Monday, January 12, 2009


Ok, now I've got to do another blog post because I just feel icky.

Since I wrote the post about 'No' which was inspired by the 'carpool' situation there have been a few developments.

I put "carpool" in quotes because it's really not a carpool--it's a favor. Recap: Scott was adamant about resisting carpooling and so I withdrew my pending participation with the group of people I'd been discussing it with. However, one of the families was in a bit of a jam with the father going to be out of town for about 6 weeks, and they had one day they needed coverage for, and so I offered to pick them up on Wednesdays. After several weeks of this the mother began to email me to ask me to do more, maybe increase my 'participation' to a couple days. I suffered angst, because there seemed to be no 'good' reason to refuse, since it's not that far out of my way to go and I go that way every day. Then I realized, that the feeling of 'no' inside--that was sufficient unto itself. Just No. And I emailed her back to tell her that for now I was just going to stick with Wednesdays. Maybe do more later if it worked for my family.

Anyway, the dad came home just before the holiday break. Last Monday, first day back at school after the break, I happened to see him and asked if he still needed me to pick up on Wednesdays. He said no.

However, on that Wed, in the afternoon, he e-mailed to ask me if my "offer still stood." Something about a car problem that "should be resolved by tomorrow, or Friday at the latest." Said they 'owed' me dinner and let's schedule a time. I picked the kids up that day, but I sensed that there might be another request for Thursday. In my email response I said specifically I wasn't available. Thursday, to my dismay I got another call from him, also in the afternoon, asking if my "offer still stood." In the first place I'd not made an offer, in the second I'd already said no. Perhaps he hadn't gotten the message? It was perplexing, and somewhat irritating and I called him back to say there was a misunderstanding: I wasn't available.

I had a feeling the issue wasn't going to die and I may be dealing with it again. And sure enough when I got home from volunteering at Connor's school this afternoon, their number showed up on caller ID. Would I bring the kids home, and let's plan a date to have dinner at their house.

Dinner. I've been thinking about this. If I'd had my insight about 'no' (No) before I'd withdrawn from the carpool, I wouldn't have offered Wednesdays. I only offered because I couldn't think of a reason not to ("Just" 'No', of course, didn't seem sufficient to me then.). It seemed they were in a jam, and I had the means, so I 'should' do it, because I could. However, if someone was providing me with peace of mind--that I could remain at work secure in the knowledge that my kids' transportation was being taken care of--I would be offering something to reciprocate. I would be eager that they know that I intend to respond in kind, even if circumstances weren't allowing me to at the moment. I wasn't hearing this from them. The fact that I was getting thanks, but no offers, made it clear to me that this wasn't really a reciprocal arrangement. I was ok with that; I'd kind of been aware that this was what I was signing on for, but this was different from the 'it'll-all-come-out-in-the-wash" understanding that people who do favors for each other have. After 8 weeks of transporting their kids to afterschool care 'dinner' just doesn't seem to be an in-kind reciprocation. But still, I thought, maybe I'd accept the invitation. Perhaps a bit of time with them in their home would give me a better sense of who they are. Then I'd see if I even want to be partners with them in a carpool when the point arrives that works for Scott and me. But even the invitation's a little odd. There are two other members of my family. Is the invite for dinner just for Scott and me? That's kind of weird, for me to leave Gary and Connor at dinnertime and go to dinner with Scott somewhere else. But they haven't said anyone else is invited. Intuitively it feels strange, as a guest, to ask if I can bring 2 more guests.

It's just kind of a messy situation. I guess what's not clean is the context in which this is taking place. Is it an assistance situation, or is it a reciprocal situation. Since I'm not benefiting from the 'carpool', it's a favor, assistance. Yet, in a way, in asking me to increase my commitment, they're kind of treating it like a reciprocal arrangement. Is there something I said or did that gave them the impression that I'm open to take the kids every day if necessary for them? (Technically I can, but I don't really want to.)

