I was brought up not to curse or swear or use vulgar language at anybody. My family’s religion taught me- right thought, right speech, right action. I shall not engage in hateful thought, speech or action.
Today I wish I could have been more assertive, more angry, less understanding and empathic and respectful of others. Not to follow these precepts taught to me.
It is ski season as winter comes. I am not athletic and have very little interest in sports but I am usually a good sport and I engage in activities so I can be a model for my children to follow. I want them to have healthy habits such as physical fitness habits. And I also want to particiate in family activities together and not leave myself out in these joint memories created together. It’s my role as a mother to do so. And I like adventure enough that I push myself to try these things despite not loving them. It isn’t forced. I take it on as a challenge and I feel rewarded and intrinsic enjoyment from accomplishing these little challenges out of every day life.
A few months ago, I sprained my left ankle very badly and still recovering from it. My mobility is much better now, though I cannot run (but I can walk at a fast pace that may seem like I’m running) as the impact of the foot against the ground will be too hard on my ankle joint. I have to go for an MRI scan to see if I indeed have what my orthopedic doctor called an “OCD”. No, it’s not obsessive compulsive disorder, but rather a fracture of the subcartilage bone at my ankle joint. Therefore, I have been quite careful not to re-injure myself. Usually I brush these accidents aside and go on without much attention. I have a pretty high threshold for pain (I gave to both my children without an epidural). But having been unable to walk without a cast boot for 6 weeks, and even now still needing the elastic ankle brace, and not being able to run, and still hurting while going down the stairs, I have decided to take care of myself better.
Long story short, I am being careful about not injuring myself. However, as a mother, I didn’t want my children to think that you quit when going gets tough, so I decided to keep on snowboarding this season once I feel like I can push myself a little at a time. Good thing about snowboarding is that the boots keep ankles in place without possibility of any twisting motion. So it was relatively safe for my level of recovery. Playing tennis (another family sport activity we do and I’ve been missing out on) would be impossible and I’ve been out of that for 3 months now, but snowboarding was doable.
First day, I didn’t get out there, so I can adjust myself to the place and altitude. Second day, I went on the easy slopes for half an hour, and took painkillers to prevent any swelling and inflammation. If you know me, you’d know I don’t like taking medications unless I’m seriously ill. Today is our third day here. I decided to push a little further and go on a slightly harder slope, but one I have been on before many times, and have enjoyed the most. Kids were in ski school while husband was snowboarding down harder slopes at his own pleasure. I was in line for the chair lift and as a single rider, I joined a man and his two daughters who may be around 9 to 11 years old or so – about my daughter’s age. As a mother myself, I was careful to be considerate to the girls, make sure they have enough space, as we waited in line and started moving toward the chair lift area.
However, when it became our turn to get on the lift, and we all moved forward together, the girl next to me started moving to my side and then ended up being ahead of me. I was trying not to get in her space, being considerate of her. I got stuck in a dilemma because the chair lift was coming right at us from behind, and since I’m on the farthest right, where the turn is, the side of the chair seat came right at me first before it reaches others in the line, especially since I’m behind them in the line by now. I couldn’t move forward since the girl was there, and I couldn’t move to the right since there’s a little step down. Moreover, I’m goofy-footed, which meant, my right foot is strapped in first and forward, and which put me in a position to have my back to the right side where the turn is. If I move that direction, I would only be able to fall backwards and hurt myself, and risk injuring my face, my back, or my ankle all over again.
There was space to my left since the girl had taken my spot, so I could go in between her and her sister, but with the chair already touching me and moving forward, I didn’t have enough time to move to my left without becoming knocked over and dragged down under the chair as it continued to move ahead. The only thing I could do was sit, because the chair lift seat was also pushing against my thigh and forcing my knees to give way and bend, thus forcing me into sitting position. In a split second after I landed on the seat due to the momentum of the chair lift, I tried to not have the girl in front of me get pushed off and end up in the front ditch and under our chair lift. I held her with my arms to protect her from a fall, and she landed, seated right on my lap.
