A curious rivalry

I had a realization the other day when I was talking to someone.

Just out of the blue, it hit me.

A conversational epiphany, I suppose.

But throughout the conversation, this person kept trying to one up me.

If I said something, they responded with, “Oh, how wonderful! I have done ___”
Fill in the blank with something of greater success, greater magnitude or greater sorrow – take your pick.

This person was trying — and succeeding — at one-upping me.

I didn’t catch it at first and thought they were generally engaging in conversation.

I am not even sure if the person was aware they were doing it.

But even my dull observations were one-upped.

Every time I made a comment, she had to see my boring stat and raise it to mundane.

Finally, I had to just smile and walk away. I was emotionally exhausted and didn’t like the competitive game I had not agreed to play.

This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. But it has grown considerably worse over the years.

Why do some people feel the need to best someone else? Is it that important to get one more word in, to have something better than their friends?

Since when did we live our lives in perpetual comparison and competition?

Granny dealt with it with one of her sisters.

“I swunny,” she began one day. “It doesn’t matter what I am dealing with, that sister of mine has got it worse. Or better, depending on which way she is trying to irritate me.”

“Why does she do that?” I asked.

“Who knows. Because she is a miserable human being and she is trying to make herself feel special by trying to out do me no matter what it is. If something good happens to me, she’s had better. If something bad happens, hers is worse.”

I chalked that up to just a lifelong sibling rivalry but have found it happens quite often between folks that are related. And sometimes, even more often between those we consider friends.

I don’t get it.

Can’t we just be happy for others, or commiserate with them if need be, and let them have their moment?

Do we have to go around trying to compare ourselves to everyone else?

Granny would tell you Facebook was possibly to blame.

Before she passed away, she blamed the social media platform for all of societies ill; at least she was finally giving Madonna a break.

She may be right.

I caught myself seeing someone’s status update recently and felt like I wanted to scream my accomplishments, too – didn’t my stuff matter?

Mama assured me my stuff did matter, but maybe that person’s stuff was equally important.

“Can’t you be happy for them?” she asked.

I balked at a response. I was happy for them. Wasn’t I?

“What if they told you that in person? What would your response be?” she asked.

“I’d congratulate them,” I said.

“Then why do you feel the need to shout what you’ve done now?”

I wasn’t sure.

Part of me felt like I wanted someone to see I had done something, too. I wanted them to be proud of me, or to applaud what I had accomplished. I wanted it to be known that while they had something great happen, so had I.

I did refrain; I am my mother’s daughter, after all, so I knew to take the higher road.

But I still felt a pang of rivalry. It wasn’t quite jealousy or envy. No, this was some other offense, that wanted to poo-poo all over whatever another had done and scream, “But look at me! I did this!”

Just like I had someone do to me.

It’s an ugly, horrible, bitter trespass that has no redeeming qualities.

I hated it when someone did the one-up thing with me, so why would I get the hankering to do the same thing?

Mama reminded me Pop used to do it, standing around Kelly Lumber Yard, with his buddies all bragging about their grandchildren. He loved to save his turn to the very last, so he could tell them how his only granddaughter had made straight A’s.

“That’s different,” I told her. “That was the equivalent of the biggest fish they caught but instead of fish, they used grandkids. And it just feels different.”

“Why does it feel different, Kitten?” Mama asked. “Because someone was bragging on you?”

Ouch. I didn’t see that one coming.

But that wasn’t the reason.
Maybe it was the context of the situation. When those men gathered ‘round with their cups of coffee and red link biscuits waiting on their construction supplies, they knew they were getting in a braggart’s folly. They also wanted to share what their grandchildren had done – not them. It wasn’t about them but about someone they loved.

And that is vastly different than my recent experience.

The person in question had a history of no matter what I was talking about, she always had to one-up. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone.

It was a matter of belittling everything anyone else had ever done or thought about doing.

It circled back to Granny’s earlier comment about her sister doing the very thing to her because she was miserable. At least in Granny’s opinion, she was.

