I was taking a time out at Starbucks on Thursday, between my last meeting and picking up Satch. Doing a little work, answering emails, playing Sudoku on the iPhone. You know. That kind of work. It was one of those supersize Starbucks, and I had staked out a nice leather chair near the fireplace. After the gentleman in the adjacent chair vacated a mother and daughter, I'd say about 11 or 12 years old, arrived. I was focused on the sudoku at hand and not paying much attention. I noticed that the girl was perched on her momma's lap, kind of teetering there with her long limbs jutting over the edges. I thought "how sweet." Had the impression that this mom and daughter were of the pals variety. At that awkward stage between real lap cuddling and pubescent door slamming.
I wasn't really listening. Much. The girl must have been giving an accounting of her day at school. How her classes were going. I think her mom must have asked her how her orchestra audition had gone.
"I started good but then I froze. I couldn't finish. I stopped." (girl)
"You what?" (mom)
"I froze, Mom. Nerves." (g)
"Do NOT tell me that you just stopped." (m)
"I did mom. I don't know why. I knew the song. You heard me last night. I played all the way through. This happened last year too. Remember? I know the song and then when I have to play it, just me, not with the group, but when everyone is listening I freeze up. I couldn't finish."
"I have had it with you Amanda. That is totally unacceptable. We get you lessons because you say you need lessons. I take you to lessons. I make you practice. And this, THIS is what you do?"
Amanda, pleading "I know Mom. I'm sorry. I don't know why I do this. It's nerves Mom. It has to be nerves. I do practice. I played for you last night. I knew it well. It's nerves. Don't you have nerves mom?"
By now Amanda's voice has taken on a desperate tone. Like a lamb before slaughter.
"Of course I have nerves. Everybody does. But everybody does NOT just stop performing. I never did. You ALWAYS do this Amanda. What happens when you dance at a performance? You always finish because the others are counting on you. "
"And I always play when the orchestra is playing. It's just when I audition. When everyone is listening. I get scared. The teacher said it happens. Not to worry. She was really nice Mom. "
"Well you stopped. I don't care if the teacher was nice. She will FAIL you. You get an F if you do not finish. If you just stop playing. What were you thinking? If you were doing this for a judge you would be disqualified. You always have to finish no matter what. Now you will not get first chair. FIRST CHAIR. How many kids play the viola, Amanda?"
"Five, I think."
"And what chair do you think you'll get now?"
"I cannot believe you did this, Amanda. well, well," (mother is sputtering now) "Amanda, I will not be coming to any of your performances if you are not first chair. Not even second chair? How could you, Amanda? How could you?"
The mother's back is turned towards me. Amanda has long since extracted herself from her mother's lap. She is standing lankly in front of the fire. I am not sure if she caught the worried looks I had exchanged with the other woman sitting in the chair on the opposite side of the fireplace. I am frozen in my chair. Not believing what I am hearing.
and I think of how defeated I used to feel when I got from one parent or the other (and only when it was truly deserved) "Jennifer, I'm so disappointed in you." And that was it. I can't imagine what Amanda does inside with this information her mother is shoving at her. I want to intervene. I picture inserting myself into this conversation. I almost do. Several times. But Amanda's mother scares me. I don't want to make it any worse for Amanda. I'm sure her mother would turn it around to "see Amanda. This is what you do. You stop playing and now these people are mad too." or, of a lesser evil, because I would rather her say this: "shut up bitch. This is none of your business." than blame it on Amanda.
Amanda takes her backpack. Says she's going to go work on her homework, and settles herself at a table on the far opposite side of this Starbucks. The other woman has left the fireplace area. I look over at the mother, who is focused on a "how to knit book", wrestling with some large needles and yarn. She has weapons. Knitting needles. This fact, and the fact that she is a rather large woman, sweating profusely, shuts down any ideas I have about talking to her about the scene I just witnessed.
Amanda comes back several times to try to work this out with her mother. She obviously is very nervous and wants to get it settled with her mother. "Mom, I will try so hard to not do this again. I don't know what to do with the nerves though."
(I think "she did NOT just say that!")
"Shut up, Amanda. I am so sick and tired of all your excuses. You always blame other people"
"I am not blaming other people, Mom. It is all my fault. I get nervous. I never blamed anybody else."
"You always do Amanda. You never take responsibility."
"I am mom. I am taking responsibility. I said it's my fault."
"Excuses. Always with the excuses. Just go away."
Amanda came back at least four more times with similar results.
It's time for me to go. I pack up my things. I look at this mother who is focused on her knitting. I imagine saying all kinds of things in a range of approaches. But I don't. I look at where Amanda is sitting. Far away from the door I am about ready to go out. I start for the door but find myself heading across the room. I sidle up to Amanda who is toiling away on homework, pencil in hand. Glasses teetering on the tip of her nose.
"Excuse me please" I say. She looks up at me, worried. I have no idea what will come out of my mouth. "I just have to tell you, Amanda. If you were my daughter I would be so proud of you. "(long pause here) "I couldn't help but notice, your mom is pretty rough on you."
"It's OK" she says. A rather fast comeback. Eager. Like maybe she's afraid I'll make a scene with her mother. Or call CPS. Or somehow get her in more trouble. I give her a soft smile. She relaxes a little. Then I freeze. Nerves. Stop my song right in the middle of it. Auditioning for the role of good Samaritan. And I can't finish.
"Good luck sweetie" is all I got. And I walk away. Out the door. Never glancing back at that so called mother by the fireplace.
I cannot tell you how much I have been thinking about this encounter ever since. I keep coming back to it. How I might have done things differently. Or not. I think of Amanda. Pale complexion. Reddish hair. Big glasses. Skinny and tall with a distinct slump. And an ugly mother.
I try to work up some sympathy for that mother. Something about how she must really be unhappy in her life to be so mean to her daughter. How she might have been having a bad day. I try but I don't succeed. My heart is in Amanda's camp. Her mom sucks. Mean people suck.