Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vive la Differénce

The high school selection process in Chicago leaves every child feeling what it is to be a "have" and a "have not". Even the child who achieves his goal and receives acceptance at a preferred school must feel the slight tinge of regret that a friend won't be with him or another might be jealous or resentful. No one gets to be joyful or excited without some damper. Of course, those who do not succeed in being accepted at their school of choice plummet to great distress, anxiety, sadness and self doubt. 'You', society has told them, 'are the "have nots". Please step aside.'

Quite a lesson at thirteen.

But then, let's look at it more carefully: I haven't got a giraffe and I'm doing just fine. You haven't got your own private jet. Feeling that burn? Almost all of my closest friends have Master's degrees, some multiple degrees. Mother Theresa didn't have any degrees at all. I rather think she did alright. Some cities have a view of the ocean. Mine doesn't. And there's no convincing ocean-view people, BTW, that a lake view is the same thing. I've tried. So I'm a have-not, so are you, and so was Mother Theresa. I think she made a career out of it! Would society think of her as a loser? Those people in million-dollar condos on Lake Shore Drive? They don't even live in houses! And they don't have ocean views! Have NOTS.

One of my daughters got into an accelerated college prep program. The other got into a science magnet. The accelerated one has pin-straight hair. The younger one has curls even curls envy. My son's got curls and he got into an accelerated program. But he's only got a minor role in the play. The curly one's got a lead role. The pin-straight-haired one was always too chicken to try out; she worked the sound board. My oldest is my shortest. The one who was born the smallest is now the biggest. The middle child is treated like the family baby. The baby could probably buy beer for the rest of them. (I do have to watch that...) Pick the one who's the 'have not'.

I'm fascinated that society thinks they're telling my kids something when they tell them they are 'have-nots'. We're all 'have nots' if you just turn your head a little. What's the difference between what you've got and what I've got if we're both happy? I've told my kids all along:

Keep your eye on the ball, the end-game. What do you really want? To be happy. Focus on that. Don't worry about the haves and the have-nots. In the end, none of that matters. In fact, enjoy that you've got what you've got and he's got what he's got if that's what brings you both pleasure. Celebrate it. Life is good. And I love you. You make me proud.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The World Has Gone Mad and Other Observations

In my vain efforts not to complain, an ill-conceived resolution I shan't be repeating, I find myself listing a series of observations on unfortunate circumstances and less-than-desirable qualities in others. In so doing, I have found I'm actually quite a keen observer of others' flaws. Rather good at it, yes.

I find, too, in a cosmic turn, that those with flaws seem to surround me, are attracted to me and seek me out, perhaps in their own vain attempts to meet the objectives of their own rashly stated resolutions. Shame or blessing, I can't be sure.

What I can repeat with certainty is that most of what comes from flaw comes first from want. Want is a wicked and failing quality, sure to end one in ruin. I should want to know how I can correct what is failing in myself. As I see want in others though, I find perhaps wanting so might pervert and lead to my even greater corruption.

I am a fool as it is. What worse could become of me I don't want to know.

What worse there is gives me faint.

My neighbor chooses racism and hides it after religion. Another would claim righteous for a child, souring his health with drink or drug. Is he the moral one? My own child walks away from me vapid, vacant, only until I lose interest. Then she is drawn near and he is careful with his words. There would you find a substance worth saving?

I'll have my day of this and then it will all return to its norm. There's no sense in the examination or sourcing, just as there is no sense in the object. We all want, ironically whether we want to or not - even if only in that we seek to rid ourselves of our wants by mastering them. Or feeding them. There is none of not wanting.

And in that we push ourselves, madly; it is a red haze. There are only blinking days of sun or field.

I should want to linger in those days endlessly.

And there it is again.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Not for the feint.

I posted this question the other day on a social media site:

"Have been wondering on this a bit, as I've seen bits and pieces of it play out among friends: what do you think is the best way to handle a child's (refusal, inability, lack of desire to participate in or choice to turn away from) something you think is important at age 16? 18? Age 20? Let's assume the child is more or less healthy, more or less reasonable, and not doing something so absurd that an HBO special might be involved. Let's also assume the thing of importance is relative in that it matters to you, not necessarily everyone - so faith, formal education, healthy eating habits, lifestyle - whatever it is, the point is your child is going the other way. What next at each of those ages?" 

I got quite a number of insightful, sweet, and sage replies. The interesting thing is that I'm not troubled by any of these issues quite yet. I'm just trying to prepare in advance.

The day after this posted, my dearest childhood friend called to tell me that she and her husband had made the decision to admit their son, my godson, into an in-patient facility for treatment. He is 9. They can't plan for the teenage years because they can't see past the next hour, the next five minutes. All if it is filled with pain and worry. And none of it has come by false choice or wicked refusal. He is in the dark and they can't seem to stop it.

I think of my own son. He's been a little testy with me lately, short answers, the dreaded eye-rolling, shrugged shoulders. And in these moment of trying I'm frustrated and testy myself. Then. I know. A boy who wakes up faithfully every day to work hard in school, who is a good and loyal friend, a loving brother and mindful son -- such a boy is entitled to some trips off of that straight line. In fact, a little wandering off is good for the soul and instructs a person's character. I'll admit it doesn't really bother me all that much, even if my role as parent is to keep corralling and re-directing to the center.

Pain that may come from choices made is the kind that teaches you, so I'm o.k. with that. What I may never be able to abide is helplessness in the face of my child's undeserved pain. And I will do anything, everything and things not even imaginable to keep my child from that kind of pain until I can't do any more. And then what if I end up exactly where my friend is?

My mom always told me "It's not the stuff you plan for that gets you. It's the stuff you never saw coming." The truth is none of us knows what is coming, as our parents did not know what would come for them. So you stand for something, you work for something, you love all the time and then you must hunker down like a Chicago bungalow before a storm and brace yourself.

Not for the feint of heart, this parenting thing.