“You know what Granny told her sister the last time she tried that one-up game with her?” Mama asked.

“What?” Inquiring minds truly did want to know.

“She told her that sometimes it wasn’t always about her,” Mama said.

“And sometimes, I think that’s good reminder for us all.”


A modern-day impropriety

According to my dear, crazy redheaded Mama, the end of civility fell upon my generation.

Hers, she claims, had a sense of decency.

“We didn’t talk the way you and your friends do. It was unheard of,” she declared one day.

I was not sure what she was referring to; she thinks everything that I say is inappropriate, even when I am merely stating a fact.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her, not really wanting to know.

“The things you say in mixed company. It’s not proper.”

Mixed company was Mama’s definition of men and women. And based on her boundaries, saying pretty much other than “Hello,” was rude and improper.

“What did I say?” I asked.

“More like what didn’t you say. I can’t believe you talk that way around menfolk.”
I can’t believe my mother uses the phrase “menfolk.” How old was she exactly?

“Mother, just because your generation was so hung up on silly stuff does not mean mine is,” I said. “Generation X-ers are a little bit different.”

Mama sniffed. “It’s still is rude and just shouldn’t be done.”

What got her knickers in a knot on this particular day was my recounting of what I had said to the owner of the feed store about Doodle.

I had commented the parking lot pup was part pitbull, and while we weren’t sure what she was mixed with, we felt certain her southern hemisphere was pittie because she had a wiggly backside.

Except, I said the other b-word that meant backside.

Mama had a fit.

“I can’t believe you told a man that!” she cried.


That! How could you?”

“Mama, they hear worse than that on the radio or the news. Trust me. Me saying that word is the least offensive thing that was said that day.”
“It’s not a matter of offending someone. It’s a matter of talking properly. A woman is not supposed to talk like that in front of a man,” she stated.

In Mama’s world, this should have been put in the Bill of Rights or engraved on stone and handed to Moses. She had a list of certain categories and words that she felt like should not be mentioned in front of or in discussion with members of the opposite sex. It would be easier to list the ones she found acceptable – food, weather, and only non-controversial books.

“I don’t know if you have jumped into the 21st century yet or not, Mama, but men and women have been having discussions on these topics for a while now. I am sure you have watched television; they talk about all kinds of things you deem improper on TV.”

She sighed. “And that’s probably why I prefer reruns of Perry Mason to some of these shows. Your uncle and I tried to watch an episode of Mom one night – I thought I would like it because the taller woman had been on West Wing with Mark Harmon. You know he’s Gibbs and I have always liked him. Anyway, it was the most atrocious thing I have ever seen. We turned it. It was embarrassing to sit there and hear that kind of language with my brother sitting three feet from me.”

“Mama, are you really this hypersensitive?”

I could hear her bristle on the other end of the phone. “I don’t consider myself hypersensitive. I just think that there is no decorum left in your generation and those that came after it. Nothing is sacred, and everything is up for discussion, and it does not matter who is present.”

Mama, bless her heart, would have a huge fit if she had ever heard some hardcore rap music.

I am not sure why she has been so unyielding in this area, but she has. She has always been mortified about me discussing anything she deemed the least bit delicate within earshot of any men I knew, unless I was married to them. And even then, she thought it may not need to be shared.

“I think you are being awfully silly. I think most women discuss these things in this day and age,” I said.

Good lord – I had been reduced to using the phrase ‘in this day and age’ – I was officially old.

“I am not silly,” she insisted. “I just think, if you look back on the course of history and start looking at when things started going wrong in this world, you will notice it began with language. Our language helps set us apart and give us boundaries. People who may not have had much money still knew how to talk properly. Now, everyone talks so plainly, it makes them look unintelligent and uneducated. People just say anything now – and don’t care who hears it. And it brings us all down.”

There you have it.

The downfall of civilization was brought about by the impropriety of our language, at least according to Mama’s theory.

Yearning for childhood lost

I am a tad bit sentimental and I admit, I probably over-romanticize things at times, too.

