Let’s face it – not many people enjoy being patronized, I certainly don’t.
In case you don’t know what being patronized means, it’s when somebody automatically assumes…
Seriously, though – just what is it that gets our dander up when somebody talks down to us? Ok, of course it is an affront to our dignity first and foremost, particularly when the perpetrator is someone we consider to be a peer, but in my opinion it goes much deeper than this.
I reckon our resentment stems from our adolescent years when we are beginning to think less about our immediate desires and more about the world around us; in other words, when we start to form those wretched things we call opinions.
Of course the first culprits we come across are our parents or guardians. Nothing used to bug me more than when I’d embark on a rant only to see my more senior relations’ faces be washed over by that “Aw, look at him, he has a point of view!” expression which means they aren’t taking in a word I am actually saying, no matter how carefully chosen they may have been.
As my elder child approaches her 11th birthday, I am now starting to see the other side of the coin, and I have caught myself doing exactly the same thing with her.
Luckily for me I guess, I have noticed it early, since she’s not quite old enough to notice I go into a semi trance as I marvel over how this person whose poop I was cleaning up not too long ago is now able to put forward a reasonable argument about something she believes in.
I can now understand what my mother sometimes sees even now as I speak to her on any issue. It’s as though I go through a metamorphosis before her very eyes and suddenly I’m a little kid again.
All those stories of the various cute things I did as a wee lad that got dragged out over an over again in polite company have now ceased to be annoying anecdotes and are now vivid depictions of how I used across to adults.
Like the time she arranged to have a professional picture taken of me as a four year old. The photographer plonked me down among a dozen or so building blocks, you know – the ones with the letters on, and told me to smile broadly and hold up two of the blocks. I dutifully complied, and it was only after my mother got the set of prints back that she realised I chose to adorn my Kodak moment with the letters “F” and “U”.
She claims she doesn’t have the picture anymore, but I don’t believe a word of it – she probably figures I’d destroy it, and she’s probably right.
Or the time she brought me to see Santa Claus. There was a new restaurant phenomenon called “fast-food” sweeping the nation at the time, and supposedly out of a desire to make me seem smarter than all the other kids standing in line, she coached me to ask ol’ St Nick for a “McDonalds franchise”. Again, I was a willing participant in her plan.
“Ho-ho-ho! That’s very funny”, said the guy in the red suit. “But surely you mean you want some McDonalds FRENCH FRIES, don’t you?”
Come to think of it, maybe resentment to being patronized starts at an earlier age than I thought, because my reply was,
“No, I said FRANCHISE, you dummy!!!”, after which I seem to recall being grabbed and rushed away from his knee clinging to my complementary small box of Lego for dear life.
Of course at those tender ages, you don’t realise what you’ve done. As you get older, you begin to catch youself, which can sometimes make matters worse.
My grandparents and I moved here to Ireland in late 1977, and the first year was very, very difficult indeed. We were in a strange country, I had to start a new school as “the yank” and all the taunting that went with it, and the winters were umpteen times colder than anything we were used to back in California.
On top of all this was my grandfather’s illness. He had a cancerous tumour on his larynx, which had to be totally removed, naturally leaving him without a voice. Chemo-therapy had proven to be unsuccessful, and he just wanted the operation over and done with once and for all.
My mother made the trip over to be with us when he was about to go under the knife. She brought with her news that her brother had himself been diagnosed with leukaemia and was growing weaker by the day. Despite the fact she was led to believe he had at least another six months left in him, my uncle passed away shortly after she got here.
And so we were left in the unenviable position of having to tell my grandfather right after major life-changing surgery that his son was gone. I don’t remember the tension so much from the time before we went into the ward, but I do recall my mother telling me over and over NOT to say anything about my uncle until the grown-ups had done so.
I guess I assumed they were just going to go straight in and tell him, but they didn’t. Obviously it was very difficult for my mother and my grandmother to deal with the information themselves let alone break it to him just like that.
And so, after a bout of silence, my grandfather turned to me and said in his new whispery tone;
“So, Jeff, do you have any news?”
I wasn’t expecting to be asked a question. Thoughts raced around my head to try and think of something that wasn’t uncle related. Then it came to me that I had gotten a good mark on a math test that very day, something I knew I had told my mother and grandmother about on the way to the hospital. Since I knew it was such a tense time, I felt the desire to look for clearance before giving an answer.
“Can I tell him the news?” I said, looking at my mother.
The instant scowl that appeared on her face brought the misunderstanding home to me all too quickly.
“No – I don’t mean about Uncle Chris dying – I mean my math test!”, was what immediately spilled from my eight-and-a-half-year-old mouth.
We didn’t realise it at the time of course, but that moment was to provide us something to laugh about in the years to come whenever we remember those trying times for the family.
What was intersting for me about remembering that last story is that while writing it, I was more concerned about how my relatives were thinking at the time of the incident than I was about my own thoughts. The reason for that is, we find it very difficult to remember a time when we didn’t know stuff. It is only when we witness someone close to us going through the same thing that we can once again look at life through youthful eyes.
And so I suppose I have to be mindful of my attention span when my children try to express themselves to me in the future, or at least understand the repercussions when I don’t.
Maybe I’m starting to see the benefits of old age – for one thing, I can guarantee that if and when I throw in the towel and concede I’m an “old man” I certainly won’t give a damn about who thinks I’m being patronizing!!!
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