Monday, September 9, 2013

Anthem


Dear Little M,

You did everything I asked you to do.  You cleaned up your playroom, you brushed your teeth, you got dressed for school, you even kind of combed your hair.  We were not-that-late leaving the house, which in itself is a small miracle.  You did everything I asked of you, and then we hit too many red lights and no longer had time to make a pit stop at Dunkin Donuts.

You screamed that “life isn’t fair.”  You were right---entirely, completely and unequivocally right.

Life isn’t fair. 
Life isn’t fair and that totally sucks. 
Life isn’t fair and that totally sucks and it makes no sense whatsoever.
Life isn’t fair and that totally sucks and it makes no sense whatsoever and it only gets worse, not better, as you get older.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I will acknowledge that I’ve thoroughly depressed both of us in the process.  The concept is easy to explain, and so hard to accept.  So very, very, very extraordinarily hard.  Brutally hard, in fact.

I suppose I was na├»ve and thought that this little life glitch would have worked itself out before I needed to explain it to you, but no dice.  As a parent, it’s very hard to explain a concept to your child that you yourself think is a load of complete BS.  I would much rather tell you that if you work hard, and stay disciplined and do the right thing, good things will routinely come your way.   That’s how it should work; but, if you haven’t already noticed, today’s theme is LIFE’S NOT FAIR.

I want to scoop you up, protect you from every harm and shield your precious little beautiful heart from all of the hurts and injustices that the world offers up.  More than that, though, and more importantly, I want to prepare you for the big, beautiful, flawed and (sometimes) scary world so that you can effectively function within it- and that you may function in it with dignity and with grace.

The world speaks much of power and money, and so infrequently about dignity and grace.  With all due respect to the world, I think it kinda has it backwards here.  People will resort to all sorts of crazy means to preserve their money and their power---their place in the social order, if you will—and that makes sense when you really stop and think about it.  People protect things that can be lost, taken or otherwise revoked.  Think about it.  Bullying.  Corporate politics. Racism.  Other forms of bigotry.  All of these things stem from a fear of someone else taking away what one has already claimed as “theirs”.

 But dignity?  And grace?  Dignity and grace are completely under your control, little girl---they always were, and they always will be.  How great is that?  Whether you have a dime in your pocket or $572 million, you can always choose dignity and grace, and once chosen, they’re yours to keep.  To quote the late prophet Whitney Houston (okay, to quote her pre-Bobby Brown lyricist, anyway), “no matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.”

Yup. I just used Whitney Houston as a parenting tool.  I went there.  There has to be an award for parenting of such excellence.

Life’s not fair and it never will be.  How life’s not fair will change and evolve over the course of your life:

  • Right now, life isn’t fair because you did all of your chores and didn’t get the donut (there’s evidence of my good parenting again) you were promised. 

  • Later down the line, you may have an awesome tryout for the soccer team or the school play, only to not get the roster spot you wanted because the coach’s/director's daughter’s best friend was promised a spot on the team, sight unseen.

  • You’re a girl, so I’m guessing there’s a good shot that middle school is just going to be patently unfair, pretty much across the board.

  • One day, some of your girlfriends (the ones that you’ve watched cry and suck their thumbs and play with dolls) may decide you’re not cool anymore and turn their backs on you.

  • In high school or college, some vacuous moron (or even worse, your best friend) will get the affection of the person you love.

  • At some point, you will pour your heart and soul into a game….and still lose at the buzzer.

  • At another point, you will give your heart and soul to someone who is first reckless with it before breaking it completely.

  • Some day, you will get a job and you may watch people with less work ethic, less skill and less credentials be promoted for reasons that no one can explain.

This is life.  None of these commonplace things are fair, but these heartbreaks don’t hold a candle to true injustices like having a child diagnosed with cancer, or a spouse killed on active duty or in a car accident.   Should you ever need some perspective about life’s injustices, take 5 minutes and read a caringbridge.com page of a child who didn’t live long enough to even have a chance to have their heart crushed in middle school.  Perspective.

When life isn’t fair to you, when you don’t get what you want, when you watch someone else get what you so desperately wanted or when someone unjustly hurts you, it sucks.  It hurts.  It hurts and sucks a lot.  Trust your old mom on this one.  I know what it feels like to have my heart crushed and I know what it feels like to sit back and watch my dreams shatter.  I know.  And, I reiterate, it sucks.

(**and should you choose not to believe me, I have a collection of notes from middle school and high school saved in the basement that I saved all these years which say such charming things as “do us all a favor and kill yourself” and “you’re so ugly, just kill yourself” or “you’re such a ****ing loser, no one would ever love you, just kill yourself.”  Teenage girls- such a lovely lot:)   Oh, and you might notice that I am still here—I’ve never particularly skilled at responding favorably at being told what to do. I survived and while I will never say I am thankful for it, I will say that I am better for it.  I am also convinced that I grew up to have decent boobs because the universe wanted to give me some small trinket for surviving 7-10th grade.  So, there’s that…)

Yes, little girl, this all sucks. Sometimes, your life may get all jacked up, and you won’t have even had a vote in it.  It may just be that it simply happens to you, or around you, and the only option you’ll have is to deal with the aftermath.  

