When the Answer Is Always “No”
©Arlene R. Taylor, PhD www.ArleneTaylor.org
Thursday. The end of a hectic school day. A HOT hectic school day. The air conditioning had decided to take a break on one of the hottest days so far that September: picture-taking day for the school yearbook. I fear the pictures will reflect a lot of sweaty faces and some rather damp and stringy hair, the school nurse mused, anticipating her own air-conditioned home. And not a minute too soon! Closing her desk, she prepared to retreat.
A knock on the door. “It’s open!” Two girls—barely teenagers— pushed their way into the health office.
“What can I do for you girls?” the school nurse asked, smiling tiredly.
“My mom is sitting the car crying,” said Nancy. “She won’t tell me what is wrong. But she is really, really upset.”
“It is very fortuitous,” said Aimi, her arm around Nancy’s shoulders. “Fortuitous that you are still here—not that Nancy’s mother is upset, of course. But maybe …” She looked at the school nurse with a please-can-you-do-something-to-help-her expression. “Maybe you could talk to her mom?”
“Nancy, please ask your mother if she’d like to come into the school and chat for a few minutes,” the nurse said. “Perhaps you girls could spend a little time on the swings—or, if it is too hot, play piano duets in the music room.”
The two girls were out the door in an instant.
Nancy’s mother did want to chat. But once in the health office, Megan just sat and cried. And cried. Finally, the school nurse said, “If you want to share with me what happened, perhaps I can help.”
Gradually the sobbing morphed into hiccups; the hiccups dissolved into several large sighs. “It was my birthday last Monday, and all I got from my husband was a card. And I did not get that until Tuesday morning at breakfast! I feel so devalued. I cannot seem to think about anything else. It is gotten worse every day this week. In the car I finally had a total meltdown.”
“Did you want something besides a card?” the nurse asked.
“Of course, I wanted something else!” the woman snapped, her sighs turning into outright indignation. “What do you think?”
“I cannot assume what you wanted,” the school nurse said, kindly. “You will need to tell me.”
A little more prodding revealed that Megan had wanted to go to on a dinner date to a new restaurant.
“Is going out for a dinner date to a new restaurant well within your budget?” the nurse asked.
“Did you tell your husband that a birthday dinner date was what you wanted?”
Megan mumbled something indistinctly.
“I didn’t get what you said,” the school nurse responded.
“I cannot help you unless you are willing to communicate,” said the nurse.
Several very large sighs ensued. In the end it turned out that Megan had not reminded her husband of the upcoming birthday nor had she said anything about what she wanted. When the school nurse questioned the reason for this complete lack of communication, Megan again mumbled something indistinctly.
Silence. The school nurse waited.
Eventually, Megan spoke her mind. “If he loved me, my husband should be able to remember my birthday and figure out what I would like for a present!”
That led to a rather lively discussion.
“No matter what you may have come to believe,” the school nurse explained, “the human brain is unable to read another’s mind.”
Megan glanced at her sideways.
“No matter how much your husband loves you, he may have had no clue about what you wanted for your birthday—obviously, he didn’t have the date written in his calendar, either.”
“He could have asked...” Megan replied, her mouth in a pout.
“You could have reminded him,” the nurse countered.
“Whose side are you on?”
“I am on the side of acting like a responsible adult and communicating effectively. Not on the side of unrealistic expectations, over-reacting, and taking things personally. That represents J-O-T behaviors and low levels of Emotional Intelligence.”
“I never heard of J-O-T. How does that play into my sorry story?”
“J stands for jumping to conclusions. You jumped to the conclusion that your husband could read your mind and just chose not to do so. O stands for overreacting. I would say nearly three days of sobbing is in that category. And T stands for taking things personally. Your saying ‘If my husband loved me,’ represents taking it personally.”
“But if I have to ask, then dinner wouldn’t mean anything!” Megan was no longer mumbling.
To her credit, the school nurse really tried to keep a straight face. She really did. She failed, however. Busting into laughter, the nurse said, “Oh, for crying out loud. That is about as dysfunctional a perspective as I have heard in many a year. Nothing like expecting too much of your husband and then getting bent out of shape if you give him a clue and he jumps on it. Honestly!” And she burst into gales of laughter. It had been a long HOT day!
Megan tried hard to retain her pout, tried not to grin back. But a slight lip-twitch gave her away.
It was at that juncture that first Aimi, then Nancy stuck a head around the crack in the doorway. Seeing her mother no longer sobbing uncontrollably, Nancy’s face showed a rather comical relief. No matter the age of a child, no one likes to see their mother crying in pain.
“Come on in, girls,” said Megan. “You may as well learn this sooner than later.” In a few sentences she explained how upset she had been about just getting a card for her birthday—and that a day late! To her credit, she also said that she had not reminded her husband of her upcoming birthday nor had she told him of her wish for a dinner date at the new restaurant.
The nurse was direct. “You need to tell your husband what you want. You may not get it in every instance, but articulating it gives you a better chance. And he will not have to guess. If you do not ask, the answer is always no.”
“You always ask me what I want for my birthday,” said Nancy, taking her mom’s hand.
“And my parents always ask me what I’d like for mine,” chimed in Aimi.
“I guess I do like to give Nancy what she asks for, whenever I can,” said Megan.
“I rest my case,” the nurse said, simply.
“I have an idea!” cried Aimi. “Tell your husband you’re sorry you didn’t remind him about your birthday. Negotiate to have a delayed birthday date night next week at the new restaurant.”
“Brilliant idea!” said Nancy, jumping up and down.
“And maybe Nancy and I can have a sleep-over that night,” said Aimi, hopefully. “If you can have the delayed birthday dinner on Friday or Saturday evening. School, you know.”
“I’m on it,” said Megan, turning toward the nurse. “And would you have some time to help me learn more about EQ and JOT? Somehow I must have missed those skills growing up.”
The nurse could—and would. Megan and Nancy left the office, Nancy waving good-bye.
“I told you it was fortuitous!” said Aimi, laughing. “Thank you for helping Nancy’s mom!” And Aimi was out the door, too.
Telling those you care about what you would like on a special occasion seems like such a simple thing to do, mused the school nurse. After all, it is not brain surgery … it is brain science, however. No one can “read” another’s mind....
She locked the door to the health office, anxious to get home. Chatting had helped Megan cool down; the nurse reflected. “And now it’s my turn to cool down!” she said out loud—only to herself. “Air Con here I come!”