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Saturday, February 28, 2009

When Affluenza meets Neurosis

It's called narcissism.

I call them "Mad Minivan Moms."

They are the new menace to suburbia. Well, they always have been, but the free-floating anxiety of these chaotic economic times has made it worse.

And now that the President is talking about higher taxes for those with incomes over $250,000 . . . Well, let's just say it's not a pretty picture.

It's not bad enough that the parking lot of my church, which we share with the Borough of Chatham and the Library (A good deal, actually. We let them park, they plow and keep it maintained.), has become hazardous, but the parking lot at the local YM/WCA is down right treacherous.

These mini vans zoom into a parking place or zoom to the entrance of the Y and the next thing you know, the side doors magically slide open and out come a tumble of little kids like clowns in a circus act while the Mom behind the wheel is alternately yelling, "Hurry, hurry, or you'll be late!" and "Careful, careful, you'll hurt yourself."

Never mind that they are a danger to themselves and others. They've got to be 'enriched."

Yesterday, I was traveling one of the side streets of the Chatham Township where the speed limit is typically 25 mph. Except if you are a suburban mom with three kids in the back of a minivan who are on 'enrichment program' overload.

I'm quite certain she was trying to get one to piano lessons, another one to soccer practice and another to God only knows what an 18 month old might need to have enriched, and she was running late. I'm sure she was also thinking to herself, "And, I gave up a very fulfilling job with lots of status, not to mention a graduate degree, for THIS?"

So, she started tailgating. Right on my bumper. I was doing the speed limit in my sassy little VW Convertible Bug. I suppose she thought that, with a sports car, she could count on me to be a little reckless. You know. Go just a little faster.

Uh-uh. Not me. The last thing I need is for the local paper carry the headline "Episcopal WOMAN Priest Caught Speeding. Endangers Neighborhood. (See, didn't we tell you?)"

So, she starts zooming up to my tail and then backing off - zooming in and backing off. So, I took my foot OFF the gas pedal. Slowed 'er down a couple miles per hour. You know, just to return the favor.

The woman behind the wheel was decidedly NOT pleased. Oh, no. Not in the least. In fact, she got even closer to my tail, I assume she was trying to help me read the 'sign language' she was using to communicate her distress.

She was also good enough to get close enough for me to read her lips. I never knew how funny a person can look when you are trying to make sure someone understands that you are mouthing obscenities so your children won't know you are cursing.

I kept driving 25 mph. When I looked at her face again in my rear view mirror, she was deep reddish purple and her face was distorted in a most grotesque sort of way. I thought to my self, "My Goodness. This woman is capable of murder."

And then it dawned on me. She wanted to kill ME.

So, as soon as I could, about 1/4 of a mile from the end of the street, I pulled over into someone's driveway to let her by. She zoomed past me, throwing various obscene hand gestures and lip movements my way.

I shook my head sadly, let the next car pass me and then got back onto the street, only to find my (ahem) lady friend stopped two cars up ahead. The traffic light had turned red.

You could see the steam coming from her car.

I don't know what was so all-fired important. Except, it was all about her.

It was all about whether or not she was late getting her kids to their enrichment programs. Which, of course, would have been a judgment on her abilities as a mother. Which, of course, was now her full time job. The one she had sacrificed her career and education to take. Which is now in jeopardy because of the damn economy.

Well, you get the picture.

Nothing else in the world existed except her and her children and her schedule. Not any other place in the world. Not famine. Not poverty. Not disease. Not drought.

Nope. In fact, in that moment her children didn't even exist. It was just her and The Enemy. Which, of course, would have been moi, in that moment.

I'm sure I was but one of a string of demons she had to slay that day alone.

Understand, please. Not all women in my town are like this. In fact, there are many positively lovely, kind, generous wonderful women who live here. But there are enough of these other women - affluent, neurotic, narcissistic women - who, I swear, would make the Blessed Virgin Mary angry enough to turn the air blue with curses.

I'm sure that the woman in the minivan is one of the posse of women whose children attend the Day Care at the church. It hasn't been so for a while because the weather has been very cold, but as it starts to warm up again, I'll have to start planning to arrive later at the office so as not to disturb the little circle of conversation that gather right in my parking space by the front door.

And. They. Won't. Move.

