Tag Archives: strangers

How To Deal With Peculiar People


by Lillian Csernica on March 27, 2019

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The Younger Boy (TYB) and I were out running errands the other evening and we stopped in at our favorite pizza parlor. There are six, count ’em, six big flat screen TVs. We’re regulars, so the staff lets us have a remote and watch whatever we like while we’re eating our food. Most often we watch cooking shows or paranormal investigations or whatever YA show TYB prefers at the time.

On this particular evening, I witnessed the ritualistic behavior observed by another regular patron. I’d seen this woman two, maybe three times, but I hadn’t noticed the details that would have cemented her in my memory. That was about to change.

For the sake of both anonymity and clarity, let me call this woman Barbara.

We were sitting in our favorite booth eating pizza and watching a show TYB chose. Most of the flat screens in the pizza parlor are set on sports games, so I’m in the habit of making sure the close captioned subtitles are on. That way I can keep the volume down and still know what the people onscreen are saying. This is important. Bear it in mind.

Barbara comes in, sees us sitting there, and stops dead in her tracks. She looks up at the screen we’re watching, looks back at us, then goes to the register to place her order. She keeps glancing over at us, then chooses one of those bistro tables where the chair and table legs are extra long. From the bag she’s carrying, Barbara takes out a seat cushion, plumps it, sets it on the chair, adjusts the angle, plumps it again. She moves on to the napkin dispenser and pulls out several paper napkins, unfolds them completely, then takes a long time making sure there’s a solid layer covering the tabletop.

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This particular pizza parlor is kept in a good state of tidiness. I’ve seen it messy only during the lunch hour all-you-can-eat buffet when turnover is rapid and the staff are busy making more food. The floor is always clean. If I ask, somebody comes out right away to wipe down the table where we like to sit.

Even so, Barbara takes extreme pains to prep her chair and her table.  Then she looks up at the flat screen across from her. It’s the one designated #3. TBY and I are watching #4. Barbara comes around the railing that divides the bistro tables from the booths. She ignores me completely and greets TBY by name. She’s vaguely familiar, so I figure she must be somebody we knew from the years my boys went through the local school system. TBY doesn’t recognize her, and has no interest in doing so. This makes no difference to Barbara, who begins explaining how she’s going to watch a certain show now, she really likes that show, so would that be OK with him? He gives her a polite yes. This is making him uncomfortable. Barbara goes through it again, still not making any eye contact with me.

At that point I realize what’s really going on. When I want to change the channel on #4, I ask anybody who’s sitting in that area if that’s OK with them. Most people aren’t even paying attention, but they do thank me for taking the time to check first. Barbara wasn’t trying to be polite. Barbara was telling TYB what she was going to do. There was a script running inside her head and we weren’t giving her the replies she was after. I suspect we were watching the flat screen Barbara usually watches. The disruption of her ritual might have caused her the predictable rise of anxiety in someone who has OCD or OCPD, which are two separate and distinct diagnoses. I could be wrong. This might have been nothing more than one more garden variety control freak with territorial imperative, which is a lot more common than clinical OCD or OCPD.

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Barbara had crossed the line into Bothering My Child, so I gave her a smile that didn’t reach my eyes and told her we understood. Translation: Thank you, now go away.

I thought that settled the matter. Nope. The staff brought out Barbara’s order. That prompted her to scurry back to her table and begin the process of arranging her plate, drink, plastic cutlery, etc. OK fine. None of my business. Barbara was in my line of sight, so watching her was something I couldn’t really avoid doing. That’s what helped me spot the problem when it happened.

Barbara’s show came on set #3. She cranked up the volume so high it intruded on all the other sets and on general conversation. Other people started giving Barbara annoyed looks. To say she was oblivious is an understatement. The way she sat in her chair, leaning forward and hanging on every word spoken by the main characters, told me this show was really important to her. Again, OK fine. We had the close captioning on our set, so TYB kept watching his show and didn’t seem to mind. He did turn the volume up a little bit.

Barbara aimed the remote she was using at “our set” and dragged the volume down to nothing.

Not OK. Trying to be a grown-up about this, I let myself assume Barbara did not know that each remote can affect the other sets. TYB set the volume at the polite level.

Barbara promptly turned it down again.

When this happened a third time, I was more than ready to tell this woman off.

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Fortunately, I’ve learned to take a breath and weigh my options. TYB was done eating. It was time to move on. This particular TV show seemed to be very important to Barbara. Maybe I was witnessing what amounted to a Big Night Out for her. It’s also possible she did not connect turning down the volume on #3 with having any impact on us. Keeping these thoughts in mind, all I did was return the #4 remote to the guy at the register. He glanced over my shoulder at Barbara, sighed, and rolled his eyes. Clearly this was a regular event.

