Last Sunday, I had quite an unusual experience. It taught me a very important lessonâ€¦ and Iâ€™d like to share it with you.
My wife, daughter and I were planning to go to a pottery painting place not far from home. Now, I had some work which just had to get done, so we agreed that I would drive my wife and daughter to the shop where they could paint pottery, and I would take my laptop and go to a cafÃ© just next door.
This happened to be a very cold Canadian Sundayâ€¦ It was less than -20 degrees. Being Sunday afternoon, I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie (under my warm winter jacket).
I dropped my wife and daughter off, and walked next door to the cafÃ©. It wasnâ€™t a Starbucks, but rather a nice little French shop. It had very fancy pastries â€“ but since Iâ€™ve been watching my waistline, I just ordered a coffee. I saw an electrical outlet, and I sat near it â€“ plugging in my laptop so that my battery wouldnâ€™t run out. I used my â€˜air cardâ€™ so that I could connect to the internet.
This cafÃ© was really warmâ€¦ and humid. So, as I was wrapped up in my work, I took off my sweatshirt.
About 40 minutes after being there (as the only customer in the cafÃ©), several people came in and were talking. After about 5 minutes, some were leaving, and a woman stood with the door open to say goodbye.
Now, remember how cold it was?
Remember I was just in my t-shirt?
After about 90 seconds, I politely asked the woman if she could close the door, as it was getting cold in the cafÃ©.
She said: â€œIâ€™m just saying goodbye to my family.â€
I replied: â€œCanâ€™t you say good bye with the door closed?â€ At this point I was getting cold, and frustrated. I did raise my voice somewhat to be sure she could hear me.
She stayed with the door open, talking for 2 more minutes.
I put my sweatshirt back on, and didnâ€™t say anything else.
I want to share one thing here. I didnâ€™t mean to yell or berate this woman (And I donâ€™t believe that I did). But I do know that I spoke louder, and my wife tells me that sometimes I sound a lot â€˜grufferâ€™ than I intend to when I raise my voice.
Back to the cafÃ©.
Itâ€™s now been just over an hour, and although Iâ€™m really wrapped up in my work, I realize that I am getting really hungry, and I should get up and pick up some food.
But then â€˜heâ€™ entered.
A man came from the back of the cafÃ©, and started to talk to me.
He was angry that I had plugged in my laptop without asking for permission. He started talking about the fact that this was not an internet cafÃ©, and couldnâ€™t I go around the corner where there was an internet cafÃ©?
I apologized, and I was a little taken aback. I was pretty surprised that he was so angry about me plugging in my laptop. Once I heard more of what he was saying (and got over the surprise), I acknowledged that I hadnâ€™t asked â€“ and I was sorry. (And I wondered â€“ in the 21st century, arenâ€™t all cafÃ©s used to laptops?) I immediately unplugged my computer.
As soon as I had apologized (twice by now), he moved onto topic #2. He didnâ€™t accept my apology â€“ he just got angrier.
He asked me how I could yell at the woman who owns the cafÃ© when she was just talking to her family?
I explained that it was the coldest day of the winter, and I was politely asking her to close the door â€“ because she had it open for several minutes and I was getting cold.
(He briefly acknowledged that she could be chattyâ€¦ but that didnâ€™t stop his anger at me).
He said I yelled at her, and how could I be so rude?
I explained I was trying to make sure she heard me, because the door was open for so long. And I didnâ€™t intend to yell.
After some back and forth, I retreated. I didnâ€™t want to be arguing with this man, and I really didnâ€™t mean to insult his wife â€“ the co-owner of the cafÃ©.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, I didnâ€™t mean to offend herâ€.
Again, he didnâ€™t acknowledge my apology, or accept it. He just went back to the laptop issue.
When I responded to the laptop issue, he went back to me being rude to his wife. We were going in circles, and I was getting tired of it. I didnâ€™t think I was so rude to begin with, and I certainly didnâ€™t feel like arguing with this man over these issues.
And then it all changed with his next question.
