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Life's lessons from fortune cookies

She's fortunate to read this fortune

for The Brooklyn Paper

A meal at Red Hot, the local standard-fare Chinese joint, always ends with the table embarrassingly covered in remnants of Chicken Fried Rice and sticky sweet-sauce stains and Oscar reading his fortune aloud:

“People learn little from success, but much from failure.”

“That’s a good one,” I said. “That’s a keeper.”

It is a fact that my kids will fail more than they succeed in life, and it is crucial that they learn to live with that. They need to walk away from tough losses, imperfect scores, and not getting in to their first-choice school with a smile and a shrug. That’s just the way it is, but it is not always easy.

And I should know, because I never want to see them fail.

That’s why I am scarcely found at baseball games and, if I am there, I hide my eyes when they are up to bat. I know it is a crucial life lesson that they fail, but without my fortune-cookie reminder, I always want them to hit a homer, run the bases like the wind, have the whole team lift them up in the air like heroes, chanting the names I so proudly gave them when they were born.

So while I find myself comparing my sons to others, letting my worries creep in that their baseball pants are stained, their socks inside out, their shoes torn and so small their toes curl in, I have to take a big, deep breath and pull out that little typed reminder: “People learn little from success, but much from failure.”

It is a perfect mantra, a built-in excuse to let things slip a little (or a lot.) The pursuit of success of the highest order, in everything one does, is a constant, not just in this uber-competitive neighborhood but across the globe. It is an evolutionary thing, I have to think, to strive to be the best, survival of the fittest and all that. But we have to cut ourselves and our kids some slack.

Look, we can’t lie. We can’t say we’re psyched if they bring home anything less than 100 if that’s not the way we feel. I try not to get too nosy about their test scores because my first instinct is to grab them by their little shoulders and scream into their faces, “What is wrong with you that you didn’t get a perfect score?”

That would be unfair, of course, because I would really be talking to myself: “What’s wrong with me that my kid didn’t get a perfect score? What have I done? What have I not done? Oh no, I’m the worst parent on the planet!”

My poor, poor children. Sometimes, the only thing standing between them and a screaming nitpicky demanding mother is a little rectangle of paper with a soothing reminder. Yes, there it is, reminding me to take my stress levels down a notch or 12, not to notice that little Nicky down the street did better than you on that last test and doesn’t seem to have any stains on his shirt!

“People learn little from success, but much from failure.”

So often, we parents pretend that we don’t expect perfection from ourselves and our kids and that is a lie! I don’t know anybody who announces it proudly when their kids fail.

I had to laugh at the school auction recently when a childless teacher I love came up beside me and acknowledged with some wry bitterness that another teacher’s art project was going for a far higher price.

“Now you know how us parents feel when our kid’s project sucks compared to some other kids,” I said. “You want to kill her, don’t you?”

“No,” she said. “But next year, mine is going to be amazing.”

And it hit me again: “People learn little from success, but much from failure.”

Lesson learned.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.

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