She sits on the end of a bench at the park, watching the children in her care. Her face is set in a frown, as it generally is. There is a quote, attributed variously to Coco Chanel, George Orwell and Mark Twain, which goes “Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. But at fifty, you have the face you deserve.” Very true.
I’m in my fifties. I hope — I believe — my face shows years of warmth, intelligence, and love. I don’t have a lot of lines and wrinkles yet, and those I have are light, not deep. (Thank you, mum, for those good genes!) There are frown lines there, sure. No one gets to be fifty without times of unhappiness and struggle, but there are others, too. I truly love the laugh lines at the corners of my eyes, and I hope they just get deeper and deeper as the years go by. You can read a person’s attitudes in their face in their sixties and up. I hope, when I get there, that mine shows peace, happiness, warmth, and kindness.
I look at my same-age friends, and see the same sorts of stories on their faces: kindness, warmth, intelligence, humour.
The wrinkles on this woman’s face tell the tale of years and years of negativity. Habitual frowning. Sneers. Contempt.
How she continues to get clients is a mystery to me. Surely one look at that scowl-draped face, at the permanently etched frown lines scoured into her skin, would send any loving parent looking elsewhere? I’ve often wondered: “Who’d leave their child with a face like that?”
She doesn’t often join in conversation, but when she does, it is one long litany of complaints. Complaints about the children in her care. Complaints about their parents. Complaints about life in general. Sometimes, for variety, she moves from complaints to sneering and sarcasm.
She is abrupt, sometimes harsh, with the children in her care. She tosses out orders — part of the job — but never pulls a child in for a snuggle. Although we all encourage our children to run around and play at the park, at points over the morning, we’ll all have a child in our laps, a child who has run over for a quick cuddle before racing off again. There may be a child who’s a little under the weather that day, and needs a warm, reassuring lap for the duration of our visit. That’s okay.
Not this woman. Her small charges never come over for gratuitous cuddling.
So. Not my favourite person. I avoid chronically negative people, and goodness, she exudes negativity.
But today? Today she’s had a personality transplant. She’s not sitting on the bench, scowling and immoveable. She’s getting up! And walking around! And she’s … I’ve never seen this before! She’s smiling!
(Of course, she’s one of those people whose smile turns down at the corners. Of course she is. But it’s a smile.)
She’s smiling, and calling out words of encouragement to her kids. Friendly, conversational words instead of barked orders. Wow.
And she’s chatting with people. With the other caregivers, with the parents. Chatting, and, moreover, listening ,instead of dousing you with a deluge of complaints and sneering.
It’s startling, it really is. I’ve seen this woman in the park for a good ten years, and I’ve never seen her so friendly, animated, engaged.
She’s looking for kids, is what. Over the conversation, it emerges that her enrollment is down. She needs to fill some spaces, asap. Now, it’s a wonder to me that this isn’t her chronic situation. That this woman is able to fill spaces, and keep them filled, has always puzzled me.
But for whatever reason, two of her clients have decamped with little warning, a third will be graduating shortly, and she’ll be down to two children. The wolf is at her door, she feels its hot breath on her heels, and so …
And so she’s out there. Networking. Smiling. Being friendly to the other caregivers, being warm with her children.
Does this warm her to me? Do I feel the shields of my frosty reserve melting away in the sunshine of this new, friendly face?
Not so much. Instead, I think to myself: So this means that you know. You know you’re unfriendly. You know it doesn’t look best when you sit, arms folded, scowling on a bench. You know you should be smiling, engaging, warm, supportive.
You know all that, and you can do it. You know how. Even if it’s just an act, even if it’s entirely faked, you know how to go through the motions. (You could try to fake it till you make it. Put on a happy face, and it will improve your mood a bit, may even become how you truly feel. Do it habitually, and it becomes natural. Really.)
You know, and you can … but unless you must do it, unless you’re forced, you don’t. Instead, you choose to be hard, frowning, cold, and negative. All.The.Time.
Nope. Still don’t like this woman. And I hope those spaces stay unfilled.