Haha, very funny. I get it. I do. Lesson learned.
I have been complaining too much I think. I have written many times about how much I hate small talk and wish people would open up and have real discussions. Be careful what you wish for.
I am suddenly immersed in a neighborhood issue and getting to know way more than I ever wanted to know. I’ll back up and tell the whole story.
I’ve lived in my small town for over a decade now, but up until last summer I barely knew any of my neighbors. I had chatted with my closest neighbors, an elderly couple, from time to time when we were both outside doing yard work, but that was about it. Everyone else got a smile and a wave, and I probably wouldn’t recognize them if I ran into them anywhere else.
Then last summer, My then first-grader had a friend knock on our door and invite him over to play. He lived on the street behind us and we never knew. That was the catalyst to my kids’ social life. We were introduced to several other families just a few houses away, all with kids in the same age range as mine. Hurray! Well, hurray for my kids. It was hard on me, very hard on me. Suddenly, my safe haven, my home where I could hide and no one knew I was here – was invaded nonstop by loud, stomping, giggling, yelling and running little people. They would knock on the door anytime from 8am to 9pm. I no longer felt safe, and was annoyed that I couldn’t wear my jammies all day long any more. But I knew I had to give that up for my kids to have friends and feel like they belong here. So I got dressed – every day. (That doesn’t sound impressive unless you understand how many years I have been hiding here, working from home, sometimes not going outside for weeks at a time) I set boundaries – no friends before 10 am or after 7pm; No friends in the house when I have a meeting; You must ask me before going from one friend’s house to another.
Things settled down, though I am so happy summer is over and I have my peaceful house back during the day! The stress was building up in me from the constant noise and excitement with very little down time.
When I would go to pick up my kids, I would chat for a few minutes with the mom, babysitter, grandpa, etc while they search for shoes and get their bikes. All of these few minutes added up to a whole lot of trust and information being shared:
One mom is divorced, single, unemployed, on medicaid and disability, and started calling me to “ditch her son with me” for an hour here and there while she did errands. I have never asked her in return, but I would consider it if needed. My gut says she is scamming the system, but she takes good care of her son otherwise.
Another house has 6 kids, parents always working, teenagers run the house mostly.
Another house has a couple of nice little girls, and a really sweet, really fat dog. And a young cat that fights with my cat if he sneaks out.
Another house has “Pawpaw” and “MeeMee”, the grandparents of a sweet little girl that spends weekends there often. Everyone started talking about this little girl. They said she is living with the grandparents until the caseworker decides her placement. I didn’t hear much more all summer. My kids played with her nearly every day. And then school started.
Day 1 of school. I send kids to the bus stop, and see they are screaming to someone. I am not dressed, so I don’t go off my porch, but I call out and ask who they are talking to. It is their friends – duh, that live 1 street over. I never thought about it. I decided we should wait at the school bus stop with all the other families the next day, it seemed silly to have my kids wait alone 1 block over. But, and this is a big butt, it would mean I have to go with them. They usually get the bus on my street, and I would stay on my porch and watch them. Been doing that for 5 years now. I can’t see this other stop, it is around the corner. Was I ready for this change? I was already used to getting dressed every day now, this didn’t seem impossible. It did mean I would have to go chat with the other moms every morning. Wha! But I face challenges now. Gulp.
So Day 2 of school, I take my coffee and my phone and head to a very crowded corner with about 7 kids and 4 adults. A man is there I have never seen before, talking loudly on his cell phone. I quickly figure out this is the father of the girl living with the grandparents. He hangs up the phone and starts sharing details of lawyers, court dates, visitation rights, child support. (He was talking to the other parents, but did not care that I heard, I just shuffled about and waited to introduce myself, but he never made eye contact with me). He says they set up the first visit for today, not that she cares about Patty, all she cares about is her stuff, her phone. He then shares some scary sounding details about his ex, how she would leave this 1st grader home alone, and how she would kick the father over stupid things like phones. She sounded terrible, and I was so sad for the little girl in this messed up situation. I hoped the mom never abused the girl, it was bad enough to see her father getting attacked.
Day 2 continued, I have a dentist appointment. I hate the dentist, not personally, just hate going. I hate the small talk they do while your mouth is full. I was prepared for a few hours of pain and discomfort. But I was not prepared for this fun little twist the universe sent out to my plot. The small talk started as usual, but quickly turned into real serious talk. See the conversation below.
