believe I didn't think of that one.

Next, it was an awards ceremony.

My daughter was one of some 400+ students in the county recognized for her creative writing. Her captivating short story, “Cant Never Could” -- and yes, the apostrophe is intentionally missing because the main character’s name is Cant -- was selected. I don’t think we’ll be making it into a bestselling children’s book anytime soon. Not until BOTG gets one, anyway.

Roughly 1,200-1,500 teachers, parents, grandparents and students packed into a downtown venue for the event, and twice in the early stages, someone at the podium kindly reminded parents to turn off their cell phones and to, ha ha, also help the kids turn off theirs as well. Yet, within 30 minutes of that polite announcement, four cell phones had announced their proud existence to the masses, thanks to their impossible-to-ignore “unique” ringtones.

We hardly heard the keynote speaker, a rich woman who had recently self-published a children’s book, because three babies spent the entire time screaming. One woman actually carried her screaming baby all the way across the bottom of the stage as her other daughter walked across to get the award. Apparently her 2nd-grade child was incapable of walking across a stage without her guiding directions. Or maybe she was modeling her screamy child’s pink dress since we were all distracted by her anyway.

At churches, in restaurants, at events like this, I’ll never really understand why screaming babies are tolerated. Never -- and please note how rarely I use absolutes in my writing; I’m one of the most relativistic wimps on the planet -- have I allowed the screaming and crying of my children to penetrate the peaceful existence of an environment for more than 10-15 seconds before removing my child from said environment, at least temporarily.

My child is not their problem. My child’s screams are permitted to interfere with or even ruin my night, because it’s my child. That’s the devil’s deal of parenting: screamy demons who frequently provide us heavenly joys.

But these screamy demons BELONG to someone specific. The rest of us didn’t ask for that child. Yet there we all are, having our dinners ruined, or unable to hear the speaker or preacher or performance, because your sweet precious snowflake in diapers is more important than the rest of us.

When I express intolerance about these issues and the levels of self-absorption and inconsiderateness required, it sends me through the roof. Not because I’m self-righteous, but rather because I know damn well just how self-absorbed I can be. I’m the Lightning McQueen of self-absorption, and if on the highway of selfishness I see other cars zooming past me at twice my speed when I’m already well past the speed limit, it’s bound to horrify me.

It’s worth noting that in all these examples -- the trip planning, the cell phones, the screaming demons -- for every self-absorbed poop face at the center of my focus, there were any number of people who weren’t in it merely for themselves, people capable of sympathizing with and caring about how the shoe might feel on the other foot.

And to those people, I salute you. The ability to share looks of indignation and impatience and mockery with you when we are pulled into these aggravating moments of someone else’s self-absorption is often the only thing that keeps me from going postal.


Daisy said...

My tolerance level of...well almost everything has changed dramatically since having children, except when it comes to publicly disruptive babies/children. I get that as unpleasant as it may be if you are on an airplane with a screaming infant there's not much to be done, but in a restaurant, a movie or a place of worship? When in doubt take the kid out!

Bob said...

At the very least, your daughter deserves a guest blog.

BeckEye said...

I will share looks of indignation with you. Crying babies are annoying, but the parents who've learned to tune them out and, therefore, think that everyone else should probably do the same need to be punched repeatedly.

The latest issue that causes me to roll my eyes and mutter angrily out loud to no one is the dog poop problem in my neighborhood. In New York, everyone cleaned up after their dogs. They just did. Now that I'm back in Pittsburgh and in the suburbs, I guess people feel like not cleaning up after their dogs is helping the environment. Even if their dog shits in the middle of the sidewalk. Apparently, cement needs to be fertilized, too. Who knew?

susan said...

Wonder how many cell phones and/or crying babies we'll hear at Hairspray this weekend! I'll think of you, Billy, every time I hear one or the other tomorrow night.

Daisy said...

@ Bob...great idea! She definitely deserves a guest post!

george said...

Actually, I get the impression that our society is becoming more and more designed for singles or childless couples and less family-friendly. While I have almost always removed my screaming baby, there have been times when I felt that letting my baby act like a baby in an "inappropriate" environment was nothing less than a public service.

I was actually at this awards ceremony, and there was nothing of value in it to experience anyway other than the comic chaos and pretension of it all. So the crying babies (and even the cellphones) just made me chuckle.

Personally, I'm annoyed by lots of adult behavior in public that most people seem to consider totally normal. Overhearing vapid smalltalk grates my nerves much more than a screaming baby. I just always assumed that putting up with annoying behavior is just the price you pay for going out in public.

Billy said...

@george - While your commentary about fellow adults is certainly valid, I'm not sure I understand how you think our society is getting less family-friendly. Parents increasingly nose their way further into the lives of their sweet preciouses, even well into adulthood. And whereas in previous eras a kid was likely to be disciplined or scolded by an adult neighbor or churchgoer or teacher, now no adult other than a parent is deemed worthy of questioning a child, and half the time parents don't want to risk their "friendship" or damage self-esteem to say anything critical.

The era of neighbors and other adults feeling justified in "correcting" behavior came with its own problems, so I'm not glorifying it; I just don't see how you think we've become less family-friendly.

As for me, I take my screaming baby/children out of settings because the public service I feel I'm serving is "The Golden Rule."