But amidst the sucking, each and every time, you are presented with an opportunity and with a choice.  You have a choice to face the disappointment by retaliating against it and everything else you view as being in your way with all your might, or you have the choice to face it with dignity and grace.  I hope you choose the latter.    You own your emotions.  Don’t let them own you.

I will warn you that choosing dignity and grace may very well test every bit of resolve that you have.  It’s not easy, nor is it automatic, to gracefully accept defeat, loss, disappointment, or flat out cruelty.  It isn’t easy to show the world and to show yourself who you really are what you are made of.   I can assure you, though- it’s worth the effort. 

Remember this—what happens to you and around you may not necessarily be your choice, but how you react to it always is.  Always.  100% of the time.

Let me give you a few examples. 

The first example is hypothetical.  Let’s say that one of your friends did something really rotten and really hurt you badly.  Do you seek to settle the score?  Get even?  Level the field?  Yell and scream?  Passively take to Twitter to make your point?  Or do you try to work it out, rationally---with dignity and with grace?

Here’s the problem with retaliation.  If someone is mean and provokes you and you react with something mean in response?  Newsflash:   You’re mean, too.  And you’re perpetuating the cycle of meanness.  There’s nothing particularly dignified or graceful about that.  What’s more, I’m guessing that after a year has passed, you will feel worse about being mean than you ever did in response to being on the receiving end of it in the first place.  That foul will be on your conscience.  That’s a pretty terrible feeling.  I may know a thing or two about that, too.

The other example comes from our real lives.  When I was pregnant with you, most of my friends were suffering through various stages of infertility hell.  I was a walking, talking (and might I add, large) reminder of their struggles.  They were all so dignified and so graceful through the entire process, and that could not have been the slightest bit easy.  One of those friends had become pregnant and miscarried while I was in labor with you.  She was also the very first person to call after your were born and was there to meet you in person almost immediately.   The only words that really fit a situation like that are grace and dignity.  It was an honor and a lesson, to be in the presence of grace quite that large and I doubt I will ever forget it.

Which example will you follow?

I’m sure there are people out there that will tell you that choosing grace is a nice concept but that it doesn’t work in real life.  That you’ll never get what you want without being aggressive.  That you’ll be a doormat.

Let me be clear, M.  I am in no way advocating that you should accept being mistreated.  I hope that you conduct yourself is a fashion that commands respect and even demands it at times.  But I am saying that you can show good sportsmanship, and you can command respect precisely because you show it…to yourself and to others.    In other words, I am basically just asking you to try to not be a jerk in your dealings…even if others act like jerks to you.  The world is not a jerk-off where the biggest jerk wins the grand prize at the end. 

It strikes me that I might want to reconsider my word choice there.   Or maybe my word choice was spot-on.  Not sure which.  Actually, the world kinda is a big jerk-off sometimes.  I’m sticking with it.

You may also be told that being graceful while you’re hurt or angry will make you a fake.  A phony.  Insincere.   Remember that I’m not asking to you effuse praise and joy and to shoot rainbows out of your rear.  I’m asking you to just have some class and react simply but honorably and in a way you’ll be proud of in six months.  Also remember that the world doesn’t really care what you think (at least I sincerely hope it doesn’t), but it cares quite deeply about what you DO.  Have a few short and simple expressions at the ready.  “Congratulations”, “good luck”, and “good game” should suffice.

By the way, I’m totally screwed if we are judged by what we think.   The things I think would make sailors blush.  Pretty much every single day.   Most of that venom stays in my head.  Note that I said most.  Sometimes, some of that stuff makes its way into a journal, and sometimes some of that stuff comes out as venting to a neutral party.  

I try very, very hard to be dignified, but there are plenty of times where I just fail.  Like a capital F fail. Where I'm graceless.  Undignified.   There are plenty of times when I am a big, fat mean jerk after I’ve been provoked.  I have a sharp tongue, and there are times when I just use it.  It’s not particularly pleasant to be called “rotten to the core” or an asshole or a bitch---and it’s even less pleasant when those statements are true.  And those statements were true—all of them--Little M, or at least they were true at the moments that they were said.   Even though I try to behave with dignity, there is plenty of my own behavior that I’m ashamed of, even more that I’m not pleased with, and still more that I knew I could have handled better.

The good news is that grace gives you lots of tries.  Oodles and oodles of them, in fact.  If you mess one of those chances up, try to get it right with the next one.   Grace. Dignity.  Unlike so many things in this world, they’re available in abundance.  Let that be your anthem.

It starts and ends with you,