Not an inch.

I'll pull into my space. They'll look over they're shoulders at me. They'll turn back and continue their conversation as if they didn't see me. I'll wait. Impatiently. I'll start to inch forward, pointing to the sign that says, "Clergy Parking" and then point to me. They'll look over they're shoulders at me. They'll look annoyed. Someone will begin to move S.L.O.W.L.Y. out of the way, while the rest follow at a snail's pace.

We'll enact this ritual at least twice a week. You know. Just so's we don't get 'rusty' or anything.

So, whenever I hear someone talk about driving in Newark or Paterson, and how this posse of young Hispanic or African-American teenaged thugs took their sweet time crossing the street when the light changed, I can't WAIT to tell them about my Suburban Minivan Moms.

Same dynamic from the opposite end of the financial spectrum.

There really isn't a point to this post. This is not a Boomer blaming GenXers or GenYers for their narcissism. There's no real socio-political statement. No stirring social commentary on the state of the economy. No inspiring theological statement on the Baptismal Covenant. No great wisdom I can impart.

Except that a cop did tell me that the worst thing to do with a tailgater is to slow down. The best thing to do, he said, is to jot down the make and model of their car, along with their license plate. Then, he said, you call the cops and they will visit said tailgater and give them a written warning.

Good idea. Note to self: replenish that pad of paper and pencil in the car.

No, this is just a little Saturday morning rant while I wait for the electrician to finish installing the new electrical hookup for the new washer and dryer that will be delivered on Wednesday.

And, he's taking his sweet time. Been at it at least 90 minutes now.

I mean, I have places to go, people to meet, things to do.

I guess he must think the world revolves around him.


(Say, do you think 'Affluenza' is contagious, even if you don't have a lot of money? I mean, I don't have a minivan, but . . . .;~)


Lauralew said...

I live 4 miles up and into a canyon. The speed limit most of the way is 35 mph. It is a curvy, winding road. I can't tell you the number of people who treat this road as their own person Indy 500 speedway. The county sheriff knows this, thus the road is well speed trapped. Those of us who live here know this and follow the speed limit. But as you can imagine, tailgaters are an awful problem, the danger of which is magnified by the deer that tend to dart into the road (if I'm being tailgated but have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a deer...). There is only one place on the entire 4 mile stretch where one safety may pass, and several times I've experienced what you did. Once I had a McDonald's soda hurled at my car by the tailgater as he passed. He was driving a company truck, though, so I just called the company when I got home to let them know.

Anyway, self absorption is not just a Mivivan Mom problem, as you say!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, dear. It IS everywhere, isn't it?

Riley said...

I live about 10 miles out of town and have experienced the same scenario on some of our small two lane roads as well, Lauralew. And deer are always a challenge. Never had a soda hurled at me, yet. That would get my Irish up, I tell ya.
I don't have your patience Elizabeth. When my children aren't with me, and this happens in town, I usually like to teach lessons.
If they don't learn from the first one...tapping on the brakes, we go to lesson #2, which is to slam on the brakes and stop...just long enough to get their attention, but not long enough to do any harm. Minivan Moms are my FAVORITE

VTcrone said...

Folks drive like maniacs, and tailgate, and pass you on double solid lines up here in VT, so it does happen everywhere.
However, having lived in NJ from 84-'06 I know all about the mini van moms (and dads too), except it was usually a big f---ing SUV on my tail-and of course the deer herd in NJ is huge compared to VT. I had a good chuckle over your piece because I could picture them so perfectly, as many of them were my neighbors over the years-like the one I dubbed "The Leaf Nazi."

FranIAm said...

Reporting in (at last) from the sleepy suburbs north of Albany. I drive on a two-lane road as I head to work each day. The speed limit is 45 and I do often go a bit faster.

That is unless the weather is bad - then I go much, much slower. There are always accidents on snowy days.

The snowy days are always when I have someone right on my back trying to get me to go faster.

It is the anxiety that I can feel from the other vehicle that so often gets me.

Affluenza. *Snort* That is good.

Lindy said...

Yes, it's everywhere. Texas too. My story is so similar to the others I'll spare you.
In solidarity,

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I once had an orange hurled at me from a "Mr. Road Rage Dude." And I am definitely not a slow driver!

