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Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Succeed as a Friendly, Suburban Mom

Readers, living with the 7th grader is like living with a human microscope – and I’m the slide under examination. Not long ago, the 7th grader and I were at a counter paying for some goods. Well, we’d only moved feet from the counter when she said that I “always” sound “angry” and “unfriendly” to cashiers. I was flabbergasted. And defensive. I thought the transaction had proceeded well. There had been a mutual greeting between the cashier and me, I handed over my credit card, signed, and we were on our way. It wasn’t even fraught, the way these exchanges sometimes are, particularly when I’m at a store with one of those cards that give you points for your purchases and then send coupons you forget to bring with you before they expire. At those stores, it is true, sometimes I get tetchy. Because I don’t carry the cards, you see, and the stores ALWAYS misspell my name so we have to try to find the account three or four or two different ways and I’m perimenopausal and I get a little HOT and wonder why I bother with the damn points anyway.

But this situation had been pleasant, I thought. Neutral to pleasant.

“I say hello,” I said. “What am I supposed to do, give them a hug? And a big fake smile?”

“Just have a different tone,” said the 7th grader. It’s my tone, apparently. And my expression, too, by the way.

Well. This undid me for a while. Am I one of those women with a moue? Once, a friend told me that when she’d first met me, she thought I was either shy or aloof. This was a long time ago, and it was probably the first time I’d considered how I appeared to others, as opposed to what my head was saying on the inside. It had been kind of a shock. But I am still friends with this person, prickly first impressions notwithstanding.

Anyway, the past couple of weeks have been full of work on the middle school musical. My duties as co-chair of the Hair and Makeup Committee involved shopping for supplies. Readers, I had to go to Walmart. How I loathe Walmart. I absolutely loathe it. I loathe it on principle, and also because it is huge, yet never has everything I need, no matter how many miles of aisles I traipse. Not that I mind the traipsing. Now that I have Mrs. Withingston to count my steps, traipsing is high on my list of to-dos. Still, I hate Walmart. As per usual, I found almost everything I needed. Silver temporary hair dye eluded me. 

Anyway, finally I was in line to pay. Along with the musical’s supplies, I had picked up a few things for myself in the grocery department. I put those on the conveyor first, to pay for them separate from everything I was buying for the Hair and Makeup Committee. Ahead of me was a woman gabbing on her cell phone as she loaded stuff onto the counter. I made one of those involuntary, flash assumptions about her – blonde, young middle age, taking no notice of the cashier, sort of rude or entitled, because of the phone talking. Then she hung up, and stepped up to the cashier with a very perky (and loud) greeting. You know - fakey, sing-song.

And I thought, “So that’s how you do it, huh? That’s how you come across as friendly? A big, perky hello? Is that what the 7th grader wants?” I have to sing-song and perk falsely to seem normal and polite? That’s just icky. Why do I have to be “friendly” if I’m courteous and business-like? These are questions for philosophers or sociologists focusing on American culture. I just don’t know. But apparently, I am not clued in to the approach around here. I’m not a native.

In any case, the point is, Readers, I was pondering these questions and unloading makeup sponges, paper towels, and assorted blushes, bronzers, and makeup applicators from the cart, while my few personal groceries meandered their way to the end of the conveyor belt. There was no bar to divide my groceries from the items belonging to the putative friendly woman. My head was turned away from the cashier, when I heard the woman say, presumably answering the cashier whether the groceries were hers “No. I buy NORMAL food.”

Now, I had selected some organic produce. Apparently, this is abnormal in Walmart. Even if I question how organic Walmart’s organic stuff is. I am that person. The organic salad buying type. And apparently that is somewhat insulting to this other lady, enough so that she had to make a bitchy comment about it.  A comment that was really kind of bitchy and unnecessary. And loud.

So I ask you, readers, because I can’t ask the 7th grader, who is the bitch?


  1. No brainer - the perky cell phone talking, fake friendly,organic food hostile, rude person. But you bring up a point about tone and expression. My 35 yr old daughter recently referred to her new neighbor as being rather unapproachable. She said " you know, she kind of has a "resting bitch" face. " A what!? " said I. " You know - it's when you are unaware or distracted and your expression just kind of relaxes into
    what looks like angry. I've been working on mine, she continued. Uh - oh. The first person that came to mind was my mother. And then, of course, thoughts of all those times people have said to me "Smile!", or "Cheer up" - all when feeling perfectly content. So, careful not to ask if I had a "resting bitch" face, I decided I better start working on that ASAP. Also, tone is major. Ever call an office or business and marvel at the relaxed friendliness of the answerer- the person who constantly answers and has learned to modify his/her voice. I answered a lot of phones for work in my day and I never learned the trick. Only to hate answering the phone. Am I a bitch? Nah- just an introverted, distracted, WalMart hating, loather of falseness that sometimes goes thru the motions without actually thinking of myself as actually being in the middle of an interaction with another person. Which I admit needs improvement.
    All that said, 7th grade girls are very hard to please if you are their mother. Sorry for such a long comment - I just enjoyed your post and It kind of struck home.

    1. Thank you! I really enjoyed your reply! Yes, that's exactly it "sometimes goes through the motions without actually thinking of myself as actually being in the middle of an interaction with another person." Sometimes I forget that.

  2. I taught 7th grade science at a private school for a long time. I found this post from Michelle in the Middle very enlightening when it comes to middle schoolers and their interpretation of another person's facial expressions. I don't intend for it to sound preachy to share this. I just think it's spot on about 7th grade behavior.

    Also, I sometimes catch a glimpse of my face in the rearview mirror while I'm driving (and thinking) and it's definitely "resting bitch." But I'm really nice. I promise.

    1. Wow. Thank you for passing on that link! I love it. It's so interesting. I really didn't realize that my children can't read expressions. I tend to be very expressive with my eyebrows.

      Now I have a real excuse for Botox!