People hate me. OK, maybe hate is too strong a word, so let’s change that to some people have a fervent dislike of what I write. And you know what? That’s OK. I believe if you dish it out you have to be able to take it. And let’s be real here, sometimes I don’t just dish it out. It’s more like I use a bulldozer.
Subtlety has never been my strong suit and I don’t see that as a character flaw. I’m the youngest of four children. Trust me, subtlety would have gotten me nowhere in my boisterous family. To be subtle pretty much would have equaled being ignored. And have you ever known a baby in the family that likes getting zero attention? I didn’t think so.
In fact, this may seem perverse, but I welcome (on most days) emails from readers telling me how much I suck. It means, hopefully, I’ve made people think, and I don’t believe that’s ever a bad thing. That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that every Wednesday when my column comes out I approach my email with a little bit of apprehension.
Some weeks my inbox stays friendly. Other times it’s chock-full of cascading comments about what an idiot I am. I know I’m in trouble when the email is longer than one paragraph.
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In my experience if someone wants to write you a “hey, I loved your column” note, they’re not going to type more than a couple of sentences. That’s why the dual paragraph is a sign of doom and damnation. Apparently not liking something or someone makes people very prolific. The puzzling thing is I’m always surprised by what’s going to tick people off. Usually it’s something I wrote that I thought was fairly innocuous.
In the one year I’ve been writing this column the angriest emails I received were about school community service hours. To be fair I did mention that I thought some parents might be overstating, just a tad, how many “hours” their children volunteered.
For example, how does picking up the neighbor’s newspaper and placing it on a doorstep equal “volunteering”? Isn’t that just basic manners?
My crucial mistake in writing that column was asking people to please not send me emails sharing how wonderful their children are and how many community service hours they had logged.
Oh my, what was I thinking? Because that’s exactly what I got. Email after email (a majority in all caps) from angry parents lambasting me for daring to suggest that the whole idea of keeping a log of being a decent human being is wrong.
Worse, oh so much worse, was that half of these parents then proceeded to list their children’s volunteer accomplishments. At least three of the emails had attachments. Parents had scanned their kids’ community service logs!
I’d like to take this moment and give a shout out to the Overland Trail elementary student who was getting community service for walking the family dog. I was surprised I didn’t see licking cookie dough off the KitchenAid mixer beater listed as a “volunteer” activity.
Yeah, that’s right: I read every last one of them. And congratulations, you helped me make my point.
The outrage proves my theory that if I really want to get folks fired up all I need to write about is anything pertaining to school and/or parenting. (The one exception is when I wrote about paying for things with change. Just wow on the number of people who hate quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I stand by my statement that it is still legal tender.)
As for my school/parenting columns, they usually trigger emails from mothers who begin their correspondence extolling the virtues of not only their children, but also their parenting prowess. The emails then proceed to point out either my failure at all of the above or a series of tips on how I can improve myself, usually in the form of suggesting I get more involved in my children’s lives. (Because yes, you can gauge a person’s long-term parental involvement based on an 800-world column.)
More than a few have hinted that I’m a bad mother and some emailers have actually stated they feel sorry for my children.
All I can say is yes, sometimes I also feel sorry for my children. Like right now, I feel sorry for my daughter because she’s about to get the mother of all groundings for “living like an animal.” (Translation: Her room is a nightmare.)
And yeah, for sure, some days I’m bad at mothering. But a bad mother, not so much.
So don’t worry about hurting my feelings. Go ahead and keep sending those emails. I can take it. I look at it this way — it all just gives me something else to write about.