I just thought of a really good comeback for that cranky, rude woman…the one who,
at Tim Hortons, complained that my crying baby was disturbing her…

…too bad that incident happened five years ago.

Rafael Ben-Ari
©Rafael Ben-Ari 123RF.com

Yes, I am one who will think up a deliciously, witty response…just, a bit too late.

Other than George Costanza, I thought I was the only one, but evidently this “phenomenon” (the exact word used on Wikipedia) is actually a thing. First described by French encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot in his Paradoxe sur le comedien, he called it “L’esprit de l’escalier,” or “staircase wit.”

So, this “staircase wit,” who has always tried to avoid conflict, is now trying to guide her kindergarten son, as he slowly discovers the challenges of the school yard and is faced with the little “bullies” of the world. The amusing part is that if anyone, who really knew me, heard what I was saying to him, they would question me and my ability to act on my own advice. In other words, Do I walk the talk?

The Strongest Woman ever

Throughout my elementary school years, my grandmother guided me, albeit unsuccessfully, to “stand up for yourself.” And to, “never let anyone take advantage of you.” I’m not saying that I was bullied or treated unfairly, but I always took the passive-aggressive route when faced with conflict…hence the “staircase wit.” I admit it…I have spent hours, post argument, replaying conversations in my head and feeling triumphant when I came up with a really clever response.

Anyway, my grandmother – the strongest woman ever – is known for her no-nonsense attitude, her fearlessness and her ability to easily and effectively wield a machete. (Background: once upon a time, my family lived in Jamaica. They owned a shop. They kept a machete behind the counter. She never hurt anyone…I don’t think.)

Do I walk the talk?

So it’s about 30 years later, and I’m an adult now. From my son’s perspective, I am the one who should “know everything.” The one who should “eat all her vegetables.” The one who should “never be afraid of the dark.” Uh, yeah…still working on those.

But I can definitely say that I’ve got my grandmother’s no-nonsense attitude down; they can hear it in my voice. I’ve even perfected the characteristic, “Listen to me…” speech, Jamaican parents often employ when scolding their children.

So, when my older son came home to tell me about a certain conflict over cubby space at school (where the children put their coats, boots and bags), I told him, with my crazy-looking wide eyes,  “Listen to me…you stand up for yourself. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you…Don’t let anyone throw your bag and coat on the floor. Do you understand?”

And with that command, I realized how important my actions are to modelling the type of behaviour I’d like to see in my children. Because  honestly, my five-year-old self and my 40-something-year-old self would probably avoid any type of cubby confrontation.

But you know what? I’m not alone…at my son’s first Christmas concert, all the audience members in the front row stood up to take pictures and remained standing during the entire performance.  I was annoyed,  but didn’t say anything. And, neither did the other 100 or so parents…just some grumblings…a few weeks after the event. Seems like I am not the only staircase wit out there.