Oh, honey, don't get me started on minivan moms. We have several that belong to student spouses at the local osteopathic medical school. And, not to cast aspersions, but most of them have Utah plates. I have a numbered parking place, which means it's "my" space. And nothing frosts me like coming back from lunch to discover MY parking space is filled with a mini-van with Utah plates.

These student spouses are often there bringing the toddlers by at lunch to "eat lunch with dad." When I complain that someone's in my space, you'd have thought I had peed on apple pie and motherhood.

I had another instance where one of these mothers with her shrieking toddlers were right outside the room where I was giving an exam. You could hear the kid wailing in the exam room. So I stepped out and with careful diplomacy, I said, "I'm giving an exam and we can all hear your baby, and I don't wany anyone to be distracted. If you can't control your kid, he needs to go somewere else," I got the "piss off" look

Anonymous said...

You could also find this in Bucks County, PA. I think it might be in the running for the Affluenza Capitol of the World.

Andrew said...

I sympathise. It's here to in Epsom, Surrey, England. A tip: slow down a little, blipping your brakes gently, put on hazard lights and any rear fog lamp, and full car lights, all at the same time. They tend to back off rather quickly. And, if you find yourself stopped at a junction with the other car nearby, double-lock your door so that any road-rager can't open it from outside!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. You mean, there's no where to run? No where to hide? There's a veritable pandemic of Afluenza? Has anyone reported it to the CDC?

Caminante said...

I always like it when I am driving (in Vermont) and someone gets on my tail, that is, someone from the Flatlands. Now I can have a lead foot and I have been guilty of passing a milk truck on a double yellow line but I also know where the speed traps are so when someone is hot to trot, I sweetly think: If you had any sense, you would slow down when the woodchuck does; she may actually know something. It's hard not say, 'I told you so,' when I see them nailed in the usual speed trap where the speed limit goes from 50 to 35 to 25 in the course of one mile. (For VTCrone, that is heading west on Rte 4 coming into Bridgewater.)

Also, as a public service announcement for visitors to Vermont in winter, the VT state police have upped their presence on the highways. If it is bad weather out, they have announced they will ticket people going over 45 mph because they are tired of pulling SUVs out of the median.

Paul Davison said...

Unfortunately, the CDC is in Atlanta, which has a combination of Affluenza and Gridlockitis. I fear it may be too late.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Now, I must repeat: This is NOT the recommended way to handle someone who is tailgating you. The policeman I spoke with was quite emphatic. He said that, as soon as you can, after you get the make, model and license plate number of the car, you are to pull over and let the idiot pass you. Then, call the police from your cell phone (while parked on the side of the road, of course, unless you have a hands-free or Bluetooth system), and give them the information. Let them handle it. Don't enrage an idiot or you may find yourself a victim of road rage. As satisfying as it is to toy with an idiot, it's just not safe.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Paul Davidson Well, in Atlanta, you have Peach Tree Avenue or Street that seems to run from one end of the City to another like a drag race track. How in the world can there be gridlockitis there? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It's much worse than I thought.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

You know, this post has been bothering me ever since I read it. I spent my 2.5 hour commute yesterday pondering why...

I am a "minivan mom," though I hope I don't drive the way that woman did. But that's not it.

I think what's really bothering me is that you are projecting *why* she was driving that way.

Did it ever occur to you that maybe she had found out that day that her husband was cheating on her or that he lost his job? Or that one of her parents was dying of cancer in the hospital and maybe she had simply reached the end of her tether? Did your passive-aggressiveness really "teach" her anything? Or did it just give her an occasion to compound her sins?

I ask these questions not because I'm trying to excuse bad behavior--or because I'm some really holy person who never gets angry at bad drivers (or drives badly myself). I ask because I know that the times I am likely to behave badly to others are times when I'm really stressed and angry/scared/sad. That doesn't excuse me, but I guess I hope at those times when I *do* behave badly, someone might give me the benefit of the doubt and not assume that I'm an entitled, neurotic asshole at the core.


