My sister texted me from her doctor’s office.
She needed some tests to help cut health insurance costs and her old doctor — my mother’s doctor — is retiring, so she scheduled a physical with the new doctor taking her patients.
When she came in, the gal at the desk was surprised that she was scheduled with a resident instead of the attending. Residents come and go, impossible to build a relationship with.
My sister just took that and sat down to wait. And to wait. And to wait.
By the time she texted me, she had been waiting an hour and a half, just sitting in the waiting room.
I suggested that she might want to ask at reception about what was going on.
The gal was apologetic. She left for lunch, forgetting my sister. She rescheduled an appointment, this time with the new attending.
But it was hard for her to imagine anyone would just sit there waiting and not speak up for ninety minutes.
It wasn’t hard for me to imagine. I know how much our parents taught us to avoid conflict, to not speak up for ourselves, to dial back our expectations of the world, playing small.
I have decades of experience with her getting frustrated with me when I had any lifted expectations. The classic event was one where we got undercooked rolls at the fancy wood fired pizza joint and I pointed out how doughy their were, making small figures with the insides. She finally got so frustrated she dared me to tell the young waiter. I did. Then he picked up one of the rolls, bit into it, agreed they were doughy and moved on.
We both learned early how to cut ourselves back, how to prune our own dreams, desires and expectations to fit comfortably into the limits of my family. We not only knew that we could easily set off my mother, we also knew that there was no way our family was going to stand behind us if we stood up for ourselves. Rather, we would get pummelled just for the temerity to expect respect, decency and quality.
My sister sat patiently for ninety minutes, not rising to speak for herself until she reached out to someone else and they said that it was reasonable to decide to leave after that amount of time. Like me, she learned to fear being unreasonable, which always was taken to mean being too big, too demanding, having too high expectations, having dreams.
Gardeners learn how to nip growth in the bud to cut a plant down to size, to keep it stunted. Done smartly, this can create beautiful bonsai, but done by a thoughtless caretaker it just takes the life away from a growing plant.
My sister waited an hour and a half before seeking permission to speak up for herself.
I waited decades and still resist asserting myself in the world.
We were both furiously over pruned.