Maybe that’s why I often like to remember the antics and tales of my childhood so much.

For the most part, it was a time of awe and wonder nestled between Twinkie clouds and Hostess cupcake dreams.

And there’s parts of our childhood that make us who we are and influence the adults we become, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Mine was watching Mister Rogers.

Every evening as Granny made dinner, she usually sat me in front of the televisions with a snack of some kind. Sometimes, it was peanut butter and crackers; others, it was a bag of Bugles she had saved me from her lunch break.

She turned on Mister Rogers and hoped I would stay entertained long enough to not bother her while she cooked.

And it was enough to keep me in rapt entertainment, at least for that half hour.

I was pulled into this world where kindness mattered, where respect for everyone was given.

Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sinking into the fabric of my soul.

The show was even enough to sooth the edges on my often loud, usually hot-tempered grandfather.

“PawPaw, who’s your favorite character?” I asked one day.

My grandfather looked at the screen thoughtfully. “I reckon I like that little tiger one the best. He seems like a neat little cat.”

My grandfather, this larger than life man, who worked in construction as a roofer and often came home covered in tar and when angered, could probably frighten the underworld, liked the shy, slightly fearful tiger. It was quite a contrast.

“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.

“I like them all,” I said. “But I hope one day when I grow up, I marry someone like Mister Rogers. He seems to be nice to everyone.”
And to a little girl, that was very important.

See, I was a chubby kid, my mother was divorced – something that was not that common back then, and my father, who I never saw or talked to, was Iranian. There were a lot of little things that made me ‘different’ and not necessarily in a good way.

But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.

Of being surrounded by people who loved me and having friends that cared about me regardless of the fact I made a horrible choice for dodgeball or any other team sport in the gym.

I grew up and somehow, the lessons I had learned from watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood faded into the background.

It wasn’t until several years, when working in radio, my friend and morning show host mentioned it was the day that Fred Rogers had passed away.

“He died?” I asked.

I somehow had missed it a few years before and was saddened at the news.

“Yeah,” my friend said. “It hit me hard. Fred Rogers was a pretty cool guy.”

A cool guy.

I had never thought of Mister Rogers in that light before; to me, he had been soothing and comfort, a magical escape from a world that sometimes may not be quite as nice.

“You really should check out some of the stories on him,” my friend said. “Cole would really love him. There’s a book too that will really tell you how amazing of a person he was.”

“I will check it out,” I promised.

I didn’t have to. A few days later, in my mailbox was the book, I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan, and a few DVDs of Mister Rogers Neighborhood for Cole to watch.

I started the book that evening and was profoundly amazed at how the Fred Rogers on the show was exactly the way Fred Rogers was in real life.

Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.

No wonder as a child I hid his lessons deep in my heart.

Over the years, especially the last few, I have been even more drawn to his wisdom. One of his quotes has been shared quite frequently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I find myself looking for the helpers a lot lately. Wondering where they are, the people who somehow find ways to help those around them and give comfort, even when they are experiencing pain and trauma themselves.

But sometimes, that’s what we are supposed to do. Come together and help one another, simply because we are ‘neighbors’ and need each other.

I think of how his simple wisdom is more profound now and how in so many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a world where I didn’t understand fear, I didn’t have worries or concerns because life and the world I grew up in felt safe and secure.

Now, there’s children who will never know what that feels like.

Re-reading Fred Rogers’ words makes me see how timeless they were. And how we need them, desperately need them now.

Mister Rogers passed away 15 years ago on February 27, but thankfully, his kind, compassionate wisdom has left behind some gentle echoes.

Rules for political engagement (4/6/2016)

I yearn for the election years of yesterday. Politics were just not discussed, not even among family.

Pop said it gave him indigestion if he had to listen to politics at the dinner table.

Granny snorted and said none of it was fit to repeat anyway.

And then there was Mama, keeping her opinions to herself as she hid behind her crossword puzzle or Harlequin.

Until one day, I had to go to the voting polls with her.

