When I was younger saying that I was going over to 'the regular' meant going to a particular pub. Now, 'the regular' refers to the pharmacy. I'm signed up for that automated system that has my phone ringing constantly. A charming female voice comes on the line: 'A member of this household has a prescription that is ready for pick up. If you believe you have received this message in error, please press one.' I think, maybe by the frequency of the calls that she might be hot for me. So, I was over at the 'regular'.
My drug store is hooked into the 'airmiles' programme and I always toot around the store to see what purchases will get me bonus points. I had just noticed that if you buy two big chocolate bars flavoured with hot chili flakes, you get 10 bonus points. Beyond being shocked that these didn't sell well at Christmas - I headed to pick them up. I know someone who will love them. As it turned out there were some Christmas wreaths, also on sale, that were blocking my way. I couldn't get quite close enough.
A young man, well dressed and beautifully groomed, saw that I couldn't get into where I wanted to go and simply offered to reach something for me. I smiled graciously, I felt like a dowager queen upon my motorized throne being assisted by an able young knight. (I get a bit of a buzz when my blood sugar is low.) I accepted the chocolate bars and plopped them into my bag. I was on my way.
As I was about to leave the store I noticed said knight with his fair MaMa. Now there was a lady that knew how to dress. Her whole style cost a lot. But her clothes whispered rather than shouted, class. She had a lovely black cane hung over her arm. It looked sturdy. It looked like it was carved for her by artisans in Sweden. Or Denmark. Or somewhere where expensive artisans ply their trade for rich North Americans. She walked with a decided limp, or I guess when you are rich it would be called an 'idiosyncratic gait'.
She pointed to something and asked her boy to get it for her, it was out of her reach. Not because of disability but because of height. His shoulders slumped as if the weight of the world had been placed on them, as if he lived his life in servitude. His lip curled in resentment. He reached for it and handed it to her brusquely.
Wait a minute.
This was the same guy, my knight in shining Armani, who had so graciously offered to get my chocolate bar with flecks of mint. The one that was right beside the chocolate bar with flecks of pepper. Oh, hell, and the ones that had a hint of orange. I bought them all. Shut up. I have lots of friends who eat chocolate. Anyways, this guy offered kindly and even sweetly. Now he's being asked kindly by his MaMa and he's showing annoyance.
At work I chat with a number of people who have difficulty with speech. I know how to wait and feel no pressure to rush the interchange along. When I talk with my mother on the phone who's speech was affected by stroke, I have to work much harder to be patient. This young man with the Gucci, Gucci, Goo smile had not a second thought about offering to help someone as he passed by ... but his own mother's needs caused annoyance. Me, too, I do the same.
Why is that?
Dave, I so appreciate the way you approach questions like this. Your honesty, clarity, and gift for story telling are just delightful.
To answer your question, though:
Dunno why it happens to you or others.
When I do it, though, I usually know exactly why. My family member doesn't ask politely, as you might ask a stranger. My family member (doesn't matter which one, whether they're male or female, older or younger than I, more able-bodied than I or not) uses some kind of formulaic expression that I've already heard a thousand times.
My mother, for example, would always begin, "Oh, Dear, I just can't reach the things I used to. Would you be an angel and reach one of those... ?" This sounds charming the first twenty times, but eventually I'm on my feet, snagged away from what I was doing, standing there ready to help her, while she's still asking me to "be an angel".
I think for me the problem is just the repetitiousness. Almost like being tapped on the same place, just above my knee, every time my ancient uncle wanted my attention when I sat next to him on the couch at Christmas. And after awhile developed a bruise right at that place.
Maggie, I think you've hit the nail on the head. We don't have history with the strangers that we assist. Our family members, though, have had years of pushing our buttons and we theirs. History. It's easier to be kind to someone who hasn't grounded you, manipulated you, or simply asked you to do things that you know they are capable of. My mother-in-law once phoned me to help her "with a little something". I drove to her apartment....her senior's apartment with a full time caretaker and many neighbours....to find that she couldn't get the screw top off of her orange juice bottle that she just purchased....over the phone and had delivered.....from the grocery store. History. Have a great day.
Frustration, frustration, frustration....for me it is a constant struggle. I know the quirks that others don't. I know that when my parents so graciously ask 25 people to come for the holiday that I will be taking extra days off so I can clean the house before guests come. I will be in the kitchen all day doing dishes and will be footing the bill. Both my parents are in wheel chairs, yet they must keep the 20 foot cabin cruiser that they can't get into, much less afford. It's the dance we do. The dance is unseen by others yet still becomes apparent when you look closely. People ask why we keep doing it. It's family, It's love, It's resentment, and everything else all rolled into a 50 year old package that occasionally cracks a bit around then edges.
I agree with the previous commenters. Familiarity breeds contempt, so we're all tired of our lovable-but-irritating parents. But helping a stranger has more glamor. If Mr. Gucci Goo were your family member or your boyfriend, he'd probably say, "Oh whatevs!" when you needed something from a high shelf. Or, um, whatever is said in Canada.
This is why family members should not be forced into full time being a "carer" to their loved one.
It destroys relationships. It destroys intimacy between partners etc. But governments save money (so they think) by enslaving loved ones and trapping us and it sucks really badly!
Very intersting blog, Dave. I agree with Maggie and Jamie that familiarity can breed contempt. My husband complained to me recently that I am so kind to my clients but not so much to him! Made me think about how I treat the people I love.
I think Maggie described it perfectly. It's a shame it is that way.
Another thought - you have no idea what his everyday life was like with her. Maybe she hadn't been a very kind parent, or even was abusive. You don't know, and can't assume based on such a brief encounter.
I have a friend with a progressive muscular degeneration, we met back in college. We were staying in a hotel after a long day of site seeing and was upset when he asked me to walk down the hall to get ice, even though he was starting to show signs of fatigue. I think it's because I don't see his disability, he is the same person from back in college. I forget he has limitations now, so my first instinct was to think he was just being lazy. Part of it is forgetting how they've changed, and part of it is frustration that they have changed.
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