Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What Not To Say

Under the category of "Things Well-Meaning People Have Said To Me Thinking They Were Being Supportive" here's my list of what not to say... a woman who has just undergone a miscarriage (circa 2002):

  • "It was probably because you were on the Pill."

    Intended meaning: "It won’t happen again; there’s nothing wrong with your body."

    What I heard: "You should have known better than to use the evil abortifacient BCPs; if you had just used the rhythm method you would already have seven children by now."

  • [in response to my explanation that very early miscarriages usually occur because of insufficient genetic information] "I knew there was a reason this happened! God would only give a disabled child to those who can handle it."

    Intended meaning: "This might seem meaningless and cruel to you right now, but really it’s all for the best."

    What I heard: "You are a selfish, immature woman who lacks the moral stature to parent a disabled child." the mother of a speech-delayed toddler (circa spring 2006):

  • "Yes, my daughter is highly verbal, but you shouldn't use her as a standard of comparison - Angelica is abnormally advanced because we’ve been using sign language with her since infancy."

    Intended meaning: "Your son’s speech development is normal and nothing to worry about."

    What I heard: "It’s too bad your son wasn’t fortunate enough to have a dedicated sign-language teaching mom. His speech delay could have been prevented if only you shared my enlightened parenting practices." a wife who is taking five minute to blog while her husband chops vegetables for the grill (circa last night):

  • "I was listening to Leonard Cohen’s 'Democracy' on the way home from work and I had to laugh when he sang about 'the homicidal bitchin’ / that goes down in every kitchen / to determine who will serve and who will eat'."

    Intended meaning: "Democracy won’t hit this kitchen until the kids are old enough to make their own meals."

    What I heard: "blah blah blah blah Get off your butt and make me some supper, woman."

My response in every case? Blink, blink - change of subject.

(Except for the last one - then it was more like: Blink, blink - stirrings of homicidal rage, curtailed by hubby's hasty explanation and timely offer of a nice dessert.)


Mouse said...

That last one is so like me. My constant guilt that I'm not superwoman and am simply exhausted by my life automatically changes every "Can you help get the bath started?" into an accusation of horrific sloth. My poor wife.

nomotherearth said...

Ha! The last one made laugh out loud. I look forward to reading your posts.

I am constantly interpreting, or rather RE/MIS-interpreting, comments made by people (mostly by the Husband, family, or my mom-acquaintances..ok, I pretty much just named everybody) in terms of my own personal guilt. Whether it's that I'm not doing enough, or not being a good enough mother, or I should be at home instead of working, or any one a million other things that leave me guilt-ridden 75% of the time. Sometimes I think that guilt is the hardest part of this Mother-gig. :-)

(Now I'm feeling guilty because I'm reading your blog instead of working. It never stops...!)

cinnamon gurl said...

I totally agree... guilt seems to be universal part of motherhood.

Robbin said...

Oh man, I can tell you I have had some things come out of my mouth that I realized the moment the last syllable died that they could be heard in a way completely removed from what I meant. And somehow the post-statement stammering is so inadequate.

And, when people find out that I am a Katrina survivor, I can tell you there were some seriously boner comments that I know were well-intended in retrospect. It's just hard to have perspective in the moment.

allrileyedup said...

I hear ya 100% on the speech delay.

Leonard Cohen's Democracy was the ultimate favorite song of a friend of mine from college, who insisted on making me listen to is whenever we rode around in her car that we nicknamed the mothership, so whenever I hear mention of that song, I have images of a big old boat of a car with glow in the dark stickers on the roof. I'd rather be eating dessert...

Oh, The Joys said...

This rings so true. I love the intended meaning v. what you hear. So true.

Anonymous said...

I have a dream... that one day I won't have to cook a single meal for anyone - I'm so tired of providing meal after meal after meal. I seriously lack inspiration. My husband only cooks when we entertain - so that everyone can tell him what a wonderful cook he is, and can tell me how lucky I am to have married a man who can cook!

Bobita said...

I LOVE it!!

You described the interpretation process of well-meaning-but-let's-face-it-you-should-NOT-SAY-THAT-EVER comments...with such accuracy that I thought you might be reading my thoughts!!!

Momish said...

Ha! You have an amazing way of nailing it right on the head! Unfortunately, I tend to be the blurter in such situations. I appreciate your attempt to assume the good attentions. I wish that would happen more, especially in my case. Big. Fat. Mouth.

nonlineargirl said...

I am so sorry to hear that. When Chris and I were trying to get pregnant, a guy we know suggested that orgasms helped move the sperm up into the uterus. This from a guy who'd gotten his partner pregnant by accident. I heard: I am such a good lover my gal got pregnant without us trying. Maybe you should work on your technique there folks.

I didn't say anything to him, but I still haven't forgiven him either.

penelopeto said...

Holy crap, you are one nice person. I'm not good at giving people, especially stupid ones whose meaning is not clear, the benefit of the doubt.

my response in every case would have been 'f-you, jackass.'

except for my husband, when the response would have been 'hope you enjoyed the sex the other night; it's the last you'll be having for a while.'

Kyla said...

