My favorite teachers were always my art teachers, except for that one. That one that I lamented to a classmate, “Mrs. Strickland is such a bitch – I can’t stand her and her stupid “art should always be beautiful” crap. If you think art has to be beautiful, then you’re a moron who doesn’t know a damn thing about art. Why doesn’t she go teach Hygiene or something?”
Then my classmate said, “Umm, you know she’s my mom, right?”
And that’s how I found out Emma was Mrs. Strickland’s daughter.
You know how much I just can’t stand to brag (all evidence to the contrary), but I’ve got an unparalleled knack for putting my foot in my mouth. I don’t even really have to try that hard, it just sashays into any scene like 1950s Marlon Brando in a stained white t-shirt and starts smashing lightbulbs.
If you have something you care about, like and respect, please feel free to count on me to say the most awkward thing about it after having mistakenly thought we were on the same page about it. Oh, you like Paris Hilton and named your baby after her? How…interesting! After I just spent ten minutes trashing her.
I used to try to backpedal when this happened, like I did with Emma when I’d responded to this mom business with, “Oh, uhh. Well, I mean, she’s actually really nice!”
Even though Emma was only 15 years old at the time, she gave me that look of, “Don’t patronize me. Just take your awkward medicine and live with how uncomfortable you just made both of us.”
It has taken me years to understand that look, that sometimes you just have to exist in a bubble of discomfort until it passes.
In a recent foot-in-mouth incident, I was forced to attend a seminar on healthy lifestyle habits that turned out to be one long sales pitch from a Real Housewives of Orange County-looking chiropractor who wanted to sell me magnetic shoe insoles to solve every health problem under the sun.
If a chiropractor has helped you in your life, that’s great. I just don’t like being told that I’m going to learn about healthy lifestyle habits and then get the hard-sell on magnets – unless it’s that weird guy who’s on The History Channel all the time. He’s like a train wreck I can’t look away from, like The Hogan Family after they replaced Valerie Harper with Sandy Duncan.
The next day I walked into my office and someone asked how the seminar had gone. My coworker butted in and he and I answered at exactly the same time, only he said:
“I was impressed. It’s exactly what me and my wife need. I signed us both up and we start on the whole regimen next week!”
And I said – at exactly the same time:
“It was some hard-sell, snake oil bullshit from a chiropractor who looked like a reject from the blow-up doll factory. Yeah, no. I didn’t sign up for her magic beans.”
I may have used air quotes around the words “magic beans” for effect. Maybe (yes).
I can tell you, the ensuing silence clung to the air like a dog fart. And not one of those dog farts from a beautiful dog. It was a junkyard dog fart. A fart from a dog that eats a steady diet of discarded, rotting mob victim-flesh and spent motor oil. The kind of dog fart that makes you banish even a beloved dog from your dining room and think less of them as a family pet from that moment on. A dog fart of destruction.
Did I immediately backpedal? No – this time I didn’t. Because I believed in every word I had just said. I hadn’t said it to insult my coworker – I said it because I truly felt this magnet saleswoman was a scam artist and should be called out for it. I had no idea he was going to barge into our conversation. Nobody had even asked him his opinion to begin with.
So I let the dog fart sit in the room, and did nothing to dispel it. I didn’t say, “Oh, I was just kidding! I’ve actually heard great things about those magnet soles!” like I would have years ago.
Because sometimes you just have to sit with the discomfort and let it be uncomfortable.
As a lifelong codependent and people-pleaser, this can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do. To let someone be mad at you and then just sit with it? Not cow-tow to them to try to make things all better? Not rush in to smooth things over?
It’s not your job to make everybody feel better. Say it with me, out loud:
“It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.”
I’m not saying be rude – far from it. Just stop making it your job to fix everything. Be okay with the discomfort, and don’t change the subject to distract everyone from the discomfort.
Man, that Hogan Family went downhill after Valerie Harper got fired.