So I just called the dad. I decided I was going to have to just say it while we were communicating directly so I'd know that he'd heard it. I told him that today wouldn't work for me. I told him that I wanted to clarify where I was at with the carpool thing, which was that I'd essentially pulled out of it when it was clear it wouldn't work for Scott. I told him that I'd seen that he was going to be away and there was a need for Wednesdays, so I made the offer, but I didn't want to do more at this time.

He said, "Fair enough." He apologized. Said he was just 'checking out their options'. Said they were having trouble with car registration at the DMV, and so they only had one vehicle available...something about his not having a license to drive. Said he'd also called some friends who had helped out before. Said he was just now putting on his shoes to walk over to the school--at least 2 miles. Said his wife had taken off that morning with his wallet in the car so he didn't even have money for the bus. Said he had not intended to impose on me and apologized.

I guess he read me right; there's no way I could say his request wasn't an imposition, but I'd tried to stay clear of that and just state the facts: I wasn't available today, and my participation in the 'carpool' is limited to the Wednesdays I'd agreed to. I kept my tone neutral, because I didn't want to imply an accusation. So it was awkward that he seemed to hear it as one anyway. I told him that I hadn't meant it that way, that I'd let his wife know that I was wanting to stick with the Wednesday schedule until later; he'd been away so I wasn't sure if he was aware of how I was conceiving of my role in this carpool. I told him I'd wanted to let him know how things stood with me.

I had visions of driving past him and his three kids, walking home because I refused to drive them. I had the power to make their lives easier, and I was refusing to do it.

Fact: there is a something inside of me that feels trapped and entangled in regards to the adults in this family. Something that yells, "Make tracks! Run!"

Fact: refusing to help someone so resembles Scrooge's "are there no workhouses?" that I feel uneasy. Because I can't quite distinguish between myself and a "not-my-brother's-keeper" stance in a credible way. Besides, aren't there times when I need help, too? Aren't there times when my requests might be an imposition on someone else? Wouldn't I hope for kindness if I was in a jam, not a refusal? A refusal based on "I don't feel like it", rather than, "I just can't"? (Is there really a difference between the two?)

I just needed to write out the ickies. To get an idea of their contours. There is a very strange boundary between what is someone else's problem and when it becomes mine. It's an uneasy place, when I have the power to make someone's life easier--in fact it's a choice of mine that someone else's comfort rests on.


Mrs. Spit said...

It's funny, I've been thinking and mulling about Christian Community and grief and doing more for people, and busyness, and it's a lot of the same things.

When are we obligated to do more? When is good enough or the fact you tried not good enough.


excavator said...

You know, Mrs. Spit, I thought about you during my dilemma. I thought of you stopping to help a man who was either passed out or unconscious; and I think you weren't even aware that you knew him when you initially stopped.

It occurred to me to ask, in terms of "Yes" and "No". When you stopped to help, did your cells say, "Yes", even though you knew that it was likely to be unpleasant? Or did they say, "No", and you overrode them?

If I compare my refusal with a refusal to help someone who has, say, fallen on the sidewalk in front of me, I'm hard pressed to distinguish the difference.

I guess that's the journaling work cut out for me in the only full alone day I'm going to get this week. Wahhhhhh!

Martha said...

Thank you for this, and it reminds me that when I say "No", it gives other folks the opportunity to help the perpetually needy out. It does feel all feel slimy and like you are being taken advantage of. They could solve their problem if you had another commitment or boys were sick? Of course! I am just not buying the Woe is Me, I have to walk 2 miles to the school. Too bad, pal, keep your license and registration up to date and you can pick up your own kids. Sorry, a little rant there. Some People! You are so much nicer than me, I love to help folks out, but dislike those who take advantage of a kind nature.

excavator said...

Hi, Martha...

No, I'm not very nice at all. Just... susceptible.

Funny, as I'm so hesitantly tiptoeing around the idea that I feel "a little" --used--to read people using the term unambiguously.

It takes me a while to call a duck a duck.