Frameworks for Interpretation

I tend to forget that I took more than a few psychology courses as an undergrad. They didn’t grab me, didn’t hold my attention, didn’t ask the questions I wanted to answer. I wasn’t a stellar student in most of my classes, and the psych ones were no exception. But one class, probably the first, I remember a lecture quite clearly. Not so much the lecture, but the interruption and the lesson that would take years to really sink in. Still, I knew it was important I’m sure, as it didn’t disappear into the haze of courses past (passed?).

Dr.Poole was going on about something, some theory that didn’t stay with me. We were in one of the bigger lecture theatres at SFU, as intro psych courses tend to be huge. Suddenly, a woman shouted something as she came through the doors – I remember her saying, “How dare you?” Down the stairs she flew, and threw something at Gary, who stammered and shhhed her. What did she throw? A card, I think it was, though I remember flowers. There was something about “never going to leave her,” and she fled in angry tears. I think.

Didn’t I say that I remember the lecture’s interruption clearly? I do. I vividly remember the scene, right down to what she wore. She threw a bouquet of red flowers. I remember what she said, what he said. And yes, she was crying as she left.

Except that from my vantage, I couldn’t see her clearly enough to know there were tears.

Why do I know that my memory here is a little skewed? Simple. As she left the room Dr.Poole paused, said “Well, that was embarrassing,” (or was it unfortunate? Interesting?), then grinned and put up a series of questions on the overhead (or did he just ask them?), asking about what had just happened. He asked people to volunteer their answers – and we were all certain of course of what we had seen so just about everyone wanted to show how good their memory was. Afterward some of us who weren’t close enough to the front to participate compared notes.

She called him nasty names. She was crying. She was angry. She laughed hysterically. She wore all black, jeans and a sweater, a dress, a miniskirt and low-cut top. Her hair was wild, curly, straight, in a ponytail, short. She threw flowers, a book, chocolates, a card. He laughed, he cried, he said mean things, he said nothing.

We all experience our lives in the framework of our experience. Memory, even eye witness accounts not five minutes later, are subjective. My memory of what was said, what was thrown, even what she wore were stored into little bundles in my memory of what I feel, believe, or understand to be related to romance (flowers or card?), style (what she wore), what the ‘other woman’ would say, and what the cheating man would say.

Every now and then this memory sifts to the surface. Dealing with my sister, joking that whatever tale it is she was relating was done so through one heck of a filter. Of course it was – just like the rest of us, she sees the world and interprets it through the effects of her own life. It’s true for her. Might not be fact, but is truth. But I didn’t start writing this to be about Tasha. She has to be tucked in a little box in my mind for now.

I hear from Cameron tales of Ethan being mean, and hear him saying mean things in parrot-fashion. I hear from other parents that their kids say variations on the theme – that Ethan says mean things to Cameron or hits him. This reminds me of a couple months ago, speaking with Lori about Ethan hitting Cameron. Of course I’m on edge, as she implied (to me) that I’m a bad parent, and implied (again, to me) that the other parents thought so as well. Lori tells me that she can’t really do anything about the name calling and harassment, implies that it’s Cameron’s fault because he cries when he’s teased. So I have in my own mind an idea of what happened based on my reality.

Cameron, like me, interprets his world through his own framework of reference. He knows that the word hate is a ‘bad word’, and then Ethan says that he hates Cameron. That would stand out in his mind. He’s not allowed to call me names, but then Ethan can call him names. Today he told me that Ethan was mean, and wouldn’t let him play with the other kids, closed the door and wouldn’t let him in the room. He is naturally hurt, sad, angry, and upset – and doesn’t know how to deal with this.

Does it matter if what he tells me about his day is exaggeration of what really happened? Does it matter if maybe Ethan didn’t say that he hates Cameron today, that it was really three days ago but still fresh in my little love’s memory? If Joanne visits the daycare on Monday and sees nothing major, does that mean there is no problem?

Of course not. In Cameron’s reality, he’s being treated horribly unfairly. If nothing major is really going on, I still need to teach Cameron how to deal with bullying, as from his perspective he is being bullied. I need to teach him how to feel strong inside. I worried the other day that if I handle this wrong I’m setting him up for a lifetime of bullying. Perhaps not – but we, he and I together, are laying down the beginnings of the fluid framework he will use for the rest of his life to interpret his experiences.

I want a solid part of that framework to be having a mother who is his advocate, his protective mama-bear, who will stand up for him, who sees him as being worthwhile of being stood up for. I want part of that framework to be his own perception of himself as being strong, able, likeable, and worthwhile.

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4 responses to “Frameworks for Interpretation

  1. Really interesting read – and your observation re the plasticity of memory is right on. Thought – do you think the incident in the Psych class was staged?
    Back to Cameron’s situation – it seems most of the blog responses are from the female perspective. What about asking Samuel’s Dad, Grace’s Dad, and perhaps a couple guys at work who have families. . maybe part of a male’s ability to feel capable begins with the ability to physically respond to physical threats. Love to you and to Cameron!

  2. Oh yes – sorry I didn’t make that clear. It was totally staged, but pretty well done.

    Good idea to get the male perspective (though Bill already chimed in, I can’t think of a way to teach Cameron to take his advice but not apply it to the rest of his interactions…)

    Thanks Joanne, I’d appreciate it!

  3. Hi again
    Is this where ‘different actions in different places’ comes in ? Like “Mommy is a Mommy at home with me, but at work Mommy has to act differently even though she is always my Mommy” . . . Cameron must already be realizing that what is acceptable at DC is not always acceptable at home.
    Just musings, there is no easy answer . . . Oh, yes there is! To every complex question there is always an easy answer. It is wrong but it is an answer.

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