I tried to help my 11-year-old son Eli compare and contrast the novel “Stargirl” with the somewhat non-fiction “Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook” while grappling with myself over how not to get pulled under by the weight of worry over the new school year when I realized that Eli, the authors and I were all trying to synthesize the same dilemma: how is it possible to inspire people to be themselves and trust that being themselves is a good thing, or, at the very least, not a bad thing?
For me, the parenting advice of my long-ago Manhattan pediatrician repeats in my head: you’re going to do it YOUR way, and that’s going to be the right way. You won’t be able to do it any other way.
He was right back then as I lay in a hospital bed, dazed and confused in the parallel universe of new parenthood, and I know he’s still right. So why is it that I always wait so feverishly for someone to come along to tell me exactly what to do?
Really, if I delve into it, I know who I am and who I want to be.
I just constantly forget (or at least have to be reminded) that it’s okay to be that person, that it’s okay to be me even if I might seem totally weird.
I say to my kids all the time, as I said to Eli about Stargirl’s perilously popularity-endangering cheerleading stunts, “Who isn’t different? What is ‘normal?’ What is ‘right?’ ”
Going your own way and feeling confident in your direction is crucial, Eli asserted in his middle school essay.
He determined from the fiction story and non-fiction handbook that such confidence is what will prevent any potential bullies from bullying you in the schoolyard.
Being who we are and liking it, whether we’re the child or the parent, is what will save us from spiraling into the cesspool of needless anxious self-flagellation as the school year gets underway.
That’s easier said than done, of course, so I have been waking up mornings in a panic about what outrageously amazing activities other parents might be signing their kids up for this fall that I don’t know about, how other parents pushed their kids to learn math tables and practice piano this summer while I let mine watch hour after hour of “Family Guy.”
But then I jump out of bed, splash myself with cold water and remember: how can I expect my kids not to feel cowed by comparison to other kids if I am constantly comparing my own self to other parents?
How can I expect them to feel good about who they are if I am so worried about who I am?
I felt bad recently after I shushed a friend who started talking candidly in front of her daughter about the little girl’s new teacher, potential warts and all.
“Don’t!” I cried out, being of the belief that kids learn to worry through osmosis.
When I saw the look of shock on my friend’s face, I knew immediately I was wrong.
I was judging her for being who she is, an amazingly honest and forthright person whose closeness with her four children has been forged on out-loud pondering.
I then began to surmise that my own white-washing of the faults of my kids’ teachers is maybe why they don’t share with me what they might really think sometimes, like her kids do.
Maybe it’s me who needs to change.
Or maybe I could not judge my friend or myself.
Maybe I could just remember that we cannot be but what we are, so we better relax and make the best of it and help our kids do the same.
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