Friday, October 09, 2009
Minivan Moms Part Deux: Lady Minivan and the DWC incident
In my continuing saga of "That Was The Week That Was," I need to tell you about yet another frustrating encounter.
This one, however, led to a startling insight on Mark 10:17-31, this week's appointed gospel lesson for Sunday.
I've already gotten into hot water with some of you about this topic ("When Affluenza Meets Neurosis"). Let me state right up front - and again- that this is not about All mothers who drive a minivan. Most are responsible suburban moms who are good drivers.
Indeed, one of our own daughters lives in suburbia and schleps two of our grandchildren hither and yon to various after school and weekend activities in the frenetic way that has become the Gold Standard for Life in These United States in the Third Millennium. God forbid your child should not have a enrichment program to attend somewhere on any given day.
I'm talking about a particular kind of woman who lives in the affluent suburbs, who has all the accouterments of status: The McMansion, The Diamonds, The Rolex, The Country Club Membership, The Handsome, Successful-Even-In-This-Economy Husband, The Two Point Five Children, and, of course, the Lexus SUV or other top-end Minivan to drive them around town.
Oh, yes. And the cell phone. That would be the appendage on her left ear.
I call them "Lady Minivan".
I had stopped off at my local Starbucks in between appointments to get a little something to stave off the hunger. I was coming out of my parking space to exit the lot when I saw her.
Blue Mini van at 2 o'clock. Two kids in car seats in the back. Tail lights with white reverse lights on, but not moving. She is, of course, on the phone. Talking. Hands waving around wildly every so often.
I knew enough to proceed Slowly and with Great Caution.
It all unfolded as if in SloMo. Just I approached her car to pass by it to the exit, she started to move. She didn't bother to look. Couldn't. She was mid-thought of Something or with Someone Very Important.
I started to tap my horn. Just to get her attention. Nothing. I kept moving very, very slowly while tapping the horn. Still nothing.
Finally, I leaned on my horn. Several people in the parking lot started yelling at her. The guy in front of Blockbuster's pointed at her, caught her eye, then pointed at me. It took her a few moments before she finally looked up, saw me, and slammed on her breaks.
She came within inches of hitting my car. Sweet Little Lucy True Bug.
Several people came round to see if I was okay, several whispering angrily, "I saw it all. I'll be your witness."
I realized that I was trembling in the aftermath of almost having been hit.
"Lady Minivan" kept talking, this time reporting that "I almost hit some idiot who didn't stop to let me out of my parking spot." She said it as if it were some Great Inconvenience. A Terrible Annoyance.
I swear to God this is true.
Entitlement and Privilege look even uglier in the midst of a situation like that.
My body started moving before my brain was fully engaged. I saw myself get out of the car and walk to her car window.
The crowd pressed in closer. There had not been a real accident, but they smelled blood on the water, nonetheless.
"Are you okay?" I asked, seeing that she was. "Yes," she rolled her eyes, not really answering me but talking into the cell phone.
"Put the cell phone down," I said.
She stared at me blankly.
"Put. The. Cell. Phone. Down." I repeated with a calm that surprised me.
A mixture of confusion and caution came over her face as she slowly lowered the cell phone to her thigh.
"Good," I said, "Now, give it to me."
"What?" she said, now looking at me as if I were flat-out crazed.
"Give. Me. The. Cell. Phone." I repeated.
"Why?" she asked, as the crowd pressed in even closer.
"Because I'm going to use it to call 911," I said calmly.
"Why?" she shrieked at me, The Idiot in a no-name brand blouse and driving a lowly VW Bug. "No one was hurt. I'm fine. You're fine. The kids are fine."
"You almost hit me because you were talking on your cell phone. In New Jersey, that's a moving violation. I'm going to report it to the police."
She went from cool suburban housewife to hysterical woman in zero to five seconds.
"You can't do that. My husband will kill me. He's always telling me not to talk or text on the phone while I drive. You can't do this!"
"Well," I said, calmly, "I can see he's been very effective. Perhaps if there is a police report and a fine, you'll stop endangering yourself, your children and others by talking on the cell phone while driving."
She was now reduced to the level of one of the three or four year olds in the back seat. Hysterical is too mild a word for it.
Infantalized is better. More on this later.
I knew I wasn't going to get her cell phone, so I turned and walked back to my car to get mine. To my amazement, people stayed away from her. Several people called out to me, "Good for you. Good for you."
I called 911. I thought to take some pictures of just how close she had come to hitting me - just in case there were later allegations of injury. Or, she suddenly got smart and moved her car, destroying the evidence.
