It’s humbling, isn’t it, when our kids are braver than we are? In the past three months, I’ve received a startling lesson from the Divine Miss M about courage, or maybe about never learning to be closed-off.
I’ve learned plenty of other lessons from her before now. While in elementary school, she reminded me that truly monumental things happen at recess. A lesson that would serve adults well in our overly-serious grown-up world. I’ve also surmised since she was born that logic diminishes the magic of life. When our daughter was a toddler, she was convinced you could take her temperature in her belly-button. She also believed the lightning bugs in the backyard were fairies and at some point, she had three imaginary friends who didn’t need names beyond the Nobodies, but did need to be tucked in at night. And just when I’d begun to embrace my new found perspective of “well, who’s to say they’re not fairies,” logic came along and she “outgrew” all of that. But I came away with the wisdom that logic is highly overrated.
As most of you are aware, when we moved this past summer, Miss M came along kicking and screaming the entire way. She was mad for months before we left and remained so after we arrived. She would occasionally show glimpses of cooperation or excitement but they were brief, and positive thoughts remained steadfastly hidden from our view.
Soon enough, though, she was starting a new school, in a new town, in a new state, with absolutely no intention of making new friends. Instead, she protested all the way to the schoolhouse door … and then she thrived. She’s made friends, made plans and made a life. She hangs on to her old friends through phone calls, e-mails, and old-fashioned letters, while having sleep overs, parties and school dances with the new. When push came to shove, she was willing to give it a chance and when push really came to shove, she was open enough to make room for new people.
I am immensely proud of her, of course, but also a little envious. I have an amazing, tight-knit circle of girlfriends in Oklahoma. Friendships initially forged before we all started having children and still had time for forging. Logically I knew that in moving, I’d have to make new friends, too, just like my daughter. And how simple that would be, I thought. It’s Boulder after all, where the only great sins are conformity and failing to respect the environment.
As it turns out, though, it isn’t so simple. Not because of the town or the people but because I’m not nearly as daring as my daughter, and that was a bit of a surprise to me, to be perfectly honest. It’s been a really long time since I had to start at ground zero when it comes to friends, had to venture beyond my chosen tribe for more than just acquaintances or pals. There are a few things I’d forgotten about myself, such as, I am exceedingly guarded. Once a person is in, they’re generally in for life, but I’ve never made it easy to make the cut. I’m personable and friendly, but beyond my inner circle, I keep most people at arm’s length. I also never realized how much my identity was wrapped up in my friends. I read that about Generation X once but I didn’t know that I’d feel so incomplete without them. I don’t particularly care for this vague but perpetual feeling of floundering. And the thing is, I know I’m not the only grown-up like this. In fact, I’m likely in the majority.
Since our arrival, we’ve met nice, friendly, probably lovely people, but it takes real effort for me to go beyond friendly pleasantries and superficial conversation. I forgot how difficult and disconcerting I find this process, and the fact that old friends are as close as a text or an e-mail makes it all the more difficult because it lessens any feeling of necessity. The electronic age is nothing if not a double-edged sword.
The Divine Miss M, though, at the ripe age of 11, hasn’t learned to be guarded and her old friends aren’t nearly so accessible. We often consider children naïve and less knowledgeable about the ways of the world, and to a large extent, of course, they are. But they also possess certain strengths that most adults have simply lost. In the same way children have to be taught hate, maybe they also have to be taught fear, nervousness and anxiety. There is a quiet, but distinct, bravery in their willingness to be open to not just places or possibilities, but to people, to new friends. I hadn’t seen that in her before. In fact, six months ago, I would have told you she didn’t have it, but it surely stands out to me now, as does my own lacking of it.
I’ve told her several times her willingness to make friends here and give it a chance was admirable, and how proud we are of her. I don’t think I’ve labeled it outwardly as brave, though. She hasn’t learned the weakness of closing one’s self off just yet and I don’t think I need to draw her attention to it. Plus, right now, I’m a little pre-occupied with trying to emulate her courage.