Last night, I had the occasion to go to a party given for a young couple that are to be married in August. While she is not from around here...she is a lovely girl...and everyone at the party was just delighted for them. There were a lot of people present who were happy to be invited to celebrate this special event or were hosting it. The setting was lovely, and the conversation flowed, and everything was right with the world.
Until someone asked me a question - wholly unrelated to the reason we were there to celebrate - and then someone else did. And someone else...
Now, I won't go into all of that, but it reminded me that sometimes people do not understand how they come across. They ask a question - seemingly in conversation - but you know that it is more to beat you across the head with it than to satisfy their social duties in polite conversation. They find the one thing that seems out of place in your life and play an adult version of the "Sesame Street" game "One of These Things Just Doesn't Belong Here...One of These Things Just Isn't the Same..."
It is a game meant to shame or embarrass you. And it isn't funny. They don't talk about the good things...they want to pick apart something that seems out of character or out of place.
Now, a little background might be helpful to those of you who have no idea what in the world I am talking about here, but I'll see if I can put you there. Big Dave and I have been here in the Montgomery area for the past 28 years and have pretty much built a life here. Both of our children were born here, and we've attended the same church all of that time. Some people we have known most of the time we've lived here, and others we met through the years as people tend to do in various activities from baseball to cheerleading to scouts - but mostly through the private school that both of our children attended and graduated from in 2008 and 2011. It is a school where everyone pretty much has the same ideals - although there are still "haves" and "have nots" - but nobody seems to harp on that too much since we're all one big happy family. We've worked together on class parties, proms, recitals, programs, plays, special days, projects, sporting events, and the graduation reception...and we all have a kinship of sharing the same experience that I've loved and appreciated. A sense of belonging and a feeling of pride in all that our children - or anyone else's children - have accomplished.
If somebody needs something and we can help them...we do. If someone is celebrating...we all are. If someone is hurting...we try to comfort them. It is that kind of place. After all, many of the same kids were there from kindergarten and at least half of them start and finish out there as a general rule. You get to know people over time, and you appreciate those friendships.
Most of the kids grow up and go off to do something fabulous. They excel in their studies, marry (often) someone else from the same school, and begin lives being very much like their parents. I've watched most of them grow up, and have celebrated their accomplishments with excitement and shared the joy of their parents.
Some of the kids grow up and honestly aren't really ready to decide what to do with themselves. They try this major or that...or take off a little time during their studies. They may end up having some additional difficulties that have to be worked through or they may make a mistake along the way. The beauty of it is...most people are very forgiving. They understand that none of us is perfect and that sometimes what is perceived as a wrong turn can actually be a springboard that God uses to get someone from point A to point B more effectively. They understand that while 100% of these kids are accepted into college - and the vast majority of them begin college - that not everyone is supposed to go to college. God gives each of us different gifts...and sometimes spending a decade in college just to say that they've done it is not really the best use of time...or money. (That was Big Dave's story, by the way. And yes, he finally graduated. I'm not trying to offend anyone who changed their major or who just couldn't pull it together. Far be it from me to sit here and judge while I'm ranting about other people judging my kids. The point I'm making is...it is just as honorable to find a profession that suits your unique talents. Find it and go with it.)
When I was in high school, some of my classmates went on to college, some went to the military, some to work, and some got married. And all of these years later...the vast majority of us grew up to be pretty awesome. I'm confident that those who take a different path in this day and age will probably be just fine as well.
But back to my rant...
My children have been treated very kindly by a group of fabulous people who have surrounded them, loved and supported them, and who think that they are pretty amazing people. And they are. But with all of that support, there are a few who believe that any deviation from the "norm" means that I have either failed as a parent or that they have gone off the deep end. They are supposed to tow the line and do everything just right for that loving support to continue. If they don't, then maybe I need to hear about it so that I can "fix" it since everyone is watching, you know.
To this, I say..."It is none of your business what my children do, who they date, or where they choose to go to school. It is none of your business to comment on anything negative whatsoever regarding my children. Yes, you may ask about anything that involves what they are doing and their general welfare. But if your comments aren't designed to build them up...then shut up. Their lives are their lives...not yours to observe, pick apart, and talk about behind our backs."
Because, folks, it honestly is none of anyone else's business.
I have overlooked the things that some of their children have done, how they've treated other people, and how they've abused the good nature and finances of their parents. I've not been upset (in their presence) when their children have been so unkind to mine that I've actually had to have a conference with the school on a couple of occasions, and I've not made them feel bad about it because you can't control 100% of what your children do. I've ignored mistakes, shortcomings, failures, rehabs, craziness of numerous kinds, and people just being young. I expect the same respect. No, I don't expect it...I demand it.
