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September 24, 2012

Lisa Madras: Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve learned the lesson I taught my kids

NEW CASTLE — Are you always the bigger person?

Or just when you want to be?

Last weekend my children were playing with some other kids, and as is typical, a dispute broke out between two of them. The two involved are the most highly charged and volatile of the group to begin with, so when the sparks flew, it wasn't pretty.

What started as a minor disagreement escalated into tears, threats, and a psychological meltdown (on both their parts!) based on experiences and pre-conceived notions that didn't have a thing to do with the person they were currently dealing with. Let's just say it was an epic fail of large- scale proportions.

I sat on the porch with my son, trying to reason with him, begging him to look at the bigger picture, to approach this from a place of rationale and tolerance. Just apologize for your part and see if he does the same, I told him. Apologizing doesn't mean you're admitting you're wrong (I said for the billionth time in his short but explosive life.) It just means you're sorry for what happened, and that you value your friendship with this person more than your silly pride.

"BE THE BIGGER PERSON," I told him.

In the end, he was the bigger person, for which I'm rather proud. And he and his buddy patched things up with a simple "I'm sorry, dude" and a pat on the shoulder, and were laughing and horsing around again within mere seconds. (That must totally be a guy thing. I don't understand it. I'd have had to apologize and laugh and cry for an hour over a pint of Haagen Daz to move forward if that had been me and one of my girlfriends. But anyhow.)

Flash forward a week and a half, and I'm driving down Long Avenue when a young girl pulls her car right out in front of me. And I mean RIGHT out in front of me. I was only doing about 35, but going downhill and totally not prepared to come to a complete and grinding stop. I laid on my horn so hard I'm surprised I didn't break something. I was furious.

Now let me explain that I don't usually blare my horn at other drivers when they do something stupid. I always figure that a mistake is a mistake, and since other drivers don't generally want to kill themselves, a mistake is exactly what it is.

But boy, was I in a mood that evening. I'd recently quit smoking, I had PMS (yes, I'll admit it!), I was hungry, I was exhausted, I'd had a terrible day at work, and the kids had been picking at each other since they'd walked in the door from school. It just would have been a better day for me, and for all of society, if I'd buried myself under the covers and disappeared until the next morning.

So when I pulled up behind this girl at the next red light and she rolled down her window and stuck her head out, I lost it. I rolled down my own window and yelled "WHAT!?!?! YOU PULL RIGHT OUT IN FRONT OF ME AND DON'T EXPECT ME TO BLOW MY HORN?!" before she could get a word out. (Please keep in mind that in my ENTIRE life's experience, I'm accustomed to stupid drivers doing stupid things and then flipping ME off as if I'D been the stupid one, and I really truly honestly though she was going to say something awful.)

"I was just gonna say I'm sorry," she called back. The light turned green and she drove away as I sat there in utter shame.

Holy crap. Boy, did I feel like a class A heel. There was absolutely no denying that I'd been a total jerk. I couldn't even pretend I'd TRIED to be the bigger person. And because of the situation, I couldn't make amends.

The worst part of it all (next to the gut-gnawing guilt and abject humiliation) was explaining my behavior to my kids, who'd witnessed the whole thing from the back seat.

You see, if I had adhered to the same standards I expected my kids to adhere to, I never would have acted like that. Never mind my horrible, terrible, no-good mood. Never mind the experiences and pre-conceived notions that didn't have a thing to do with the person I was currently dealing with. I'd failed to be the bigger person, and in the end, it didn't matter why. In that situation, I'd chosen not to be. To that girl, I'm a jerk. Even worse, at that moment, to my kids, I was a jerk, too.

I seriously doubt that by some odd chance, that girl reads my blog. But if you do, I'm really, really sorry. And if you're any of the other people that I've been a jerk to in my life, I'm sorry to you guys, too.

I haven't always done the right thing. But I promise that from now on, I'll always try to be the bigger person. As a parent, it is my job to be a role model not only to my own children, but to other children and young adults as well.

That day, I failed at that job for three people.

"Your life may be the only Bible some people read." — Unknown

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