Strangers: Extremely Rude And Incredibly Kind

Last month, one of my essays won a writing prize. I’d written a broadly comic account of the “debate” I’d had with my somewhat skeptical, not-Jewish husband about circumcising our son. The essay was light-hearted and funny, and I got a lot of mileage out of our humorous sparring and the … um … go-for-the-groin tactics I used to finally win the “argument.” If you’ve read the essay, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil the punch-line. You’ll have to read it for yourself

When my win was announced, I figured I’d get some Atta Girl!’s – and I did. And a few faintly indignant emails extolling the wonders and virtues of loving the uncut penis — and I got those too. My friend and Cafe Mom blogger Amy Keyishian said it best when I first posted this essay in 2008: “Dahlink, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

And that, I thought, would be that. Game over.

I had no idea what a hot button I’d pushed until the “intactivists” — those vehemently opposed to circumcision — began raining down hate like sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah.

For circumcising my child — daring to make light of it — I was called evil. A horrible mother. A vapid bitch. A baby mutilator. An emasculator of men. A disgrace to my country — and apparently to all Jewish people too. One of the many rabid commenters who likened circumcision to female genital mutilation wrote that he wished I’d “get kicked in the vagina so hard I’d need my clitoris removed.” I’m not sure that’s the best statement he could make against authentic genital mutilation, but so be it.

I got taken to task on a public forum with a “Dear Norine …” letter in which the writer didn’t even have the decency to sign her name. She hid behind a pseudonym.

On my birthday, I woke up to this charming assessment of my work and character: You don’t deserve a prize. Or a son. What a gift, right?

Controversy inevitably comes with the writing territory. Unless you’re penning nursery rhymes, you’re bound to piss off someone at some point. See Ellen Seidman on why the word retarded should be permanently retired. Dara-Lynn Weiss on putting her 7-year-old daughter on a diet Lenore Skenazy on allowing her 9-year-old son to ride the subway aloneI didn’t get pilloried on a national level like these women. Still, the vitriol coming from this particular faction was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a writer. Given that I also write about sex, abortion and vaccines, that’s really saying something.

Blogger Ellen Seidman points out, “Comments sections on news sites tend to bring out the worst in people.” Do they ever! And I’ll go one further: Anonymity makes commenters even more malicious, freer to type things they’d never say to my face. Jeez-lah-weez. Disagree with something I’ve written? Bring it. But can someone tell me what happened to civil discourse? Do people really have nothing more important to do than spew hatred into cyberspace?

Apparently not. As both I and my husband (who defended me on Facebook and subsequently got branded a “pussy” for not “protecting” his son) were virtually drawn-and-quartered on this blog and others, the ping-ping-pinging of nasty comments hitting my In Box made my MacBook sound like a pinball machine.

For four days we rode out the hate storm feeling a bit like America’s Most Wanted. And then as quickly as the squall blew in, things quieted down. Eye of the storm? Maybe. But we went back to our lives, which at week’s end included taking our son and four of his pals to Food Truck Friday, our little ‘burb’s monthly family picnic and movie night in the park. Yep, that’s what the Most Evil Mom In America does for kicks: Eats ahi tuna sliders and watches The Smurfs under the stars. (Wanna bitch slap me for exposing my kid to The Smurfs?!? That I can understand).

So, thinking only of squelching the week’s stress with goodies from my favorite food trucks, I shoved a credit card into my back pocket and herded five children toward the park.

Now stay with me here because I promise this is going somewhere.

The first time I realized my credit card had slid half out of my pocket, I thought, This isn’t a very good idea. The next time my credit card came flying out of the pocket when I pulled out my phone, I thought, I really should move the card.

Of course, I immediately got distracted. Of course I forgot to move the card. And of course, you know what happened next.

Standing in line for hot dogs with five ravenous kids … after I’d finally memorized who wanted ketchup … who wanted mustard … who wanted ketchup and mustard … and who didn’t want a hot dog but wanted a veggie dog (that would be my child), I went to pay with my card and … gone.

You know how you can’t quite believe something happened, so you keep checking? I shoved my hand in my back right pocket. My back left pocket. My front pockets. My jacket pockets. All I came up with was lint.

“So?” Hot Dog Gal asked brightly, “What’ll it be?”

“We’ll be right back,” I said tightly.

I scooted all the kids out of line, marched them to a picnic table and left my nanny in charge so I could retrace my steps in what I knew would be a futile attempt to find the lost card. But you have to try, right?

The card had only been missing for maybe 20 minutes, but I’ve had my credit cards lifted twice. In the right hands, I knew that card could be maxed out and tossed in the time it took me to realize it was gone. Fortunately, while I was hyperventilating over how I was going to cancel the card when the bloody customer service number was on the back of the card, my sister came to my rescue with the phone number. Ten minutes later, the card was dead.

