Thursday, April 7, 2016

Are You In This?: Life Lessons Learned from an 8 Year-Old

Generally speaking, I think parents take too much credit and too much blame for how their kids turn out. 

My own mom, who is both an orphan and a psychiatrist, always says you can screw up a kid by failing to provide for their basic physical and emotional needs. But beyond that, all you can do is work with who they are by trying to steer them in a direction that teaches them to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

One of my greatest weaknesses has always been the inability to calibrate what fucks to give in life. This does not come naturally to me. Ever since I can remember, I gave all the wrong fucks about all the wrong things: not having a denim shirt with rhinestones on it like the two most popular girls at my fancy private school, mean girls not wanting to be my friend, having parents lacking the money for a "country house" in the Berkshires. It was ridiculous.

As an adult, I still struggle with this same phenomenon, though not over the same things. I now give zero fucks about material possessions, but I still give way too many fucks over blows to my ego, particularly those deriving from perceived professional or interpersonal slights: not getting a certain assignment at work, worrying that my work is inferior to that of my colleagues, friends "ignoring" me, whether or not I look fat in a dress.

I was thinking about all of this this week, when Paige came home from school and described two different "fights" she witnessed at school. One involved two children arguing over creationism versus evolution. "Two kids at school were fighting about if Jesus made the earth or if science did," Paige told me while driving home from ice skating practice. "I said, 'I'm Jewish so I am NOT getting in the middle of this!'" 

The next day, she recounted an unrelated incident in which a mean girl at school was picking on one of her best friends and made her friend cry. Unlike her mother, Paige (at least so far) gives less than zero fucks about mean girls, and always has. She told me how she dealt with the situation: "So then she said to me, 'you're not even IN this, Paige!' So then I said, 'she's my friend and I'm trying to make her feel better, so actually I AM in this!'"

Of course, I was impressed by Paige's reaction to these two situations, but I didn't give myself a pat on the back. Not even close. I just glanced up from the road (we were driving again) and thanked the Universe that my daughter seems to intuitively understand when to get "in this" or not.

That's what it all comes down to, after all. Whether you decide to be "in this." What battles will you pick? What fucks will you give? In other words, what criteria will you use to decide whether you are going to be "in" a particular "this?"

For some people, the right answer to the question, "are you in this?" comes naturally and instinctively. For others, it's a lot more work. I work hard every day on getting into the right "thises" and staying out of the wrong ones. Defending your friends from bullies, deciding not to dive into a deeply-entrenched theological discussion--these are both good choices of a "this" to get into and stay out of, respectively.

I don't take one iota of credit for Paige's seemingly innate ability to know exactly when to be "in this" or not. I just hope it lasts, because I definitely need her help.

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