Mama had to take me to the doctor. Seeing as I was sick with some horrific form of an X-Files-related virus, Mama knew once she got me home, that’s where we were probably staying for a few days.

Into the rec department we went and Mama sat me down at the edge of the curtain of the voting booth.

“You keep your eyes closed and if you do happen to see anything, don’t you ever, under any circumstances, breathe a word about who I voted for.”

I don’t have a clue who she voted for and didn’t care then or now.

I was so sick I was seeing things in triplicate and may have spotted a unicorn in the parking lot, so which ballot she used, or who she voted for, was the least of my concern.

A few years later, my school was doing a fun mock campaign with people setting up booths for Mondale/Ferraro and Reagan/Bush to see who would win.

My grandfather was outraged.

“That is the biggest crock of nonsense I’ve ever heard! Have they no common decency? They are trying to find out how people are voting by seeing what you young’uns come back and report!” he bellowed, his rich, deep roar vibrating through the house.

I was nonplussed.

“So, which booth am I gonna go vote at? Reagan and Bush or Mondale and the car lady?”

I thought his head would explode. He was furious they would even ask us to do such a thing.

“Who a person votes for is private. It’s nobody’s business. Nobody!”

I still needed to know who to vote for.

“Tell ‘em you ain’t gotta worry about it because you ain’t old enough to vote,” was Granny’s response.

Mama leaned more towards her father’s opinion, but simply said, “Oh my,” when I told her about this project that was supposed to focus on our rights to vote and the privilege we were given.

“I still don’t know who to vote for,” I groaned days later.

“Don’t vote for who we tell you to, Kitten,” she said. “Do your own research and vote for the person you think would be the best. Pop’s right though; it’s not any one’s business and that does seem like they are trying to figure out how the parents are voting.”

“I don’t get it. Why is this such a big deal and so ‘top-secret?'”

It took a moment to gather her thoughts before she could respond.

Back then, your political yearnings were private and not to be discussed.

Who one supported – or disliked – could cause deep rifts in families, in business and because not everyone felt the same way, you kept your opinions to yourself to keep the peace.

She tried to explain all of this to me but I still didn’t understand why who we wanted to vote for was shrouded in such mystery.

And then, one day, that changed and it seemed like everyone was talking about politics.

Granny blamed a lot of it on Madonna, who she blamed pretty much everything for in the ‘90s.

In 1990, “Rock the Vote” came out and it made talking about politics not only more common place but acceptable.

“Gah!” Granny bellowed as she got up to turn off the TV.

“I am so stinkin’ glad Madonna is telling me how I need to vote. I reckon if she hadn’t told me that, I’d still be sitting here, not knowing I had any rights whatsoever.”

Granny cooled her ire for a moment.

“I can’t believe they wrapped the American flag around that woman. It’s shameless!”

She also said it was patriotic sacrilege and she hoped that wasn’t a real American flag.

“Granny, it’s to help make people my age get out and vote,” I explained.

Granny glared at me.

“Let me tell you something, all of them there celebrities is paid. Just ‘cause Ms. Material Girl gets up there and shakes her hiney all disgraceful-like in her drawers don’t mean I am gonna listen. And you, young’un, need to think about why she is telling you to vote. I ain’t buying what she’s a selling. Or any of ‘em.”

Suddenly, I was on the receiving end of Granny’s wrath all because I was excited about voting and made the mistake of saying Madonna made a video about it.

Maybe I should have left Madge out of it.

Or maybe it would be better if we brought her back now.

Who knows? It was easier then, and much more pleasant to endure election years when we didn’t feel compelled to talk about it all the time.

There was no ridiculing, no mudslinging and no low blows about morals and integrity – and that’s amongst friends discussing politics, not the politicians.

“Mama, who are you going to vote for?” Cole asked me recently.

“Sweetness,” I began. “Rule number one: We don’t discuss politics. Not even with family. It’s just wrong and shouldn’t be done.”

“What’s rule number two?”

“There’s not a number two – there is only one.”

And if we stick to that one, maybe we will still be talking come November.

