Dear Trash Lady,
There are so many things I want to say to you, some of which don’t even involve profanity. But let’s start with this: Why do you clearly think you’re better than me? And why do you have to use my child to make that point?
You may remember me from last Tuesday’s unpleasant confrontation at the hockey rink? I was sitting by the window chatting with my friend when you took it upon yourself to order my daughter to throw away her trash. She was indeed guilty of the crime of eating a bagel from the hockey rink snack bar and thoughtlessly (and accidentally) knocking the plate and napkin on the floor under her chair. The real crime was that I paid four dollars for that bagel. If you are offended by something, be offended by that.
Can you please explain to me exactly why the trash under her chair offended you so much? And why you felt it was necessary to use a tone which I would characterize as “stern to bitchy”? As my friend informed you, we would have thrown the trash away when we left. Probably. I usually check the floor beneath my children before we leave an area..except at a restaurant, because that shit is just gross.
My daughter does not take criticism well. Who she get this from, I have no idea. It’s not like I cried for weeks (okay, months) after I got my first bad job performance review. She didn’t even make it to the trash can before her little face crumpled and she came over and hid her face behind my arm. “I’m sorry mommy,” she whispered. I felt a swell of indignation..who did you think you were, the Trash Police? Nobody makes my daughter cry! (but me when I tell her she can’t have Laffy Taffy for dinner…but that’s another story. )
Armed with the confidence of the self-righteous, I approached you, a deceptively normal looking bespectacled lady in a goofy white cap with a cell phone permanently attached like a giant goiter to your cheek. “Excuse me,” I said politely, and after you moved the cell phone-goiter back a fraction of an inch to indicate I had your attention (the nerve!) I suggested that you might want to address your concerns about trash disposal to adults in the future instead of terrorizing innocent children. “ You made my daughter cry,” I told you, expecting some remorse. Which I didn’t get.
“I’m sorry your daughter got upset,” you told me in a voice that clearly indicated you weren’t. Then, you informed me that you have four children, and that they “know better than to leave their trash on the floor.” Apparently I was neglectful by not monitoring the trash situation and telling her to throw it away myself. “That trash has been on the floor for a half an hour,” she informed me in disgust. “You weren’t paying any attention, sitting over there with your friend. She needed to throw that trash AWAY, and there was no reason she should have been upset by me telling her that. My children would not have gotten upset about that. ” This was not a real apology, but another indictment of my daughter. Compared to your children, my daughter is lacking not only in personal responsibility and cleanliness but also emotional resilience. What a marvelous mother you must be! Your children are so lucky you have taught them so well! My daughter and I are obviously inferior in every way.
If only I had actually voiced these sarcastic replies instead of gaping at you in horror and threatening (stupidly, I know) to tattle on you to the hockey rink decorum police. You were unfazed and jumped out of your seat. “Let’s go tell the rink manager about how you threw trash on the floor,” you snapped and headed off toward the rink office. Luckily, my friend Jen talked me down, or I would have ended up whining to some red-shirted pimple faced kid and humiliating myself. “She went against the mom code!” I can see myself saying plaintively. “She said I was a bad mom, and that my daughter is a slob! Then she made my baby cry, and she’s not even sorry! Can we please ban her from the upstairs lounge and end her reign of terror?” After gently informing me that I might be bat shit crazy, the rink manager would have suggested I go sit in the bleachers to cool down and leave the fighting to the hockey goons. Humiliation complete.
Here is the thing that really burns me, trash lady. During this entire exchange, you never once got off the phone. You passed judgment on me and my daughter with your cell phone pressed against your ear, occasionally making comments like, “I know!,” “Unbelievable,” and “That’s what I told her, “ to your invisible ( and i like to think, imaginary) friend. You never gave me the respect of your full attention. This drove me to approach you a second time, right before we left. By that time I had recovered my sarcasm.
“Do you see any other trash under the chair you want us to throw away before we leave?” I asked sweetly.
“Yes,” you replied. “You should clean up those crumbs. I have four kids, and they would never leave crumbs like that on the floor. They know better.”
Are you fucking kidding me? And to my credit, I did not say these words. I made a joke about bringing a vacuum cleaner with me everywhere to clean up after my kids, ha ha. You didn’t seem to think that was funny or far-fetched. As I write this, I wonder: do you bring your own vacuum cleaner with you everywhere you go? If so, game, set, and match to you, trash harpy.
I tried to respond, but unfortunately my brain seized, still stuck on the vacuum cleaner thing (a full size vacuum? A dustbuster?) and all I could get out was “You don’t even…..um…” which gave you the perfect opportunity to launch into the familiar tirade about how you have four kids (really? four?) and they would never leave such a mess behind, etc. etc. At which point I stopped being polite and my memory of events gets a little hazy.
I’m pretty sure I told you that you were the one with the problem, and that I felt sorry for your kids, and that you were a gargoyle-faced harpy with a demented soul and probably needed to be medicated..okay, that last one I just thought of now. But I wish I had said it. You were talking so loudly you probably wouldn’t have heard me anyway. I think the real loser here is your mystery phone “friend” who apparently had nothing better to do than listen to your real-time hockey rink sanitation drama.
Finally, my son, who had watched the whole event unfold with characteristic stoicism (some might call it apathy) actually tugged on my sleeve, and implored me to leave. ”Mom! She’s not worth it! Come on!” Stunned by the fact that my 13 year old was the voice of reason, I allowed him to pull me away.
The whole event made for interesting dinner table conversation that night. Jake and Anna were embarrassed. The only one who approved of my behavior was my hockey playing son, who thought I should have punched you in the nose. My eldest son mused, “I would have immediately walked away, and then thought of a million things I should have said afterward.” It seemed there was both censure and grudging admiration in his voice. I decided to ignore the censure and focus on the admiration. I was standing up for my children’s right to…leave their trash on the floor.
The brutal irony is that I was outraged by the fact that you, another parent, a stranger no less, ordered my kids to do something that I tell them, nag them, and beg them to do everyday: throw away their trash. Oh, and by the way, they completely suck at it. You are right: your children are better at cleaning up after themselves than mine, because a blind, incontinent, and deranged monkey would be better than my slovenly lot. I once saw my son spill a full bowl of cereal and milk on the living room floor, and then drape a dishtowel over the mess and tell me he “cleaned it up.” I like to think that they are more civilized in other people’s houses, because otherwise I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t get invited anywhere. But trash that has fallen under the chair in the hockey rink may not set off the same alarm bells for them that it does for you and your freakishly-neat-but-probably-doomed-to-a-lifetime-of-unhappiness children.
The real issue is not that you told my daughter to throw away her trash. It’s that you weren’t kind. You weren’t even polite. You were judgemental, disrespectful, and sanctimonious in your manner and your words. In retrospect, it is obvious to me that the trash simply provided an excuse for you to build yourself up by putting down my daughter and me. Unlike you, I stress kindness over neatness. I also stress respect- you may have noticed that my child immediately complied with your demand (or at least attempted to before she dissolved into tears). My children are slobs, but they are kind, well-adjusted, respectful slobs with excellent interpersonal skills. If your children follow your example, I doubt you can say the same about them.
You will be happy to hear that our unpleasant encounter provided a useful teachable moment for my children. My takeaway was this: Mean people are out there, and sometimes they will judge you and try to bring you down. Don’t let them. Be glad your mom is not one of those people. Don’t be one of those people.
Oh, and if trash falls on the floor, throw it away.