Changing courses from the recent themes concerning writing, let’s discuss some Things that happened recently.
We’re all aware of how challenging it is to teach someone to stand up for what is right and all that warm ethical talk. Those of us who are parents see the tension between trying to raise good people and acknowledging that our child is actually not us, and therefore is free to make spectacularly bad decisions – and we have to let it happen. Those of us who aren’t parents wrestle daily with people whose word is inconsistent or unreliable. Spinelessness and confusion abounds where-ever we are. Goody.
We recently added a puppy to the family, and she’s a fantastic pup. Our eight year old daughter has risen to the responsibility in truly classy and wonderful fashion. It’s been a joy to watch their friendship develop.
Yesterday, however, our daughter really blew it. She allowed a peer – known for her dishonesty, meanness, and general unpleasantness – to tell her what to do (against our directions) and how to take care of our pup. Not only did our kid do things that she knew were wrong due to this neighbor’s prodding, but she also endangered the safety of our pup. Clearly, previous instructions were insufficient to protect our kid from the insidious influence of others her age.
We bypassed a “stern lecture” altogether. In fact, at one point, I was so furious with her that I had to go outside. I informed her that, although left to her own devices, she is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met, she has displayed this terrifying susceptibility to peer pressure several times. For the first time in her experience, I outlined in detail the kinds of decisions and repercussions that come over time from being spineless. I told her that an inability to be sensible often results in, for example, “trying” meth or something like it, and thereby relinquishing control over your brain and probably the rest of your life. Or, having a few too many with “friends” and getting behind the wheel. If you’re lucky, you only hurt the people in the car. Or, if employed, this behavior can cause you to screw up so badly that you lose your job. If you do it well enough, you won’t just lose your job – you won’t work again. Or, this is a behavior pattern that can fuck up your marriage beyond repair. Etc etc etc. I told her that I don’t really care who she votes for or even what church she attends, but, dammit, she better know, and she better *stand for* it. I also told her that it’s one thing to endanger herself – but that she also endangered the safety and life of our puppy – a living being – and in doing so went beyond the pale.
I told her that while I will always love her, she’s on her way to becoming someone I don’t respect unless she makes some course corrections.
After making her dinner and telling her to go eat in her room, and not to come out again until the morning because I can’t be around her right now, I went down the street. I asked the neighbor’s mom to come outside. “Hi, I’m sorry, but I really need you to help me with something.”
“Oh, what?” Steven Tyler’s ugly mug fills up the big screen TV behind us. It’s the perfect stage for this lack of civilization.
Smiling, I said, “I need you to keep your daughter away from my family. She destroys something of my daughter’s every time she’s over, and today she endangered our dog. Keep her away from us.”
This mother didn’t even flinch. Or apologize. Or ask what happened. She didn’t even try to defend her own kid. Of course, she daughter is legendary in this town. I think she’s heard it before.
Then, I came home, and for the first time in years, downed four margaritas and a bag of oreos.
I’m not sure how well this tale translates into the blogsphere, in part because only the folks who know me know how unusual it is for me to yell at someone. It’s not just that I think it’s tacky. I also think that if it’s important enough to argue about, then it also deserves the respect of a calm conversation – and if I can’t have that with you, then there isn’t any point in arguing. Arguing would only be a waste of my time.
I will go to the mattresses with my kid to teach her how to be the best kind of person, but ultimately, it is her choice. I can lead by example and explain the way the world works, but she is the only one who can decide to listen to my experience, or ignore it and repeat my mistakes. I can bluster, but I have to let go. This world is already overrun with the amoral and unethical; I can’t let my own kid sink so low without fighting. She needs to know I expect more. After all, if you expect nothing, people will surely live down to that. But, if you expect greatness, people can surprise even themselves by what they can accomplish. I must expect her to be what she can be. Then, I must allow her to chose.
Hence the margaritas and consequential hangover.