Being Human

As part of our Celebrate Twenty-Years of Marriage Getaway, I got a pedicure this afternoon. This is how it went down.

A. As the nail tech removed the old shellac from my toes to make way for the new, the two women sitting to my left, who were getting their own pedicures, had a conversation.

B. Tan Woman in Shorts asked Brunette Woman with Bangs if her classroom was ready for the beginning of the school year this coming week. Brunette Woman with Bangs explained that preparing for the school year has been busy because she is moving from teaching mild-moderate special ed to severe-with-behaviors.

C. Tan Woman in Shorts, also a teacher (1st grade, with a fair number of students with IEP’s; I know this because she told Brunette Woman with Bangs about it), upon hearing that the other woman was choosing to move to a class with extreme behaviors, said, “Oh wow! Why?”

D. I felt my body freeze into a human shaped column of tension. If these two women, roughly my same age and both working in the field of special education, started railing against badly-behaved students or “bad” parents who “teach” their disabled children to behave badly or the perils of teaching “the worst of the worst” as far as behaviors are concerned, I was going to harden into a lump of clay, and bake in the desert heat into an empty sandstone replica of a woman. “I will not be able to sit here and do this,” I thought. “If the judgment and the unknowing condemnation emerge, this pedicure, this afternoon, and possibly this vacation are going to turn into a cluster cuss of sadness.” Then I thought, “Okeydokey, apparently I am more fragile than I currently realize.”

E. Tan Woman in Shorts repeated that the Brunette Woman with Bangs’s workload would surely increase (although Brunette Woman pointed out that she has 8 paras—para-educators, or teacher’s aides for special needs classrooms—to help with the various needs of the “behavior” students). Tan Woman used the word “crazy” several times when suggesting that Brunette Woman’s teaching prep and classroom management would be quite different this year.

F. And then. This. Brunette Woman said she chose this teaching load because she needed a change. She sounded hopeful. Positive. Capable.

G. Both women began discussing their own children, and the balancing act of being teachers for other people’s children, while managing their own kids’ needs.

H. Meanwhile, the nail techs and Tan Woman in Shorts began to discuss acceptance of teens and tweens who aren’t religious in this mostly religious community.

I. Nail Tech with Vibrant Red Topknot described moving to this area in middle school and finding a lack of acceptance. Tan Woman said her sons sometimes struggle to fit in as outsiders in this area’s social culture. Petite Middle-Aged Nail Tech explained that her experience has been different. Her two teen daughters, Asian, not Mormon, and with a single mother, have been embraced and accepted by their peers. Petite Nail Tech said they have great friends and participate in sports and cheer in their high school.

J. Between reading snatches of my book (The Thing About Jellyfish, a lovely and heartbreaking YA novel by Ali Benjamin, which features a protagonist who doesn’t fit in, who sees the world differently, who can’t be cool or popular because she is quite unique and a lot like my third son in many ways), I watched the nail salon tableau play out around me.

K. Brunette Woman’s pedicure was finished at this point, so she moved across the room for a manicure. She told the nail tech that this was her birthday treat to herself, and that she felt incredibly relaxed.

L. I exhaled and dropped my inward defenses. Brunette Woman chooses to work with the difficult kids. She has a large family through a yours-mine-ours blended situation since she remarried, following the death of her husband, a few years ago (you learn lots about people at the nail salon, see).

M. I went from being a live wire of grief and defensiveness to being a woman who saw another woman for who she is: a complex, real person with sadness and challenges and gifts and abilities. I saw her as a competent, calm, and rather amazing person.

N. I felt great gratitude to this stranger for not saying unintentionally mean things about special-needs kids who behave badly because it’s a function of their disability. I was grateful to her for choosing to work in the field, and for not shying away from the hard ones.

O. I felt compassion for a woman who has experienced great loss herself, though in a different way than me. I felt admiration for her ability to move forward and do so much, while staying positive.

P. This is what ran through my mind: “We all struggle. We all have that which makes us feel other. We all are sometimes lonely and misunderstood. We all are sometimes overwhelmed.”

Q. Then, I thought this: “We aren’t so different. We just feel that we are. The trappings of our lives make us seem different. Inside, we’re just humans. All of us. We have more in common than a surface-y look might reveal.”

R. I could’ve joined in the discussion with the women around me. I could have told them about Jack and Charlie and Truman. I could have led the conversation with my tale of navigating the IEP from the other end of the conference table, and floored them with horror stories of parenting that lies on the fringe because it’s wildly not typical. 

S. But I didn’t want to speak. I am emotional about lots of topics these days (clearly), and it’s occasionally refreshing to fly under the radar, among people who don’t know that I’ve spent many a public outing and school behavior intervention meeting being the lightning rod for my children’s problems in positively interfacing with the world.

T. So I didn’t speak. Except to tell the nail tech that the water temperature was fine. And to say thank you when she finished.

U. I left with a sense of my eyes having been opened—to other people and their personal tales of woe. None of the women in that salon came in there looking like sad pandas. But I saw that they carry hidden grief with them. That we all do.

V. I felt that God showed all of this to me to help me hold on to the soul-deepening compassion my boys have brought into my life.

W. I felt humbled.

X. Being quiet can teach one a good deal.

Y. Being thankful empties fear from one’s life.

Z. Being human gives us a vast common ground from which to begin.


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