I don't, in fact, apply for a job at Subway because I vowed long ago that I would never work in food service. It was freshman year, my first day on campus, and I held the envelope in my hand that would reveal my work study assignment. I pulled the card out of the envelope, closed my eyes and whispered "please please please be something cool." Like all-campus dj or something. But no. Instead it says..........CAFETERIA. Nooooooooooo! So I walked my big hair straight to the work study office and told them that that was impossible. Because, um, I had like lots of food, um, like "allergies" and being around all that leftover food on cafeteria trays would totally make me barf. And my hair won't fit in a hairnet.
So they assign me to vacuum the library at 5:00 in the morning. That's awesome! I love libraries! But that didn't last long because a) it was at 5:00. In the morning. Morning being the thing that comes way too soon after beer thirty. And b) libraries are dark and scary at 5:00 in the morning. Especially if you are the only person in the library. And you're vacuuming - so you can't hear when a serial killer is approaching you from behind (I turned the vacuum off a lot to look behind me). There was one room that never got vacuumed because it had a scary mural of an angel looking right at me. RIGHT AT ME! I swear she followed me with her eyes. So I would bend down and pick up the big pieces of lint at the entrance to the scary angel room and then run away with my vacuum cleaner.
But I digress. I am not going to work in food service. And I would prefer a position that didn't require me to wear a certain kind of hat. And, I know it sounds crazy, but maybe something in my field would be more appropriate. Early childhood, family services, literacy, parent education, blah, blah, blah. So I find a social services agency looking for facilitators for their parenting discussion groups. Piece of cake - when can you start, the coordinator asks. But I'm feeling hesitant - work is so, you know, work-y. I'm acting like the boyfriend who won't commit. What if they want me to show up consistently and be on time? I really like being the captain of the ship; what if there's another captain who wants to tell me what to do? Plus, I really don't know much about this organization - so I wisely agree to visit one of the groups to observe their discussion and see if it's a "good fit."
And here's what I found out: this was not a support group. It was a pissing contest. I arrived with my helping hat on but really what I needed was an umbrella and a wet nap.
We sit in a circle and begin the discussion with contestant #1. She says she has a 2 year old. Then she adds, "I have a 4 year old and a 6 year old but I don't see them two." She says it like she's challenging us. She narrows her eyes and purses her lips - there may have been a little neck wagging. I hold back because it's not my group. I'm just here to observe and it's someone else's job to glean meaning from her words and offer support. I wait and wait and wait for someone to say "That must be hard for you." Or "Do you want to tell us about that?" Or "Well, I hope this group will be helpful for you." But no one says anything, and she says nothing more, so the facilitator moves on to the next person.
Who takes the bait.
"Well, we're doing great. Except for my stepkid's sperm donor." Which he says with a thick New England accent so it sounds like "sperm donah." Picture Donnie Wahlberg with an ax to grind. Like post-NKOTB after all the money is gone.
"Yeah, my wife goes to drop off my stepkid at the sperm donah's house and they get into this big texting fight about where to do the handoff because he doesn't want her coming to his house. Says he's not there. But she goes anyway and the dickwad is standing in the fuckin' driveway. And the dickwad's girlfriend sees my wife and grabs her by the hair. She pulls so hahd that my wife falls down the stay-ahs. Then the dickwad's girlfriend has the gonads to file assault chahges against my wife. Fuckin' scumbag."
(by the way, the question was "what is your name and how many children do you have?")
The next woman shared the story of their last Christmas. How they grabbed their children and stormed out of grandma's house because grandma #1 and grandma #2 hate each other and couldn't keep it civil for just one day. Not even for Jesus. The children cried in the backseat because Christmas was cancelled and the screaming grandmas were scary. They got Chinese takeout on the way home. So next year they've decided that grandmas are banned from Christmas. And they're getting Chinese.
The next woman riffs on the theme. "Oh yeah, well I'm skipping Christmas this ye-ah because my mothuh refuses to move he-yah and it's just not the same so why bothuh?"
"What about your kids?" I ask, now flagrantly stepping on the facilitator's toes. The woman shrugs. She wants her mommy. Still don't know her name or how many children she has. The children who get a half-assed Christmas.
And these stories don't bond them together at all. Because nobody wants to lose the pissing contest - so no one is actually listening; instead they're scrolling through all of their pathetic stories, deciding which one will put them on the top of the heap. It's not a support group - it's a lack-of-support group. It's a gradually-getting-less-and-less-support group.
I feel like Bob Newhart, the mild mannered psychologist in a room full of people who all have a crazy character to play - like the little bald guy with the funny voice and the sexpot and the one who doesn't talk - as if their next paycheck depends on being crazier then the person next to them. And the whole time, Bob has to sit there and act like they're not crazy at all.
I'm simply not used to this style of communication. This is not how we do parenting groups in Minnesota, land of 10,000 parenting groups. In Minnesota, we take turns being the crazy one - and then we all offer that day's crazy person a helping hand or some comforting words. In Minnesota, if someone asks how you are, you say "Oh pretty good. How 'bout you?" Even if your house just burned down. If it was really bad you might say "Oh pretty good, I guess." So do I really tell the coordinator that I can't help her out because of the cultural communication gap? How can I explain that these people don't want what I have to offer?
I fear she won't know what I'm talking about and I don't want to have to explain the difference between midwestern communication and east coast communication; it's more than I'm willing to invest at 8pm when I haven't eaten dinner yet and all there is on the way home is a Taco Bell. So I just tell her that I might be better utilized elsewhere.
And then I drive home thinking that being in charge of long-sleeved t-shirts might be ok for a little while longer.
And I'm also happy to have some new vocabulary to use at home; as in "will you go ask your dickwad sperm donor where he put the wii remote?"