Secure in the knowledge that I would not be on the hook for two round-trip luxury cabin-class tickets to Abu Dhabi aboard Emirates Airlines, my blood pressure floated down. I circled back with Hot Dog Gal to feed the kids, gulped down a few sliders, and finally let the inanity of The Smurfs numb my brain like Xanax.

In fact, I forgot all about the credit card till I got in my car the next day. There, tucked in my windshield, was a business card from the Ocoee Police Department.

“Norine –” read the message, beautifully scrawled on the back, “Can you please call the number on the front of the card? Found some property that belongs to you!” It was signed Officer Carlos Anglero.

Obviously he had the card. Not only that, he cared enough to drive out to my home during his night shift to let me know.

“Officer Anglero isn’t on duty now,” two separate police department operators told me when I tried to find Officer Anglero that afternoon to thank him. “You’ll have to try back on Monday.”

The next night, the house phone rang. The caller ID showed the number at our community guard gate. “Hello?” I said. I just heard static on the other end.

Kids trying to gain access to the neighborhood, I figured and hung up. The phone rang again. More static. I hung up again. The third time, I could just make out a quavery “Ocoee Police Department” between the crackles. Officer Anglero is nothing if not a model of perseverance. I buzzed the gate open.

He’d found me on Facebook, the officer explained when I asked how he’d tracked me down. A family had spotted the card in the grass and turned it over to him. And he hadn’t stashed it in the property room where it might have gotten “lost” again. Officer Anglero held on to it until he could put it in my hand himself. Is that public service or what?

I was floored. Completely and utterly floored.

In the space of one week, I’d been on the receiving end of some of the most extreme rudeness and incredible kindness I’ve ever experienced — from strangers who didn’t have to go out of their way to be vicious or considerate in either situation, but chose to do so anyway.

Oddly enough, I’m grateful to both.

And so, Kind Family, whoever you are … and Crazy Nasty Commenters, who’ve driven my site stats through the roof and made the essay you love to hate the most popular piece on my blog, the Most Evil Mom In America thanks you. Kindly.

Photo credit: James Brey

Comments

  1. In life, we often encounter the bad stuff, but then, like in your experience, the good rolls around and takes the bitter taste out of our mouths. I read your post on circumcision and loved it because you’re such a clever and entertaining writer. My husband and I chose not to circumcise our son, but that was our decision, just like it was your decision to circumcise your son. We should all have honest conversations about these difficult decisions, yet we should also make it a priority to avoid the vicious attacks. There will always be folks out there who will disagree with you; I’m just sorry that they expressed their disagreement in such a nasty manner. (Bless their mean little hearts–they did you a huge favor by upping those site stats!)

  2. People can be vicious! The most hate mail I ever got came about 10 years ago, before there WERE “comment” sections after stories. More than 400 nasty emails and letters came in in response to a story I’d written about scrapbooking. I dared suggest we remove the letter “s” from the word, and was threatened with scrapbooking tools right and left. One person said she hoped my house burned down, because she was certain all of my photos were in a shoe box and not wrapped in flame retardant material.

  3. Thank you so much for your support — and the compliments! I’m so glad we connected through writer/friends.

  4. OMG! Really?!?! Wow-eee. We are beyond the pale when scrapbooking evokes thoughts of arson. Thanks so much for sharing that Kate! BTW, I’m totally with you on dropping that S … and my photos aren’t in flame retardant material either. I hope all’s well with you. What are you working on these days?

  5. The better part of me always knows that whatever is raising my anger, anxiety, etc. to new heights today will be different tomorrow. And, yet, when I’m in the thick of it, I’m not always as centered as I would like to be about it. This is such a wonderful reminder that, sure, bad things happen to good people, but so do good things. Mostly, it’s a reminder of how little we get to control, especially when it comes to other people’s reactions and perceptions.

  6. Thank you Deborah. You are always so wise. And know just what to say. And you’re 1000 percent right. The only thing we can control is ourselves. The serenity prayer comes in handy in times like these. Thank you again for your incredibly thoughtful words.

  7. Barbara Judd says:

    Norine: You are always a breathe of fresh air that brings a lift to my day. Don’t let angry voices hold you back….Continue to tell it like it is….The world needs more mothers like you and fathers like your husband… What a team….Lucky son!!!!
    Barbara

  8. Kevin Haynes says:

    Wow—this was excellent! (And, no, I’m not surprised. You’ve always been a fun read.)

    I guess this proves that you can never embrace the extremes: people are evil/people are nice. It’s toeing the fine line in between that forces us to focus.

