The Grudge

Tonight, I went to one of those social events where you’re bound to run into a million faces you haven’t seen in forever. Some are genuinely a nice surprise, while others you cross the room multiple times to avoid. Awkward encounters are inevitable, as facts and faces are forgotten and small talk ensues for far too long when the appropriate ‘get-out’ sentences elude you.

Normally, I enjoy these mingling affairs, and catching up on what people are doing in their lives. Tonight, a weird encounter almost immediately after I entered the venue put me on edge for the night, and has left me bemused to say the least.

The hall was filled with stalls and tables, women everywhere, familiar faces and otherwise, and I decided to make a quick circle around the room before a more detailed second viewing of the ladies and their various wares. I was in a semi-conversation with someone I hadn’t seen in ages, and was genuinely interested in swapping baby-talk with, our kids bridging any gap that existed as a result of time spent apart. A lady approached me, who seemed entirely unfamiliar. She launched into what sounded so much like a prepared speech, that it took me a few seconds to realise I wasn’t being given sales patter for any of the items on sale this evening.

Evidently, we had worked together at some point, not very closely, but in the same place. And her being far more religious than I am now, (and certainly than I was at the time) I had inadvertently said something which had hurt her feelings. Not only that, but so oblivious to what I was doing, I had apparently repeated the thought many times over the time we worked together. Tonight, she repeated the story like it was so big deal, a funny anecdote to share with an old colleague, but as she quoted me verbatim, I could tell that it was so much more than that to her. Frankly, I didn’t even recognise this woman; I wouldn’t blink twice if I saw her in the street, after all it has been over 4 years since I saw her last. And yet she made a beeline for me the moment she saw me, and offloaded her hurt feelings which she has clearly been holding onto for almost a half decade.

Why didn’t she just say something at the time? I would have apologized, we might have laughed, I certainly wouldn’t have said it again at the very least!

I can appreciate that different people, like different cultures, can take serious offence at various things which I myself wouldn’t even consider. Personally, even after hearing from her tonight, I think what she is upset about is ridiculous, and even after being told, I don’t really understand her point of view. But without being told, I have zero chance of ever understanding it.

Sheer fluke brought us into the same room tonight, and we mix in entirely different circles. If she hadn’t run into me this evening, would she have held this grudge forever? Tonight, I laughed as if it was a semi-joke, out of sheer awkwardness, and said sorry almost too effusively-to keep up the appearance of levity that our conversation was balancing its fragile weight on. Her words “Dont worry about it” seemed flat even to me.

I wish she’d made the effort to explain to me her point of view 4 years ago. We were colleagues then, we saw each other every day, the conversation wouldn’t have been that awkward, and we both might have learned a thing or two about the different kinds of people that embrace our religion and how to live in harmony despite our differing practices. Certainly neither of us would remember it today.

Now its far too late to have that conversation. Even if I knew how to get in touch with her, it would be beyond awkward and ridiculous, and she would have to admit that it bothers her, an impossible thing to ask of a virtual stranger. All I know is, unfortunately for me, a woman I barely recognise is somewhere out there holding a grudge against me, and unfortunately for her, she still holds that grudge.

 

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If Aristotle worked in Starbucks..

I’ve heard it said that it’s just twists of fate that make people successful or unsuccessful in life. That our careers are decided upon just as much by where we’re born and the choices our parents make as our own drive to succeed and conscious decisions regarding goals and ambition.

Today I met one such example, who has obviously been handed an unfair lot in life, most likely through no fault of her own.

Out in Hampstead, near one of the more charming Starbucks locations, we were deciding whether to stop for a quick drink or go peruse the bookshelves of Waterstones. C turned to the barista and through no intention of his own, was given the oddest answer ever given to this particular question.

“What time do you close?”
“What time are we open untill? Or what time do we close?”

Baffling. Clearly I am not on the same plane as this particular barista, because try as I might, I am not seeing the subtle distinction.

After spending a few hours mulling it over, I have come up with two possible solutions to my conundrum.

1. She is one of those poor unfortunate souls who has come over from Eastern Europe and is forced to be a waitress, even though she in fact holds a Doctorate in Philosophy.
2. She is a first class idiot.

I’ll leave it to you to decide.

(Ps: No offence meant. She’s probably very happy with her job. After all, if I were a barista, I’d just leave the apron at work, say it really fast, and hope people assume I practise law.)

The pressure of work..

A mothers guilt. There’s nothing quite like it. And nothing makes it rear it’s ugly head quite like the subject of going back to work.

Full time working mothers are Guilty. Guilty of caring more about their careers than their children. Guilty of handing their kids over to virtual strangers which is no substitute for a mothers love and time. Guilty of weighing up the realities of financial pressure and coming up with an impossible decision. Guilty of wanting other challenges in their lives than the terrible twos. Guilty of looking for themselves inside the guise of Mummy.

Full time stay at home mothers are Guilty. Guilty of ignoring the hard work of our feminist sisters. Guilty of relying on their partners for financial stability. Guilty of wasting all those years of education. Guilty of feeling fulfilled simply by being a mum. Guilty of not caving into the immense social pressure behind the words “so.. when are you going back to work?”

This impossible decision means that no matter what your choice is, you are inevitably going to come up lacking. In our generation, the perfect compromise of part time work is becoming an ever more elusive dream which less and less of us can grasp, forcing women of all ages and qualifications to make the impossible choice.

In my case, I love my son and I love my work. My work drives me crazy and my son drives me crazy. So I try to do the best I can to satisfy both. I send my son to the childminder as little as possible, (and try not to wonder why he eats and sleeps better with her and never seems that bothered when I come to pick him up) and I do my job to the best of my ability, (while attempting to steer my colleagues away from the pile of books I accidently had sent to myself instead of an author because I’ve been up since 5am.)

My initial plan to combat this work life balance was genius. Working From Home. I see my baby, I do my work. How can it go wrong? For a little while, R felt the same way. “Dont worry about me Ima” he would call from his playmat. “You get an hours work done and I’ll just look at these lights.” “Thanks bub” my distracted reply as I fired off emails, not knowing how lucky I had it. “I’m just going to have a two hour nap Ima, why dont you have a really loud and long conference call?” he would say on a daily basis.

Then he started moving.. a blessing right? And everything changed. “Uggg” I hear as a tiny little man is pulling himself up on my skirt and launching himself at the computer, deleting the finely edited press release I was just about satisfied with. “Umm umm mm” I hear my happily munching son from another room, and I drop my manuscript to run around the house searching, arriving just in time to rescue the apparently delicious bathroom sponge from between his 5 teeth.

So I’m left checking my email at 11pm, and getting frustrated with my baby for wanting my attention. But I cant stop working, I cant afford to. And if you can suspend your judgement for the remainder of this paragraph, I dont want to. I like the part of me that gets listened to on matters more important than how much protein R has eaten that day. I like waking up with the distinct possibility of an adult conversation and some money making of my own. But if we woke up tomorrow with a windfall, I cant imagine sending my happy little fellow off to the childminder every day either, because you guessed it-I dont want to. I love the smile I get when I walk in after his nap. I love the knowledge that I am responsible for this tiny person who relies on me for everything. Both parts of my life are just wonderful. They just jar occasionally. Ok, often.

This is the part of my blog where I come up with some great compromise that makes both parts of me happy and ties up all the loose ends.

No dice. I think our only hope is to remove the guilt. You have to work? Ok. You want to work? Great. You have to stay at home? Alright. You want to stay at home? Also fine. Embrace your situation for all its plusses, and try not to let the minuses drive you too mad.