Women have the power to lift the spirits and confidences of other women like no other. I don’t have to tell you that some women know how to destroy another women’s spirit and reputation like no other as well. One woman can whisper the tiniest spark of chatter into another’s ear only to ignite it into a giant flame that becomes a wildfire without hope of containment in just a matter of minutes. Sometimes these women can burn down a building with insults and half-truths during just one elementary school basketball game. The chatty suburban soccer mom is a real thing. I don’t have to give many details for you to picture her.
She puts a lot of effort into her messy bun and sun-kissed-look makeup to make it seem like she put in no effort at all. Her eyelash extensions make mascara unnecessary. She wears Lulu Lemon yoga pants while she walks her golden doodle around the neighborhood. She drives a Range Rover and works from home. Her husband is an anesthesiologist, so working an actual job is unnecessary. She means that she volunteers for a lot of philanthropy work – the annual golf outing to raise money for the local food pantry and the annual parish gala to raise funds for the school STEM lab. Both activities are worthy causes, don’t get me wrong. She is an excellent event planner. She is super sweet when she talks to you, holding a Starbucks Iced Shaken Green Tea Lemonade in one hand while she lowers her Ray-ban sunglasses with the other. The sun can almost blind you on the soccer sidelines at 8 a.m.
I am not trying to be cheeky or mean. Emily Andronico is a real person and has some decent qualities. She volunteers to bring bottled water to all park district flag football games. She has only ever been sweet as pie to me at school and church functions. It would also not surprise me that her mom squad spread some pretty thick rumor molasses when they meet up for girls’ night out at the local Italian restaurant owned by her family. I mention this here because some kindling of that gossip fire made its way to me one day, and I saw the devastation as it spread like a gust of wind. With eager ears like dry grass on a hot summer day, the conditions were just right for a burning flame to rush the pastures.
It was late summer, which brings cross-country season. It was pre-COVID, and nothing was canceled yet. Kids from every corner of the city train to compete in the city-wide invitationals. I love the cross-country season. The older kids cheer for the smaller ones, and smaller ones want to be just like the older ones. The winners are evident early on, but the crowd cheers for every runner, those who come in first and the last runner down the chute. Cross country meets bring out some of the best in people. I see parents cheering for all the kids on their school team. No one is arguing with a referee. No parents are cursing at a small child on the field. Coaches are not throwing their clipboards to the ground in frustration. Parents are not getting expelled from the gym for their own lousy sportsmanship. I once witnessed a 4th-grade volleyball coach refuse to shake our team coach’s hand after a game because of a referee call, which didn’t go her way. Sports in elementary school now are no joke.
Cross Country in our town is not like ruthless team sports. Everyone pulls together and cheers for kids of all ages, small or tall, fast or slow as a turtle. Some win trophies, some get medals, and everyone receives a certificate of completion. I see some kids who run like the wind, and there is no struggle in their faces. Others. . . well. . . let’s just say they struggle. They might slow to a walk. The little ones just cry—a few vomit. I don’t personally know how many of them do it because I cannot run more than a few feet without feeling like I am actually dying.
Jason is a boy who runs for my daughter’s team who struggles. I can walk faster than he can run. He is never wearing the right shoes. I think he ran the last meet in Converse high tops. His face turns beet red, and he has been the last runner to come in more than once. But I will tell you; he has never quit. I believe this is his fourth year running cross-country. He has not improved much over the years, but he has also never quit. He has a great spirit. You know those kids who do not cause one ounce of trouble ever. He volunteers to help if ever needed. Teachers know they can count on him to help pick up chairs after an event. The coaches know he will carry the team tent and pick up trash when the meet is over. He is not one of the “cool” boys because he cannot play soccer or football. But he has a lot of friends who are girls because he treats them as true friends.
His mom, Beatrice, is a single mom who works super hard and has a tough time getting him place from place to place. She might even have two jobs. Her car is not in the best shape, and she has needed to call on a good team parent to get him home while the tow truck was on its way. She is a tiny person. When I see her, she usually keeps it together by taking a quick smoking break. By the time I see her in the evenings, she looks exhausted. I have no idea what all is going on in her life, but it’s not bringing her peace or happiness; I know that much. And I know is that she loves her son and would do anything in her power to give him a great chance in life. She has done some excellent parenting because Jason is a great kid.