People do have issues. Sometimes those people are also rude. Is it worth it to call them on it? I could see Barbara had a genuine problem of some sort. In all fairness, I must say she did make an effort to be polite and reasonable. Now I know what might happen if and when we cross paths at the pizza parlor again.

Times are hard. In the big picture, this incident was odd and irritating, but really no big deal. It costs me nothing to be charitable to people who are probably just doing the best they can.

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Filed under autism, charity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Food, frustration, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, Special needs, therapy

Family: The Other F-word


by Lillian Csernica on March 6, 2016

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Life is hard when you have one special needs child.  Life gets exponentially harder when you have another child, especially when that child turns out to have special needs also.

The thing that makes life unbearable is when you run into the family member who knows more than you do about everything.  This person isn’t a doctor, a nurse, or a therapist of any sort.  This person might have teaching experience, might have volunteer experience, might even have some experience of special needs with his or her own child.

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” — Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

It’s bad enough that as a mother I’m under my own constant scrutiny, watching to see if I’m doing what the doctors and therapists tell me to do so my sons will grow up realizing as much of their potential as possible.  It’s bad enough when people who mean well but who have no real idea about daily life in a special needs household come to me with questions or suggestions that I know won’t work, I’ve tried and modified, or found effective five years ago.  Right here, right now, I know what’s best for my sons.  Why?  I’ve devoted my adult life to finding out.

What really hurts, what goes so deep that the emotional bruising lingers for days, is when a family member decides to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m doing it wrong, or I’m just doing nothing.  Yes, that’s right, just the other day I got a lecture on what a lazy, careless, thoughtless, inconsiderate mother I am.

Every mother knows how much this kind of attack hurts.  No matter how hard we try, there’s always that little nagging voice inside us that sees what we don’t do.  The greater effort we could have made.  The times when we were selfish enough to give ourselves a break.

One of the people I ought to be able to count on for support has just hit me where I live.  This person does not have a sterling track record in the parenting department, but if I dare point that our then I’m just being cruel and trying to dodge the real issue.

The nice thing about people you hire to work with your children is your option of firing them when the time comes.  You can’t fire family.  Blood is blood, even when there’s a strong temptation to spill some.

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Filed under autism, Depression, doctors, Family, frustration, Lillian Csernica, mother, parenting, perspective, Self-image, Special needs, therapy, Writing

Light That Candle


by Lillian Csernica on August 16, 2014

It has been a long and difficult week all over the world.  So many losses.  So much upheaval.  I’ve seen a lot of information out there about depression and how to cope with it.  I’ve seen a lot of really stupid remarks by people who have no idea what it’s like to live with the big Black Dog day in and day out, to go to sleep (if you can) with the Black Dog sitting on your chest and then wake up to it gnawing on your heart.

One suggestion I’ve heard several times is to go do something for other people.  Get out of your own head, away from your own life, and help somebody who needs it.  You could make all the difference.  With that in mind, I’d like to share seven events from my life, seven moments where the kindness of strangers made a huge difference to the suffering I was enduring at that time.

1) When I was ten years old, I had to have surgery to remove the birthmark on the right side of my rib cage.  I don’t remember where the hospital was, but I do remember it was a long way from home.  In those days parents weren’t allowed to stay in the same hospital room with their children.  That meant my mother had to get a hotel room down the road.  Fortunately, I could see the hotel’s sign from the window of the my hospital ward.  Even so, I was alone, I was scared, and a bunch of strangers were about to wheel me into an operating room so the doctor could cut off a chunk of my skin.  There was another girl in the ward.  She was pretty, with long blonde braids.  I don’t know what happened to her, but her jaw was broken and it had to be wired shut.  She couldn’t talk, right?  The night before my surgery I stood there at the window crying.  I wanted my mother and I wanted to go home.  The blonde girl stood next to me, put her arm around me, and leaned her head on my shoulder.  She let me know I was not alone.

2) One Halloween when I was in high school a good friend of mine told me that if we dressed up in costume, we could get in to see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for free down at a theater near the beach.  So we got dressed up and off we went.  For some reason my friend got his wires crossed.  There was no such offer.  By then it was too late to do much else.  As we stood there, disappointed and trying to salvage the evening, a woman who was standing in the theater lobby walked over and put money on the ticket counter.  All she said was, “You’re in!”  We thanked her up one side and down the other.  I had never seen the movie, so that was quite a memorable Halloween.  This was not a terribly serious situation, but even so, a total stranger stepped up and did something generous and kind.