Mama’s last bastion of communication (7/1/2015)

Who ever created texting, thank you.

From the bottom of my introverted heart, I am grateful.

I truly have grown to loathe talking on the phone. Phone calls have become more of a nuisance than a form of communication for me in the recent years.

Outside of work related calls, I only talk to three people on the phone – Mama; my soul-sister and partner in crime, Sara Jean; and my sister-in-law, Karla.

Sara Jean and Karla typically use modern methods of communication, sending a text or a private message. And if they do call, I know it’s important.

If the phone rings and I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer it. I know it is a telemarketer or a wrong number.

Since I don’t have voicemail (don’t ask me why, but I won’t check that either), I always just check the number online later. That’s when I find out it is a robo-call about switching satellite services or someone else trying to sell me something.

Mama, however, freaks out every time the phone rings.

She will call me at all hours of the day to Google a number for her, convinced who ever called her has an ulterior agenda.

“Mama, if you don’t know the number – don’t answer,” I will tell her.

She can’t do that. She has to answer. She retired from the phone company, so I guess it is ingrained in her to answer every ring-a-dingy she hears.

“What if it’s important?” she wants to know.

“They’ll call back.”

“What if they don’t?”

“Then it wasn’t important. Or they can text.”

Mama says, of course, that it may be a landline and the person may be unable to text.

“Do you ever answer your phone?”


I don’t.

I will if she calls and I am not busy, but Mama’s preferred time to call is when I am in the middle of work, and she has an emergency. Her emergencies typically involve the aforementioned Googling of a number, or could I maybe tell her what day the “NCIS” marathon is on this week – “You can find that on the computer, can’t you?” she will ask.

Sometimes, she will text. But God forbid she sends a text and I don’t respond with lightning fast speed. She will call. And if I am not able to answer, she does the unthinkable. She sends the sheriff out to my house.

She’s done it before, and has threatened to do it again.

“Mama, you need to just get rid of your landline if you are going to have a conniption every time the phone rings and you don’t know who it is,” I said.

“I am not getting rid of my phone. Some people still believe in talking on the phone,” was her response.

Why in the world would anyone do that?

Granted, when I was younger, I loved to talk on the phone.

I ran up phone bills so high, had Mama not had to pay them, she may be living in high cotton today. I truly doubt it, she would have just blown it at the mall on something I needed like hairspray or shoes.

But now, I cringe anytime I have to talk on the phone.

Not Mama.

She is holding on to the last bastion of communication – believing the landline and talking on the phone are the way to save civilization.

“The world took a trip down the toilet when we started all this ‘LOL-ing, texting and nonsense,” she said.

Since Mama is not up to date on her emojis or her texting shorthand, she thinks the rest of the population are struggling to keep up.

“Mama, texting and technology have helped make things much simpler,” I gently reminded her.

She still doesn’t like it. I can be in the middle of a text response and she will call before I finish.

“Did you get my text?”

“I did and was replying – you don’t have to call to see if I got it.”

I could understand if she had just started texting, but she’s been texting for years. And just as long as she’s been texting, she’s been calling to see if I got her text.

She commented to me recently she needed a new phone, but expressed great ire at the only available option being a Smart phone.

“I am not using one of those things, I don’t want it. I want my flip phone, thank you very much – I am used to this and I don’t know why I have to change,” she said, exasperated when I told her what she would have to get.

“Mama, everyone else is using smart devices. You can figure it out.”

I paused to add an incentive: “You can FaceTime with Cole and get to see him.”

She thought about this for a moment before deciding it probably wouldn’t work and would result in further frustration.

“I don’t know why people can’t just use the phone the way God intended,” she said. “And I don’t know why you hate the phone so much now and act like it is such a great inconvenience.”

Because it is. Just because it rings, does not mean I have to answer it.

“A lot of what’s wrong with the world is people quit talking to one another. You get on SlapFace, and text and it’s not the same as really talking to people. And that includes talking on the phone, too, Kitten.”