She could obviously afford better legal representation than I could. Perhaps she was even married to one.
I also got a snap of her license plate - just in case.
In the time it took me to do that, the police arrived. I was grateful. Lady Minivan let out a wail into her cell phone. The kids in the back seat where now hysterical, screaming about "the bad lady that made Mommy cry."
The officer looked over the scene as he made his way toward me. Several people called out to him their willingness to be a witness. He nodded solemnly.
He got my story, took my license and registration and then said, "I'll handle it from here," as he walked over to Lady Minivan.
The first thing she said, through tears and sobs was, "It's HER fault. She didn't stop to let me out of my parking place."
The cop responded by calmly asking for her drivers license and registration. That took five minutes of rummaging through her purse and glove compartment, all the while explaining how it wasn't her fault. Meanwhile, several people came up to tell the officer what they had seen.
He was great. Officer Friendly giving a stern paternal lecture about the perils of driving while talking or texting on a cell phone. As he talked, she started to calm down and became remorseful and repentant, sniffling and sobbing and repeating, "My husband is going to kill me."
She got a stern lecture, a citation to appear in court and a stiff fine.
Yes, this is a bigger problem than Minivan Moms. Yes, driving with cell phones or texting while driving is a problem that knows no boundary of gender or geography, age or class status.
In the aftermath of it all, I've gotten an insight into a modern cultural dynamic about which I'm just now thinking out loud.
It's always dangerous when I do this. Someone is going to take offense and accuse me of stereotyping. So be it. I'm trying to find a way to talk about a modern manifestation of a dynamic that is as old as the Garden.
Original sin? That would be Sexism.
'Lady Minivan' is the New Eve. She is the modern icon of the New Sexism. It is a much more subtle form, but equally pernicious and just as deadly to the soul.
The tip off was the infantilization. "My husband's going to kill me," she wailed over and over. She had become the naughty girl. "Daddy" was going to be angry.
I confess that I don't understand this dynamic, but I know I've participated in it so I recognize it immediately. I suspect it's subconscious or even unconscious behavior. Something in our genetic DNA encoding. Or, a powerful learned cultural behavior.
I sometimes find myself falling into it with bishops. I know how to be coy and flirty - to 'soften' the message in the presence of a male ego with authority. Or a "power" woman who is part of the patriarchy dressed in a tailored business skirt.
To be sure, some of it is just the politics of social discourse which cross lines of gender and class status. "Working the system" is sometimes just a smart political move. Something we all do - male and female - no matter who we are or what situation we're in.
It can be conscious or unconscious or subconscious. No matter. We all engage in it from either end of the power spectrum. It's part of the enterprise of being human.
I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the ways in which we continue to participate in our own oppression - and that of others.
I'm talking about how that leads to infantilization which stunts our growth as full, whole human beings.
I'm talking about how that deadens the soul.
I'm not making fun of Lady Minivan or reducing her to stereotype. I feel bad for her and I wonder how it is our culture helps to nurture and sustain her. And, why? What is the 'cultural benefit' of Lady Minivan?
It is recorded that Socrates, charged with heresy, said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." He was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves.
Using one of the Socratic devices, I think it's fair to say that driving while talking on the cell phone is not bad because it is against the law, it is against the law because it is bad. It carries with it the potential to do great harm and is therefore dangerous.
My prayer for Lady Minivan is that she begin to take stock and start to examine her life. That, in fact, we all do.
What is so damned important about a conversation that it can't wait until we're out of the car?
Does driving and talking on the cell phone make us, then, feel important? As if we are so important that we simply have to have conversations that are so important that they can't wait?
What does that say about us - the status of our own egos and souls - that we need the illusions of status and importance in order to feel important?
It may still be an act of heresy to challenge the accepted beliefs of our times. If we don't, however, we not only participate in our own oppression and that of others, we participate in the muting and eventual death of the soul by cultural anesthesia.
It's the parable of the rich man (Mark 10:17-31) which we'll hear on Sunday. Eternal Life is not about the things we have or even the rules - spoken and unspoken - we studiously keep.
It's about dying to self, even in the midst of - or especially because of - the prevailing cultural expectations, wherein we gain it all. Or, at least, "treasure in heaven."
Jesus said to the rich man, "You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this, "he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions."
I'd like to think the rich man went away and spent some time examining his life.
I'd like to think Lady Minivan did the same.
She might, if she'd just put down that damn cell phone and stop talking.