Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Getting My Irish Up

Years ago, ten in fact, as my husband and I sat through an unpleasant parent-teacher conference that went from bad to worse and downhill quickly, the teacher referred to one of my children as “intense”. Now this may seem a bit odd, but this name-calling as it were, outraged me. Intense? Clearly she had no idea who my child was. Not a clue! Clueless creature that she was had no right referring to my child at all if she didn’t have the decency to at least get to know this particular child of mine. Intense! The very thought! This child was cherubic. Sweet, round-faced, gentle, little muffin of all children from here to the land of Nod.

My association to the word intense was um, intense, and I was so put off by this encounter. Fiddle-de-re! How did this woman receive certification? She wasn’t cut out to be in the presence of children, let alone tell me anything about mine. The mention of her name would send me a-dither. It took about 2 years to come to terms with this. Two years went by before my sweet child was called to the office for a bit of a tousle, as-it were. The child apparently would not let go of his friend’s lei. Or the friend wouldn’t let go of his lei. Some lucky set of grandparents brought it back and bestowed it upon, Oh yes now I remember-the year we all received matching tropical outfits, shirts, sundresses, leis. So the child had the lei on, the friend wanted to touch it, or stretch it or pull it to see if it would rubber-band and snap my child’s neck and so this child of mine reasoned there was nothing else to do but bite- at a time when biting should have been about 4-5 years out of the problem-solving toolbox. Intense. Now I was starting to get it. “Robust” would have garnered familiarity and mutual understanding. Intense sent me down the wrong path. But intense it is, and apparently it is genetic.

I bring all this up to stress my new-found wisdom about myself. My Irishness, as it were. I come from a time and place when the first thing you said on the playground was, “What are you?” When the fool you were talking to said, “Duh, I’m a boy (or girl)” You added and repeated, “No, Duh, but what are you?” They would finally get it and say, “Irish” or “Italian” or “German” or sometimes, “Jewish”. Some combination thereof was becoming more possible and even probable based on the immigration cycles. There wasn’t much diversity beyond this small sampling. It was not quite acceptable to admit: Puerto Rican, or Cuban, Mexican or any other Hispanic allegiance. If you were Black, or African-American, the likelihood that you knew your original heritage was pretty slim. At the very least it wasn’t being shared in the classroom or playground. Certainly not with us Euro-American types. The reality is, most of us were from families that were just surviving, making ends meet and having a difficult time achieving this. Your relation to your ethnicity was a source of pride, and honor that allowed you to feel better than, more important than, and a sense of belonging.

When I first heard the term “Getting your Irish Up”, I thought it was a compliment, a source of pride. Roll your sleeves up and get dirty or feisty or prepare to give or take a tongue lashing! That’s how I have always associated the meaning. I looked into it and stumbled upon its association with negative reactions such as, anger, being quick tempered, short fused. I don’t feel this way. I prefer the concept of an inclination to challenge anything that he considers a slight or a violation of his rights. Well, maybe the part about a violation of rights. Not just mine but anyone’s rights that are being violated, unduly and intentionally violating of rights, really gets me going.

These terms and concepts really came home to me over the past couple of weeks. A friend was sharing an opinion about a neighbor,(for instance) let's call her "Mary Margaret" (just for laughs), another friend attempted to smooth it over by saying, "Oh that’s just how she is, she’s Irish, you know, opinionated, but she's really ok". I got it right away; my eyes glistened and danced the devil’s jig. I smugly thought, "Oh I’m sooo evolved". I used to carry on that way, let my Irish out like I was airing dirty laundry. Now I’m a bit more reserved, collected. We had a good laugh and went on our way. Then we got together again, I was carrying on about some work scenario or another. We started talking about gender differences and leadership qualities. Big, Hairy topics. My Irish can’t be contained. It can go beautifully or very poorly. Quickly. Intensely. Teetering near angrily, depending on what side of the topic you sit on. Depending on whether you just want to sit back and enjoy the company of others or get into a political diatribe that can almost assuredly choke the Blarney and leave it sucking air on the side of the gently rolling hills and green meadows of your desire not to take a stand on something in a moment of peace. My freak flag was flying.

So now what? How do some groups of people, races, genders figure out how to assert themselves appropriately, in a way that garners respect and success? Why do some groups continue to get in their own way and fall prey to the stereotypes and negative connotations? Do I embrace my ethnicity and throw on my Tam-o-shanter and woolen jumper? Do I tamp it down and find the balance of living in the moment?

I may do more research and attempt to more fully understand the ancestral predisposition. The Irish have been an oppressed people for centuries. They have been straightforward, aka, simple, farm people with an appreciation of life. Self-sustaining. Strong and hardy. Quick-witted to ease the challenges and burdens bestowed upon agrarian, early pagan cultures. Robust. Intense. Quick tempered to cope with the threat of tyranny and captivity. Maybe I’ll limit my fighting to the weeds in my garden for a bit until I can come to terms with this. I’ll enjoy life a bit robustly and master my wink while I manage my opinion.

Maybe my afore mentioned child was just attempting to ensure that rights were not being violated, but surely fighting or even biting isn’t typically the best approach. Irish or otherwise, but hearty just the same.

The fourth definition for intense is simply understated and agreeable to me: Deeply felt; profound, Tending to feel deeply.

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