Monday, June 1, 2009

On weeding other people's gardens

HALLIE: The other day I walked by the local branch of my public library and there, growing under a yew bush by the sidewalk, was a seedling of an ailanthus tree, aka ‘weed tree.’ Never mind that this was not my garden, not my problem, I had to stop and yank its little roots out. It was all I could do to keep myself from going after the nearby dandelion and burgeoning milkweed, too.

I know, I know, life’s too short to be weeding other people’s gardens. But I can’t help myself. I can’t let a grammatical error go by during a newscast, either. Oh, no, I have to correct the anchor person right then and there. Never mind that they can’t hear me.

More things that are none of my business but that I am constitutionally unable to ignore: corn kernels stuck to my husband’s chin (no, I cannot wait until after dinner for you to wipe it away), sleep grungies in my daughter’s eye (never mind that she’s a grownup), an open drawer or cabinet in someone else’s house (closed is so much tidier)…and and and.

“Meddling” or “helping”? Do I think I'm making the world a better place? Are there things that you, too, simply cannot keep yourself from "correcting"? Any hints on how to stop myself?

JAN: I can honestly say I've never in my life had to resist the urge to weed someone else's garden. My problem is more having to force myself to weed my own garden. Other people's grammatical mistakes do make me crazy, but it's just to rude to correct them. I think I am probably the worst in this area, with my poor daughter. I am pretty relentless about stopping her overuse and misuse of the term "literally," and before she took up Pilates I constantly pulled back her shoulders and told her to stand up straight. I also lecture about money. She's amazingly good-natured about this, god bless her.

HALLIE: Did I say I weed my OWN garden? I am a haphazard gardener, at best--but that doesn't stop me from weeding someone else's.

RHYS: I have never tried to weed someone else's garden either. If you saw what was growing on my hillside, you'd know that I don't often get to mine. I think I'm only guilty of meddling/helping when it comes to my children, especially the two that are now out of work. It's so easy to say, "Have you thought of... why don't you..." and they remind me that they are adults and don't need my advice. We can't stamp out that mothering instinct, even when they reach their thirties.

But one last thing, Hallie, grammatical errors drive me mad too. How many newscasters these days get lay and lie mixed up? Or use words like irregardless.
Ugghhh. That's because grammar is no longer drummed into kids in school. It worked much better when nuns walked around with a ruler in their hands.

RO: OMG, rulers on hands...I'm having flashbacks and I only went to Catholic school for two months in the first grade. Hallie, please feel free to come and weed my garden. This year I've been in "throw mulch over it and maybe it will die" mode. Faster than handweeding.

I'm a terrible meddler/commenter - particularly when no one can hear me. From "why did the director spend so much time on that scene" to "fine, you're one car length ahead of me, jerk, now where are you going to go?" to "lose the flip-flops, honey, you're not at the beach." Mercifully, these comments are generally spoken at a safe distance from anyone's ears except my husband's, and he wisely ignores me, although we sometimes joke about how wonderful things will be when I assume my rightful place as Queen and can control these miscreants.

Bad behavior and grammatical errors will also be duly noted, but I'm most likely to want to smack someone around for the flagrant and repetitive usage of "I was like.." spoken into a cell phone by someone walking in front of me too slowly for my liking. (Wearing flip-flops makes it worse.)

Perhaps I should carry a ruler until the crown and sceptre thing comes through?

HALLIE: Crown and sceptre--great idea! Order up six sets. Oops make that 5. I think Her Royal Rhysness is already equipped.

ROBERTA: I totally, actually, thoroughly relate to the pulling-the-shoulders-back thing, only I torture my husband. And he's taking pilates so he should know better! And he does this thing where he picks his nails too--he doesn't shred them, he just makes a little clicking noise that drives me bonkers. Luckily, he's otherwise a gem and he's gracious about my nagging.

I also have a thing for noticing bad manners in kids--fortunately I mutter about this to myself. When did it stop being right to say please and thank you, and call parents Mr. and Mrs. instead of their first names? And about being the queen, we used to tell our kids that all these manners were important for the day they got invited to lunch with the queen or at the White House. My stepson did get to have lunch at the WH, and got a big kick out of reporting how well he behaved.

HANK: Meddle? Okay, how about this. Today we were at the Botanical gardens in Brooklyn, (roses galore, photos to come), and it's pouring down sun. Ninety degrees, maybe. Pouring down sun. And there are MOTHERS with BABIES in STROLLERS with NO HATS. (Babies with no hats, not strollers with no hats, I know,I know Hallie, don't wince at me.) I was all I could do, I tell you, all I could do, not to go up to them and say--hey sister, You are RUINING your kid's life and skin.

I didn't, but should I have?

And did you see that photo of Tom Brady on a bicycle, with his son in a back carrier? The son had a helmet, but not Tom. Stupid! He gets over his knee thing, and now is inviting a head injury. Maybe I'll just give him a quick call...

HALLIE: Please, someone, save us from ourselves! What do you think? And please, do NOT point out any spelling and grammatical errors in this column...


  1. "And please, do NOT point out any spelling and grammatical errors in this column..."

    Oh, man! Okay, fine.

    I'm afraid I can't save any of you from yourselves.

    A thought: since we're all prone to "weeding other people's gardens," I say let's decide there's nothing wrong with us and carry on.

    Paula Matter

  2. Good plan, Paula! If only it were that easy.

  3. Yes, because it could actually be very helpful. It could change peoples's lives. And who are we to hold back?

    Do you interfere? Let's say--someone in the grocery picks an item that you know is really a bad deal? Or a shampoo that smells awful? Or if someone's child starts to eat a cookie that's been on the floor? If a stranger's slip is showing?

