Last week, a butterfly fluttered through the jujitsu studio where my 4-year-old daughter takes class. Of all the little kids politely standing in an orderly line, waiting their turn to tackle the teacher, only one of them spotted said butterfly and started dancing after it, giggling and bouncing the whole time. No joke, it looked like she was doing the Snoopy dance.
Yup, you guessed right. It was my daughter.
“This is so on brand for her,” I muttered from the sidelines. The other parents laughed. Because it was true. My kiddo is bright and creative and full of life, but she has a nebulous understanding of waiting her turn. She has a “better way” to do every move the teacher tries to teach the kids, and is very vocal about sharing it. She will rarely do anything for the sake of pleasing anyone and she needs to be cajoled or engaged on HER level or she won’t do it. I know. I’ve tried. A lot. I always used to sneer at other parents when their kids would act out, “Jeez, did you raise that kid in a barn?!” and now I’M the one with the hard-to-handle one. Joke’s on me, Judgy McJudgerbutt!
At her age I would die rather than step out of line in class. My goal in life for my entire childhood, probably from birth, was to be the teacher’s pet. “Would you like me to poop in the diaper now, or after you finish your coffee, mama?” I used to think this was the way my parents raised me (and it probably contributed) but now, having tried to get my daughter to do anything compliant around an extracurricular lesson and failed totally, I realize that genes are powerful things and I must have gotten “sucking up” as a genetic skill bonus.
The thing is though, that I don’t WANT her to be like I was. That’s actually my #1 goal as a parent. Because my whole life, my identity has been wrapped up in what skills I’ve achieved, so I could drop bombs in conversation like, “I have a math degree!” and “I was in a symphony at age 16!” and “I was doing calculus at 11, aren’t I fun to party with?!” I remember distinctly as a child picking up a Latin book and thinking, “I should learn this, adults will really think this is so cool and can speak like Cesar.” Like, slow down little Felicia, you’re defining the word “try-hard” right now!
Sure, the people-pleasing thing has gotten me far on a certain level, but to the detriment to my mental health. Because the conditional belief that my achievements ARE me has been very hard to shake. I’ve had to work on regulating this feeling, within myself, ever since I realized it was the root of a lot of my anxiety and depression. During my last stint of therapy a few years ago, my therapist looked at me, with tears in her eyes, “Oh. You don’t know you exist, do you?” and that struck me in a very profound way. Because…no. On a certain level I didn’t. I WAS my achievements.
But thanks to massive introspection and an excellent crying therapist, I’ve been able to identify that insatiable praise beast inside me that will never be satisfied, no matter how much it eats, and work to cut it off at the knees. Er…stomach. You get the idea. I’ve worked on myself and stuff. It’s been a hard journey, and at times I’ve had to question whether anything I’ve done, aside from playing video games, has really come from a rooted sense of ME wanting to do it, rather than the idea that other people would want me to do it. “HOLD UP: Do you want to learn the mandolin for yourself, Felicia, or for sharing on Instagram, hmmm?” I’m constantly questioning myself. And it’s paid off! Case in point: I’ve never learned the mandolin.
On an earnest note, I’ve come to believe that the whole muddying of identity with, “You are what you achieve” is flawed and destructive and the root of a lot of problems in peoples’ lives. No, we are not what we achieve, we just ARE. We are whole and complete and wondrous without anything else on top. No “straight A” cherries, no “tri-lingual” icing, nothing. If we can all focus on THAT as a starting point, then I think we’d all be guided toward more fulfilling paths in life. /earnest
I can genuinely say that, MOST of the time lately, I’ve figured out how to identify and work on things that give me intrinsic satisfaction, rather than always trying to guide myself toward the lowest-hanging praise from others. And I’m working on projects, like this newsletter, because I NEED to work on them, NEED them to exist, outside of any result or praise. The pace I make things might be slower and less frantic than before, but they’re coming from a sense of ME rather than OTHER. And it all feels right!
And then…we turn back to my “definitely not compliant” child. Sigh.
I truly believe that I was gifted a free-spirited, hard-to-wrangle kiddo, so I would be forced to guide myself away from my worst instincts. Or maybe the universe was just f*cking with me when she sent her down, lol. But when I feel myself getting riled up that she’s not paying attention or doing her dance moves right in class, I slap down the beast inside who wants to criticize her. “Don’t you dare talk to my baby like that! No Twitter likes for you later!” Of course I don’t let her be wild and disrupt the class (I hear your “but Felicia!” internet), but I certainly don’t speak harshly to her or let my irritation take over. I simply lead her away to take a break until she’s ready to follow the class. OR we don’t go to class at all if she’s not in a place she can receive the instruction. Is this going to be bad for her later in life? I dunno! But there’s no way on earth I’ll ever let her think that I’d love her more if she put a bow on her violin strings properly.
And above all, I never want her to stop dancing after butterflies.
(Yeah, that’s caterpillar poop on the bottom of the cage, cut me some slack. I raised these buggers from scratch and the picture is royalty free, jeez!)
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Old link but one I missed before: Researchers say playing Tetris for 20 minutes after a trauma can help alleviate the onset of PTSD. Pretty fascinating stuff.
Heads up university folk: People are starting to study ancient games as a research area and I’m HERE FOR IT!
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