Mama may have had a point. Maybe we as a collective whole did stop talking – really talking to one another at some juncture, and replaced it with emojis and “likes” instead of really giving our feedback and attention.

Maybe we should make it a point to try to communicate with one another better, make an effort to see how folks are doing, even if it means, horrors of horrors, calling someone.

People may like to know someone cares and want to share what’s going on in their life.

Besides – if it is important, I’m sure they will just text it anyway.

If you can’t say anything nice (6/3/2015)

Mama always cautioned me about speaking ill of others.

Gossiping and toting tales were big no-no’s according to her.

“If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” she would say.

I would roll my eyes.

I was a youngster and knew what the nursery rhyme said on the matter: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

But for Mama, words were a pretty big deal and were shrouded in “don’ts.”

“Don’t say things that aren’t true. And sometimes, not saying or correcting what was said is just as bad because you are contributing to the problem.

“Don’t repeat things just because you heard them – it may be a lie you’re repeating.

“Don’t talk bad about people, especially to someone else; more than likely, you’ll be talking to their kin folks and they won’t appreciate it.

“Don’t say anything about someone you wouldn’t say to their face.”

And of course, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, her words felt like she was imposing some terrible punishment on me. They were words, right? Words don’t hurt.

But our words have so much power.

And words, even though they don’t break bones, can hurt far worse.

I neglected Mama’s heeding in all those areas and ended up causing myself a lot of drama, and others, a lot of pain.

I learned my lessons the hard way – I made the goof up’s and paid for them.

There’s nothing like seeing the face of someone you have said something about and seeing their hurt.

Knowing you caused someone else pain may be fun for some people out there, but not me.

I apologized profusely but knew my words could not be unsaid. Once they were uttered, they could not be taken back and they had hurt another person.

“I apologized, but it didn’t matter,” I had explained to Mama.

Mama listened to my complaint in silence – one of the few times she let me carry on and wail uninterrupted.

If anything, she would quickly interject her: “I told you this was going to happen, I told you, I told you, and you didn’t listen!”

Instead, she listened quietly before she asked, “Were you sorry you said it, or sorry you were caught?”

Truthfully, the answer was “both.”

I grew wiser and more cautious with my words, understanding the power they can yield.

I’ve even added some wisdom of my own: Is it necessary? Does it hurt? Does it help? If the answer to those three questions is no, I have been keeping my mouth shut.

And my fingers from commenting on many a thing.

Because now, our words go beyond what is just said behind someone’s back.

Our words can be used on public forums to spread gossip and rumors and things no one knows the first thing about.

It’s not like the day of yore when people would just talk on their phones in their homes about everyone. Or in the grocery store, or where ever they happened to be.

Now, they feel free to share their interpretations of events of which they have no intimate knowledge online.

Ironically, those who know the least are the most vocal in every situation.

Granny did always call the Internet the modern fool’s party line.

Maybe she was right.

I’ve never been a fan of rumors and now, I find gossip as distasteful as Mama.

Hearing someone suffering poor circumstances does not make me happy; it makes me feel dirty and ill, like I just swallowed a rotten egg.

I’ve learned to temper my conversation with compassion and understanding – that’s not to say I don’t have my opinions, because I do, I just feel like what I think about someone is my business and no one else’s.

Not everyone feels that way, unfortunately. And some folks feel like everyone needs to know what they think about everything-especially if it’s unnecessary, hurtful and unhelpful.

Mama’s words would urge me to find something pleasant or not speak.

Mama took the path of politeness and social boundaries. But what about those who kept talking even when it wasn’t nice?

“Tell them to shut it,” is what Granny would suggest. “What’s up with all this ‘be nice’ mess? If someone ain’t got nothing nice to say, and all they can do is run their mouth saying a bunch of lies and nonsense, tell ‘em to shut it. Shut it up tight! Tell ‘em to shut it, or you’ll shut it for ‘em!”

Mama’s method may be the more genteel, polite way of dealing with things, but I have to say, Granny’s is a lot more effective.