I have always been friendly with Beatrice when I see her. Sometimes we just comment on how big the kids are getting, talk about the weather; she might have questions about school because my kids have been there longer. One day she asked if I could bring Jason back to school after one of the meets as she had to work late that day. On the day of the meet, I watched for Jason since he ran in the JV boys’ meet and my daughter ran in the girls’ meet. He took a while to come in, but we cheered for him for the entire mile. Emily Andronico strolled by us. Her daughter had also run in the girl’s meet. We exchanged pleasantries as she seemed to take notice of us.
After the meet, she was not parked too far from us, and I noticed she watched us all pile in my car, including Jason. She had a group of students in her car too, so we both ended up back at the school. As the kids unloaded all of their things, she came up to me and asked me if I had heard about what happened to Beatrice. At first, I was alarmed. I said, “No. Why? Is there something wrong?” She replied, “Oh, no! Nothing is wrong . . . I will just send you a note later; it’s not urgent.” And then she gathered her kids to leave. I let the comment slide away from my thoughts as I gathered my kids and ran errands on our way home.
Sure enough, when I got home, I had a text from Emily with a link. I clicked on that link later that night before bed. It was an article from a local newspaper in another town. It was a small column about Beatrice and how she had been arrested and convicted of stealing some money from an organization I did not know. Apparently, after her conviction, she did some jail time. I was stunned. So many thoughts ran through my head. “Oh no! Who took care of Jason when it wall happened? He would have been very young. I feel awful for her. I am sure she did it because she felt desperate. I am sure she felt like she didn’t have a choice!” And then I thought, “Why would Emily send this to me?” There is no point in sending this information to me other than to spread embarrassing news. It was not as if she was dangerous. I didn’t need this information, nor did I ask for it. So ignored it. I did not text her back. I never mentioned it to her, for which she probably thought me rude and weird.
I know she sent it to me so that I would know I should not interact with someone like Beatrice. It would be even better if I spread the news a little further. Why? What had Beatrice ever done to Emily? I am sure the answer is nothing. It was just an effort to show that she was “in the know.” And I should take warning for my reputation. Emily Andronico knows nothing about me. Then, I realized that I was also upset that she considered me someone who would care about this red-hot news. I was not about to fan the flames.
Gossip does not need to be fiction to be malicious. We all have pieces of our history and personal lives that should not be shared and passed around. When you watch children play “telephone,” they can never get the original message right. If the original message is,” Olivia took Lucy’s snack and saved it for her for after lunch,” the final message would resemble, “Lucy stole Olivia’s snack and ate it for lunch.” If the message has any resemblance to something devious, the message gets sneakier with each player who hears it and passes the news along. We all know this, yet human nature will cause some people to act like children when they have a piece of “juicy” information they just can’t wait to share.
Later that week, I heard this news about Beatrice from another source. As you can imagine, the story was plumped up with details that I am sure were added for effect each time it was passed along. By the time I heard it again, Beatrice had gone to federal prison. She served time for over a year. Jason was put in foster care. Beatrice had to fight some long legal battle to get him back, and that is why she is working two jobs now. They have very little money, so Jason never has new clothes, and her car is twenty years old. The absolute worst thing about this kind of gossip is that it will hurt Jason, who played no part in any of it. The great big “rumor mill” that hangs over us all should at least have an age limit. Adult gossip pyromaniacs are raising the rumor fire starters of tomorrow.
Who knows if any of the stories about Beatrice are true. I pray not. If it is all true, poor Beatrice, we should all be praying for her and asking her how we can help. I guess at some point; your past catches up with you. But it would be great if it didn’t have to. In this situation, it just feels a bit unfair. Misinformation is terrible but spreading anything at all about her is shameful. The whole story should be thrown in the river to wash away so that she and Jason can have a fair chance. I don’t wish anything terrible upon Emily Andronico, but I must admit that a tiny piece of me hopes that if she ever gets caught doing anything wrong, she might see a little flicker of her own kind of fire.