tisdag, januari 24, 2006

The Good Ol' Days

"I remember my nursery school," my kindergartener said during the dark, car ride home tonight. "Between my old school and my new, I like the old one better. We used to just play and play and then at the end of the day," she rambled on, "We would go outside for a few hours. Now, we just sit and work. Sit and work. We didn't even get to go out today because the teacher said we were too loud. I miss my old school. And I heard it gets really hard when you get to third grade. What do you do?" she asked her sister, a high school freshman.

"Sit and work," the freshman said.

It's been rough going for the freshman too. She was in tears after the Sunday basketball practice. "I work so hard and I never get play time. I am there every practice and other girls aren't. It's not fair." This morning she took my head off on the way to school. She is struggling with coursework that seems light years away from what she left behind in her old district. I suspect that aside from her older sister, she is the only fifteen year old to brood and mope, sense the end of the world, and disappear into a dark silence. I call it the anti-lock brake stage. Sometimes I call it other things.

From her study hall she sent me an e-mail at the office, apologizing. I wrote back, hoping to catch her goofing off on the internet some more before she left for her game:

"Try not to let things dig into you so deeply. For the next couple of years, let what happens to you and around you slip aside like water off a duck's back, like an independent study class in human behavior. Watch people. Learn to read them and become familiar with situations. You won't be able to do that if you internalize too much or expect things to be "fair;" thoughts like these become like sink traps, and don't let anything else through.

See, people don't actually do things to you; people do things for themselves, almost entirely out of self interest with little attention paid to how it might affect another. For example, your friend didn't snub you on Friday because she felt like giving you a hard time; she was just having too much fun where she ended up to think to be polite to you. It's rude, but it doesn't mean she doesn't like you. If she doesn't break that habit, she will have problems later in life. She needs to learn to be considerate. You don't need to drop her as a friend or make yourself even more miserable by putting on a pout. Say something like, "Hey, thanks, jerk," but then let it go. If you have to "feel" something, then feel a little bad for her, instead, and take a memo: "Try to never leave a friend hanging." If you can remember that people are a lot of the time mostly just into themselves, then it might be easier to accept that not every slight, turn down, or less than wonderful day is a personal attack on you.

As for your basketball, well, because we don't really know what other factors might be motivating the coaches, remember this. (A) You are part of a team. If you stay pleasant and upbeat, your teammates will always be there for you somehow. (B) You are learning stuff from great coaches with great attitudes. It may pay off because in your Junior year it clicks and you are a starter. Or maybe it will pay off because despite a backup status through all of high school, your husband or daughter loves basketball and you two can watch the games together and enjoy yourself because you really, really, understand the science of the sport. It may pay off because you will have a chance to be a coach, and pass on what you have learned. We never know what life will throw our way. I can guarantee you, however, that you gain nothing by giving up because the coach is not being "fair" and not playing you in a way that seems commensurate with your effort. You don't have control over his actions. You do have control over your ability to focus on the positive.

I suppose what this gets you in the long run is an ability to be more objective, and once you get there you can feel more confident that your decisions are based on fact and probabilities instead of hurt feelings, jealousy, or fear. But I am getting ahead of the story.

Now get off the internet. And there will be no AIM in the house until the grades are up, got it?"

I am sure that the only part she will remember is "get off the internet," so I plan on grabbing the Sarah Vowell off the bookshelf for her to sample. What might hit a chord is Vowells' account of life as it was in the high school marching band. This is a good example of a person who learned how to observe.

If only I could think of a long, inappropriate lecture for the five year old who will get nowhere in life living in the past . . .