â€œWhat, were you just out on the streets?â€
â€œPardon me?â€ I asked, with obvious surprise on my face.
â€œWhat, were you just passing through Oakville?â€
I was shocked. He was looking at me as a vagabond. A transient. A vagrant. A drifterâ€¦
I just listened with an obvious look of surprise on my face.
I started playing this through in my mind. To him, Iâ€™m just a young guy in jeans and a t-shirt. I ordered 1 coffee and sat there for an hour, and I insulted him by plugging in my computer and yelling at his wife.
â€œNo, I wasnâ€™t just passing through Oakville. I live here, and own a home here.â€
He then said something else â€“ which frankly I donâ€™t remember because I was so surprised by his questions and insinuation.
Now, Iâ€™m not one to use the fact that I am a doctor to get things in life. But if there was ever a time to share my profession, now seemed like a good one.
â€œIâ€™m not just a guy from the street â€“ Iâ€™m a physician and I work at the hospital in town.â€
He now started to back track a little. He clarified â€“ â€œhere in Oakville?â€
â€œYes, I said, here in Oakvilleâ€.
He then went on to say something about how they get lots of doctors and other professionals in their cafÃ©, and I still shouldnâ€™t have used my computer or yelled at his wife.
After multiple apologies from me â€“ and his accusations of me being a bum, rude, etc. I started packing my bag and told him Iâ€™d pay him for the electricity that I used because he was so offended that I used his plug.
He walked away, and I went to the cash to pay. I paid for my coffee, and left $5 for the electricity. I must admit that I was surprised that they actually accepted $5 for what was probably 25 cents of electricity.
Why did I even leave money for this?
I decided on the spot that after being judged so negatively, it was better to just â€˜take the high roadâ€™, and leave with my dignity. I didnâ€™t think that I was nearly as rude and inconsiderate as this gentleman perceived me to be, and arguing and fighting with him would just worsen his perspective of me.
(It was interesting that his wife apologized to me as I was payingâ€¦)
I left the cafÃ©, surprised that I was essentially kicked out. I was angry and upset that I was judged so negatively â€“ particularly that the owner assumed I was a â€˜street bumâ€™.
I left there thinking: â€˜It feels AWFUL to be judgedâ€™.
And then it dawned on me.
This is what happens to parents of ADHD kids all the time!
Their child misbehaves, and people around look at them with judgment in their eyes.
Harshly criticizing them for their childâ€™s misbehavior.
It doesnâ€™t matter how dedicated these parents are, or how much effort they put into treatment of their childâ€™s very real disorder. These people judge and criticize harshly, and wrongly.
Now, Iâ€™ve had many discussions with parents about how when other people judge them as bad parents, that it is just ignorance, and they should ignore it. Most parents appreciate that I acknowledge this issue.
What I didnâ€™t realize was how awful it can feel to be judged so harshly â€“ especially for an unjustified reason.
So, although it was an experience that I wish hadnâ€™t happened, I believe that it has given me valuable experience, which will help me to relate to you â€“ a parent of a child or teen with ADHD or ADD. I understand it much better now, and Iâ€™ll do a better job discussing this issue with you â€“ on my blog, in my newsletter, and for my patients in my office â€“ weâ€™ll have better discussions about it as well.
And I will be much more direct and challenging with ‘the offenders’ if I ever see someone doing such harsh judging (though Iâ€™ll watch to not raise my voice too much â€“ or I may sound too gruff!)
All the best,
P.S. if you are a parent of a child with ADD or ADHD, and you want to decrease the number of times that you have embarasing and difficult times, then learn more about strategies that work. Visit this blog often (and sign up in the box on the right), and you can learn from my comprehensive program with Dr. Russell Barkley â€“ Secrets to ADHD Success.
P.P.S. Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this post and share your experiences with this issue – this blog has led to a lot of useful discussion between people interested in learning about ADD/ADHD
P.P.S. Why don’t I name the cafe, and tell all of you not to go there? Well, I acknowledge that there are always two sides to every story, and I don’t want to be vindictive (even though I was really ticked off at the time!)