My daughter can comfortably stride between two oppositional personality traits. She can be quiet and to-herself, relishing the autonomy of her alone time, like me, and she can also be exuberant, outgoing, and sociable, which is…well…not like me. But, what we’ve come to realize is that not only is she capable of being both, she needs to be both. Too much of one or the other throws her into disproportion, and she succumbs to a kind of melancholia, which she also probably gets from me.
Since the spring of last year, thanks to ‘Rona, she has learned from home rather than attend school in person. With each passing month of limited social contact, I watched her light fade. Her motivation waned, her grades suffered, and she seemed to progressively slip deeper into darkened isolation. Hope was getting harder for her to hold on to. Solitude had once been a place of solace for her, but the time alone had crested into excess, and the shimmering parts of herself capable of shining through the haze were beginning to slip into the grey.
As a parent, it was painful to watch her being pulled down into a calamitous descent. My ex-wife and I made the difficult decision to allow her to return to brick and mortar school. I didn’t take this decision lightly, and it was based on so much more than academics or academic performance. Yes, I want my kids to do well in school. I’d like them to pass. I want them to strive for excellence and to put their best foot forward in everything they do. But, I’m also all too aware that the growth and changes I’d most like to see develop in my kids, cannot be measured by a grading Rubric.
Norman Fischer says, “This is the main change that any of us…could hope for: that we would become very good at being ourselves.” I want my kids to be people of character and integrity. I want them to be people of their word. But, even more so I want them to be very good at being who they are.
It’s not always an easy task or an easy process to “be yourself”, much less to be good at being yourself. We so nonchalantly utter the advice but, we often fail to acknowledge the immense degree of inquiry and awareness it takes to first “know thy self” and the incredible amount of courage and resolve required to actually act on it and lean into it. Oftentimes , it necessitates an exposure to danger. It means maintaining an openness that exposes the frailest parts of ourselves to the hazards of vulnerability.
There are always risks of getting it wrong, of fucking it up, and that goes double if you’re in the precarious position of being the advising parent in this scenario. We risk doing too much, being too much, and going too far. But, I take some comfort in knowing that, as T.S. Eliot says, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Somewhere within the jolt of ambiguous paradox and contradiction, we search the uncertainties of ourselves for something hopeful to share.
Madeleine L’ Engle says that “The best way to guide children without coercion is to be ourselves”. Honestly, I think that’s the only way we can ever offer or receive guidance at all. If I had any chance of encouraging my daughter to embrace all the disparate parts of herself, then I was going to have to do the same. For me, that means recognizing that, like Mary Ruefle, creating “is my natural act, more natural than speaking.” My eloquence emerges almost exclusively in the act of writing and making art. And so, with paint, magazines, and index cards in hand, I set out to conjure and create something motivational, albeit a guerilla kind of motivation. The picture at the top of this post is the outcome. It’s the first in a series of index card affirmations I made to put in my daughter’s lunch box, I hope you find some encouragement here as well.
May you brave the risk of being yourself, and get really good at it.
May your vulnerability be your greatest strength.
May the hope in your heart never be extinguished.
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Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.