I don't cook. My poor Josh is in charge of cooking, cleaning the kitchen, AND doing the dishes. He prefers this to the food poisoning I would inevitably give to everyone. :)

People have a nasty habit of not thinking before they speak...not about the actual words they are saying or about the implied meaning behind those words. At times, it doesn't matter how well meaning someone might have been...all you feel is the sting of their words on your open wound.

lildb said...

no two ways about it: people can be so rude and simultaneously so well-intentioned.

I'm a prime example. I want so desperately to say nice, helpful things. But. I live with my foot in my mouth. Lately, I practically start apologizing before I've said anything, I'm so aware of my verbal foibles.


good post, as usual, G.

Lady M said...

I'm guilty of reading the alternate meanings and also saying accidentally unkind things too. Sigh. At least you make it entertaining in retrospect!

bubandpie said...

I think most of the time I manage to stop myself before the incredibly insensitive words come out of my mouth, but it always amazes me that those impulses are there to begin with - you know, the "that's not so bad - so-and-so has it much worse" and the "there's a reason that all this happened to you." Ugh - where does that stuff even come from?

metro mama said...

People need to learn to just listen and keep their mouth shut.

Oh, and make dessert. Tell him, shut ya mouth mister and get my dinner on the table.

moonstruckmama said...

Although I know I am a perpetual perpetrator of unintended insult...say that three times quick...I have one comment I still cannot get out of my head three years later: As I was attempting to comfort a gal I know because she was accidentally pregnant again after losing a ton of weight, I said something to the effect of "Oh, it'll be okay--don't worry about the weight thing...," she said to me, "Well, it's different for someone like you who doesn't care what she looks like." Hmpf. :)

OddMix said...

Smart hubbies always leave themselves a verbal escape route... and, when possible, a physical one, as well.

sunshine scribe said...

The last one made me laugh.

The other two ... oh I would have really had to bite my tongue hard in response to those stingers.

Last week someone said to me..."it must be so nice for you that your career doesn't matter to you anymore." They meant that it was good I was able to sidestep my ladder climb to work for a charity but - that is not how I heard it. At all.

mad_hatter said...

Hey B&P,
Your post made my tummy feel all twingy, b/c I too often put my foot in it unintentionally (as I did with a blog post just the other day that made another blogger feel bad and made me feel worse for it all, even though hurting another's feelings was the furthest thing from my mind--erg). I digress. What I mean to say is that I never intend to hurt people's feelings and I do try to shut up and self-edit but sometimes the wrong thing just comes out, ya know?

Having said that, the first two comments you mention in your post are horrific. Positively horrific. How could anyone think those things in the first place let alone think to say them? I was on the receiving end of a number of hurtful jabs when I was having difficulty breast feeding. Over a year later, they still sting. But the comments you describe: pure wickedness.

As for the third comment, I can just hear it in my head now. My husband has said the odd snide thing about my blogging of late and, man-oh-man, has he had to pay for it.

Gwen said...

Aww, I love me some Leonard Cohen.

Oh, right, topic.

I have two theories about the asinine things people say: one is that they're secretly angry about something else and since they can't express that, it comes out all sideways in unhelpful comments. This is pretty much how I explain almost every single utterance that escapes from my mother's mouth, a person who hasn't been consciously angry since 1962. And/or two: we are all terribly self-centered and so much of what we say has to do with us and our needs and very little to do with the person we are ostensibly talking to. In the same way, what we hear is filtered through our own baggage in ways that makes misinterpretation too easy.

Both this post and the comments have given me a good chuckle today. Thanks!

bubandpie said...

Gwen - You are so right: those awful remarks come from our own need to reassure ourselves that bad things won't happen to us, and to explain why and how they would ever happen in the first place. They are selfish, in that sense, though in some ways very natural.

And that speaks to MH's point - the funny thing is, the woman who made the two miscarriage comments is the warmest, most generous and loving person you could ever meet. But she has no interior monologue - she was thinking aloud when she said those things - and she was having her own crisis about my miscarriage because it happened while she was praying for my brand-new pregnancy. So it caused a bit of a crisis of faith for her and she was searching for a reason.

Sunshine and Moonstruck (ha! - it's fun to put those two names together!) - Those two examples are just awesome.

Oddmix - Blink, blink - What are you saying?

(Just kidding, of course - part of my point here is that if hubby were to call me a homicidal bitch, the accusation would not be totally without foundation.)

Aliki2006 said...

I think we are just so floored sometimes by the things that happen that we babble our way out of it and risk saying inconsiderate things. Sometimes the simplest response is the best--I don't know why people have to blurt out long responses that are often insulting and hurtful.

At a party a few years ago after I had just recently been hired in this full-time position I was telling a colleague about how much I enjoyed being with my kids, etc. etc. She looked at me and said, "well, don't get *too* caught up in the mommy thing--you want to make sure you work on your career, too."

Ugh. That comment really stuck with me--what on earth kind of planet would you come from to think that was an appropriate response?

Veronica Mitchell said...

Holy crap. I can be clueless, but not that clueless. i hope. Maybe I should ask my friends...

Mrs. Chicky said...

And this is why I try to keep my mouth shut in many uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, muteness doesn't help either.

(that last one was funny!)

Jennifer said...

I can so relate to this -- on BOTH sides of the "commenting". There are times I wonder just what the hell people think about before they open their mouths. And then there are the times I would give anything to take back something I've just said. :(

But the last one made me chuckle out loud!