The father started to yell at me. I carefully carried her to the side so she sat in the empty spot beside me on the chair lift. He yelled at the staff to stop the lift but they didn’t. The man started to accuse me of not knowing how to use the lift and making decision to sit too soon before I got to the red line that guided where skiiers/snowboarders should wait for the chair lift before being seated. I tried to explain to him that his girl was right in front of me and I had nowhere to go, and that the chair was already touching me so I had no choice but to sit. I told him in a calm respectful tone. But he continued to yell and said that he specifically saw that I sat down first. Again, in my respectful empathic tone, I told him, I understood he was upset because he was worried about his daughter, but that I really had nowhere to move except sit, because his girl was in front of me. He told me to shut up and insisted his daughter was not in front of me. I got upset. So far, I had been reasonable. So I told him with a frustrated tone that he should at least listen to the other person’s side of the story. He again told me to shut up and that he had a right to be upset and that he didn’t care about my side. So I told him, in my broken sentences (because I was too upset to think) that I had a right to my own opinion and my own story too.
I didn’t argue further because I had to sit with this man for next 5 to 8 minutes or so and there were two girls there. I didn’t want to get into a fight on a chair lift, high up in the air, with a man who didn’t want to be objective, and who clearly was on the defensive. I didn’t want to put the children through this ugly side of being adults who act like immature people. So I just let it go.
Then it came time to get off the lift as the destination approached. The man decided to go to the left and it was fine as I wanted to go to the right anyway. But when it was time to get off, the girl’s ski poles and her right ski was getting on top my snowboard. I coudn’t get off without knocking her over, so in consideration of her again, I waited till her ski touched ground and started steering left before I placed my snowboard on ground to get off, by which time it was slightly late in timing to have good stability on the board. I quickly tried my best to not fall over and be hit in my back by the lift. There was no space at all for my snowboard to turn to as a result of my consideration of the girl, as the pillar holding the lift line structure was barely a foot away from my side. It was such a tricky edge to maneuver so I did fall, although not near the lift.
I saw the man turn back to see me with this look of disdain on his face, as if I didn’t know what I was doing with snowboarding. I couldn’t help it then, so I called him an idiot under my breath. I got up and quickly scooted over to a safer spot so I don’t endanger others getting off the lift, and I quickly tried to call my husband to vent my anger and soothe my enraged nerves. But cell phone reception was bad and my phone does act up on me at times where I can’t hear the other person, so I texted him instead. Bless my lovely husband, he was responsive and understanding, and protective of me. He came over to join me so I didn’t have to snowboard alone, upset and unnerved, down the slopes.
I couldn’t snowboard again after that run. I know it’s just anger. But I am not an athlete and I am not trained to ignore my emotions or to take charge of my body and keep my concentration despite stress. I am an artist. So I am expressive and I shall be upset.
I should be upset. This man had shut my voice. I wish I was witty enough to tell him that if his daughter hadn’t been in front of me, why would she end up on my lap when the chair came around? The only reason I got on that chair before I was at the red line was because she was in front of me and I was sandwiched between her and the chair!
I told myself karma will get him. But in my own motherly nature, I hoped that it gets to him not today when he is with his daughters on the slopes, but at another time when he is on his own. I didn’t want his daughters to be endangered if something bad happen unto him on the slopes, when he was in charge of his daughters’ safety. It’s upsetting because, despite how angry I am at him, how much he had accused me, I am still being considerate of him and his daughter this whole time. It felt so unjust.
My initial thought was racist. I admit it. I thought, this stupid white guy, does he think he can put me down because I’m a small Asian woman? But then, I gave it a second thought, and I told myself, he probably would’ve acted as a bigot even with someone who wasn’t Asian or person of color. But there was something about how he shut my voice that felt like an abuse of his power and privilege. Then, I thought, if I was a man, he might not have shut me up the same way. He might still yell back defensively. But he would not have been able to shut the other party up if the other party was a man.
I have no issue at him yelling at me per se. I get that part. As a parent myself, I know one is always defensive about one’s children. I don’t fault him for that at all. But what was wrong in his reaction was his trying to shut me out and not listening to my explanation. The ignorance he had of the reality about his daughter being in front of me, that had inevitably put me in danger from her action. I don’t blame the girl either. She is young and most young children are still learning how to be in this world. If she was a teenager I may find her more responsible, but I am forgiving of an elementary school kid’s lack of awareness.
