Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a situation where you wish you could tell Siri, “Siri, activate third person omniscient narrator” and then Siri would politely explain to everyone in the vicinity all the background information pertinent to the situation?
Well, I have.
I could have used Siri’s help several years back to provide a little foundational information before I walked through the door of a Pocatello, Idaho Jack in the Box barking orders at my sniveling children like a seasoned army sergeant. If only this app had existed then! Siri would have sounded like an angel from heaven, as she soothingly, robotically, stated to the manager:
Don’t be alarmed. Joanie has had a hard day. She woke up early to drive her boys five hours to the University of Utah Autism clinic. The roads were icy and her children fought non stop about which DVD to watch. There were pickles on Alex’s hamburger, which he didn’t want, causing him to hurl the hamburger from the last row of the van, and hitting Joanie in the back of her head. Now she’s worried the onions in her hair might be confused with head lice, which, in fact, they are not.
I imagine the manager looking up from his cash register, and peering around the greaasy lobby while the voice of Siri continued,
The drive today has been exhausting. The treacherous winter weather has made Joanie feel stressed out; especially when the semi-truck jackknifed towards her on the highway. Plus, while she drives her minds keeps worrying the thread of dreads she feels about taking Alex to the doctors office. Alex does NOT like going to the doctor, and she knows she will have to have a knock down drag out fight with him just to get him INTO the doctor’s office. While she drove, she bartered with Alex, eventually settling on a compromise that she would take him to the dinosaur museum if he can remember not to throw his chart AT the doctor like he did last time. But she thinks the odds of this happening are 50/50 at best.
I imagine the manager looking at me, and mouthing, “Are you Joanie?” then tuning back into siri as she continues,
She needed to pee for the last two hours but kept driving because her boys were quietly watching Dung Beetles And The Scoop on Poop in peace, and she knew as soon as she stopped, they would start fighting or doing something innocuous like impaling each other with plastic forks.
Then, just a few moments ago, when Joanie pulled into your parking lot and parked, she asked her son Alex to walk the dog while she used the restroom. Alex said “Ok” got out of the car, and walked around to the trunk, opened the gate of the mini van to find the dog’s leash, and accidentally knocked over a folder containing a hard copy manuscript she’d been editing for the last few months. Before she could reach the scattered papers, the icy wind had ripped into the pile, and sent them soaring into the storm. Joanie watched helplessly while her work tumbled across the parking lot, lost in the blizzard of snow, curling and soaring as they made their way into the oncoming traffic of the freeway. At first, she tried chasing down some of the soggy, ink bleeding papers, but before she could so much as grab one, Alex was yelling that the dog had run off.
So Joanie chased the dog instead of the manuscript.
The dog thought it was play time, and ran around the perimeter of the parking lot a few times, barking happily while Joanie chased him, before she managed to grab him, and carry him back to the car. Wind and sleet beating against her, while she walked. A few feet away from the mini van, she realized her two youngest children were STILL sitting in the back, oblivious to her plight, fighting about if the dung beetle’s feet ever got stuck in their dung balls or not. Their complete ignorance of the chaos circulating outside, coupled with the runaway dog, her bursting bladder, Alex’s s lack of help and two months of ruined work, sparked an inferno of rage in Joanie and she snapped. She all but hurled the dog through the still open gate of the minivan, while yelling “Dammit boys! Stop fighting, get out of the car and help me!” Spencer and Logan, stunned by the outburst of anger and unwarranted swearing burst into tears, and cowered catatonic with fear, while the dog happily located a forgotten piece of the hurled hamburger. He quickly ingested the mana, but ingesting involves not chewing, and the dog started choking on the meat. Luckily he threw up before Joanie had to administer the heimlich.”
This was the point where joanie yelled at all three of her boys, “If you want to use the bathroom, stop crying and go use it. Otherwise you’ll be peeing in a bottle because I’m not stopping again!”
And Alex said, “You said it was a family rule not to pee in bottles in the car,” and Joanie said, “Well, I’m changing the rule” and And Alex said “You can’t make a new family rule without dad here.” And Joanie said, “YOUR DAD SHOULD BE HERE!”
If ONLY the third person omniscient narrator app worked, the manager would have understood. He would not have thought I was an abusive mother with head full of head lice that had just entered his store, after littering all over his parking lot, and letting her dog relieve himself in the non-pet designated area, putting his DIAMOND level of cleanliness and service in jeopardy.
If the third person omnipotent narrator app worked, he wouldn’t have even blinked when I came bursting though the door, ranting at my crying children, “You have ten seconds to pee in the toilet or I’m making it a new family rule that we are NEVER stopping on road trips EVER and you are only allowed to pee in bottles. AND YES ALEX I AM IMPOSING A FAMILY RULE EVEN THOUGH DAD IS NOT HERE, HE CAN PEE IN A BOTTLE TOO FOR ALL I CARE SENDING ME INTO A BLIZZARD TO DEAL WITH …!! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!! A DIAPER? I SAID PEE!”
See, if the manager had the whole story he would have just smiled knowingly and offered ME an Oreo shake and a box of mini churros instead of glaring at me while debating whether or not he should call CPS.
A little background information always helps shed light on the reality of truth.
EVERYONE has a backstory, and an aftermath.
My aftermath included getting a terminal brain freeze from eating an oreo milk shake too fast, apologizing to my children for loosing it, resolving to make edits on my computer instead of paper, and NEVER showing my face in the Pocatello, Idaho Jack in The Box again.
The footnotes of my life story are long. Like a two chapter version of “See paragraph D” long. Like we need more paper for the printer long. However, my life experiences have done more than just allow me the opportunity to perfect the fetal ball. Additionally, they have given me insight into how plot twists, rising conflict and unresolved love triangles shape us all. They have reminded me that if I want to know someone’s story, I can’t just make up my own version for them, if I want to know, I need to ask.
And for once, the lesson stayed with me.
Which is why the other day when I was on a three hour flight with a very upset toddler, and an even more upset mother, I paused before I reacted. I thought about the third person omnipotent app. I thought about how I didn’t know her story. I thought about how it must feel to feel the weight of an entire planes frusteration and judgment resting on her rigid shoulders. I rememberd the times I had felt judged, trapped or inattequate. So, instead of joining the rest of the airplane in glaring at the impossibly young, frustrated mother who had all but given up trying to soothe her SCREAMING toddler, and had decided just to join him. I unbuckled my seatbelt, and stood. I could hear her yelling at her child to just shut up, from all the way down the aisle. Slowly I made my way past the rows and rows of passengers who were sharing horrified looks with each other, adjusting the volume on their headphones, or sighing heavily, until suddenly I was standing in front of her. I paused again, waiting for her to get a grip on her flailing child as she glared up at me, ready to defend herself from my forthcoming verbal attack. But before she could speak I said, “I have three boys. Two of whom have autism. Traveling with children can be hard. Can I give you a break for a minute?” The hot flush of emotion that swept over her face was almost my undoing. She nodded yes, and blinking back tears, handed her child to me.
I stood in the space between first class and the bulkhead and rocked and bounced that little boy for almost an hour. Out of practice, the weight of holding him made the lazy muscles of my upper arms and back throb, still I conjulled him while his mother sipped a diet coke and ate pretzels staring absently into space like a zombie.
I held him close. I whispered “everything will be okay” into the side of his sweaty head again and again until he finally stopped fighting, slumped against my shoulder, exhausted and surrendered to the peace of sleep.