My children are pretty awesome individuals. My daughter is employed after finishing college with a marketing degree from the University of Alabama in four years. She has worked since she was 16 years old, worked holidays and summers, and her entire senior year of college...and she had a job before she graduated. She unloaded trucks at Ulta on Friday mornings at 5:00 a.m. her senior year of college...which meant that she had to be in bed about the time that others were going out. She has had her own apartment for a year...and she is closing on her first home this week. She has been an excellent daughter and she is a kind and thoughtful friend to those who have given her a chance. The problem is...she's very beautiful...and that apparently threatens people. She's not perfect...but then again...she has never pretended to be. She has always had every mistake she's ever made dragged publicly through the marketplace, so to speak. She loves people anyway.
My son is a junior in college with no student loan debt...so far. He stayed at home to take advantage of a scholarship that was offered him...and now he's going to venture off to school and finally make us empty nesters in the Fall. He has a sweet little girlfriend who lives in Kentucky, and they have dated long distance for over a year. He is moving to Huntsville to be a little closer to her and because that school has an excellent mechanical engineering program. He just received a scholarship from UAH and he'll be co-op'ing after his junior year to help pay expenses. He is the greatest kid...although he had friends who were kind to him during the school day...but who completely ignored him socially in high school. Yes, when I saw that happening...it hurt. But I didn't take it out on the offenders. He loves people anyway.
So, when people ask me about something that they think my kids are doing that is below their standards for how my children should behave...they can kiss my entire behind. And if you know me...there's a whole lot of territory to cover. We may never have a lovely engagement party for either of my children...but I can assure you that I care less about that than I do them finding the people out there that God created just for them. And I trust God's standards far more than anyone else's.
My children have the right to pursue their versions of happiness and are under only the expectation from me or their Dad to bless it but under no obligation to anyone else to fit into the mold that other people have cast for them. They are expected to answer to God for what they do and we hope to us...only for our blessing. Now don't get me wrong...we have high standards and high hopes for our two. But people need to remember that the way something appears on the surface isn't always the whole story. If you know me...you can rest assured that I know the whole story...even if I act like I don't. Seriously.
People need to remember to look at their own pasts and lives before they consider picking up a nice round stone to hurl at what they perceive to be someone else's shortcomings. Frankly, I expect better out of so-called Christians.
You should also know that I'm somewhat talking to myself here. I have actively chased away many people who got near my children because of one thing or another. And I felt justified in doing so because I had to answer to God about it. In some cases I was right...in others, I was wrong. But they are both now adults. They have to make their own decisions...and their own mistakes. All I ask is that people love them anyway.
Give them the same consideration that I give their children. And, unfortunately, in some cases, the same consideration that I give THEM when they have too much to drink at a party and run their mouths too much for my liking about something that is absolutely, positively none of their concern. If you say "this is none of my business...but..." when you start to talk to someone...stop yourself right there. Because it IS none of your business. All you succeeded in doing was hurting me.
Forgive me for being angry enough about this to write it down, and if I've offended someone...maybe you should think about that before the next time you cozy up with someone to go over the latest "gossip" or run-down of someone else's children. I know I will.
Next time, though, I won't let them ruin a perfectly lovely evening. I'll just have Towanda tell them that it isn't any of their business...and move on.
Finally, keep in mind that love comes in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, ages, and social standing. That what shows on the outside is not indicative of the inside. That circumstances can be overlooked if you know the whole story. That getting a tattoo at age 18 that seemed cool might look ridiculous when you hit 30 to other people...but it is what it is. That people don't always have the support networks that others take for granted and must do what they can with what they are offered. That being a little different isn't necessarily a bad thing. That being divorced doesn't necessarily brand someone as unacceptable or as a permanent failure. That some people make stupid mistakes when they are young and see the light a few years later...and aren't the same person that they were at 16. (I know I'm not.) That owning up for mistakes is far more honorable than covering them up like a dropping in a cat box. That "complicated" to one is "whatever" to someone else. That shaming someone is never a good idea.
I'm quite confident that had I been under such a microscope in my younger days that people would have wondered if Big Dave and I could have made our 28 year old marriage work. But it has. Fortunately for me, I just had people who knew that I'd pick someone fabulous for me. And I did. When we married, they were right there celebrating with us. And it was awesome.
People make mistakes or have something thrust upon them that they didn't ask for...and it takes a special person to be able to overlook all of that and choose to care for them anyway. Ask yourself if it matters so much to you to comment on what you think is an issue...that you'll risk hurting someone deeply by saying something unkind about their child in a social situation that is supposed to be about celebrating someone else's happiness.
Because if you think it is...something is seriously wrong with you. That's my take on it, anyway.
Thanks for reading.