3) When I was in the hospital on bedrest before Michael had to be delivered early, there were three perinatologists on rotation in that hospital.  The one I liked even before he spotted the problem and had me admitted to the hospital immediately.  The second one I don’t remember all that well.  The third doctor was one of those tall, aloof, distinguished men who may be brilliant at medicine but lack something when it comes to their bedside manner.  Once it became clear that I would have to stay in the hospital until a) Michael reached a safe length of time in utero, or b) the crisis came and he had to be delivered, I had to resign myself to the long haul.  Chris had brought some icons, including the one of my patron saint, St. Irene of Chrysovolantou.  The third doctor came into my hospital room one afternoon.  Now that in itself was odd, because “morning rounds” happen in the morning, right?  The doctor had brought me this big beautiful coffee table book.  It was full of gorgeous photographs of the work of Faberge, who is famous for the jeweled Easter eggs made for the Russian royal family.  It’s funny how you believe your impressions of people.  I never would have expected such a gesture from this doctor.  And yet, he offered me the book, making a sympathetic comment about all the time on my hands and how he’d noticed my icons and thought I might enjoy the book.  One of my nurses let me know it was the doctor’s own personal book, too, not something from the hospital library.

4) My son Michael’s birthday falls in late April.  Depending on how things work out on the Old Calendar, Russian Easter will happen right around then too.  We’ve often celebrated Michael’s birthday as part of the big annual open house held by his godmother (when she was still with us) and her husband.  His godmother would make a cake for Michael and we’d sing “Happy Birthday” to him.  A lot of people came to this open house, as they continue to do every year.  On the day I’m thinking of, a man was out in the backyard with the rest of us watching us give Michael his cake.  Later the man came up to me and handed me a twenty dollar bill.  He wanted me to get something for Michael.  I thanked him and assured him I would.  People want to help Michael.  They want to do whatever they can to make his life better or easier.  I didn’t know this man, and I will probably never meet him again.  I will always remember him for his burst of compassion for my son.

5) One evening a friend of mine who lived up in the East Bay came down for one of his rare visits.  He’d borrowed his father’s Porsche.  We went out to dinner and I brought Michael with us.  (John wasn’t around yet.)  We didn’t go very far from home, and we had a good time at the restaurant.  My friend held Michael while I ate my dinner.  Being a young man, he didn’t have all that much experience with babies, so this was an adventure for him.  Unfortunately, when we were ready to go home, the car wouldn’t start.  From there it was one thing after another until I could get ahold of Chris and have him pick us up.  The point of this story is that we were parked next to a KMart that had an enclosed area before you entered the actual store.  It was getting later and colder, so I sat in there with Michael while my friend tried to get the car working.  The staff of KMart were getting ready to close, but they were very kind.  This was back before I had a cell phone, so they let me call Chris, then offered me whatever blankets or baby supplies I needed for Michael.  At this point I was starting to get really upset, worrying over Michael, so their concern and assistance meant just that much more to me.

 

6) Now this story happened not too long ago.  I was meeting my Japanese teacher in a local coffee shop.  I’d been rushing around all day getting things done so I could meet her in time.  I had made a mental note about my pocket money, but somehow I got hung up on an earlier version of events and forgot giving some cash to John.  When I went to the cashier to pay for my drink, I suddenly discovered I had no money.  I was so embarrassed.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to impose on my teacher.  The young lady behind the counter took pity on my confusion and told me not to worry about it.  There was enough in the tip jar to cover it.  How kind of her!  She didn’t have to do that.  My lesson started on time with no undue awkwardness.  I’ve been back to that coffee shop more than once, and I’m a heavy tipper!

7) In Santa Cruz there is a wonderful street named Pacific Avenue.  If you want to be formal about it, it’s the Pacific Garden Mall.  Time and time again I’ve gone there with my mother, my sister, my husband, my son John.  I’ve gone Christmas shopping there with my best friends.  I once ran through a torrential rainstorm there and bought a painting for two dollars from a UCSC student who spoke French.  I’ve given money to street musicians and talked to the man who makes animal balloons outside the candy store and I spent a lot of time in the Borders when it was still there.  Aside from an international airport, Pacific Avenue is the best place I’ve found for people-watching, especially on a bright Sunday afternoon.  You never know what you’re going to see, and I mean that.  No matter how bad things feel, no matter how dark it’s gotten inside me, if I hang out on Pacific Avenue for a while, something will happen to make me feel better.  And so I salute all of the people, the shopkeepers and sales clerks and food service folks and the entertainers and the tourists from all corners of the globe.

If you ever get the chance to light that candle instead of cursing the darkness, take it.  Speaking as someone who has been in desperate need of a little light, I can assure you that a single candle flame can make all the difference in the world.  From that little blonde girl in the hospital with me to that doctor whose human side I got to see, there have been people out there kind enough to light my way and keep me going despite all the depression, the grief, the trauma, and the pain I’ve endured.

God bless you.  Every single one of you.  You don’t know it, but you may have saved my life.

 

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Filed under birthday, charity, Depression, dogs, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, Food, Halloween, love, Self-image, Special needs, Writing