I’ve been called many things in my life, although most of them have been nothing to write home about (unless I needed bail money as a result and had no choice, of course).
My sister used to call me Snot Head, but not because I felt or acted as if I thought I were better than anyone else (although various people have assumed that I have thought that in my time, too, and called me names commensurate with my projected behavior), but because I’m a longtime allergy sufferer and my nose is usually not far from a Kleenex.
There was a time when I got called Melissa a lot. It was all by the same person — the mother of a former boyfriend. Only he was a current boyfriend at the time and Melissa was the name of The One That Got Away. So that wasn’t one of the favorite names I’ve been called, either.
One time a reader commented on a piece I wrote for a website about the business achievements of Henry Ford that I was anti-Semitic because I didn’t mention that he was notoriously so. While I suppose it’s possible for people of any religion to dislike their own kind, given the amount of paraphernalia in my home like mezuzahs and menorahs, and the fact that I have two bat mitzvahs, a confirmation and a Jewish kid under my belt, I felt that essentially calling me a self-hating Jew required an awful lot of chutzpah, even if I won’t be consuming much matzo during Passover next month. (Enough is enough with the unleavened bread already.)
Last Saturday will go down in history as the first time I have ever been called a racist. After dragging our daughter around the city for a series of meetings and errands, my husband and I decided we’d take her to the zoo so at least 120 minutes of our 36-hour journey could be about her before we made her sit through her fourth three-hour-plus car trip in a seven-day period.
After my husband parked the car, I opened the back door to get her out of her car seat, which is when I noticed she had wet her pants. My mind started racing as I tried to figure out where in the car I had left her change of clothes amid the chaos of boxes and bags strewn next to her and in the hatchback.
As I simultaneously tried to think and maneuver her without getting me wet at the same (which was no small feat or consideration), a car pulled into the space next to us and a pre-teen girl sitting in the passenger seat opened the car door and asked if I’d shut ours so they could pull all the way in. She repeated herself three more times in quick succession before I had a chance to get a word in.
“You just have to wait a minute,” I finally managed to say as I continued the struggle to get my 2-year old in a position that kept her away from my body while getting her out of the seat without making a bigger mess. A few seconds later she was out, I shut the door and the car pulled in.
“What did you just say to my daughter?” a loud voice bellowed from the driver’s seat inside the car.
I looked up, surprised, but said nothing as the woman continued. “Don’t talk to my daughter like that. Who do you think you are?”
If I had the ability to arch a single eyebrow, I would have at that moment. But I don’t, so instead I continued carrying my daughter around to the back of the car to change her out of her wet jeans and panties. The woman kept screaming.
“Don’t tell this lady ‘it’s OK,’” she screamed at her daughter. “No one can talk to you like that. I told you the whites and Mexicans here are racist.”
My jaw dropped, my daughter started looking confused and slightly panicked as my husband and I continued to wriggle her out of her wet clothes as she was standing up inside the car while the woman kept yelling.
“I just told her she had to wait a minute because I was trying to get my kid out of the car,” I explained.
“You yelled at my daughter. There’s no excuse!” she exclaimed. “Just because we’re black doesn’t mean you’re better than us. I know my rights, I know about free speech.”
I felt exasperated. “What are you talking about, and why are you doing this in front of your kids?” I asked as I noticed a little boy in the back seat with a similar expression on his face as my daughter.
She kept screaming, my daughter appeared to be on the verge of tears, and I felt the urge coming on to be a bitch — a name I have occasionally been called and rightfully so.
But because the person who knows me by the most significant name I’ve ever been called — Mommy — was in my arms, I walked away silently instead.
Not a moment or a name — any of them — to write home about, but like the others, not one that will be easily forgotten either.
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