Sordid and Sandy

August 2, 2010 at 5:00 am | Posted in Family, Giggles | 28 Comments
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There are more than 200 parks where we live. And a few Saturdays ago, Giggles and I found ourselves at one that draws kiddos like teeny ants to a sweet summer watermelon.

This park’s got a humongous sandbox with a variety of shovels, buckets, trucks, and castle molds. It’s got a sprinkler area for little faces and hands to rinse off (and cool off) in. And it’s got swings.

Giggles was pleased as punch.

Me? I was sweaty and couldn’t get the sunscreen out from under my fingernails. And there was a scary-looking purple bug stalking the square foot of sand we had claimed as our own.

But. Giggles was pleased as punch. So we were there to stay for a while.

Like Sand Through the Hourglass
Luckily (unluckily?), it was a thousand degrees outside, so there weren’t very many families there. In fact, there were just two in the sandbox with us.

The first — a mother with her two daughters — was constructing a sand-mermaid with some pretty complicated-looking tools I was pretty sure had not come from the One Spot at Target. The mother coached them on how to make perfectly indented scales across the mermaid’s tail. Nearby, Giggles happily dumped buckets of sand into piles.

The second family — a father with his son and daughter — was burying and unearthing plastic trucks. While the kids poured sand with gusto, the dad absent-mindedly scooped a handful of sand over the trucks every few minutes. In between scoops, he clicked away at the keypad on his phone. He smirked. His knee bounced like he’d had too many iced coffees.

Judgment Call
I watched him. I checked for a wedding ring. And I decided that he was having an affair. Texting his mistress while his kids played and his wife cleaned their quiet house somewhere nearby. Jerk.

After the wind blew sand in Giggles’s eyes and he had had enough, we left the adulterer and the purple bug behind and headed for the sprinklers. Giggles eased himself into the spray, laughing and jumping and sticking out his tongue to taste the cold drops.

A few minutes later, the man and his kids joined us. The boy and girl ran to play with Giggles, and their dad sat down at the opposite end of my covered picnic table. Still click-clacking, still smirking, still knee-bouncing. Jerk.

’Snot You, It’s Me
Then Giggles “borrowed” the little girl’s beach ball, which she had abandoned on the concrete by the sprinklers. She ran over to her daddy, hands on her hips, lip stuck out in a full-blown pout. She had a round, squishy, green booger on her upper lip. About the size of a pea. (You know the kind.)

Without hesitation, her father laid down his phone, grabbed the hem of his Grateful Dead T-shirt and wiped that booger off. One fell swoop. Like a pro. He paid no attention to the snot streak left behind and got down on one knee to talk gently to his little girl about sharing her toys with new friends. She nodded her head. He squeezed a little water out of her ponytail and sent her back out to play.

Then he picked up his phone. Click-clack, click-clack.

Judgment Recall
But my mind couldn’t classify him so easily anymore. I had read his body language and made a judgment. One that seemed to fit the facts at hand. But, really, what did I know?

I knew this: The guy had a big snot stain on his shirt. And he didn’t care. But it was clear that he cared about his kids. Was he guilty of the sin I had imagined for him? Was he indeed a jerk? I don’t know.

Here’s the more important question: Was I?

Have you ever judged (or misjudged) a stranger? Do you imagine the stories of people you don’t know? Ever wiped snot on your shirt without a second thought??



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  1. Hmmmm… I love playing ‘what’s the total stranger up to’, but I can’t say I’ve ever landed on ‘affair’ just ‘cos the guy was typing on his crackberry. Maybe he had some important work to do but also didn’t want to miss spending time with his kids? I’ve done that. Work and kids both miss out a bit, but at least neither is totally neglected.

    Or, you know, maybe he was having a sordid affair and didn’t care about the snot stain ‘cos he liked doing the mistress on top of the washing machine…

    You just never know, do you!?!

  2. Maybe he has a daddy blog and was reading his comments? Nah, probably not. I love that he had a booger-y Grateful Dead t-shirt.

  3. My sister and step-Mom were on a train from New York to Boston once and spent the entire time making up “lives” for the people around us. It was great fun.
    And no matter what, I could never think you were a jerk!

  4. FYI, my own husband and I sort of, um, dirty text, too… It could have been his wife… 😉

    Totally wipe the snot. Totally. At least they’re old enough now to use their own shirts, which is a whole new situation into itself…

  5. Laughing. I always do this. And I’m invariably wrong. I’m also laughing at Tracey’s comment – I love the idea that maybe, just maybe, he was sexting his wife. Let’s give the man with the booger the benefit of the doubt.

  6. I love it when someone pushes me to reimagine, when my judgments come tumbling down in the messy realities. No, you weren’t a jerk. Human nature gets us questioning, thinking, assuming. That you questioned those assumptions, that’s gold.

  7. Where have I not wiped boogers?

    And though I don’t do any special tricks on my phone, if there was a fun mom to chat with at the park, I’d probably ignore my kids as much as they’d allow in favor of adult conversation.