  4. The grocery store--yep, I've done that. Told the woman the product didn't work for me when it was obvious she was trying to decide between two items. She asked what I used, then chose that. Sure hope it worked for her!

    Re the smelly shampoo, I'd ask if she'd ever used it before. My response would depend on her answer.

    Cookie? Does the five second rule apply? (grin)

    If a whole lot of slip was showing, I sure would say something. Because I'd want to know.

    Same thing with bad breath, spinach in my teeth, etc. Offering someone a breath mint is discreet.

    I worked with a young woman who always said, "No problem" when someone thanked her. Long story short, she started saying "you're welcome" to me. And to others if I was nearby.

    What are the consequences is what I'll usualy ask myself before interfering.

    Has anything bad happened because of your interferences?


  5. Once on the way to the doctor's office, I couldn't help but stop to pull the wilted blooms from the petunias in the flower bed. There were so many, and I know how much it helps the plants continue to bloom.

  6. That's a good question, Paula. Nope, I can't think of any time it's had bad consequences (can you?), that's probably an indication. Although my husband does roll his eyes when I meddle or join a conversation unasked. (They don't care what you think, he'll whisper. Yes they do, I say.)

    I did give someone wrong directions once. It still haunts me. Poor dear,, probably still searching for North Station...

  7. I am horrible at giving directions! I once had a guy follow me to where he needed to go. It was out of my way a bit, but he got there.


  8. Why is it easier to see the weeds in other people's gardens than our own? Since I live in the Land of Denial, my garden is just fine, thank you very much, as long as no one looks too closely. And is the tendency to be "helpful" a woman thing? Are you more likely to help a female stranger (honey, your skirt is tucked into your pantyhose) than a man (hey buddy, that fly is down...)?

  9. I've gone to another extreme--I have a pet weed. It appeared two years ago in my yard, and promptly grew to eight feet tall. Never seen one like it. My husband works for USDA and has consulted the finest minds our government employs--they have no idea what it is either. But it's so big and healthy, I can't bring myself to destroy it. (Just wait until it takes over the neighborhood, and someone has to send a SWAT team to deal with it.)

  10. Oh,Sheila. Let's see the pet weed!

    And now Pat, that's interesting. I must say--it's easier to tell a woman.

  11. Twenty-six years of teaching have pretty much weeded the spontaneous correction out of me. I have to do too much of it for a living!

    Assistance-in-jeopardy is a different thing, but I admit at this point to a live-and-let-live about other people's weeds. I *would* do something to save someone else immediate embarrassment, but if they say "I eat less hamburgers these days" -- well, alrighty then.

    I'm not a fan of receiving spontaneous advice or correction, either, especially when the correction is (augh!) incorrect.

  12. My husband refuses to watch reality television with me, since invariably some sweet young thing will declare, "I think I'm doing really good," and I can't refrain from yelling, "Well! You think you're doing really well!"

    It's maddening (although I suppose it serves me right for watching reality programming- I just can't resist any dance show).

    Great analogy. Both of my parents are teachers, so the spontaneous correcting been too ingrained in me to resist.
    And shame on Tom Brady. At least he wasn't holding the baby in his arms while riding a la Britney.

  13. It's the one thing I do miss about George W. ... being able to point out his hilarious gaffs... because as he pointed out to us, when he spoke he was "very conscience about the audiences that are listening to my words."

    Susannah I had to read your comment twice to get it. I thought, what's wrong with: "I eat less hamburgers these days" Laudable, in fact. You do hear "less" a lot when it should be "fewer".

    Michelle, you WATCH reality shows? I promise not to tell anyone.

  14. I'm so jealous tht Hank visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I haven't been for three years and it's wonderful.

    Perversely I am glad that Tom Brady wasn't wearing a helmet - that way we got to post his pic on JR. Is he the best looking man on the planet or what?

    I nearly got into trouble once correcting someone's behavior. I must have been crazy because the guy could have killed me. A young guy, in a car, stopped at a light, at least two kids in the back with parents who didn't look that much older than the kids. The driver threw his large soda cup right out of the window as I was crossing the street. Not at me, just littering. I went over to him and told him - in a quiet way - that wasn't a very good example to be setting for those kids. That they probably looked up to him and would do whatever he did. He grumbled, but got out of the car to pick it up. (He probably pitched it again at the next corner, but I've never forgotten it and have frequently thought that he could just as easily gotten out of the car and stabbed or shot me.)

  15. Oh, so many rants, so little time. Teenage girls who go out in public in their flannel PJ pants (rolled down a few times at the 'waist'). Misplaced or missing apostrophes on posters posted in public places (and the results of my unabashed red pen to fix them). People saying "he graduated high school" and I'm muttering, "graduated FROM high school, graduated FROM high school." The (perhaps Boston academic?) mania for beginning spoken paragraphs, nay, essays, with "So." Worst, perhaps, is the recent and increasingly widespread "a apple," "a idea," "a unexpected situation."

    That said, I'm a linguist by training and inclination. What we consider errors in spoken language is really just language change in progress and/or regional variation. Really. Written language retains its norms far longer, and rightly so. The fact that few Americans know the difference between "who" and "whom" and consequently confuse them and hypercorrect (for example, "whom" where "who" is perfectly grammatical) is change we can't prevent, like it or not. If your English teacher or mother told you something spoken was incorrect, it was only because that phrase or expression was already so widespread that the previous norms were being dismantled.

    -rant off-


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  17. Sohpie contacted me, thanks, Hank!

  18. Now, if I knew how to recognize a weed...

    Re grammar, I use the excuse that American's not the same as English. Oh, and I can't spell.

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