So there is this something about his shutting me out and only seeing his perspective as correct that feels like an abuse of his power. If I was a man, would he have considered what I had to say? Would he at least give some credit to my words? Or perhaps, my physical voice would’ve been louder and my tone stronger, so he would feel some fear or intimidation. Could he not be afraid because I was a small Asian woman? Maybe he thought I was a kid.
In thinking about this incident further, I also came to question why did this man not know to tell his daughter to come over closer to her sister, and leave an empty spot on the right for this woman – me – who was obviously getting on the lift with them. Why was this daughter not aware of needing to take only the space she occupied and not overtake another’s, to have a sense that there was somebody else coming up next to her right? Why was she so clueless to my presence that she moved to the end of the line? Why were they not aware that there was this other person in line with them that was struggling to get up to the red line and had fallen behind, and that there needed to be a space given so she could catch up? WHy were they so lacking in awareness of their surrounding?
This brought me to think about cultural habits. When I was growing up, I was always reminded by my parents to walk faster when I cross the streets at the crosswalk, or to hurry up when the light had turned red for me in the middle of my walking across. I always had a mind to think that people in the cars were waiting, and I shouldn’t make people wait too long for me. I was brought up to be aware of who was next to me, and how much space they might need and to always leave some space so they could occupy it, such as in buses or trains or elevators. I was brought up to wait for another person before doing things when I knew we would be doing them at same time or same place, like eating dinner at same table. I was brought up to listen to others, to never tell someone to shut up, or to never interrupt someone who is talking. I was brought up to be socially kind.
But not here. Not in this country. People are brought up about their rights. My right to my space, my right to my voice, my right to my own emotions. That’s fine. It’s good to be protective of yourself. But it shouldn’t come in expense of another person’s rights. It shouldn’t be the center of the universe because we live among people. Humans are social animals. We need to also have social awareness, and social kindness. We need to learn how to live with each other. This man, and the culture he has been brought up in, and the culture he is embedding his children in, is one guided by selfish values, only of his voice, his perspective, his feelings, his space.
Could he not have seen how I’m not an unreasonable person? My tone of voice when I spoke to him was calm and empathic. I even told him I understood his concern for his children. I’m not attacking him. Why was he so defensive till the end? Why couldn’t he take a moment and listen to this woman who was being thoughtful to him, to reflect upon his own role and his daughter’s role, and that she was indeed in my way, and that she had put my life at risk of danger? Why is it always about others and what others should do for you, instead of what my role may be in this experience playing out before us?
My daughter would have owned up to it. My son too. I have taught my children the value of honesty and fairness, sometimes to our own detriment, as it becomes embarassing when we are trying to hide a small mistake in front of friends and public crowds. But still, I have always been proud of them for being so frank and always speaking up when they see something amiss. Why was this girl so quiet? Why did she not own up to the fact that she was indeed in front of me? Was she so clueless to her surroundings or unaware of people around her? I can’t blame her because her values and actions are a reflection of the values and modeling done by parents. It only shows what her parents might have taught her, either explicitly or implicitly.
If you, the reader, has read up to this point on this longest post I’ve written so far, and you are a parent, please do me a favor, and teach social kindess and awareness to your children. Please teach them to own up when they know they play a part in something that went wrong. Please teach them to always make room for others, to have a willingness to listen, to have empathy. Or at least, please teach them not to shut down others’ voices as if theirs is the only voice that matters. Yes, teach them to make a stance, to own their voices, to speak up, but do so in a balance that lets them know, EACH AND EVERY voice counts – theirs AND other people’s, even those you don’t want to hear. Somebody has not taught this man this sort of social kindness. And now he may teach his kids what he’s learned to do.
I think the most important thing we as parents can do for our children, is to teach them to have heart. Because without heart, we are not human. It is our heart and our intelligences that make us more evolved than other animals we share this planet with. These days, we have artificial intelligence, computers and such, that have the smarts and processing power. What still remains to make humans distinct from our other animal cousins, from robots and machines, is our heart. If we do not have that, what is left of humanity?
word up, word out, stay low (and humble) my mothas………..