Dental assistant 1 (DA 1): How are you, how was your summer, are the kids back in school?
Me: Fine, really nice, and yes.
DA 1: Where do they go to school?
Me: I tell her the city.
DA 1: My daughter is living in that city. (She tenses up and trembles a bit).
Me: (I notice her tension, but decide to be polite and practice my chatting skills) Oh? What grade is she in? Does she go to this school?
DA 1: I think so. (Now appears angry. Why? I am confused, and I am done talking. I look away, not wanting to get involved. long pause) My husband stole her away from me and I have not seen her in 2 months. I’m not sure the name of the school, but she’s in first grade. I get to see her today for the first time all summer. My lawyer got me visitation – supervised though.
Me: (big eyes, open mouth in shock. This is too weird. Could this be the mom of the little girl living with her grandparents on the street next to mine? My heart is racing. I decide to put it out there) Are you possibly Patty’s mom? I think my kids have been playing with your daughter all summer.
DA 1: (narrow eyes, voice full of venom) Yes!! He took Patty away from me! He’s making me fight just to see her again, telling everyone I abandoned her! And that I’m the worst Mom! Just because I left without waking her up. I mean who wakes up their kids at midnight just to say they are leaving? Anyone would let them sleep. I didn’t abandon her, that’s ridiculous.
Me: (I now have two swabs hanging out of my mouth, local numbing. I just shrug my shoulder at her, not sure what to say. What did I get into here? What am I supposed to do? And oh crap – I can’t even end this torture, I’m stuck in this dentist chair for the next few hours! A captive audience for her to interrogate!)
Dentist comes in and gives me several shots of novocaine. Another assistant comes in.
DA 2: So you know Patty? How is she? Is she adjusting? Poor girl. The whole situation is such a terrible mess. Her ex is so wrong to do this. They are treating her like a criminal.
Me: (I’m mostly numb now but manage to mumble) Yes Patty is a nice little girl and has had a fun summer. My kids like her very much and her grandparents are taking good care of her from what I can tell, but I don’t really know anything.
DA 1: (She comes back in, still shaking, so glad she isn’t my dentist and not the one drilling today! She leans in really close to me. ) Do you ever see my husband? Does he talk about me?
Me: (Crap, crap, crap, crap crap. I can’t lie. I should, but I can’t. I don’t have it in me. If you ask me a question I have to answer it honestly, I know no other way.) Ummm, I didn’t see him all summer, but he was at the bus stop this morning before school, and talking about a fight you two had, and generally saying not so nice things about you.
DA 1: I only kicked him when he wrestled me to the ground to get the phone. He’s lying.
Me: (How did she know which story he told me? It must be the only one he has to spread around. Hmm.) Oh.
DA 1: Well I’m going to get him, he’s not going to win. I’m taking a tape recorder with me today when I visit Patty and I know she’ll tell me everything he’s been saying.
Me: (Oh Man, my parents used to do that to me mid-divorce. They even recorded the phone calls, trying to get anything they could twist and use against each other in court. It was never about what was best for the family, it just about hurting each other. Poor Patty caught in the middle like that. I’m totally numb now and mumble some ackowledgement) Ahhhaannmm.
I was never so happy to see the dentist come in to drill my teeth and stop this painful discussion. I don’t know if she is lying or her ex is lying. I do know her daughter is hurting and neither of them are handling this well. I found out from the Grandma that her Mom and Dad were separated, and Patty was living with Mom in an apartment. I guess Mom had a habit of leaving Patty sleeping at night, all alone, while she went out somewhere. They are guessing she went out with her boyfriend, the reason they got separated, for a late night booty call, but who knows. She appeared to be an educated, professional, civil, polite woman and I can’t understand why she would think it is ok to sneak out at night and leave a 6 yr old home alone. I guess Patty woke up one time and could not find her mom, got scared and called her dad. He went to get her, and the police arrested the mom when she finally returned. The dad took Patty away and the police took away her rights as a mom, saying she was a danger to her. She has not been allowed to even talk to her on the phone all summer. Wow.
I no longer have any problem with small talk. In fact I love it. Hey there, how’s the weather? Cooler today? Yup.
PS: I think this dental assistant saw my address in my file and was fishing for information from the start. It was all too unreal how it unfolded, and I am way too familiar with manipulation not to recognize it. And I also noticed that DA 2 asked about the girl, how she was doing, and showed love and concern. DA 1 did not. She was only concerned with her own reputation and ‘getting back’ at her ex.