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It is what we make of it

And about that Miss Goody Two Shoes…
In yesterday’s blog I described my child self as “Miss Goody Two Shoes.” Yep, I was that kid who always had her hand up first, who always knew the answers you got wrong, who always had her homework in on time. Knowing what I know now as a mother, I can posit other things about myself that I don’t actually remember: I bet I was a tattle-tale, and I bet I lied when I did actually do something wrong.
Wow, what was up with me?
I’ve been getting this feeling lately that people have been forgetting what kids are really like. My kids are there to remind them. Do you have one of those kids who doesn’t stick out, who is smart enough but doesn’t rock the boat, who is well-liked by everyone, and who never picks her nose and eats it?
Get outta here.
Now the rest of you, gather round and talk about what kids are really like. Kids are weird. Let’s face it: they are works in progress. My daughter is totally freaked out about other people’s germs, but she does in fact ingest her own nose goop. When my son was a first-grader, he tattled on other kids and lied about his own misdeeds.
Many of us — most of us? — a few of us? — outgrow our childhood weirdnesses, with just enough clinging on to the adult self to keep us recognizable. You know what I’m talking about: Your mother-in-law talks about your partner as a kid, and it sounds familiar, somehow. Oh, no, you’d never tell her that s/he still drops dirty socks under the bed. But you get that ping of recognition when she reminisces about how he’d rather make up an elaborate ruse to hide the fact that he’d not made his bed than just make the darn bed.
People never change. On the other hand, people change.
We grow up and bring that weird kid along with us, but we build up stuff around it, the way an island hides its volcanic interior.
So I can only speak for one Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, but it might cover a few more you’ve known: I was scared of everything. I was scared of making a mistake. Scared that someone would see me make a mistake. Scared when other people made mistakes that bad things would happen to them. Scared that people wouldn’t like me. Scared when people seemed to like me. Scared of my teachers. Scared of the salesperson at the drugstore.
The first time I read about someone like me, I was already an adult. The person like me was so unlike me. He was a man of an older generation. But he was also from the Midwest and perhaps he was also a goody-two-shoes. I don’t remember why I picked up a book by Tim O’Brien, but when I did I recognized myself in a young man of the sixties who was sent to Vietnam against his will.
This is what I love about literature. The connections. The understandings.
I remember vividly when I went to hear him speak, and he admitted that the reason he’d gone to Vietnam was fear. Not fear of going to Vietnam, but fear of what people would think of him if he said he didn’t want to go. His fear of being embarrassed was greater than his fear of being shot to death in a rice paddy.
That’s the sort of fear I recognized. I’ve largely gotten over it, but that fearful little girl is still in me. My volcano exploded in college, when I covered the fear in a punk exterior, got refined in my thirties, when I found something like a career, got married, had kids. But it’s all still there.
What matters is not the weirdness that’s in our kids now. It’s what they’re going to do with it. If your little nose-picking Johnny feels alienated, unloved, and unappreciated, bad things will happen, definitely to him and maybe to other people. It’s our job as parents to love our weird little beings. Love them so much that they are protected with love. Smear that love all over them so that the foundation of their island will be strong with it.
Even when they’re little miss goody-two-shoes. Or the girl who throws paint in art class. The girl who told my son that being Jewish is “stupid.” The boy who laughed at my daughter when he told her he didn’t invite her to his birthday party. Some people say “it’s all good.” I don’t believe that, but I do believe that it all is what it is. And then it is what we make of it.

Posted in Parenting.


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