Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paying it Backward


Stacy Says It - Paying It Backward - Stacy Snyder
Paying it forward rocks!  You’re in line at the coffee shop or dry cleaner and once you get to the front of the line, you’re told the person in front of you just paid your tab.  It’s so nice that you in turn, give up the cab you’ve been waiting on for twenty minutes to the guy next to you that’s in a huge rush.  He then makes it to his business meeting with ten minutes to spare, so he stops and buys muffins for the receptionist at his company.  She has such a great day that she picks up her kids from after-school-care and walks them immediately to the park for a special treat instead of going right home for homework, dinner, and baths.  The positive thinking of good gives way to more good creates a snowball effect of decency.

Have you ever been the recipient or even the instigator of the opposite, where your bad mood influences others’ or your witnessing another’s temper tantrum prompts a meltdown of your own?  I call it the Pay it Backward effect, where negativity breeds more negativity.  Just as it’s easy to be kinder when someone is unnecessarily kind to you, it’s also easy to perpetuate nastiness when you’ve been offered spite.  

Picture it:  the school talent show, 2012, thirty minutes before curtain call.  Parents had been lining up outside of the auditorium an hour before the doors were even scheduled to open.  Attendance was expected to be at an all-time high.   When the doors were opened to let parents in to get their seats, some folks rushed and others sauntered, but everyone wanted the same thing:  good seats from which to see their child on stage.

A section of seats was set aside in the front of the house for the kids who were performing in the show.  The eight rows were blocked off with tape and marked with signs saying RESERVED.  One front row enthusiast not participating in the show decided to move the tape that was separating the reserved seating so that there was more room for her and her family in the public seating section.  Another excited show goer followed suit by setting up camp in the newly unsaved seats left free for the picking with the caution tape now pushed aside.  

As the auditorium started to fill, one of the upper class stage hands working the show noticed parents sitting in the seats reserved for the performers and went to let them know that they’d have to move.  Some spectators quietly obliged, others dialoged with the 8th grader about how it could have been better marked, but begrudgingly moved to new seats, while another woman plainly stuck her ground and said she wasn’t moving.  The teenager went to get someone higher up, like an adult, who apologized for the confusion and the trouble, but again asked the audience member to move, as without her moving, there were not going to be enough seats for the kids in the show to sit through the two and a half hour performance.  The woman snapped and screamed that it wasn’t her problem that there weren’t enough seats for the kids, as she had been at the school an hour before the show started to get good seats and it wasn’t her fault that the reservation tape had been moved.  She wasn’t going anywhere.

The school representative opted to allow the parents to stay in their seats, leaving now just a few rows of seats for the 75+ kids expecting to sit there.  Without seats in the auditorium, the kids were told to stay in the cafeteria until their numbers were to be performed.  The 34 third graders that I had helped coach for their dance number were slated for the grand finale, so they had hours to burn in the cafeteria, unsupervised, along with the other 40+ kids in the show.  A few moms stayed in the cafeteria with their children, but I opted to take a breather and watch the bulk of the talent show from the audience, determined to check on the kids mid-show.

When I finally did make my way toward the cafeteria, dragging my girlfriend and younger child with me, to wish the kids good luck, the show was three-quarters over and our little dancers were not in the cafeteria.  Two of the mothers, whom I’m assuming had been in the cafeteria with their kids for the bulk of the show, informed us that the kids were in the library watching a movie, as they needed something to keep them busy because they were starting to act up. 

“Sounds good to me,” I thought aloud, as we about-faced and headed toward the library.  

Before we’d made the 180 degree turn, one of the moms yelled after us, “I’m so glad they’re gone!  They were so loud and they were driving us crazy.  They were wild!”

I can only assume that this mom had been stressed being cramped up with all those kids by default for hours and had spoken out of frustration, or nervous energy, without thinking clearly, and not intending to be rude.  I’ve spoken out of frustration myself a few times before…OK, maybe more than a few times.  No harm no foul, right?

“But not your Isabella,” she added as an afterthought, “she was quiet as always.”  Unfortunately, I’m the queen of that too…..over-talking in an attempt to cover the err of my ways.  But trying to perform a take-back while referring to my child with the wrong name, does not a smooth-over make. 

In any event, we headed off to the library to see the kids, wish them luck, and get them rowed up, since I’d assumed they’d been zoned out in a movie for a few hours, and would need to get their groove back before going out to perform a high-energy dance.  The other mom that I’d partnered with to teach the kids the dance number, had them do some jumping jacks, Simon Says, and some practicing of the actual dance to get their blood flowing again.  We kept them in a padded room and as far away from the stage door as possible, so they could continue to build their energy levels while not interfering with what was currently being performed on stage.  

When they were finally instructed to line up outside the stage door immediately before their number, we quieted them down, with me on one side of the stage behind a closed door with half the kids, and my counterpart mom on the other side of the stage behind a closed door with the other half of the kids.  Our little dancers were excited and ready to perform, but did a good job keeping their chatter and nervousness down to a dull roar.  One of the other mothers from a previous act was also standing at the stage door on my side and she did not agree with my synopsis.  She was visibly annoyed and kept shushing the kids, telling them to be quiet, and looking to me to bring them down a notch.  

I thought the kids were behaving acceptably, but I’d give them an obligatory, “keep it down” every 60 seconds or so for the other mom’s peace of mind.  It was not enough to appease her, though, so she kept at the kids about quieting down, then explained to me that noises the kids made in the hallway could be heard on the inside of the auditorium.  I snapped at her that basically, this wasn’t my first rodeo and that we understood the gig.  I then fully cast my now half-mast Mother of the Year award flag to the side, and purposely started trying to get the kids revved up and bouncing off the walls.

That night, after the show was over and all the congratulations were bestowed, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy for my part in keeping the Parents Behaving Badly episode alive and kicking.   Yes, we’re only human.  We are, however, also responsible for recognizing when said humans could have rolled with the punches.  So you didn’t get the best seat in the house…it’s not the end of the world.  The kids didn’t get to watch the talent show, albeit for the third time in one day…..no big deal.  They were loud and annoying….who cares?   Someone was trying to manage a situation that we had no power over…..big whoop!  Each one of us could have taken some accountability and let the buck stop with us, yet didn’t.  Next time I vow to throw a wrench into the negativity train instead of oiling up the machine.