  8. It’s fun to guess what type of life other people lead, that doesn’t make you a jerk.

  9. I use the kids’ shirt to wipe the snot, judge away.

  10. I would be lying if I said I didn’t indulge in a few preconceived notions, assumptions and sterotypes myself. I think we all do this to some degree don’t we? Body language, hair and skin color, the car they drive, the shoes they wear… I think it’s one thing where we make up these scenarios in our head from our assumptions but it’s another to act based solely on them.

  11. I do this. All. The. Time. In fact, I was just judging my new neighbors, based on their clothing and the rusted old pick up truck with a mattress on top, parked in the street.

    I try not to judge, but sometimes it is fun to try to peek into someone’s life and make up stories about them.

  12. I’m a people watcher (and listener) so I always do this. I imagine whole lives for people based on a few minutes of observations. It’s quite unhealthy. So I know just how this would happen, and frankly I likely would have come to almost the very same conclusion. It drives my husband crazy. But it entertains me. I suppose it’s a habit I should break.

    P.S. That park sounds so much more awesome than anything we have around here.

  13. Great post. Guilty as charged, all three counts!

  14. I laughed at the first “Jerk.” 🙂 Just that you had already classified him after a few minutes. No judgement here, I do it all the time. (I have my phone out far too often as well). It is a fun game trying to figure out people’s stories based on their actions. I hope for the kiddo’s sake that you are wrong and he was just texting his buddies about the latest sports news and he was proud of his clever smack talk :).

  15. I judge people constantly. It is an awful habit, but I find myself doing it more when I am having a hard time. Like my life is stretched pretty thin.

  16. I’m with those that think he was “sexting” his wife. It’s a nice thought, anyway.

    I imagine stories about people when I’m out too. I’m not sure if these things jump on me, or if I make them up because I’m bored. Is it still judgmental if you don’t believe the stories you think up?

  17. today i caught myself doing the same thing. I guy knocekd on my window and asked if i needed help. i was in a bad part of town and just pulled over to recheck my directions on the phone. I about jumped out of my skin when he came up to my car. I kept waiting for him to ask money. turns out he was just a board wrecker driver who knew his way around the city and was happy to send me on my way. i felt like such a jerk!

  18. I think I judge parents-at-the-playground-who-text-alot a lot too. Bad me. Maybe it was his wife. That’s kind of outta the box thinking there. For me, I woulda thought it was his bros. But who knows. The fun part about making up stories about people is, it can be anything. But I wonder, what we think about them, that comes from us, so… what does that mean?
    Personally, I wonder, when I look at people, what their motivations are? What makes them happy? What their hopes and dreams are? If they’ve “achieved”? Too many questions, not enough ideas….

  19. Such a wonderful reminder of the books and their covers…great post. Good lesson for ME!

  20. I am definitely a people-watcher. I like to make things up in my mind about what they do, where they live, if they’re having an affair (!), etc. It’s fun. Maybe not the best thing to do, but it’s only in my head (or my husband’s ear)! 🙂

    Yes, I wipe my daughter’s snot with a shirt if there’s no tissue around and I’m desperate. But I prefer to use HER shirt, not mine!

  21. You were not a jerk. May I suggest that the woman directing her children toward elaborate and, I suspect, unfun sand sculpture was the jerk?

    And oh, how our judgments evolve. Not long ago, a guy in a snotty T-shirt would not garner our admiration. Having kids really does change everything! 😀

  22. I’m a people watcher, always have been, don’t you think all writers are? BTW, those chubby little feet just kill me…ga!!!!!!!

  23. Have you ever judged (or misjudged) a stranger? Hell yes on the judged and misjudged. I try not to.

    Do you imagine the stories of people you don’t know? Yes, and sometimes I start believing they’re true and accidentally spread rumors about people.

    Ever wiped snot on your shirt without a second thought?? Several times today alone, which is why I’m sitting here in just my tank top (I dress in layers) now. The crusty parts of my t shirt were too much even for me.

    Thanks, by the way, for the supportive and really funny comment about my house selling post!

  24. I am sorry I laughed at you through out the entire judging the poor man.. supposed he was twittering LOL
    BUT we all jump to conclusions and make assumptions I try hard not do it though but it still happens.
    Is it a sin? hmmm not sure. not one of the deadly sins like sin and sloth though if it is a sin LOL so you are clear.

    Sounds like the children had a blast by the way.

  25. I am always watching people, wondering the lives they lead. I feel guilty sometimes, but it is great writer material.

  26. I am sure I’ve misjudged people, but in general, I’m not that judgemental. I don’t say to sound superior — I’m usually so lost in my own thoughts or busy kid-wrangling, I just don’t take the time to ‘classify’ people when I’m out and about. I would have thought he was checking email or twitter or facebook, probably.

    Anyway, I don’t think you’re a jerk. 🙂

    I have wiped snot and other fluids as well as caught vomit in my hands (WHY? I don’t know). such is a parent’s life!

  27. Hehe, I think you’ve been reading too much Giffin 🙂 I’ve noticed that happens. I think everyone is having steamy affairs now!

  28. I love judging strangers. And making up pathetic or amazing lives for them. It’s my favorite part of people watching.

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