March 15, 2013

Bullet Proof

I’ve watched people in volunteer leadership roles get chewed up and spit out. It happens time and time again, especially where I live, where people are not known for being super friendly.  I’ve seen people resort to absolute stupidity, taking their own personal feelings about issues, and getting their children involved. A couple years ago, a good family friend of ours was President of a local swimming organization. He is a good man and always the diplomat. I listened as kids, who had obviously heard negative things from their parents, said awful things about him in front of his own kids. I couldn’t believe how nasty people could be and how low they could go.

But now I’m seeing it for myself.

This blog has had a self-imposed gag order on it for a long time. Too many people read it and know about it, and frankly, if I can’t write honestly, then there’s just no point in writing. If I have to avoid writing about the things I really want to write about, then why bother? But I’m done feeling that way.

A month ago, the board of the swimming organization I’m co-President of, made a business decision to better the club that a small minority didn’t agree with. The decision was made thoughtfully, not arbitrarily, or on a whim. Since then, the VOLUNTEER board, who spends countless hours daily making sure this club runs properly, grows and thrives (not just exists), has been attacked on a personal level. We’ve had one individual send nasty emails; we’ve had to deal with confrontations that crossed the line of appropriateness. Our friends have been confronted and attacked for supporting our business decision. And worst of all, we’ve seen our children become involved in the ridiculousness of it all.

Every once in a while, our coaches will give the kids an opportunity to end practice early. They choose one swimmer (last week, Swim Girl was chosen because her birthday is this month) to swim a 50 sprint of the coaches choice. They tell the swimmer that they have to swim their 50 in less than however many seconds the coaches decide. If the swimmer does so, practice gets out a couple minutes early. If not, they don’t. Swim Girl was chosen to swim a 50 fly and all the other swimmers are supposed to cheer that person on. I sat in the bleachers and watched as my daughter dove into the water and swam as fast as she possibly could. I couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was in the natatorium. One girl, whose mother has made it her mission to make our business decision as personal as possible, stood on the side of the pool with her arms crossed, refusing to cheer. I watched as she involved the girl standing beside her too, silent, as my daughter swam for all of them to end practice early. When the 50 sprint was over, Swim Girl had met the required time; but the coaches weren’t satisfied due to the blatantly obvious lack of camaraderie among those on deck. Practice continued. As the coaches reprimanded the swimmers about it, I couldn’t help but notice the look on the face of Swim Girl. She’s an 11-year old who swam her third best time ever in the 50 fly in an effort to end practice for all. She did her part; why couldn’t those girls do theirs?

When the coaches made one of the silent girls swim a 50 sprint immediately after, my daughter stood on the edge of the pool, cheering loudly the whole time, despite the fact that she knew the favor had not been returned. That is the kind of daughter I have raised.

Last night, I sat cuddled on the sofa with Little Man and Sassy. We were watching an intense episode of “The Backyardigans” when Sassy said, “There were some moms saying mean things about you in the locker room last night.” I sat bolt upright. “What are you talking about?” I asked her.

“I was in the showers and was talking to my friend. I was telling her that my Mom taught me how to say a bad word in French.” (The “bad word” she’s referring to is derriere, hardly a felony to know how to say “butt” in French; however, to her, it’s a bad word.”) That’s when a Mom standing at the next shower made it a point to say loudly to another mother, and directly in front of my daughter, “The person who taught her that is mean and bad.”

Sassy said she didn’t say another word. She said she wanted to defend me, but her teacher taught her that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, you don’t say it.”

What struck me then was this: my 7-year old has better manners than a grown woman.

We had a long talk about how this lady (described in vivid detail so I know EXACTLY who she is) could have assumed Sassy knew a word much worse than “butt,” and how “butt” is not a bad word. It’s actually just a body part. We also talked about how rude it was for this woman to interject herself into Sassy’s private conversation with her friend; and how inappropriate it is to say anything when you don’t know the whole story. I assured her that I am not a “bad” or “mean” person because she knows how to say a body part in French because of me, and thanked her for telling me about it. It took her 24 hours to tell me, because she was upset about it. She got all teared up as she was telling me.

Perhaps the most bothersome part of this incident is that we have done many personal favors for this woman over the past two years. Clearly, she must have forgotten about the constant allowed late payments that Mr. BBM and I personally approved and arranged. It really makes you want to help out the next person. Clearly, I am a “bad” and “mean” person.

I’ve had some awful things said to me, about me and emailed to me in the past few weeks; but involving my children because you are unhappy with a business decision that four grown adults made on behalf of a swimming club that’s been doing a pretty good job of improving and operating for the past two years, in large part because of these four individuals, crosses the line.

I can hold my own in a verbal battle, but I have chosen to take the high road the last few weeks. I have let the insults roll off my back, because I know the board has the club’s best interests in mind. What I didn’t know, was how ridiculously low some people would stoop.

Swim Girl will frequently tell me about middle school drama and how crazy some of the girls act sometimes. Last week she said she couldn’t wait until she was out of school. I had to break the news to her that the drama and craziness never really ends. Actually, it just gets worse and people get nastier. It is so difficult to take the “high road” and to teach your kids to do the same when there are so few other people doing that as well. But it’s what is right and I’ll continue to do it. I just wish there was a way to make myself and my kids bullet-proof along the way.


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