  9. Thanks Barbara! Appreciated as always.

  10. Many thanks, my friend. Glad you enjoyed it.

  11. Keep on, keepin’ on, girl!

  12. I happened upon your circumcision article and enjoyed it (but then, I’m Jewish). It seems like things have gotten to the point where it’s scary to open your mouth and speak out about any topic. What a nice police officer and especially nice of the people who noticed the credit card and turned it in to him.

  13. Thanks Cindy! I’m so glad to hear from you on this!

  14. Thank you so much Thelma! I know your work from She Writes! I’m so glad you stopped by to read and comment. It’s appreciated!

  15. My point of view is “his body, his choice,” but once the decision has been forced on a non-consenting individual, I usually dropped it there. You may be in for more verbal abuse from your son in 18 or 20 years and I met and have heard of several intactivists who have ended contact with their mothers for violating them. Actually, one was the Jewish mother who ended contact with her intactivist son because he’s vehemently opposed to infant circumcision. I can’t predict your future. This will be my only comment. What’s done is done.

  16. What a shame between the anger of the intactivists and your failure to examine your conscience you learned nothing of the reality that, although socially normalised, male genital cutting leaves anguished and SILENCED and RIDICULED men in it’s wake. While you’re rewarded for your callous indifference to my loss and the loss of thousands of other men, we remain marginalised, trivialised and the fodder for your facile essay. I shudder to imagine how feeble the competition must have been.

  17. Britton Minor says:

    I love happy (credit card and winning) endings, and I applaud you again for a brave article, as well as your graciousness in weathering that nasty and always unseasonable hate-storm!

  18. Thanks so much Britton! I’m delighted you came back to read and comment. Appreciated!

  19. Shari Dworkin-Smith says:

    Well done!

  20. What I think is so interesting is how many people are so quick and willing to tell you you are living your life wrong just because you have made a choice that is different from theirs. I am a proud Jewish woman married to an amazing Methodist (and circumcised) man and I can tell you two things. One, Our sex life is AMAZING and it has NOTHING to do with whether he is/was circumcised. It has EVERYTHING to do with our connection to each other and the relationship and love we share. And two, my sister does a lot of things I don’t always understand or neccesarily agree with BUT she is an adult, making choices that are right for her and her family that are NOT hurting anyone else (it’s not like she’s chosen to rob the local bank or shoot up a school here people!) and are frankly no one else’s business. The fact that she bravely chooses to share her life through her writing DOES NOT give people the right to spew at her. Disagree? Be my guest but be polite!! Yelling loudest is NOT the way to get your point accross. Oh, and by the way, BOTH of our sons are also circumcised. It was NOT mutilation, their penises are just fine; fully functional and destined to make some lucky women very happy in due time.

  21. My sister, Shari, ROCKS!! Thank you so much!

  22. I feel your pain. I once had commentors on a site threaten me with cps because They didn’t like me not allowing my then-young son to swear. As a former foster parent who had seen much worse handled by cps, they ticked me off due to their ignorance, but didn’t scare me. The scary ones were the teenagers who wanted to egg my house because I made fun of how I woke up my teenager. Lol.

    Anyway, I do not bother responding to the mean ones. They don’t want discourse, they just want to flame. And if they think they know you after reading 600 words, then it’s pointless anyway.

  23. Thanks so much Laurie! Since posting this, I’ve heard from several people who’ve shared stories about being flamed for voicing some POV that someone didn’t like. Scroll down, my fave so far came from Kate Silver who shared that she once raised the ire of scrapbookers who wanted to set her house on fire. Scrapbookers!
    But I agree with you. I’ll respond to commenters who are at least civil. But I let the others just be. Their craziness says it all. Thanks again for reading and commenting. BTW, I get a huge kick outta your blog!

  24. nice essay Norine. I try to remind myself regularly that decency is present all around us every day, but sometimes it gets lost in the noise generated by miserable people. Good for you for staying positive!

  25. Thanks Carla! There’s always gonna be someone who doesn’t like something. I just try to rise above. But that’s definitely easier when there are others around saying hang in! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. BTW, I sooo enjoy your posts about Jesse and Nick.

  26. Gotta love the Ocoee PD. Occasions like this remind me of why it’s worth giving up quirky eateries and funky dive bars to live in a small town.

  27. I’m eternally grateful to the Ocoee PD. (Though I still miss the New York nightlife!) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  28. So, apparently, every cloud has a silver lining, even if it takes a while to show up! GREAT PIECE OF WRITING!

    Love,
    MOM

  29. Thank you!!

  30. Genessa Torsy says:

    Two words….LOVE IT!

  31. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated!

  32. And just like that you restored my belief in the good of humanity. It’s nice when we get a reminder that not everyone is evil. :)

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