Saturday, December 10, 2011

Relinquish the Power, Step Away from the Eight-ball

I’m quirky, this is by now established fact. It’s always been the case, so many of my childhood memories have a somewhat peculiar or unique edge to them.  One particular memory involves me, a pool ball, and my father.  (ok, honestly, it might have occurred more than once but the trauma that will be described will explain how it happened more than once, I’m sure).  For all sorts of reasons that seemed unorthodox and inappropriate to my mind once I became a parent,  (sure an-uptight-at-times-parent) many of my memories as a child took place in a “bar”.  Actually a Legion Hall, or Catholic War Veterans Post to be precise, if that makes any difference.  My father was the Commander in Chief, or Grand Poobah or whatever the head of the Catholic War Veterans Post is called.   So in essence, he needed to be at the post and he wanted to have his family with him, or my mother was not going to be left home with four wild children, aged 5-9.   I wasn’t actually raised in bars and bordellos, after all, I just had a progressive father, or a strong mother.

So back to my story, this early lesson in power and control and the relinquishing of power, yes, that’s the story here.

In this civic-centered outpost, there was a full bar and a juke-box and a staffed bartender, Leroy, who occasionally allowed me to squirt seltzer or reach in and get a nice cold one for Mr. So and So or Mrs. Such and Such.    But mostly not, the bar area was off limits to the children, and there were usually 8 or more of us running around.  We were cordoned off to the back room with the pool table and poker tables, or the front “banquet room”.  (Use your imaginations, or see it just as it was; long crowded banquet tables, wooden folding chairs, ten to a table, yellow or taupe quasi-marbleized linoleum tiled floors and a dropped ceiling with an accordion partition closing off the bar area from the hall circa 1968-ish through 1972 or so-ish in Queens, New York under the Seven Train “el”. ) Dazzling.  We walked around the perimeter and played games of hide and seek or begged quarters to play the Beatles (early) or The New Seekers on the juke box.  Occasionally, Leroy gave me a quarter and requested a few songs, Don’t let the Sun Catch you Crying, Me and Mrs. Jones, Sunny, and Downtown were a few on Leroy’s hit parade.

I didn’t much care for the backroom.  I was one of the littler ones, scrawny and scrappy.  The older ones played pool.  Big long sticks, held just so, with chalk and circumstance.  Order and guidelines, rules I was not privy too.   When I was up for it, seldomly,  I would attempt to give purpose to my surroundings, but often I just got lost in following where the balls went after they were “pocketed”. I was intrigued with how they winded around through hidden chambers and long tubes.  Quirky-like.  Suddenly I would take on the task of getting the ball before it reached it’s final destination as though I was “helping”.  Excitedly, I would reach in and grab the ball.  That’s where I went wrong.  I would next attempt to pull the ball out.   As easy as it was to reach in and grasp the ball, it was abruptly impossible to remove the ball and my hand.  My hand would get stuck, I would panic, I would scream in terror at the thought of the firemen or medics that would surely need to amputate my arm to remove me from the pool table, or the pool table from my arm.  The blood-curdling scream that ensued would bring my father, immediately, but calmly towards me.  He would assess the situation and evenly tell me to let go of the ball. “Ginger, let go of the ball and now just push it forward a little.”   Just like that.  In trusting his words, and his cool composure, I would calmly relinquish my grip and pull my red and swollen hand out.  He would lift me up and kiss my hand and wipe my tears and offer another Coca-Cola or the opportunity to head home.  Such a team, my dad and me.   I have learned to stay away from pool tables, dreadful hand-eaters, I never learned the rules, and I am not any better at handling that stick.

I can’t help but wonder how I can use this early learning to help clarify the difference between needing to relinquish power in a symbiotic relationship based upon trust, and the resulting power struggles that entail when power is taken with force or intimidation or outright disregard.  Had my father approached the situation shouting, and yanking my arm, the screaming would have stopped because I would have passed out and the blood loss would also add to the weakened vocal power.  I would have never forgiven him and that would have caused all sorts of other issues, and I for one don't need any more issues.  Had he played little games and teased or tickled or told jokes, I wouldn’t have been able to hear him and I would have had a difficult time understanding why he wasn’t connecting his response to my situation, it would have caused feelings of distrust and confusion, and Good Lord, it took two pool table episodes for me to catch on.  I would like to imagine, I, being scrawny and scrappy and too small to play, might have alerted some of you to understand, confusion was a little bit too close to me at this premature stage in the development of my pool hall acumen. 

I suppose the most important aspect that made my father and I such a great team, aside from the fact that he was my dad, duh, was that he could assess the situation immediately. Of course, in this particular situation, I viewed myself as a player in the symbiotic relationship.   In my place of work when I need to call in another adult, that adult needs to immediately become an equal partner and we need to work together quickly and seamlessly, or chaos is introduced and chaos just never helps symbiosis or the management of crisis.

My father never needed to ask the other children what happened.   When you work with young children (please recall young is relative and the frontal cortex is not in full gear until the age of 24 give or take a few minutes)  you learn quickly that in times of stress and strife, more so then times of complete and utter calm, they are not typically articulate.  Some give every detail of the way their skin is smoother than your skin before they begin to discuss where their best friend lives and then remember they have to go to the bathroom before they can answer “what happened” questions.  Others begin to tell you whose fault it is and how Johnny was cheating and Michael cried when Jimmy called him a bad word before the screaming child, or knife holding child, or whatever crazed child even entered the area.  They have stories, lots of stories, mostly about nothing that you are attempting to find out, and not much that would benefit the immediate situation.

When you work with children you often need to be able to assess situations quickly, instinctively.  If you can’t, well, you end up behind the eight ball and you are going to be rendered hysterical and your behavior will escalate quickly.  When you have a position that requires you to have a sense of authority and you don’t have control because you are clueless, you end up stuck and lost and suddenly flailing to gain control.   It may seem the only way to “let go of the ball” and pull your self out is to take control from those around you.  This interferes with your ability to manage situations that may now otherwise and quickly get out of control. The reality is the need for control or the sense of not having it creates stress and tension and when handling crisis situations, the first and foremost rule of thumb is to remain calm and in control.

In my job I often need to work with support staff that can’t or won’t offer support because they are not fully apprised of a situation and then they are expected to act based on my authority.  (Scary, huh?  A woman with authority? Clearly for some, fortunately not for all.)  The fact that I am a woman comes into play in the most egregious of ways, again and again.  As a woman, I am not thought to truly have authority in this rather hostile work environment.  The hostility is pervasive, it is widespread and it is so entirely acculturated into the climate it is acceptable to imagine that it is not recognized.  However, enough serious events have taken place to alert some to the reality of the hostility.  But what the hey?  Why change now or do anything proactive?  Certainly, we all know how ignoring things make them go away.  Things like women. I remain a woman and that won’t be changing, so I will continue to work in my job as a professional, and a woman and imagine that one day some of the men that I work with will be able to work as professionals, and men, side by side.  I am that rare figure that doesn’t easily sit quietly and abide and relinquish power simply because it is perceived as a threat in the eyes of some men.  I advocate, I educate, I speculate, and wait and wait.  But I won't be easily ignored.  I rather enjoy being a girl, a woman, a professional. And just as a reminder, I like control, which doesn't make me controlling.  I am comforted by it, and if someone else is maintaining it, professionally, all the better.

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