We had an exchange that I can't stop thinking about.
The French have an expression called l'esprit de l'escalier, which describes the realization of the most perfect and witty or fitting comeback in a conversation well after the conversation took place. You can roughly translate it into 'staircase wit.' This is one of those many linguistic phrases I think of all of the time, because I am thinking about things I could or should have said roughly 80% of the time while falling asleep.
On the converse, I occasionally come back with exactly what I need to say. The exchange I'm about to describe is one of these, but I am still haunted with thoughts circling my head after we hung up the phone. This proves that even when you say the exact thing you wanted to say, you can still occassionally continue to think of it as you descend the stairs immediately after the conversation, as you fall asleep the night following the conversation, as you grocery shop the day after the conversation, and while you watch bad VH1 tv shows while you clean your house a good 24 hours after the conversation.
So, let me set the scene.
Interior, bedroom, spring afternoon. "Molly," our protagonist, is on the telephone with "Pdoc," a kindly psychologist, discussing the difficulties finding other psychologists within Molly's insurance network. [please note NO discussion whatsoever of either financial or marital status had been discussed prior to the following]
Molly: ...and so I guess I'm going to have to either start looking for psychologists further from our home or just pay for treatment out of pocket. But you said you had some colleagues you could refer me to that you knew either took my insurance or treated young children. Your voicemail referred to a play therapist near Boulder?
Pdoc: I do have some referrals for you... Is your son's father helping to pay for this?
Molly: [pauses] Excuse me?
Pdoc: Well, I mean, can you get child support to help pay for this?
Molly: [begins to pace nervously around her bedroom in reaction to him nailing the fact that she is single, and due to the immediate pissed-off-ed-ness that she always gets when people assume that because she is a single mom she is destitute] I don't believe I've said anything about either marital status or having a hard time paying for treatment.
Pdoc: I'm just saying that paying full price for psychologicial treatment can be a heavy burden for a single parent.
Molly: Well, adding $120 per week to a double-income family budget is a heavy burden to most the double-income families I know as well. If you are asking if I am single, I am, and you could have asked me my marital status more forthrightly if you were truly curious. Since you are not going to treat my son, I don't see why you would possibly need to know this. I thought you were giving me referrals to psychologists you knew who specialized in treating young children.
Pdoc: Um, I, well, I just mean that I know that treatment is expensive. The name of the play therapist....
Okay. Here is what I can't get off of my mind:
1. The dude knew that I was single. HOW? Did I not "we" him enough, giving him those traditional verbal cues that married people give? Is my preoccupation with wanting to get mental health coverage under the mental health insurance policy that I pay premiums on biweekly a "single mom" thing? Because I'd rather pay a copay than full price? Do married people not deal with the annoyances of insurance and just pay more money because of their blessed two incomes? What the hell? Or, is he psychic? A psychic psychologist?
[side note, I had a friend in grad school who completely freaked out at words that started with P without the P sound, like psych-anything. She told me and another grad student this once after many pints one night. Naturally, the next day we stole a sticky-note pad and littered her desk with these words: Pneumonia! Ptolemy! Psychoanalysis! I think of Madeliene every time I write one of those words now.]
2. How annoying and random was it that he was digging for personal details after he'd told me that he couldn't help me except to give me a referral? Is this just part of the psychologist's psyche or was he being improper? I can't decide on that. It's almost as if he was digging for information, but to what end? Are there treatments or colleagues he would have advised me for or not depending on my marital status?
3. Outside of this conversation, a bit, but in there lies this fact: Being single makes people uncomfortable. I am fully aware that in other cultures, or in the past, I would have been stoned to death or put to work in the laundries or work houses, The Kid given to an orphanage. I am lucky to be an American in the 21st century considering the nature of my single-motherhood. This does not change the fact that single motherhood makes people really freaking uncomfortable. It is assumed that we are poor. It is assumed that we don't care about our children's education. It is assumed that we are irresponsible. You may read this and think, "I'd never assume that about someone." And in all honesty this is as much about me and my feelings as it is about the feelings of others, but it's out there, and I can't ignore it. I see it in the faces of coworkers at company (family) picnics. I see it in the faces of mom's at school who [secretly pitying me] say, "I don't know how you do it." And I hear it in the voices of psychologists I will never meet. They are uncomfortable with my single-ness. I know I'll get an amen from all of the single girls [Sarah, shout out!] out there mothers or not when I say, I'm not single for any other reason except that I've yet to find a suitable partner to be in my life. And I'm not willing, for one second, to settle for anything less than a suitable partner. I see married people all too often married to someone who is not a fitting partner. I can't do that. I have a child, and myself, to think about. Seriously, though, I think a lot more people would be more comfortable with me if I had a husband, any husband, to bandy about in "we's" and "ours" in conversations. Like that would make my life easier. Like because I was married it would suddenly assumed that I could afford medical care (because married people never struggle financially?), or that would illuminate how I "do it all," parenting while working 40 hours per week, like there aren't millions of married American women doing the exact same thing as I. It is infuriating.
So, yeah. I think I said what I needed to say to that psychologist, but clearly, l'esprit de l'escalier would have had me wage a full on single-woman-who-happens-to-be-the-mother-of-a-special-needs-child war on his ass. Sometimes I think it's better left unsaid, but nevertheless I'm really glad I have this blog to tell it to the stairs.