It was just fifteen minutes of my afternoon. I sat inches away from a woman I had never met before as she brushed tears away from her eyes. Just fifteen minutes.
In those fifteen minutes I learned that she has a PhD in China, but is studying for a PhD here. She is forty-five years old. She moved here, leaving career and family, so that her daughter can go to high school here in the United States and subsequently meet the criteria to attend an American university. Why is she crying? Because her own mother is fighting cancer back in China and she can not be there to help. Because it is difficult to do PhD work in your second (or third) language. Because it is extra difficult when you are 45 and raising your daughter alone in a country that is not your own. Because that difficulty is compounded when you see your daughter struggling to fit in and find success in her American school — your daughter who is studying in her second language.
She doesn’t know me, but she found me on a website — a website that shows my photo, some of my credentials, and some student testimonials. She contacted me yesterday and wondered if I would read some of her daughter’s writing — would I help her get published?
I read her request and thought to myself, “Oh, boy, another child prodigy.” I judged her. She was one more parent who believes her child is amazing. (I am one of those parents, too, by the way.) I told her I would be happy to meet her, but it is the policy of Wyzant (the tutoring site I use) that she has to enter payment information before I can meet her. I stick to this policy because it makes my record keeping simple; I never have to collect my own payment, and no one ever owes me any money. It is clean.
She countered, “Wyzant won’t accept my Chinese credit card. I would be happy to pay you in cash or check.”
I replied, “I only accept payment through Wyzant, but I am happy to meet you tomorrow to see if we are a good match for each other.” We set up a time and a place. Period.
So I can’t access any of my student contacts? Yikes! I called them to inquire and the operator said she would “create a ticket” and that they would contact me within 24-48 hours to let me know if I can be re-activated or not.
Guys! I have a dozen or more students that I see fairly regularly. Yes, this has been a slow week, but I have six appointments scheduled for next week and no way of contacting these people if my account is not reactivated.
Now, I am guessing that they are just going to give me a stern warning with finger shaking, “Do not under any circumstances meet with clients who do not have payment information on file.” Right, right, I know. I have told almost half of my clients that I will not allow them to pay me cash because I have signed an agreement. I really want everything kept within the boundaries of the website — it’s clean and safe and organized.
I had no intention of circumventing that policy. I had no intention of charging this woman for a fifteen minute meeting. In fact, when I met with her today, I helped her understand that she could open a PayPal account with her debit card and link it to Wyzant. Because of the language barrier, that might have been difficult to convey through email correspondence. We needed the face-to-face.
But not just to set up the payment information. We needed the face-to-face so that I could get off my high horse, stop judging her based on a couple of sentences in an email, and have some compassion on a mom who is feeling overwhelmed and all alone.
I’d do it again. Ok, I might be a little more crafty in how I communicate time and place now that I know that Big Brother is reading my emails (or that he at least has some kind of algorithm to identify rebellious rule-breaking tutors). Sometimes we have to be a little flexible. I don’t typically break the rules, but I do find ways to bend them a bit when needed. I didn’t know this mom’s situation last night. I wasn’t really trying to bend any rules.
But today, for fifteen minutes, two women connected without the blessing of Wyzant, and I’m not sorry for it.
I John 4:11
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.