P.S. I completely approve of the policeman's advice to turn her in. That's a useful corrective to keep her from harming herself, her family, or others. It's the categorizing of her, based on what she drives and your experiences with a few other women, that bothers me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, Doxy, if it were one or two women, that would be one thing. This is a Very Common Thing, to which most of the posts here give testimony and witness. And yes, it's mostly women in MiniVans with 3-4 kids in the back seat. And, you're right - nothing excuses bad behavior - especially when it becomes dangerous. We used to do that with drinking and driving. Hey, everybody does it now and again. People have a bad day at work, at home, at school. Just a beer or two before you hit the road. They may be too mellowed out to tailgate, but they are still a danger to themselves and others, no matter the excuse.

I'm not talking about you, Doxy, so please don't take it personally. As you, yourself say, your arguments - even personal ones - do not excuse the behavior. I'm talking about a growing problem that appears not only in Outer Suburbia or Upper Whitovia where I live, but, apparently, everywhere.

We all need to be held accountable for our actions. I see the increase in this behavior as akin to the phenomenon known as 'the beaching of the whales'. It's a danger signal - a call of desperation - which we deny or ignore or excuse away to our own peril.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'm just very wary of stereotyping, Elizabeth. As you've noted, people like to talk about African American and Hispanic young people in the same categorizing way that you have done here about "Mad Minivan Moms."

You stated authoritatively that the reason that woman was in such a hurry was to get her overscheduled brood to their enrichment lessons. You have no way of knowing that. It's a projection on your part.

You've also taken a pretty ugly swipe at women who choose to stay at home with their children:

It was all about whether or not she was late getting her kids to their enrichment programs. Which, of course, would have been a judgment on her abilities as a mother. Which, of course, was now her full time job. The one she had sacrificed her career and education to take.

Apparently one "waste[s] her education" to stay home with kids--and doing so couldn't possibly be as fulfilling as having had a career!

Once upon a time, people argued that educating women was a waste of time because they would just get married and have children. Feminists countered by arguing that education would make women better mothers. It seems rather odd to find you arguing, indirectly anyway, the first proposition...

I think it is both fine and necessary to point out the incivility in modern life. But let's not forget that stereotyping people and sneering at them are no more civil than the offenses we deplore.


IT said...

I also put it down to the distancing from community. I grew up in a suburb of the Bay Area, very large, but when I lived there everyone knew each other. One day the local cop pulled my mom over to tell her he liked her new car. Mom and Dad still live there but no one knows each other any more. They don't know the cops. it's sad.

I notice that when people can get away with being anonymous, their behavior deteriorates.

I generally worry that tailgaters are crawlng up my tailpipe because they don't like the pro-gay marriage stickers on my car. Especially when they have plenty of room to pass me on the freeway. Or when they cut me off. Makes me very nervous. Out here in Southern California, people get shot on the freeways.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know what, Doxy? If you want to see bad stuff, you'll see bad stuff. If you want to see trouble where there is none, you'll see it.

If you take a breath and slow down and read the piece again, you'll see that I very clearly state that this is not so for all the women in my town. Indeed, I state very clearly that MOST of the women here are perfectly lovely, wonderful women.

That's hardly stereotyping. That's also not to deny that there are women in this town and elsewhere, apparently, who are infected with Affluenza and Neurosis and Narcissism.

If you'd like to see some stereotyping, I can point you to lots of sites on the right side of the church aisle. Not all, but lots.

You won't find it here.

IT said...

One day, I was one of those distracted drivers and I cut someone off in a grocery store parking lot.

It was a day when the SoCal sky was angry red with smoke, ash was drifting, and I was 150 miles away from family and friends in San Diego who were facing down a firestorm. I was incredibly worried and upset and was not driving as carefully as I should.

The man I cut off screamed at me and cursed me with foul language when I parked and got out of my car. I apologized and kept walking and he called me every nasty name in the book at the top of his lungs. (I hadn't hit him, or anything, just cut him off.)

When I returned, he had emptied a carton of store-bought macaroni salad over the back window of my car and lovingly smeared it all over the glass.

Moral of this story: people behave badly on either side of the equation.

And some people are just a******s.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, IT. And, I have been one of them on several occasions.

IT said...

As have we all, Elizabeth. As have we all.

Pace, to all. We really are all on the same side. Go read my post about compline at the Friends- blog.


Jim said...

In the midwest were we are apparently a lot more trendy, mini-vans have long since given way to SUV's. Most of the overly well off trophy types would not be caught dead in something as out of date as a mini-van.