Sunday, March 20, 2005

Note to Self: Eliminate Small Talk Attempts

An amazing thing happened today. I left Babygirl (and the boys, too) in the care of their grandmother for three hours. This may not seem remarkable to you, but today was the first day I've ever left Babygirl with anyone other than her daddy.

I intended to sneak out while she was napping and then, just at the time we needed to leave, the bedroom opened and Babygirl called out down the stairs, "I waked up early!"

She came down the stairs, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. I chatted with her for a moment, then suggested a video upstairs. She agreed and back up the stairs we went. I turned it on and said, "Hey, I'm going downstairs," and she said (sensing something), "I go downstairs, too." She followed me downstairs and so, I looked at her tousled blond curls and said, "Well, Grandma's going to play with you. I have to go with Daddy for awhile. Bye!" And she said, "Bye!"

I called half an hour later to see if everyone had survived my sudden departure. They had. Wow. No tears at all.

My husband and I were guests at a luncheon. A parishoner who is a doctor and his wife invited us to hear a man lecture, so there I sat in a cozy room with about twenty or thirty doctors. I think there may have been a few other members of clergy, but mostly, doctors, all wearing khakis and cell-phones.

I sat next to the doctor's wife. I don't know her well, so I began with an innocuous question: "Did you grow up in this area?" She did, in the rough side of town. She mentioned how grateful she was for her house now with its view of the sun setting over the Puget Sound. She explained that her mother's grave was near our town, too, which was a comfort to her. Her mother died when she was thirteen and whoever chose the gravesite at that time picked a place far across town from where they lived. Now, though, twenty years later, the grave is near her home.

I said, "What did your mother die from?" I am always curious about these things (I scour obituaries for information, too, about complete strangers)--probably because my own dad died when he was 47.

She said, "My mother committed suicide when I was thirteen."

Please stop me from asking questions which seem innocuous to me but which elicit a painful, awkward response! I obviously need a new set of "small talk questions."

I apologized and extended my sympathy. She said it was no problem, that she's actually going to share her story at a women's meeting soon. God really cared for her and kept her in His palm, she said. She truly is living happily ever after.

As for the lecture, when the man began to speak, my brain stirred from its long nap, sat up, stretched and I scribbed notes to try to keep up. He spoke with a cultured British accent and he talked about morality and philosophy and lofty ideas I seldom probe during my days as a nose-wiper, floor-cleaner, baby-rocker, schooler-of-kids-at-home. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience which made me long for an academic life full of ideas and languid conversation over iced tea.

And then I came home to Babygirl with her crooked grin and my mother with her mint green shoes. I have a mother. I have a daughter. I am thankful.

(I ask too many questions. Beware, should you ever have lunch with me.)


Blogger Donna said...

We have things in common, Mel. I also read the obits every day and get irritated when they don't tell how someone under 50 has died. Sometimes you can guess by what organization the family requests you give a donation to in leiu of flowers. My daughter is always accusing me of "interrogating" innocent people when we are out and about. I love to get to know people and ask questions that will help me get to know them! I can quickly tell, though, if the person is wishing I would go away.
It's great babygirl was so good about you leavning. I'll bet that was a relief to you. Blessings.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I'm an obit reader also. I would like to start a movement to put the cause of death on tombstones as well. It would be such a wonderful teaching tool.

My dad had a brother who fell through ice and died right before his little three year old eyes. Every memorial day as a child, I remember visiting that tiny little grave stone of the uncle who never lived beyond the age of seven. It taught me something that I never will forget.

Somehow I fear that on my tombstone would be a giant replica of a peanut M&M.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Mel - Don't change the questions you ask. It is so refreshing to have a real conversation with someone and share life. I have met people who ask me questions like that and not only do they often become my closest friends, they also allow me to discover how my life experiences can help others. The woman you met will be discussing her past with other women soon and she had the chance to "practice" with you beforehand. What a blessing. Please, don't change!

1:36 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

What I find interesting is how long I remember it after it happens when I, like you, ask what is seemingly an innocent question that turns out to be an awkward question with a tragic response. (What is really tragic is that sentence!)

I have a mother.
I have a son.
I, also, am thankful.

Life's good despite those awkward questions. Or maybe in spite of them.


6:56 PM  
Blogger Christi said...

You know, I spend my days talking about education and special ed. stuff. I use big words that no one but other special ed. teachers would know. I feel so smart or something. In June, though, I will stop doing that to become a full-time stay-at-home mommy. Thank you for helping me to realize that I will miss that kind of stuff a little, and to make sure that I keep up my own mind while trying to shape the little ones I will have the priveledge of teaching. I don't want to become someone who can only talk about poo-poo and pee-pee, whose intelligent conversations consist of naming all the colors I know!

7:31 PM  
Blogger Tiffany (aka said...

When IS lunch?! :)

9:58 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

There's a good chance, if she answered the question that way, that she WANTED to say it out loud, so don't feel bad about asking. My husband, who has scars on his wrists from a suicide attempt, has very different answers for people who ask what it's from - depending on whether he feels like talking about it or not.

2:59 PM  

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